Borderless Writing [1]


                                                by Wang Hui (汪晖)


    In 1993, Yu Hua (余華) wrote in the preface of his "To Live"(《活着》)"A genuine writer writes solely from the inner-most heart. Only the inner-most heart can tell the writer how evident are his selfishness and his loftiness." However, as he remarks, all his works come from the "relation of tension or hostility to a certain present stratum." He seems to be a writer who regards the inner-most heart as something of great importance, and which is charged with a mission of criticism as well as all the rest. The discussion as to whether a writer should regard the inner-most heart as something of great importance, or reveal his own hostile attitude to reality, is not something new. Those sentimental romanticists or realists would always claim like this. The final destination of Yu Hua's attempt is neither wrath, cursing, sentimentalism nor lyricism. What he asks is to open wide our inner-most heart when regarding it as something of great importance and to consider the world with sympathy, even when we show hostility toward reality. Yu Hua firmly believes that the world in which we are living is much wider than our own attitude to it. There is no knowing whether this results from the sarcastic attitude arising when we are not able to accept any more tension, or from our discovery of the indefiniteness of the universe or the profundity of art when we see it through the weakness of our inner-most heart. 

    Yu Hua himself gives an answer to this in somewhat ambiguous and complicated terms. He adds, "Humor becomes structure here," supplementing the relation between writing and reality. In short, humor sometimes relieves tension and sometimes preserves tension. Then, how can humor re-construct the relation to reality and yet be a structure? Among Yu Hua's critical vocabulary we find the terms writing, reality (truth), nihility” (inner-most heart). These are the most important concepts in terms of understanding the relation between literature and life. Now, let's enter his critical world and look into how he accepts and experiences the minute phrases of all sentences and how he orders the relation between writing and reality, along with humor.



    In Yu Hua's critical writings, 'writing' is a particular word. It is connected with "narration" but it is not the same as narration. If narration is developed in a particular direction, writing possesses an objective nature which reveals itself. It is a process, just as the process in which a dentist operates with instruments, so a writer writes with a pen. But nobody thinks that writing is only a matter of technique. While the course of writing is a pursuit toward the unknown world, narration is always aimed at realizing a fixed target. Yu Hua says that writing can change a man into a writer and can make a tough spirit a delicate and soft one. That is certainly quite true. Writing is merely the power with which the writer is shaping himself. What is more important, however, is that writing is a way in which the writers open themselves up and entrust themselves to time and to fate. Writing is a struggle in which a writer is fighting against himself and where happiness and gloominess coexist together. Writing unites a writer with the world of fiction, brings oneness with reality. Accordingly, the rhythm and the way of writing turn into a plot when the writer passes through the three worlds: violence, slowness and discontinuity, and finally disappearing into one, as the sentence repeated in Yu Huuas collection, "just as water-drops vanish in the water."

    Yu Hua's criticism, making his writing itself a plot, is a process of pursuing its movement, stillness, circling and enlargement.  This process erases all the borderlines between the writer and character, life and art, form and cast, the writer's individual feature and the contents of a novel. His loves, grudges, admirations, contempts, and imaginings are scattered in the process of borderless writing. This is a boundless vision of writing, one which never establishes any particular standards for the sake of art itself, because any standard which goes beyond the standards of judgement found in the living environment do not exist, fundamentally.

