Still Mountain

Andrea Brown

"Fiction…is the same as life and does not have an ultimate goal." In Soul Mountain, author Gao Xingjian defies all conventional rules of fiction and narrative, presenting the reader with a story of an individual's soul searching quest outside of contemporary society in the mountains of natural China. Fragmented and ambiguous in plot and narration, Xingjian's book does not strive to teach, persuade, or criticize. It merely represents one person trying to come to terms with himself to comprehend the meaning of the world as it relates to him. The philosophy of Daoism stresses unity with nature and with the self, and the spiritual as well as physical journey of Soul Mountain's narrator(s) is the attempt to achieve such a unity. A famous quote by Daoism's founder Lao Tzu is as follows, "Be still as a mountain and flow like a great river." The voyage in this book travels on and along many great rivers and through many still mountains, with "Soul Mountain" (which does not actually exist) as the general destination. A mountain takes no action, and a river flows through the path of least resistance; these two symbols of nature reflect how one who practices Daoism feels s/he should react, or not react, to the world around him or her.

The narrator of Soul Mountain is on a great search of what he assumes is meaning in his life, yet throughout the book he battles with his reasons for leaving modern civilization and traveling on his own to the mountains. "What does this sort of experience mean to me? Maybe it's to find another sort of life…Not knowing what one is looking for is pure agony," he muses. In his attempts to become a recluse, he still finds a great desire to interact with people. This leads him to create other characters, only identified as vague pronouns such as "you" and "she," in order to "alleviate loneliness." Gao Xingjian is illustrating a representation of the human psyche, as it debates and contradicts itself. As the narrator relates himself to a mere grain of sand inside a chaotic universe, he is thinking what every human being thinks to themselves at one point in time. Human thoughts are fragmented and scattered, just as the thoughts of the narrator are, as well as the structure of the book. Our thoughts and ideas may not progress significantly over time; such is the characteristic of the plot of Soul Mountain. Logic and rationalization is what we use to try to organize the world, and yet Daoist philosophy reiterates that the only thing that does not change is change itself; we cannot put order to everything, because that it not the way of the world.

"Philosophy in the end is an intellectual game. At limits unattainable by mathematics and the empirical science, it constructs all sorts of intricate structure. As a structure is completed, the game ends." Here, Gao Xingjian is likening philosophy and logic to a game that assumes there is a distinct beginning and end. Life is not like that, however; it has no ultimate goal. Life is cyclical, as Daoism teaches, but a human's relative size and conscious lifespan in the vast, unending universe makes it appear linear. "Life has no logic, so why does there have to be logic to explain what it means?" the narrator of Soul Mountain asks. Because of this, the narrator never actually reaches any conclusions about the meaning of life. "The fact of the matter is I comprehend nothing…This is how it is" are the ending words of the novel. Though he has not exactly come to terms with himself in the sense of which we believe he will or want him to, he accepts, like a true Daoist, what his life and what he is.

Organized Chaos

Jesse Hoselton

Gao Xingjian invites his readers to walk around in his mind throughout the pages of his novel Soul Mountain. He does not ask that everyone interpret this novel a certain way. He does, in fact, often ask his readers to not even attempt to try and figure out what he is trying to say. It is in many ways his examination of the many souls that comprise both him and every self. He is trying to break away from the normal conventions of writing and to deconstruct any rational thought concerning modern life.

I used to have a little notebook that I would carry everywhere with me. In it I wrote any particular thought, story, observation or idea I was experiencing at any given moment. This book seems to me to have a similar format. There is no particular order to any series of events, neither are the events necessarily connected in any way. Despite this seemingly chaotic nature, there are still connections between characters or events that as a collective whole provide the reader with, if nothing else, the overall sense of being that embodies Gao Xingjian.

At any given moment, whether a character is being addressed as he, she, it, you or me, each or all of the pronouns could be referring to that particular pronoun or to Gao Xingjian or to both. I found it interesting to think he was referring to both himself and the actual embodiment of that pronoun during each story. Since he often writes with an air of Jungian thought concerning the collective unconscious, it is possible to consider each character as undefined by sex or background and go back to that chaotic unexplained self everyone was born with.

The thin line between life and death is also weighed heavily on throughout the book. Gao Xingjian was sure he would be diagnosed with a very short life based on his family's health history but was told he would live. This may be why his soul is comprised with that teeter-totter of emotion concerning how afraid he is to die. Death seems to be calling him many times during the book, and he often depicts or displays through short myths the feelings of fear and suspicion, exploitation of the soul through rape, and loneliness.

