Mind-Dancing the Loneliness of Freedom: The Life-dance-story of “Sanmao”1943-1991

Just to confess: I had not intended to write in any detail about Sanmao or “Echo” the writer, but rather (only) to shed light on a remarkable 12-minute solo modern dance arranged by the doyenne of post-ballet modernist dance, Shu Qiao. Of course BDA faculty, a person of official stature but for all that a risk-taker. (There was no such thing as solo bio-dance in 1994 when her “Sanmao” dance-story premiered in Beijing in 1994). But as I went ahead I realized that this depiction was not just a (very fine) experiment in modern dance (solo variety) – for that was a form that could never have a broad audience – but a set of references to “something/someone” who had (momentarily) achieved an almost saintly status, but one that had already begun to erode as the drama of her also religion-simulative self-hanging (Jan 1991) receded. The bio-dance was clearly an effort to preserve the first and most Romantic take.

Writers who build their fame or success on a uni-generational audiences – cult writers if you will, but that is a degrading term – usually vanish in a matter of decades; the most so when the audience is youthful and (as so often) feminine. Look Homeward Angel. This is no surprise: those of us who read our way through the agonies ? uncertainties of pathway? – of late teenhood, and while (if) we are yet in school, with still more ahead – are creatures of explosive but always evanescent enthusiasms. Literature and those who make it “for” us – (and they need not, in fact best not, be co-generationals) – and for our time and place – become an addiction, just as do the better of the film directors (though they are in a somewhat different place, and can in certain cases outgrow their followers). But writers and poets still tend not to: the delirium they profer is at once too powerful and at the same time too time/place referential to keep alive much past the passing of “their” generation. Nouvelle vague always defines as nouvelle nouvelle vague). Waves break in the shallows of “flattening” and are replaced by the still gar off, about to crest swells still rising.

(MC Wang Yao, 2011 commemorative, remembering…): “Yes, when we were middle schoolers (in Taiwan), (late 60s, early 70s) just about all the girls carried a copy of her works in their satchels because we were smitten by her spirit of wandering … with things changing in China you could soon travel (there) …so if so many many young girls dreamt of it (“travel afar”), it was that they were under her spell. (1972.Nixon’s visit). “Life in the Sahara” as she told it was rough, but she fascinated us with this sense- (fantasy?) – of wandering freely (liulang 流浪”) (of being free to roam)”)… but of course since the 80s and Deng XP’ glasnost – when mainland travel became so common, her appeal diminished, or the term had to mean something more abtract [which it did].” (my additions))

But therein – in the brevity of their cresting – lies a reason, the best reason, to pay them heed, to walk again over the traces. Evanescent magnetisms in the world of letters, diaries, short poems, collectanea reveal – perhaps better than any other form of connecting-up – there own “what-afflicts-us” sensibility” that every wave of newcomers experiences but can’t or won’t want to diagnose, still less discard: the inexpressibility carries its own appeal, and if putting it aside (together with those who speak to it) – must happen, it will look/feel much like early aging, loss of a sense of hope and future, however poorly founded those hopes may be. (One is reminded of Oe Kenzaburo’s “おくれてきた青年”, 1962, who mourns a personal sense of loss, cowardice, for having missed the tokkoutai (“kamikaze”) young-death generation’s glory and fallen into the life of a family man, albeit one burdened in surrogate by a nerve-system defective son). As Mishima refused to do, though much past youth).

Writers (in these days more and more female) who ride these waves in retrospect will read after but a few years as jejune passee, obsolete. As Youth (those who still read beyond curriculum) moves on. But such writers -of-the-fay travel over their trails or past them with often immensely revealing insights (intuitions might be better) of what is on the troubled mind of adults-in-the-making. This may be a cynical exercise, but equally or more often the poet-prophet becomes self-fascinated with the costuming and recostuming, the play back and around and never quite back again with optioned roles, persona ficta. Biographically this fickleness – or it it just the dread of losing attention, appeal – insecurity? – can often lead to early collapse: not loss of will but loss of Who-(as artist) I am, will be, will be remembered for or as.

But that hardly makes them worth discarding. Breakdown, loss of direction, drugs, crisis, suicide – are not just morbid fascinations for the coldly distant reader. They can themselves become or inspire lyrics (narratives of demise) that (through others) become much more durable, eternally or closer to eternally of interest.

This secondary or offspin, inevitably remorse-filled “rethink” (by author and, say, 10 years older ex-followers – is one of the persisting markers of Romanticism, whose most enduring symbol is and always been the tombstone. or ruin: “her masterwork – Sahara Tales – remains a classic of Romanticism”…(2011 seminar). Often much more) worth attention, how later generations moved it over.

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