Huang Tsung-chieh, Associate Professor, Department of Sinophone Literatures, National Dong Hwa University
How can we who have only have single eyes understand that starry, compound-eyed world?
In Wu Mingyi’s 2011 novel The Man with the Compound Eyes the stories of several characters, all saddled with their own fates and wounds, are interwoven in a fascinating tableau that itself is like a compound eye. Atile’i is a second son from the island of Wayo-Wayo – according to island customs, as a sacrifice, second sons must put out to sea after they’ve lived for one hundred and eighty moons. Alice, a university professor who contemplates suicide after her husband and son disappear while hiking in the mountains of eastern Taiwan, seeks to create and revise past memories. As for the novel’s other characters, each has his or her own story: Dahu, a Bunun tribesman, refuses to abandon his mountain home to seek work in the city, so he joins a mountain rescue team; Hafay, a member of the indigenous Amis tribe, left her native village early on but has now returned to the seaside, where she runs a small café; ocean biologist Sarah’s father, once a whaler, ultimately loses his life in the cause of environmental protection. Each of these people has faced different emotional traumas in the past, and times when they were powerless over their lives. In the end, however, none of them can escape the force of nature, which, like a giant trash vortex in the middle of the ocean, draws them inexorably in.
But The Man with the Compound Eyes isn’t just another dystopian “nature-strikes-back” novel of ecological catastrophe. The power of humans and nature intertwine and interact in a variety of complex ways in the story. Technology’s advance has allowed humans to move mountains and fill seas; machinery can penetrate to a mountain’s “heart” but humans have grown increasingly distant from nature. In a society of mass production in which consumer items are readily purchased and discarded, we’ve forgotten that we once were (and still are) a part of nature, failing to look at the ways in which “civilization” has harmed the earth and other forms of life. But when manmade materials break down into microdebris they virtually never decay, endlessly growing and multiplying as they bob along on ocean currents.
Thus, the novel is a story of memory and forgetting. A huge trash vortex in the middle of the ocean collects objects humans have forgotten or discarded, each of which has its own story. Our selective memories are unconcerned with the memories of other life forms. But from the perspective of “the man with compound eyes,” the memory and fate of every living thing, and each minute existence or activity, are all seen as equal, preserved within the ommatidia of his compound eyes.
The book combines Wu Mingyi’s longtime concern for environmental issues, inquiries into the possibility of exploring other worlds and observing other forms of life, and ruminations on memory and fate, all of which converge to form a fascinating story of islands and the sea. What appears to be the writer’s indifference is actually warmth and tenderness – even though the storm is approaching, the ocean is still regarded as a comrade; every life that has harmed or been harmed and every tear that has ever fallen will, in the end, flow back into the sea.
Xu Guoming, PhD student, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chung Hsing University
Wu Mingyi (1971- ) is a native of Taoyuan County. He studied at Fu Jen Catholic University’s Department of Advertising and Mass Communications and holds a doctorate in Chinese literature from National Central University. Currently he serves as a professor in National Dong Hwa University’s Department of Sinophone Literatures. A prolific writer, Wu Mingyi has authored fiction, essays, criticism, his talents also extending to painting, photography, and design. He is a recipient of the Liang Shih-chiu Literary Award, The United Daily News Taipei International Book Exhibition Grand Prize, France’s Prix de Livre Insulaire, and other prestigious prizes. In addition, five of his works have been listed in the China Times annual “Ten Best Books of the Year,” and his novel Time Out Beijing has been included among the “Finest Chinese novels of the Past One Hundred Years.” His published fiction includes the novels Day Off (1997), Grandfather Tiger (2003), Route in the Dream (2007), and The Man With Compound Eyes (2011) Magician on the Skywalk (2011), and Record of a Stolen Bicycle (2015); essay collections include Lost Butterfly (2000), Butterfly Way (2003), So Much Water So Close to Home (2007), and Floating Light (2014). Rights to The Man with Compound Eyes have been sold to major international publishing houses, a first for a Taiwanese novel. At present the work has or will be published in the U.K., the United States, France, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and India, a milestone in the history of Taiwanese literature.
In Taiwan Wu Mingyi’s name is synonymous with nature writing. As a student he devoted himself to wilderness field studies and eco-photography. Since completing his doctoral dissertation, he has published his “Liberating Nature Through Writing” series, the fruit of many years of research. The three volumes – Exploration of Taiwanese Nature Writing 1980-2002, Modern Taiwanese Nature Writers (1980-2002), and Heart of Nature: From Nature Writing to Ecological Criticism – constitute the most comprehensive research on contemporary Taiwanese nature writing to date. Wu’s essays focus primarily on ecology and the environment, inquiring from the ethical dimension, pondering the codes and relationships that exist between humans and nature. His fiction is an aesthetic blend of fantasy, metafiction, and fable, discoursing on human civilization, ecology, the changing environment, and historical memory, issuing ethical challenges of criticism, interrogation, and reflection.
Long concerned with Taiwan’s natural environment and ecological issues, Wu Mingyi believes that literature should be a social observer. In 2010 he took part in the movement to oppose the Guoguang Petrochemical Project, coediting Wetlands, Petrochemicals, and Island Imagination with poet and essayist Wu Sheng, the work a record of resistance against the project. Recently he launched “Private Media,” a Facebook page, where he continues to devote himself to literary creation and dialogue with readers.
|Work(English)：||The Man with Compound Eyes|
|Anthology：||The Man with Compound Eyes|
|Author：||Wu Mingyi (Wu Ming-Yi)|
|Publisher：||London: Harvill Secker; New York: Pantheon|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010495004|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Compound-Eyes-Wu-Ming-Yi/dp/0345802888/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425286600&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Man+with+the+Compound+Eyes|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|