In whatever can be salvaged from the book as a plot, he is traveling in the mountains collecting folk songs. He collects them because he is searching for lives and life is shown more clearly in these old songs than in the more modern one-minded songs of his era. He is often placing emphasis on the past and learning from the ancestors, often to the point of expressing disappointment in his own self that ancestors are falling out of notice.

He is searching for souls along side his own to try and discover the overall self that we all embody. He often compares gender in ways that one starts to feel both sexes are truly only one sex. In one particular chapter, he discusses climbing mountains describing this goal saying that he knows he will find nothing by climbing and that once he reaches the peak he will be unsatisfied and lonelier.
It is a journey through one's self without any particular purpose or message to those who choose to read and follow that journey. Gao Xingjian may be seeking himself or others, both or neither. Yet that is the point, in looking for ourselves we will simply find ourselves walking in circles. "There has never been a definite goal in your life," he proclaims in one chapter, and thus there is no particular goal to this book. He remarks on many things that intrigue him, and offers other ideas out of his own personal feeling of life. It may represent a lack of goals, or the search for a collective soul, or mean nothing at all.

Soul Connection

Kate Finefrock

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian was a unique literary experience that transcended everything conventional about a ‘story’. Chapter after chapter is filled with observations and perspectives on life but none of them were relevant to the other and even within individual chapters a basic plot is non-existent. Despite these unorthodox ways the stories are thought-provoking and strike a nerve that feels universal. Feelings such as belonging, meaning, and basic human instincts are evoked. These feelings are indications that the soul is at work.
Each chapter describes some kind of personal or life observation, which comments on how we, as humans, interact with the world around us. For example, in chapter 26, Gao observes the self by simply looking at water stains in a bathroom. Just like the water stain, “If you concentrate on looking at yourself, you will find that your self will gradually separate from the self you are familiar with and multiply into many startling forms.” This kind of self awareness or simply allowing oneself to really listen to the self can only come when you have time away from society.
Gao also observes other people and finds that when he is scrutinizing them he is also scrutinizing himself. I find this to be true, even for myself. The characteristics and qualities that we are most critical of in other people are often the ones we are most critical of in ourselves. At this point in reading the story I found a way to get past the confusion, I realized I was able to relate to his experience simply because I have experiences of my own just by living. The emotions became the common ground. Gao writes about the interactions of the soul but that is also what he speaks to.
In chapter 28 he is on a bus ride which runs into several delays. This becomes a very frustrating experience and Gao has this realization: “I suddenly realized that there isn’t in fact any rationality in the human world. If I hadn’t got on this bus, wouldn’t I have avoided all this stress?” The world is an irrational place and this book represents a new way to literary production: if world doesn’t make sense, then literature doesn’t have to either. In the end the author realizes he cannot control this problem and no longer tires to, he then allows himself to be taken away by the moment. The drumbeats take him away and as he looks over the rooftops and “a peacefulness rises into (his) heart.”
The world may be irrational but there is an interconnectedness to it all. And that common ground is what makes this book so universal. The book reflects the irrationality in the world but that is something to which everyone is connected, at least on the subconscious level. If you allow yourself to move beyond the confusion of something you are not used to, what you might just find is a soul connection.

A Chaotic Search for Completeness

Natasha Moyes

Gao Xingjian's "Soul Mountain," winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was written from 1982 to 1989 in Beijing and Paris. Through this rather dismal story that has no real plot, Gao Xingjian seeks not to criticize humanity, but to explore the dimensions of human relationships and their effects on the individual. His confusing and complicated literary work mocks logic and rationalization and shows that life is ultimately cyclical. "Soul Mountain is a literary response to the devastation of the self of the individual by the primitive human urge for the warmth and security of an other, or others, in other words by socialized life. The existence of an other resolves the problem of loneliness but brings with it anxieties for the individual, for inherent in any relationship is, inevitably, some form of power struggle."

One of the main concepts within Gao Xingjian's "Soul Mountain" deals with the relationship between females and males. Many of the women in this novel are raped and therefore, "possessed" by men. All of Gao Xingjian's relationships with women are very complicated and seem to be unable to work. The dialogues that he has with himself about women or arguing with women are distinct from the rest of the story. In chapter 31, Gao Xingjian is debating the difference between a man's world and a woman's world. He writes, "She says your stories are becoming wicked and crude. You say this is what a man's world is. Then what is a woman's world like? Only women can know what a woman's world is like. So there can't be any communication? It's because there are two different perspectives. But love can communicate between the two…" Through this dialogue, Gao Xingjian seeks to show that although a man's world and a woman's world may be very different, communication is possible through the coming together of two people that love one another. However, later on, in chapter 34, Gao Xingjian goes on to write, "… she's sick of it, all men are the same and just want sex. What about women, you ask. They are just as immoral, she says, she says she's seen enough of everything, life is sickening, she doesn't want so much suffering, she just wants a moment's happiness…" With this statement, Gao Xingjian demonstrates his never-ending search for contentment. In addition, by claiming that women and men are not much different and both as immoral as each other, Gao Xingjian seems to negate his previous claim in chapter 31 that a man's world and a woman's world are very different and can only be brought together by love. Therefore, just like most of "Soul Mountain" does, this statement leaves the reader in a state of utter confusion.

