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

YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY NOT MAN APART: THE DIALOGUE BETWEEN NATURE AND ART IN FRANÇOIS CHENG’S LE DIT DE TIANYI ANNETTE SAMPON-NICOLAS FRANÇOIS Cheng, the first Chinese-French member of l’Académie française, is a poet, novelist, essayist, translator, art specialist, and an accomplished calligrapher. Le Dit de Tianyi, his first novel, winner of the literary prize Femina, was published in 1998. Frequently characterized as a “Bildungsroman,” the story of an individual’s growth, it has also been analyzed as a “Kunstlerroman,” the development of an artist. Le Dit de Tianyi is a complex, multifaceted work which also highlights themes such as revolution and its repercussions on the people, the artists, and the physical landscape of China. This study will focus on one prominent aspect of the novel: the intimate connection between human beings, the natural environment, and the arts. For the protagonist Tianyi, everything in nature is connected to art, and both are as necessary to him as food and water. The interwoven themes of physical and symbolic hunger and thirst are inextricably linked to nature and art which both have the ability to nourish and heal. Tianyi’s inquisitive spirit takes him on a physical, spiritual, and artistic quest to understand his place on Earth and his role as an artist. It is simultaneously a journey to the depths of a human soul and a geographic, spiritual, and artistic expedition that articulates the meeting of East and West. Historically, Western cultures have been predominantly anthropocentric, whereas in the East, cultures have typically cultivated a harmonious and communal relationship with the natural world and the universe. Le Dit de Tianyi considers these two visions of the natural world, as it showcases the Eastern perspective. YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 181 In his essay Le Dialogue, Cheng writes that for him, “Le diamant du lexique français, pour moi, c’est le substantif ‘sens’” (5). He explains that “ce mot polysémique cristallise en quelque sorte les trois niveaux essentiels de notre existence au sein de l’univers vivant : sensation, direction, signification” (5). We experience the natural world through all our senses: hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Furthermore, direction is vital as we constantly amble forward and press onward on Earth. And finally, perceptions and direction fuse to create meaning. I propose that the three essential levels of meaning contained in this “jewel” of the French language are intertwined and are the foundation of Tianyi’s being-in-the-world and experience of nature and art. The novel takes place in China, France, the Netherlands, and Italy. It can be read symbolically with its characters being both individuals and emblematic figures. On another level, the novel recounts the enormous hardships endured during the Sino-Japanese war, the civil war, and the Cultural Revolution. Tianyi’s memoirs attest to the fact that, in spite of struggles to kill the spirit of artists, writers, and intellectuals, the will to love, the spirit of art, and the harmony between human beings and the natural world, while quelled, were never eradicated. Tianyi’s life journey leads him down many tortuous paths, across great distances, confronting frequent physical and emotional challenges. As he traverses China, he expresses awe at the impressive dimensions of the country, the diversity of the scenery, and the beauty of quiet intimate corners. Although Tianyi describes exquisite mist wrapped mountains and luxuriant vegetation, he contrasts them with horrific scenes of inhuman cruelty, showing both the good and evil inherent in the world. The multiple spatial areas play an essential role in the narrative and are crucial to identity construction, since they contribute to Tianyi’s sense of self, as he alternately experiences security and uprootedness. Direction, errantry, exile, and the changes that accompany displacement in time and space, are recurrent themes throughout the novel. Edouard Glissant’s theory of nomadism, identity, and relation offers insight into Tianyi’s identity as a wanderer, “De l’exil à l’errance, la mesure commune est la racine, qui en l’occurrence fait défaut” (23). If roots are missing in nomadism and exile, Glissant’s concept of the rhizome proposes that identity is unstable, developing as one comes into contact with others. Tianyi questions his...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 181-189
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.