Revolution, Forgery and The Failures of Historical Materialism: Reconsidering Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” through Mao Dun’s Early Fiction

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Author: Aleksander Sedzielarz, University of Minnesota, USA
Email: sedzi002@umn.edum
Published: October 29, 2018
https://doi.org/10.22492/ijas.4.1.02

Citation: Sedzielarz, A. (2018). Revolution, Forgery and The Failures of Historical Materialism: Reconsidering Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” through Mao Dun’s Early Fiction. IAFOR Journal of Asian Studies, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijas.4.1.02


Abstract

The story “Stone Tablet” (1930), written by Chinese author Mao Dun (1896-1981), contains elements of a critique of Marxist historical materialism, as well as of pragmatist models of historiography that were influential in early twentieth century China. My analysis shows the way in which this story, based on Ming-dynasty classic of tales of anti-government outlaws, Water Margin, intersects with the work of Weimar German writer, and fellow Marxist intellectual, Walter Benjamin in questioning the possibility of modern popular revolution and thereby reopens an aporia surrounding the question of history in Marx’s writing prior to Capital. As opposed to a view of Mao Dun’s early work that sees these stories as part of a period of transition towards a mature style of socialist realism, this study proposes that at this stage in his work as a writer Mao Dun was developing the beginnings of an original philosophy of history that could contend with the failures of twentieth century communist political movements.

Keywords

history, fiction, Republican-era China, German philosophy, revolution, dialectic, Marxism