Tis About Lit and Reading It

Category Archives: Catharsis

We haven’t quite covered M Butterfly in class but I have to say that it was, like my wonderful Prof said, quite a “sexy” play.

Being a bit of an Asian American Lit ignoramus, I have never quite comprehended the appeal of M Butterfly. Neither have I liked Asian American Literature (or Asian Literature) in general. I suppose if I were to quote Frank Chin, he would say that “[t]hat is very white and nothing but very white of [me]” (“Rendezvous”, Frank Chin).

It is always obsessed with colonialism, racism and gender. Personally, I find it rather cliched. Of course, it goes to show the extent to which our colonial masters, the British, American, Spanish and Dutch, have brutally inflicted on us Asians for the rest of eternity.

I have never thought of myself as a subjugated person in society. I’m a girl and I’m Asian, so I suppose that makes me doubly subjugated if one were to adopt the militant feminist position.

But anyways, back to the play.

In a nutshell, M Butterfly is about a French diplomat (Rene Gallimard) who falls in love with a Chinese opera singer (Song Li-ling) who turns out to be a man. Unable to grasp onto the reality of the situation, he commits suicide.

It is quite a compelling play and extremely straight-forward. You don’t need to have studied Literature to appreciate the finer points of the play though I have always believed that anyone can appreciate Literature if they take time to do so (but that is for another time).

During an Asian American Lit tutorial, it occurred to me that Gallimard’s painting of his face in the mirror could perhaps his attempts to preserve the imperialist fantasy. The mirror has often been regarded as the site of a fantastical land that parallels reality, though is inverted to show a mere shadow. So he commits suicide together with his Butterfly.

(Un)fortunately, my classmate responded by saying that Gallimard is committing a masturbatory act with himself.

I was not quite so sure of what to make of that so I gave any response that any sensible person would have:

By blabbering “What no.”

I’m sure anyone in my position would be flabbergasted as well. Who wouldn’t?

The last scene of M Butterfly:


20th Century Literature has largely been marked by interesting figures- most of which have been the avant-garde type; those that do not inspire sequels, variations (well, hardly anyways). It is perhaps one of the reasons I have never quite looked so kindly on them. How is their deviation from the conventional novel an attempt to relate to their readers? Is their reality really reality?

As many of you know, the novel, like any story, has a certain structure. A plot, a climax and an ending.

For the Modernists, the Novel  seems to elude.

The evolution of the novel thoroughly fascinates me and today’s lecture on Modernism has put a dent in my prejudice against 20th Century novels, namely modern and post-modern novels. No doubt, their flexible structure often irks me (and they probably will continue to) but I believe I have found a soul-mate in a certain Virginia Woolf.

Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration of complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? – Virginia Woolf.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

The novel derives from its literary counterpart of the word “novel”, it refers to the experimentally new. I have never quite seen it in that light before, and have often stuck to my own notion of what a novel should be. My prejudices ran counter to the original idea of a novel.

However, I do understand that books are meant to appeal to everyone and anyone. It really depends on who reads it and how they read it and the meaning they receive from it.


The basic impression I get of most 20th Century Literature is that they are complex in simple words; an unceasing stream of consciousness (if one uses James Joyce as a yardstick) or culturally-conscious Hispanic/Negro/Asian girl who struggles to discover her identity.

Sounds like prejudice speaking? I kid you not:

Writers who identified as “modernists” reflected this new sense of isolation and displacement in their works. The entire Western world was also deeply affected by the devastation of World Wars I and II, and writers responded by evaluating humanity’s seemingly boundless inhumanity. Women and minority voices became more prominent in the 1930s and beyond, further expanding the canon. -eNotes.com (Source)

In other words, they have been carefully cast into these categories in my brilliant literary mind. Of course, stereotypes should never be issued to 20th Century writers, lest one invokes the sacrilegious wrath of catharsis-ism.

On a more serious note, I have never taken a liking to 20th Century Literature. No doubt, I appreciate the literary value of these books. Personally, I find them bordering on, oh what is the appropriate epithet, “whiny”. Of course, their disenchantment has a certain glamour that readers are attracted to.

Thus, starting with such prejudiced sentiments, you can imagine that I am unable to bring myself to truly read 20th Century texts for their literary value but for my preconceived notions of them. The excess of 20th Century novels with similar themes, however, also show the same underlying theme that human kind is dissatisfied with their existence. It reflects the human condition of a race discontent with life and its offerings.

What does ye think?