Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Animal Contact in Liu Ka-Shiang's He-Lien-Mo-Mo the Humpback Whale

Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Animal Contact in Liu Ka-Shiang's He-Lien-Mo-Mo the Humpback Whale

Article excerpt

When it comes to nature writers in Taiwan, Liu Ka-shiang is definitely the one who cannot possibly be ignored. His work has been acclaimed as "the epitome of the history of Taiwan nature writings" (Huang Tsung-chieh 286), and he is "the most representative flag-bearer" (qtd. in Meng 99) of this genre. Liu is an amazingly prolific and versatile writer. From poetry, prose, novel, picture book, through social criticism, reportage, travelogue, historical document, to even tour guide book and pamphlet, Liu has had a go at all of them. He is a pioneer in developing various ecology-related genres, and he is the first and foremost Taiwan writer who cares and writes about the whales (Hsu, "Studies" 36). Out of his many whale writings,1 He-lien-mo-mo the Humpback Whale (1993) attracts the most critical attention. In it, an aging anthropomorphized humpback whale called He-lien-mo-mo is determined to swim upriver to get himself stranded on the shallow bank, and the plausible reason he gives is that he cannot find purpose and meaning in life. There are numerous ways for him to commit suicide if he wants to end his life; why does he choose stranding? Why does he choose to strand himself on the river bank, instead of the beach? Why doesn't he do it like other stranded whales have done before him? It is a much more difficult journey if we consider the size of the whale, the pollution of the river, and the danger of possible sightings by human beings. In this paper, I don't intend to uncover the mystery of whale stranding, but by making use of Liu's unraveling of the mystery, I intend to show Liu's idea of being (in contact) with the animal on the one hand, and on the other, I argue that contact with the animal is the driving force to motivate Liu to go beyond over and over again the solipsistic sphere of anthropocentric manual touch and homogenizing visual capacity.

Anthropomorphism

Liu Ka-shiang has always been blatantly anthropomorphic in his representation of animals. Almost all of his animal characters not only talk, but feel and think like human beings. Even though there has been a long history in the scientific world of regarding anthropomorphism as a taboo word and a strictly forbidden practice, the fear of it seems to be a pure Western sentiment. The anthropomorphic proclivity of Liu's animal fictions does not bother too much the critical reception by Taiwan literary circles. Only very few critics complain about it. (2) Most of the critics and scholars, when dealing with this feature, tend to understand it as a harmonious representation between the human and the animal. In his discussion of Liu's nature poetry, Meng Fan suggests that what characterizes Liu's penchant for anthropomorphism is "self involvement" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], literally "there is me," in contrast with the Buddhist concept of Anatman/Niratman, that is, "noself," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). It helps facilitate an intersubjective (or empathetic) exchange between the poet and nature (109, 128), and Meng concludes that "the self involvement is warm and gentle, while no-self is dry and coarse" (109). Wu Mingyi believes that a latent poetic possibility is hidden in Liu's anthropomorphism, and Liu's scientific observation of the animals "becomes the writer's philosophical meditation in He-lien-mo-mo the Humpback Whale" (29). To Tan Chuang-lan, this characteristic gives people "an easy familiarity in the reading experience" (119). Wang Miao-ru praises Liu's observation of natural ecology (especially birds and whales) as a perfect combination between professional knowledge and a passionate soul (27; cf. Huang Tsung-huei, "Animal Advocacy" 85-86; Tseng 296; Kuo 50). Liu's animal fictions are apparently products of literary imagination, and their scientific knowledge (whether scientifically true or not) is only secondary to support the realistic facade of a creative work. In addition, the circle of biological science has acknowledged that not all forms of anthropomorphism are unacceptable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.