A critical analysis of the political and polemical essays of Chinese writer Lu Xun (1881–1936), whose literary stature remains Olympian.
Though Davies (Chinese Studies/Monash Univ.; Worrying about China: The Language of Chinese Critical Inquiry, 2009, etc.) doesn't focus closely on biographical details, numerous details about Lu Xun’s life do emerge. (Very early, we learn his favorite brand of cigarettes; later, a bit about his married life and contentious relationship with his brother.) Davies focuses on Lu Xun’s pioneering literary uses of baihua (the common language) and on his literary contributions to the revolutionary turmoil in China in the 1920s and ’30s, a turmoil that eventually forced him to publish using as many as 140 pseudonyms. The author notes that his celebrity afforded him some safety in the most perilous times. Readers will discover almost immediately that Davies’ is principally an academic work: The tone is scholarly, and literary allusions populate her prose—Foucault, Heidegger, Jung, Sartre, Derrida and many others. She employs numerous block quotations and sometimes-dense diction: “In using ambulatory tropes to anthropomorphize language Lu Xun…transfigured the act of writing into an agon of self-reflection on the road to attaining humanness.” However, the range of Davies’ research is staggering, and her erudition is impressive as she glides through Lu Xun’s literary career. She deals frankly and comprehensively with Lu Xun’s most prominent critics and notes how he handled them with intensity and agility. She has much to say, as well, about his theories of writing—how he decried political rhetoric, despised romantic fiction and saw the moral ambiguity of revolutionary writing. She also reproduces his list of eight tips for aspiring writers—among them: “Don’t force yourself to write when you feel you can’t.”
A rich, scholarly work that will attract more academic than general readers.