Yiren Zheng 鄭怡人
Postdoctoral Fellow, Society of Fellows
Department of Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages
I explore literary representations of human and human-like voices where language becomes less central or less stable in premodern Chinese literature from the third to the seventeenth centuries, including stories, biographies, poetry, commentary, and records of reportage. My current book manuscript, Voices Going Awry in Premodern China, examines the nonlinguistic sound art known as xiao 嘯 (whistling), bird speech, and a type of sonically mimetic storytelling called kouji 口技 (vocal virtuosity), among other types of voices that create surprising connections among the human vocal apparatus, the body, and language. I show that these literary texts offer creative responses to the following questions: What does it mean to have a human voice? How can a human vocal apparatus enable a meaningful communication when words fall short? As premodern Chinese literary authors and sound theorists reflected on the tension between sound and language by closely observing these voices, they produced a theory of the human voice that revises the modern understanding of the voice as the foundation of individual human subjectivity. I show that the human voice is a synthetic entity created by resonance between human sources of self-expression and nonhuman sounds. I am also working on a group of premodern Chinese dream-inspired writing to consider connections and disconnect between writing and consciousness. A comparatist at heart, I am invested in exploring ideas in premodern Chinese literature that can contribute to theoretical discussions in contemporary sound and media studies even though these fields often prioritize Euro-American contexts. I am also a writer of short fiction.
Asian Societies, Cultures and Languages
- B.A. Sun Yat-sen University
- M.A. Columbia University
- Ph.D. University of Chicago
"Sounding the Ineffable: Third-Century Chinese Whistling as an Alternative Voice," positions: asia critique 29, no. 2 (2021): 267-290.
"Listening Askance with a Seventeenth-Century Chinese Acousmatic Voice," Ecological Soundings (special issue), Parallax 26, no. 2 (2020): 163-178.