Dang Than’s short stories and the game discourse

Abstract. Dang Than is a writer of postmodern spirit, who has shown a power of game theory in his writings. In the background of contemporary Vietnamese literature, he has pioneered new writing styles with the thought of decentralization, breaking up grand narrative, and creating an interaction between subject and object. This writer is proficient in game theory and has brought it into full play to his artistic texts as a plunge headlong into postmodern literature by either actualizing the art of the sudden switch of the subject or developing an original parody style. Dang Than, equipped with the game discourse, has conceived postmodern modes and attached special importance to the power of words. Hence, there exists a synthesis of a numerous number of language functions and styles in the artistic texts of Dang Than ’s short stories. These breakthroughs are primarily represented in the respect of lexical resources: colloquialism, street and, especially parody language spread the artistic content. By suddenly switching the signifier and the signified and the deliberate convolution of their narratives in his storyline, this author has contributed to forming new discourse “code” of contemporary Vietnamese short stories.

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HNUE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1067.2017-0030 Social Sci., 2017, Vol. 62, Iss. 5, pp. 31-38 This paper is available online at DANG THAN’S SHORT STORIES AND THE GAME DISCOURSE Le Van Trung Faculty of Primary Education, Danang University of Education Abstract. Dang Than is a writer of postmodern spirit, who has shown a power of game theory in his writings. In the background of contemporary Vietnamese literature, he has pioneered new writing styles with the thought of decentralization, breaking up grand narrative, and creating an interaction between subject and object. This writer is proficient in game theory and has brought it into full play to his artistic texts as a plunge headlong into postmodern literature by either actualizing the art of the sudden switch of the subject or developing an original parody style. Dang Than, equipped with the game discourse, has conceived postmodern modes and attached special importance to the power of words. Hence, there exists a synthesis of a numerous number of language functions and styles in the artistic texts of Dang Than ’s short stories. These breakthroughs are primarily represented in the respect of lexical resources: colloquialism, street and, especially parody language spread the artistic content. By suddenly switching the signifier and the signified and the deliberate convolution of their narratives in his storyline, this author has contributed to forming new discourse “code” of contemporary Vietnamese short stories. Keywords: Parody, subject, discourse, language games, Dang Than. 1. Introduction Traditionally, narrative works used to be told in the first or third persons. These persons are often distinguished so as to represent the author, and they, as storytellers, are “omniscient narrators”. The story is often narrated in linear orders; characters, plots, themes and scenes are clearly shown. These would illustrate the writers’ contents and thoughts. Contemporary writers have been conscious of rescinding those long existing orders. Those writing styles that keep going on the old paths would not meet the modern readers’ satisfaction in a new wave of literature of reception aesthetics. The world is changing fast, so literature needs to get out of its long lasting inertia. The desire for innovation and efforts in alternative modes of story recital are certainly expressed in the art of narration. This trial has met the need of contemporary literature in the narrative modes of postmodernism. The decentralization of the narrative subject that begins with Received date: 7/1/2017. Published date: 5/5/2017. Contact: Le Van Trung, e-mail: levantrungedu@gmail.com 31 Le Van Trung postmodern skepticism of grand narrative have long existed where the writers neither expose and establish subjective ideas and estimation nor mechanically intervene and impose their determination on the texts. There are no longer typical characters or specifics, and the narrative subjects are suddenly switched in a repeated way. The narrative mode becomes chaotic and snapped, breaking up the familiar means of narration and the person of a narrator cannot be clearly recognized. 