Tis About Lit and Reading It

Category Archives: Plays

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: