Bernet J. Taminiaux S. IJsseling H. Leonardy D.
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Philosophie, politique, actualité, littérature, arts
Back Matter Pages Editors and affiliations. Bernet 1 J. Taminiaux 2 S. The modernist writers, for their part, set themselves apart from this first flourish of modern Chinese literature, by rejecting the political and social role attributed to literature, as well as by considering the non engaged works of the same period as being too lyrical and sentimental.
However a refined and studied language did not mean a return to the language of the cultivated; on the contrary, it adapted itself to the vernacular, bai hua in order to play with different registers, and mix regional dialects with the jargon of the various social classes.
Thus Bai Xianyong delights in provoking a collision between the refined language of the generals' milieu and the vulgar language of prostitutes. Wang Wenxing introduces orality into his texts by interjections and onomatopoeias, by making use of various written forms, of the Taiwanese phonetic system zhuyin fuhao as well as of rare sinograms. The influence of Kafka, Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and others, all foreign writers who were translated in the journal, is visible in the form as well as in the subjects chosen.
The fictional characters reveal an identity tormented by the inaccessible past and the present pragmatic reality, which demands that each person struggle to survive. With Bai Xianyong, the generals who lost the war become fallen heroes, living an artificial life in the centre of a Taipei which was still on a human scale. Memories leapfrog the war, modestly recalling painful events replaced by glorious memories of brilliant youth in the pre-war period, in the prosperous circles of the big cities such as Shanghai. The analysis is essentially of the psychology of the characters, with Bai Xianyong's vivid and colourful language revealing the contradictions of the individual swept along by the course of history.
In that novel, written between and , the author distances himself from his past, which is what allows him to run through the life of the character Fan Ye from childhood into adulthood, using his own experiences as inspiration, without becoming unduly involved. Apart from the summary, in a few almost innocuous lines, of the departure from the mainland towards the island, the return to the past is almost exempt from any relationship to historical events. Nonetheless, the atmosphere, to which we will return below, is repressive, and even depressing, laden with unavowed feelings and incomplete reflections.
This is a Bildungsroman which follows the precedent of the previous stories, focused on the emotions of a young adolescent, and on his aesthetic judgements of existence. Steven L. Riep, in a special edition of Chong Wai Literary Monthly 10 , has corrected this oversight.
He shows that the collapse of the Kuomintang army is not dealt with in a way which would satisfy the authorities, but that the pain and the shame which the soldiers of the nationalist army must live with are described in considerable detail, no doubt for what is one of the very first times It is not a question of making anti-communist statements, nor of extolling the merits of the nationalist army. Propaganda wrapped the casualties of the war in silence, the soldiers enrolled against their will, like the poet Shang Qin The separation of families on both sides of the Strait and the horrors of the war are subjects that have never been broached.
Wang Wenxing seems to take an interest in the fate of those who survived the war. What sort of lives do they lead, how do they interpret the past, how do they live with their memories? They have not seen each other since then, and each one tells the others, in turn, of their trials and tribulations, and of their close brush with death during the flight to Taiwan.
The only character who reflects the official discourse is the waiter, also an ex-soldier, who views his superiors with veneration. But little by little, as the narratives unfold, the humility of the characters shows through, as well as the suffering and the humiliation they have endured in silence. They all show themselves in their true light, as traumatised, desperate people, who are merely surviving their past.
The heroes come down off their pedestals. The banquet comes to an end without any celebration, and without any vows of reconquest. The heroes have become human beings again, and even pitiful beings who barely survive their physical suffering and their moral pain. To the one who lost a thumb in the fight against the communists, after the cowardly desertion of his brother-in-arms, who fled alone with his men, which is the most painful suffering? He hides his hand, but above all he hides the shame of incomprehensible betrayal.
Looking for Difference after Levinas and Heidegger
Does another officer, who was castrated, suffer more from that humiliation, or from the memories of two days of massacres during which, in the main room of a Buddhist temple, communist executioners cut the throats of all his soldiers, one by one, after they had fallen into the hands of the communist army because of the mutiny of a squad who betrayed them to the enemy? Every one has his share in the horror. Even though communists and nationalists, proletarian soldiers and well-born officers were enemies one to the other, they all shared the same territory and the same culture.
Together they cross a river, the silent and menacing soldier having recognised his erstwhile superior, who himself remains unaware of this. The officer wants to cross the river in order to get back to his family. When he arrives, he finds the house empty and is told by a neighbour that his daughter has been raped and killed, and his wife and his two sons murdered.
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Is there any reason not to throw himself into the river? The ferryman takes him back to the other bank. The humiliated ex-soldier then reveals himself and, paradoxically, exhorts him to go on living and to flee… Both of them are men without qualities, afloat on the Styx, and they share the same fate and the same distress. He draws a remorseless picture of the war. However, it is the feeling of compassion towards these men which predominates. Since arriving on the island, the generals have had to earn a living: one is the servant of a foreign priest in a church, another raises chickens, two of them run a noodle stall together.
Truth and Singularity
Another, now a coalman, has not dared come to the banquet. All of these soldiers, who had not prepared for retirement, have been discarded; once generals who commanded whole armies, they have become men of the people who have to earn a living to survive. This banquet is probably the last real festivity in their miserable lives.
