Sinophone Writers’ Spiritual Choice at the Crossroads

Title: 1197 | Sinophone Writers’ Spiritual Choice at the Crossroads
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yingchun Fan, Peking University, China (organizer, presenter)
Mamoru Yamaguchi, Nihon University, Japan (chair)
Eng Kiong Tan, Stony Brook University, United States (discussant)
Mark McConaghy, National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan (presenter)
Fangdai Chen, Harvard University, United States (presenter)


Today's Asia is obviously at crossroads from various perspectives, but to be precise, Asia has been at various types of crossroads for decades since the so-called beginning of modernity. Every crossroad entails a historical past that one has come from and a future that one has to make choices for. Looking back at history is not an act of repentance but to gain spiritual wealth from the past for today and tomorrow's dilemmas. At these crucial moments, writers play all the more important roles of acting as the historiographers of people’s spiritual paths. Our panel takes "writers’ spiritual choice at the Crossroads" as its subject and situates the discussion in the Sinophone context. We take the Hegelian concept of "subjectivity" and propose to focus on Sinophone writers’ spiritual subjectivity during the broadly defined modern era, that is, confronting and confronted by predicament specifically related to modernity, how do writers create a voice through writing for themselves and for others who are just as traumatized and wounded? How do they navigate predicaments from the past and at the present? More importantly, how do they transcend and achieve redemption of the mind and soul?
We address the following topics and beyond:
(1) Sinophone writers' spiritual choices manifested through writing and/or faith at various historical junctures, i.e. during the Second World War, the years leading up to the 1949 national divide, the Cultural Revolution, etc.
(2) fluctuation of writers’ spiritual subjectivity and their personal thoughts
(3) writers' varied ways of exploration and pursuit of inner peace and spiritual redemption

Panel Abstracts:
Attempt to Reconstruct Subjectivity: The Mistaken Spiritual Redemption in Ba Jin's Suixianglu
This paper examines the 20th-century Chinese writer Ba Jin's attempt to reconstruct his subjectivity through his late work Suixianglu (Collection of Random Thoughts, published 1978-1986). Scholars have considered Suixianglu as China’s contemporary Confessions while Ba Jin regarded it as his life summary and “last words” to the world. The argument of this paper is manifold. Through a historicizing lens, I start by tracing the developments and internal contradictions of Ba Jin's beliefs as an anarchist and a writer, and then identify and assess essays of the collection that touch on the theme of "confession" and "spiritual subjectivity" by close reading. Through analysis of the social and historical environment of the 1980s, this paper proposes that 1) the collection's engagement with confession is overrated. Suixianglu and its author are borrowed as symbols to meet the demands of the mainstream ideology of that time; 2) the ignorance of spiritual subjectivity reflected by the author fails the searching for the possibility to reflect profoundly on the Cultural Revolution; 3) the outcome of Ba Jin’s reflection is mistaken in existing scholarship as he embraces the logic he claims to oppose in a certain sense. Despite the wish to open up some kind of "confession" path, he is constrained by his own ideology. Yet, because of his distinctive position as the so-called "last master" of modern Chinese literature and the sufferings experienced during the writing process, Suixianglu paradoxically remains a model of reconstructing spiritual subjectivity and seeking redemption for intellectuals in the post-1976 New Era.

Chen Yingzhen's Journey to Beijing: Interrogating Chineseness as Spiritual Commitment
In 2006, the Taiwanese author Chen Yingzhen took up a teaching post at Renmin University in Beijing, deciding to reside full-time in Mainland China. Chen’s journey to the Mainland was not a simple question of institutional relocation, but represented the culmination of decades of grappling with the problem of Chinesness in his writings. This paper will argue that Chen possessed an essentially spiritual conception of Chineseness, particularly as it was articulated in his contributions to the “Taiwanese Consciousness” debates of the early 1980s, where for the first time in post-war Taiwanese letters the deep historical fault lines between the island’s different political communities burst into open confrontation.Chen’s critical project represented a fascinating amalgam of the material and the metaphysical, combining Marxist social analysis with an understanding of Chinesesness as a spiritual ontology, one that reside in what Chen called “the deepest regions of the soul” of all Chinese peoples. While Taiwanese intellectuals declared Chen’s understanding of identity to be ethnically essentializing, he insisted that cosmopolitanism in Taiwan could only flourish within Sino-culture understood as spiritual resource. Chen is thus a challenging case for recent Sinophone theory, which has emphasized the Sinophone’s capacity to foster subjectivities critical of China-centrism rather than imbued with it. Chen’s place in Taiwan’s cultural landscape may be thus understood as something of an absent presence, a specter marking both spiritual (Sino) and material (Marxist) commitment, discourses which have had a vexed place on the island due to its fractious political and social history.

Writing as Redemption, Writing to Survive: Guo Song-fen and Lee Yu's Existentialist Life
This paper investigates the search for meaning and redemption in the negotiation between leftist politics and modernist literature in the case of two Sinophone writers active during the Cold War era, Guo Song-fen (1938-2005) and his wife Lee Yu (1944-2014), whose writing and personal life represent an untold "afterlife" of European Existentialism in the Sino-American diasporic context. Devoted to the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre's idea of littérature engagée (literature of commitment), the Taiwan- and American-educated writer couple passionately participated in the leftist Baodiao movement (assertation of Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands against the Japanese state) while pursuing doctoral studies at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1970s. After a period of complete silence following the failure of the movement, the couple curiously resumed writing modernist-style literature which was halted during their years of political activism.Examining Guo's obsession with domestic space in his writings from this period such as Tale of Two Moons (1984) and Lee's ominous retreat into the worlds of nostalgia, classical art, legends, and religious spirituality in works such as Summer, Hesitate(2002), the paper argues that their return to modernist literature is not simply a withdrawal from the political space but a pursuit of redemption in order to live onto the future-- they write to make meaning of the futile past; they write to be able to survive the present that is still in crisis. In doing so, I also probe the volatile relation between literature and politics

This panel is on Wednesday - Session 02 - Room 6

Go to Room 6