Milan Kundera’s Prague and Gu Hua’s Hibiscus Town: Narratology of Geographical Belonging in the Post-Communist Context

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The literary representation of nostalgia or fetishism of place usually reflects the ambivalence of post-communist writers. As usually related to traumatic past, the postcommunist context renders a diversity of wound (spiritual, physical, cultural, etc.), which is Cathy Caruth’s focus in her study of trauma. In Caruth’s interpretation of Freud’s idea, post-traumatic repetition is an uncanny psychological re-experience of
witness or suffering that extends trauma temporally. As an attempt to deepen her understanding, with emphasis on geopolitics (a horizontal perspective of time), this paper will try to argue that the narrated place, where characters are situated and usually an author belongs to, is a symbolic space to integrate the transfigurations of repetitive emotion, memory and imagination of author. The necessity of co-interpreting
both authorship and textual representation in post-traumatic literary studies reveals that textual place, as a vehicle of disappeared real place, can only be validated through a certain degree of repetition of the reality experienced by author.

I will juxtapose Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) and Gu Hua’s Hibiscus Town (1981) to interrogate how the perceived despotism of Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s China engraves the spatial history of Prague and Chenzhou (where Gu Hua was compulsorily assigned by the central government to work as a farmer) on their novels respectively, and how the bodily bonding with place (or geographical belonging) enables Kundera and Gu to textually reconstruct the Prague Spring (1968) and the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976). Their physical presence in the events grants them both historical and biographical referent which favours our further discussion about how author’s belonging to space constitutes the crucial relationship between authorship and interpretation. Relevant argument will provide a counter-response to deconstructionist critics, like Jonathan Culler, Paul de Man, and W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, who suggest enclosing the text for analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015
EventEuropean Network for Comparative Literary Studies 6th Biennial Congress - Dublin City University & National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Duration: 24 Aug 201528 Aug 2015 (Link to conference website) (Link to conference abstracts) (Link to conference programme)


ConferenceEuropean Network for Comparative Literary Studies 6th Biennial Congress
Abbreviated titleREELC/ENCLS 6th Biennial Congress
Internet address


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