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Maoist discourse, trauma and Chinese avant-garde literature.

Even if we accept the periodization marked by the date June Fourth 1989, we can also remark that Chinese avant-garde writers had already anticipated the arrival of posthistory before the world-appalling carnage of Tiennamen Square. "After June Fourth" can then serve as the Chinese postmodern index to the terminus of Far Eastern Marxism in its excessively ideological form - Maoism.

But also, the deconstruction of this ideological form had already been undertaken in the Chinese avant-garde literature which began to emerge in the mid-eighties.

It is not that the Chinese avant-garde witnessed the historical calamity and then wrote. On the contrary, it is June Fourth itself which functioned as a moment of witness to traumas already voiced by these avant-garde writers. The writing in question took on the unconscious effects of the discursive violence of the Cultural Revolution. The catastrophe of June Fourth took place in a cultural atmosphere already decayed by the Cultural Revolution.

Chinese writers and poets of the avant-garde circle - Can Xue, Xu Xiaohe, Yu Hua, Meng Lang, Wan Xia, to name just a few - all belong to the generation that grew up during the Cultural Revolution, their individual lives each marked by intense ideologically imposed duress. This duress, as a psychic assault, turns out to be the trauma each of them seeks to master.

My emphasis on the ideological quality of Chinese Marxism is certainly not intended to underestimate the political function of its claim to be the source of universal knowledge. I want to stress the fact that Marxism was more pervasively - and also perversively - "moralized" by the apparent propaganda of the party apparatus. It was imposed as a faith, as something beyond recognition or reason. In this sense, the discursivity of Maoist ideology becomes more obvious than that of the dominant currents in Western culture. Mao, however much a source of pleasure he might be for Occidental Marxists, is nevertheless the "Word Incarnate" of Oriental meta-discourse.

Most young Chinese scholars have now become aware of the immeasurable sway of "Maoist discourse" [Maoyu]. Li Jie, one of the leading avant-garde critics in China, wrote in April 1989: "Once the system of Maoist discourse is deconstructed, Mao's historical image, as well as the history he symbolizes, will come to an end" (14).

As the fundamental form of political manipulation in China,(1) Maoist discourse possessed a peculiar attraction and, at the same time, exerted an intensive violence on every individual.

In emphasizing the discursivity of violence in the Cultural Revolution I do not mean to distract attention from the blunt intensity of the trauma that its violence brought to the Chinese nation. Rather, I want to insist that the spiritual slaughter was no less ferocious - that it, too, generated real carnage.

Although homicide in the strict sense is not the major crime attributed to the Cultural Revolution, still those who were condemned as the "enemy of the antagonistic classes" [jieji diren] were accorded worse treatment under the "proletarian dictatorship" [wuchanjieji zhuanzheng] than those in the concentration camps. Regardless of locus, though, the most important fact is that all the political persecution could proceed only through the validation of Maoist discourse.

The Chinese avant-garde's premonition of the impending catastrophe was, to a great extent, derived from its keen awareness of the existence of the ongoing traumatic memory-trace of this consecutive assault. For them, it was Maoist discourse which put the ruin in place even before the disaster.

The Chinese avant-garde writers of today were in their childhood when the Cultural Revolution was initiated by Mao in the mid-sixties. My thesis in this paper is that it is precisely the traumatic effect of Maoist discourse which marks present-day avant-garde literature. This marking is not a matter of memory.

In talking about discursive violence, I refer to the efficacy of Maoist discourse in producing an unconscious traumatic effect which did not surface for many years. A study of the Chinese avant-garde would be in vain if the discursive system of the ten-year Cultural Revolution were ignored.

As a totalitarian discipline, Maoist discourse wielded its outrageous weapon against everything and everyone under its control. The Marxist principle of "class struggle" was utilized as an arbitrary law to liquidate all other "transgressive" libidinal genres. However, it offered a rosy landscape of a "communist" utopia in which altruism was claimed to be the only rule of the existent society. Only by producing a ravishing utopian discourse could the party apparatus ravish the recipients of this discourse.

