2016年11月27日 星期日

張新穎《沈從文的後半生(1948-1988)》《有情 : 现代中国的这些人.文.事 》; 《紐約時報》:沈從文 Shen Congwen訃聞、英文選集IMPERFECT PARADISE 書評 (By Jonathan Spence)

 張新穎《有情 : 现代中国的这些人.文.事 》上海書局,2012
 本書為作者的隨筆集,講述了現代文學史上的一些往事和名家佚事。
 張新穎,1967年生於山東招遠,文學博士,現任復旦大學中文系教授,中國現代文學研究會理事。主要從事中國現代文學研究和當代文學批評。
  主要著作有:《棲居與游牧之地》(上海:學林出版社,1994年);《歧路荒草》(上海人民出版社,1996年);《迷失者的行踪》(上海:復旦大學出版社,1998年);《20世紀上半期中國文學的現代意識》(北京:三聯書店,2001年);《火焰的心臟》(石家莊:花山文藝出版社,2002年);《文學的現代記憶》(台北:三民書局,2003年);《默讀的聲音》(廣州:廣東教育出版社,2004年);《讀書這麼好的事》(桂林:廣西師範大學出版社,2004年);《雙重見證》 (北京:中國人民大學出版社,2004年)等。


小引
A卷“我要看來看去的看一下” 
  孤桑好勇獨撐風
  “你不能做我的詩,正如我不能做你的夢” 
  “我要看來看去的看一下” 
  貓頭鷹、蛇之類
  暗途、河流、墓碣
  …… 
B卷葡萄蘋果死於果子,而活於酒
  尋訪戴望舒遊學法國的事
  抗戰和他們的詩——戴望舒、艾青、穆旦:三代詩人的例子
  魚化石
  山山水水總關情
  葡萄蘋果死於果子,而活於酒
  …… 
C卷“天知道這是一本什麼書!” 
  沈從文早年的教書生活
  “天知道這是一本什麼書!”——沈從文的一篇佚文和他的“驕傲” 
  野話
  沈從文與音樂
  沈從文在革命大學
  …… 
D卷懷念
  個人命運和時代悲歌
  賈植芳先生的樂觀和憂憤
  滄溟何遼闊,龍性豈易馴——瑣記賈植芳先生
  早春日記中的人與事


~~~~~
北京7月13日電(唐云云)近日,復旦大學中文系教授張新穎將十年研究成果集結成書,推出《沈從文的後半生(1948-1988)》。該書不僅僅是對沈從文後半生經歷的描述,更悉心呈現了一代文學巨匠的精神生活,展現了他在生活和精神上持久的磨難史。

 在7月13日的新書發佈會上,中國人民大學文學院院長孫鬱與張新穎一起,探討了文學與政治關係、知識分子與時代潮流關係、知識分子獨立性與使命感等方面的內容。張新穎表示,沈從文的獨特“自我”讓他在1949年後無法跟隨時代,從而放棄文學創作;而孫鬱則將其評價為“失敗的英雄”。
  無法跟隨變化的時代走
  1949年之後,沈從文迫於外在壓力選擇“改行”,放棄文學創作而轉為文物研究。這樣的經歷在他長達三百多萬字的書信裏有所呈現,也是張新穎新作的基本素材。孫鬱認為,張新穎用理性、冷靜克制的筆調,不虛誇,不炫耀,對沈從文後半生做了客觀呈現。這可作為研究知識分子的標本,並讓人提出“知識分子為什麼不能跟著時代走”的疑問。
  張新穎對此做了解答。他認為, 20世紀的社會環境變化巨大,知識分子和時代潮流之間的關係具有多樣性。五四之後,多數現代文學家是在現代啟蒙理論下,通過與過去決裂的方式擁有“自我”的,理論本身隨著社會環境的變動而變化,因而“自我”可以去調試;而沈從文的自我則來自“過去全部生命的積累”,這種不同於他人的獨立性,讓他在經歷社會大轉折時更易遭受痛苦,痛感也更加強烈,會“過不去”,甚至出現自殺等極端行為。