2. Content 2.1. The Switches of the Narrative Subject The sudden switches of narrators and the deliberate convolution of their narratives in storylines are exposed in the inseparational existence of the first and the third persons. In some stories the first person “I” just appears either at their beginnings or in the ends while the main content is told objectively by different narrators; “I” here is but a conductor forming the story. This type of story telling cannot be categorised as the first person kind since the “I” narrator does not serve as the focus, that is to say “I” is not the subject of comprehension and observation on the main stream of the story. The narrator now has different points of view in different roles or persons, thus turning out to be untrustworthy. By using those switches of persons the storyline becomes non-linear; its time is upset while its space is fragmented. Therefore, the reality develops into a mishmash-like multidimensional space so that all hidden aspects and bumpy faces are in massive exposure. Dang Than originally brings game theory into full play in narration. The narrative person is continuously exchanged as the narrative subject is still Dang Than but it is unpredictably changed, thus, it is hard to follow the plot. The subject is now the first person, but then the third one. Even when being the first person the “I” is quite often broken up into pieces as there seems to be many “I” taking their turn to tell the story. “I” is writing; “I” is making up things; “I” is also a character of “I”; “I” dies; “I” suddenly breaks into Dang Than ’s computer to disclose a sensational history. The decentralization of narrative subject is revealed explicitly and intentionally by the author. To Dang Than, art is but a game, the one of no rule, and the consequence by chance where the player is able to prevent other participants from predicting any limit lying ahead. Take the narrative subjects of two chained stories, Cyber Ghost and Virtual Ghost (Cyber Ghost ii). Both stories have similar openings (this must be Dang Than’s technique of using deceivable smoke-screens): Dang Than together with a gang of “half man, half ghost” rent a deserted farm far away from the city; they buy a cart full of incense sticks that are smouldered without pauses; they turn off all of their mobile phones; a gay-voiced guy reads Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio) by Pu Sungling; a group of cavalière goes naked and performs pole dance, etc. and Dang Than sits writing Cyber Ghost. Hence, Dang Than stays in Cyber Ghost to write Cyber Ghost, then he gets into Virtual Ghost so as to write Cyber Ghost. Nobody knows how many Dang Than are there in the two stories. Dang Than suddenly turns into the “I” character to tell his own story, “I can say right now that the source of the story hasn’t come true yet as I am writing ’Cyber Ghost’ on a 17-inch screen in an air conditioned study. I can’t wait to the day I’d arranged to meet my chums in the deserted site since I’m feeling the urge of writing it now” [3;173]. 32 Dang Than’s short stories and the game discourse The stream of the story should make one dizzy, and all of a sudden “I” becomes an eyewitness of a trip to the mountain range of Trường Sơn for finding anti-US martyrs’ tombs. “I” reads “The Jungle of Pinus Kesiya” by Nguyễn Trung Thành, then “I” reads a writing task by a high school girl who uses a cribbing booklet in a final examination of the literature subject. Next “I” returns to Trường Sơn to see with his own eyes how two martyrs’ skeletons are exhumed in an exceptional way. Suddenly the story is told by a third person narrator who shows a pack of irregular guys in a world of disconnection, so they seek adventure in the virtual reality where they get trapped in a maze created by a nurse who dies 35 years before as Dang Than mentions earlier. Eventually, one of the guys who is Well to do enough, he bought a deserted farm. According to its Feng Shui cycle, it is quite certain that one day Dang Than and the gang will get together right there, for Dang Than needs to gain sheer inspiration to write ’Cyber Ghost’. When going through Cyber Ghost and Virtual Ghost, readers would not be able to recognize who is the narrator though knowing that it is Dang Than ’s creative work. An intricate maze is constructed in an extraordinary writing style that breaks up all long existing logic. “That kind of creative writing must belong to a devil of talent. The kind that can adapt awesome Sun Tzu’s tactics like ’making a sound in the east, then striking in the west’ (e.g. the introductory paragraphs, Nguyễn Trung Thành’s excerpts, etc.) and ’shouting out loud in front with heavy rear backing’ (e.g. all the male characters, the part when the ’cyber ghost’ talks about clinical deaths, etc.). Unless the author has powerful energy with adventurous character and a considerable flair of disguising as a devil, he cannot apparently make up such a literature” [3;198]. Dang Than is a writer of thorough de-egocentricity. Readers can hardly distinguish between Dang Than and “ego”, “ego” and Dang Than, and Dang Than and “non-ego”. “Ego” can be “non-ego” in his stories, and “ego” even parodies, doubts and rejects “ego” itself. There appear many a Dang Than in Virtual Ghost. Obviously, there is a Dang Than in person alongside with another Dang Than wearing a mask to play with and parody Dang Than himself. Readers may fall into a state of hollowness when trying to find out who is the “real” Dang Than. It is he who writes Virtual Ghost, and there is another Dang Than who writes Cyber Ghost. The subject narrates his own innermost story. A narration of his origin is faked by the first “I”. A gorgeous “love” story takes place on a pig farm with the second “I”, and in this story, “I” becomes a high-ranking poet like Tố Hữu, the brightest star of Vietnamese “revolutionary poetry”. This “I” also wants to become a war hero in order to win Quyên’s heart. And then right this “I” becomes the corpse