Mythorealism as Method: Ideology and Form in Yan Lianke's Fiction

  • Author / Creator
    Xie, Haiyan
  • This dissertation engages with novels of contemporary Chinese writer Yan Lianke, to explore his formal experiment called mythorealism (神实主义) and investigate how mythorealist form produces textual meanings subverting a totalizing reality prescribed by literary realism and reshaping a diversity of realities. Mythorealism is a literary concept invented by Yan himself to define his own writing style. It refers to a set of literary devices that combine the elements from Chinese folklore and folk culture and literary techniques in Western modernism and postmodernism. In resorting to mythorealism, which probably carries the burden of social critiques that would perhaps be straightforward politics in a different context, Yan transcends the temporality and provinciality of immediate social events and historical contingencies, and transforms the potential socio-political critiques to a more diversified concern for humanity, existential predicament, and spiritual crisis. This dissertation identifies three different modes of mythorealist narratives respectively exemplified in Yan’s three novels: Dingzhuang meng 丁庄梦 (Dream of Ding Village), Sishu 四书 (The Four Books), and Feng ya song 风雅颂 (The Odes of Songs). Each of these three narrative modes emphasizes a different aspect of mythorealism, all bringing the marginal under closer scrutiny by weaving their voices into the writing of socio-political problems. Culminating in different kinds of absurdities, the mythorealist narratives create a contradictory and paradoxical world in which a dichotomous worldview is completely subverted.
    The significance of mythorealism in this study lies, first and foremost, in its deconstructive function of authorial voice by writing from outside the dominant culture and ideology, as well as its reconstructive purpose of giving voice to the underrepresented. Second, it resides in its contribution to the genre of native soil literature. That is, by integrating the most original and local elements of Chinese rural society into a kind of postmodern writing and inscribing the idea of deconstruction into it, mythorealism provides a cosmopolitan perspective and horizon in writing rural China. Third, mythorealism opens a window for readers to perceive a paradox of Yan Lianke. It places Yan in a self-contradictory position, implying an unresolved conflict between his desire to speak for the oppressed and marginal and his uncertainty about humanity and the capacity of literature to reshape the moral fabric of the society.

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  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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