Another main concept that Gao Xingjian's "Soul Mountain" deals with is the idea of Daoism. In chapter 63, an old head Daoist imparts his wisdom to Gao Xingjian claiming, "The Way is both the source and law of the myriad things, when there is mutual respect of both subject and object there is oneness. This source gives birth to existence from non-existence, and to non-existence from existence. The union of the two is innate and with the union of heaven and man there is the attainment of unity in one's view of the cosmos and of human life. For Daoists, purity is the principle… To put it simply, this is the general meaning of Daoism." Although these principles sound appealing to Gao Xingjian, he claims, "I doubt that I would be able to attain this realm of purity where there is an absence of self and lust." This statement is a perfect reflection of the constant battle within Gao Xingjian the narrator as to which way he should take to achieve happiness- either purity and the absence of self and lust or, self-indulgence. He states, "I need to live my life unburdened. I want to find happiness but I don't want to take on responsibilities." From this statement, the reader is able to infer that Gao Xingjian will be unable to commit fully to Daoism and therefore, continue his search for true happiness.

Gao Xingjian's "Soul Mountain" is a novel concerned with creativity and is made up of fragmented parts that somehow join together to create a whole story. Unlike such realist writers as Lu Xun, Gao Xingjian does not want to be the voice of an entire nation; he simply wants to share the memories and happenings of his complex life with his reader. "Soul Mountain" is a constant search for Gao Xingjian to know himself better and to find a key that will unlock the door to his understanding of all the segments that make up his life.

An All Encompassing Journey

Joe Basalla

Gao Xingjian's novel Soul Mountain is a rather difficult one to analyze because it differs greatly from the other novels which we've read in class. This disjointed work of literature is considered modern or avant-garde in China by today's standards because of its de-emphasis on the "normal" conventions of literary aesthetics, those conventions being plot, theme, and characters. It is instead a novel based around a certain kind of storytelling that brings the reader beyond a surface level story line and, oftentimes, leaves the reader confused about what exactly he/she is reading. Though it is filled with fragmented thoughts and stories that end in an instance right when the reader believes the story is starting to get towards a point, I feel this story does have meaning that goes beyond just challenging the conventional standards of writing.

It is my opinion that this book is not as abstract as some people make it out to be. I believe that this story does have a plot—if you want to call it that, I'd call it more of a theme—about author's metaphoric journey in life to find himself. He is completely opposed to anyone trying to find meaning in life, but he cannot help himself to follow such a path.

The author tells stories of his childhood and proclaims them meaningless and talks about how searching for one's life is meaningless, yet he cannot help but reminisce about the past and search for meaning in life. The narrator seems to be a nihilist at heart, but in the moments in which he is in the grasp of death he seems to falter in his beliefs. He tries to convince himself of the meaninglessness of life and the Taoist principle of emptiness and the good that comes from it by repeatedly speaking of life as nothing more than chaos and himself nothing more than a grain of sand. An example of such sentiment, though it runs throughout the book, is on page 350, in which he says, "Don't go searching for spirits and ghosts, don't go searching for cause and retribution, don't go searching for meaning, all is embodied in the chaos."

Then my question to the author is—why is he searching? If he will find nothing and nothing good of this search will come, then why be so persistent? I believe the main character in this book to be severely confused and disillusioned, if not hypocritical. It is my interpretation of the chapter dealing with his search for the Wild Men to be a metaphor for his search to find the instinctual, primitive man inside of himself. Would not this search, however, be meaningless according to himself? I believe he says things like this and does the opposite, not because he does not believe in what he is saying, instead because he is faced with his own mortality. In the end of life people want nothing more than to believe in something and anything. They want to have a peace of mind and believe in their existence as more than just a grain of sand.

