Identity and Buddhism in Can Xue’s Frontier

John Rothfork orcid

Published online: 04 Jun 2020 in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction

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Can Xue’s Chinese novel, Frontier, seems to have little coherence. It is often thought to offer a pastiche of dream images. However, an understanding of Zen Buddhism, provided by T. P. Kasulis’ Zen Action Zen Person, offers a vocabulary to explain how the characters in the novel seek answers to koans as they struggle to find meaning in their dreams, perceptions, and meditation. Liujin, the main character, doesn’t find Western philosophic answers, but is described in the end as giving up thinking, the goal in Zen Buddhism and in Taoism (cf. wu-wei), to enjoy “the touch of the cool evening air.” Like Kasulis’ enlightened monk, Liujin sits to sit (in zazen or meditation), rather than sitting in hopes of enlightenment. She sits to have being, to taste being (rasa). “Bit by bit, her mind became luminous.”





I must enter, free from distracting memories, the state of the abiding nature of reality.
Cultivating [the experience of] inner radiance,
Through the recognition, emanation, and transformation of dreams ….

“Root Verses of the Six Intermediate States,” The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Ed. Graham Coleman, (brackets in the original).

When not disparaged as incoherent, Can Xue’s (Deng Xiaohua) fiction is often characterized as strange or disturbing. One reviewer reports that Xue’s writing doesn’t offer “a story so much as an experience of walking through spider-webs and dew” (El-Mohtar). Another says that Can Xue’s writing is like “entering a haunted cabinet in which very little space is left to narrative plot and the action is entirely taken by anarchic hallucinations.” This critic claims, “the bits and pieces cannot be assembled” because “in Can Xue’s text reality has lost its reasons” in “post-Maoist despair through the disintegration of order and reality along with it” (Castelli 9, 10–11). Jinguo 
Chen finds that Xue’s works confound “critics as absurd and repulsive” because they border “on nightmare and insanity” (1). And yet, reviewers also find her writing to be “mesmerizing” (James). Can Xue herself plays this game, saying – among many similar statements – that her writing is like “using air to weave transparent cloth – or using ‘nothing’ to make transparent clothes” (quoted in Griffith).

Can Xue frequently talks about her writing in statements that can be reduced to: “I just sat down and wrote without thinking” (quoted in James). This may seem related to automatic writing, which hoped to illustrate, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the theories of Freud and Carl Jung who each claimed a universal and transcendent unconscious that might be accessed or manifest through dream analysis and possibly through automatic writing. Spirit writing (Fuji or planchette writing, something like using a Ouija board) has a long history in China going back to the fifth century, which Astrid Moller-Olsen recognizes as an influence on Can Xue’s writing. Such associations suggest the unconscious is a repository of images leading, for example, Zhengwei Lu to claim that Xue’s writing is a “daring and skillful exploration of … the subconscious terrain of the human mind” as a storehouse; perhaps an attic containing Carl Jung’s archetypes. Such thinking is apparent in Pi Popo’s thesis, which identifies buildings as symbols in Xue’s fiction and also apparent in Can Xue’s several interviews in which she talks about her writing as uncovering or manifesting a nascent meaning or indistinct object not yet entirely formed or expressed in language. Can Xue claims her writing offers an esthetic experience that “opens readers up to affect and intuition” to “find the structure inside himself and facilitate the structure to be in an agreement with the work.” Speaking of herself in the third person, to further imply a universal unconscious, Can Xue advises us “to look for structure within oneself, rather than expecting to trace it out in the text on the page” (quoted in Schreiber). Referring to the writing of Calvino, Borges, Dante, and Kafka, Can Xue says that as a reader, she sees “the composition of the author’s soul, or maybe of my own soul, and I can explain how this structure and the text relate” (quoted in Wasmoen).

In “Aesthetics and Nature: a Preface,” Can Xue identifies influences on her writing; “I am deeply aware of the roles some a priori principles play in my creative practices.” She calls this the “syncretic aesthetic mechanism of Logos and Nous” derived from reading Kant, Hegel, and seemingly, Stoicism, which seems evident in her claim that “Nature creates and re-constructs itself through human beings” (644, 646). Can Xue asserts that, “This process de-familiarizes the [inauthentic] self and reveals the [true] nature of the self, which enables human nature to fully demonstrate the beauty of freedom” (645). This may have us thinking of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendental “Over-Soul.” However, the talk about souls is misleading. F.S.C. Northrop explains that the perception is probably not of a soul, but of suchness (tathātā) or mu (Nonbeing ); a perception of “immediacy within the self, but also, as Lao-Tzu emphasized, with equal immediacy in nature” (Northrop 331).

Phenomenology and postmodernism suspend or bracket belief in transcendentals to explain that the cause and structure is that of language itself, which transforms perceptions and memories of perceptions into images and conceptions. For example, in an essay on “Dreaming and Self-Search During the Ming Collapse,” Lynn Struve explains that in describing a dream, we ”treat waking-state memory of dream content (itself comprised of memories) as analogous in its ideational and psychological dynamics to ordinary memory of wakeful experiences” because we talk about both. “Despite their frequent bizarreness, dream records are viewed as raising the same sorts of issues … as texts that purport to relate personal memories from waking-state consciousness” (164). This explanation resonates with a scene in Frontier when “José admired his wife’s acuity. He thought that even in her dreams, she was aware of the essence of things” (41). Postmodernists like Charles Taylor suggest that this is the effect of language rather than evidence of a transcendental Over-Soul. Taylor writes, “ideas do not exist before their expression in language” (“Human Agency” 229). He quotes Heidegger who describes “language as the ‘house of being.’” It is language that gives “access to meanings” (“Taylor, “Arguments” 111, 112). Heidegger puts it succinctly, “language speaks man.”

