Stories Grow in Hong Kong: 𝑂𝑓 𝐹𝑜𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝐻𝑢𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑠 review

My review was first publish in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal on September 1st, 2022.

Monika Gaenssbauer and Nicholas Olczak (editors). Of Forests and Humans: Hong Kong Contemporary Short Fiction. Edition Cathay, vol. 74, Bochum, Projekt Verlag, 2019.

In Of Forests and Humans, Monika Gaenssbauer and Nicholas Olczak present anglophone readers with the narrative experimentation, complex urbanism and literary variety of contemporary fiction from Hong Kong. The volume contains six well-chosen short stories published between 1992 and 2011 and introduces a variety of different literary styles, from Xi Xi’s 西西 surreal fabulations in “Elzéard Bouffier’s Forest” to Chan Lai Kuen’s 陳麗娟 science-fiction-flavoured urban labyrinths in “E6880**(2) from Block 6, building 20, wing E”.

Each short story is followed by a close reading by the editor-translators, which provides cultural and historical context, suggestions for relevant theoretical approaches, as well as their reading of the piece. This is meant as a pathway into the text rather than a definitive interpretation, for, as the editors rightly acknowledge, the “strength of many of the stories in this collection [is] that they might draw very different responses and interpretations from different kinds of readers”. For instance, where Gaenssbauer and Olczak were reminded of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s short story “The Tunnel” when reading Wang Pu’s 王璞 “Greek Sandals”, an image from “The Tunnel” in Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams instantly surfaced in my mind when I read the story. It is interesting that the symbolic structure of the tunnel often used to represent the link between conscious wakefulness and subconscious longings and emotions so readily solicits personal and immediate responses in different readers. If Hong Kong literature has a common denominator despite its plurality of forms and voices, it is the willingness to embrace and invite, at times even demand, multiple, contrasting and complicated readings.

As the editors note, Xi Xi’s story is intertextual in setting, writing itself into and through Jean Giono’s “The Man Who Planted Trees”. It is a story of the cyclical withering and rebirth of a utopian forest, half-hearsay, half-imaginary, and slowly being translated, it forms the memory of the second-person protagonist’s father through the protagonist’s sensory experiences and onto the pages of the story. This situates the story firmly on the boundary between memory and fiction, and reality and imagination, allowing us to read it as a metafictional comment on how such processes become intertwined in literary narratives. The story also has an ecocritical aftertaste when, in the space of a single page, the utopian forest of the father’s recollections comes to life only to dry up again: “Elzéard Bouffier’s forest unfolded like a flower, this green sea of trees changed the area into a paradise where people lived peacefully […] The dried out well also came to life again […]” and a few lines further down, “the last drops of water had dried up, the river turned into a clay-grey canal. You did not know what had happened in the meantime to turn the gardens into a wasteland and make Elzéard Bouffier’s forest completely disappear.” Several utopian intertexts spring to mind, including Tao Yuanming’s 陶淵明 famous fable “Peach Blossom Spring”, which depicts a hidden site where human society has been preserved in its natural and unspoiled state. At the same time, it is also metatextual, describing how the reading experience brings to life the forest of memory that has all but disappeared with time. In the end, when the protagonist arrives at the barren memory of a long-gone forest and finds the last of Bouffier’s acorns, the cycle is ready to start over as the seeds sprout a new story, a new life.

Several of the stories experiment with the popular genre of urban romance, but they do so in completely unexpected ways by delving into darker aspects of city life. This includes depictions of deadly violence in Jessie Chu’s 朱艷紅 “Wonderland”, a story that flirts with the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction without giving in to any of the clichés. Instead, it uses the crime fiction format to explore contrasting yet intermingled experiences of alienation and proximity in a global big city.

