I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Cold Literature

A Cold Literature

Antony Tatlow
Aesthetics and Creation, by Gao Xingjian, (transl Mabel Lee), Cambria Press, 272 pp, €109.99, ISBN: 978-1604978360 Gao Xingjian (b 1940), the first Chinese recipient of a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000 and since 1998 a naturalised French citizen, is officially persona non grata in the country of his birth. Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, a teacher of literature and human rights activist, is serving an eleven-year sentence for state subversion. To be considered a cultural and political dissident by the Chinese government is a tough profession. Gao first made his mark in the early 1980s with a book on modern fiction and four unusual plays. China has no tradition of avant-garde dramatic writing. The party preferred socialist realist or so-called revolutionary romantic works, idealist in character, with an aspiring or heroic working class, whose enemies, in Cultural Revolution drama, were often in league with foreigners with red hair, like demons, intent on destroying the communist revolution. Gao studied Western literature, translated French texts and knew about Brecht’s theatrical practice. He called for real human characters, not heroes or villains, the gods or monsters of propagandist fantasy. The plays broke with what passed in China for Stanislavsky’s dramaturgy, exciting the audience and alarming the party. From 1982 to 1986, they moved from depicting imaginable social behaviour, through satirical to philosophical and Buddhist explorations of the unconscious in Chinese cultural life and social behaviour. I saw his first play, Warning Signal, in the Beijing Capital Theatre in February 1983. Set in a goods train, symbolising economic distribution during the emerging process of modernisation, the play features a guard’s assistant who offers a free ride to a young woman. A boyfriend joins them with an older criminal acquaintance, intent on robbery. Allegorically distributed, the characters represent behavioural choices. Cinema-type flashbacks, probing the characters’ feelings, and dreams, darkening the stage and spotlighting with different colours, indicate whether the character is remembering, speaking in the present, or imagining a future. At the moment of decision the young man makes the right choice, influenced by his love for the girl. He suffers a flesh wound as he kills the professional crook with a knife. Against the background of the moribund contemporary theatre, the play was enthusiastically welcomed for breaking new aesthetic ground. After Warning Signal’s success, Gao’s next play, in spite of official suspicion, was allowed a production, but Bus Stop, indebted to Beckett, represented…



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