Can Xue’s language is Chinese and Yun Ni describes how the decision to render characters’ names in the English translation of Frontier “erases” original associations to imply new ideas in English; for example, that José is Hispanic. Rendering

Liujin’s parents Nian Si (年思) and Hu Shan (胡閃) into Nancy and José, introduces new ethnic identities unrepresented in the original [Chinese text] and reduces the complexities of the characters’ personalities embodied in their Chinese names. Nian Si (年思s), which literally means 'Year Thought,' hints at the woman’s frequent loss in her long train of thought, which renders her almost bodiless, 'as if the bones have been pulled out of her body.' Hu Shan (胡閃) denotes flashes of thoughts, as is exemplified in his momentary hallucination of his daughter’s disintegrating shadow (Ni).

More comprehensively, this suggests that Can Xue’s Chinese language and cultural heritage need to be considered as more important in her work than the trendy label of “experimental writer” or the influence of Western writers she frequently mentions; Kant, Hegel, Kafka, Borges, Goethe, Dante, Dostoyevsky, and others. If her work is “an unswerving descent into the interior, a free motion that partakes of logos,” that logos or Tao is more likely to be Chinese than Greek or German. It is also unlikely to provide evidence of Platonic forms or a universal Freudian unconscious (Wasmoen). He Liwei, a writer whose fiction is said to resemble Can Xue’s, claims that in her many interviews, Can Xue finds “anything quintessentially Chinese” to be “distasteful and repulsive, and she never brings it up, a likely sign of hatred” (quoted in Hussein). Nonetheless, Taoism and its influence in Zen Buddhism provide a vocabulary to better appreciate Can Xue’s fiction as something more than “absurd and repulsive.” Chen recognizes that “she seems to share the Taoist perception of reality that life is a constant flux between material reality and dream reality” (350). This is also the view of Tantra. In the past, a recognition like this often invited linguists to take over the analysis. 

Charles Taylor implies as much saying, “even more striking is the partial hegemony … that linguistics has won over other disciplines” (“Human Agency” 215). David Hall and Roger Ames’ influential works on Chinese thought and culture provide different tools that rely on philosophical and literary methods to avoid ignoring cultural insights in preference for making meticulous definitions of individual terms and discrete schools of historic thought. In a work that anticipated Hall and Ames, F.S.C. Northrup explained in 1946 that Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism “constitute a single civilization of the East” (312). He saw that this unity resulted from concentrating “attention continuously, as the West has not, upon a portion of the nature of things which can be known only by being experienced” in meditative awareness (vipassana; 315). T. P. Kasulis’ important book on Zen Buddhism (1981) illustrates a similar view by featuring chapters on the Hindu thinking of Nāgārjuna and on “Chinese Taoism” that both influenced Buddhism.

Although reviewers hope to make sense of Can Xue’s novel by looking for a beginning, middle, and end, this is probably not possible because, as Hall and Ames explain, there is no Chinese model of an a priori, essential, or rational order (logos), as such, before we begin to make judgments expressed in language (“Thinking” 15–16). Ames explains the Chinese sense of order derived from Taoism:

First, it suggests a ‘part-part’ [association] rather than a ‘One-many’ or ‘part-whole’ model, where, in the absence of any metaphysical assumptions about the One behind the many or Being behind beings, order emerges from the coordination of so many ‘this-es’ and ‘thats’ – the harmonious correlation of the myriad unique details (wan wu 万物 or wan yu 晚育) which make up the world (Ames 220).

Northrup describes the Chinese language as offering impressions “given by a succession of concrete, immediately apprehendable examples and illustrations, the succession of these illustrations having no logical ordering or connection the one with the other” (Northrup 322). This is the kind of sense or order that we find in Can Xue’s fiction rather than an Aristotelian mimesis in which fiction imitates or illustrates what we assume are essential or universal patterns of moral and social life. In Can Xue’s fiction, “the pattern of the text is a pastiche – a concatenation of diverse images and allusions, all made important by the reflections of the author” (Ames 227). Ames tells us that, “the self of the exemplary person … is an empty room, a transparent medium through which the order of the world (tao) is expressed” or enters the room in response to specific contexts or occasions (228). This means, “The human being is not shaped by some given design which underlies natural and moral order.” It also means, “Order does not overcome chaos” in the complementarities of yin and yang. Instead, the exemplary person affirms “the complementary relationship between chaos and regularity” (Ames 232). Kasulis further explains that a “person is not something that has meaning or has relationships; rather, one achieves meaning through relationships” (132). The order or pattern is not that of a noun and adjective, but a network or series of verbs or performances. Hall and Ames explain that “The focus of an aesthetic order is the way in which a concrete, specific detail discloses itself as producing a harmony expressed by a complex of such details in relationship to one another” that does not presuppose a static Platonic form as cause or goal (Hall and Ames 136).

