More than ten years on from the 2008 financial crisis, two trends of global statism remain dominant: Beijing-led “exceptional neoliberalism” and the emerging “illiberal democracy” topped by Trumponomics, with racist populism looming at the back of both. Even though these persistent programs are remnants of the ideological, national, and economic wars of the previous century, the boundary separating them is permeable. Jiang Rong 姜 戎’s prizewinning novel, Wolf Totem 《狼图腾》, helps us see this porosity. Wolf Totem is the first “Chinese Cultural Revolution” (fictional) memoir written explicitly for Chinese nationals and yet goes on to engage the sensibility of readers from a Western historical and ideological context. This essay critically identifies certain acts of reading Wolf Totem and looks at the way these selected readings, all allegorical in their approach, step across the literary subject to build symbolic extensions that stretch thin the wolves for various purposes. Collectively, such acts of reading expose both an important quality of our historical moment and the ideological function of literary intellectuals within it. They show that our era is one of skepticism about the status quo, one in which certain antidemocratic drives commiserate over historical conflicts and strategize for an extended, ongoing, and relentless process of global dominance. The popular reception of Wolf Totem crystallizes the thrust and conduct of these seeming competing drives. In the final analysis, this essay follows through the symptoms of these drives to reveal a kind of energetics or “primitivist social ethos” alive in the unified way humanity makes extinct any life forms unsubscribed to global statisms in their Beijing or “illiberal democratic” forms.
Against Allegory: For the Wolves in Wolf Totem
Ruth Y.Y. Hung teaches comparative literature at Hong Kong Baptist University and is an advisory editor for boundary 2. Her research interests lie in the area of historical humanism, ranging from creative works to criticism to new and emerging forms of human sciences. Her latest essays have appeared in International Journal of Cultural Policy, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, and Literature Compass.
Ruth Y.Y. Hung; Against Allegory: For the Wolves in Wolf Totem. boundary 2 1 November 2020; 47 (4): 25–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8677827
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