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2017.06.08 残雪的神秘疆域

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The Mysterious Frontiers of Can Xue
By Evan James

June 8, 2017
Can Xue has likened her writing to the pioneering dance of the choreographer Isadora Duncan—a comparison that captures...
Can Xue has likened her writing to the pioneering dance of the choreographer Isadora Duncan—a comparison that captures, in “Frontier,” the fresh, unexpected ways in which one moment flows into the next.PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OPEN LETTER
“Frontier,” a mesmerizing novel by the Chinese author Can Xue, which was published in translation earlier this year by Open Letter Books, begins with a young woman named Liujin who has decided to make a life for herself in Pebble Town. The area is unusually abundant with animal life: the novel’s first chapter teems with wagtails, willow warblers, geese, horses, snow leopards, wolves, sheep, goats, geckos, and frogs. At first, “Frontier” resembles a fish-out-of-water story; as Liujin encounters new people in the market where she sells cloth, we imagine that she will be tested and changed according to some established narrative laws. The reader quickly abandons this notion, however—along with the expectation that anything like a traditional plot will emerge. This is not to say that nothing happens in “Frontier.” In fact, things are happening all the time. Each chapter is devoted to between one and four of about a dozen characters, many of whom migrated to Pebble Town to work at the mysterious Design Institute. Liujin, we are told, “had never understood anything about the Design Institute—not the people and not the work, either. From the time she was old enough to understand things, she had listened closely and observed. Sometimes, Dad would explain a little to her, but his explanations frequently drew her into deeper, more complicated, and darker entanglements.”

The author, whom the American novelist and editor Bradford Morrow has described as one of the most “innovative and important” in contemporary world literature, revels in such mysteries and entanglements. Can Xue is the genderless pen name of Deng Xiaohua, who was born in 1953, in Changsha City, in Hunan Province. In Chinese, the name means “residual snow,” a phrase, Deng has explained, that is used to describe both “the dirty snow that refuses to melt” and “the purest snow at the top of a high mountain.” The moniker hints at the author’s contrary relationship to contemporary Chinese literary culture, which, she has said, provides “no support for originality, which is sometimes even suppressed.” In interviews, her persona is mischievous; she regularly refers to herself in the third person (“Why do young people matter so much for Can Xue? Because they are Can Xue’s hope”) and sometimes communicates in an almost mystical register. The essence of her artistic mission, she has said, lies in “waking up people’s souls” and “drawing information from Great Nature.”

Mao’s Cultural Revolution played a catastrophic role in Deng’s childhood. Her parents, both of whom worked at the newspaper New Hunan Daily News, were condemned as anti-rightists by the Communist Party and sent to the country for “reëducation” through labor. The family—Deng was one of eight children—suffered extreme deprivations, and Deng’s education ended after elementary school, though she later immersed herself in classics by Western writers. It was at the age of thirty, married and with a son, that Deng began to write. She was working as a tailor with her husband at the time; the couple had opened a shop after teaching themselves to make clothes_._ Her description of her writing process conjures the same sense of wonder that permeates her novels: “A strange thing happened,” she has said. “I found that when I was writing fiction, I didn’t need to work out plots or a structure or anything beforehand. No matter, a short piece or a long piece, it was the same. I just sat down and wrote without thinking.”

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Deng, who is sixty-four, now lives with her husband in Beijing and writes every day. She has published dozens of short stories and novellas, several novels, and books of commentary on Kafka, Borges, Calvino, Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe. So far, only eight of her books have been translated into English. Though written, or at least translated, using concrete, often simple language, they rarely rely on conventional storytelling or character studies. Still, certain thematic obsessions emerge; questions of vision and perception, for instance, come up often. In “Five Spice Street”—a hysterically funny novel in which the residents of a three-mile-long street endlessly gossip and speculate about the sex life and desires of a woman named Madam X—the main character performs “occult” experiments involving gazing into mirrors and microscopes, at one point claiming to have “retired” her sense of sight. The short story “Vertical Motion” is narrated by a race of “little critters” who have “neither eyes nor any olfactory sense” and who “live in the black earth beneath the desert,” tunnelling through the soil and sometimes communicating about the fate of a forebear who tunnelled too high and vanished into the landscape above.

