Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - Buddhism and Animality in Mo Yan’s Novels

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Rudraksha, Lower Ground Floor

Animals, gory violence, and an emphasis on human physicality characterize nearly all of Mo Yan’s literary productions. Appearing in a variety of configurations, these aspects relate to one another in a number of complicated ways and together represent a central aspect of Mo Yan’s writing. While humans, animals, and violence often form a natural trio in the interpretation of his work, less explored is the relationship of these animalistic tensions with a recurring presence of Buddhism. Rather than as an orthodox or coherent philosophical doctrine, Buddhism frequently appears in Mo Yan’s novels in an extremely local and almost anecdotal way, allowing for a sporadic literary adoption of some of its general ideas. This paper intends to examine the role that Buddhism plays in the depiction of animality in two of Mo Yan’s more recent novels, Life and Death are Wearing Me Out (2006) and Pow! (2012). Both novels unfold through a generally Buddhist narrative framework, with the former detailing the protagonist’s reincarnation through a series of animals, and the latter recounted by the protagonist as he sits with a monk in a crumbling temple. Ultimately, I hope to show that while Mo Yan emphasizes a shared physicality between humans and animals that humans must recognize in order to move toward some greater truth of humanity, the Buddhist framing of both of these novels suggests another dimension to this truth that is not necessarily Buddhist but which is intriguingly metaphysical.

Todd Forley

New York University, United States

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