jeudi 29 novembre 2007

A Writer For His Culture, A Writer Against His Culture

Appel à contribution / Call for papers:

A Writer For His Culture,
A Writer Against His Culture :

Gao Xingjian

International conference organised by
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC, Hong Kong), and
the University of Aix-Marseille I

Dates : 28 - 30 May 2008

Venue : The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Organising Committee
Noël Dutrait, Gilbert C.F. Fong, Hardy Tsoi, Sebastian Veg

Proposal and Paper Submission
Please submit a title and a brief abstract of around 250 words by email to:
Hong Kong Drama Programme,
Sir Run Run Shaw Hall, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (, or Sebastian Veg (
Please include your position and institutional affiliation in your proposal. Abstracts should be written in English. Presentations may be made in English or Chinese (Putonghua).
Deadline for submission of proposals: 15 January 2008
Deadline for submission of papers: 1 May 2008

Gao Xingjian has in many ways cultivated a complex relationship with cultural identities. Born in China, where he lived until the age of 47, he then moved to Europe, finally settling in France after deciding not to return after 1989. He is the first Nobel laureate in literature to write in Chinese, but received the prize as a French citizen. His two full-length novels are both closely linked to China, One Man’s Bible because it deals with the episode of the Cultural Revolution, and Soul Mountain because it is, among other things, a deep-reaching confrontation with and reworking of southern Chinese popular legends and traditions. At the same time, Gao has repeatedly presented both of these works as a kind of final reckoning with China and Chineseness, asserting that he had severed all links with China and now considered himself a trans-national or trans-cultural writer.

Chineseness », if this is indeed a useful concept, is firstly linked to language. Gao is one of a very small number of writers who have authored works in more than one language, as did Samuel Beckett before him. But while Beckett moved chronologically from English to French, Gao continues to write simultaneously in both Chinese and French, choosing his native language for the longer novels, and his adopted language for the shorter dramatic works that he wrote during the 1990’s. As did Beckett, he takes an active interest in the translations of his works between French and Chinese, and has actually translated, and in fact rewritten, several theatrical works, baffling translators into third languages, who no longer know which version to work on.

For these reasons, in terms of biography, language, and aesthetic and cultural references, Gao Xingjian presents a very singular case for study. This conference will focus on the issues related to Chineseness in his work, without any limitations in terms of genre, examining his plays, novels, stories, paintings and film. The question of language may serve as a starting point: is there something distinctly Chinese in the works that Gao has authored in Chinese, as opposed to his French writings? What role does translation play in the evolution of his writing, especially in the case of texts that he has himself adapted into another language, but also more largely in terms of translating cultural references into another language and cultural context? In particular, how do Chinese traditional cultural references, but also allusions to modern and contemporary Chinese history (the early in 1980’s in his first dramatic works), fit into texts that purport to be situated beyond national borders?

More generally, the issue of Chineseness raises the question of aesthetics. How is one to assess Gao’s assertion that he is no longer a «
Chinese writer », but rather has attained a form of intercultural aesthetics that are not indebted to a particular national tradition? Few would deny that Gao’s works continue to engage with Chinese aesthetics in an unmistakable way. To name but a few, the recent opera Snow in August, which was staged in Taipei and Marseilles in 2004, is freely adapted from the legend of Huineng, the sixth patriarch of Chan/Zen Buddhism, a doctrine or method which plays a particular role in the structure of several of his texts. His paintings also draw on elements of Chinese aesthetics, using ink, brush and water to create a distinctive style that eschews any simple characterization in terms of national traditions. In this connection, one may wonder whether this particular style played a role in defining Gao’s syncretic form of writing.

Finally, the very categories of national literature and cultural tradition should probably not be viewed uncritically. While Gao deconstructs the idea of Chineseness in his texts and works, one may wonder to what extent this critical attitude is simply part and parcel of the contemporary situation of literature, in which national, linguistic and cultural borders tend to become blurred, as many writers aim to achieve a form of writing that can no longer be ascribed to a cultural tradition in any linear or direct way.

Gilbert C.F. Fong ( or
Sebastian Veg

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