“Water pipes on the side of a building on the Ap Lei Chau Estate” by Anne Roberts

Hon Lai-chu’s 韓麗珠 “Water Pipe Forest” is sublime in its depiction of the city-body, using as it does the image of plumbing to form a corporeal link between human interior and urban exterior. At the same time as the building across from the narrator-protagonist’s home is demolished due to faulty plumbing and bursting pipes, her grandmother is admitted to hospital with a gastric ailment establishing a symbolic parallel. On a more explicit note, the narrator identifies directly with her building through the similarity between water pipes and gastric tubes: “On the fourth day without water I still heard no noise in the water pipe. I felt restless, as if part of my body was missing.” Playing with sensory perceptions of watery noises gurgling through buildings and bodies, the story replicates and reverses the relationship between citizen and city in the relationship between reader and text. Just as the sound of water in the pipes recalls and affirms the protagonist own body, so does the watery symphony of the text resound in the body of the reader.

Of Forests and Humans promises to be a great resource for students of literature, Chinese studies, and/or translation studies, yet I can’t help wishing that the editors had opted for a bilingual text. This would have allowed curious anglophone readers to acquaint themselves with traditional characters while enjoying high-quality literature and to explore the paths chosen by the translators as a practical exercise in translation. Despite this omission, the fact that the original title and source of each story is given at the end of each translation is a terrific help that will permit readers to pursue analyses of the original texts or follow up on other works by the authors showcased in this collection. The bibliography at the end of the volume likewise provides a good starting point for readers who want to engage theoretically and historically with Hong Kong literature.

Read together, these stories are examples of innovative approaches to genres such as urban romance, science fiction, crime fiction and showcase the diversity and originality of Hong Kong literature. The editors have wisely included highly celebrated as well as lesser-known authors, ensuring there is something for both veterans and newcomers to explore. Some of the translations feel a little stiff while others offer a smoother read and in a few instances something appears to have gone wrong in the typesetting, baffling the reader with recurring light-grey bits of text.

The title Of Forests and Humans, as well as providing a thematic focus on the jungle-like qualities of urban life, creates an anticipation of narrative engagements with the spatial that are both organic and unconventional, an expectation the stories each fulfil in their individual way. Here, skyscrapers rise like huge tree trunks above the humans navigating the dynamic and metamorphous cityscape. People look at one another’s faces and see overlapping images of intimate strangers and alienated kinfolk. Readers get lost in unfamiliar storylines, only to glimpse their own memories at every fictional street corner. There is certainly enough to discover and celebrate in contemporary Hong Kong literature and now a little more of it is available in English.

How to cite: Møller-Olsen, Astrid. “Stories Grow in Hong Kong: A Review of Of Forests and Humans.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 01 Sept. 2022, chajournal.blog/2022/09/01/forests-and-humans/

Fragments of Hong Kong in Napoli

This summer, I travelled to Napoli for one of the most enjoyable scholarly gatherings I’ve attended in a long time – a two-day symposium on Genealogies of Literary Form in Contemporary China beautifully organised by Marco Fumian.

I had a lot of amazing (vegetarian!) food plus inspiring (and entertaining) conversations on top of which I got to present my paper “Fragments of Hong Kong: Collage, Archive, Dictionary,” in which I trace a tendency towards fragmented formats in contemporary literary works from Hong Kong and relate it to ongoing identity politics in the city. Through narrative analyses of Sai Sai’s 西西 My City 我城 (1975), Dung, Kai-cheung’s 董啟章 Atlas 地圖集 (1997), and A Dictionary of Two Cities I–-II 雙城 辭典I-II (2012) by Hon Lai Chu 韓麗珠 & Dorothy Tse 謝曉虹, I arrive at a typology of fragmented formats that includes the collage, the archive, and the dictionary, and which represent different but related strategies for literary experimentation with polyphonic, anti-essentialist approaches to Hong Kong identities.

The Napoli All Stars:

  • Paola Iovene (University of Chicago), “Reading Beyond Books: Airing Lu Yao”
  • Marco Fumian (Oriental University, Naples), “Methods of Distancing and the Limits of Realism in Contemporary China”
  • Nicoletta Pesaro (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice), “From the Avantgarde to the Unnatural Narrative: Can Xue’s Fictional World and its Political Meaning”
  • Wendy Larson (University of Oregon), “Not Italian Opera: Mo Yan’s Sandalwood Death and the Scourge of Western Literary Models”
  • Paolo Magagnin (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice), “Chinese Stories for Global Young Readers: a Look at the Cao Wenxuan Phenomenon”
  • Pamela Hunt (University of Oxford), “A Wider and Stranger Space”: Xue Yiwei’s World-Shaped Literature”
  • Astrid Møller-Olsen (Lund University and University of Stavanger), “Fragments of Hong Kong: Collage, Archive, Dictionary”
  • Jiwei Xiao (Fairfield University), “The Talk of the Town: Chitchats in Xijie xiaoshuo and Cinema”
  • Lena Henningsen (University of Freiburg) “Transformations of a Literary Giant: The Re-Writing of Lu Xun and his Works in Chinese Lianhuanhua Comics”
  • Daria Berg (University of St. Gallen), “Genealogy of Utopia and anti-Utopia in Chinese literature”
  • Martina Codeluppi (University of Insubria, Como), “What about Climate Change? The Underdeveloped Branch of Chinese Cli-Fi”
  • Mingwei Song (Wellesley College), “New Wonders of a Nonbinary Universe: Genders of Chinese Science Fiction”

Chronotopia: Urban Space and Time in 21st-Century Sinophone Film and Fiction

In this themed cluster of PRISM: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature, we encounter wandering flats, ghostly spaces, and nostalgic fantasies that foster an interpretation of space and time as fundamentally entangled in the city.

My intro is available OA: https://read.dukeupress.edu/prism/article/19/1/1/304107/IntroductionChronotopia-Urban-Space-and-Time-in and the whole grand spacetime shebang goes like this:

(Introduction) Chronotopia: Urban Space and Time in Twenty-First-Century Sinophone Film and Fiction by Astrid Møller-Olsen

Multiple Time-Spaces: Dialogical Representation of the Global City in Chinese New Urban and Rural-Migrant Films by Jie Lu

Ghostly Chronotopes: Spectral Cityscapes in Post-2000 Chinese Literature by Winnie L. M. Yee

Spatiotemporal Explorations: Narrating Social Inequalities in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction by Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker

Reconfiguring the Chronotope: Spatiotemporal Representations and Cultural Imaginations of Beijing in Mr. Six by Xuesong Shao and Sheldon Lu

Take the Elevator to Tomorrow: Mobile Space and Lingering Time in Contemporary Urban Fiction by Astrid Møller-Olsen

Unknown Hong Kong Futures in Copenhagen

Last week, I participated in an exciting cross-disciplinary seminar on the Hong Kong protest at the University of Copenhagen. The blend of historians, film-, media- and literary scholars made for some interesting and fruitful out-of-the-box discussions about parallel and collaborative media spheres, eclecticism versus canonic imagery, and about silence as a polyphonic form of dissent.

Hong Kong Seminar

“The current political situation in Hong Kong has left many unknowns for the future of Hong Kong. The introduction of the national security legislation June 30th 2020, became the final death blow to the protest movement that had been sweeping through Hong Kong since the summer of 2019. Visible public unrest have had to take on new forms as traditional routes for protesting are cut off. Hong Kong is changing, leaving the futures of many people in a new and uncertain situation.

The situation in Hong Kong is affecting the entire world as Hong Kong’s newfound position as an exponent of the authoritarianism of the Chinese state requires reaction from the international community. Hong Kong society is no longer the same and the questions of the direction Hong Kong is taking lingers in the horizon. Where is Hong Kong heading? And how have the developments these past years affected the direction Hong Kong is taking

This seminar explores different aspects of contemporary Hong Kong society through the lens of cultural production, image politics, protest aesthetics, documentary filmmaking and social and political perspectives.”

Programme

Download all abstract here.