If Frontier doesn’t have a coherent beginning, middle, and end, there is a temporal dimension and a network of relationships among a set of characters whose perceptions and dreams illustrate multiple and changing identities. The novel opens like a film with a fade-in to an omniscient narrator reporting that Liujin hears an old man talking to himself, which “blended with the rustling of the poplar leaves” and the wind. The sounds of the voice, the rustling leaves, and the wind blend to suggest the Taoist music of man in nature. The fade-in illustrates the meaning of frontier as, not a place, but an indistinct boundary between sleep and dreams or between Nonbeing awareness (silence) and the perception of sound and images. The poplar is associated with tenacity, persistence, and endurance. “She thought the old man looked a little like the poplar tree in the courtyard” (Frontier 4). The old man – who initially says he is Meng Yu, the mutton seller neighbor of Liujin – turns out to be the closest thing to a guide for Pebble Town, which is something of a Buddhist monastery. Liujin wonders who this old man is who she finds sitting in her courtyard twisting hemp into twine; “he could weave without looking” (16). When she asks him, “where do you come from” the old man says he can’t remember, causing Liujin to wonder, “What kind of person has no memory? Is there a category of people like this” (10)? Kasulis provides an Asian answer, saying that such people (Zen Masters) offer “direct experiences” or perceptions rather than “reflective analyses of them” or coherent, descriptive, rhetorical accounts (15). Such persons are not interested in constructing a moral or ego-defensive “retrospective reconstruction of reality. Ordinary experience is retrospective in that we try to understand experience through previously learned categories” and it is such categories that the old guide, a kind of cloud and stream monk, has forgotten; “He moved like a sleepwalker” (17; Kasulis 60).

.... ice blocks..   After the waning of the Cultural Revolution, Liujin’s parents return to Smoke City, the “large industrial city in the interior” where they were from (Frontier 4). Liujin stays in Pebble Town to sell cloth in the market where she begins to reflect on her identity after her parents have left; “She was thirty years old: why did she have to live with her parents?” (5). Liujin meets Sherman, who “always looked at cloth, but never bought any,” just as he looks at Liujin without buying into a romantic relationship. He tells her “’I’m just looking,’ … as if imploring Liujin” (6). Imploring her to do what, she wonders; “What was going on between her and Mr. Sherman?” The narrator tells us, “With Mr. Sherman showing up, Liujin had more energy,” chi, or libido (7). Obviously, there is an unrecognized or repressed sexual interest between the two, which explains the following scene. “On an impulse one night,” Liujin walks to the riverside where she sees dead poplars; “their tall, straight trunks were ghostly.” They have endured a long life but to what end? Liujin notices Sherman and her neighbor, Song Feiyuan, who “came here often to study these dead trees.” Before she can question the two, they disappear and the phallic trees seem to become “like a wall bending around her and enclosing her.” Liujin felt “that the end of the world was approaching. It was really absurd.” She “buried her head in her hands,” but saw “lightning – one bolt after another [that] lit up her surroundings until they shone snow-bright.” Instead of coherently describing this sexual dream, with Sherman and Song Feiyuan hiding to then laugh about poking a shovel against a dead poplar, the narrator offers us perceptions or dream images without explanation, ending when Liujin suddenly “stood up and ran home without stopping” (9). Sherman doesn’t become romantically involved with Liujin. His affection for Liujin is that of a roshi or Master guiding a student monk. Near the end of the novel, his daughter, Little Leaf, describes him as a monk: “He had shaved his head and was wearing a gown that was neither gray nor blue,” characteristic of Chinese Buddhist monks. “His gaze was bright and wild, as though he were burning inside” (235).

In recalling the dream-like incident, Liujin thinks about the old man who opened the novel and who is associated with her father, who Liujin says “is my spiritual mentor” (Frontier 350). Liujin saw both twisting hemp into cord or rope, a symbol for the narrative. Both seemed to be looking for someone. Her father meditatively twisted hemp as he “watched the activity on the street” or life pass by. When the old man leaves Liujin’s courtyard, he enters Meng Yu’s house where Liujin “resolved to watch the old man all night.” She hears “the young woman” begin “to wail sadly and shrilly” and wonders, again in faintly sexual anticipation, “Was something going to happen?” (11). The next morning Liujin quizzes Meng Yu about the hemp man, but everything remains mysterious. Had he frightened Amy, Meng Yu’s wife? Meng Yu turns the vaguely sexual conversation in the direction of asking Liujin about Sherman who “went to her courtyard now and then for some tea, that’s all there was to it. But it was hard to say: maybe there really was something between them” (13). The sexual interest is faint but apparent. It continues; “Whenever Liujin heard geese at night, she couldn’t hold back her tears. It was clearly a cry of freedom, but it sounded to her like the dread that precedes execution” (10). The execution would seem to be that of a child’s identity in pubescence. Liujin also dreams “of the snow leopards roaring, and at the time, rumbling thunder had echoed from the earth. But even now, she wasn’t sure what snow leopards sounded like” (11). Despite such ambivalence, she is sure that she saw the old man “go through the gate of Meng Yu’s home, and then Amy had sadly and shrilly cried out in fear” (12). Doesn’t this sound like a prepubescent child struggling to understand the sounds coming from the bedroom of parents? Meng Yu seems to understand this in telling Liujin to be patient in regard to Sherman. This causes Liujin to feel “a little rush of emotion” and the narrator tells us that “Over the last several years, she had been involved with all kinds of men,” but “didn’t want these men to come to her home” (13). To one of her lovers, Liujin confesses, “I’d really like to be friends with the snow leopards. I get excited when I think of their massive claws.” Liujin also thinks about “listening to geese honking on a clear night” that leads the narrator to tell us “Liujin felt that she and her boyfriend had merged into one person” (14).

