The Ordinary Fashion Show: Eileen Chang’s Profane Illumination and Mnemonic Art


Eileen Chang’s fiction and essays show us an intricate relationship between the quotidian, gender and literary imagination. Similar to what Walter Benjamin calls “profane illumination,” her literary inspirations are drawn from the materialistic and anthropological dimensions in the mundane realm of everyday life. On the one hand, her feminine writings about clothing display Shanghai as a phantasmagoria in the perpetual process of innovation and destruction. On the other hand, her secular reflections can be traced to an ancient memory of Chinese antiquity without the celebration of a sense of youthfulness and freshness that characterizes Western modernist literature. Questioning the gendered space of everyday life, her writings, which deal with both the historical and the philosophical, destabilize the binary thinking of female sensibility and masculine sublimity.

Written by Esther M.K. Cheung
Published in Louie, K (Ed.), Eileen Chang: Romancing Languages, Cultures and Genres, pp. 73-90. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.