Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010
SUN GANLU (1959— )
SUN GANLU (1959— ). Fiction writer and essayist. Based in Shanghai, Sun Ganlu is arguably the most radical practitioner of China’s avantgarde literature. His stories, especially those published in the late 1980s, including “Wo shi shaonian jiutanzi” (I Am a Young Drunkard), “Xinshi zhi han” (A Mail Carrier’s Letter), and a novella Qing nüren caimi (Inviting Women to Solve a Puzzle), show strong indications of influence by Jorge Luis Borges. With no beginnings or endings other than seemingly free streams of impressions strung together, these texts defy fundamental rules that govern traditional storytelling. Qing nüren caimi, for example, contains a secondary text, “Tiaowang shijian xiaoshi” (Looking from a Distance at the Disappearance of Time), which moves in and out of the main text, serving as its narrative content and at the same time mocking and deconstructing its premises. There is also the absence of character development in the story, usually considered an essential feature of fictional art. Like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, the characters are movable and can replace one another and even the roles of reader and narrator are interchangeable. Qing nüren caimi is metafiction, intended primarily to provide a self-exposition of the narrative construct. Such a narrative posture is a defiant reaction to the dominance of socialist realism in Maoist literature, which privileges content over form. However, having served its historical purpose, this kind of purely formalistic exercise is impossible to sustain. Indeed, many of the writers who began their careers as experimentalists quickly moved on to incorporate at least some elements of traditional storytelling into their later work; Su Tong and Yu Hua are two good examples. The transition has proved more arduous for Sun, however.
Sun’s first novel, Huxi (Breathing), published in 1997, though still retaining some of the experimental features of his earlier work, has a traceable plot and a story to tell. His latest work, another novel, Shaonü qunxiang (Portraits of Maidens), part of which has been published, relies on a sharply tuned language to depict and ponder identifiable contemporary issues. Sun is a writer with an enormous talent for inventing a discourse that is deliberate, intricate, uniquely his own, characterized by its long-winded syntax and its epigrammatic phrases. A long-time resident of Shanghai, Sun was a farmer and a postal worker before becoming a member of the Shanghai Writers’ Association. He currently lives in the city.