We now have a collection of identities: Liujin before her parents left, when she didn’t want her boyfriends to come to her parents’ home; Liujin selling cloth in the market after her parents left Pebble Town; and Liujin with a possibly faint or tenuous romance with Sherman manifest in the dream at the riverside with the poplars. Then we have the account with her boyfriend in which they merge into a single identity before Liujin “imagined that she had become a snow leopard squatting on the large rock” (Frontier 14). Ames reminds us that “self is a field of selves, constituted through a world of [Confucian] roles and ritually defined relationships” (Ames 226). Instead of further questioning her own identity, Liujin asks the old man from the beginning of the novel about his true name. “Was he a ghost from Meng Yu’s past life? Why did he have the same name? Liujin didn’t believe him. She thought this man might be a little crazy” (15–16). More puzzles; “were these two persons actually one person?” It doesn’t seem likely because “they had nothing in common except for their name” (16). Kasulis tells us that “Words cannot be assumed to be referents to nonlinguistic bits of reality” (21). Meng Yu’s wife provides further confusion when she sets a basket of bread at the old man’s feet as though she is his wife offering him a meal and scolding him about flirting with Liujin; “She’s Mr. Sherman’s woman.” No doubt confused, Liujin “wanted to shout at him: WHERE DO YOU COME FROM?” This sounds like a version of the koan, show me your original or essential and true face or identity, not your Confucian mask (16–17).

Instead of shouting the question, the narrative shifts to a moonlit night with “another flock of geese,” symbolizing longing (dukkha) in their calls, with Liujin not “sure of her feelings.” The scene shifts again with Liujin feeling that the sexual “tension in the courtyard” of her neighbor hadn’t “ever relaxed.” Liujin then “saw her father looking seriously at her from his photograph on the wall” as though to admonish her for her sexual desires (Frontier 17). She hopes to forget or evade this by burying a dead gecko that was stuck on the photo of her father. The Mandarin word for gecko is associated with another word meaning, “to avoid disaster.” Burying the good luck in her courtyard, she “spied the shadows of several people on the ground. Who were they?” Liujin runs back into the house like a teenage girl self-consciously frightened before an audience; “she didn’t dare turn the light off. She kept watching the window, waiting and waiting.” She wonders if “shadows exist by themselves? Thinking about these gloomy topics, she felt that the deeper she went, the less control she had. Finally, she could only drop into a whirling abyss” of sleep (19).

What we have seen is Liujin adolescence or coming of age with confusing sexual feelings and shifting ideas about identity. The plot is somewhat similar to Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” with the narrator reporting Liujin’s perceptions and dreams rather than reconstructing these to offer a coherent story about a dream or efforts to develop an individual identity. Possible answers about identity are tentative and often expressed as questions in the novel. Kasulis explains why. Instead of imagining a single true identity that stands apart from the experiences that would seem to otherwise constitute an identity, Kasulis explains that “the Zen student is advised to return to the nondiscriminating source of his or her experience” in prelinguistic perception. “The Zen student must learn not to think of linguistic distinctions as always referring to ontically distinct realities” that supposedly exist as objects or patterns in nature before being found or described in language (Kasulis 12). There are no Platonic forms. Like Foucault and Charles Taylor, Kasulis explains that “language can never leave its own constructs and internal [grammar] rules” to mirror what we assume is a preexisting world of objects and patterns (22). Language is simply expressive and does not “directly mirror the way things are experienced” (23). It is not that the world is illusory in essence, but that our talk offers impressions or characterizations of our experience that we too uncritically substitute for a perception of reality (25). We live in and through an ocean of language.

Hoping to make this clearer, Kasulis describes a Taoist allegory of a bell. Appreciating the music of its sound, a Zen Masters asks, “Where did the sound come from – from the metal casting [yang] or from the emptiness [yin] inside?” (Kasulis 34). The problem is that instead of focusing on the perception of the sound, we are tricked by language to try to identify either the metal or the empty space it encloses as the single cause of the sound. Kasulis identifies other problems. “We cannot even say that space is empty, since that implies a relation to something else that is not there; empty implies empty of something” (35). Kasulis explains that the Zen student tries to consciously “return to the source of personhood: the inner nondiscriminating, nonbifurcating core, [which is] the basis of all discrimination,” thought, or language (37). Doesn’t this seem, if not to explain Can Xue’s fiction, to suggest why it is so engaging in seeming to pose questions that we can’t find answers for? Kasulis says the Zen interest is “to be directly aware of the experiential process underlying any meaning a person might assume” or imagine (52). He ends several chapters in his book by quoting haiku from Basho. Basho’s most famous poem offers a parallel to the bell analogy:

Ah, the ancient pond.

A frog makes the plunge;

The sound of water (52)

The poem offers perceptions without explanation or analysis. This is not exactly the same as Can Xue’s automatic writing, but nonetheless related. Instead of the minimalist image and singular sound of a Buddhist temple bell, or the sound of Basho’s frog plopping into a pond that causes us to notice the silence preceding the plop, Can Xue’s fiction is more Tantric in offering a multitude of creatures, dreams, and perceptions; snow leopards, Mongolian wolves, lucky geckos, honking geese, lumbering bears, flittering wagtails, hopping frogs, and other creatures. Much of this coalesces into dreams of a nonlocatable or shifting Shangri-La or a tropical dream garden nirvana that seems to exist mostly in the air or as a dream. In the next scene in Frontier, Sherman brings a basket of frogs to Luijin’s courtyard. “They were everywhere. He laughed innocently. Liujin felt tense” because in China frogs are associated with “female genitals” (Barrett and McNamara 120). When Liujin begins to wonder about catching the frogs, Sherman says, “water is flowing underground here. It heard it. Frogs are very intelligent.” This implies the impelling force of “underground” libido, chi, or Shakti. Liujin’s heart “fluttered a little. His protruding eyes” resembled the frogs so that Liujin wonders, “Did his behavior suggest affection, or was this a prank? Liujin could never distinguish between the two. It was like the night in the poplar grove” (Frontier 22–23). The allusion here is likely to Zen koans that the student monk perceives as pranks played on him by the roshi to embarrass him so that he is reminded of his ego attachment or Confucian obligations and face or identity. However, koans are also expressions of affection or care by the roshi. Liujin is not prepared to intently or meditatively listen to Basho’s frog, but her anxiety about identity diminishes so that “Somehow, Liujin felt that Pebble Town,” or the monastery, “had a big heart. All kinds of strange people could find places to fit in” (23).

