Dr. Carolyn T. Brown, former director of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, recently gave a talk about her latest book Reading Lu Xun Through Carl Jung (Cambria Press, 2018) at the Library of Congress. Below are excerpts of her speech and here is the link to the video of the entire speech.
*This book is part of the Cambria Sinophone World Series, headed by Professor Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania).
How the book started
“This study began when I was a college sophomore in a course in modern Chinese literature in translation. I think we probably read his most iconic stories, certainly true story of Ah Q. Undoubtedly “Regret for the Past,” I don’t remember. But I do know that when I read one of his stories, “The New Year Sacrifice,” it was as if someone had like hit me in the stomach and I thought, “What has happened here?” I had never been to China and I don’t think I really knew anyone who was Chinese or certainly not well. But I do answer that question, but I’m not going to answer it here today. I do answer it in the book. But the question, my own reaction asked me to think both about my reaction and in a psychological sense and then to begin to wonder about what might be the psychological dimensions within the stories. Thus I was moved to ask about the psychological model by personal experience and I admit, as a former director of the Kluge Center, it wasn’t driven by intellectual curiosity, essentially, but by my experience.”
How this book is different
“unlike most studies, it’s not primarily about the man himself, it’s a study of text. Of course we know the man wrote the text, so they obviously trace back to the author himself, but that’s not the central concern. Similarly the work decent is the content and focuses on the structures. That is, I look at the patterns that repeat in foremost of the stories. … I’m using Jung’s concepts of the psyche as a model to explain what I was finding in the text.”
“The dog, who cannot defend himself becomes the scapegoat for the fact that the child was negligent and failed to do the assignment. More seriously this image can be projected onto entire groups. Where the community contributes some evil that has befallen it, to a group usually with insufficient power to fight back and tries to contain it. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is one very clear example of political scapegoating of an entire group. And I’m sure it doesn’t take much imagination for you to look around our current world and see it still happening. But although a part of the self can be forgotten and rendered unconscious, it cannot be destroyed, because it is part of the self.”
On the spiritual or psychological illness that Lu Xun defined as undermining China
“My book argues that one way of viewing the spiritual or psychological illness that Lu Xun defined as undermining China, is to view his analysis as the split of the shadow from the ego within the whole self. And healing as the reintegration of these two parts. He investigates this, this idea in multiple domains, that of the nation, the community, the family and the individual self and imagines different outcomes in each domain. So one way to understand the psycho dynamics in the true story of Ah Q, is to view the story as an investigation into what happens when the ego splits off and expels the unwanted, unacknowledged, despised shadow side of the self and then tries to destroy it?”
On union concepts and national character in “The True Story of Ah Q”
“Analyzing ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ as a meditation on scapegoating, defined in terms of these union concepts, reveals dimensions of the stories, the story not previously noted. … I want to provide a few examples that reveal how viewing the true story of Ah Q as a meditation on scapegoating furthers our understanding of the story. … Ah Q’s signature feature, the one he’s know for as a character, is his stunning capacity to turn physical defeat into spiritual victory. That is, when he’s defeated in some kind of brawl he redefines the experience, such that he perceives himself as having achieved the upper hand morally and psychologically. At the time of its composition Ah Q’s capacity to turn defeat into victory was read allegorically. It was read as a representation of China’s failures to respond to the challenges brought by the west. The notion that a nation had a particular character, a national character was very current at the time, and there was considerable discussion about China’s national character, what made it unique. And then given the problems, what deficiencies were in its — in this character. Because if it was getting beaten up by the West, at least in its perception, it must have been deficient in some way. Lu Xun, viewing himself as a doctor rendering a diagnosis, looked at what was wrong with the patient, china, in order to move the body politic towards health and a better future. He himself declared a few years later that in creating the stories he had attempted to — he had attempted to describe the souls of the Chinese people. So, from the beginning Ah Q was viewed as typical, not just a literary character, but typical of the Chinese national character. And what was considered his essential feature, was this capacity to turn defeat into victory. So, we should take a look at what that actually means.”
On sexual desire and power in “Soap”
“Lu Xun made the same argument in another story, which is much overlooked, “Soap.” That is he also showed there that society has encouraged men to disown their sexuality, project their desires onto women and then accuse women of having incited it. Certainly he viewed this as an issue of power as well, but also in psychological terms.”
On Lu Xun’s implicit model
“In the book I show that interpreting this structure through Jung’s conceptual framework shows that indeed Lu Xun had an implicit model of psychological illnesses and its causes. … the union approach, combined with a focus on the structure, gives new meaning to Lu Xun’s decision to take up the profession of literature in his hope of healing the spirits of the Chinese people.”