The main character's struggle to stay true to himself is a failure in the end because of what happens in the last chapter. In the last chapter the main character believes he found God and I find this to be more than confusing. Doesn't belief in God give life meaning? Is that not the point of God? I believe it is and the fact that the author thinks that if there is a God and that he/she/it would be sitting right there next to him gives credence to the fact that man is somehow purposeful and righteous. I think that stands contrary to what the main character had been saying throughout the whole book except for one very important sentence: "People who don't seek money but seek love don't have love and people who pursue money don't have money but have many who love them." Therefore, it is my belief that in his search to be empty, he found meaning.

Unity of Thought?

Emily Swoveland

Gao Xingjian's creation, Soul Mountain, is a hodgepodge of memories, both those worthy of remembrance and those deserving to be forgotten. To be called a novel in only the strictest sense, Soul Mountain tries to express the modern collective unconscious. Feeling that humans are no longer just humans but detailed categories, Gao Xingjian tries to return to the simplicity that had previously categorized human existence.

In trying to lend expression to the collective unconscious, Gao Xingjian finds himself in a conflict between balancing modern society and ancient simplicity. "I need to live my life unburdened," the book states. Just a few thoughts past this statement the book then says, "I am not a recluse and still want to eat from the stoves of human society." Within hardly any time at all the author finds himself losing his sense of balance between the two divides of human understanding, that which sees humans as having one humanity and that which sees humanity in terms of small divisions, categories, with which to differentiate people and create a complicated modern society.

Part of the author's struggle to articulate a modern Chinese experience stems from his interest in Daoism. "For Daoists, purity is the principle, non-action the essence and spontaneity the application; it is a life of truth and a life requiring absence of self. To put it simply, this is the general meaning of Daoism." This means that the author wants a removal from materialism and excessive goal-setting, two key parts of modern society. However, the book then reads, "I doubt that I would be able to attain this realm of purity where there is an absence of self and lust." This once again shows the difficulties in balancing between current reality in society and what the author perceives as ideal.

In mentioning lust, the book alludes to a very real part of modern societies, casual sex. The book is filled with sexual escapades, rapes, and engagements inappropriate according to traditional ethics. "…there is only lust," the book says. Balancing between accepted modern sexual relations and traditional necessities in love proves to be another difficulty in striking a balance between a rational approach to history and the contents of the collective unconscious.

With such seeming chaos filling the world, the author feels the need to remove himself and a need for society to be removed from the physical world. "His sufferings all came from this physical body," the book explains. "He suddenly felt he had discarded all responsibilities, had attained liberation, he was at least free, this freedom in fact came from himself, he could begin everything all over again, like a naked baby…" By shedding responsibilities and removing himself from the physical world, the author believes that he can reach liberation and freedom, such as believed in Daoist philosophies.

Having "long tired of the struggles of the human world," the author nonetheless still finds it difficult to lend expressions to the contents of the collective unconscious such as dreams, fantasies, and unreliable memories. Humanity had become too fragmented and self-alienated to recognize any authentic values. From an obsession with modernity and the physical world, humans had slipped into a fragmented world, unable to be unified and maintain their wholeness. Despite tiring with the human world, the author finds that "it is also impossible for [him] to be a recluse." The present-day society will not be able to appreciate its own past buried in its collective unconscious because it is not willing and therefore not able to give up the physical world; lust, money, personal goals. To create any authentic values, every individual would have to be willing to "roam beyond the fringes of what is known as society." However, people are comfortable with what they know and with what they have. Because of the acceptance of such a fragmented society and a deep anxiety about change, the author finds himself writing a piece of literature unworthy of novel status. Because of a lack of conclusion, or even a plot, Soul Mountain's chaotic pages reflect that chaos that the author found in his attempt to create a unified, collective, modern consciousness.

Searching For The Meaning Of Nothing

Nick Robison

"Soul Mountain" has no plot, characterization, climax or resolution. No protagonists, no antagonists, it appears that this book is about nothing. This book is about nothing but at the same time is about one of the most important aspects of a person: the soul. So I am comfortable to say that this book is about everything and nothing at the same time. This book is about everything because the soul is everything to a person and nothing because there are no plot or key concepts for the reader to understand. I am comfortable in saying that this book is an artistic exercise to de-familiarize reality for the reader. Soul Mountain is essentially allows the reader to examine different characters (all being part of the soul) as a part of him or her spiritual existence, and identify (or dis-identify) with characteristics or passages in the book as a part of their soul.