Can Xue has likened her writing to the pioneering dance of the choreographer Isadora Duncan—a comparison that captures, in “Frontier,” the fresh, unexpected ways in which one moment flows into the next. Now someone is slamming a grocery basket upside down, releasing a bunch of live frogs; now a young woman is encircled by a grove of dead poplars; now snow leopards are descending upon the market in Pebble Town from Snow Mountain. There is also a resplendent garden that grows “in the air”—full of “palms, banyans, and coconut trees, as well as some other unusual plants.” One never knows to whom this garden will appear, or when, or why. Nevertheless, its appearance brings pleasure and momentary enlightenment.

Can Xue takes pride in her total commitment to what some have described as “difficult” literature. “Everyone knows the experiment in fiction I have been conducting for over thirty years has been an experiment without an escape route,” she recently wrote, in “A Short Piece on Experimental Fiction.” I was reminded of this characteristic statement while reading “Frontier,” in which one senses the rigorous forward motion of Can Xue’s technique forming her vision as the narrative develops. One of the most intriguing relationships in the book is between Liujin and a dark-skinned man from Africa who goes by the name of Ying and who works at the Design Institute. From one of their early encounters—a walk around the landscape by the Institute, during which they talk about subjects including snakes, Liujin’s mother, and “a rag-picker who’s been circling around this office building for more than ten years”—I sensed an affection in their often gnomic exchanges, a mutual fascination and tenderness. Ying’s connection to Africa ignites Liujin’s imagination; she is filled with “complicated feelings.” But Can Xue is soon dancing on to other characters, and when Liujin next encounters Ying, a few years have apparently passed. He looks “older and a little humpbacked,” and the two talk as reunited friends. The scene, like many others in “Frontier,” unfolds in a strange and intimate way: Ying’s voice is “as soft and pleasant as before,” but his conversation feels abstracted. (“Ever since the old director died, work has turned into a hobby for everyone. This institute of ours hasn’t had a leader for a long time: it’s more a concept that’s leading us,” he says.) Ying appears again, briefly, near the end of the book, but none of the relationship’s ambiguity is resolved. By that point in the novel, any conventional resolution would have felt like a betrayal anyway. ____The open-endedness of “Frontier,” its sprawling tapestry of intricately interconnected phenomena, becomes its own pleasure, which also feels like a surrender.



Evan James is a writer living in Brooklyn.



残雪的神秘疆域
作者:埃文-詹姆斯

2017年6月8日
残雪把她的写作比作编舞家伊莎多拉-邓肯的先锋舞蹈--这种比较捕捉到了...
残雪将她的写作比作编舞家伊莎多拉-邓肯的先锋舞蹈--这种比较在《边境》中捕捉到了新鲜、意外的方式,其中一个时刻流向下一个时刻。
"边境 "是中国作家残雪的一部令人着迷的小说,今年早些时候由Open Letter Books翻译出版。该地区的动物生活异常丰富:小说的第一章充斥着鹡鸰、柳莺、大雁、马、雪豹、狼、绵羊、山羊、壁虎和青蛙。起初,《边疆》类似于一个鱼死网破的故事;当刘瑾在她卖布的市场上遇到新的人时,我们想象她将按照一些既定的叙事法则接受考验和改变。然而,读者很快就放弃了这种想法--同时也放弃了对传统情节出现的期望。这并不是说《前线》中什么都没有发生。事实上,事情一直在发生。每一章都是关于十几个人物中的一到四个,其中许多人迁移到卵石镇,在神秘的设计院工作。我们被告知,刘瑾 "从来没有了解过关于设计院的任何事情--不是人,也不是工作。从她长大到可以理解事物的时候,她就一直在仔细聆听和观察。有时,爸爸会向她解释一下,但他的解释经常把她带入更深、更复杂、更黑暗的纠葛中。"

美国小说家和编辑布拉德福德-莫罗(Bradford Morrow)将其称为当代世界文学中最 "创新和重要 "的作者之一,他陶醉于这种神秘和纠葛。残雪是邓小华的笔名,她于1953年出生于湖南省长沙市。在中文里,这个名字的意思是 "残雪",邓小华解释说,这个短语既用来描述 "拒绝融化的脏雪",也用来描述 "高山之巅最纯净的雪"。这个称呼暗示了作者与中国当代文学文化的相反关系,她曾说,中国当代文学文化 "不支持原创,有时甚至被压制"。在采访中,她的角色是调皮的;她经常以第三人称称呼自己("为什么年轻人对薛凯琪如此重要?因为他们是薛之谦的希望"),有时会用一种近乎神秘的语气进行交流。她说,她的艺术使命的本质在于 "唤醒人们的灵魂 "和 "从伟大的大自然中汲取信息"。

