Michael A. Fuller

Picture of Michael A. Fuller
Professor Emeritus, East Asian Studies
School of Humanities
PH.D., Yale University
Fax: (949) 824-3248
Email: mafuller@uci.edu
University of California, Irvine
379 HIB
Mail Code: 6000
Irvine, CA 92697
Research Interests
Classical Chinese poetry and poetics, the cultural and intellectual contexts for poetry, literary history, aesthetic theory, linguistic issues in classical Chinese, and the neuroscience of memory, emotion, and selfhood
Research Abstract
Long ago as an undergraduate at Caltech, I decided that the questions I wanted to explore about the intersection of culture, identity, memory, emotion, and biology could best be answered (for me in any case) indirectly through literature and philosophy, with an eventual return to biology. After I transferred to Yale to complete a B.A. in English literature, I became interested in the question of the cultural and philosophical forces that shape literary history and began studying Chinese to gain a comparative perspective. This same question informed my doctoral thesis on the development of the poetry of the Northern Song dynasty literatus, Su Shi. The thesis--and then the book--focused on the intersection of literary and intellectual history. I next turned my attention to the complex cultural interactions shaping poetry in the Southern Song, the period of the rise of Neo-Confucianism and of a larger epistemic shift that marked the beginning of late imperial Chinese culture.

Given the differences between contemporary western and classical Chinese formulations about language, literature, emotion, and the mind, as I pursued specific historical studies, I also sought conceptual categories sufficiently basic to human experience to allow meaningful cross-cultural comparisons. Here I turned in part to the Kantian account of aesthetic judgments and in part to connectionist versions of neuroscience, which provided ways of thinking about language, memory, emotion, and the human structuring of meaning.

My first effort to explain the significance of connectionist neuroscience in explaining the domain of human experience usually explored by the humanities was a manuscript (see below) that never saw the light of day. Perhaps I should not have insisted that the reader learn linear algebra to follow the mathematics of neural networks.

After I finished my book on the Southern Song literary history, I returned to the project of presenting contemporary neuroscience to my humanist colleagues in order to draw connections between neuroscientific paradigms and models for meaning in the humanities. This project has culminated in the book Being Biological: Human Meaning in the Age of Neuroscience. I have found the recent developments in neuroscience extremely promising for conversation with humanists. (1) Since my first effort twenty years ago, neuroscientists have increasingly stressed the distributed nature of neural activity and the importance of the long-distance connectivity via white matter tracts. (2) With the greater sense of the interconnectedness of process, stressed in particular in network neuroscience, the role of affect in all aspects of perception and cognition has become increasing clear and largely accepted. (3) Researchers have increasingly applied the ideas of predictive coding, best known through the paradigms of deep belief networks and deep knowledge, developed by computational neuroscientists. In this class of models, each ascending layer of neural networks develops a model for the patterns of input presented to it by the lower layers and passes back best-guess interpretations of the incoming stream as top-down activation to help rapidly process the lower-level input. Thus, each layer in the network develops abstractions about the patterns of the perceived world, but at each layer, these "concepts" (abstraction of input patterns into mutually defining systems of objects, events, and actions) grow increasingly complex and of higher-order dimensionality. In these models, perception and interpretation are closely intertwined, and, given the complexity and diversity of connectivity, both perception and cognition are shaped by memory structures that integrate emotion, the proprioceptive data of the body, and our entire history of encounter with the world. I argue that humanists know a good deal about the nuances and difficulties of these interactions and need to be part of the conversation about the human structuring of meaning.

Over the past fifteen years, I also have been the chief database architect for the China Biographical Database (CBDB), a project inherited by the Harvard-Yenching Institute from the late Robert Hartwell. I revamped the data structures and created user interfaces, first in Foxpro (since Harwell's project was in dBase), and then in Microsoft Access. CBDB has expanded greatly over the years, and I continue to need to make adjustments both in the data structures and in the interface.
Awards and Honors
Franklin R. Buchanan Prize for Asian Curricular Materials, awarded by the Association for Asian Studies for An Introduction to Chinese Poetry (2019)
Short Biography
After graduating from high school in Ridgewood, NJ, in 1969, I initially attended Caltech (majoring in biology and English) before transferring to Yale University, where I was graduated with a major in English literature. Because I wanted a perspective on literary history from outside of Western traditions, I began to study modern Chinese when I entered Yale in 1972. I spent the summers of 1973 and 1974 learning Mandarin in Taiwan and then entered the graduate program in classical Chinese literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale. In 1976 I received funding from the Japanese Ministry of Education to study Chinese literature at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan for 18 months. And it was in Sendai that I met wife, who was teaching English there. I returned to Yale but then took time off to work in Seattle while my wife finished her MA in Japanese Studies. After spending the year 1980 in Taiwan, where I continue advanced study of modern and classical Chinese, I returned to finish my Ph.D. on the poetry of the Song dynasty polymath Su Shi (1037-1101) in 1983. My wife then started her doctoral program in sociology at the University of Chicago, where I worked in its Computation Center as a junior programmer/analyst. However, after a year, I received appointment as an assistant professor at Harvard in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. After leaving Harvard in 1990, I became a software programmer (Copan Software), working primarily on database applications. In 1992 I was hired by the University of California, Irvine, as an assistant professor of Chinese literature and thought. I remained there through the rest of my career before retiring 2021.
An Introduction to Chinese Poetry: from the Canon of Poetry to the Lyrics of the Song Dynasty (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2017)
Drifting among Rivers and Lakes: Southern Song Dynasty Poetry and the Problem of Literary History, Harvard University Asia Center, 2013
An Introduction to Literary Chinese. Harvard University Press (1999)
The Road to East Slope: The Development of Su Shi's Poetic Voice. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1990)
Book Chapters and Articles
[Co-authored with Martin W. Huang] “Literature and Confucianism” in Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, ed., Oxford Handbook of Confucianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
“Theoretical Reflections on Literary History and Middle Period Chinese Poetry” in Sarah M. Allen, Jack W. Chen, and Xiaofei Tian, eds., Reading Text and World: Literary History in and beyond China (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center Press, forthcoming)
“Poetry Commentary” in Jack W. Chen, et al., Literary Information in China: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021), pp. 158-68.
“‘倦夜’ —对中国古典传统中肉身诗学的反思 (“‘Weary Night:’ A Reflection on Embodied Poetics in the Classical Chinese Tradition”), in 中國學術 (Chinese Scholarship) vol. 38 (2018)
“‘人文’:中唐时期诗歌和审美经验转变 (“Patterns of the Human Realm: Poetry and Transformations of Aesthetic Experience in Mid-Tang China”) in Jiang Yin 蔣寅, ed., 川合先生榮休紀念文集 (Retirement Festschriff for Kawai Kozo), (Hangzhou: Fenghuang Press, 2017)
[Co-authored with Shuen-fu Lin] “Chapter 6: North and South: The Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries” in Stephen Owen and Kang-yi Chang Sun, eds., The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
“Aesthetics and Meaning in Experience: A Theoretical Perspective on Zhu Xi’s Revision of Song Dynasty Views of Poetry,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies Vol. 65, No. 2 (Dec. 2005), pp. 311-55.
中國詩歌經驗的理論闡釋: 對宋詩史的反思緒言 (“Theorizing Chinese Poetic Experience: a Prolegomenon to Rethinking the History of Song Dynasty Poetry.”) Xin Song xue [New Song Studies] 1(2001):167-181. (Translated by Chen Lin)
"Pursuing the Complete Bamboo in the Breast: Reflections on a Classical Chinese Image for Immediacy," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (June, 1993).
2009-2010 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship
2009-2010 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship
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