Monday May 23

10.00 – 10.10: Welcome remarks

10.10 – 11.30   Keynote (Chair: Jun Liu): Francis Lee, Chinese University of Hong Kong – Title: The Role of Digital Media in Large-Scale Protests in Hong Kong” (NB in room 23.0.49!):

11.30 – 12.30: Lunch break

12.30 – 14.00: Panel 1 (Chair: Mai Corlin) (NB in room 27.0.09!):

  1. Kristof van den Troost, Chinese University of Hong Kong – Title: The Censorship of Politics in Hong Kong Cinema: Past, Present, and Future”
  2. Chun Chun Ting, Nanyang Technological University – Title: Cinema of Death: Youth and Necropolitics in Hong Kong”
  3. Judith Pernin, independent scholar – Title: Filming the Individual and the Collective:
    The 2019 Pro-democracy Movement in Hong Kong Independent Documentaries”

14.00 – 14.30: BREAK

14.30 – 16.00 Panel 2 (Chair: Elena Meyer-Clement):

  1. Myunghee Lee, University of Copenhagen – Title: “Tactical Choices of Moderate Violence and the Escalation of Nonviolent Movements in Hong Kong”
  2. Dusica Ristivojevic, University of Helsinki – Title: Global circuits: Hong Kong, Protests, and Anglophone Mediascape in 2019
  3. Mai Corlin, University of Copenhagen – Title: “Front Liners and the Images of Protest in the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement”

Tuesday May 24th

10.00 – 11.30: Keynote (Chair: Ravinder Kaur): Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California, Irvine – Title: Hong Kong’s Struggle in Historical and Comparative Perspective” (NB in room 23.0.49!)

11.30 – 12.30: Lunch break

12.30 – 14.00: Panel 3 (Chair: Astrid Møller-Olsen)(NB in room 27.0.09!)

  1. Michael Tsang, University of London – Title: “Hong Kong in the World; the World in Hong Kong; Reading Dung Kai-cheung’s Hong Kong Type Allegorically”
  2. Winnie Yee, University of Hong Kong – Title: Objects and Matter as Affect: Revisiting the Storied Matter of Hong Kong’s 2019 Social Protests”
  3. Astrid Møller-Olsen, Lund University and Stavanger University – Title: Haunted Habitat: Invisible Protesters in Dorothy Tse’s Fictional Hong Kong

14.00-14.30: BREAK

14.30 – 16.00: Closed Roundtable (Chair:  Prof. Emeritus Jørgen Delman) (Note: By invitation only)

Speakers  

  • Francis L. F. Lee, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California, Irvine
  • Kristof van den Troost, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Chun Chun Ting, Nanyang Technological University
  • Judith Pernin, Independent scholar
  • Myunghee Lee, University of Copenhagen
  • Dusica Ristivojevic, University of Helsinki
  • Michael Tsang, University of London
  • Winnie Yee, University of Hong Kong
  • Astrid Møller-Olsen, Lund University and Stavanger University
  • Mai Corlin, University of Copenhagen

The organizing committee:
Mai Corlin, China Studies, University of Copenhagen
Bo Ærenlund Sørensen, China Studies, University of Copenhagen

Organized by: ThinkChina, Asian Dynamics Initiative, and the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen.

A Three-City Problem: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei

The first section of my new monograph Sensing the Sinophone: Urban Memoryscapes in Contemporary Fiction (Cambria 2022) I call the SKELETON because it provides the structure for the book. It consists of 1) the theoretical foundations for the analyses inlcuding an introduction to literary spacetime and alternative sensoria and 2) my triangular approach to comparative literature and an introduction to the six primary texts analysed throughout the book.

Chapter 2. The Three-City Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Six Works

I begin by borrowing Liu Cixin’s Three-Body problem (which he, in turn, has borrowed from mathematical physics) and convert it into a three-city problem. While the interaction between two bodies poses a relatively simple problem, the addition of a third body of approximately equal mass complicates calculations immensely. Likewise, a literary triangular comparison creates more junctions and convergences than a twofold one. Furthermore, “it frustrates any tendency towards binarism (be it East-West or North-South) and complicates notions of internal homogeneity by centering on cultural interchange as constitutive for our understanding of place” (Sensing the Sinophone, 24).

I then sketch out recent discussions on the form and content of Sinophone literature and add my own triangular urban approach – focusing on the three cities of Hong Kong, Taipei, and Shanghai that are all (to various extents) culturally and linguistically hybrid cities with (semi)colonial pasts. These three cities constitute sites of negotiation between strong urban identities and (contested) ties to mainland China, and act as individual anchors for both regional and international networks.