Luijin is herself a writer who frequently writes to her parents in Smoke City. “Now and then, she would ask herself: What is this correspondence for?” The answer seems to be that such writing is a form of vipassana or meditation. Alternatively, it can be seen as a form of koan study. The narrator says, “When she took up her pen, she wrote strange words” (Frontier 25). For example, Luijin writes, “‘I am not one person!’ Not one person? How many persons was she?” (26). Such questions are indicative of unenlightened thinking. Kasulis reminds us that “the individual (kojin) … is merely an object selected out of a group” of Confucian roles, scripts, or parts that one is expected to play (40). Buddhism sees the fundamental problem of identity as “craving for the permanence of either desired objects or the self.” We imagine “the self as an unchanging, eternal essence rather than the locus of a virtually infinite number of conditioning processes” (verbs). Kasulis quotes a Zen Master who says that in meditation the monk observes images in the mind “as magic shadows or as a dream. Nor does he abide in this magic and dream-like state.” He “does not cling to them or take them to be the only reality” (45). As the novel illustrates, such thoughts flutter through our minds as the many wagtails and other birds that flitter through the novel. Luijin is not enlightened when she writes to her mother, “Today we swam in the river.” She seems to recognize what this implies as a symbol of time and the flow of perception when she continues, “We … we will not vanish, not ever” (ellipsis in the original, 25). Just as suddenly, she “recalled her several lovers who were struggling in loneliness” (dukkha) and thought, “It was as though each of them had emerged from the earth’s core” in contrast to our Western assumptions about how one becomes an individual through defining choices. There aren’t explanations or consolation for what Buddhism calls dukkha (sorrow, disappointment, ennui), because we can’t realize our desires, or come to the end of our longing, or get to the bottom of the kaleidoscope of images that the novel illustrates. “Thinking of these enigmas, she didn’t know how to go on writing her letters.” Instead, she offers something like Basho’s frog poem: “The wind blows as usual, the sun rises as usual.” However, Liujin then wonders, “How many more things will emerge from the grottoes in the snow mountain?” (26–7). She seems – like Qiming later in the novel – to be eager to know, experience, or possess the images (maya).

Luijin talks with a young girl who serves as an alter ego or reminder of her childhood self. She wonders, “What immense, weighty worries were packed into this little girl’s heart? How did she get through each day?” We recognize that whatever the child’s “weighty worries” may be, they are, from an adult’s view, charming childhood concerns about nothing. The girl turns the tables to tell Luijin her house is full of Mongolian wolves. Instead of the wolves of libido (as in Little Red Riding Hood), the chapter ends with frogs. Luijin “felt on edge somewhere deep in her soul” thinking of Sherman. When he appears, “she was like the saying ‘Dry Mother Earth is thirsting for rain.’ She actually blushed.” But, again, the talk is figurative; about where frogs emerge from and “What’s it like underground?” in the deep well in the courtyard and deep in our minds or Buddha nature (Frontier 30). As a child, Sherman confesses, “I went barefoot chasing frogs” implying that he is now beyond such childish sexual pursuits (31). When Sherman leaves, Luijin, perhaps like Can Xue talking about herself in the second or third person, wonders, “What kind of people are you?” (32).

Chapter two begins where we are likely to think chapter one should have started; with the arrival of José and his wife, Nancy – Liujin’s parents – who have jobs at the Construction Design Institute. The Institute and Pebble Town are associated with Buddhist monasteries. After the mélange of images in the first chapter, this chapter initially promises to be more narrative and descriptive of the world we think we know. José and Nancy “felt they had stepped into a picture of the legendary Crystal Palace” where the windows promise to offer a crystal-clear view of reality beyond the glass (Frontier 33). When they arrive at the bus station in Pebble City, a pedicab driver picks up José and Nancy but abandons them, leaving them stranded, until they encounter a man “dripping wet from walking up from the river” who asks them, “You ran into a madman, didn’t you?” (34–5). Like his daughter, José is perplexed about why he and his wife decided to come to Pebble Town. He reflects that “People who could move so far” to join a monastery, “must have thought things through quite thoroughly.” José feels that his experience is “certainly related to things in his previous incarnation” and that “perhaps this had long been premeditated” but he has no memory of this (36). The point is that we don’t decisively decide anything. As the novel illustrates, our lives are immersed in a whirl of dreams and perceptions leaving us to think of decisions and identity only in retrospect constructed by narrative, by language building dreams.

