JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Linda Rui Feng

December 2, 2021 by Linda Rui Feng & Sonja Johnston

Linda Rui Feng (FAS East Asian Studies, Ph.D. 2008, Columbia University) is Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, and the author of City of Marvel and Transformation: Chang’an and Narratives of Experience in Tang Dynasty China (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015), which explores the conception of spatial knowledge and its role in the collective imagination. She is also a fiction writer and the author of Swimming Back to Trout River, long-listed for the Giller Prize. Linda is one of the JHI's 2021-22 Faculty Research Fellows.

JHI: What are your main research interests?

LRF: From my first book-length project on writing and urban space (in ninth-century China), my research interests have branched off into the visual representations of space on early modern Chinese maps, the perception of coastal and maritime space in Medieval texts, and (very broadly speaking) the histories of the senses. It's the last of these research interests that I'm very fortunate to be developing at JHI this year.

JHI: What research project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

LRF: I'm starting a new project about the history of scent and aromatics in China. The world of scent--and by extension our engagement with it--is elusive and understudied, despite its tremendous importance in how we understand and perceive the world. This year's JHI theme, Pleasure, gives me an opportunity to think about ancient Chinese olfactory culture, about how people understood and curated scents, not only as sources of pleasure but also as socially-rooted experiences, through the uses of aromatic materials such as incense.

JHI: What experiences are you hoping for while you’re at the JHI?

LRF: I'm extremely grateful for the weekly Circle of Fellows discussions at JHI, even if we are not able to eat together in a more convivial setting due to COVID restrictions. Each week, the research presentations and ensuing conversations give me ways to think about my research objectives anew. The public-facing nature of many of the JHI fellows' projects also push me to think about what it means to be a scholar and writer today.

JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by.

LRF: I just read an essay in Brick Magazine by the Austrian artist Wolfgang Georgsdorf, titled "Synosmies for the Odience," which describes his process of conceiving and creating an instrument that can "play scents, comparable to the tones and sounds played on a musical organ." Starting from what draws him to the world of smells, he lays out his rationale for a "scent theatre" and describes the difficulties he faced in bringing this "scent organ" to fruition (including the resistance of funders who don't know what to make of the departure from the familiar limits of installations/performance).

JHI: What is a fun fact about you?

LRF: I've been trying to learn more about fungi, a part of the living world that is endlessly fascinating and tremendously important ecologically and environmentally. My own interest began simply from a gastronomical perspective, but has evolved into a much deeper appreciation of the fungi kingdom. Last year I read Anna Tsing's capacious book, The Mushroom at the End of the World, and it became just one of many rabbit holes I'd like to follow.

This profile is part of the JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight, a series where we highlight each Fellow, their interests, and their research so that you can get to know them a little better.