Finally, I introduce the six literary works that I analyse comparatively throughout the book (rather than relegating each to its own chapter), namely:

Shanghai: Chen Cun 陈村. Xianhua he 鲜花和 [Fresh flowers and] and Ding Liying 丁丽英. Shizhong li de nüren 时钟里的女人 [The woman in the clock].

Taipei: Chu T’ien-hsin 朱天心. Gudu 古都 [The Old Capital] and Wu Mingyi 吳明益. Tianqiao shang de moshushi 天橋上的魔術師 [The magician on the skywalk].

Hong Kong: Dung Kai-cheung 董啟章. Ditu ji 地圖集 [Atlas] and Dorothy Tse 謝曉虹. Shuang cheng cidian I–II 雙城 辭典I–II [A dictionary of two cities I–II] (written jointly with Hon Lai Chu).

The CORPUS of the book is then dedicated to the study of the countless fictional cities nestled within the six literary works written by authors from the 3 real-world metropoles Hong Kong, Taipei, and Shanghai. In the following readings, “I turn my attention away from each real-world city as a center of gravity and toward the analytical interactions between these three bodies of equal mass. For the sake of intelligibility, and to foster such interactions, I impose a theoretical and thematic framework characterized by a high degree of flexibility.”

Part I. Skeleton
Chapter 1. Literary Sensory Studies: The Body Remembers the City
Chapter 2. The Three-City Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Six Works
Part II. Corpus
Chapter 3. Sense of Place: Walking or Mapping the City Chapter
4. The Nose: Flora Nostalgia Chapter
5. The Ear: Melody of Language Chapter
6. Sense of Self: The Many Skins of the City Chapter
7. The Mouth: Balancing Flavors Chapter
8. The Eye: Fictional Dreams
Part III. Excretions
Chapter 9. Sense of Time: Everyday Rhythms
The City Remembers: Concluding Remarks

Literary Sensory Studies, Urban Spacetime & Memory Knitwear

My first monograph Sensing the Sinophone: Urban Memoryscapes in Contemporary Fiction (Cambria 2022) is coming to a library near you! So I guess it’s only polite that I introduce you to one another.

The book is all about sensory engagements between body and city, so I’ve divided it into three sections:

  1. SKELETON: theoretical foundations, literary spacetime, alternative sensoria, and triangular comparisons.
  2. CORPUS: the literary analyses, thematically organised around extended sensory organs into 6 chapters.
  3. EXCRETIONS: analytical comparisons, temporal typologies, and concluding remarks.

Chapter 1. Literary Sensory Studies: The Body Remembers the City

I begin by presenting the idea that the rapid and violent restructuring of cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, and Shanghai from the 1990s onwards affects the way we think about space and time: “When entire building blocks are here today and gone tomorrow, or vice versa, space starts to shift and entangle itself with time as the elusive silhouettes of memory gain a new urgency and begin to shape how spatial reality is perceived.”

So I argue that we need to analyse urban spacetime as a unified concept and discuss some of the ways this has been done (from Bakhtin’s chronotopes to Elana Gomel’s impossible topologies) and could be done.

I also introduce the term time-space (inspired by Doreen Massey and Kevin Lynch) to designate discrete chunks of spacetime, such as “my shabby home-office on a February morning in 2022” or “the illuminated Shanghai Bund on his 103rd birthday.”

I extoll the approach that I call literary sensory studies, which is follows in footsteps of Cai Biming’s take on body-sensations (身体感) as well as sensory studies scholars’ call to examine and expand the traditional fivefold sensorium, but from the vantage point of literary analysis. Fictional narrative has a wonderful capacity for highlighting the cross- and multisensory foundation of almost all sensory experiences, as well as imagining and describing forth sensations of pain, hunger, temperature, and selfhood that are not part of the conventional sensorium.

Finally, I talk about the creative aspects of memory and use the metaphor of “memory knitwear” to highlight that “each time you rip up the fabric and reknit it following the same pattern, the result will be subtly different, paralleling the process of opening, reconfiguring, and re-storing memories described by neurobiology.”