The couple move into an apartment where their guide from the previous night shows up to talk about his romance with a Uighur woman he has only seen twice who lives on Snow Mountain. A janitor at the Design Institute, he announces, “My name is Qiming. You may call me old Qi” (Frontier 40). Later in the novel he explains that “My name is Qiming [启明] – the same as the name for Venus. Perhaps I was transformed from Venus” (172). Qi is a variant of chi, but Qi ming (起名) also means to name something, implying that Old Qi is a personification of language or that human chi is manifest as language; “language as the ‘house of being’” (Heidegger’s phrase). Thus, Old Qi explains, “That’s how things are on the frontier – the intangible is tangible,” silence is defined by the plop of Basho’s frog into the pond (40). We are reminded of suchness (tathātā) or how “Nonbeing is the source of Being, so there is an inner, indeterminate core of creativity within the person as well” before we cross the frontier to begin naming things with the help of Qi or Can Xue (Kasulis 36). This seems to explain what Can Xue meant by finding “the structure inside” ourselves to “facilitate the structure to be in an agreement with the work” (quoted in Wasmoen).

José and Nancy meet their neighbors, Lee and Grace. Lee informs José that they came to Pebble Town a year earlier to find “an atmosphere that could constantly inspire us” because “People living in Pebble Town always feel a covert motivating force” of Shakti evident in the monastery (Frontier 46). In Lee’s apartment, José and Nancy have their first glimpse of the magic garden. Lee instructs José to “Look at the gardener again. You’ll see that in fact you know him.” Lee explains that the gardener “stays in this garden and never leaves it. He lives in his memories” just as all of us unenlightened types do clinging to what we think are our defining memories confirming identity (46). The garden or Shangri-La is another symbol for suchness or Nonbeing. Grace informs José that “The garden isn’t there to be admired. It’s enough to know that such a place exists right under your nose” or as the lining, background, and context of language; the silence before Basho’s frog plops into the pond (47). Again, Kasulis offers explanation by writing, “Analogous to the way all existence takes place within the context of space, all Being abides within Nonbeing” or temporality (35).

Chapter two is not only about beginnings in Pebble Town, but also about the Buddhist hope to deal with time and ultimately with death. We find a dying dog, a white moth fluttering into the apartment, white flowers of mourning that Lee and Grace wear, and their impressive melancholy; “Those two seemed to spend the whole day wallowing in a kind of funeral atmosphere” (Frontier 44). Nancy tells José, “We can escape to the flower garden” to vanquish time, death, and Buddhist anicca (change, flux). “José thought her idea was rather bizarre. In fact, they couldn’t find this flower garden – so how could they escape to it?” (49). Nirvana isn’t a place but an experience of Nonbeing or suchness. Instead of planning an escape from death, the images suggest the panic and anxiety of the monk who cannot solve the riddles or koans given him by the roshi or Master. Whenever José talked with Lee, “he felt himself withdrawing from the world – and floating like a feather. It was an uncomfortable feeling.” Nancy tells José, “The ocean drowned a man’s dream” or discrete images and “We’re at the bottom of the ocean” (49). José tries to turn on the light in a night “darker than usual” only to find “the power was out.” He feels like a fish swimming. “He swam in a circle.” Husband and wife talk about their “decision to move here” to a place resembling a Buddhist monastery. José “said it was hardly a decision – but more a matter of the conditions [karma] being ripe for success.” This sounds like a monk asking himself, “How could I finally fully carry this out?” to solve the koan and give the roshi or Master the right answer so he would confirm or endorse my identity. José “realized this was an unanswerable question, yet he couldn’t help but raise it repeatedly” (50). The two “struggled between sleep and wakefulness. They dreamed simultaneously of the poplars …. The poplars were a symbol,” but naturally we are not informed of what because language swims like the fish in a bowl – in a circle – never arriving at its end or implicit, hoped for, destination (51). Our desire and search (dukkha) remains the water we swim in.

Hunting for the magic garden, José and Nancy catch sight of the Institute director and the gardener. They wonder if “Maybe the director and the gardener were actually a married couple” who “had built this tropical garden here … Did the garden really exist, or did it exist only in everyone’s imagination?” (ellipsis in the original). Sounding like a Zen roshi, the director offers something like the koan, “show me your original face,” when she asks, “What do you want, Mr. José? You came to Pebble Town from far away, but this place has changed. The thing you want to find no longer exists. Look – even I am looking for it!” (Frontier 55). José provides an unenlightened answer; “what Nancy and I want to find isn’t the same as what you want to find. We only want to find the tropical garden. We saw it once from our apartment – the place you arranged for us to live …” (ellipsis in the original). In exasperation, José asks the director/roshi, “Where on earth is that garden?” The roshi replies, “You can see it everywhere” (56). Like a disappointed monk, José feels the roshi has tricked him with such nonsensical talk. Kasulis tells us that “we can but vaguely imagine what it is like for the … monk to cut himself off from the social [Confucian] context that once defined his very personhood” (124). Consequently, the monk has no choice but to continue to struggle with the roshi to understand Nonbeing or wu wei (non-thought, Kasulis 36). José wonders, “Was it possible that he himself was related to the director? If not, then why had he dashed over here – so far away – the moment he saw her tiny advertisement?” (57).

The narrator tells us “Qiming was thirty-nine” and “had no skills.” A monk is sometimes called, a person of no social standing with no profession or social identity. Like a monk, Qiming “could only watch from the sidelines” (Frontier 61). Qiming illustrates Tantra and a reliance on the method of bhakti or love and devotion to the divine in a beloved image that erodes the ego; “he was single, but his heart swelled with erotic dreams.” The narrator asks, “Who could love as he did. Everything he did, he did for the beautiful woman of his memory.” Quan Yin is the bodhisattva or goddess of compassion and Qiming seems to be her disciple. “This stunning beauty couldn’t speak his language,” which is, of course, a benefit that prevents Qiming from draining his chi or rapture into speech and losing it in maya (illusion). “This woman could set his heart afire. What more could he possibly want?” (63). Qiming “spent a lot of time meditating. He liked this feeling: it made him feel special – a man destined to pass his lifetime in solitary meditation” for more than twenty years (64).

