Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Fiction of Living Beings

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Fiction of Living Beings

Article excerpt

Mo Yan's extremely diverse and original oeuvre over the last three decades has given rise to a number of major critical works.® The fictional universe of this author is generally perceived to be illuminated by a broad thematic spectrum, ranging from childhood memory through to the power of violence and the explosion of sensual experience in such works as Honggaoliang jiazu (The Red Sorghum Clan), Tanxiang xing (Sandalwood Torture), and Fengru feitun (Big Breasts and Wide Hips), to mention the most famous examples. 3 Some critics focus on cannibalism, which is a particularly striking phenomenon in Jiu guo (Wineland, or Liquorland) owing to its ingenious narrative presentation.9 Others opt for studies of the whole opus supported by monographs 4 or comparative <6) investigations. However, his work calls for fresh reflection taking into account its evolution and his scarcely explored intentionality. This author's literary world cannot be reduced to the myth of Gaomi, his reinvented birthplace, or to culture-based interpretations. Within it there is to be found a universal vision and a way of writing that confronts the major issues facing ^ mankind today. 5 In this respect his urgent concern with man's animal nature is expressed through obsessively recurrent motifs which, while being rooted within a specific history and geographical location, are nonetheless among the fundamental questions troubling the world as it enters the twenty-first century.

The universe of Mo Yan's imagination is based on a new 7. kind of humanism and a representation of society in which mankind is closely linked to the animal world, and this proximity is even what makes it human. Whether in a critical or in a celebratory vein, his work expresses an animal ethics that blurs the boundaries between our human selves and the otherness of animals, pointing towards a sense of community shared by all beings. This fiction of living beings,(8) which owes less to metaphysics than to phenomenology, places the emphasis on sensual experience co-ordinated with an imaginative reinvention of biopolitics. The three recent novels, Sishiyi pao (Forty-one Cannon Shots), Shengsi pilao (Life g and Death are Wearing Me Out), and Wa (Frogs),<9) broaden the animal motifs to be found throughout his previous publications, and provoke reflections on the possibilities of "living together" in a world that presupposes shared participation without human domination and discrimination between the species. The denunciation of human cruelty towards animals, the compassionate reciprocity favoured by metempsychosis, and the concrétisation of anthropo-zoomorphism through images: such are some of the ways in which a biocentric pattern is given novelistic shape and sharply distinguished from anthropocentrism.

he denunciation of cruelty

Mo Yan's work confronts us again with the question of man's absolute right over animals and the gratuitous nature of cruelty. The writer attributes this to our dogmatic adherence to modernisation, which exalts productivity and fetishises prosperity. The slaughterhouse in Sishiyi pao is a condensation of the perverted versions of modernity that provide naked violence with a patina of legitimacy. In effect every horror has its source in this meat-processing factory, which glorifies the modernising projects of the local authorities and, more broadly, of the nation as a whole. The creation of such an enterprise in a rural area enables an increase of productivity, in comparison with the artisan butchery that used to be the village's principal but scarcely viable activity. The industrialisation that drags the countryside out of poverty proves capable of satisfying the authorities. Moreover, the food industry that replaces family butchery seems to eliminate cruelty, if cruelty means an intentional act carried out by the one who inflicts it in direct contact with the one who undergoes it.(ll) But Mo Yan takes a stand against the impersonal automatism of machinery, in order to unmask the massive cruelty concealed by the de-individualising nature of serial production. …

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