Welcome back to Quote Digest, where we take apart and reflect on my favourite quotes.
The second chapter of this instalment is dedicated to Chinese novelist and playwrite Gao Xingjian, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000.
Having read only one novel of his, One Man’s Bible, I am already excited for the next one waiting in my shelf, Soul Mountain.
Being an émigré writer (Xingjian currently resides near Paris, France), his main topics are detachment and a sense of self-loss during continuous movement through different worlds and cultures, finding everything to be the same whilst things and actions pass one by in repetition. A rather Nietzschean philosophy.
I copied this quote from the Flamingo UK 2002 edition and you can also find it in my Goodreads quotes:
“You’re light, and float up as if you’re weightless. You wander from country to country, city to city, woman to woman, but don’t think of finding a place that is home. You drift along, engrossed in savoring the taste of the written language, and, like ejaculating, leave behind some traces of your life. You achieve nothing and no longer concern yourself with things in life and afterlife. As your life was plucked back from death, why should you be concerned? You simply live in this instant, like a leaf in the brink of falling from a tree.” (426)
Xingjians protagonist describes his life as a series of bodily encounters, wandering geographically and carnally, however in his description of feeling weightless he is referring to the spiritual gist of those experiences, meaninglessness.
He leaves, in the carnal sense, traces of his bodily fluids on several places in several beds, however as he goes on, he has no connection to these traces and neither does he feel connected to his past.
This sense of mortality and understanding of the waning meaning of his life – he feels it can vanish in a second – comes from the near-death experiences the protagonist has made and the knowledge that in a tyrannical system, one individual is absolutely worthless. It’s deeply tragic and on a certain level absolutely non-fathomable for an individual who hasn’t been through anything similar. However, Xiangjian describes his protagonists thoughts so well and forges the path to understanding him so subtly that one can actually emerge oneself in those feelings and so at least the reader starts feeling a connection. Through this process, the reader begins to find the connectionlessness inside himself and empathizing with Xiangjian’s melancholy. It’s a beautifully vicious circle.
Another aspect of the way life is seen here is the aspect of weighlessness, so the character is free while being disconnected – it is not said in this paragraph if he wishes to remain so and if he suffers from this condition. The disconnect grants complete freedom to go wherever and meet whoever, while remaning exactly as he is. There is a possibility of this being his safe space to crawl into, since he has made so many traumatizing experiences in the outside world – he chooses to remain in his inside world.
This way of thinking reflects the disonnect in our society as well. By going solely into the virtual world, the individual chooses to forego outer reality – fear of a real connection lets us crawl up inside our self-made social media spaces and in many cases avoid leaving this bubble, where only positive experiences are shared with others and any negativity stowed away without reflection.
It’s nothing like a near-death experience but I can see how social media is actually increasing levels of individual social anxiety. Since most ways of communication in today’s world are of a virtual kind, they are a simulation. You may take the long road and write about your emotions, but in most chats objects and emotions are replaced by emojis. How much authenticity is left in those simulated feelings? How does this shallow way of self-epxression deteriorate our emotional intelligence?
Xingjian may write about tyrannical opression and escaping a conventional system, but the way everyone these days is offended about everything, how anxiety is blown up and suddenly everyone seems to suffer from it, how puclic figures in social media are being “cancelled” and how petty Internet trolls seem to take pleasure in hating and nagging on anything whilst remaning under the blanket of virtual anonymity – I fear for our society to turn into a tyrannical system if this behaviour continues for a longer period of time.
On the other hand – also according to Xingjians quote – remembering one’s minuscule role in the history of the Universe and not focusing on daily experiences or one’s past in general – does make problems seem smaller again. So a daily meditation using parts from this quote could even be therapeutical, telling yourself to live in this instant and remaining weightless.
It is the ambivalence of such quotes that do have a narrow context when considering the whole text, but can be interpreted in a universal sense that makes me aprecciate Xiangjian – although some chapters of his book were rather slow and much too apathetic for my taste.
His writing is, however, highly quotable and for a reflection on Life, the Universe and Everything, I can only recommend it.
What do you think about this quote? Is it saying to live in the now or rather suicidal?
Also, I’d love to know: Who’s your favourite Asian author?