    One gray autumn day in 1996, while the dismal sunlight shone on a gray building, which does not exist any more now, on an inside street of Chaoyangmen, I was reading Yu Hua's first essay at my desk. It was entitled "Bulgakov and 'Maestro and Margaret'," and had been contributed to a magazine, "Reading." This work was very hard for him to comprehend. If I had not kept exhorting him, the writing might have lasted quite a long time. I remember that Yu Hua called me up shortly after he finished the piece. He told me that he was unable to express Bulgakvo's delicacy. But to the best of my knowledge, this essay is the most impressive among his critical works. I could feel the pain, the luster of time, gloomy and shiny, a writer is undergoing, and something hard to express from this essay. At the end, he mentions humor in relation to the writer and reality, but it was not clear to me. In his vagueness, Yu Hua was heading in a clear direction. But then, all of a sudden, he suspended his writing and his essay spread all the wider through his suspension of it. His unfinished writing impressed me deeply. At that time, I was really disappointed in contemporary literary criticism. I was hoping that the writer who wrote, "Worldly affairs are just like smoke"(《世事如烟》)would thoroughly break some kinds of ploy by tracing back the course of other people's writing. And this essay was just what I had been looking for. Yu Hua had sent the text of his work to me at my office by fax. The printed characters were blurred. Static electricity seemed to flow on the surface of the smooth fax paper and the density of the ink was uneven. But after I had finished reading just a couple of sentences, I began to feel the weight of his writing.

    Bulgakov's writing was discussed as a simple regression. Even though Bulgakov's simple writing was a struggle to get out of the circuit of publication, presentation, reputation and vanity, it was not a pure escape from this mundane world, either. It was, rather, the result of violence. Pure writing brings into relief the political power of writing. Now that the political power of writing is embodied by the purity of writing, the purity of writing is not necessarily "pure art" nor "pure writing." What I mean by "politics" here is not an action in a narrow sense. That is a characteristic of human life and it is this that becomes the origin of writing. How much does the simple writing move people? There is no need for the writer to fight with his own fame. There is no need for him to reflect on his words and deeds after he has boasted in newspapers and magazines. What is most important is that there is no need to force him to get out of worldly glory and to go back to writing, because he has had no chance to get out of writing. He has grasped the meaning of himself through the fiction of narration and has become extinct in the course of writing. Now there are no marks of himself left any more. From this remark, I thought of a writer as being perplexed at such times. When he made writing his life, he was faced with himself alone. I felt the sincerity of the writer's inner-most heart. This writing discloses the frailty and the pangs of the conscience of a man who is always struggling against himself.  What is more important here is that writing liberates the writer from himself and removes all traces of the writer by turning him into nothingness. 

    The writing which is returned to itself can transparently express our feelings just like an embossed carving. That causes immense joy by bringing fears, anxieties, grudges, helplessness and love together into one. Yu Hua, however, substitutes an interest in the number of pages for his concern with joy. This was a surprising fact to me, because no critics full of statecraft will want this kind of thing. The person who regards a work, not for its result but for its course, might pay attention to the exact length of the writing.


     "This work includes two important characters. They are the Maestro and Margaret. They appear on the cover of this book for the first time. After they appear as the title of this book, they delay their second appearance until page 284, on which the Maestro silently appears again. On page 314 of this book, the beautiful Margaret appears on the stage. In a book of 580 pages, the Maestro and Margaret actually appear only in the middle part, which is a very easy point in the book in terms of narration."


Yu Hua was making progress, when he wove together the plot, the characters and the number of pages of the book, just as children count the numbers. The meeting at the Red Square in Moscow which throws people into embarrassment develops in the course of time. "Its narration discontinues when the narration begins to show its borderless and endless front view." This is just when the love between the Maestro and Margaret starts but the narration is interpreted and is made to stop here.Yu Hua wakes us up continually and clearly. Even when the narration has ceased, his marching never stops, just as the conductor of a symphony orchestra continues his job in silence even when the music pauses. "Here we turned over a leaf on page 283." 

The discontinuance here means that a part of the writing and the writing, as a whole, is a continuum which reveals itself vividly in such a presentation. In this regard, Yu Hua shows that he comprehends the structure as an experienced novelist.  What is more important is that he regards writing itself as the target of observation. In consequence, the characters and plots along with the developing process of emotion reveals the rhythem of writing, while Yu Hua may have hoped to peep into the mystery of writing by making the narration a detour thereby leading to writing. In his writing of this book, we can frequently find signs of Yu Hua's impulse to break the limit of the text and life through the clue to his writing.Writer, character and critic are living in the same world and writing determines a man's destiny. The criticism of a work is the narration of the process of life.  


