Dora Zhang

Assistant Professor Fellow
Zhang Image

In her book project “Strange Likeness,” Dora Zhang (English, Comparative Literature) traces a transformation and revaluation of literary description in Anglo-French fiction around the turn of the twentieth century, when many modernist writers denounced the descriptive “excesses” of the nineteenth century realist novel. The modernist dissolution of traditional plot structures is well known, but, because theories of the novel have been centered on elements of narration (i.e., the telling of events or actions), critics have largely ignored the functions of description. Zhang argues that an analysis of the novel centered on describing rather than storytelling yields a different view of literary history. Reading modernists’ aesthetic theories against their literary works, Zhang shows that these writers altered the very idea of what it means to describe something, uncoupling it from the idea of visualizing how things look and fashioning instead new, sometimes strange ways of saying what things are like.