China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Even before the introduction of Benjamin’s “left melancholy,” literary historians already applied the idea of melancholia (youyu) to their analyses of Taiwanese leftist literature. This paper historicizes the reason why melancholia has become a paradigm to conceptualize leftist literature in Taiwan, with special attention to the sense of temporality vis-à-vis its literary form. I first contextualize Taiwanese leftism within world socialist history by examining the ruptured nature of socialism on the island. This paper notes that, with the five-stage thesis, Marxism from the outset has been a temporal project, with communism as the ultimate telos. Along this line, during the short twentieth century, Western leftist history has been configured as what Enzo Traverso calls an “ascending curve,” rising from the fervor of revolutionary utopianism in 1917, undergoing a downward spiral, before falling to its ultimate melancholic disillusionment in 1989.
The leftist experience in Taiwan, however, diverged from this trajectory. As leftism was repeatedly suppressed first during the Japanese colonization and then the White Terror, its disrupted and fragmented nature engendered different forms of melancholia and literary representations. Drawing on literary works by Yang Kui, Chen Yingzhen, and Lan Bozhou, I argue that, despite these left-wing writers’ advocacy for socialism, revolutionary utopianism and left-wing melancholia in Taiwan were from the outset imbricated with one another, which resulted in a unique sense of belated temporality embedded in their literary works. In sum, an examination of Taiwanese leftist literature enables us to rethink the notion of temporality in left-wing melancholia at large.