      As soon as Margaret appeared, the Maestro became tranquil in his inner-most heart and Bulgakov also found his comfort beyond comparison . . . . The Maestro is nothing but a representative created by Bulgakov in the fictitious world. When Bulgakov thought of something, it became a language. When Bulgakov spoke something, it became a sound. When Bulgakov groped for something, it became his hands. Therefore, we can conclude: The only ambiguous region between Bulgakov's reality and writing is Margaret. In this environment, Bulgakov can perfectly protect his own conviction. This is, as many people say, the power of love and if he pushes his conviction forward, he can probably move on, even though his life comes to an end. The next path of his life is an endless one.


    This is what we mean by writing. It not only goes beyond time and space between the writer and his work, but it also liberates the inner-most heart of the writer by jumping over grudges, poverty and deception. Bulgakov is not a pure "self."  He could enter into the genuine writing only when he liberated himself from himself. The process through which a writer liberates himself is to open up to everything realistic, just like Faulkner at the tip of Yu Hua's pen. He is one of the unparalleled writers who has lived his life equally and who has proven that literature can hardly be above life. As for writers such as this, we can say that they did not choose writing, but writing chose them. In his essay, entitled "Mishima Yukio’s Writing and Life," Yu Hua condemned Mishima to die by the tip of his pen, because Mishima blended writing with life. "At the last moment, Mishma Yukio was not describing 'Patriotism' any more. 'Patriotism' was describing Mishima Yukio . . . . At the last moment of his life, death and lifeblood in Mishimas writing, jumped to their feet and described Mishima Yukio."

    Mishima Yukio's death is an exquisite meeting of art and life and it reveals life itself through individual nihility. Margaret's soaring up, however, makes us peep into the true state of history. 



    Last of all, the person who realizes that the process of writing is an objection to himself will understand the consequence, that writing is just like destiny. Dostoevskii developed it in an epic style and showed his confrontation in a complicated way.  Bakhtin called this epic polyphonic quality. This polyphonic quality is writing itself as well as the structural form. I think that Yu Hua firmly believes in the excellence of Dostoevskii's writing, but his literary criticism chose the transparent writing as its beginning. This means the writing forces the writer to go back to writing. This has some similarity to the ideas of Bakhtin, that is, he understands writing as a form leaping over art and life, and not a simple form.

    Isaiah Berlin didn't relish the notion that art and life are blended in Russian literature. This, he thought, belonged to a silly imitation of the German spirit. In a certain book of his, he summarized two kinds of attitudes in literary criticism: "French attitude" and "Russian attitude." He did this in order to demonstrate the organic way of thinking in Russian spiritual life. What is called the "French attitude" shows a technical attitude. According to this attitude, the only duty of intellectuals and artists is to produce good works. Their moral life, everyday interest, does nothing to do with whether or not they are a great artist. But so far as the "Russian attitude" is concerned, the meaning is definitely different. This attitude believes in the indivisible unity of man and will not tolerate the writer's negligence, reckless remarks, self-indulgence or a lack in passion for truth. Russian writers and the general public believe that writers are human and are supposed to be responsible for their own behavior. This attitude gives a continual shock to the European conscience. Mr. Berlin warns as follows: Such an organic understanding of the world includes some factors of anti-modern and autocratic romanticism.

