Published October 6, 2016
Susan Sontag once said if China has one possibility of a Nobel laureate, it is Can Xue, the avant-garde fiction writer and literary critic regarded by many scholars as one of the most experimental writers in the world.
On Oct. 10, the Department of English’s Exhibit X presents a rare opportunity to meet Can Xue in a two-part program that features an open conversation with students and other guests at 4:15 p.m. in 306 Clemens Hall, followed by a reading at 5:30 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Screening Room.
The entire program is free and open to the public.
“I’ve been reading her since the early ‘90s when her first translations came to literary journals in the U.S.,” says Dimitrios Anastasopoulos, associate professor of English. “Her writing has a restrained, but strategic sense of the cloaked. While at the same time, there’s a sense of wonder. Nothing is opaque. You know what she’s talking about.”
Exhibit X is an annual series that, since 2003, has introduced the university and Western New communities to some of the greatest experimental writers working today.
Anastasopoulos says Exhibit X is different from other, more prominent writers’ series in that it matches up with programs in the English department.
“The series is not only dedicated to innovative and experimental writing, but it’s also a component for the education of UB students,” he says. “That means we read the author’s work; we discuss that work leading up to the author’s visit; then they meet in these informal settings, which we call the salon.”
The salon is sometimes held in Anastasopoulos’ home with roughly 40 students and his English department colleagues, associate professors Christiana Milletti and Nnedi Okorafor.
Can Xue (pronounced san-shway) is a pseudonym that in Chinese means both dirty snow that refuses to melt and the purest snow at the top of a high mountain.
That her pen name has dual meaning is a reflection of her dualist nature. In an interview published earlier this year, she discussed what she sees as the inseparable dualism of matter and spirit.
“The West has raised the spiritual dimension to its peak, yet they have yet to start paying attention to the dimension of matter,” she said. “So we are now at the juncture of history where our ancient culture is given an opportunity to shine.
“This is what I believe: We can develop the material dimension and counterbalance the spiritual dimension.”
Can Xue is the ultimate late-bloomer. Entirely self-taught in English and Chinese, she didn’t start writing until she was 30 years old; her schooling ended at the elementary level. Both of her parents were interned in labor camps.
The experimental nature of her work blooms from the origins of a bleak childhood that she colored through daydreaming and fantasy, according to Anastasopoulos.
The product is what she calls “soul literature” or “life literature.”
One of her recent books examines the self-destructive work habits of a newspaper editor told from his cat’s perspective.
“The cat sees his master working himself to death, but in the story, like magic, the shift to the cat’s point shows the master of burdens,” says Anastasopoulos
Can Xue is the author of numerous short-story collection and four novels. Six of her works have been published in English, including “Dialogues in Paradise,” “Old Floating Cloud: Two Novellas,” “The Embroidered Shoes,” “Blue Light in the Sky and Other Stories,” “Five Spice Street,” and most recently, “Frontier.” A forthcoming novel and commentary on Franz Kafka will be published by Yale University Press.