  “但是,沈從文雖然有‘無法跟隨變化的時代走’的一面,卻比時代走得更久。他曾經遠離潮流,而潮流過去之後,沈從文的東西反而能保留下來。雖然他當時的探索並未得到周圍人的理解和支援。” 張新穎補充道。正如張新穎在《沈從文與二十世紀中國》中寫道:“弱小的力量也是力量,而且隔了一段距離去看,你可能會發現,力量之間的對比關係發生了變化,強大的潮流在力量耗盡之後消退了,而弱小的個人從歷史中站立起來,走到今天和將來。”
  文物學研究延續文學性質
  孫鬱提出,沈從文的後半生雖然沒有進行文學創作,但他仍處在“美的精神裏面”,將文學審美延續在文物研究、鑒賞裏面。張新穎做了進一步詮釋。他認為,沈從文後半生雖然沒有進行文學創作,但他的書信本身就具有文學價值。例如,在他的書信中曾因一個“文物碗”引發感慨,在他眼裏,制碗人在製造過程中有壓抑的情感在裏面,而使用者卻全然感受不到。
  張新穎表示,沈從文所從事文物學研究工作與以往的文學創作一樣,都是在關心普通人的日常生活。他的文物學研究延續了文學性質,有美的精神在裏面,正如汪曾祺將其稱為“抒情考古學”。
  器物與文學互證
  對於沈從文“器物與文學互證”的樸素思想,孫鬱和張新穎都進行了重點強調。孫鬱表示,沈從文的文學創作不喜歡採用宏大敘事的方式,而是從邊緣角落裏發現歷史。他在器物研究上傾注心血,也是在注重普通人日常生活獨特性的體現。孫鬱和張新穎都提到,沈從文的這一做法與王國維的二重證據法(文獻與地下考古相佐證)相類似,他還進一步將無文字器物納入研究範圍。因為在他眼中,真正的歷史是普通人日常生活的喜怒哀樂,也器物也正是凝聚著普通人日常生活喜怒哀樂的器物。
  汪曾祺:隨遇而安,自得其樂
  汪曾祺一直對沈從文尊崇備至,晚年作品多與沈從文相關,師徒之間的深厚情誼可以稱得上文學史的一段佳話。張新穎的新書中對汪曾祺有專門的研究,而孫鬱也曾在作品中對汪曾祺有過精準的分析。孫鬱認為,汪曾祺對於一般讀書人所追求的東西並不做追求,他安於“小”,不去進行宏大敘事;而且他能夠隨遇而安,在艱難的生活中去發現美的存在。他能夠在文革時參與修改加工樣板戲《沙家》,在革命文學中插入具有自己特點的“楔子”,又能在文革之後創作出《受戒》、《大淖記事》等風格獨特的作品,表面上他好像跟隨時代潮流而動,其實他保留著自身想法,文學作品特點並沒有被時代抹掉,有一種自得其樂、自吟自唱的生命狀態。
  張新穎認為,汪曾祺是當代文學重要作家,他自上世紀40年代已開始發表作品,因而將現代文學傳統帶到當代,起到了“橋梁作用”。他延續了沈從文的精神,延續了現代文學別樣的傳統。這與魯迅文學作品所帶有的革命傳統不同,也與新月派僅從理論上追求美的精神不同,將美的精神進行了實踐,展現了沒有被漢文明和主流意識形態同化的淳樸民風,把創作對象從宏大敘事變為個人經驗。
  張新穎還談到了做學問並非是一種消耗。“如果學問做得足夠好,就會滋養人的生命和精神,” 張新穎表示。1975年以後的一段時間,沈從文在體力和精神上特別充沛,常常一天只睡兩三個小時,不感到疲倦,心情也很輕快。沈從文對此自己分析道,人千萬年發展下來,把聰明才智多用在對付人的得失競爭上,紛爭不已,顧此失彼,把原始人的嗅覺、視覺、聽覺,甚至於綜合分析能力,都壓抑下去了。可以設法恢復已失去的能力,人有極大的潛力可以發掘。“他從人類的進化 / 退化來反思,從個人的退出——從人事紛爭的發展習慣上退出——來實踐,以‘忘我’來恢復‘潛伏能力’,聽起來似乎無比迂闊,事實上在他個人卻是生命更上一層的親證和體驗,” 張新穎說。
*****

書評2014年07月28日
去年在紐約的時候我見過一次漢學家金介甫(Jeffrey C.Kinkley),他是《沈從文傳》(The Odyssey of Shen Congwen)的作者。1977年金介甫以《沈從文筆下的中國》獲得哈佛大學博士學位,後來經過幾次擴充,成為公認最為詳盡的沈從文傳記。
金介甫在紐約皇后區一個小大學裡教書,辦公室大概只有四五個平方,開着極小的小窗,我在排山倒海的資料中勉強坐了下來。他六十幾歲,禿頂,離婚,獨自住在新澤西州,每次往返學校需要七個小時,需要開車轉火車轉地鐵再轉公交車。聊到最後,我忍不住拋棄禮貌,去關心他的生活,問他那本《沈從文傳》1999年引進中文版時到底拿了多少版稅,金介甫茫然地說:「沒有版稅啊,就是出版社請我吃了兩頓飯。」然後我又問1987年在美國斯坦福大學出版社出版的英文版在美國賣了多少本,他高興起來:「五百本!這是漢學界的暢銷書!」坐車回家的時候我想,這個人真適合為沈從文寫傳。
沈從文是中國1920-1930年代富於盛名的小說家,1988年他去世時《紐約時報》訃告稱他為「中國文學與獨立思想的桂冠式人物」。他的代表作品包括小說《邊城》與《長河》,以及一系列其他形態豐富的短篇小說;1949年政權更迭後,他轉入文物研究,創作《中國古代服飾研究》,至去世再未有小說公開發表。 沈從文一生與時局交纏,他身上凝聚着個體與國家之間的衝突感。.......


《沈從文的後半生:1948-1988》,2014年6月由廣西師範大學出版社出版。
《沈從文的後半生:1948-1988》,2014年6月由廣西師範大學出版社出版。
2014年7月,由復旦大學文學系教授張新穎撰寫的 《沈從文的後半生:1948-1988》出版,更聚焦於沈從文與政治交纏放棄小說書寫後的歲月。這部新傳既提供了一些很少被人提及的資料,如作者本人在書中所說,他要寫的是「動蕩年代裡他個人漫長的內心生活」。
張新穎從1948年起筆,中國大變在前,老朋友們大都興奮樂觀,只有沈從文,在教育家楊振聲的霽清軒中消夏時,還寫了篇《中國往何處去》:「中國往何處去?往毀滅而已……即結束,我們為下一代準備的,卻恐將是一分不折不扣的『集權』!」到了1949年,沈從文已被郭沫若劃定為「粉紅色作家」,他精神失常,自殺未遂,又給遠在香港的表侄、畫家黃永玉寫信:「北京傅作義都已成瓮中之鱉。長安街大樹均已鋸去以利飛機起落。城,三四日可下,根據過往恩怨,我準備含笑上絞架……」黃永玉只覺從文表叔誇張而幼稚。沒多久,解放軍真的進城,沈從文忙不迭誇他們「威嚴而和氣」,勸黃永玉趕緊回來,「參加這一人類歷史未有過之值得為之獻身工作」。這種矛盾幾乎貫穿沈從文的後半生,他在時局的長河中順流而下,自有逆流反抗的直覺,卻又不斷否定自己的直覺,他拿不準,所以獨自一人坐在船上,更覺彷徨孤獨。
