Archive for the ‘Gao XingJian’ tag
While cycling down back lanes, paths and secondary roads in the rural Mekong Delta of Vietnam, I came across this scene of two young men who were busy taking the husks off of coconuts so as to ready the coconuts for sale. At the same time, these coconut husks were being collected for other uses including use as fuel. The scene has likely been played out over thousands of years ever since man had discovered the milk and fruit of the coconut and wondered about the left over husks. The image talks about a simpler time in Asia, a time before philosophy and psychology.
Why do these guys work? It isn’t something that needs a lot of thought. They are adult males and work is part of what they do as members of their community, as mates to females and as fathers to children. Unlike the modern man who needs to find meaning, psychological and physiological relevance in his work, even an identity that is somehow beyond the roles given by community and family.
Mulling on this, I wonder about the original man who happens upon the original woman and how relationship and identity must have seemed to them. With no level of personal consciousness of of a collective consciousness, they were drawn to each other through primal and instinctual needs. They bonded and without thought, perhaps without language, they gave birth to the next generation. Their relationship did not offer choices of others, of soulmates, of magical others. I want to turn to a Gao XingJian and Soul Mountain to present a Chinese myth that talks of this original man and woman:
“The general name for the woman who created man’s intelligence is Nuwa. The first woman, Nuwa, and the first man, Fuxi, constitute the collective consciousness of men and women.
The depiction on Han Dynasty tiles of the mythical union of Fuxi and Nuwa, both with the bodies of snakes but human heads, is derived from the sexual impulses of primal humans.
At that time the individual did not exist. There was not an awareness of a distinction between “I” and “you”. The birth of I derived from fear of death, and only afterwards an entity which was not I came to constitute you. At that time people did not have an awareness of fearing oneself, knowledge of the self came from an other and was affirmed by possessing and being possessed, and by conquering and being conquered. He, that third person who is not directly relevant to I and you, was gradually differentiated. After this the I also discovered that he was to be found in large numbers everywhere and was a separate existence from oneself, and it was only then that the consciousness of you and I became secondary. In the individual struggle for survival amongst others, the self was gradually forgotten and gradually churned like a grain of sand into the chaos of the boundless universe.” (Gao, Soul Mountain, pp 307-308)
Passion, rawness, sex, lust, love – so many words that call to the basic instinctual command to couple as a species. There is no room for logic or consciousness, just a throbbing of the loins to mate. When we begin to think about what our bodies command, we begin to travel a different road, one that often contradicts nature. Nature compels us to mate, to preserve the species as it does for all other species, a biological command. However, being human brings forth a different dynamic, one that both embraces and confounds the urges and demands of nature. I want to return once more to Gao XingJian’s book, Soul Mountain to have him speak of this dynamic from a “Chinese” scene.
“Young women in groups of five or six come to the river-bank, some standing in a circle and others holding hands, and begin calling their lovers. Melodious singing rapidly fills the vast night. . . .
. . . It is totally instinctive, uncontrived, unrestrained and unembellished, and certainly devoid of what might be called embarrassment. Each woman exerts herself, body and heart, to draw her young man to her.
. . . I am suddenly surrounded by an expanse of passions and think that the human search for love must originally have been like this. So-called civilization in later ages separated sexual impulse from love and created the concepts of status, wealth, religion, ethics and cultural responsibility. Such is the stupidity of human beings.
. . . I see her expectant eyes in the darkness, unblinking and fixed on me. My heart starts pounding and I seem to return to the long-lost trembling of my passionate youth. I am drawn to her . . . I see her lips moving slightly although she doesn’t speak again and just waits, and the singing of her companions grows soft. . . .
I’ve never encountered this style of love. It’s what I dream about but when it actually happens I can’t cope.
. . . I’m afraid of shouldering the responsibility of even pursuing momentary happiness, I’m not a wolf but I would like to be a wolf, to return to nature, to go out the prowl. However, I can’t rid myself of this human mind. I am a monster with a human mind and can find no refuge. (Gao, Soul Mountain, pp 228-229)
This is another photo from my journey through IndoChina. The photos I took were a mixture of the typical scenes shown to tourists, people photos, nature photos and photos taken ‘just because.’ Of the many ‘people’ photos, of which this is one, I am surprised at the number that were of women.