    The titles "Russian attitude" or "French attitude" are nothing but a rough metaphor. A genuinely talented writer thinks much of technical skill and is very sensitive to life itself. The indication of a mature writer lies in the expansion of artistic space. Through this expansion, the tension and contradiction of both parts is expressed. But trends and fashions are never like this. They always develop certain one-sidednesses in isolation. Accordingly, Berlin's two attitudes cannot comprehend the creative writing of a prominent writer. Such an approach can only comprehend the tradition assuming an aspect of temper and trend. For instance, the "French attitude" represents the modern trend and dominates the present world. This attitude has produced a large number of theories and professional critics in the realm of literature and literary criticism. The proposition "the author was dead" includes the possibility leading to the living world. But to clumsy critics, this proposition is nothing but the proclamation of the independence of the work, neglecting the act of writing. This was how their criticisms, lacking in talent and life, began to open their own way. As the arrangement was in good order and the steps were in accord with each other, the noisy voice of the mass of people changed literature in quality into “literature”--a field which has nothing to do with our life. Weber thought that modernity was the rational differentiation of the value validity. In real history, as time went on, this differentiation was comprehended as technical process. In terms of the philosophical foundation of the contemporary life style, all behavior is changed into professional behavior and that professional behavior itself constitutes the moral foundation of a man's social behavior. For example, any lawyer can plead for a criminal but the lawyer doesn't care whether his pleading is helpful in regard to the criminal clearing himself of the crime. The professional ethics of a lawyer is provided with a moral foundation. In the same sense, this logic can compare writing to a carpenter who shaves the wood or to an entrepreneur who manages a company, or to a soldier who directs military affairs, and to a president of a company who controls its property and to a lawyer who pleads for a criminal.  Here only ability and technical skill exist. Nothing else is to be seen. In my opinion, we'd better regard the "French attitude" not as a national trait but as the value of modern society. Its social nature is skillfully hidden under the "attitude." The rational decoration of such an attitude is the rejection of meaning and the understanding of the specialization of social life.

    Yu Hua's criticism is a challenge to the pure criticism of art. He did not make the text and author, or even readers, the objects of his criticism. He put the act of writing in the center of his interest. In the course of writing, the author's writing, his destiny, the formation of a work, the production of criticism, art and life, all compose an inseparable entity. Yu Hua has been regarded as one of the "avant-garde" from 1980s. In terms of Chinese literature, the characteristic of a vanguard writer is purely literary writing. Here, Yu Hua, however, proves it by his own writing, that the research of a form is developed in the course of writing, and that this writing is borderless.

    This kind of criticism reminds me of a tradition, namely, the modern literary tradition created by Lu Xun. This tradition is deeply connected with that of 19th century Russian intellectuals. The feature consciously leaps over the definite borderline between life and art, and it announces the criticism of the course of art with the same standard of judgment in life. This does not mean something like Mr. Berlin's autocratic romanticism which regards the severe criticism of an author's moral quality as its main duty, because writing in this tradition is not a logic which organizes other things by force but an open process toward the world and the writer himself. Here, writing is an earnest desire for freedom. The social criticism of art originates from the interest in the course of writing. This has no necessary relation to mechanical social criticism or severe moral judgment. Art is the product of writing and the development of destiny and it has no borderline. Berlin was fascinated with the principle of "rational differentiation" which soaked in the "French attitude." He thought it is a kind of tolerance. But, if the "rational differentiation" rejects the relation between art and life, then independence of art will only mean the shrinking of art. In the sphere of art criticism, the professional file formed through the periodicals and college education all over the world is based on the premise of this isolated domain. They make a display of their influence by changing their emblem, by establishing their position, by attempting to move a mountain aside and to turn a sea over. They are degenerating literature and art into a technique. They are degenerating literature and art into the same structural domain as this society which grows more and more technical day by day. They consider the same structure as the secession of society. Writing is no longer a question heading for the unknown past. Writing is advancing from waiting to waiting by the reasonable circulation between construction and deconstruction, and between repulsion and obedience. Waiting does not exist any longer. As has been perceived by Weber, modernity includes two mutually contradictory principles. One is the principle of specialization and the other is that of popularization. As these two principles are incompatible, they are seldom sutured. That is why modernity becomes a project hard to accomplish. In this sense, the question of the relation between art and life to which 19th century critics paid attention is becoming an important factor for us to reflect upon as we reappraise the problem of modernity.

