Liao Shufang, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
“Sorrow” is the pinnacle of Wuhe’s novelistic career and a rare jewel in modernist Taiwanese literature. Constructed in a non-linear fashion and woven together by a series of headings, the novella relates the story of two mental patients, “You” and “I,” who meet in a sanatorium. The title of the first chapter, “The Road that Runs through My Deepest Heart,” is a stark advertisement of the fact that this text is modeled on the plan of a city, and that the background to the story is the “massive roadworks” that open up in a street in Danshui (an outlying area of Taipei). The chapter title does not merely refer to roads being dug up, but also symbolizes urban and historical change.
The text seems to mount a critical attack on the commercial forces and drive for development, that are grinding the friable countryside into dust, but in fact the words and actions of the two central characters – mental patients whose transgressive behaviors verge on the sublime/obscene – transform the natural landscape into sexualized bodies which are then inserted into power relationships. Thus, the rise of the worship of Monk Qingshui leads to decline in the worship of Danshui Mazu, and the historical changes of Danshui and Keelung are all open to sexualized images of “intercourse” and “egg-laying.” The landscape of Taiwan is transfigured in You’s eyes through imagery of “fleshy folds of rolling hills,” but You’s death takes place in southern Taiwan, a barren, marshy “moonscape” composed of mudstone, sandstone, and shale. You is “stuck upside down in a mud puddle, the stiff, straight body supported by a dry tree branch,” the desolately beautiful image symbolizing “intercourse” between self and land. Thus, even while readers experience a sense of loss over the disappearing natural landscape, they cannot help but notice the absurdity of the analogy between land and sexualized body that pervades the entire text.
While exploring the inner life of these two mental patients, the text constructs the theme of an ever-advancing quest, examining the loss modern development brings to the natural world and to humanity. But it also uses many sexual jokes and metaphors to disassemble the structure through the possibility of multiple readings; it is, thus, at once construction and deconstruction and is full of meandering introspection and intense criticism. Danshui as a rural space, the shed in which You is imprisoned, and the mental hospital where You and I meet – all are depicted as spaces of powerlessness and dilapidation resulting from gradual defeat in power relations; but in the context of a sexual allegory, this extreme dilapidation is full of life’s flowing energy.
By the end of the story, I is employed as a restroom attendant. This can be seen as the author commenting wryly on his role as modern society’s “waste collector” or as a highly spatio-politically aware attempt to theorize the lot of those deemed useless to society.
Wu He (1951- ) is the penname of Chen Guocheng, a native of Chiayi City. Early pennames include “Chen Yu,” “Chen Shouyu,” and “Chen Jinghua.” The writer tested into National Cheng Kung University’s Department of Hydraulic Engineering but later transferred to the Department of Chinese Literature. He also attended National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature, and National Dong Hwa University’s Graduate Institute of Creative Writing.
In 1974 Wu He published his first work, “Peony Autumn,” in issue No. 28 of Cheng Da Youth, winning the university’s Phoenix Tree Literature Prize. In 1978 he cofounded the “Avant-garde Literature” series with Zhang Henghao, Xu Sulan, and Zhang Deben, publishing the short story “A Faint Aroma.” After performing military service he lived in Taipei’s Danshui area for ten years, during which time he published no work. He returned to the literary world in 1991 with “Second Brother’s Gone AWOL.” Wu He’s representative works include the collections Digging Up Bones (1995), Thinking of Auvini Kadresengane and A-Bang (1997), Remains of Life (1999), Sorrow (2000), Wu He’s Danshui (2000), and Chaos and Confusion (2007).
Inspired by Qideng Sheng, Wu He aspired to writing early on. His works are varied, in an aesthetic class of their own, upending traditional Chinese syntax, seeking the new in both form and content.
Thematically, Wu He chooses topics that have been intentionally suppressed or forgotten, often focusing on marginalized and solitary individuals. His highly experimental sentence structures have won praise from Wang Dewei and other major literary critics. Combining existentialist, modernist, and post-modernist concepts with a unique view of history, concern for the weak and downtrodden, and innovative writing techniques, Wu He is dazzling comet blazing across the sky of Taiwanese literary history.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4647
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