And, that other is really me, that which I deny as myself, my opposite, my shadow, my soul.
“. . . she says she is drifting on a boat and doesn’t know where she’s drifting, she is no longer in control. Let it drift, on the black sea, she and you, no, there is only her, she’s not really afraid but she feels terribly empty, she wants to die, death is seductive, she wants to fall into the sea, let the black sea drown her, she needs you, the warmth of your body, even your oppressiveness gives her a sense of security, she asks if you’re aware of it, that she desperately needs! (Gao XingJian, Soul Mountain, p.129)
She is me. I want to be secure, I want you to love me, I want me to love you, I want us to be one. But, my mind only finds thin threads that connect me to you, threads of intuition, not threads of time and space and matter. So, I look outside for a surrogate you, I look into the eyes of others in hopes of finding you, finding me. Though I am standing in the sunshine, I know that you are hidden in the dark corners, in the shadows where my eyes can’t reach, where my hands cannot feel. And so I look at others, touch others, claim others, hoping that the ache is anesthetized so that I don’t feel so alone.
No, the rose didn’t really look this way when I took the photo. Photoshop and contrast adjustments were used to achieve this effect. What effect? I think it is a protest of what one perceives as reality, that there is something behind, beneath, above and outside of facts that is crucial to experience, to being human. I wanted to capture the depth of the darkness and shadows and the dazzling and mesmerizing light as contrast. This is what love seems to be for me, incredible depths, shadows and blinding light at the same time. Captured in the thrall of love, there is no reason, no clear-headed thinking, no balance. One is either transported or sundered.
“. . . why have I come to this mountain? . . . What does this sort of experience mean to me? If it’s just to get away from the problems I was experiencing, there are easier ways. Then maybe it’s to to find another sort of life. To leave far behind the perplexing world of human beings. If I’m trying to be a recluse why do I need to impact with other people? Not knowing what one is looking for is pure agony. Too much analytical thinking, too much logic, too many meanings! Life has no logic, so why does there have to be logic to explain what it means? Also, what is logic? I think I need to break away from analytical thinking, this is the cause of all my anxieties.” (Gao XingJian, Soul Mountain, p. 50)
Love is the mountain and the valley and the cave within the mountain and the lake within the cave and the stream breaking over rocks descending into the valley. This isn’t a land of common sense. This is a land of myth and magic. Without question, love is the cure for a meaningless life, for a life that has become too predictable, too calm. The soul needs to be reanimated. And in the process of falling in love, one loses again “self” which then allows for a new round of self-discovery. One needs, I need to sometimes get out of my head and into my heart.
“Reality exists only through experience, and it must be personal experience. However, once related, even personal experience becomes a narrative. Reality can’t be verified and doesn’t need to be, that can be left for the “reality-of-life” experts to debate. What is important is life. Reality is simply that I am sitting by the fire in this room which is black with grime and smoke and that I see the light of the fire dancing in his eyes. Reality is myself, reality is only ther perception of this instant and it can’t be related to another person. All that needs to be said is that outside, a mist is enclosing the green-blue mountain in a haze and your heart is reverberating with the rushing water of a swift-flowing stream.” (Gao XingJian, Soul Mountain, p. 15)
As you can tell, I am reading a Chinese novel written by Gao XingJian, the first Chinese writer to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. I have a print copy of the book, one of the rare print books on my book shelf here in China. Most of my “lighter” reading is done using ebooks or online articles. Yet when I read these lines yesterday evening, I knew that they belonged here as I talk about relationship with self.
I am, because I experience. Others are experienced by myself and become part of my myth, a narrative of my own creation. Not one of the others in my narrative are defined by my experience nor can they be defined by myself. We are each locked in our singular worlds of experience. And that experience is foggy at best as we don’t operate with full decks of cards in terms or our full functions. We process, categorize and create based on our limits of functions, based on our flawed perceptions of nature, matter, the universe and others.
And somehow, I get to have a narrative and invite others into relationship with me. And, all the while, it remains a story of one, a personal narrative, a personal myth.