Responsible primitivism : Wu Ming-yi's The Man with the Compound Eyes as indigenous-themed environmental world literature

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    Wu Ming-yi's (吳明益) novel The Man with the Compound Eyes (hereafter The Man) features apparently idealized Indigenous characters. Atile'i is preternaturally sensitive to and knowledgeable about nature, both on and around his Pacific Island home and later in Taiwan. Hafay runs a café at which she serves traditional Pangcah cuisine made with wild greens she has gathered herself on the coastal hills along Taiwan's east coast. Dahu is the son of a Bunun hunter who has spent his life getting to know the mountains in his way. Chief Anu is a Bunun hunter who is running an ethnic ecotourism operation on a mountain in southeastern Taiwan, a place that heals urbanites' wounded souls. As Atile'i puts it, "the mountain will cure you." Why would Wu create Indigenous characters like these? Given that Taiwan is a settler society, one might wonder if Wu is a Taiwanese nationalist, because nationalists in settler societies like Taiwan often idealize and identify with their Indigenous heritage. Yet Wu has never made a claim to indigeneity, nor has any non-Indigenous Han Taiwanese character in his fiction. Rather than a nationalist, Wu is better described as a "primitivist, " someone who sees in "primitive" Indigenous cultures solutions to "modern" problems, particularly degradation of and alienation from the natural environment. But he is not a simplistic or naive primitivist. His primitivism is tempered by knowledge of Indigenous cultures and histories and acquaintance with Indigenous individuals and lifeways in Taiwan. Nonetheless, Wu's primitivism is part of the secret of his success as a writer of "environmental world literature, " in that the perspectives of his Indigenous characters contribute to his novel's appealing "ecocosmopolitanism."
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationTaiwanese literature as world literature
    EditorsPei-yin LIN, Wen-chi LI
    Place of PublicationNew York
    PublisherBloomsbury Academic
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Electronic)9781501381355, 9781501381362
    ISBN (Print)9781501381348
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2023

    Publication series

    NameLiteratures as World Literature
    PublisherBloomsbury Academic


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