A Buddhist Perspective: Trauma and Reincarnation
in Mo Yan’s Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

By Yiju Huang

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 28, no.2  (Fall 2016), pp. 285-312

The essay takes a Buddhist perspective in understanding Mo Yan’ Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out. It focuses attention on the theme of reincarnation, specifically how reincarnation illuminates a notion of self that travels through different human and non-human bodies and transcends desire. While directly engaging with the traumatic legacies of modern history, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out transcends the trauma studies paradigm prevalent in North American academia. Mo Yan’s use of Buddhist elements offers an alternative cultural model to modernity founded on scientific secularism. At the heart of the essay lies a contrast between two models of exploring self and trauma. The novel is first analyzed in terms of the Freudian psychoanalytical model, termed in this essay as “digging in.” While acknowledging the benefit of this approach in its attentiveness to historical injustice, the author reflects on its limitations before approaching the novel from a Buddhist perspective, termed the “poetics of opening out.”