Bi Feiyu's Voice

By Jingze, Li | Chinese Literature Today, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Bi Feiyu's Voice


Jingze, Li, Chinese Literature Today


In Bi Feiyu's novels, there is an obvious but seldom fully elaborated desire: that the narrator or the writer could guide readers to notice him, to listen to him with rapt attention. He seems keenly aware that it is difficult if not impossible for a single person to utter his voice in this world and be heard by the crowds without being misunderstood.

Of course, all authors have a similar desire, a profound drive to seek affirmation from oneself as well as others. This desire can be satisfied in writing, since the act of writing contains the expectation that it will be read and listened to. Furthermore, the writer will nervously look forward to the realization of such expectations. Every author is a child awaiting the attention and appreciation of his parents.

But on this issue, Bi Feiyu is the exception to the rule.

In fact, Bi Feiyu is not a writer particularly suitable for translation. The novels of Bi Feiyu, if reinterpreted in another language, must be reduced to perhaps only half the meanings they posses in the original, for his novels in Chinese give Chinese readers a deep impression. And these readers can clearly make out his tone, Bi Feiyu's own singular tone.

Of course, many writers have developed their own tone, which at times becomes a well-known path toward particular points of view and feelings about the world. For those writers in China still enjoying fame since the 1980s, which might be called the Chinese golden age of literature, the secret of enduring power lies in the fact that their tone does not only belong to themselves but has become a new paradigmatic voice that is later used and overused in the modern Chinese literature that follows.

For a writer, this can be both a great fortune and misfortune. While the writer impacts his nation's language, he is also dissolved and digested by the vast ocean of that language. The causes and effects of this fortune and misfortune are beyond the scope of this article. Furthermore, Bi Feiyu is not a part of the 1980s; he is one of the few Chinese writers to begin a successful literary career in the 1990s. So while one can argue that he does not have the luck of the '80s generation, which is also a result of his personal choices, at least he has tried to resist their misfortune. Even from a purely artistic point of view, the language he uses in his novels is special and insoluble. His tone and the world he describes do not entirely correspond. Take Mo Yan, Su Tong, and Yu Hua, who are more familiar to Western readers-their tone is completely given to the world, but there is a more complex relationship between Bi Feiyu's voice and the world it writes about.

Reading Mo Yan's novel, you will no doubt come to believe that his unique style creates the right tone for his world. Though his voice is stylized, highhanded, distinctive, often startling and oppressive, you always know it offers the precise essence of this world, and it is what Mo Yan wants to express and decides to give you. When reading Bi Feiyu's novels, you will feel that his voice expresses his world, but at the same time, his voice also seeks self-expression-Bi Feiyu's language and the world his language describes mobilize different feelings of confrontation and competition.

As critics agree, Bi Feiyu is a master of language. With regard to his language's elegance, precision, poetic quality, complexity, and sharpness, Bi Feiyu can be ranked at the top of contemporary Chinese novelists. However, our evaluation of novels usually rests on their humanistic content, which of course cannot be separated from the language-many critics are most likely guilty of regarding a novel's "meaning" as something independent of form, something that can be separated out for sorting and retelling, just as we are forced to believe that there will be more real life after we are divorced from the body. In this sense, such critics are mostly believers in the "immortality of the soul." So, facing a novelist who has mastered language as Bi Feiyu has, we might naturally have a puritanical suspicion: whether he has committed the sin of pleasure (linguistic and corporeal) and is openly displaying an emphasis on the pleasure of materiality. …

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