沈從文是發自內心想改造自我。《沈從文的後半生》里寫到1949年9月,沈從文給妻子張兆和寫信,說自己在把「一隻大而且舊的船作調頭努力,扭過來了」,後來他寫詩,又說自己「已得到一個完全新生」。但一個人無法全情投入自己本就懷疑的狂熱,所以在毛澤東登上城樓那天,沈從文完成長詩《黃昏和午夜》:「城樓上大鐘大鼓灰塵蒙蒙/沉沒喑啞相對 已半個世紀./帝國封建的種種,早成傳說故事,/慢慢在時間下退盡顏色,/惟剩餘點滴片段,保留在老人記憶中,/當作生命遲暮的慰藉。」與之對比的是,詩人何其芳在幾乎完全相同的時間段里,寫了《我們最偉大的節日》:「是如此巨大的國家的誕生, 是經過了如此長期的苦痛 而又如此歡樂的誕生, 就不能不象暴風雨一樣打擊着敵人, 象雷一樣發出震動世界的聲音......」沈從文沒法和自己的情感世界做這樣徹底的告別,他的確努力把船調頭,但是撞上暗礁,他失敗了,所以在如火如荼的1949年之後,他停止了文學創作,埋進出土文物的汪洋大海,只有這個世界讓他感覺安全。根據 2003年陝西師範大學出版社《沈從文晚年口述》的記錄,沈從文反反覆復強調自己沒有資格談文學,「我的寫作應該說是失敗了」,因為自己「沒有生活」,在那個時刻,可怕的不是整個世界都不知道他的價值,而是他自己也不知道,他以為自己早就過時。
妻子熱烈地獻身於新中國建設,連讀初中的兒子都疑惑他為什麼「老不進步」,覺得他「到博物館弄古董,有什麼意思」,家人愛他,卻不理解他,沈從文只好從肖邦和貝多芬中尋找慰藉。他深夜寫作,第二天又完全扔掉,既因恐懼,也因自卑,他當然不再是過去那個鄉下人,連標點符號都不會用卻覺得自己會超過契訶夫,但他也沒有成為另外一個人,他留在了不能被改造的自我里,微弱抗拒,微弱掙扎。
《沈從文的後半生》中有他在位於北京郊外的華北人民革命大學改造時的一段話:「天已接近黃昏,天雲如焚如燒,十分美觀。我如同浮在這種笑語呼聲中,一切如三十年前在軍營中光景。生命封鎖在軀殼裡,一切隔離着,生命的火在沉默里燃燒,慢慢熄滅。擱下筆來快有兩年了,在手中已完全失去意義。國家新生,個人如此萎悴,很離奇。」他搞不明白這個世界,也搞不明白自己。1952年沈從文去四川內江參加土改,在信里兒子描述當時批鬥地主的情形:「實在是歷史奇觀。人人都若有一種不可解的力量在支配,進行時代所排定的程序……工作完畢,各自散去時,也大都沉默無聲,依然在山道上成一道長長的行列,逐漸消失到丘陵竹樹間。」沈從文自己其實也是如此,被不可解的力量支配着進行時代所排定的程序,與當時的大部分人尚處於政治昏睡狀態不同的是,他捕捉到了這一點。多年前沈從文就在《從文自傳》里寫過,自己不想明白道理,卻永遠為現象所傾心,他的文字準確描述了政治風暴之中眾人的茫然麻木,卻全無判斷,因他本就糊塗,不知如何判斷,現在看起來,他的這些零碎文字成為了那個時代的腳註,不重要,但有總是比沒有更好。
我不喜歡總是試圖從一個人身上總結時代,因為任何時代里都有那些格格不入的人,在我看來,1949年之後,中國大陸並沒有第二個和沈從文一樣有着劇烈自我衝突的知識分子。在五十年代中晚期,他寫了一些讚頌毛澤東和中國共產黨的文章,新政權真心讓他興奮,但好友丁西林和張奚若請他申請加入中國共產黨時,沈從文還是說自己「沒興趣」。毛澤東和周恩來曾經鼓勵沈從文重新寫作,1961年他在井岡山住了三個月,雄心勃勃要寫一篇關於共產黨員的長篇小說,但是什麼都寫不出來,灰溜溜下了山。「人民」這個詞語被作家們高度偶像化,讓向來書寫「個人」的沈從文無所適從,1949年後他寫過一個短篇小說叫《老同志》,寫一個勞動模範炊事員,沈從文改了七稿,最後的結尾是「在任何地方……都有老同志一樣的勞動人民,在無私無我地為建設國家而努力」,如果抹去作者名,這可能是當時任何一個作家的作品。當被限定為必須為「人民」寫作的時候,沈從文喪失了他那迷人的文字天賦,後來他也感慨過,自己並不知道需要他寫作的「人民」到底在哪裡。
