Mo Yan’s “Graffiti Realism” and Metamorphobic Fantasy

It has been pointed out that reductive caricature – the naming of characters by out-of-the-ordinary (usually undignified) physical attributes or the attrbutes’ metamorphoses into free-floating body parts – regularly swallows up the human actors in Mo Yan’s fiction. A tag of eccentricity (what unusual attributes of clothing, complexion, height, etc. associate with a character’s initial appearance?) comes to stand in for the persona, as it were, “behind” them.

This can at first pass be seen as no more harmful than a means of establishing a character’s identity within a blurred and alien and pressingly overpopulated village/commune world (or one so perceived by the writer); as such it seems cousin to the more-or-less harmless teasing of the nickname, the monicker that a not terribly self-conscious interloper might accept and even re-broadcast. (The “Unicorn” in BBWH for example).

Thus in Frogs, Dec. 2009 (commentary by Yinde Zhang):

“The given names of the characters, …nearly always refer to a part of their body, Chen the Nose (Chen Bi 陳鼻), Wang the Liver (Wang Gan 王肝), Xiao (father 肖上唇) = Xiao Upper Lip, Xiao son =
Xiao Lower Lip (Xiao Xiachun 肖下唇)….”

(Yinde Zhang, China Perspectives, 2011/4, p. 60 The Biopolitical Novel: Some Reflections on Mo Yan Frogs

But this is no recent digression: it turns up in one of his first works (1981, much earlier) Minjian yinyue where we encounter
Lame Fang 6, “Pocky” (pockmarked) Du Shuang, and “Yellow Eyes” Huang Yan (fn)

This stretching – and diminishing – of identifying perception by the superimposition of an isolated and normally non- referenced body part attachment (moustache, nose) or deformity (acne, smallpox scars etc) is of course a universal attribute of the very long-lineaged genre of satire, in which regard it is (at least) cruel but still not meant to terrify: in “inclusive” satire it somehow transforms into engaging playfulness. (Children of course play/play at this double-faced badinage all the time).

The film Dalu (Great Road, Trunk Road, 1934) in Neo-Magical Decode

Man vs Machine: Real vs Magic Roadbuilding

coolies 1kemna 3(continued from previous post, May 14 2013)

1. Wartime Machines and Wartime Marooning

The Film Dalu 大路 (Lianhua Studios, Shanghai, 1934, Dir. Sun Yu (1900-1980)) is incontrovertibly a B class film, using Hollywood borrowed sub-plots and role-playing to spin a yarn of Resist Japan, much earlier than the Resist Japan art film hit its stride (if it ever did).

But as if by accident it tells its tale in a distinctly Magic(al) Realist mode, this well before that genre was in play globally. It is “about” the isolation (sometimes poetic or freedom-tolerant, at other times demeaning or dangerous, an unwanted condition) of backwater China, a country of meager roads and dependence on river transport, though we do not get to see see to much it in “magical” construct, except where it links to freelarking and custom-defiant cavorting by the “Leonora” -Mo Li – the “plus” side of isolation, for a puckish figure of the sort she plays could scarcely be imagined or scripted in an urban setting.

To start: where are we? Again in Magical Realist mode, in a static nowhere land: perhaps in the Huai basin (Anhui)- [in the heartbreaking “documentaries” of flood victims, shown as Li Lili sings of Fengyang, in the Huai catchment, where Good Earth is also set]; perhaps along the Zhejiang/Anhui border where the Huling Pass (terminus of the road) is actually located; but certainly divorced from the metrocenter of Shanghai. The DEPARTURE from which is the story told in part 5 (20:00 ff) of the film, and even set to its own diegetic harmonica music. (An instrumental pre-quote of the song “Songstress under the Boot” 铁蹄下的歌女, “themesong” of 风云儿女 (1935), also composed by Nie Er, an “aria” of/for an extra-urban wandering female musician).