Li Jie has noticed this two-fold aspect of Maoist discourse in a similar way. He singles out examples from The Quotations from Chairman Mao [Mao Zhuxi yulu], the most prevalent and influential text both of and after the Cultural Revolution. He divides these examples into "red" and "black" signs. "Red" includes positive statements and pronouncements, mostly concerning heroes, ideals, and moral paradigms. "Black" refers to harsh denunciations of and warnings against the "enemy of the antagonistic classes."

These two aspects - red and black - are intertwined in a single system of discourse. In fact, the aggressive factor of Maoist discourse was intended to be as bewitching as that of a sexual assault. Its style implied simultaneously excitation and release. I use these terms here intending their full Freudian weight.

But the magnificent, seductive, visage of Maoist discourse turned out to be a sheer terror. Its grand narrative was too colossal to embrace, too "mature" for a small individual, especially for a child, to understand. Too exciting and unincorporable, it could only traumatize.

The original response, then, to this discursive violence was neither pure repugnance nor pure pain. Rather, there was a certain degree of pleasure, induced by the seeming intimacy of Maoist discourse. The discourse itself acted as what Freud called the "scene of seduction," its effects in excess of what the prepubertal child can contain. As the "first blow," this later-to-be-traumatic event "strikes the apparatus without any observable internal effect. It is a shock without effect" (Lyotard 1990, 16).

Maoist discourse has thus left a traumatic memory-trace (not memory proper, though) that remains unconscious. Trauma, writes Freud, is "an experience which, within a short period of time presents the mind with an increase of stimulus too powerful to be dealt with or worked off in the normal way, and this must result in permanent disturbances of the manner in which the energy operates" (1916-17, 275). Obviously, it is the monstrous violence of Maoist discourse that exceeded the limitations of understanding and sensibility.

Maoist discourse has generated what Freud calls a "deferred action," or after-effect. This after-effect is precisely what Chinese avant-garde literature attempts to voice. Only by working through the memory-trace of the earlier events can the Chinese avant-garde have access to the traumatic scene. This access leads not to a representational narrative, but to a deformative, disruptive work that alludes to the opacity and the anachronism of that violent shock. The traumatic effect, accordingly, lies in the aesthetics of the sublime.

Following that notion, we can say that the aesthetic of the sublime exists in Chinese avant-garde literature as a deformative consequence of an originary trauma. There is no direct representation of this effect, as a feeling of the sublime, since it is not only "outside art" but also outside consciousness as such. Adhering to the unconscious effect, however, the aesthetic of the sublime is a "nostalgic" one which "allows the unrepresentable to be put forward only as missing contents" (Lyotard 1984a, 81).

Now we can perceive the peculiar feature of the Chinese avant-gardism: its "missing contents" arc apparently the effects of past trauma, which is only later embodied. This later work consists of a recollected anamnesis. The avant-garde endeavor considered here is a re-working of primary repression. This reworking does not aim at a veridical representation of the past. Rather, its function is to disrupt and resist any totalitarian claims on the interpretation of the past.

Thus, this avant-garde literature approaches the psychic state of trauma and aims at an anamnesis of the original violence. But that grim aim is intermixed with another, nearly ecstatic one of undermining the hegemonic order which had already been established by the traces of that original violence. It is in this sense that Harold Bloom suggests that "the terror of the literary Sublime must and can give pleasure" (1981, 225).

In Can Xue and Xu Xiaohe, for example, the chaotic, neurotic narrative rips up the submerged effect of the violence of Maoist discourse and signals the terror and absurdity of that violence. The result is an eruption of a negative Bakhtinian carnival of the original barbarous figures. The original moment can thus only be detected by way of its fragmentation or ruin. It is never referenced directly.