Thus, the book leaves us with questions. Do men and women have female and male characteristics in them? Do we all have a kind of feminine qualities along with masculine qualities? This book introduces many different parts of the soul including the girl who is raped by the narrator. But what does this symbolize? It always seems to be that any part of one's soul has to fight the others to claim supremacy which leads to the user acting out on that soul's behalf. Sometimes we are more feminine and sometimes we are more masculine. This is nothing more than the two parts of our soul that constantly are at odds with each other. When the narrator rapes the girl, this is a symbol for the masculine entity taking complete control of its user's emotions. The seemingly constant conflict between these two entities shows no peace within man. These two primal entities are always at odds with each other and will never be able to work in harmony. Without the complexes of the soul, this book is about nothing and with these constant confrontations between the masculine and feminine, this book is about the soul, a mix of emotions and feelings joined together in a homogenous fashion to represent one entity. This is the basis of life that the author insists is meaningless, which results in nothingness.

But why does this author intend to write this book about nothing? Why does a man, who believes that life is meaningless, find god in the end and realize what life is all about? There is a possibility with facing one's own mortality, one is scared and tries to find ways of comforting him or herself in facing the great nothingness. Throughout time, man has been afraid of the dark and in response to this visual nothingness, relied on fire to illuminate that which appears to be nothing and create a sense of safety and security. This is only natural. Man fears the dark because man fears what is unknown to him. By creating this feeling of finally finding god, man has nothing to fear when facing death because he does not face the unknown but rather knows what will happen next. He will die and ascend to the heavens where he will live for eternity. This ends the fear of the unknown because eternity is obviously forever and to live in heaven forever eliminates the idea of the unknown and gives man comfort. Regardless, this book attempts to dissect the soul which is no simple task. This task is so complex that it frustrates the reader because the soul is by no means an easy concept to understand. Nonetheless, Gao Xingjan has tried and has chipped away only a little at the true meaning of the soul and all that is life, the true soul mountain if you will. Life is not meant to be completely understood. It is only meant to be lived and contemplating the meaning of life will only result in ruining the experience. With all that is said, in the spirit of the book, it is only fair to say that this review is about nothing.

Soul Mountain: Not Just a Trek for Gao XingJian (Reading this paper is optional)

Kyle G. Christensen

When reading Chinese Literature, it is frequently appropriate to attempt to connect the thoughts of the author to Chinese society as a whole. However, with this novel, one would be hard pressed to accomplish such a feat. This doesn't have to imply anything negative about the novel as a whole considering Gao Xiangjian wrote it with the intent of writing merely for himself. He isn't concerned with maintaining the standards set up by the state or literary establishments.

Not only is he not concerned with what the literati think and feel about his work, he is likewise not concerned about the reader as well. He frequently expresses this thought towards the reader with such inconsiderate notes as "Reading this chapter is optional but as you've read it you've read it." These concerns that I have expressed, however, are entirely based upon expectations when beginning the novel. The novel has many merits unto itself but I feel it is important to express these discontents prior to their discussion.

The Soul Mountain is a piece that works to dismantle the categorical separation of life and existence. What Gao Xingjian refers to as the "soul" is not what is referred to as a soul in western thought or theology but the expression of primal and instinctual desires. The "soul" for Gao Xingjian is also subjectivity or personality; the ability to think for one's self; identities not determined from the outside, but from within, the integrity of one's private self and personality. It is for this same reason that he merges the pronouns "you," "he," "she," "him," "her," "I," etc.

While this novel can not be viewed as a comment on Chinese society for the entirety of China, it can be viewed as a comment on that society as it influenced one person in particular, namely Gao Xingjian. One of the recurring themes of the novel is difficulty of grasping death and coping with its implications. Gao Xingjian would be best depicted as a nihilist and fighting with his nihilism to explain existence and to live with death is a problem. His nihilism is likely a result of the society in which he developed and grew up, thus a direct result of Chinese society as a whole. If this is a result of it, should it be of concern?

His nihilism has led Gao into this trek across the country looking for Soul Mountain, which has been described to him and he has a physical location for it. However his journey leads him astray, as he cannot find this location and when he reaches where it should be, "The road is not wrong, it is the traveler who is wrong." (Xingjian, 478) After his whole trip, the goal turns out to be something he cannot just find outside him, but something he must climb and find deep within him.

Unattainable Peace and Freedom

Brendan Frett

Gao Xingjian, a highly acclaimed Chinese author, wrote the novel Soul Mountain about "one man's quest for inner peace and freedom." The author integrated himself into every character: he represented the "I", "you," "he," and "she." Therefore, Soul Mountain was, among other things, about perspectives and attitudes, including unconscious attitudes.