    Now, let's look into the model of criticism created by Belinskii. Turgenev who had a fussy temper, was not to learn of Dobrolyubov's social criticism and longed for Belinskii's criticism. Belinskii, who was the pioneer in the field of social criticism, had surprising insight and mild-mannered sympathy for the course of creative writing and he understood that the insight into sociality was the insight into a writing course. The conflict between Turgenev and Dobrolyubov resulted from a serious divergence of thought. We cannot interpret that such a divergence is based on the criticism of an outstanding writer which leaps over the borderline of art and life. His reverence of Belinskii showed that he admitted a social criticism which is fully equipped with the insight of art. In this respect, I absolutely trust Prof. Berlin's intuition and judgment. "Even aesthetic Turgenev will firmly believe that it is understandable only when the social and moral problems become the central ones and when such problems are laid on the structure of specific history and ideology."



    With regard to "19th century-styled fortitude" and Dostoevskii's clumsy and Bulgakov's simplicity, Yu Hua shows strong respect, but the enviroment around his literary criticism is inclined to think much of professional manufacturing skill as time goes on. The skill of text analysis is becoming more precise, but such an analytical skill is eventually only hiding the decline of insight into art. This process has a direct relation to the fact that literature, as an independent sphere, is separated from social life. If we can say that the rational diffenciations composes the characteristic of modern society, the literature separated from society is nothing but the duplication of a separated society. This is the conversion of history closely approaching us like raging waves.  Yu Hua's writing contains a resistance which can be understood in a particular historic thread of connection. This resistance with the form of careful and skillful text analysis makes us feel that his writing comprises a refusal of the "Russian attitude." Yu Hua's criticism, like his novels, is marked by holds an evident experimentation. He eagerly desires to liberate the literary world "in the frame of reality." His many beautiful criticisms are concentrated on the research of the organization of technical skill, metaphor and vocal sounds, as well as the mystery of narration. He brings all of these to the quest of reality. Within this quest, Yu Hua's reality and Borges' reality are responding to each other. The historic reason for this tendency is obvious. In terms of politics or literature, the "Russian attitude" has been distorted to the irresistible reality and to justice, indulging in bravado and bluster. We cannot say that Prof. Berlin's conclusion about such literary attitudes has nothing to do with historic reasons. But this conclusion originates from the reverse pursuit of the history of idealism, rather than from the literary tradition itself. From the period of Stalin to that of Tolstoy, history was covered with a continuum of ideals and the spirit of such a continuum is proven by a lot of experience. Nobody asks whether there is any questionable portion in such a continuum. Nevertheless, I want to ask: "What relation does Stalinism have to Tolstoy who resisted dictatorship? Can we cover up the deep opposition between them by talking of a 'Russian attitude'?"  

    Though Yu Hua's criticism is closely bound up with the "Russian attitude," he is developing another trend, namely, "French attitude," in the thread of history mentioned above. The vocabulary I have used here is nothing but a metaphor.Yu Hua's writing and his respect for technical skills must not be confused with the tendency to amputate literature through the borrowing of a "pseudo French style." That is a thorough cognition of literature in a writer who has been engaged in writing for about twenty years. As there exist two different "Russian attitudes," so there exist two different "French attitudes." Yu Hua's "reality" is the world which is opposed to reality and the relation between them is expressed in an inverted logic. He opposes character with desire and opposes human subjectivity with the stream of river and the sunlight. He opposes the grand stream of time with separated, duplicated and inverted logic. Such an opposing relation describes the tension between Yu Hua and reality. What is strange, we may say, is that tension and opposition are changed into writing and the passion of writing, eventually changed into an opening toward the unknown world. The violence in the casual world is doomed to be definitely exposed in the cold description. A change begins to appear little by little in the meaning of this cold description. The toleration of the world, the respect for character's own voice, the pursuit of truth, the transcendence after a full understanding of all things and the same approval of good and evil begin to be included. He says that this means that we see the world with the sympathetic eyes.  This is a kind of humanitarianism toward the world. There is no change in Yu Hua's search for the truth. What has been changed is the conception of the truth, which changes forever. "Strong imagination makes a fact." How can imagination be at a standstill in the stable space?

