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The A. Owen Aldridge Prize Citations 2008

2008 Prize Winner:

The 2008 Aldridge Prize for a Comparative Essay by a Graduate Student is awarded to Ning Ma of Princeton University for her essay, "When Robinson Crusoe Meets Ximen Qing: Material Egoism in the First Chinese and English Novels."

By comparing Robinson Crusoe with the novel Jin Ping Mei (The Plum in the Gold Vase), Ning Ma's article triangulates three points of the "world system" in the early modern period: China of the latter half of the Ming Dynasty; Daniel Defoe's England; and Robinson Crusoe's fictional island that in the course of Defoe's narrative becomes a laboratory for the testing of principles of possessive individualism. The term "material egoism" used to characterize both Robinson and his Chinese counterpart, Ximen Qing, deftly incorporates the economic basis of the ideological shift taking place at the time that these texts were written. Close readings of parallel passages demonstrate the dialectic operating in both texts between the role of material, manufactured goods in the lives of the protagonists, and the concomitant reification and commodification of their lifeworlds. The author also highlights a number of diametrically opposed aspects of these texts, from the sincere first-person narrator in Defoe vs. the sarcastic third-person recounting of Ximen Qing's fate, to the positive self-affirmation of Robinson as a self-made man vs. the negative positioning of Ximen in the context of Confucian ideals.

This essay impressed the judges with its keen eye for detail, its deployment of a wide range of theory—from Ian Watt through Lucien Goldmann and Immanuel Wallerstein—and its willingness to think globally while reading locally. The paper does a fine job of illustrating the commonalities between the historical and economic foundations that gave rise to the English and Chinese novels. Moreover, Ning Ma employs the parallels between these texts to throw light on the origins of the novel as a world phenomenon, and uses these common origins to suggest the existence of more connection between the early-modern cultures of East and West than has commonly been discussed, thus laying the groundwork for further research.

A biannual East-West issue has been a feature of Comparative Literature Studies since its founding by A. Owen Aldridge, and the founder of the Aldridge Prize would have been very gratified indeed to learn that a comparative approach he furthered and practiced had yielded a scholarly investigation as mature and nuanced as Ning Ma's.

2008 Aldridge Prize Committee:
Thomas Beebee, Pennsylvania State University (Chair)
Christopher P. Bush, Princeton University
Eric Hayot, University of Arizona
Corinne Scheiner, Colorado College