The waiter, who has not missed a word of these narratives, no longer views the generals with the same respect as before. Now he can see only their defects, the venerable prefect falling asleep with his head on the table, the general who drops his fork because of his mutilated hand, one whose trousers are threadbare, another who is going bald.
Nobody pays them any attention. Not the modernist writers who turn away from the day-to-day reality of Taiwan, nor the nativist writers who take into account only the native population of the island and who consider, quite rightly, the arrival of the nationalist government as a new form of oppression, nor contemporary literature either, which is centred on Taiwanese identity and the aborigines. None of them care about these unemployed soldiers who are reduced to finding their way like vulgar immigrants, unwelcomed by the local population.
Who could possibly care about their fate, since officially they belong to the upper class of society? Wang Wenxing first contributed to a critique of traditional Chinese society, and the family in particular, in Family Catastrophe, showing in this way that he favoured individual freedom, and the influence of the West, as well as the quest for language for its own sake.
This did not mean that he turned his back on the reality of Taiwan, for in this novel one can clearly see the poverty and the difficult relations with the natives and the aborigines. The narrator is critical of the attitude of the immigrants—such as the father—who, despite their inferior position in society, look down on those who are even lower on the ladder than they are. In this novel of a high aesthetic quality, Wang Wenxing allows a certain cruelty to filter through, which intensifies as the narrative progresses, while the narrator's lucid view of family and society leads the author to sharpen more and more the cutting edge of a scathing style.
If one considers that this novel does not confine itself to the family sphere, the rejection and flight of the father nevertheless leave some doubt as to their meaning. Why is there such steadily increasing brutality on the part of the son, and above all why, on the part of the father, is there such a long diminishment of his personality, a weakness, a lack of pugnaciousness, which leads to a complete indifference to everything? Is there to be found in Backed Against The Sea an answer to the fruitless search for the father? He is less than nothing, a nonentity who arouses no consideration or compassion.
He was born nowhere, on no particular date. His identity is mutilated, there is no way of knowing if he is an immigrant or a native, waishengren or bendiren which in a certain way puts an end to the dichotomy between the two major movements in Taiwanese literature in the s and 70s, of which this novel can be considered a synthesis. The story is rooted in local life, its characters are the little people, penniless fishermen and grasping whores, and it takes place in a seaport which is forgotten by the world. The author no longer shares his subjective, intellectual thoughts; he combines formal experimentation with the exploitation of local dialects, as well as the intensive use of the Taiwanese phonetic transcription system.
The novel is also realistic because the narrative takes place entirely in the small fishing port of Nanfang'ao, where the author himself did his military service. The place however represents only the enormous stage of an ancient amphitheatre, closed in by the mountains and presenting a circular arc to the sea. On this stage, a few characters are driven to play a pitiful role. Wang Wenxing stretches the realistic aspect by denying this fishing port, which in reality is prosperous, the sight of the least fish.
Thus we have to acknowledge that as a picaresque novel, it provides a pastiche of all the genres, ridiculing them in order to criticise itself In nativist literature, theoretically one must find an empathetic view of a social class that is oppressed and reduced to dire straits. This is far from being the case here.
Nevertheless, certain short stories by Chen Yingzhen, which describe the world of the little people, or Huang Chunming's The Gong, for example, do not give the impression of there being any compassion on the author's part. One should perhaps concede that these authors have not expressed a cynicism as radical as that of Wang Wenxing. This observation of the self as if it were another, deformed and dislocated, tends to demonstrate that man has no place in the very society which has produced him.
Biographie : Bernard-Henri Lévy
He is an exile without an exile's status, the native of a native country that does not recognise him as its own, a man without a past, who experiences the present moment without any depth. He is an incarnation of a consciousness at odds with the world, in which it is immersed against its will, but which tries at a crucial moment in life to see itself as it is. Backed Against The Sea might be the pseudobiography of a less than nobody left to his own devices in an absurd world.
All the more so as there seems to be no continuity to link this novel with the author's previous writings, and even less to his essays, which are always measured, prudent and precise. The only clue that Wang Wenxing seems to give to justify this novel and to situate it in the continuity of a work and an author—if such a justification is necessary—is the last page of the novel. It could easily not have been written, and the novel would have remained open on Ye's anguished call for help in the pitch darkness of the tiny room in which he lives.
Wang Wenxing did not want to leave it at that, but chose to finish off his character and to leave the reader with a feeling of disgust. It is at the very last moment that the hand of the master appears, with the author becoming the executioner of his character, and in a certain sense, his own executioner. This outburst of violence strikes a creature who is barely human, after four hundred pages of following his senseless tribulations, in order to make him unreal, to uproot any feeling of compassion, so that he is given the death he deserves, death by his own hand, when, having lost all dignity, he no longer considers himself to be a man.
One perceives a gratuitous act, a desire to do evil. The reader also feels as if he has been taken in; from the beginning, the death of the hero was imminent, and the author has merely delayed his end, for no reason, to prolong his suffering as long as possible. Wang Wenxing makes his readers into accomplices in the crime he is going to commit. Even the sky seems to mock the fate of this total loser, since for the first time in a novel where the rain has been constant, the weather has now turned fine.