    The frequent use of the word "reality" is one of the features of Yu Hua's literary criticism. That reveals the covert connection between him and the "French attitude." Reality is a casual world and it is also a true world organized by many kinds of separated affairs. "All our effort is just to approach nearer to the truth." This expression, in a sense, seems to be in a typical Russian style, but, in fact, it gives off the flavor of France, of Robbe-Grillet and Borges. The conception of truth is continually changing. It is a deeper conception which cannot be foreseen, yet it suggests another world which might be meaningless. 

    This is the secession as well as approach to the "Russian attitude." What is truth? The truth is a betrayal to commonsense, a contention to judgment, an opening to fortuity, and a new discovery of the wholeness of the world created by actual facts. “When I wrote ‘Worldly affairs are just like smoke’, I chose the structure of collocation and inversion” in order to reveal the troublesome state of the world. This is one kind of approach. It is transformed suddenly becoming more distant. In the article, named "Borges' reality," Yu Hua finds that a writer is struggling against himself. Yu Hua finds how the Borges who belongs to life complains to another Borges who belongs to reputation. This struggle is transformed into two directions of the narration. They are oppressing each other and liberating each other at the same time. Here, fatigue, struggle and dissatisfaction are becoming writing itself, but the strained emotion is all the more slackened. Once again the arrangement of pages turns up. But the desire to follow, shown from Bulgakov, is not to be seen any more. What is rekindling at the back of the narration is a mysterious atmosphere and a philosophical quest as to whether reality is true or not. 

    Yu Hua is hesitating. Otherwise, he would not have used such a title for this book. He rejects the idea that Borges' "unlimitedness, confusion and universe, pantheism and human nature, time and eternity, idealism and other unrealistic styles are simple mysticism." He believes that Borges’ world is never a false, illusioned one. He clearly erases the "borderline between thing-in-itself, analogy, and metaphorical word" by borrowing Borges' accurate and abstruse metaphor. And this is not the "Russian attitude," because his effort to erase the borderline was attempted, not between art and life but between the substance and the figurative style. When his attention was transformed into a language spreading indefinitely, his effort to go beyond the borderline became technical. As a result, he came to approach the "French attitude," that is, the attitude stressing the need to pay attention to the unpredictable change, in other words, a metaphorical ability which is irrelevant to our moral life.

    I heard Yu Hua murmuring the following in a low tone repeatedly: "I was unable to get water to drink for some days. Being thirsty and the fear of thirst under the burning sun made it unbearable every day." Borges' reality was deeply hidden by the fear of thirst behind being thirsty. That requires sharpness to see into things and Yu Hua could feel the serious sense of reality through it. This sense does not make us approach his reality, but makes us stay far away from his reality. Accordingly, Borges' struggle against himself was transformed into a profound thought of reality and his mind had so much reserve that he did not respond to any conflict between art and life. He rather responded to the serious demands of those contemporary novels which admitted technical skills. Yu Hua asks a question last of all. "Did Borges himself want to be a writer who hopes to stay out of literature?" "Out of literature" means an indefinitely wide reality. If we cannot establish any boundary between literature and life, the territory out of literature must be a reality independent of writing and living. We can get there only through metaphor. 

    Among the contemporary writers in China, Yuhua was an uncommon professional writer who studied the technique and passion of novels and the reality created by them. Yu Hua discussed Faulkner, Hemingway, Borges, Mishima Yukio(三島由紀夫), Kawabata Yasunari(川端康成), Bulgakov, Kafka, Schwartz, Mo Yan and the like, but he brings to writing a different and opposing appearance and a sympathetic attitude. This is the empty inner-most heart of a writer who is concerned about the writing process. This is what I am going to mention below. He manifests a most peculiar set of characteristics in his language, imagination and metaphor. We can easily figure out whether a certain sentence is his or not, if only we have read one or two passages of his writing. The piercing power of his sentences is very surprising. Even reality can exist only in the space where the power of his writing reaches. Yu Hua is continually getting stuck in it with a somewhat confusing but accurate and transparent attitude. When people got intoxicated by a "new state" or "individual writing," treacherous Yu Hua returns to classics. His understanding of classics is, by no means, the repetition of anybody and everybody. As his finding of Bruno Schwartz testifies, he is overthrowing the history of literature through the reverse pursuit of the writing process and criticizing all histories of literature place the writers first and literature, next. His article "Literature and History of Literature" is a work in which he explores the genius that people could not understand in the history of literature. This exploration comes from his understanding of literary technique and, what is more, from his constant asking questions about his concepts of reality. 

