The Remains of History: Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain and Wuhe’s

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Andrea Bachner

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Department of English, NTNU


This essay analyzes Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain (Ling shan 1990) and Wuhe’s The Remains of Life (Yusheng 1999) and their reflections on history and what lies beyond or outside of history. In the face of past traumas, the Cultural Revolution in Gao’s, the Musha Incident, in Wuhe’s case, both authors and their respective protagonists turn to prehistory. Gao and his protagonists, split into different perspectives, travel through China in search not only of the “soul mountain” of the title, but of natural preserves and minority cultures. Wuhe’s protagonist dwells among the indigenous Atayal in Taiwan and becomes especially interested in the practice of headhunting—one of the rituals conventionally associated with the “primitive.” And yet, each author effects much more than a simple return to an imagined prehistory. In their texts, the renegotiation of historical trauma acquires a complex temporality: not only a return to the traumatic event, not merely a finally unfulfilled and unfulfillable desire for a world untouched by trauma and history, but also a reflection on what remains of and after trauma. These texts highlight and question the construction of history with and through its other(s): If the logos of history always needs its own constructed other—as non-logos, as nature or bios—in order to function, how can we rethink its temporal and conceptual logic? Can we craft the remains of history into a site of possibility? Can we glimpse a moment that neither succumbs to the dichotomy between history and its ineffable other nor to a total immanence of history? What is the hallmark of a representation of the past that would allow us not to become absorbed in it without remainder? What kind of text can reflect on history’s violent character without inviting an eternal return of trauma, but also without fetishizing a pristine prehistory, unmarked by trauma?