found on top of two trees in Cyber Ghost. It is finally concluded with the last “I”: “35 years later, I came back from the top of a Pinus kesiya tree via the internet. My spirit mingled with Dang Than’s computer to tell you my life story, with the hope that my lover Quyên can read it. I made that decision for I truly know that only Dang Than is able to retell my story in the most truthful and vivid way” [3;236]. It can be seen that there is a large number of fragments of “I” launched by Dang Than. The nature of game was shown in this “I” character building. The whole thing is completely decentralized and becomes random fragments and that cannot be rearranged properly. It is almost impossible to realize the true nature of the fact that the writer wants 33 Le Van Trung to present. The pluralism in his artistic texts also comes out of this way of arrangement. 2.2. Parody – a Language Game Dang Than’s intention of switching the subject in his narrative structures has made the writer himself a language sign. Postmodern writers normally use parody language so as to provoke their reaction to discourse standards and show their skepticalness and incredulity in language standards. It can be imagined that parody is an imitation of a piece of literary work or a trend to ridicule and to generate humour. There are two basic forms of parody: humour and ridicule. Depending on parody styles and the objects of parody, writers select his most appropriate form to create artistic effects with unique creativity. Parody of language is the method that postmodern writers often use to demonstrate their incredulous attitudes in their epistemology and a belief crisis towards the existing values. The skeptical views are best revealed in the way that by convention, previous literatures have always seen languages as the core, and that they have tried to seek the orders, assuming they are the meanings and ideologies that people ought to look forwards to. In fact, parody used to appear in traditional literature, and it was best revealed in satiric poems or it was successfully shown in Dumb Luck written by Vũ Trọng Phụng. Yet from Doi Moi, quite many writers have used this approach as an artistic means to show their skeptical views on grand narratives that took deep roots in the community. In his writing “The sage - a bulldog or Nguyễn Huy Thiệp’s ’parody’”, Le Huy Bac clearly explains that parody techniques used in Nguyen Huy Thiep’s works shows: Game nature of life and literature. Only by parody, this nature is most clarified [1;207]. Through this suggestive instruction, it is possible to trace contemporary Vietnamese literature that the postmodern spirit is first shown in the language and discourse games. This makes game nature a prerequisite of postmodernism. Parody language, on the one hand, extends the parameters of reflection and on the other hand, contributes to the profane behaviour against the deep-rooted grand narratives in the community. Perhaps, Dang Than is one of the most successful writers who have used parody in the contemporary literature context. Parody prevails all over his artistic texts. Game discourses that Dang Than arranges can be considered as a unique and peculiar breakthrough in the contemporary Vietnamese literature where the voices of “the Other” are highly in need. It is poetry in his stories that should be mentioned first. His short stories are full of poems of all styles ranging from folklore and middle-age to modern poetry of Vietnamese, Chinese and English forms and schools that sound multinational and “multi-trendy”. He adopts many literary schools: romanticism, impressionism, surrealism, symbolism, modernism and postmodernism. The reason is that Vietnam is a nation where poetry is highly appreciated and anyone can make a verse! Hereafter are several examples. First, it is verses in a popular poetic style: Oh, Cau River flows sparsely so as to hide its ire/ A young couple are drying underwears on a fire. Then, he shows a style that used to be widely seen as “national stereotype”: My village’s girls are all pretty at young age/ My aunt’s pulchritude is under average. The author assures that this piece was selected to be published in a broadsheet newspaper, or this one: “Attend not to the dog’s meanness/ One should seek for naturalness/ As natural as a fairy’s sway All bitters of life will go away” [3;70]. 34 Dang Than’s short stories and the game discourse That is the common national style of sixth-eighth syllable rhymes that need both middle-rhyming and end-rhyming standards in a couple of sentences. Freestyle verses also show alien effects in his stories: deep admiration/ for a soul/ of slimy contradiction/ real worship/ to a bud/ of laceleaf mateship [3;190]. Dang Than also writes trendy poems; those are written with numerous spacings between words, phrases and lines, and they can only be understood by reading with your own eyes: Remember/ the time when/ the hairs/ of the legs/ were stubbly.../ How is it/ they are now/ bushy?/ Why are they/ still growing/ after being/ pulled out?/ Where’s the root?