House Without a Ceiling

Uncanny places in the works of Can Xue

To be presented in the panel ‘Modern Chinese Culture and the Uncanny: “Superstition” as a Critique of Enlightenment’ at The Association of Chinese and Comparative Literature Conference, held June 18-20, 2015 at Fudan University, Shanghai.

In the literary world of Can Xue, houses and buildings act as the outer shell of the fragile self: They mould and rot when individuals are isolated and passive, while interpersonal aggression manifests itself as holes through walls and paranoia as a ceilingless house.

Her depiction of these uncanny places of inhabitance questions the rationalist notion of an objective border between self and surroundings, paving the way for a subjective and phenomenological approach to reality. Inspired by philosopher Dylan Trigg’s The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny, this paper analyses a selection of Can Xue’s short stories with a focus on how places are shaped by and in turn affects the people who live in them.

Can Xue’s stories can be read as a critique of scientific discourse’s monopoly on defining reality since late Qing times. In her works there is no hint of a topographical or historical context outside that of personal experience. This paper investigate how her stories invert the objective-subjective power relations, not only by challenging the precedence of the former, but by implying that objective reality is itself a derogative of the latter. As Lu Tonglin writes, in the case of Can Xue’s fiction “[…] everything, including reality, is a dream.” This dreamscape is not structured by nature or norm, but incorporates the supernatural, the abnormal and the subjective.

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