At first glance, Soul Mountain seemed to be a collection of stories that did not, plot wise, connect to one other. However, Gao Xingjian was not trying to connect the plots in the novel. Rather, he was trying to tell the stories of the "many different types of people who populate China." By doing this, the author was able to clarify his existence: he saw himself fragmented in the bodies and souls of China's inhabitants. This is why he represented the I's, He's, She's, and You's in the novel. Each story in the novel was much larger than the actual story being told. He told many different stories related to one another only through reader's recognition of him or her self in each one.

Each story in Soul Mountain was depressing and several of the stories were inconclusive, making little to no sense. This was purposely done by the author, who was tying to show that the things people had most in common was unhappiness and that each unhappy person was hard to understand.

Gao Xingjian did hint at the opportunity to cure the depression of his various protagonists. He said, "So-called civilization in later ages separated sexual impulse from love and created the concepts of status, wealth, religion, ethics and cultural responsibility. Such is the stupidity of human beings." Social status, wealth, religion, ethics, and cultural responsibility were the reasons for people's psychological depression. Natural humans were living in an unnatural state—civilized society—thus the recipe for unhappiness: human nature out of touch with nature. The only way to have sustainable happiness was to end civilization.

However, Xingjian was not able to do this in his life. He could not step away from civilization. This was clarified in his many references of not accepting the primitive way of life: Xingjian said, "In each group, one girl leads the singing and the other girls harmonize. I observe that the lead singer is invariably the prettiest of the group, I suppose choice by beauty is a fairly natural principle." Then after one of the girls approaches Xingjian he says, "I've never encountered this style of love. It's what I dream about but when it actually happens I can't cope." Xingjian concludes by saying, "I'm not a wolf but I would like to be a wolf, to return to nature, to go on the prowl. However, I can't rid myself of this human mind. I am a monster with a human mind and can find no refuge."

This view is not only held by Gao Xingjian but by people around the world who often talk about returning to nature and ending this civilized society. However, Soul Mountain says that this is impossible ("I am a monster with a human mind and can find no refuge"). People require the warmth and company of other individuals, which leads to a dependency. This dependency leads to depression. The only way to feel warmth and company of other individuals is though some type of civic society. Soul Mountain says human nature is a paradox: we build a community at the cost of our happiness. Unfulfilled at the end of his novel, he discovered that "one man's quest for inner peace and freedom" was unattainable.

The Lost Man's Path to Soul Mountain

Bryn Tulip

Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain relates the experience of the author's attempt to find himself and understand the nature of the soul. The author uses clever narrative devices, telling the majority of the story in the second person, to capture the universal theme of human's search for meaning and understanding while still telling a very personal story of search and hardship.

The author looks to both personal experiences and folk tales of old to find the true meaning of the living and the soul, and only finds himself further from the answer than before he started looking. The author complicates his search for understanding by actively searching for it, he finds that history is too removed to relate to himself and that personal experience is too private to teach himself something beyond his understanding.

The author searches for the answer for a long time (nearly four hundred pages and 80 chapters) and doesn't begin to reconcile himself to the fact that it has been a foible to search for answers until nearly the end of his book. He comes to the realization that looking to the past and hearing stories and history cannot help him on his search when he sees a tablet on the tomb of Yu the Great, the king who unified China long ago. The tablet is hard to translate and could be translated many ways, including, history is a riddle, history is lies, history is nonsense, history is absolutely nothing (Xingjian pg.450). With so many ways can be deceitful and misunderstood, it cannot be a foundation for and answer of any of life's great questions.

The author realizes that perhaps searching is not the way to find his soul and relates this realization through a fictional conversation with an old monk, who tells him that is not the path to Soul Mountain that is wrong, only the traveler. When pressed to give directions to Soul Mountain, the monk urges the author to go back the way he came, and tells the traveler an old proverb "Existence is returning; non-existence is returning; so don't stay by the river getting blown about by the cold wind." The old monk represents the author's recognition that he must do something altogether different than search for the soul if he has any hope of finding.

The book ends with the author finding god in a small frog outside of his window that never blinks both eyes at once. The author sees that as either having great meaning, that god is always watching, or that maybe it means nothing and is just a frog. However, the author feels that, just in case god is always watching, he should be humble and pretend not to understand life, which is easy because he does not really understand life anyways.

The author realizes at the end of the book that "While pretending to understand, I still don't understand. The fact of the matter is I comprehend nothing, I understand nothing. That is how it is." And in his acceptance of not understanding he has found what he was trying so hard to understand throughout the story, a reconciliation with who he is and what his soul is, a reconciliation brought through understanding that trying to understand is useless and that he should merely live for living.

