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Landscapes and Sublime Memories: Revisiting Liang Xiaosheng’s “A Land of Wonder and Mystery”

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This essay suggests memory studies, ecocriticism, and trauma studies as new avenues for the study of rusticated youth narratives. Towards reaching this goal, I first introduce a meditation on memory by Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005), especially his sketch of memory and imagination with classical Greek philosophy. His ideas on affective and practical memories are then telescoped into individual and communal memories. Onze Fleurs (Wo shiyi, 2011), directed by Wang Xiaoshuai (1966– ), and The River without Buoys (Meiyou hangbiao de heliu, 1984), directed by Wu Tianming (1939–2014) provide illustrative examples of each. Building upon these notions of personal memory I turn to the popular memory of rustication, especially that of the natural environment in Liang Xiaosheng’s “A Land of Wonder and Mystery” (“Zhe shi yipian shenqi de tudi,” 1985). More specifically I examine the evocation of the ghost marsh, narratives of departure, the family left in the city, and the menace of nature in Liang’s short story to force not only a reconsideration of rustication, but also of nature in contemporary China. Moreover, in addition to noting the questioning of the sanitization of rusticated memories as a means of conforming to dominant state ideological discourses, I introduce a comparison of the story of doomed rusticated youth to the doomed youth in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, in order to force a comparison of youth and the environment often overlooked in rusticated youth studies. Finally, this essay concludes by suggesting that by more carefully considering the interplay between memory and place more nuanced and perhaps more ecologically and critically engaged assessments of rusticated youth fiction become possible.


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