Representing the unrepresentable always implies the invalidity of a "realistic" narrative. Hence, the avant-garde aesthetic of the sublime indicates a rupture of temporality. Only by deferring the past, in the Derridean sense, can memory differ from what it contains and then maintain its deconstructive force. "Memory," says Derrida when he touches upon the issue of "deferred action," "is not a physical property among others; it is the very essence of the psyche: resistance, and precisely, thereby, an opening to the effraction of the traceo" (1978, 201).

This "opening," of course, assumes an inconsistent and critical distance between the now and the past. It is this discrepancy which is the very source of writing and gives writing its abrupt, evocative power to intrude into history. Avant-garde writing in China is not a process of identifying. Rather, shaped by a kind of repetition compulsion, it is an attempt to stress the gap, or to "breach," in Derrida's words, the original: "Repetition adds no quantity of present force, no intensity; it reproduces the same impression - yet it has the power of breaching" (1978, 201). The repetition compulsion, as the psychic action of resistance in the unconscious, educes the repressed onto the present surface of the work (e.g., literary work) while revealing the irreconcilable fissure between the two.

On the other hand, realism, grounded on the literary mode of representation, insists on the reconciliation of consciousness and reality, of the perception and the perceived. This "pseudo-reconciliation" is precisely the pseudo-utopia Adorno attempts to eliminate when he says of realism, "[d]irectly infused into art, social truth serves to patch up the cleavage between subject and object" (1984, 368). He avers, "What goes by the name of realism in art injects meaning into reality by claiming to be able to copy that reality free of all illusions. In view of the specific reality in question, this is ideological from the outset. Realism today is objectively impossible" (444).

In a sense, the pure representation of the trauma becomes an accomplice of the violence because of the lack of distance, because of the homogeneous quality of the formations. The failure of "scar literature" [shanghen wenxue] is evidence. Flourishing right after the end of the Cultural Revolution, scar literature tends to display the psychic agony immediately by representing emotional pain against the setting of social misery. Its intention is oppositional, but unfortunately its literary form is finally captured in the same discursive system it aims to oppose. It aims at the same telos of grand narrative that CPC propaganda, in the form of Maoist discourse, offers. Each promises that: "the enquiry into the origin of destiny is part of that destiny" (Lyotard 1991, 27).

Clearly, "it would be false to imagine that the cure could end on a reconciliation of consciousness with the unconscious" (Lyotard 1991, 33). The incurable effect of the trauma, therefore, can only be dispersed or disseminated in a present-tense narrative as a disfiguration, a working-through of the original scene.

The true sensitivity to the trauma did not appear in Chinese literature until the rise of the avant-garde, which, as a disruptive reaction to the realistic genre, approaches the discursive assault not by representing it or referring to it directly, but by ignoring it, by displaying the matrix-figure which subverts or disrupts the existent discursive order through the effort of language.

This abandonment of the idea of any positive possession of an historical totality can be categorized as a process of negation in the senses that both Freud and Adorno use the term. Harold Bloom elucidates the affinity between negation and the literary sublime:

"[I]n which the poet, while expressing previously repressed thought, desire, or emotions, is able to continue to defend himself against his own created image by disavowing it, a defense of un-naming it rather than naming it. Freud's word "Verneinung" means both a grammatical negation and a psychical disavowal or denial . . . . Freud joins himself to the tradition of the Sublime ... by showing us that negation allows poetry to free itself from the aphasias and hysterias of repression, without however freeing the poets themselves from the unhappier human consequences of repression. Negation is of no therapeutic value for the individual, but it can liberate him into the linguistic freedom of poetry and thought (1981, 224-25).

We can see that what Chinese avant-garde literature tends to grasp is not the concrete ferocity of Maoist meta-discourse itself or its result, but rather the brutal, horrid, and maniac affect it deposited beyond consciousness. The unidentifiable is always outside the text as the immemorial, which cannot recur, even in remembrance, but which is still vivid as a traumatic effect inherent in the present operation of language-(de)formation.