Soul Mountain

Haley Jung

Writing a review of Soul Mountain is complicated. The book itself had no real theme or plot to it, it was merely just a book of short stories, chapter by chapter. There are some random themes that tie some chapters together. Other than that they just seem like stories with no real meaning other than just to entertain. Maybe they have some deep hidden meaning to them, but to me, and obviously most of the class, they were just stories.

In my 5 chapters I read (66-70) it was hard for me to try and find a meaning behind the stories. Each chapter focuses on one character, who is searching for something – ultimately his or her soul. The book is compiled of these soul-searching individuals, which creates all these souls piling up into a huge mountain – hence the name soul mountain. Often stories of being free, thinking back on childhood, death and sex were very common among all chapters.

The way Gao Xiangjian writes, he chooses to change the point of view whenever he wants, through each chapter, and even in each chapter, which is really confusing. You couldn't tell if he was talking about the first person or another person who just randomly shows up, or if he is actually relating one chapter to another. This confusion often takes away from the main plot of each chapter, losing the message he is trying to get across.

If you look at Gao Xingjian's life, you can see how the book easily relates to his life. What he was personally going through with his health and life decisions is easily visible and portrayed through each of his characters. Gao himself was searching for his soul, while retreating into the mountains to get away from Beijing.

In order to understand this very thought provoking book, you must understand Gao's life. In a way it is his life story, just not written from his point of view, but rather in many different people's views in many different stories. In a way I admire the way he portrayed his life, but I feel like his deep hidden meanings were just too much. If he was so intent on getting his story out there and teaching people these values, he should have done it in a more obvious way, but maybe that was his point. He wanted people to search for the meaning like each person in the book was searching. Once you stop looking, it will come to you and you will finally understand.

This was one of my least favorite books we've read this year. It was too complicated to figure out and if that was Gao Xingjian's point, then he did a good job. I think his goal was to tell his story in an interesting way that will engage the reader to search for the real meaning in each chapter. Instead of writing one whole long story, he is able to write many short stories and bring up many new concepts and ideas to incorporate his main meaning.

I, He, She, Him, Her, It, Me, Us, You

Izabella Redzisz

Gao Xingjian's best-selling and Nobel Prize winning novel, Soul Mountain, is incredibly scattered, confusing, complex, and difficult to figure out, which is likely exactly what the author wanted. In writing Soul Mountain, Gao Xingjian disposed of nearly all literary norms, as well as those of the social realm, of which previous Chinese literature had always been based off. In rejecting the notion of concrete characters, a plot, and even something as simple as a discernible time line, the author also rejects the Chinese literary community, if not the worldwide literature community, choosing to write about his own troubled thoughts and feelings, rather than more commonly examined themes.

Rather than creating one cohesive plot, Gao Xingjian discusses many scattered thoughts and ideas, never bringing them to a precise and definite conclusion, as most readers would like. By challenging his reader in such a way, Gao Xingjian encourages them to find more in the novel, once they realize that there will be no answers, despite how thoroughly they may search. Instead of creating a distinct male or female character, the author rather examines the female and male part within all of us, bringing to light questions of identity, sexuality, and the general role of either gender in modern society. In Soul Mountain, she is him, he is her, they are us, we are them, and you are I.

In addition to issues of sexuality and gender, Gao Xingjian also brings to light issues concerning nature and fate, pitting both against man. No matter how hard he may struggle, it becomes obvious that man is rather powerless, especially in comparison to nature, leading primarily to the exposure of man's general instability and weakness. Gao discusses man's essential insignificance in the greater scheme of things and, thus, our individual insignificance.

No matter how one looks at it, Gao Xingjian's novel is incredibly confusing, and often frustrating to read. Only when people abandon their need to find conventionality in this novel, are they able to truly get anything out of Gao Xingjian's writing. Rather than examining common themes such as the cultural revolution or familial issues, Gao Xingjian instead examines his own psyche, discussing the relationships between men and women, the issue of man versus nature, sexuality, fate, etc. In structuring the book the way he does or doesn't, Gao Xingjian provides an accurate representation of what goes on inside his head, and likewise, what goes on inside most of us. By blurring the line between the reader and the character(s) in the book, as well as those between he, she, him, her, it, us, we, I, and you, Gao Xingjian essentially forces us to question how we see such structures in our every day lives.

Mountain or an Ant Hill

Kaleaf James

Soul Mountain is a complicated work created by Gao Xingjian.
Through the novel he changes the point of view that he is writing from, changes the narrator and changes even the subject of the writing from chapter to chapter. Because of this a review that captures a majority of the angles in any less than the length of the novel itself seems impossible. Any review attempting to summarize this book and its purpose in one page would be a disgrace and a mockery of the true meaning of the book, even if one does understand what that may be.

