China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - The Novel as Consciousness: Ning Ken’s Heaven ·Tibet

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Roosevelt Room 5, Exhibit Level

The characters in the 2010 Tian · Zang pursue answers to large questions: What is the self? What is consciousness? What is time? Does language constitute reality? Does geography determine culture? Is the connection to tradition severed? The novel alludes to the traumatic history that provides the context in which these questions are asked, including destruction in Tibet during the Cultural Revolution and violence in Beijing in the spring of 1989. The protagonist, Wang Mojie, self-exiled from Beijing to a village near Lhasa after June 4, approaches life with detached logic and tests the ideas of Derridra and Foucault against his experience. He also takes sexual pleasure exclusively from pain inflicted by women in police uniform. Wang Mojie joins the conversations between a man from France who has become a Buddhist monk and the man’s father, a philosopher who is skeptical of Eastern “metaphysics” and “superstition.” This part of the novel is Ning Ken’s fictionalized version of the conversations between Jean-François Revel and his son Matthieu Richard recorded in The Monk and the Philosopher. The preoccupations of Heaven ·Tibet are many, and its form is complex (there are three narrators and long footnotes extend and comment on the story), but ultimately Ning Ken’s work is an exploration of fiction’s ability to represent human consciousness (its ability to describe qualia, or the specific subjective experience of the world). This is a noteworthy and unusual project for a work of contemporary Chinese fiction.

Thomas Moran

Middlebury College, Vermont

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