The memory-trace of Maoist discourse entails, in Chinese avant-garde literature, the evocation of the barbarity of language. In this sense, the narrative violence in avant-garde literature is a fragmentarily brutal counterpart to the stateliness of Maoist discourse. The avant-garde literature is therefore an undoing and an acting-out of this horrid effect and intends to undermine its potential domination.

The title of Can Xue's novel, Breakout Performances [Tuwei biaoyan, properly insinuates this acting-out, through which all the characters are immersed in an atmosphere of slanders, whispers and gossips - an atmosphere established as the paradigm for discursive violence. The community in this novel becomes a dystopian society in which real "communism" consists in the unspeakable anxieties of interpersonal communication, the gratuitous insults or assaults by language, and the restless suspicions of being pried about and defiled.

Undoubtedly, this mood of constant danger evokes the most magical and intimidating categories which were once clustered under the rubric of "class struggle." (In the historical period when "class struggle" was the guiding principle of the party-state, everyone had to be alert to that struggle's discursive operation, and no one could remain safe and secure.)

A similar motif can also be perceived in her novella, Old Floating Cloud [Canglao de fuyun]. Here, anxiety prevails not only in society but also in the family, in the anomalous misgivings between couples, between generations, and between in-laws.

In such a world, one would be agitated at midnight and shout "There's a thief crouching in the corner!" (Can Xue 1988a, 178; 1991, 177); or one would find his wife sucking at his leg like a cat eating meat and ask "You! Why should you eat my flesh?" (1988a, 241-42; 1991, 234).

Breakout Performances and her other novella, Yellow Mud Street, are particularly important for their anamorphosis of the syntactical form of Maoist discourse. This factor should be emphasized, since the anamorphosis, the deformation of the original discursive power serves the Chinese avant-garde as a way of representing the eruption into narrative of the traumatic unconscious.

Can Xue's characters put the discursive idioms and syntaxes into irrational contexts, maintaining their serious, aggressive significance while transforming the grand narrative into fragments, into endless and irresolved conflicts and anxieties.

The following words from her characters are typical in Yellow Mud Street:

"Isn't there a principle from above called |very good'? It has to do with patriotism. What does |very good' mean? The situation in the present is very good! The instructions given by the authorities are very good! I mean, don't close both eyes in sleep. Keep one eye open" (1988a, 15-16 / 1991, 21).

The district head concentrated on picking his nose. He said, "How are you carrying out the thirteen major problems? I believe that looseness and indifference will only lead to doom. Aren't there incidents of bats eating human beings? Do you still keep the tradition of the old revolutionary base area?" (1988a, 165 / 1991, 164).

On the whole, Can Xue's fiction becomes a painful parody of Maoist discourse, inasmuch as the splendid meaning in that discursive form has been replaced by fears, suspicions, and above all, completely futile behaviors. One of the main plot-threads in Yellow Mud Street is the tireless search for the person named Wang Sima, who is supposed to be a masked "enemy of the antagonistic classes" who would be anybody, even the district head, or oneself, but who could also be nonexistent after all. Yellow Mud Street, as well as Five-Flavor Street in Breakout Performances, is thus a field of psychic battle where everybody is busy and no one is quite identifiable in a matrix of aggressive fantasy and utterance.

The traumatic effect of Maoist discourse is aroused as a more absurd spectacle in Xu Xiaohe's short stores. Xu Xiaohe's narratives are concerned only with the most insignificant and daily activities, where Maoist discourse dominates in an utterly proper way. This propriety, however, is just what causes the trauma by the release of an irrational, or even absurd, force. In any case, Xu Xiaohe never indicates the trauma; nor does he refer to Maoist discourse directly. By injecting into Maoist discourse the malicious performances, Xu Xiaohe establishes a "bad form" within that discursive system.

It is both horrible and ludicrous in his stories when the madmen organize the "eastern expedition" and turn it into nothing other than a danse macabre regulated and constituted by their own mad meta-discourse ("The Madmen and Their Madhouse Director" [Fengzi' he tamende yuanzhang]. Incidents become the vehicle to establish the mocking premise that the only truth is the unquestionable truth of the grand narrative, no matter how absurd the object of this narrative actually is.

