Playing with the Canon: The Uncanny Pleasure of
Intertextuality in the Works of Sinophone Thai writers Sima Gong and Zeng Xin

By Rebecca Ehrenwirth

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 32, no.2  (Fall 2020), pp. 136-178

This essay seeks to explore how a doubly marginalized group such as Sinophone writers in Thailand uses intertextuality in order to come closer to what it perceives to be “the center” (namely, China). A close reading of some short stories and poems by two Sinophone writers from Thailand (Sima Gong and Zeng Xin) reveals not only the different intertextual references they contain but also the authors’ ambivalent sense of belonging at the same time to China and to Thailand. Their works give expression and development to the authors’ intention of introducing Sinophone literature from Thailand and offer a glimpse into their self-perception as writers.

The essay specifically discusses the two Sinophone authors’ works in the light of the notion developed by Sigmund Freud in his classic 1919 essay on “The Uncanny”—namely, the “unheimlich” in its opposition to the “heimelig”—pointing up how the authors’ construction of a troubled bond with their intended readership on their ethnic “mainland” can also be understood in these Freudian terms. It is also shown how the authors not only confirm but also question the Chinese literary canon and create their own role for this latter. The essay thus focuses upon the ways in which Sinophone literature mirrors the fraught identity of the Sinophone writing community in Thailand. It raises questions regarding the limits of what constitutes “Chinese” literature and the circumstances under which additions to said literature can be made by members of a broader Sinophone world.

Through this set of theoretical lenses I open up a new vantage point from which to perceive the practice of intertextuality—a practice which proves indispensable to Sinophone literature in Thailand inasmuch as it not only helps Sinophone Thai authors to achieve their goal of having their works recognized in China but also mirrors the authors’ fluid identity, which oscillates between this latter vast nation and Thailand itself.