This is co-sponsored by Rutgers Global-China Office. It is open to the public, but registration is required. Click here to register.
Are Filial Relations Always Human? Familial relations are central to almost all of the Nobel laureate Mo Yan’s novels, but lingering on the margins and sometimes occupying a central role are relations with animals: dogs, goats, oxen, pigs, donkeys, monkeys, animals are almost always on the scene. Most of these are domestic animals. But foxes, frogs, and weasels appear in his work as well. Does the role of animals decenter his texts? Or does the author anthropomorphize animals? This presentation investigates the blurred boundaries of human and animal relationships in the fiction of Mo Yan. It begins with an exploration of the representation of genealogical legacy in Mo Yan’s 1986 linked narrative Red Sorghum, told by the “unfilial” grandson of Yu Zhan’ao and Dai Fenglian that includes a menagerie of animals. Equally important is a confrontation with the novel’s non-linear structure. Non-linear narratives became popular in literature as early as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, reaching a crescendo in the modern era with works by Ford Maddox Ford, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, and others. What remains to be ascertained is why Mo Yan elects to use non-linearity as a structuring device and how his work differs from that of others. Turning then to Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, Mo Yan’s 2006 epic tale of the revolutionary and post-Mao periods in China, we are presented with the total envelopment of the literary exposition by the animal narrative, with the father figure in the novel returning to the terrestrial world transmogrified, first as a donkey, and then as an ox, a pig, a dog, and finally as a monkey. Unlike Mo Yan’s earliest novel, this one renders events in a relentlessly chronological fashion with a preordained outcome—return as a human—on the horizon. All of Mo Yan’s major novels appropriate notions of ritual in their narrative unfolding; most engage with the bedrock notion of filiality; and they all commingle humans with animals to form a profound and inimitable depiction of pastoral China. Big Breast and Wide Hips, for example, features an animal, a goat, in the central role of something akin to a wet nurse. Frog, naturally, includes frogs. My analysis seeks to assemble the various aspects of narrative organization, kinship and filiality, and the prominence of animals into a cohesive discussion that offers a fresh, unified, and granular account for the bizarre and macabre literary oeuvre that typifies the work of Mo Yan.
Christopher Lupke 陸敬思 (PhD, Cornell University) is Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. His work on Mo Yan is part of a larger book project on the notion of filiality in modern and contemporary Chinese culture. Most recently, he has published the extensive reference volume, Dictionary of Literary Biography: Chinese Poets since 1949, co-edited with Thomas Moran. His translation of Ye Shitao's monumental work A History of Taiwan Literature (Cambria Press, 2020) won the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for the translation of a book-length work of literary scholarship from the Modern Language Association. Lupke has published extensively on the literary and cinema of Taiwan, Chinese poetry, and Sinophone literature.