而在個體和國家的關係中,更實實在在是「國家」虐他千百遍,他還待「國家」如初戀。1956年沈從文寫給大哥的信里說:「寫小說算是全失敗了,不容許妄想再抬頭。近來文物工作也搞得不好,如又弄錯,還不知到換什麼工作會對國家有用一些。」他無比積極熱心要為國家做點貢獻,但在那一年的局勢之下,他的「貢獻」卻是忙着給《紅樓夢》寫了幾百條注釋,傾心於研究諸如妙玉的茶具之類可能「國家」和「人民」都會覺得可笑的問題。《沈從文的後半生:1948-1988》記錄,當時歷史博物館的副館長說他「終日玩花花朵朵,只是個人愛好,一天不知道幹些什麼事」,沈從文在歷史博物館待了二十幾年,最後要調入社科院,館長的意思是要走就走,無人留他,他的單位就像國家的縮小版,其實並不需要他。但沈從文的特別之處在於,在總是遭遇這些屈辱的下半生里,他並沒有活得屈辱,他在花花朵朵罈罈罐罐里獲得了另外的自由和榮譽,每個人的生命中,都會有一點任何時代與國家都奪不走的光,沈從文抓住了它,這支撐着他活了下來,活到可能獲得諾貝爾文學獎的八十年代。
瑞典漢學家馬悅然(Goran Malmqvist)曾經公開說過,1987年沈從文進入了諾獎評選的最後名單,但那一年得獎的人是詩人約瑟夫·布羅茨基(Joseph Brodsky)。布羅茨基做了一個名為《美學高於倫理》的受獎演說詞:「個人的美學經驗愈豐富,他的趣味愈堅定,他的道德選擇就愈準確,他就愈自由——儘管他有可能愈不幸。」沈從文沒有說過這樣的話,但這也如同他的人生。早在1930年代蔡元培提出「以美育代替宗教」的口號時,沈從文就為這條口號加上附款:「也要代替政治」。在1949年前夕,革命吸引不了他,他喜歡的那些詞語,是美感、博愛、道德、自由與和平。因為美應該凌駕一切,沈從文和布羅茨基一樣,並不願意展示自己的苦難,在布羅茨基流亡美國後,他從來不願意提及蘇聯以社會寄生蟲的罪名對他進行指控,判處他去俄羅斯北方勞改的經歷,他還在課堂上建議自己的學生要不惜一切代價避免賦予自己受害者的地位。沈從文並不這樣清晰地論證道理,但他總有一種直覺,在1980年訪美的三個半月里,他做了23場講座,明知聽眾更希望聽到他個人的經歷,那些關於苦難的證詞,但他的講座依然一半關於文學,一半關於文物,通通關於美。這才是沈從文的靈魂所在,和它們比起來,苦難並非那樣重要。
1957年5月1日,沈從文在上海,他畫了一幅速寫「六點鐘所見」,畫旁寫着「艒艒船還在作夢,在大海中飄動。原來是紅旗的海,歌聲的海,鑼鼓的海。(總而言之不醒。)」在眾生昏迷於一些大而化之的概念之時,沈從文選擇沉浸在自己的小小世界裡,他總而言之不醒,這就是沈從文的後半生。
李靜睿是作家,著有短篇小說集《小城故事》和隨筆集《願你的道路漫長》等。

Shen Congwen, 85, a Champion Of Freedom for Writers in China


BEIJING, May 12— Shen Congwen, a novelist, short-story writer, lyricist and passionate champion of literary and intellectual independence, died Tuesday in Beijing, his relatives reported. He was 85 years old.
