This dissertation is an attempt to define a Chinese "modernism," exemplified by the narrative practices of four major writers in Taiwan today, from the perspective of comparative literature and recent development of literary theory. I propose that modernity of Taiwanese fiction is not so much a result of Western influences as an evolution of Chinese narrative tradition itself. To argue my point I delineate a poetics of Chinese narrative, from which I devise a method of reading and a criterion of evaluation for contemporary Taiwanese fiction in defining its achievement and historical significance. This study of Taiwanese fiction also aims at providing a better understanding of fundamental aesthetic assumptions of Western "modernism" in the context of its own literary tradition.
Chapter One, "Introduction," investigates the theoretical foundation and its line of development in Western and Chinese poetics respectively. It first examines the Platonic view of mimesis and Aristotelian aesthetic view of fictionality and their influence on the critical tradition, the continuity of the ancient battle between philosophy and poetry as seen in the structuralist and deconstructionist theories, then the relationship between subjective fictionality and ironic objectivity in Chinese poetics, the continuity of the dilemma in the Chinese novelists in their dual allegiance to the ideal and the real. A final section gives a critical overview of the literary scene in Taiwan.
The following four chapters provide examples of the internal tension between fictionality and ironic awareness in the Taiwanese modernist texts. I suggest that instead of stretching the metaphorical potential of fiction to a highly intellectualized abstraction or playing down the interpretive claims of fiction by dramatizing its vulnerability like their Western counterpart, the Taiwanese modernists create their texts on the borderline between the high and the low. Self-assertive as well as self-denying, each of them confronts his own intellectual vision with paradox and ambivalence. In Ch'en Ying-chen, this is expressed as a battle between a lyrical vision of ideological values and an instinctive self-clowning, in Ch'i-teng Sheng, as a form of competition between pattern and contingency, in Wang Chen-ho, as a celebration and abuse of the fictionality of fiction, and in Wang Wen-hsing, an intense self-parody. I conclude that the sensitivity to the irrational and contradiction, inherent with a resistance to didacticism, constitutes the best part of the Chinese humanistic tradition, which is continuously enriched with new dimensions by the contemporary Taiwanese writers.