Thus Xu Xiaohe's whole enterprise consists in establishing an irreconcilable tension between the grand form of the meta-discourse and its chaotic, irrational content. In setting up this tension, he is unable to indicate directly the historical trauma under discursive assault. The case of the madmen incarnates a case of the deprivation of memory, and it is this pathological amnesia that verifies the political violence of meta-discourse. The character both prohibits history from entering consciousness, and itself serves as the vehicle for the anamnesis of this violence.

Here, the deconstructive element consists in the power of matrix-figures which the Chinese avant-garde, especially writers like Can Xue and Xu Xiaohe, are inclined to invoke in order to exorcise the horrific wrath of Maoist discourse, even while they are clearly aware that this exorcism is, however, a ceaseless effort.

The matrix-figure, which "is invisible in principle, subject to primal repression, immediately intermixed with discourse and primal phantasy," is necessarily conceived as "a violation of discursive order" (Lyotard 1984b, 57).

Indeed, since they do not directly represent any factual disaster, the figural elements in Can Xue and Xu Xiaohe are fundamentally "no more visible than . . . legible" (Lyotard 1984b, 64-65). That is to say, the primary shock or violence is invisible, unrepresentable. It is not in the content.

Visible figures are certainly not excluded from Chinese avant-garde literature. However, what is visible does not immediately refer to the original scene. Rather, it is a means of working-through that scene.

In Can Xue's short stories, we can easily perceive her figural power of anamorphosis, as in deformative images of piercing or being pierced:

1) An ox horn pierces the wooden wall and pokes through a hole ("The Ox" [Gongniu] 1988a, 282; 1989, 71).

2) The neighbor digs with a coalrake at a hole in the high wall and enlarges it every night ("The Gloomy Mood of Ah Mei on a Sunny Day" [A Mei zai yige taiyangtian li de chousi] 1988a, 299; 1989, 15).

3) Countless tiny holes are poked by fingers into the windowscreens ("Hut on the Mountain" [Shanshang de xiaowu] 1988a, 287; 1989, 47).

These images, with explicit sexual implications, function however as the present-tense effects of an unrepresented trauma rather than as an effort to represent the original scene itself

This also holds true for another set of images: one of swelling:

1) One's face was swollen, oozing pus from morning to night ("Things That Happened to Me in Another World" [Wo zai neige shijie li de shiqing] 1988a, 327; 1989, 92).

2) The spot on the back of one's head would get numb and swollen whenever her mother was glaring at it ("Hut on the Mountain" [Shanshang de xiaowu] 1988a, 289; 1989, 48).

3) One's cheeks would get swollen whenever another person chews (Yellow Mud Street, 1988a, 99; 1991, 103).

Obviously, as a physical reaction to violence, the swelling in Can Xue is also a figural allusion to an unrepresented, earlier, trauma.

In this respect, Can Xue and Yu Hua use the same strategy: to invoke the (dis)figural power in order not to indicate the primary shock, but to represent the deforming effect of that shock. Yu Hua's narrative mode is most remarkable also in its working-through of discursive brutality. This brutality has been long veiled beneath the high-sounding, grandiose and decent genre of Maoist discourse, in which all the ferocious, bloody implications appear as moralistic and just.

In Yu Hua, the real, recurrent atrocities are not a representation of the true political persecutions in the Cultural Revolution, but a sensitive evocation of the performative, practicable nature of Maoist discourse. Furthermore, Yu Hua's phrasing of the bloody scenes in a casual, tranquil way, in which the source is not indicated, becomes precisely an anesthetic reaction to the intrinsic bloodiness of the original moment.

His (an)esthetics point toward the emotional and behavioral apathy that often occurs subsequent to an atrocity. The striking part of his "Nineteen Eighty-Six" [ Yijiubaliu nian] lies in the various blow-by-blow depictions of self-mutilation, whereas in "A Type of Reality" [Xianshi yizhong] or "A Classical Romance" [Gudian aiqing], the depictions of the dismembering of human bodies become all the more striking as they are narrated in such an extremely serene, indifferent tone.