Although almost entirely unknown to Western readers, Mr. Shen's oeuvre, much of it embued with the folklore and customs of his native western Hunan, has been compared to that of William Faulkner.
One of the first films from China to be released commercially in the United States, ''Girl From Hunan,'' which opened in New York in March, was based on ''Xiao Xiao,'' a novel by Mr. Shen.
Denounced by the Communists and Nationalists alike, Mr. Shen saw his writings banned in Taiwan, while mainland publishing houses burned his books and destroyed printing plates for his novels. Ranked With Chekhov
So successful was the effort to erase Mr. Shen's name from the modern literary record that few younger Chinese today recognize his name, much less the breadth of his work. Only since 1978 has the Chinese Government reissued selections of his writings, although in editions of only a few thousand copies.
''Shen's masterpieces rank with Chekhov's,'' wrote Jeffrey C. Kinkley, a professor of Asian studies at St. John's University in New York and the leading American authority on Mr. Shen. ''Shen Congwen looms large in the history of Chinese literature not because he wrote an unusually monumental work but, on the contrary, because his contributions to literature were so diverse and pervasive.''
He was born Shen Yuehuan on Dec. 28, 1902, near the town of Fenghuang, in the western mountains of Hunan Province. His father was a failed military officer and writer who mismanaged and lost his family wealth. Influenced by China in 1920's
In his teens, Mr. Shen tried his hand at soldiering although the corrupt character of the military eventually repelled him and he gravitated toward an idealized notion of the literary life, adopting the name Congwen, meaning dedicated to culture.
Mr. Shen was influenced by the ferment in China's literary world in the early 1920's. He wrote exuberant if undisciplined poetry exploring nature, and one-act farces skewering modern social conventions.
He developed a preoccupation with sexual themes during these early years, a focus often criticized by Communist writers decades later. First Major Work in 1932
As he developed as a writer, his work concentrated increasingly on the mores of the people in western Hunan. ''Ultimately,'' Mr. Kinkley wrote, ''he conveyed a sense of his country folk as a moral community sitting in judgment of modern China.''
In 1932, he published ''Fengzi,'' his first major work, a psychological novel. ''Long River,'' thought by many literary critics to be his finest novel, appeared in 1943 and, according to Mr. Kinkley, ''presents Shen's most vivid, observant and extended scenes of country life.''
It was then, however, that his political problems began. A Communist intellectual described Mr. Shen as a reactionary. Mr. Shen agreed to take political classes, a process that led to his being forced to write a confession exposing his alleged failures. Into a Life of Study
His publisher announced in 1953 that his books were being burned and the printing plates destroyed. Mr. Shen retreated into a life of study and some writing, much of it devoted to antiquities and design. He published a respected study on bronze mirrors of the Tang and Song Dynasties.
In the political turmoil that swirled around intellectuals from the late 1950's until the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Mr. Shen cleaned toilets, attended political indoctrination courses and tried, unsuccessfully, he said, to write fiction.
In 1978, he was freed to write what he wished, but by this time his age prevented an aggressive return to writing. He visited the United States briefly in 1980 and returned to China to live in a spacious apartment provided by the Government in belated recognition of his contributions to 20th-century Chinese literature.
