On Self-emancipation

There is something deeper inside of us that is calling, urging us to escape something else; yet, hardly could we find out where and what it is. Something, it’s always the notion of something that is most hard to be named precisely or defined properly, so is our notion of self-liberation, which is hardly an unattractive concept–different people interpret it differently–and has thus gained a lot of philosophical and literary attention seriously.

Virginia Woolf wrote in her book, A Room of One’s Own, that “lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” indicating a sense of insecurity that has been felt throughout times by people who write while at the same time worrying about their restraining circumstances. Fear for the spiritual and artistic creativity being deprived by a lack of material security and of personal privacy still resonates to a large audience today. Many difficulties facing us today are still basic ones–the lack of personal space and financial security.

Many people are still consumed by issues like poverty, abusive upbringing et al., making them hardly able to write about something other than a reflection of what they experienced, out of anger, insecurity, and helplessness.

It’s no good, perhaps nightmarish, to have no choice but to live in a dorm with two other strangers during the first semester of my postgraduate programme, with covid restrictions–unable to move out, having no means to avoid the sense of being envied against, but to endure this, in this dorm, a strange and foreign space. Being forced to live with those unmindful of what you are valuing is like preparing a meal that would certainly be left uneaten–in vain.

It was raining when I stepped out of the bus that carried me to the university. The first time I went to Wuhan in years after the pandemic. Everything, almost, I saw—Xiangzhang trees, tiled roads, and stone railings on the lakefronts in the campus—was getting wet.

I remembered that several months before when I was walking on the road to the dorm with one of the strangers and listening to NPR news podcast, the stranger suddenly said out loud that ‘you learn so hard that I feel pressured.’ For a while, unable to process what I’d heard exactly perhaps because it was too novel a realty to grasp immediately, I replied: “none of your business.” But certainly, this boundary-shaping answer opened the door of an ineffable animosity between me and the person.

Concerning literature, rarely do authors write their unpleasant experiences without proper reasons or contemplation because to write about something means to examine the matter deeper and to tell the truth instead of purely presenting different social phenomena one observed in his/her daily life. To write seems to me like transcending our current understanding about something—something unnameable, never told before—and making the unseen seen and the unheard hearable in an imagined space where things are observed in a thorough fashion. But writers’ commitment to truth-seeking doesn’t mean that absurdities and hostilities observed in human world are not worth serious attention. Instead, to understand certain social phenomena in which serious literary imagination took place has required even more time for writers to process what we thought we know, how can we describe the subject properly and what we tell to readers in general. Perhaps because our society didn’t pay much attention to social-gendering and sexually derived judgements about social norms, many people around me still talk in a way that assumes my personal image is somehow defined by my biological gender, which as the fundamental notion of our social functioning is socially constructed.

It’s no exaggeration to say that heterosexuality has unfeelingly shaped the ways that our society structures and social norms are formed as well. Many languages in the world are gendered ones, making the potential resistance to this linguistic gendering even harder for us to put up with–it’s already occupied our mental world. because of the heterosexual dominance in our social structure-shaping, it’s worth noting that in literary discourse, what has shaped our mind can shape our culture; and there have been many literary works deemed classic helping construct the ethos of an ethnicity and these works are still mostly the ones that reinforce an imagination that many minority groups could hard relate to. No wonder Cao Xueqin, a male writer, would write in his novel Hongloumeng or the Story of the Stones(1791) that the male body is made of mud but the female body of water; this plain heterosexual idealization certainly reflects the writer’s thought about relationship between gender binary and heterosexual dominance. In many ways, our literature world is still dominated by certain forces of gender-derived stereotypes about social minorities whose voices were often left unheard and silenced. Somehow, the current shape of power structure in literary discourse reflects directly that in our society. We are taught to be the member of a society instead of our family now because the way we make us alive has drastically changed. We learn certain ‘useful’ skills through compulsory public education that usually reinforces a preset ideology of gender norms, which often took many years for a person to undo, to fill the social role that is deemed valuable in order to survive. While regarding literature, we hear the voices of the powerful that usually shape ours in order to write, to get fit literally by following these social and cultural standards, to write ‘appropriately’. But independent-mindedness is not getting our society’s approval nor is the purpose of writing. Imagine how hard it would be to describe a same sex relationship in a literary work comparing to a ‘normal’ one and how risky it may seem to write a piece, a serious one, about sexual minority without being judged in a way that rarely has a heterosexual romance writer has been.

The very sense of inequality both in our social survival and in our aesthetic creation could still be felt powerfully in our everyday experiences. One, who as a member of a marginalized group continues to dedicate his/her marginalized experience to the very artistic creation, would certainly encounter the very sense of being constantly judged in a way that rarely had heterosexual or mainstreamed persons understood or wanted to. Their indifference to our untold, unspeakable, and socially silenced sufferings is the most obvious indication of their collective ostracisation–we do not belong.

Being socially excluded in a closed space where escape is hardly an option means to endure a nonverbal cruelty inflicted by a majority group aimed to enforce their values, through the indication of group hatred against perceived outsiders.

Not hearing, not seeing, or not minding anything related to the marginalized group is perhaps the easiest thing to do. What’s not easy for those majorities to do is to not define, label, and name ‘them’ and ‘us’. I am not what ‘he’ sees and thinks. I am, like any mortal beings in this world, undefinable. Why should they think they have the authority to define our identity and have the power to tell us how we should feel about what we feel? Abnormal or normal, mainstream or marginalized, where is the line?