Friday, August 2, 2013

Being, Condition, and Time: On Ha Jin’s Waiting

Waiting relates to time — that is, in its progressive form, waiting encompasses all dimensions of time: the past as an inactive period spent in expectation, the present in its actual waiting condition, and the future in its seeking of the probable occurrence of the wait. Given this, a person in waiting is presumed to remain still – in its waiting state – while time flows and the surrounding condition changes. In other words, in waiting, there is an act of internal changelessness in the midst of external changes. 

This act, however, is separate from the inner reality, which is necessarily transformed through time, except for the essence of our being which, by nature, consists of the capacity for loving. To put it differently, there is, on one hand, an unchanging nature of our being – which, I contend, is our dormant capacity to love – while on the other, an inner reality – of feelings and consciousness, for instance – which permits changes with time and external surrounding. 

So simply put: within a person, there is a simultaneous existence of a natural being where love, as a dormant capacity, resides – and there is an inner reality which allows for alteration of feelings and consciousness based on time and external surrounding.  

Love is defined, in this manner, as an absolute capacity to perform the act of loving; yet this capacity is said to be dormant, precisely since it needs to be awakened or nurtured by one’s natural being. A person cannot not love – provided that the being is reared and roused for it; but one can misrecognize being loved as love. Being loved exists in the inner reality, which allows for an alteration of feelings, but it does not penetrate inside one’s being which concerns itself only of loving. Being loved is merely a surplus feeling when the loving is realized and happened to be reciprocated. 

Now, if love is a dormant capacity of the being, then performing it will be its form of expression. With this contention, the subscription to conceive love as an art here is apparent; for indeed, art is universal yet diverse in its expression among cultures and individuals. Again, if love – which is a dormant resident of our being – is likened to art, then not everyone is capable of creating and performing it. Moreover, if love is an art, then its expression is entirely dependent whether or not the external surrounding permits its expression. Lastly, if love is equated to art, then it has to remain undeterred by time.

Now, these two-tedious-paragraphs worth of ruminations about love is, to me, a necessary buildup to forward my thoughts about Ha Jin’s work; particularly since, it is from this novel where my ever-changing exploration of love is challenged and remolded. The pertinent question is asked: if the trinity of characters in the book – Lin Kong, Shuyu, and Manna – are in the state of waiting, then is it given that they are all in love?

The immediate answer is no — that is, if love is conceived in the Western ideology of romantic love. In Western society, where the liberal ideology emphasizes freedom, love becomes a personal and private choice which an individual makes. People in the West, in essence, marry for love and only for love; it is unthinkable to marry for something else. In other words, love in the Western sense comes with the idea of freedom – as a liberal ideology – and it is through marriage that this love is institutionalized. 

However, in contrast to Chinese society, where the communal surrounding constraints freedom for collective welfare, love is understood as an act of conformation and obligation to familial and social institutions. Marriage, in Chinese society, is a communal or an institutional choice characterized by bonds and alliances for societal welfare. In both Western and Chinese societies, it is worth noting that love is neither lost nor absent, but is dependent merely on the degree of freedom which the external surrounding allows it to be exercised and expressed. 

Here, we go back to transform our earlier question: if the main characters in the book are all waiting, are they exercising love in the Chinese sense? To answer this requires that the characters are explored and their experiences be subjected to my earlier ramifications about love and being. If love – characterized solely by loving – is a dormant capacity residing within the being, then it requires that a developed character is suited to perform it. While good-natured and intelligent, Lin Kong is also an indecisive, dispassionate, and passive character. Getting in touch with his nature – with his capacity to love – requires not only a buildup of character, but a decisiveness of self, of developing the natural being. 

Both his marriage to Shuyu and his requests to divorce her for Manna represent his adherence to external conditions of his culture and the state. Now, the decisiveness of self – notably missing in Lin Kong – is found in the character of Shuyu, who represents precisely how love is being accommodated within the particularity of Chinese society. Shuyu is able to develop the natural being which concerns itself only with loving. On the other hand, Manna – being the modern and educated representation of urban Chinese female – accomplishes the idea of love only within her inner reality which, as noted previously, is subjected to external conditions and time. Note that the changes in Manna’s character are exhibited from her initial affinity with Lin Kong, then shifts to the necessity for marriage because of societal expectations. 

Hence, it is not surprising why Lin Kong and Manna’s conception of love permeating only within their respective inner realities, and not within their being, failed. True enough; among the three characters who were all in the state of waiting, it is only Shuyu, who stood by her inner being – solely to perform loving – and hence, is able to accommodate the particularity of love in Chinese culture. Indeed, within Shuyu’s inner reality and being, time flows to embody the changelessness amidst the changes surrounding her in her waiting. 

(Note: In formulating this new conception of LOVE, I used three works to substantiate my ruminations. I did it because I could not accept that during the Cultural Revolution -- when the ideology was radicalized and stretched beyond its limit -- Ha Jin seemed to portray that there was no love existing in such society. And so, I used his novel as the grounding context of my formulation and used 2 books: Erich Fromm's "The Art of Loving" and Schiller's "On the Aesthetic Education of Man" to prove that love in China did exist even those times.)

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