Thus the elements of violence in Yu Hua are deprived of their ideological references in Maoist discourse and become pure, figural happenings which are presented as blanks, as silences, in the sense that they do not possess an explicit discursive position. In other words, the bloody characteristics of Yu Hua's stores are not produced as a function of memory. Such a text would directly implicate the cruelty of political persecution or the destructivity of Maoist discourse. Rather, by way of their irrational form, and the forms through which they represent deformation, they themselves abolish any pretense of rational order (e.g., the dichotomies of just/unjust, proletarian/bourgeois, revolutionary/reactionary, etc.) underlying the "theoretical" violence of the Maoist discursive system.

In this sense, Yu Hua's narrative is a particular way of recalling the barbarous essence of that discursive dominance. It does not matter whether or not he relates the violence to the Cultural Revolution (In "Nineteen Eighty-Six," the protagonist who commits self-mutilation is a mental victim of the Cultural Revolution, whereas the historical backgrounds of "A Type of Reality" and "A Classical Romance" are apparently totally irrelevant to the Cultural Revolution).

What matters here is only the language effect that the works evoke with their ever-present narrative. The real past and the disasters, for Yu Hua, are not essentially visualizable. This is why even though many of his titles contain the word shi ("event(s)" or incident(s)," such as "Occasional Incidents" [Ouran shijian], "The April Third Incident" [ Siyuesanri shijian], "The Smoke-like Affairs of the World" [Shishi ru yan], "The Past Events and the Tortures" [Wangshi' yu xingfa]), these events or incidents are absolutely unidentifiable, intangible and ungraspable. This is definitely intended "to reverse anamnesis to Erinnerung, and to forget once again that there is no salvation, no health, and that time, even the time of work, does not heal anything" Lyotard 1990, 34).

"Worldly Events in Smoke," for example, is a story in which linear, consecutive history is illegible. Disturbed by various deaths, the order of the story is disrupted, although none of the shocking scenes is displayed visibly. In other words, what exists now is only the after-effect represented as deformed figures. As Dai Jinhua, a young Chinese scholar, acutely remarks, "There is never an eyewitness to death itself; death is invisible and unexperienceable yet ascertainable to both the narrator and the characters in the narrative. Narrative of death always appears as a deferral of narration and an obstruction to the narrated object" (1989, 28).

"The Past Events and the Tortures" is, if not the most important, probably the most penetrative piece of Yu Hua's short stories. In the very beginning of this story, the telegram that the Stranger received (which contained only two words: "Come back") seemed to be the Penologist's call for the remembrance of crimes.

Through the journey of time, the Stranger, while having settled the five dates of the crimes, failed to reach the one he had chosen and also missed the other four. He encountered only their metaphor, the Penologist, who was the operator of the crimes - the crimes indisputably synonymous to punishments in this case - that were performed on these dates.

The major part of the story is devoted to the Penologist's insinuation and prefigurement of his performances both in the past and in the future. By metaphorizing the relation between time and atrocity, the Penologist elaborated upon the various Chinese traditional penological "techniques" which slew the four dates the Stranger missed - dismemberment (with five carriages), castration, waist-cutting, and head-smashing - but concealed the real events forever. The only thing that the Stranger, as well as the reader, can obtain is the unconscious effect of the terror, or the matrix-figure as thrill, which implies the ruins of a painful and executed history.

By writing such a story, "Yu Hua, through incessant rephrasing and by the historical crevice of metaphors, obstructs the way of |seeking the root'(2) and proclaims the futility of historical reflection and the death of history per se" (Dai 1989, 33).

Thus in Yu Hua, the impossibility of approaching the traumatic origin is the only way to speak of that trauma. As Dai Jinhua concludes, "the historical truth submerging in the historical/political unconscious is unrewritable, a rewriting can only be the rephrasing of the peripheral discourses of the classic historical texts and cultural phenomena" (1989, 31).

