Zhong Zhiwei, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Although Autumn Leaf is Ouyang Zi’s (Ou-yang Tzu) only volume of short stories, the collection nonetheless clearly reflects several important characteristics of the modernist aesthetics set in motion in Taiwan in the 1960s. And even though Autumn Leaf was sharply criticized by some “nativist” critics in the 1970s, the work is still an extraordinarily significant part of Taiwan’s literary history.
Before discussing the text, we should first look at the process by which the book came into being. Originally titled That Long-haired Girl, the collection was first issued by Wenxing Publishing Company and Dalin Publishing Company (1967, 1969), and then by Chen Zhong in 1971. The last edition was retitled Autumn Leaf, and three stories from the original publication were dropped; “Devil Woman,” “Cousin Suzhen,” and “Autumn Leaf” were added to the collection, and “That Long-haired Girl” was retitled as “Awakening.” In 1980 Elite Books republished the book, adding “Wooden Beauty” for a total of fourteen stories, arranging the works chronologically according to dates of publication.
As for the collection’s importance, Bai Xianyong’s (Pai Hsien-yung) preface notes that Ouyang Zi’s fiction carefully preserves the “Three Unities Rule” of classical drama (unity of action, unity of time, and unity of place), giving her stories a rigor and conciseness seldom seen in Chinese fiction. Thematically, Ouyang’s great interest in and exploration of characters’ inner lives separates her from other writers. To a certain degree, these two characteristics Bai points out are at odds with each other – in exploring how inner desires arise and the reason for their possibility, Ouyang’s work is closely related to the twentieth-century development of psychoanalysis. Freud posited that the psyche is composed of three interactive layers, the id, the ego, and the superego. In other words, the self is divided, a theory that is at odds with Aristotle’s “Three Unities Rule.” Thus, Ouyang Zi’s writing can be seen as repeated efforts to find a balance between the extremes of division and unity.
Hence, characters on the edge of psychological breakdown (Shi Zhichuan in “Vase”), incest taboos (in “Autumn Leaf” and “Devil Woman,” and ambiguous homosexual desires (“Cousin Suzhen”) are central themes that come up again and again in Autumn Leaf. Nevertheless, these strange, disordered impulses ultimately either return to normal or die out on their own, revealing the writer’s obsession with formal completeness, a point readers of Ouyang Zi’s fiction should not ignore.
Ouyang Zi (1939) is the penname of Hong Zhihui. The writer was born in Hiroshima, Japan to a family from the town of Caotun in Taiwan’s Nantou County. She is a graduate of National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and holds a master’s degree from the University of Iowa’s International Writers’ Workshop. Her works include the short-story collection Autumn Leaf (1971, originally titled The Girl with Long Hair) and The Halls of the Wang and Xie Families, a critique of Kenneth Pai’s Taipei People. She has also translated Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex). While a student at National Taiwan University she was a cofounder of Modern Literature magazine.
Ouyang Zi’s fiction is noted for its subtle analysis of the complexities of the human psyche. The writer excels at irony, bringing hidden facets of human nature to the surface. Her essays are clear and concise, and her fiction bears all the earmarks of the 1960s modernist school – refined language, psychological characterization, and creation of overall atmosphere. Her portrayals of women and her exploration of human moral boundaries stand above those of her peers. Her fictional themes and her translation of the first volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex were the harbingers of feminism in Taiwan.
Ouyang Zi’s “unconventional” sexual themes came under critical fire in 1970s – a fate shared by many of her modernist contemporaries – leading her to venture into literary criticism, her work based on the theories and practice of the New Criticism school. The Halls of the Wang and Xie Familie analyzed Bai Xianyong’s Taipei People, positing that a work of fiction should be judged on rigorous organization of theme and other elements, and not on its relation to a writer’s other works or his or her personal moral views. Ouyang Zi’s influence was equal to that of Yan Yuanshu in introducing New Criticism to Taiwanese literary circles.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2248
|Related Literary Themes：||Modernist Literature|