In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Ghosts in the City:Mourning and Melancholia in Zhu Tianxin's The Old Capital
  • Jen-yi Hsu

Paris changes... But in sadness like mine
nothing stirs—new buildings, old
neighborhoods turn to allegory,
and memories weigh more than stone.

—Charles Baudelaire, "Le Cygne"

Haunting belongs to the structure of every hegemony.

—Derrida, Specters of Marx

Today, it seems to be out of fashion to talk about history and memory when the dominant discourse has already acknowledged the prevalence of the postmodern and the triumph of global capitalism. In response to the devolution of the Soviet Union and the defeat of communism, Francis Fukuyama proposes that the liberal democracy operating a capitalist system is the end point of human history and mankind.1 Accordingly, we have all happily reached the Promised Land where pluralistic democracies and market capitalism reign supreme, where the past human yearnings for freedom and emancipation have all been fulfilled and thereby questions of politics and revolutions now turn out to be redundant, where the pure presence of the global market system liberates human beings from previous errors and mistakes, including the burden of history, memory, and responsibility. Is this all true?

Different from the positive tone he displays in former writing (notably The Postmodern Condition) concerning the postmodern's possibility of debunking the totalizing grand narrative, in The Inhuman Jean-François Lyotard exposes a bleaker side of the postmodern age. The "monad" represented in the contemporary global scene is regulated by a single Idea, namely the ideology of development. For Lyotard, the sweep of global capitalism [End Page 546] with its eloquence of development, of innovation, of ever-new commodities in fact paralyzes the human subject and disables political agency.2 By linking the contemporary ideology of "development" shared by economics, cybernetics, general physics, and so forth with the "metaphysical discourse," Lyotard reveals the underlying totalizing force of the self-claimed democracy (or efficiency) valorized in the discourse of capitalist development. He then distinguishes this kind of "inhuman" from the second "inhumanity" which is the "remainder" of the "obscure savageness of childhood" and is invulnerable to the regulatory, disciplinary forces of socialization (4). The second kind of "inhumanity" becomes the source of resistance against the dehumanizing machinations of capitalist "complexification" or so-called "negative entropy" (5).

What is interesting in Lyotard's indictment of the contemporary global scene and his proposal for resistance is his delving into childhood and memory (and later into avant-garde arts) to look for the "remains" which can be mustered to fight against the reified mode of "inhumanity" induced by global capitalism. He seems to suggest that the dominant ideology of eternal presence which claims to transcend all pasts and historicity demands a new resurgence of the spirit of childhood, or some phantoms of our pasts (in other words, a demand for remembering or "anamnesis" instead of forgetting and transcending): "this debt to childhood is one we never pay off. [. . .] It is the task of writing, thinking, literature, arts, to venture to bear witness to it" (7).

In this paper, I shall take a hint from Lyotard's discussion of the unsocializable inhumanity as spectral presences, in order to look for a way out of this monad-dominated global age. Taking Zhu Tianxin's novel The Old Capital as my case of analysis, I will examine how she, as a Taiwanese novelist in the postmodern condition, contests the dominant discourse of globalization as emancipation by digging out some hidden spaces rejected by the official rhetoric of globalization.3 Ghosts and phantoms are conjured up as sources of the counter discourse in the midst of the future-obsessed modern city. If globalization has become an ontology as averred by Fukuyama, Derrida's "hauntology" can be used to expose the euphoria of the end of history and the contradictions embedded in the capitalist system.4 Zhu's text is a quintessential embodiment of this "hauntology." It is a haunted text which refuses to let go of the revenants of the past. Defying the postmodern rhetoric of transcendence, she writes a text of mourning and melancholia that insists on the persistence of memories and the unfulfilled promise of human history. Taipei, in her palimpsestic...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 546-564
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.