毛泽东的文化大革命在邓小平的童年中扮演了一个灾难性的角色。她的父母都在《新湖南日报》工作,被共产党谴责为反右派,并被送到国内进行劳动 "改造"。这个家庭--邓小华是八个孩子中的一个--遭受了极端的剥夺,邓小华的教育在小学毕业后就结束了,尽管她后来沉浸在西方作家的经典作品中。30岁时,邓小华结婚并有了一个儿子,才开始写作。当时她和丈夫一起做裁缝;这对夫妇在自学做衣服后开了一家店。_她对写作过程的描述让人联想到她的小说中弥漫的那种惊奇感。她说:"发生了一件奇怪的事情,"她说。"我发现,当我写小说时,我不需要事先制定情节或结构或任何东西。不管是短篇还是长篇,都是一样的。我只是坐下来,不假思索地写。"

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邓小华,今年64岁,现在和她丈夫住在北京,每天都在写作。她已经出版了几十个短篇小说和中篇小说,几部小说,以及关于卡夫卡、博尔赫斯、卡尔维诺、但丁、莎士比亚和歌德的评论集。到目前为止,她的书中只有八本被翻译成英文。虽然是用具体的、通常是简单的语言来写的,或者至少是翻译的,但它们很少依靠传统的故事或人物研究。不过,某些主题性的迷恋还是出现了;例如,视觉和感知的问题就经常出现。在《五香街》这本歇斯底里的小说中,一条三英里长的街道上的居民无休止地八卦和猜测一个名叫X女士的性生活和欲望,主人公进行 "神秘 "的实验,包括凝视镜子和显微镜,一度声称已经 "退休 "了她的视觉。短篇小说《垂直运动》由一个 "小动物 "种族叙述,他们 "既没有眼睛,也没有任何嗅觉","生活在沙漠下面的黑土地上",在土壤中开凿隧道,有时交流关于一个先人的命运,他开凿的隧道太高,消失在上面的风景中。

残雪将她的写作比作编舞家伊莎多拉-邓肯的先锋舞蹈--这一比喻在《边境》中捕捉到了新鲜的、意想不到的方式,在这一时刻流向下一时刻。现在有人把一个杂货篮子倒过来,放出一群活青蛙;现在一个年轻女人被一片枯萎的杨树林包围着;现在雪豹从雪山降临到卵石镇的市场上。还有一个生长在 "空中 "的灿烂花园--充满了 "棕榈树、榕树和椰子树,以及其他一些不寻常的植物"。人们永远不知道这个花园会出现在谁的面前,或者什么时候,或者为什么。然而,它的出现带来了快乐和短暂的启迪。

残雪对她完全致力于一些人所说的 "困难 "文学感到自豪。"她最近在《关于实验小说的短文》中写道:"每个人都知道我三十多年来一直在进行的小说实验是一个没有逃跑路线的实验"。在阅读《边疆》时,我想起了这一特点的陈述,在这本书中,人们感觉到残雪的技术随着叙事的发展而形成她的视野的严格的向前运动。书中最耐人寻味的关系之一是刘瑾和一个来自非洲的黑皮肤男人之间的关系,他的名字叫英,在设计院工作。从他们早期的一次相遇--在设计院附近的风景区散步,期间他们谈论的话题包括蛇、刘瑾的母亲,以及 "一个在这栋办公楼周围转了十几年的捡破烂的人"--我在他们经常说的俏皮话中感受到了一种感情,一种相互吸引和温柔。小英与非洲的联系点燃了刘瑾的想象力;她充满了 "复杂的感情"。但是,坎雪很快就被其他角色所吸引,当刘瑾再次遇到小英时,显然已经过了几年。他看起来 "老了,有点驼背",两人像重逢的朋友一样交谈。这一幕,就像《边疆》中的许多其他场景一样,以一种奇怪而亲密的方式展开。应采儿的声音 "和以前一样柔和悦耳",但他的谈话感觉很抽象。(自从老院长去世后,工作就变成了每个人的爱好。我们这个研究所已经很久没有领导了:更多的是一种概念在引导我们,"他说)。在书的结尾处,小英再次出现,时间很短,但这段关系的暧昧性没有得到解决。到了小说的那个时候,任何传统的解决方式都会让人觉得是一种背叛。____"边境 "的开放性,它对错综复杂的相互联系的现象的蔓延,成为它自己的乐趣,这也感觉像是一种投降。



埃文-詹姆斯是一位居住在布鲁克林的作家。
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