''I have a rule,'' Mr. Shen declared in 1980. ''Once people are promoted to high office, I no longer seek to have social intercourse with them.'' He remained true to his rule, living quietly and attended by his son and wife until his death. In China, his passing was unreported.


*****

An Expert on Loss



IMPERFECT PARADISE By Shen Congwen. Edited by Jeffrey Kinkley. Translated by Jeffrey Kinkley, Peter Li, William MacDonald, Caroline Mason and David Pollard. 537 pp. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. $42.
THIS has been a hard century for China's writers. Dynastic collapse, civil war, Japanese invasion and the insistent pressures of dictatorial one-party governments have formed their political contexts. Their own once-hallowed language, with its rich traditions and endless subtleties, has been subject to constant assault and reconfiguration in the name of accessibility and modernity. Groping for order in the chaos, they have had to adjust their styles to the cadences of ordinary speech, and at the same time to absorb a bewildering mass of new foreign influences and concepts. As the century nears its end, only a handful among them can be clearly seen to have had a creative center so strong that they could overcome these challenges, forging a unified and enduring body of truly rich and original work. Among them is Shen Congwen.
Shen was born in the western part of Hunan province in 1902, to a family with military traditions going back several generations. The region in which he grew up was an area of wild rivers, hills and forests, a place where little influence from the newly emerging east coast urban centers had yet penetrated. After a brief stint in a local military academy, Shen was assigned at the age of 15 to a regiment stationed in a Hunan country town; there he performed mainly clerical work.
The regiment's supposed task was to keep the peace and cleanse the surrounding areas of bandits, but military action was sporadic, and Shen had ample time to observe the minutiae of garrison life, as well as the soldiers' responses to the civilians among whom they were stationed. He also noted carefully the rhythms of life of the Tujia and Miao tribal peoples who farmed, fished and hunted in the surrounding countryside. And he read voraciously: not only Chinese traditional and modern works but foreign literature in translation. By 1922, after some years of wandering, he settled in Beijing, determined to be a writer. By 1935 he had already completed 35 volumes of work: short stories, essays, vignettes, novels and transcriptions of Miao songs and rural tales.
Shen is unusual among major 20th-century Chinese writers in his refusal to be political. If politics impinge at all on his work, it is only to set the scene, and the details are always left hazy. What absorbs him, as can be seen so well in this new collection of translations, is human dignity and genuine emotion -- the ways that men and women are capable of responding to each other, and the ways that those responses relate to their culture's past and present.
This is not a naive rustic utopianism, as the book's editor, Jeffrey Kinkley (the leading expert in the West on the work of Shen Congwen and the translator of a number of the entries in this volume), makes clear in his choice of a title, "Imperfect Paradise." Shen's bygone world of western Hunan does look like paradise, and both the tribal peoples and the Han Chinese who live there are often of startling strength and physical beauty, and unsullied by the corruption that seeps across China from the eastern cities. But the inhabitants of this remote countryside are also capable of extraordinary violence and cruelty, and their stoicism can be so blinkered that at times it becomes indistinguishable from stupidity, causing irreparable damage to themselves and to those they most dearly love.
Shen Congwen is an expert on loss. This can be seen in many of his finest stories. "The Husband," for example, is a powerful and absorbing account of a married woman from the country who helps support her family by working in a brothel boat moored on a riverbank outside a market town. Here the loss is apparent in the face and gestures -- even in the cramped and uneasy sleep -- of the woman's husband as he comes on a rare visit to see her, and finds that he too must wait his turn. In "Guisheng," another simple countryman is partly done out of his chance for a lifetime's happiness by the superior wealth of the local elite family, but it is mainly his own gullibility and stubbornness that cause his ruin. "Sansan" features one of the most lyrically etched adolescent girls in Shen's fiction, a heroine who endures a double loss -- of her work in a mill, with its tranquil pond, and of the imagined love of an ailing man from the city. In "The Vegetable Garden," a widowed mother who has created her own ordered world through hard work and skill sees her only son snatched away by an incomprehensible act of official violence.