The "peripheral discourses," of course, can be specified in Yu Hua's fiction as the discourses of penology, of autopsy ("A Type of Reality"), vivisection ("A Classical Romance"), detective fiction ("The Riverside Mistakes" [Hebian de cuowu]), kungfu fiction ("Fresh Blood, Plum Flower" [Xianxue meihua]), or crime fiction ("Occasional Incidents"), etc.

Hence, only by not talking about history, by forgetting in a certain sense, are we allowed to touch genuine historical meaning. This is why Yu Hua's "Worldly Events in Smoke" leaves numerous blanks in the place of deaths and concentrates its narrative only on the dispersed, fragmentary, feelings of danger. In other words, the moments of the real accidents are never represented or remembered; history is constituted by various chasms which cannot be filled.

In Yu Hua's fiction, the only trauma is the suffering, which stems from the unidentifiability of the shocking shock of the past. We suffer in the Now an inexorable danger and ferocity transmitted from a primary scene. That scene is the "incomprehensible" assault of Maoist discourse and its hideous significance.

This ahistoricism in Chinese avant-garde literature lies in its absolute focus on the Now. There is no temporal duration in this moment, no rational development of history; everything is conjured up in the Now:

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it "the way it really was" (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger: Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger (Benjamin 1969, 257).

The image of the past, in this sense, is not the real image in which the past is remembered, but the effective image that occurs "unexpectedly," unintentionally, evoked by the historical occasion of the "second blow." It is in this sense that the Chinese avant-garde undertakes the project of representing the unrepresentable. The past events are unrepresentable because they would be only repetitive terrors if they were able to be simply represented. A difference is then necessary for the avant-garde literature to stretch out the distance between the premature violence and the belated effect of that violence. This is necessary in order to disrupt the suppressive form of totality.

The only instant in which the traumatic affect can be directly voiced or phrased is the instant of silence. As Meng Lang, one of the foremost avant-garde poets, writes: "It is just silence that startles you" (1991, 58). The silence of danger is the theme that Chinese avant-garde poetry seizes frequently before June Fourth 1989: Wan Xia's famous line, "The silence we hear in the hidden sweet is that human throats are being cut," sums up, to a great extent, the psyche traumatized by the quiet violence of both the past and future (1989, 160). Silence is thus a perpetual state of danger in which the unrepresentable can never be forgotten.

Silence is also a disruption of the monophonic hegemony of meta-discourse. It gives voice to an unconscious effect in which the memory of the shock is unable to be manifested. It thus becomes a negation of, or a protest against, totalitarian suppression.

Hence, Chinese avant-garde literature can be characterized as a subversive writing that rejects the given order of totality, "a writing of the ruins, micrologies, graffiti" (Lyotard 1990, 43).

This kind of writing invalidates the historical domination of Maoist discourse by both working through its traumatic effect and disfiguring its grandiose system. Maoist discourse in China is certainly the fundamental tradition to which the totality of history belongs and from which the post-history results. In simultaneously deferring and voicing the trauma, the undertaking of the avant-garde writing is, therefore, to conjure up and to take apart its giant shadow at one and the same time:

"Through the language (words, colors) of tradition, with it and against it, writing makes its way toward the difference or the seduction, toward the alliance, of which the mind unknowingly suffers" (Lyotard 1990, 33).


(1.) According to the CPC (Chinese Communist Party), as well as to the current Chinese constitution, so-called "Mao Zedong Thought," rather than Maoist discourse, is stipulated as the cominant principle of political behavior and as the proper guide for the individual mind. (2.) Seeking the root (xungen) was the main literary, as well as "cultural," trend in China in the early eighties. Its major tendency was to re-establish the axiological system on the traditional (classical, religious, or rural) Chinese culture.


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Title Annotation:issue title: 'Psychoanalysis in Left Field'
Author:Xiaobin Yang
Publication:American Imago
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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