Part I. Skeleton
Chapter 1. Literary Sensory Studies: The Body Remembers the City
Chapter 2. The Three-City Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Six Works
Part II. Corpus
Chapter 3. Sense of Place: Walking or Mapping the City Chapter
4. The Nose: Flora Nostalgia Chapter
5. The Ear: Melody of Language Chapter
6. Sense of Self: The Many Skins of the City Chapter
7. The Mouth: Balancing Flavors Chapter
8. The Eye: Fictional Dreams
Part III. Excretions
Chapter 9. Sense of Time: Everyday Rhythms
The City Remembers: Concluding Remarks

ICAS Ground-Breaking Subject Matter Accolade

The IBP was originally launched to bring a focus to academic publications on Asia; to increase their worldwide visibility, and to encourage a further interest in the world of Asian Studies. Organised every two years, together with the ICAS conference, the IBP has grown from a small experiment, to one of the largest book prizes of its kind. Along the way, we expanded to include, in addition to the English Book and Dissertation prizes, prizes for publications in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Ground-Breaking Subject Matter Accolade for English-language dissertation in the Humanities

AUTHOR: Astrid Møller-Olsen

TITLE: Seven Senses of the City: Urban Spacetime and Sensory Memory in Contemporary Sinophone Fiction

Lund University, 2020

This dissertation investigates the narrative mechanisms and imagery that Sinophone fiction uses to narrate complex human experiences that were rooted in space, time and memory. It breaks new ground in engaging with sensory paradigms to show how this fiction creates civic histories.

See the other IBP 2021 English Language Edition – Humanities winners here.

Queer Taiwanese Literature

Queer Taiwanese Literature: A Reader by Howard Chiang, Cambria Press: 2021.

Despite spending a lot of my working hours with literary texts, my readings are not always as immersive as I would like. With the seven stories that make up the translated anthology Queer Taiwanese Literature, I couldn’t help myself. Each one sucked me into its wormhole rabbit hole and when I came out again, everything seemed subtly different.

Spanning the last 50 years, these seven short stories featuring Taiwanese queer experiences have been expertly selected by queer historian Howard Chiang and brilliantly translated. Under the banner of tongzhi literature (同志文学), they include sexual and social identities that are or have been perceived as deviant including asexuality, transgender, transsexuality, homosexuality, and other queer (non)categories.

The term tongzhi originally meant “comrade” in Sun Yat-sen’s usage and continues to do so in both Taiwanese and Mainland China formal political discourse. Wah-shan Chou traces the term back to the 3000-year-old Yijing (易經 Book of Changes) and writes that it was appropriated by activists for the first Hong Kong lesbian and gay film festival in 1989. He explains that “’homosexual’ was dropped as it was a medical term denoting sickness and pathology. Even positive categories such as ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ and ‘queer’ are Anglo-Saxon constructs with specific histories that fail to capture the indigenous features of Chinese same-sex relations” (Tongzhi: Politics of Same-Sex Eroticism in Chinese Societies 2). He highlights that the term is not only about sexual preference but also about acknowledging non-hetero forms of kinship and family. Indeed, most of the stories in this anthology are not about sexual experiences, but about love and pain, about rejection and acceptance, about forging identities and making flexible (social) space.

I love (this anthology is wonderful, I can’t help starting each paragraph like this) how menstruation blood runs a track of living, red sameness that simultaneously disgusts and draws the sexually ambivalent protagonist towards her friend Ann in Li Ang’s “Late Spring” (1975, translated by Yichun Liu).

I love how the cityscapes of San Francisco and Taipei blend in Chi Ta-wei’s meandering, Ginsberg-inspired “Howl” (1998 translated by Yahia Zhengtang Ma) — a story of the terminally ill but irrepressible man Amoeba who prefers a stranger’s reluctant hospitality to his family home as he roams the streets on his final, lonely journey. The name Amoeba is apt as it denotes a single-cell organism with no fixed body shape that reproduces asexually and can be parasitic as this one seems to the narrator to be. It also recalls Chi’s earlier novella “The Membranes” from 1995.