There is no doubt that Shen is a man who loves women, and he describes them in many ages, moods and modes. Their worlds of strength and dignity are most effectively contrasted with those of the men around them in the group of stories that draw on Shen's army and garrison-town experience. Especially in "Staff Adviser," written in 1935, he shows absolute mastery in contrasting the fleshly greed of the title character (as he gleefully gobbles down his noontime meal of stewed bull penis, cabbage soup and Scotch whisky) with the largely unseen world of the man's pregnant wife and child. This story, along with "My Education," written in 1929, gives perhaps the best descriptions extant of garrison and warlord life in China. In "The Company Commander," written in 1927 at the beginning of Shen's greatest creative decade and translated here with the skill and sensitivity shown throughout the collection, the military world is drawn together into the world of loss -- "passive, helpless, possessive" -- with an extraordinary economy and freshness.
At one point in the story, yielding to the entreaties of his mistress, an officer reluctantly remains with her through a snow-filled evening rather than return to camp:
"Deprived of drink, the company commander regarded the outline of the woman, now turned away from him, by the light of the faint blue flames of the brazier beside him; he still uttered no word. Then out of boredom he swept together the husks of the peanuts and chestnuts on his lap, on the table and from beside the brazier and strewed them on top of the burning charcoal. First they smoked and crackled, then burst all together into roaring flames. In this blaze the company commander could see that the woman's face was streaked with tears. Nodding his head, close shaven in army style, he said husk ily he would obey her order and not go back to the barracks."
As any fine writer must, Shen experimented by describing situations and moods that were outside his ordinary realm. It is to Mr. Kinkley's credit that he includes stories that are not always successful but show Shen's varied attempts to move beyond the depictions of rural, tribal and army life for which he was best known. These include "Quiet," which tracks the thoughts of a teen-age girl, a refugee in the countryside, as she looks after her little nephew and waits for her father to come back to her; "The Housewife" and "Gazing at Rainbows," which depict the anomie of an uneasy marriage and the varied worlds of erotic stimulation within a relationship; and several stories that in different ways illuminate or parody the mental and sensual worlds of university professors, whose ranks Shen himself eventually joined as a teacher of literature.
IN the 1935 story "Big Ruan and Little Ruan," Shen is overtly satirical as he sketches the school days and subsequent careers of two young men in republican China. Each joins one of the two groups into which the schoolboys have divided themselves, the Gentleman's Society and the Cudgel Club; these titles and the values they express stay with the young men as one becomes an amoral bounder, the other an amoral political activist. This is one of the few Shen Congwen stories that deal with political issues, and Little Ruan is perhaps one of the least sympathetic radicals in the 20th-century literature of any country. Cadging money from his landlord father so he can pay the rent on his garret, planning to "strike down this, abolish that," Little Ruan "ridiculed conservatism and sneered at compromise, so the life style from his days at school and in Shanghai continued developing in the new environment." But when Big Ruan hears indirectly that Little Ruan has starved to death in prison after a hunger strike, Shen joins with Big Ruan in an uncharacteristic reflection:
"He was very happy, and that was enough. In these strange times, many people looking for happiness fall down in silence and are gone forever. Others, among the living, tend to think that they live happily and that raising a family and being successful in everything makes them the backbone of society -- indispensable to it. Especially those like Big Ruan."
Shen wrote little fiction after the Japanese invasion of 1937, and though he stayed on in China under the Communists, he ceased fiction writing altogether. After enduring many "struggle sessions" on the ground that he was a "pro-bourgeois" writer, as well as a period of "thought reform" and an attempt at suicide, Shen found a kind of release by working in the Palace Museum in Beijing. Before his death in 1988, he wrote a distinguished history of Chinese textile design through the ages and a careful study of archaic bronze mirrors. These scholarly works have their virtues, but it is for the mirror that he held up to his own youthful world that Shen Congwen will be remembered.
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