Random pieces from the NE Gaomi Jigsaw puzzle
Since late last year and surely for some time to come, Mo Yan has been and will be a creature known mainly through the literary and Party press, in both “entertainment” and “lit-crit” modalities.
This kind of coverage is famous for distortion, plagiarism, lack of corroboration, and often simply viciousness. As we all know.
But given Mo Yan’s not necessarily humble reticence about his early (pre-1985) days, and in particular about his transformation from a PLA propaganda unit trainee into a Faulkner-influenced dream-narrator in 1985 (but about much else as well, later on), this flow of off-the-cuff material needs to be registered. Though the truth-yield is always low (or worse), there is quite often something of value, a glimpse of soul perhaps not even deliberate or intended.
All the more so since (in my read) a very large element in his (later) “hallucinorealist” style fiction reassembles as self-liberating narrative a host of searing psychological experiences from his first 22 years, all lived in his very very “postage stamp” (微地) sized village community, a community whose history is still largely unrecorded, and doomed to remain so. (It was “moved” and the old lodgings ploughed under in the early 1990s)
Where is N.E. Gaomi?
The “make-believe” postage stamp sized county called “Gaomi NE” appears in Mo Yan’s writings from end 1984, after a quick reading (in Chinese translation) of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), in which that (latter) author launches his “imagined/invented” storyland Yoknapatawpha County, a setting Faulkner created based on Lafayette County, Mississippi. Mo was then enrolled in a (new) literature dept. (program) at the PLA Lib Arts College (grad. 1986), which was at the time playing translation/interpretation catchup with the huge inventory of more or less “new” world fiction – meaning both works published “offshore” after the GPCR shut-down, AND a number of much older overseas works/writers who had been passed over or banned during the “17 years” because rejected by Soviet mainstream critics.
Whatever and whenever the specific inspiration came, there can be no doubt that his home township (Dalan/Ping’an/Shakouzi cun), became the never-never-land of almost all his fiction, starting with Red Sorghum (Mar. 1985 publ.).