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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Time self-consciousness in contemporary Chinese fiction Wu, Meng


This study examines how representations of time in contemporary Chinese fiction reflect ideas about the self. It theorizes four paradigms of literary time: 1) time as entrapping returns, in which the self is trapped in cycles of reincarnation; 2) tailing time, in which inconspicuous incidents lead to unexpected “spin-off” consequences in the next cycle; 3) journeying into empty time, as in a purposeless stroll; 4) multiplying time, in which individual and collective histories multiply through an archeology of art and theory, fanning out like two V’s in the shape of an hourglass. Chapters illustrate these modes through analysis of four major texts: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (2006) by Mo Yan, The Three-Body Trilogy (200) by Liu Cixin, An Empty Room (2011) by Mu Xin, and Histories of Time (2007) by Dung Kai-cheung. I argue that these modes of time, while distinct, all deviate from the logic of progression, which not only dominates the Chinese Communist Party’s discourse of inevitable revolutionary advance but also dominates modernists’ discourse of linear development of humanity. Illustrated by four alternative visions of how time shapes the self, my study shows how writers have steered away from dominant time-ideologies and develops a theory of “time self-consciousness,” in which a self at odds with its time becomes the driving force of literary creativity.

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