AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 392

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Session 392: Modern Chinese Literature I

Spirituality and the Form of Gao Xingjian’s Magical Mountain
Yi-Hsuan Tso, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Spirituality and the Form of Gao Xingjian’s Magical Mountain This paper argues that the novel Magical Mountain (Lingshan) accentuates in its form the infusion between the secular and supernatural worlds. Dubbed “a stylist” by a reviewer, Gao Xingjian accounts for a quest to link these two worlds in Magical Mountain (Fan 309). With a few exceptions, the chapters alternate between travelers’ tales told in the first person and the inner reflection narrated in the second-person in a mental landscape. Moreover, Gao’s narrators leave the cities to traipse in backward mountains where they are in contact with the magical powers of nature, folk tales and rituals. This form is indebted to the Mountain and Sea Classics, lauded as one of the earliest Chinese novels. Like the classic, Magical Mountain portrays deities that are half-human and half-beast, unusual creatures, and ancient creation myths. Just as folk songs cleanse the novel’s language, nature supplies a refuge to the travelers and the wild man, and the escape evokes reflections on individual freedom and independence of mind; Gao claims that a writer should neither follow the crowd nor succumb to political pressure. Despite its use of these conventions, Magical Mountain invents a new form that is unlike supernatural tales; the stories are set in towns and villages treated as real places, and unlike novels of legends, the gravity is placed on the magic in nature of which humans are part of and on the reflexivity of life.

Can Xue's post-modern aesthetics: spirituality, the absurd and the sublime
Rosemary M. Haddon, Independent Scholar, New Zealand

Can Xue (b.1953) is a contemporary Chinese writer of “new experimental literature” (xin shiyan wenxue). Her unusual style comprises parable, folklore, and images of paranoia, dissociation, strange bodily ailments and violence. Her Kafkaesque absurdity proceeds on the basis of the impossibility of finding meaning in a chaotic world. In place of standard linear narration, one finds acentered multiplicities and narrative flows that deliver up fragments of dialogues and non-sequiturs. These features recall the re-conceptualization of literature in terms of root systems, that is, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus) who use the analogy of the rhizome to describe literature and the book in terms of roots. Significant features of her works include subjectivity, the absurd and the sublime, and projects of intertextuality that are volatile and unfixed. Can Xue’s revolutionary constructs show to advantage her radical departure from what has gone before and separate her out from her contemporaries. Her aesthetics reflect her interrogation of literary practice since the reform era. The talk centers on Can Xue’s aesthetics, subjectivities, the simulacrum, the sublime and hypertravel. My discussion dwells on well-known short pieces such as “Hut on the Hill” and “Dialogues in Paradise.” It then moves on to the longer works Yellow Mud Street and Five Spice Street. A significant part deals with the theme of hyper travel in her recent novel Frontier. The hybridity of this work stems from the merging of the alterities of ancient Chu with the existential dilemma of Franz Kafka’s Castle.

Rejuvenating Family Values
Hui-chuan Wu, , Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper explores how Taiwanese writers deploy Chinese family values as a thematic trope to acknowledge, narrate, and negotiate, or even to ramify and challenge the linked effects of rapid industrialization, economic development, and cultural transformation. Between 1960 and 1990, Taiwan’s economy achieved “rapid growth and reduced inequality,” two characteristics that the World Bank recognized as what defined “the East Asian economic miracle” (27). Even though national economic growth is impossible without the contribution of individual households, the family played a special key role in Taiwan’s economic development between the 60s and 80s. Two programs targeting at the family, Keting Ji Gongchang (Living Rooms as Factories/Workplaces) and Mama Jiaoshi (The Mother’s Workshops), were launched in 1972. Endorsed by Xie Dong-min, the Governor of Taiwan Province, the programs were intended to “fully utilize manpower and accelerate economic development” and at the same time, to “reinforce the role of the family in building a healthy society and strong nation.” The revitalization and glorification of Confucian family values in the two programs elucidated the way in which the state envisioned the family a buffer or a safety net when facing the challenges of modernization. Even as economist and social scientists articulate Confucius values and Asian family as the contributing factors of the East Asian economic “miracle,” the nativist literature movement in Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s, which emerged in antagonism to the influence of European modernism, argued for important changes in how literary works should narrate, respond to, and in conversation with the social, economic, and political transformation in Taiwan, from whose perspective and in what form. This paper traces the intersections between Confucian values, political economy, and culture in Huang Chun-ming’s “Young Widow” and Yang Qichu’s “Widows,” connecting them to questions of economy, domesticity, and modernization theory.

Articulating entanglement: Chinese female authors' body writing
Justyna Jaguscik, University of Zurich, Switzerland

The aim of my paper is to inquire how images and representations of femininity have been constructed in mainland Chinese women’s literature (poetry and fiction) and theory after 1978. Comprehensive translations of western feminist writing, together with the indigenous traditions and social practices, led to an ongoing deconstruction of various sets of images of “modern women” which had emerged in the Republican and Maoist iconographies. For these reasons female subjectivity and agency have been reconceptualised in a process of self-questioning. Starting with female poetry of the 1980s and 1990s, the female corporeal experience became the focal point of numerous authors’ writing. This corporal turn challenged the existing literary tradition, in which the human body had been considered vulgar . In these authors' body writing a new semiotic space was created, thus engendering a shift of meaning in the perception of femininity. Theoretical approaches dealing with this phenomenon triggered ongoing discussions and negotiations concerning heterogeneous understandings of femininity, sex/ gender relations and the future trajectories of feminism. Departing from Gayatri Spivak’s reinterpretation of the “subaltern” term in her influential essay Can the subaltern speak? I intend to trace diverse politics of representation and articulation addressing subaltern corporeality in Chinese female intellectuals writing. From a historical perspective I regard Wang Anyi and Zhai Yongming’s body writing in the early 1980s as a breakthrough and thus important for my current presentation in which I focus on Sheng Keyi’s novel Beimei [“Girl from the North”, 2004].

Mutiny of Sigifiers: The Retreat of Language in Postmodern Chinese Narrative
Yongchun Cai, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

[Abstract] This article presents a Chinese trajectory of avant-garde “aesthetics of disruption” in the retreat of language that leaves meaning into exile, and examines the radical and uncompromising subversion of narrative paradigms in conventional Chinese representation. In the writings of the Chinese avant-gardists, particularly of Sun Ganlu, the mode of depth that involves integrity and unity is disrupted to the point that the texts, created for “play” and not for “interpretation,” take on the appearance of a wild arena for the manipulation of language. This article theoretically explores the postmodernist Derridian impact on the Chinese writer, who radically pursues the splitting power between signifiers and signifieds and deconstructs narrative structure on account of the deficiency of explicit subject matter, leaving his fantasized subject an entire freedom not only in fantasizing his poetic and philosophical instantaneous moments but also in pointing toward both carnivalization and impoverishment of language. His disruption of novelistic narrative order is part of his scheme to throw into crisis the society’s prevailing codes, the truth or validity of which is generally assumed. This article reveals to the reader the dazzling facet of postmodernist maneuvers by the Chinese avant-garde in smashing certainties and stabilities in linguistic and cultural realms. [Keywords] signifiers and signifieds, wordplay, aesthetics of disruption, linguistic subversion, retreat of language, Sun Ganlu