Sunday, April 20, 2014

This Too Is Life by Lu Hsun

In his last months before death, Lu Hsun, a man considered by many to be the greatest modern Chinese writer, decides to use the remainder of his life to write two essays that reflect the mortality of a dying man. One of these essays is called This Too Is Life. 

Lu Hsun's essay may not be the easiest of readings. According to the Art of the Personal Essay, the piece incorporates classical Chinese technique which means nothing is straightforward. One of the intriguing aspects of this piece, as a whole, is its formlessness. It is as if Hsun had written his essay simply based on his thoughts, without a clear direction to steer the readers, talking about many themes on life such as illness, exhaustion, comfort. But, despite the lack of coherence between ideas, the essay still manages to convey a couple of key messages to readers--one that comes from the perspective of a dying man.

I particularly enjoyed reading Hsun's odd metaphor in his first passage on tiredness and relaxation. 

"I used often to boast that I did not know what it was to be tired. In front of my desk there is a swivel-chair, and sitting there to write or read carefully was work; beside it there is a wicker reclining chair, and lying there to chat or skim through the papers was rest. I found no great difference between the two, and often boasted of the fact. Now I know my mistake. I found little difference because I was never tired, because I never did any manual labor."

This metaphor, in my opinion is a careful observation of life. People, in general, don't really pay much attention to the comfort level of different types of chairs. It is the privilege of the privilege. And, this opens up to a wider context that only those who have endured suffering and pain, as Hsun encounters in illness, are able to distinguish the differences between the comfort of relaxation and the fearfulness of exhaustion in life, which I think this metaphor and later passages clearly show. 

I was really intrigued when I read the third passage. Hsun had succumbed to an illness, which led him to lose desire to do anything. He writes "I did not brood over death, but neither did I feel alive. This, known as 'the absence of all desire,' is the first step towards death." This sentence is effective because it clearly explains to readers the author's state of mind through the use of contrast. It is also interesting how the second sentence contradicts the first. Although the author did not think deeply toward death, he was, in a way, headed toward death because of his lack of will.The author, in his own mortality, understood that when a person begins to lose the will to live, he starts to die, although he is physically alive.    

The main message Hsun was trying to convey was how life is about looking at things as a whole and not as individual parts. He does this by saying "we notice rare blossoms, not the branches and leaves." This metaphor is simple yet thought provoking. Through the use of clever rhetoric and literary devices, the sentence critics and questions the logic of how we view life as only highlighting the high moments and disregarding the smaller, minor moments that led to that event. We need both parts, the good and bad times in life, to define who we are as a whole.

What is also interesting is the analogy in the next paragraph, which he uses to as an example of failing to look at life as a whole. He employs the fable of the blind man and the elephant. Due to the lack of sight, the blind man mistakes the elephant's foot for a pillar, implying how misleading our lives can be if the person doesn't look at the whole. One of the features of non-fiction is to be resourceful with your stories. Interpretations aside, this paragraph displays Hsun's resourcefulness in incorporating a fable, which originated from India, to spice up his essay.  

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