Liao Shufang, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
Lin Yaode was a fleeting comet streaking across the skies of Taiwanese literature. In his short life of thirty-six years he wrote poetry, essays, fiction, and criticism, creating an outstanding body of literary work. Lin was instrumental in inspiring Taiwan’s 1980s wave of urban literature – his works realistically portray metropolitan life, presenting the city as the central stage on which contemporary life is played out, depicting technology’s interventions in modern urban living. “Telephone,” “Answering Machine,” and “Computer Terminal” are representative selections from Lin’s essay collection Parts of a Maze, an essential work of modern urban literature.
In “Telephone” the sound of a phone ringing is an important element in constructing the urban environment: As long as telecommunication cables run beneath the ground, anyone can be your next-door neighbor, almost near enough to hug. Consequently, “an invisible city, huge and borderless, formed by the shuttling of countless thoughts and emotions, is linked to other giant cities by satellites cruising the atmosphere, merging into to a vast and magnificent ‘star city.’” The endless linkages are like galaxies, unseen and boundless, calling attention to the great changes technology has brought about in human societies. The essay also describes the mobile phone as the world’s first “detachable penis” – men’s loss, women’s gain – humorously characterizing the changes in gender and power relations brought about by technology.
In “Answering Machine” the titular device is described as a body with a soulless personality hidden within, like a paper doll with no eyes or nose, only a pair of ears and an O-shaped mouth, a machine that perfectly mimics its owner’s voice, repeating its owner’s messages, sentence by sentence, all according to the original tone and cadence. The essay shows how technological advances are brought about by human needs, but also hints that personifying modern appliances may result in a split in human nature, mechanizing and alienating human beings.
A fable of modern life, “Computer Terminal” borrows a scene from director Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining – the scariest movie he’s ever seen, the author confesses – where the writer protagonist works diligently at his typewriter, producing a thick novel manuscript that turns out to be same line typed over and over: “All work and no play will drive you crazy.” The essay extends the metaphor to modern life, where some people’s lives seems consist of a single meaningless sentence, rewritten again and again; what is truly horrifying, however, is that they don’t realize they are simply repeating themselves.
“Computer Terminal” updates the scene from the film – at his computer terminal, the first-person narrator sets a program to constantly print out “all work and no play will drive you crazy,” saying, “I’m not turning the computer off, but I’ve decided to go out and ‘play.’” It seems as if the narrator has suddenly realized that life is limited and that he must grasp the moment at hand. Meanwhile, the gradually rising stack of white printer paper poses an ironic question: In the new technological era, is this our only possibility?
PDF Document：Image file of Lin Yaode’s “Telephone,” “Answering Machine,” and “Computer Terminal.” (Souse: Lin Ting)
PDF Document：Image file of Lin Yaode’s “Computer Terminal,” English translation by Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series (Souse: K. C. Tu)
PDF Document：Image file of Lin Yaode’s “The Telephone” and “The Answering Machine,” English translation by Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series (Souse: K. C. Tu)
Lin Yaode (1962-1996) was born in Taipei to a family originating in China’s Fujian Province. He was a graduate of Fu Jen University’s Department of Law, and served as chief editor of Taipei Review, Taiwan History Monthly, and Shulin Poetry. He also served as Fiction Clan editorial committee member, secretary-general of the China Youth Writing Association, and taught essay writing at National Taiwan Normal University’s Humanities Center. In addition, Lin often appeared on TV, and acted as program advisor and scriptwriter at Taiwan Public Television Service.
Lin’s richly creative and prolific literary output garnered wide attention in Taiwanese literary circles. The writer died of heart failure in 1996, leaving a large body of uncollected work. His important late-period writings have been published in Selected Works of Lin Yaode (2001), edited by Yang Zonghan.
Lin Yaode began writing in 1977, publishing early his works in 3-3 Journal. He wrote poetry, essays, novels, short stories, and plays, and was a recipient of the National Literary Arts Award, the Liang Shiqiu Literature Award, the China Times Literature Award, and a host of other prestigious literary prizes.
At the end of the 1980s Lin began promoting his “urban literature” and “new-era writer” theories, turning out a large volume of creative works and criticism in a self-proclaimed attempt to “rewrite literary history,” fiercely criticizing realism and romanticism’s long hold on Taiwanese literary circles. He is regarded as the most dazzling and versatile young writer of his generation, his complex works marking a transition from modernism to postmodernism.
Representative works include the poetry collections Silver Bowl Snowfall (1987), The Computer Terminal (1988) and Urban Dream; the short-story collections Rough Country (1988) and Dadong District (1995); a novel, 1947 – Takasago Lily, and the essay collections A City’s History (1987), and Parts of a Maze (1993).
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2329
|Work(English)：||“Telephone,” “Answering Machine,” and “The Computer Terminal”|
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Author：||Lin Yaode（Lin Yao-teh）|
|Translator：||Robert Backus（拔苦子），杜國清（K. C. Tu）|
|Literary Genre：||Poem and Prose|
|Publisher：||Santa Barbara : Forum for the Study of World Literature in Chinese University of California|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://unitas.udngroup.com.tw/|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “unitas.udngroup.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.eastasian.ucsb.edu/taiwancenter/publications/ets|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|