Gao Xingjian tells a different story from chapter to chapter outlining his travels, the interactions between man and woman, and even epic realizations conveyed through writing in the tense of "you." The ideas often contradict one another as the reader goes from one chapter to the next but over all, when looking at each chapter by itself, one can understand the meanings of these ideas. By doing this and not considering the integrity of the work as a whole, the reader is able to see a set of intellectual preoccupations with the problems of human interactions in modern China.

Understanding the book is difficult but may become easier after first starting with an understanding of Gao Xingjian own life. The book is based on his travels and realizations after being told he was dying and then later being told he would live. Under such unbelievable circumstances he left Beijing and traveled to remote areas of China. This book is based on that mind set. It is very random and jumps from topic to topic but each topic has its own relevance to the story as a whole and that is important to understand.

Gao Xingjian wanted to break away from traditional fiction. This work was that attempt to change writing. Even though it is complicated it is meaningful in some way. As was mentioned in class, the book itself is a representation of Soul Mountain. Each individual story has its own meaning, characters and style. Each story contains an individual perspective which, along with many other perspectives, goes to make up the overall meaning of the book as a whole.

Another part of the book that makes it hard to understand is Gao Xingjian's attempt to clarify the book. He states near the end of this novel that every character represents Gao Xingjian himself. This just draws the reader back to every interaction between characters and questions what the purpose or meaning actually was. Then at the end of that chapter explaining this he states it was optional to read his chapters as sequential but too late to have not read them now. This is very ironic and just brings more questions toward the meaning of this book. Overall it is interesting to read and consider its purpose. I believe one could spend a lifetime considering each chapter and trying to tie them together. I think this is its purpose. Not everything has to be understood to be interesting. As he hints at the end of chapter 48 it might be best not to over consider or interpret what you have read.

Human Needs

Luxi Zhang

It is human instinct to want love and to be loved, praised, honest, treated with dignity. Instinct is something that we all have and something that we cannot escape. Human reactions to certain situations often activate such emotions as sadness, anger, happiness, or jealousy. Events in our environment and our daily lives trigger these sensations and it is up to us to interpret them. In Soul Mountain, the issue of human interaction, emotion, and needs all contribute to the scattered plot of the story as well as the book as a whole. In chapters 21-25, for example, we see a girl in need of protection and affection who represents humanity as a whole under-appreciated in the modern world. In one passage, a woman who was in the man's embrace needed to feel protected as well as loved and in another passage, the male is the one in need. In the first passage, she has been scarred from the various experiences of life starting from abandonment to physical rape. The man that is holding her listens as she explains her past as well as her present. She tells him continuously that she feels loved and protected in his arms. She is in a way deceiving herself into thinking that she has truly found that person that would make her feel safe and wanted. It seems that the story begins to take on a life of its own as her desire for love has reached its peak and she has entered a phase of self deception from which she will never be able to escape. She claims that she has found the perfect solution to her needs but at the same time she continuously tells of her past and eventually, she explodes with anger at the end. She pictures herself as a dirty prostitute and has become enraged to the point where she wishes for self-destruction. Her willingness to be engulfed in affection is its own destruction due to the fact that she is planting her own seeds of destruction. She will never find that attention that everyone needs, every human needs.

In the third passage, the man is held in the woman's arms and is afraid of losing her. He was caught up in a vivid dream in which he finds himself on a raging sea with black waves crushing everything in sight and sees black bodies that were intertwined on the ocean. Clearly this is one of the recurring nightmares reflecting our fear of being used, or left by himself after intense sexual encounters. The black bodies on the beach are abandoned and lonely and black is in reference to emptiness and losing ones way. He wants the relationship to be one in which emotions are authentic and lasting but is afraid that the woman would see it only as a casual affair and disregards his feelings for her.

Both the woman and man experience the need for emotion. The human race as a whole have these needs and some individuals express them to an extreme in which a response is needed immediately. In my opinion, these two passages are the most important out of the five chapters that were read and typical of all the other passages. The expressions of human instinct are given to both genders. Men as well a women are seen as extremely similar in that they are all driven by their instinctual needs for love and affection. To be treated with respect and to not become neglected are desires around which human societies are structured, and it is little wonder that Gao Xingjian's work titled "Soul Mountain" is replete with stories of lost souls restless in their search for love, care and peace. The work seems to suggest that getting in touch with one's neglected and forgotten self is the only way to feel like a whole human being.