    Here, the reality becomes the origin of writing politics. Here again, I found Yu Hua's eager desire from his technique and in the joy of finding reality. I see a deeply hidden Russian atmosphere distinct from the "French attitude." However, I know that Yu Hua understands this as the attitude of sympathy and opening.



    The "France attitude" found in Yu Hua's writing never simply came from his resistance to the "Russian attitude." On the contrary, it came from the understanding and the desire for freedom and from the wish to liberate himself from himself. Such a desire and wish are embodied in the expression, "An artist is writing a creative work for nihility." This expression of Yu Hua's needs to be read by comparing it with what I quoted at the beginning of this paper, that "writing was for one's inner-most heart." Nihility is one's inner-most heart liberated from the self and the liberated inner-most heart is the transparence of the world. One who is liberated from himself can look into the truth of the universe. That's why nihility becomes the origin of truth. Though the conception of nihility reminds people of existentialism, the meaning of truth can possess the whole world and every minute part of the world by making itself nihilistic. In other words, nihility is a humble attitude to meet the world. Nihility is a covert desire but it possesses all things. 

    Now, let's go back to the humor which I mentioned at the beginning. What is humor? As far as I know, humor is a conflict between the "Russian attitude" and the "French attitude," and there is an attempt to resolve this conflict by its own nihility. Humor recognizes the relation between art and life as a transcendental and technical attitude. This is a recognition of art as art.  Such an artistic purity is recognized, coming from the truth of the world. This self-contradiction leaves no mark behind, because “I” remain wide open. This is, what is called, Yu Hua's nihility. At the end of the Ming dynasty, Wanglongxi said, "Arriving at intuition means to empty one's mind, and to withdraw one's own affection from things." That is a mind, writing from one's inner-most heart. "As a child's mind is innocent, it has neither falsehood nor technique. It has enough vitality and wisdom in itself that talent grows naturally. If an adult is to be a master of all things, he has to keep this child's mind." In other words, a child's mind transcends technique. For Yu Hua, technique is important. But technique is nothing but technique. It is the insight of the world's mystery, available only when one's inner-most heart is wide open. Consequently, technique is, in fact, just the size of one's inner-most heart. The object of the empty mind is not only people, but also rivers, trees, streets and all things. In the article, "Literature and the History of Literature," Yu Hua expressed freedom like this: "Just like Kafka, Schwartz made his writing survive in an unlimited freedom. He made his narration larger than reality, preparing his own home, river and character in the imagination. The scenery he drew with his pen always leaped over the place within his horizon, reaching the limits of his inner-most heart. Therefore, the destiny of character was as eternal as memory and there was no way to measure life and death. At this, aestheticism came to read a bountiful history, but was not able to find a definite spot. Their works were at the mercy of the waves in the river of time, just like people who have lost their own space."  

    Yu Hua tries to accept the world through his empty inner-most heart. He accepts the world rejected by "the frame of the world." He tries to accept the reality attainable through only metaphor, experience and language. Though one cannot deny that one's empty inner-most heart has limits, these limits come not from one's inner-most heart but from reality. In the Schwartz's imagination, houses, streets, rivers, character and bountiful history are accepted but the definite spot is excluded. He found his people drifting in the river of time. But those people lost their space. It is closely connected with the grave history of the Jewish race. Once again I thought of Bulgakov and the Russian tradition in which he was living. In this tradition, neither the spot nor the space can be neglected. A bountiful history means something concrete. This tradition lets art and life communicate with each other across the borderline between them, but it always asks: "Who can be happy and free, living in Russia?" But Schwartz left no room for talking about spots and spaces. Nihility is endlessly wide but what it means is not being huge or numerous but being boundless. Since nihility means a required choosing, Sartre, who is now out of fashion, still has some meaning. 