One day when Old Qi sits dozing and dreaming, Nancy approaches him to ask about snow leopards coming down from Snow Mountain to wander in Pebble Town. Qi tells her, “It’s a legend” (cf. li , tradition) but there are “a lot of them” about. Nancy responds saying, “I saw how happy you looked as you were dreaming, and so I assumed you had seen the snow leopards [desire, tanha] coming down the mountain. You see, I like to make inferences, don’t I?” Tantra is often called “riding the back of the tiger” in watching how desire works. Qiming seems to feel that Nancy has made quick progress as a monk. He thinks, “This Nancy woman must be unusual; no one should take her lightly” (Frontier 67). In the Himalayas, Tantrics are known to compete with each other in drying wet shawls or blankets in the frigid air with the Shakti or chi, vital energy, of their bodies. We see a version of this when Qiming “marveled at the heat emanating from Nancy’s body. Qiming thought that the moment she entered, she had fused into one with this room. It was miraculous.” We are reminded of Ames telling us that, “the self of the exemplary person … is an empty room, a transparent medium through which the order of the world (tao) is expressed” (228) and Charles Taylor quoting Heidegger about “language as the ‘house of being’” (“Arguments” 111). We are also reminded of Zen where “Nothing seemed to be a secret, yet everything was mysterious at the same time” (Frontier 68).

Like a monastery, “Pebble Town had a superiority complex, and everyone who lived here was soaked in this atmosphere. Outside events never interested them” (Frontier 69). We see this when Haizai comes to inform Qi that his father has died and finds work in the morgue; “Apparently he had chosen this work in order to talk with the dead” (74). Qi finds this to be a “shameful thing.” But, Qi has a “new practice – remembering a life he had never experienced,” which is something of a version of the Tantric interest in prior incarnations (75). More specifically, this alludes to the Jataka tales of the many previous lives or incarnations of Gautama Buddha. The director discloses to “José that she was in an accident in the interior several years ago and was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. But after a day in the morgue, she came back to life.” Haizai says “he had talked with her an entire night in the morgue and had almost frozen to death.” The allusion is to the Tibetan Book of the Dead (The Tantra on Eliminating All Evil Rebirths; BardoThötröl). The work, some of which is often read to a corpse in the Vajrayana or Tantric tradition, describes “the passings between various stages of consciousness, e.g. falling asleep and waking up, going in and out of a trance during meditation, and of course dying – the passing from life to death” (Michigan). Tantra is not only prevalent in Tibet. Japanese Shingon offers a Vajrayana or Tantric view that is especially associated with the funeral rites of virtually every Japanese. Qi asks José, “Did the Institute director tell you what she and Haizai talked about that night in the morgue?” José says, “She said she couldn’t remember.” After all, she was dead. “She’s been plagued by this question the last several years” as though trying to recall experiences and identity from prior incarnations, which is similar to divesting Confucian identities in the meditative quest to realize Buddha nature (74).

Not dead, but cold, Qi sleeps on a rainy night. “He’d been sleeping peacefully, but was awakened” by a voice that tells him “we can build a greenhouse in the air. Don’t you see? It’s absolutely unobstructed. It’s ideal for a tropical garden” (Frontier 75–6). The next morning Qi reflects, “although he wanted to think this incident was a dream, it certainly hadn’t been a dream.” Qi realizes that “This person did build the tropical garden of his dreams here: Qiming had heard several people talk of his flower garden, but he hadn’t seen it yet” (76). Qi dreams of trees and flowers in the tropical garden, including poppies to provide opium dreams, a “huge banyan tree,” like the tree under which the Buddha became enlightened, and the familiar poplar under which “he saw Nancy appear with her newborn daughter,” Liujin (77). Qi “sensed that he was still too immature – far removed from understanding the director. Just then, she changed the subject and asked about the Uighur woman” and Qi’s practice of bhakti. The director comments, “Qiming, you’re really fortunate. You’ve never taken a detour” on the road to enlightenment through the vehicle of bhakti (79).

The director tells Qi, “I want to simplify my life. … to vanish completely from this world. Do you think that’s possible?” (Frontier 80). When a young Chinese man announced to his family that he had decided to become a Buddhist monk, Frank Ching tells us that his name was often erased from the family genealogy as though he had never been born, because, in a sense, he has been reborn in the sangha or community of Buddhist monks. “A monk in Chinese is chu-jia-ren, or ‘someone who has left his family’ because such an act implies repudiation of his relatives” (Ching 205). Like a monk, Qiming “had neither children nor relatives here. What he had were only some wispy feelings, but wasn’t everyone here the same? Everyone bustled about for fanciful things they couldn’t grasp” (Frontier 80). Qi remembers that his father asked him “to read him a section of their family history every day.” The genealogy is forgotten, but his father’s watch continues to tick; the watch that the family history said “his grandfather had taken … from the body of a dead prisoner of war on the battlefield.” Like Jataka tales, “In these stories, his figure was blurred, sometimes like a child and sometimes like an old man. Yet the background was always snow lotus flowers and calliopsis. No ocean, though. In his dreams, he asked: Where has the ocean gone?” (82). The ocean of “Nonbeing is prior to Being, however, we should not infer it to have an ontic value of its own,” which might be perceived as an object. Time is not space. “As the ineffable fountainhead of all existence, it precedes and underlies the distinction between Being and its opposite, Nonbeing” (Kasulis 32).

