Dependent Origination

The Vagrants

Posted on: April 11, 2010

by Li Yiyun

李翊云的名字听说已经很久了,和Jhumpa Lahiri一样,是第一篇短篇就发在new yorker上面的奇才。后来发现她竟然和自己一样差不多时间来的美国,读的是生物的Ph.D, 然后转行写作,觉得甚为吃惊,乃至佩服。不容易啊。

不过佩服归佩服,书这是读的第一本。发在纽约客上面的小说应该看过,但是忘了讲的是什么。故事讲的是文化大革命结束之后两年仍然充满了oprression and poverty的中国。Sometimes it gets very graphical and makes me wonder whether the cruelties can be humanly possible. However, some details are based on what happened to Zhang Zhixin, so I guess my disbelief is too simple and too naive. The prison experiment is a smaller-scale example of how seemingly nice person can misbehave if the environment permits. In this sense, we cannot even make excuses for the horrible things that happened during cultural revolution. In another time, in another space, it could still be the same. On the one hand, we can all blame the government or the authority to lead people astray and release the evil without any constraint. On the other hand, can people simply be bounded by their inner moral rules about right and wrong at all?

Kant said two things impressed him most: the starry night and the moral compass within people. Overtime, many stories dwell on the spectacular deeds a person accomplished in the face of evil and moral crisis. But then why cultural revolution can still happen? why all those people can lose their moral compass so easily and so readily at times? Is the demon always there?

I laud the efforts of her to write directly about moral dilemmas and Orwellian state machines, even though the book feels less cutthroat on revealing the underlying problem, say, than the Painted Bird. She has the ability to reveal the wounds and show compassion at the same time. I look forward to the day when she writes with a sharper knife and sees more blood dripping. Figuratively 🙂


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