/ Where’s the root.../ Ouch!.. [3;90]. Zen poetry of the Lý and Trần dynasties is a great achievement of Vietnamese nation, for it was crystallized by profound intellect of the sages. This object is also used by Dang Than in his writing, “However, through those years of hanging around mountainous areas, I met outstanding men, all looked like gods and saints. Why did those brilliant personalities all escape from earthly world? Right in this period I found the utmost sublimeness of I Ching studies with ’the successive movement of Yin and Yang operation constitutes what is called Tao’ or ’all things are born out of being, being is born out of non-being’ together with the marvel of ’entity - incorporeity’ philosophy: Incorporeity reincarnates with entity fully? Entity prevails materialistically or immaterially? The entity of love seems not to exist But the entity of heart does persist Heaven and earth are dark- or bright-being Either you and I am being or non-being I am non-ego or much ego-maniacal? Humans are egoistic or quite altruistical?...[3;122]. It is a society that is obsessed with poems; everyone makes poems, and poems are published in Vietnamese and other foreign languages everywhere. Dang Than’s parody against this phenomenon seems to be close to that of Vũ Trọng Phụng. Possibly until now, readers may wish to clear him of the “false charge” as a realist because his society itself was indeed a “real” nonsensicality. Therefore, Vũ Trọng Phụng just “humourously and bitterly portrayed” a society full of torn-out lives and up-side-down standards of human values. It is then Dang Than’s turn to cast the technique of multi-layered parody into the language game space. How bitter the obsessive-poetry symptom is! How sad it is that there are countless and nonsensical poets! And how weird it is to see such a poetry! His stories might have shown the division between the two worlds: humans and ghosts, in a society where humans can hardly identify themselves in the search for true artistic values. Therefore, his parody of the whole mishmash of the present-day poetry is the way the subject pays respect and voice for other self-respectful poets. At times, there appears some phenomenon called an infant prodigy. Dang Than also noted this object: My garden is full of spearmint and Lang basil, but I also like the tall-trunk areca and spreading-leafy banana trees... It is said thanks to spoffish ranges of trees like that, an infant poetic prodigy with something like ’a piece of sky and yard’ poems came into 35 Le Van Trung being. I did read it, but I assumed that it was written by an adult. Oh, it goes without saying that pupils nowadays all copy and crib others’ works when sitting for exams. Moreover, here is another kind of poem that is so popular among the youths with themes being full of “bra”, “moon” and “breast”: Mother said a grown-up girl Ought not to bathe in the moon Then when she fell asleep I sneaked off to the well I let loose my hair, took off my bra My breast accidentally touched a banana leaf The moon fell all over my chest [3;73]. Dang Than’s parody also thrusts the vulnerable spots of such a desultory literature that is full of false and fake writing, prose and verse declaiming. On many pages of his, he implied, to bring this phenomenon to light: Your lips are crimsonly-kin as the skin of sweet potatoes Your cheeks are fragrantly-nice as the rice in state-run restaurants Your eyes are intensely-bright as any headlight made in Czechoslovakia [3;214]. In the process of his “artistic creation”, the character “I” in the story sensibly shapes his own writing style when comparing it with that of Tố Hữu. He sensibly knows that he should not imitate forerunners, given the fact that literature must spring out of real life, he writes: “Your lips are crimsonly-kin as the skin of sweet potatoes.” The character “I” also explains his source of inspiration as jotting down the second and the third lines. These look like a compact set of verse lines that seems like a three-line Japanese haiku poem, yet perhaps due to its author’s oversentimentality it is added some more syllables. After a painstaking period of struggling with every single word, “I” is rewarded for what he has done: Quyên read the poem I presented her in great joys. She said she had never read such an interesting and unique poem. Astonishingly, I did not know why. So she explained: “- First, your poem follows a quite special way of rhyming. For I know other poets all try to rhyme with final vowels, never can they do the ’double-middle-rhyming’ like you could in all the three lines: ’kin’ with ’skin’, ’nice’ with ’rice’, and ’bright’ with ’light’. To my great surprise, I did not know I am such a talent. - Yours is also unique here in Vietnam because it is an alliteration poem as it repeats the ’y’ in all the lines. This technique is only used by great poets in the far away land called Great Britain, don’t you know? Quyen added” [3;216]. Dang Than best untilized his linguistic effects in parody when setting up his artistic texts. He conducted an extremely entertaining discourse game along with his adoption of street and internet languages. This creates new artistic effects and even shocks the conventional reception aesthetics. However, as a matter of fact, his works contribute to extend the amplitude of semantics. Artistic texts created by Dang Than have broken up all existing linguistic criteria