I love the smoke-hoarsened and casually open-minded talk of the tribal mothers in Dadelavan Ibau’s “Muakai” (2001, translated by Kyle Shernuk) and its haunting of ancient myths from the present through queer reinterpretation.

I love the time-fuck of the eternal, futuristic stone age evoked in Hsu Yu-hsuan’s “Violet” (2008, translated by Howard Chiang and Shengchi Hsu) and the protagonist’s lifestyle cocktail of illegal drugs and fitness health foods needed to survive his white-collar working life.

I love the brutal naivete of Lin Yu-hsuan’s “A Daughter” (2014, translated by Shengchi Hsu) and the image of the young boy finally transforming into the young woman he always was. Through her own body work, she provides a space for both her dad and the text to transform into something unexpectedly complicated and gorgeous as well: “The gown’s zip is stuck halfway on Dad’s back, faintly revealing her blossoming age spots through the layers of lace.”

I love the conclusion to Chen Xue‘s jumble of queer and futuristic reproduction strategies, excess of ovaries, and phantom wombs in “A Nonexistent Thing” (2020, translated by Wen-chi Li and Colin Bramwell) that “what is important is that you can write. Write her out.” A fitting and hopeful end to an anthology of struggle, hurt, and haunting beauty.

Above all, I love all the poetic disillusionment coupled with the uncompromising individuality and bloody-mindedness of the main characters in Tsao Li-chuan’s novella “On Her Gray Hair Etcetera” (1996, translated by Jamie Tse). Just read it.

I would have liked to see the original titles for each work displayed alongside the English translation but appreciate that the date of publication and short context of each story is available in Howard Chiang’s introduction so that one can chose to read it before, after, or not at all. The many translators, the editor, and the editorial assistant are all duly credited and introduced at the end of the book.

If you expect to have an overview of Taiwan’s tongzhi literature after reading the anthology, you are mistaken. The term may unite against heteronormativity, but it also embraces heterogeneity. What you do get is a body dive into an ocean of multitudinous voices, of individual pains and perspectives, a promise that here is something here to explore in text, body, and social world, quite possibly for the rest of your life.

Introduction by Howard Chiang

1: Late Spring by Li Ang (translated by Yichun Liu)

2: On Her Gray Hair Etcetera by Tsao Li-chuan (translated by Jamie Tse)

3: Howl by Ta-wei Chi (translated by Yahia Zhengtang Ma)

4: Muakai by Dadelavan Ibau (translated by Kyle Shernuk)

5: Violet by Hsu Yu-chen (translated by Howard Chiang and Shengchi Hsu)

6: A Daughter by Lin Yu-hsuan (translated by Shengchi Hsu)

7: A Nonexistent Thing by Chen Xue (translated by Wen-chi Li and Colin Bramwell)

About the Editor

About the Translators

Sensing the Sinophone

My first monograph is underway! Haha! It will be published as part of Cambria Press’ wonderful Sinophone Worlds series of which I already have many amazing titles on my bookshelf including Wilt L. Idema’s Insects in Chinese Literature, Chia-rong Wu’s Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond, and Isaac Yue’s Monstrosity and Chinese Cultural Identity.

Sensing the Sinophone: Urban Memoryscapes in Contemporary Fiction combines narratological tools for studying time in fiction with critical concepts of spatiality in order to establish an analytical focus on narrative voice and reliability (including the inaccuracy of memory), structural non-linearity (such as mental time travel), and the construction of fictional parallel cities as loci for plot development. In this study, the conventional sensorium and its role in recollection is explored and amplified to include whole-body sensations, habitual synesthesia, and the emotional aspects of sensations that produce a sense of place or self.

By analyzing narratives that make use of and encourage multisensory, spatiotemporal understandings of reality characterized by permeable boundaries between material, social and imaginary domains, this monograph shows how contemporary cities change the way human beings think and write about reality.

