VIEWS: 1 PAGES: 1 POSTED ON: 11/18/2011
Madame White, The Book of Change, and Eileen Chang On A Poetics of Involution David Wang In the studies of Eileen Chang 張愛玲 (1920-1995) one aspect yet to be explored is her penchant for rewriting existing works in multiple iterations and languages. This essay discusses Chang’s aesthetic of revision and bilingualism by examining her two English novels, The Fall of the Pagoda and The Book of Change, which were discovered in 2009 and will be published in 2010. These two novels were written in the late fifties, when Chang had just settled in the Unites States. In many ways, they provide a missing link in Chang’s (re)writing of her own life story, from English to Chinese and vice versa, from essay to fiction and photo album, and from autobiographical “whispers” to dramatized exposé. The titles of these two novels, one referring to the Leifeng Pagoda of the White Snake legend, and the other the esoteric classic The Book of Change, suggest Chang’s effort to integrate her writings into a broader cycle of Chinese discourses and temporalities. Through a comparative reading of the two novels and other texts, the essay seeks to make the following observations: 1. Insofar as mimetic realism was the canonical form of modern Chinese literature, the way in which Chang repeats herself by traversing rhetorical, generic, and linguistic boundaries has given rise to a peculiar poetics, one that highlights not revelation but derivation, not revolution but involution. 2. Through the multiple versions of her story, Chang tries to challenge the master plot of her family romance by proliferating it, and dispel her past by continually revisiting it. More provocatively, to write is to translate memory into art, an effort to re-member pieces of the past in a mediated form. 3. The circular, derivative inclination in Chang’s writing also points to a unique view of (literary) history. It has at least two models, Haishang hualiezhuan 海上花列傳 (Singsong girls from Shanghai, 1894) and Hongloumeng 紅樓夢 (Dream of the red chamber, 1792). When she was rewriting her own life story in various formats in the last four decades of her career, Chang was at the same time engaged in two parallel projects: translating Singsong Girls from Shanghai from the Wu dialect first into Mandarin Chinese, and then into English; annotating The Dream of Red Chamber by means of textual analysis, philological verification, and biographical research. Writers and critics of the revolutionary discourse would not welcome Chang’s vision. But insofar as her writing entertains a negative dialectic of history and progress, Chang has provided a sobering view from which to detect Chinese literary modernity at its most convoluted.