Recurrence and Role of Supernatural Elements in Contemporary Sinophone Literature

Four Case Studies
Thursday
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room E

  • Martina Renata Prosperi, “Syaman Rapongan and His ‘Mythology of Badai Bay’: Legendary Demons and Supernatural Elements as Keywords in a Communication between Humans and the Environment”
  • Eugenia Tizzano, “The Fantastic in Bo Yang: The Supernatural as a Way to Explore the Human Nature”
  • Alessandra Pezza, “Theorising the Use of the Supernatural in Order to Criticise Chinese Reality: Apports and Limitations of Yan Lianke’s ‘Mythorealism’”
  • Chiara Cigarini, “Han Song’s Supernatural Science Fiction: Re-Enchanting Time, Space, Character, and Structure in his Tales of (Technological) Anomalies”

From zhiguai literary tradition up to nowadays Sinophone fiction, science fiction, folktales, and aboriginal legends, the recurrence of the supernatural element as a crucial narrative device has always been bearing particular significance and more or less patent meanings, both vis-à-vis the author’s own viewpoint and goals, and vis-à-vis the cultural, and social environment in which each literary work is respectively embedded.
This panel proposal represents a four-case study attempt to pay equal attention to both of the above-mentioned aspects, by carrying out deep and innovative literary analysis, and by avoiding any easy banalisation seeing the literary medium under the unique interpretation of social criticism and political engagement.
Ranging from Taiwan-based authors, the likes of Henan-born Bo Yang (1920–2008) and Lanyu-born Syaman Rapongan (1957–), to voices from Mainland China, such as Yan Lianke (1958–) and Han Song (1965–), this panel consequently aims at investigating the recurrence and role of supernatural elements within contemporary Sinophone literature, by providing a stimulating selection of well diverse approaches and perspectives.

Martina Renata Prosperi, “Syaman Rapongan and His ‘Mythology of Badai Bay’: Legendary Demons and Supernatural Elements as Keywords in a Communication between Humans and the Environment”

Syaman Rapongan 夏曼‧藍波安 (1957–), grows up on Lanyu until the end of the 70s, when the lifestyle of Tao people is still based on traditional activities, relying on fishing and agriculture for sustenance. As a teenager, he moves to Taidong and his departure is seen as a betrayal. In 1988, however, a deposit of radioactive waste is built on Lanyu and Syaman decides to go home and participate in the protests. Whereas moving to Taiwan had meant giving up his people’s values for conquering a scientific worldview, this return leads him back to the origins, via the re-appropriation of Tao legends, rituals, and fishing skills. His first work, Badaiwan de shenhua 八代湾的神话 (The Mythology of Badai Bay, 1992), a collection of Tao tales, myths, and supernatural stories, well represents his tribe’s holistic vision of an equally human and (super)natural universe; it is a double attempt (1) of translating Tao culture for Chinese readers, and (2) of conveying an aboriginal viewpoint on the sociocultural transformations affecting Taiwan from the 70s until today. Besides focusing on the recurrence and role of supernatural elements, this paper further analyses other narrative and linguistic devices employed by the author as to achieve the above-mentioned goals. Finally, it discusses the topic of reciprocal legitimisation, both on a social level (linking tradition, environment, social belonging), and on a literary one (between this Tao-but-sinicised author and his Sinophone readership).

Eugenia Tizzano, “The Fantastic in Bo Yang: The Supernatural as a Way to Explore the Human Nature”

Born in 1920 in Henan province, Bo Yang 柏杨 (1920–2008) moved to Taiwan after the Nationalist Party lost the civil war in 1949, together with millions of Chinese who arrived on the island virtually destitute. During the 50s, he took up fiction-writing as a profession and, using a literary style all his own, started writing newspaper columns that clearly show his interest in exposing the darker side of society.
Best known for his non-fiction works on Chinese history and for his essays on political and cultural criticism, Bo Yang has also left a few collections of short stories in which he explores the human nature in all its aspects. In some of these tales, we find motifs and themes typical of the traditional ghost tales mingling with the everyday reality of protagonists deeply immersed in their modern lives. These supernatural elements seem to be the best way to depict the loneliness and longing for a home experienced by the protagonists, their desire to reunite to the loved ones and the echoes of a past that keeps on haunting their present life.
Based on Remo Ceserani’s (Ceserani; 1996) suggestion to distinguish recurrent narrative strategies and themes in the fictional works, this paper proposes a close reading of Bo Yang’s short stories with supernatural elements and aims at identifying the rhetorical devices and thematic systems that activate the fantastic mode inside the stories.

Alessandra Pezza, “Theorising the Use of the Supernatural in Order to Criticise Chinese Reality: Apports and Limitations of Yan Lianke’s ‘Mythorealism’”

In his essay collection, Faxian xiaoshuo 发现小说 (2011), contemporary Chinese writer Yan Lianke 阎连科 (1958–) theorised the traits of a literary style, that he calls shenshizhuyi 神实主义 (mythorealism), characterising his writing as well as that of a number of his colleagues.
He describes it as a way to represent the “inner reality” of contemporary China, something that, he claims, is only possible by eliminating the pretence of recognising a rational logic behind facts. It is therefore in the absurd, in the grotesque, and in the supernatural, intended both as incredible facts that happen in the real world as well as in a recourse to myth and to Chinese folkloric beliefs, that the author identifies the key to really understand Chinese society. All those features are presented as being more real than reality itself, and thus become a way to criticise Chinese reality.
While the author’s attempt to point out to a trend to deform reality as a new, paradoxical form of realism in Chinese literature has the value of highlighting the possibility of a common language in a generation of writers, as well as, while not unique in this, the merit of emphasising the feeling of uncertainty induced by the rapid changes of contemporary China, it also has, we argue, the potential risk of banalising different uses of the literary medium under the unique interpretation of social criticism and political engagement.

Chiara Cigarini, “Han Song’s Supernatural Science Fiction: Re-Enchanting Time, Space, Character, and Structure in his Tales of (Technological) Anomalies”

The Xinhua journalist and prolific Chinese science fiction author Han Song 韩松 (1965–) often unsettles the rationality of this genre by enhancing supernatural elements into its production. This essay seeks to underscore the thematic and structural parallelism binding him to the zhiguai literary tradition, especially by focusing on the shift from science fictional rationality to supernatural aspects which are typical to both the ancient and the contemporary Chinese literary tradition, as well as on the way in which this change of perspective is a feature of how Han represents elements such as space, time, characters, and even the narrative form itself. Hence, some of his most representative works will be examined in order to highlight his anomalous and re-enchanted if, at the same time an expression of a “nativisation” of the genre in China on the one hand, and a universal reflection regarding a highly technological and globalised world on the other.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room E
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Four Case Studies