This presentation by Dirk Kuhlmann held at the conference “Literary Fantasy and Its Discontents,” National Taipei University of Technology, Taipei, 23–24 November 2018, focuses on indigenous Taiwanese mythscapes as introduced in selected Sinophone short stories, novels, and poetry by the authors Husuman Vava (1958–2007), Neqou Soqluman, Salizan, Ba Dai, and Syaman Rapongan.
Echoes from an Age of Legends: Inscribing a Pluralism of Identities by Exploring Taiwan’s Indigenous Mythscape
Conference “Literary Fantasy and Its Discontents,” National Taipei University of Technology, Taipei, 23–24 November 2018
Far from being a mere venturing into the realm of the “unreal” or “irrational,” fantastic literature taps into deep-rooted cultural concepts, such as mythology, legends, religious beliefs and other archetypal patterns, recovering these as one mode of explaining and making sense of the world. Thus, fantastic stories offer a wide scope and imagery for the artistic presentation of mentalities, emotions, and other inner mind processes. It is also the genre par excellence for challenging commonly held notions within the dominant culture, by breaking the way for exploring the margins of cultural, social, and other identities, expressing the perspective of the non-conforming or unacknowledged “Other,” as well as touching upon tabooed topics. By adapting this approach to the Taiwanese context, this paper (a report from a research project in progress) takes a look at literary works that highlight the multimythical nature of Taiwan and interprets these as a method to inscribe a distinct pluralistic cultural identity into an ongoing process of rethinking “Taiwaneseness.” The main focus of the paper is on the indigenous Taiwanese mythscapes as introduced in selected Sinophone short stories, novels, and poetry by the authors Husuman Vava (1958–2007), Neqou Soqluman, Salizan (all three belonging to the Bunun people), Ba Dai (Puyuma) and Syaman Rapongan (Tao) that turn to the mythology and legends of their respective people as source of inspiration. Considering these works within genre labels such as “fantasy” or “magical realism” is not to qualify the cultural and religious significance of the original myth but rather to highlight that they are a distinctly modern phenomenon as myths that underwent a creative process of appropriation by the author. The paper offers a reflection upon the transformation of these myths from heritage/collective cultural identity to literary motif/individual self-expression and the authors’ role in this process from the angle of an “evolving tradition.”