Blurbs

Some very kind reviews have already been posted on Cambria’s page:

“With a lineup of works drawn from contemporary Chinese and Sinophone communities, Astrid Møller-Olsen pays special attention to the articulations of senses in the texts under discussion, from audio-visual contact to melodious association, tactile sensation, aromatic emanation, and kinetic exercise, culminating in mnemonic imagination and gendered fabulation. The result is a work on urban synesthesia, a kaleidoscopic projection of sensorium in a narrative form. Her analyses of works by writers such as Chu Tien-hsin and Wu Ming-yi are particularly compelling. Sensing the Sinophone has introduced a new direction for literary studies and is sure to be an invaluable source for anyone interested in narratology, urban studies, environmental studies, affect studies and above all comparative literature in both Sinophone and global contexts.” —David Der-wei Wang, Harvard University

“Evoking the language and logic of poetry, Sensing the Sinophone is a brilliant literary urban ecology that conjures cities, like texts, as open, dynamic, sensing, vital, enduring entities. How, Astrid Møller-Olsen asks, do characters experience sensory memories in six novels of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Taipei, activated by architectural, botanical, and bodily presences in the city? With theoretical insights ranging from quantum mechanics to Confucian cosmology, this phenomenological elucidation of fictionalized cities as somaticized organisms with physiological functions is a remarkable intervention.” —Robin Visser, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

More about the book

Since the 1990s, extensive urbanization in East Asia has created a situation in which more people identify themselves as citizens of the city where they live, rather than their ancestral village or nation. At the same time, this new urban identity has been under constant threat from massive municipal restructuring. Such rapidly changing cityscapes form environments of urban flux that lead to narrative reconfigurations of fundamental concepts such as space, time, and memory. The resulting contemporary urban fiction describes and explores this process of complex spatial identification and temporal fluctuation through narratives that are as warped and polymorphic as the cities themselves.

Building on previous scholarship in the fields of Chinese/Sinophone urban fiction, sensory studies, and comparative world literature, Sensing the Sinophone provides a new city-based approach to comparativism combined with a cross-disciplinary focus on textual sensescapes.

Through an original framework of literary sensory studies, this monograph provides a comparative analysis of how six contemporary works of Sinophone fiction reimagine the links between the self and the city, the past and the present, as well as the physical and the imaginary. It explores the connection between elusive memories and material cityscapes through the matrix of the senses. Joining recent efforts to imagine world literature beyond the international, Sensing the Sinophone engages in a triangular comparison of fiction from Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Taipei—three Sinophone cities, each with its own strong urban identity thatc comes with unique cultural and linguistic hybridities.

Sensing the Sinophone is an important addition to several ongoing discussions within the fields of comparative literature, urban studies, memory studies, geocriticism, sensory studies, Sinophone studies, and Chinese studies.

TOC

Part I. Skeleton

Chapter 1. Literary Sensory Studies: The Body Remembers the City

Chapter 2. The Three-City Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Six Works

Part II. Corpus

Chapter 3. Sense of Place: Walking or Mapping the City

Chapter 4. The Nose: Flora Nostalgia

Chapter 5. The Ear: Melody of Language

Chapter 6. Sense of Self: The Many Skins of the City

Chapter 7. The Mouth: Balancing Flavors

Chapter 8. The Eye: Fictional Dreams

Part III. Excretions

Chapter 9. Sense of Time: Everyday Rhythms

The City Remembers: Concluding Remarks

Bibliography

Index

Heritage and Memory in Zhu Tianxin’s The Old Capital

This article forms part of a special issue of International Journal of Heritage Studies edited by Laurajane Smith, Marina Svensson and Oscar Salemink, but is also available open access.

The City is a Journey

Zhu Tianxin’s (Chu T’ien-hsin 朱天心) novella The Old Capital (古都) narrates the process of slowly losing contact with the past through forgetting, loss and material erasure. Instead of completely eradicating the past, this process prompts a renewed interest, and, in a sense, a renewed presence of that past in conscious remembering, literary evocation and narrative attendance. Inspired by David Crouch’s conception of heritage as a journey, this paper looks at how the protagonist’s physical and mental voyage in The Old Capital incorporates several spatiotemporal layers of cultural heritage to help her – and the reader – understand the complexity of the living historical city of Taipei.

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Møller-Olsen, Astrid. “The city is a journey: heritage and memory in Zhu Tianxin’s novella The Old Capital.” International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2020, DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2020.1731839