    Indeed, who can be happy and free while living in Russia? This has been an untimely question for the past half century.  And it is a question that has been asked by the people of the whole generation before the last half century. Though the voice asking this question came from the true inner-most heart, it got mixed with the false justice and moral in the long river of time. Eventually, it played a variation which meant compulsion, dogmatic futile argument and reasoning. Prof. Berlin quoted Herzen and satirized a "Russian attitude" and there was some truth to what he said, "We were running toward the limit and went over the limit with fearless steps. Our steps never went well with demonstrations or with the truth." But who can deny the persistent questions asked by Dostoevskii, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Bulgakov? And who can deny the great power of this tradition? One of the general principles in history is that "the asking of questions about a problem has passed. But the problem is eternal."  The "Russian attitude" was alienated. But the "Russian attitude" has not lost its meaning, yet. This same logic can be applied to the "French attitude." Though the empty inner-most heart rejects the "Russian attitude" which was alienated from the quest of another reality, we must not give up the "Russia attitude." The empty inner-most heart embraces all the world and calls our attention to sympathy for the streets, for rivers, for nature and for man. It makes us perceive the fear of thirst after we experience thirst and the oneness of water vanished in water. But we still remember the spot and time, love and grudges, tenderness and betrayal in the scene of history. Otherwise, drifting without space may be our destiny. Will this be our reality?  If the change of conception of the spot and space is the basic mark of the contemporary world, the absence of the spot and space in the artistic work might be an accurate description of reality without spot and space. 



    This is why I cherish the experiment which pierces the process of writing, clarified by Yu Hua in his article, "Bulgakov and 'Maestro and Margaret'." That is the writer's attitude of the world in terms of the details of writing. That is a freedom which pierces the time and space of literature and of reality. This paper filled with passion for the technique of writing, contains, inwardly, respect for the "Russian attitude," but this is not duplication. Within this figure calling a departed soul, the betrayal of a kind of spiritual impulse and art movement has been adumbrated. I will take a line from Marx. Here, "The reason we try to restore a dead man to life in the revolution is just to admire a new struggle, not to imitate the old struggle by force. It is in order to enhance a certain obligation in the imagination, not to escape from the solution of our responsibility in reality. It is to restore the revolutional spirit again, not to make the ghost of revolution wander about."

In this sense, the regression to nihility and to one's inner-most heart is not to escape from the world but to enter the world.  Yu Hua's world of criticism contains not only the confusion and richness of reality but also the tension and confrontation of reality and it contains the collocation and struggle of the "Russian attitude" and the "French attitude" as well. He tries to embrace both of them as the means of technique and he tries to make them get along with each other, but, after all, the world, emerging from the tension of creation, is inevitably confronted with its own contradiction. In my opinion, this contradiction is a necessary one. The world is changing. One narration takes the place of another and one dictatorship is changed into another. If there is no contradiction, there is no chance of solution, either. When Yu Hua is asked what to write, he must mention how to write and when he answers the question of how to write, he should talk about the truth of what to write. If there appears a necessity for the "Russian attitude" in this world of the "French attitude," they must provide us with creative tension. I hope that Yu Hua will soar up and clearly see it, just as Margaret did. Pontius Pilate desperately followed Jesus Christ and cried out at the top of his voice, "It was not Pontius Pilate who killed him!"


Nov. 19, 1998


Tr. By Mi-Jung Kim


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[1] This text forms an introduction to Yu Hua's collection of critical essays, entitled, "Can I believe in myself?"