Thu, Feb 08, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Get into the flow

Gao Xingjian, as the hero of Chinese-language literature, sees a literary future based in the Zen-based observation of the individual

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Night Walker, by Gao Xingjian, was one of many unsold paintings at a Taipei exhibition seven years ago that was given as a gift to his Taipei friend, Feng Yi-kang.


Occupying much of the media spotlight over the past week, Gao Xingjian (高行健) successfully presented himself as a versatile artist to his Taiwan fans. To the thousands who listened to his speeches, including officials such as Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), book fans and those who came simply out of curiosity,the Nobel literature prize laureate seems more than just a writer whose heart is set in books. To them, he is also an artist, a philosopher, and an eloquent literary theorist. These sides of the man were on evident display during his two major speaking events at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, one on the future of Chinese-language literature and the other on his personal path to writing.

What audiences seemed most curious about, however, was the man behind the works -- his writing habits, his views of love, desire and women. To such queries, Gao remained mostly tight-lipped, evading questions with wit and elegance.

As the first Chinese writer awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gao has suddenly found himself in the awkward position of being the pride of Chinese people and a beacon for the future of Chinese-language literature. But Gao seems disinclined to play the role of mentor for an entire people. Gao points to the ideas in his book Without ism (沒有主義) to show readers his basic principles. The future of Chinese-language literature is incumbent on the death of ideology and of excessive ego-centrism, he says. He calls for a return to the individual and self-reflection along the lines of Zen philosophy.

"Chinese-language literature should take Without ism as its starting point," he says.

Commenting on Chinese literature in the 20th century, Gao said it was tightly related to revolution and based on a constant negation of previous art forms and art concepts. "Such a revolutionary concept has given rise to a flourishing of modernist literature in the early decades of the century," he says. "But the same concept, which has prompted post-modernism over the past decade, is undermining artistic creation." Gao says post-modernism is now merely a rigid principle of subversion that has brought literature to a dead end and allied the art with crass commercialism, he says.

Gao is a writer who believes that literature should not have a mission. Instead, literature's only goal should be the pursuit, perception and portrayal of truth.

In order to achieve this, Gao says "we don't have to extend such negation-based theory, nor should we take a Nietzschean path to bring down everything," he says. "Perhaps we should take a calm view, as in Zen, to look at history, culture and our predecessors," he says.

A return to the individual, Gao says, means going back to human nature, which is full of weakness, fallacies, anxiety and wanton thoughts. "Observing humans and observing oneself yields a clear-minded starting point for literature," he says.

One of Gao's favorite conversation topics is his own style innovation, which may be described as linguistic flow.

In his speech titled "My Search -- My Road Toward Writing," Gao says his works tend toward a return to language itself. "The truth comes from human emotions, not from texts," he said. Gao says he had attempted to capture ongoing human consciousness and emotions with words in the tradition of stream of consciousness masters [James] Joyce and [Marcel] Proust. "But I realized stream of consciousness may often become a string of words connected without the rules of language, making it difficult for readers to grasp," he says.

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