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Can Xue


Kondo Naoko (Can Xue's Japanese translator and literary critic)

My Appreciation of Can Xue

Can Xue has been the most notable writer in China since the first appearance on the Chinese literary scene of her mysterious novel, Yellow Mud Street, in the middle of 1980s, ten years after the end of the Great Cultural Revolution. Today, more and more intellectual readers in China and the world have begun to note Can Xue's extraordinary talent, but I think she has not received the respect yet that she deserves. There are two reasons for this. One is because the level of literary criticism in China has not caught up yet with their most prominent writer, owing to the well-known historical and political restraints. The other is because the world has not had enough competent translators and translated books by Can Xue, especially in English, which is the one universal language today.

In Japan, the neighboring country of China, we traditionally have had strong interest in Chinese contemporary literature and perhaps have had more writers and translators to introduce Chinese literature and translate it than any other country. Since the end of 1980s, Can Xue’s novels have been translated into five books, in various world anthologies, and in literary magazines in Japan. Recently, her first book of criticism on Kafka, The Castle of Soul, was published as well, and we anticipate another marvelous talent of Can Xue, that as a critic, will begun to be widely recognized. Every time a new book is published, favorable reviews appear in leading newspapers, and some reviewers even dare to use the word genius for Can Xue to express their admiration.

I think that word is not too extravagant, and believe—as far as we still have the word genius in our vocabulary—Can Xue is one of the few writers today who really deserves this title. We only need to remember the initial impression of the first few pages of Can Xue’s work to admit it. In fact, there we find something new under the sun, something far beyond our ordinary imagination. Can Xue’s work is strikingly bewildering, but neither nonsense nor babble, and always has some strange power to make the reader shudder without knowing why. At first, a lot of reviewers of Can Xue’s books tried to compare her to other world writers, dramatists, and artists—Kafka, Lu Xun, Kobo Abe, Beckett, Pinter, Stoppard, Dali, Munch, Bacon, and so on—trying to find any analogy between Can Xue and their work, only to prove she is an utterly unique writer.

Can Xue doesn’t resemble any specific writer in the world, but we are sure that she shares the wellspring of her novels in common with most literary maestros from the past until the present day. Doubtless to say, her novels spring from the deepest stratum of human soul or unconsciousness, which has continually produced the most prominent literary masterpieces since ancient days. All Can Xue’s novels are full of the signs that imply the depth of unconsciousness where they originate. Sometimes the signs are typical symbols of dream, sometimes déjà vu, but always they are enigmas. These enigmas are waiting to be solved, and it’s worthwhile to solve them. As Can Xue’s exquisite criticisms on Kafka has clearly demonstrated, to solve the enigma of literature originating from our unconsciousness means to solve the enigma of what it means to be a human being.

In a recent essay on writing, Can Xue made an interesting observation. She says that Chinese writers perhaps have more unconscious resources than Western writers, because their desire to live has been repressed for thousands of years in China. If they can only get the proper prompt—the logos of Europe—they will break through the thousands of year’s repression and burst out.

If her maiden work Yellow Mud Street is the first monument of her big break through, then Five Spice Street is the second such monument. (The original title in English for Five Spice Street was Break Through Performance, as is the title of Japanese version.) It opened the second stage of Can Xue's work, where what burst out from the hole of the Great Wall is the flood of vivid speeches and narrations rather than the flood of mysterious colorful images seen at her first stage. Here, Can Xue is making brilliant verbal performances to liberate the long buried frozen words, the desire to talk, the desire to live, of her soul to the utmost limit.

In the Five Spice Street, in this luxuriant polyphonic novel which consists of numerous dialogues, discussions, and disputes on the sexual desire, we find a fascinating mixture of liberated aboriginal pathos and sensational logos.

Like Lu Xun, Soseki, and other representative writers of Asia, Can Xue has been an earnest observer of the Western culture as well as the Eastern culture. Through her close observation that reaches the root of both cultures, and through the dialogues, discussions, and disputes, which seeks for the authentic life of human beings, Can Xue has created hundreds compelling works. I believe these works are not only the treasures of our world, but also the valuable hints to break through the predicament and crisis of our world today.

© 2006 by Kondo Naoko