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  • Sounding the Dream: Crosscultural Reverberations between Can Xue and Jorge Luis Borges
  • Astrid Møller-Olsen

Though her writing style is strikingly individual, critics often compare the work of Can Xue (née Deng Xiaohua, 1953–) to that of Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) (Bachner 170; Chen; McCandish 2), an author whose writing she has analyzed in detail in her monograph Interpreting Borges (解读博尔赫斯). This volume is itself a textual chimera, posing as a work of criticism yet possessing a similar literary style and freedom to Can Xue’s creative writing. Borges approaches literary criticism and philosophical exegesis in a similar fashion in his works of non-fiction, many of which follow narrative patterns recognizable from his short stories in what Ned J. Davidson calls “a successful amalgam of fiction and essay” and proclaims as “an acknowledged contribution of Borges to the history of genres” (1). Both authors, then, display a disinclination to separate practices of reading and writing. This article uses Gaston Bachelard’s aural metaphor of poetic reverberation to study how literary inspiration works in ways that are more complex than the causal relationship indicated by authorial inspiration or, in aural terms, by source and echo.

In his essay “A New Refutation of Time,” Borges refers specifically to the dream sequence in Zhuangzi’s butterfly parable, and this oneiric motif serves as the guiding image in the following analysis of the poetic reverberations between Zhuangzi, Borges, and Can Xue. Merely tracing the chronology of the dream as a literary motif from Zhuangzi to Borges to Can Xue would overlook the unique contributions of each writer, into whose texts several sources of conscious and unconscious inspirations blend and weave together. By contrast, the metaphor of reverberation demonstrates how literary imagery can resound in the instance of reading as a crosscultural and crosstemporal poetic experience. This article takes its cue from Wai Chee Dimock’s aural understanding of literary dynamics that focus on texts as emerging phenomena, which fail to preserve any fixed shape due to the changing context of reading, [End Page 463] as well as her designation of the reading experience, rather than the end of the writing process or the date of publication, as the birth of the text (1061).1 She asserts that “the literary […] is not an attribute resident in the text, but a relation, a form of engagement, between a changing object and a changing recipient, between a tonal presence and the way it is differently heard over time” (1064). It is this essential relation between practices of writing and reading as co-creating the text that I intend to explore by employing Bachelard’s holistic approach to reading as a process in which the text reverberates between writer and reader in a moment of intersubjectivity (Poetics of Space 9).2

In his introduction to The Poetics of Space, Bachelard uses two auditory terms to describe poetic affect. For him, the mindful appreciation of a poem is an instance of resonance, in which the poetic imagery resonates with the reader’s own memories and prior knowledge. In contrast to this conscious aesthetics, he posits the immediate affect of a strong poetic image as “reverberation,” in which the experience is not a subjective response to the text but a precognitive and spontaneous interaction between reader and text: “The poetic image is not subject to an inner thrust. It is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of an image, the distant past resounds with echoes” (2). Unlike the aural linearity of resonance, with the poetic image as a catalyst that activates memory, poetic reverberation describes a melting together of author and reader in an instant of textual unity:

In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberation, we speak it, it is our own. The reverberations bring about a change of being. It is as though the poet’s being were our being. The multiplicity of resonances then issues from the reverberations’ unity of being.


The poetic image is not an object conferred from author to reader, but a “specific reality” (4) that they both momentarily share. The initial reverberation, then, is a holistic textual experience, followed by a...


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