The central chapters of Frontier offer more images and dreams about identity, attempts to solve koan questions, and the search for enlightenment or the realization of a true identity that is paradoxically no identity. For example, “Sherman thought his wife was unfathomable.” This leads him to think, “each individual was wrapped up in his inner concerns” (Frontier 89). He asks if Liujin has noticed this. She tells him that people moan as they struggle “against something huge, ‘such as a tiger charging down from the hill’” (90). In fact, Sherman “could sense a silent snow leopard [tanha] making its way between them” when he talked with Liujin (91). He thinks, “There are so many hidden paths in a woman’s mind” (italics in the original). Sherman’s daughter, Little Leaf, predicts that she will have a relationship with Marco who is bizarre in often trying to transform “into another person” by wearing disguises (100). Marco says he needs to return to Holland where, he claims, he had spent three years but “can’t remember anything about that country,” again suggesting déjà vu memories from earlier incarnations (101).

Chapter six begins with Qi finding Liujin as a baby lying in the grass as though she were a fruit from the magic garden. “Lee hears people talking about “rose, lemon, orange, evening primrose, durian, ginkgo, and so on. Lee thought it sounded as if they were describing the baby, but what were they really thinking? Could the baby be the garden in the air that they were looking for?” (Frontier 120). The association of baby and garden is based on the recognition that an infant does not yet have language and consequently lives in the garden before being expelled when learning to talk. Like the garden, the baby suggests Nonbeing and suchness (tathātā) or an awareness that is not yet lost in a forest of images and words. This implication is associated with Nancy sleeping in her office (suggesting sesshin or an intense period of meditation) and forgetting about both her baby and her relationship with the director/roshi. “Nancy was dismayed that she’d completely forgotten this. The feeling was accentuated when those little black-colored birds all returned at dusk to the thicket on the rocky hill. At times like this, she sensed clearly that there were many empty spaces in her memory, and each one of those spaces must have held the most amazing [or enlightening] incidents of her life” (122–3). For his part, José, like a monk, finds that “Bit by bit, he felt he no longer controlled his own narration: more and more blanks appeared in his stories. He loved this new narrative style: these stories filled with blank spaces were both simple and a little hard to explain. In the past, he hadn’t known he could tell stories this way” (Frontier 127). The blank or empty spaces come from vipassana or meditation. Explaining them doesn’t matter because “Pebble Town residents really had many things in common. Their ideas and intentions were usually similar.” Like other monks, “They lived simple lives then, and they based all of their plans on the present [perceptual] reality” (129).

Lee’s wife, Grace, reflects that they had lived in Bell City, Mountain City, Star City, Cotton City, and Match City that gave them “wafting memories [that] couldn’t be grasped or penetrated” (Frontier 135). She finds “Pebble Town gave her other memories. Some of them resolved earlier riddles from before, but most were dark holes that were even harder to penetrate” (136). We learn that “Lee and Grace had come to the Design Institute” because “This couple had long dreamed of once again escaping their old lives” (165). After arriving, Grace asks Lee to, “tell me: are we … still the same people?” now that we have become monks (ellipsis in the original). Lee says, “I don’t understand.” Grace could be mistaken for a Zen roshi when she responds, “It’s best if you never understand” to substitute an explanation for the original perception (169). Grace says that coming to Pebble Town is “just like coming back to my ancestral village” or true home “though in fact, I’ve never been there. I’ve only heard Mama talk of it” (172). The Zen banter continues when Lee declares that “Nothing you see here is actually what it appears to be.” Grace responds by asking, if “this is like our ailments?” (dukkha). Lee answers with another question, “Do you mean the thing inside us and the thing outside us are the same thing?” (175).

Lee wonders, “what kind of mission had the director assigned him?” Husband and wife talk about meditation and the thoughts that fly like little birds through their minds. Grace says, “You can try to feed them. Then they won’t leave you.” As a good monk, Lee says, “But I don’t want them hanging around me.” Sounding like a roshi, Grace tells him, “You’ll be okay after you get used to it.” She says, such birds are “everywhere. Sometimes they hide themselves; sometimes they show themselves.” Both gaze at a “large fluorescent banyan” tree in the magic garden that “blurred and then – bit by bit – disappeared” just like the birds flying away (Frontier 180). The narrator comments, “Now they understood why the drapes were so thick …. This was to keep illusions out” (ellipsis in the original 184). “There were so many questionable things that couldn’t be explained. Lee wanted to turn on the lights and look for the little birds in the room.” But he is cautioned by Grace who tells him, “Once you turn on the lights” of enlightenment, “it will be another world” (181).

Still unenlightened, but trusting in the guidance of the roshi/director, Lee says, “Everything will be all right as long as we follow the director’s instructions. Even though her words are sometimes unfathomable, we can do what we understand her to say” (Frontier 184). Qiming agrees, saying, “you won’t have to be afraid of anything. The director protects everyone” as a bodhisattva like Quan Yin (187). Grace also expresses her faith in the roshi saying, “In fact, we’re living in the flower garden. We can see the snow mountain,” shining like Shiva or mount Kailash, “from our window. It’s all because of the director’s protection, isn’t it?” (188). The narrator explains, “Deep down in their hearts, they understood, but they couldn’t say what it was. They could only sigh and repeatedly chant the mantra, ‘Pebble Town, oh. Oh, the frontier. Oh …’” (ellipsis in the original, 189). In a dream of being inside Kailash, “Grace was so calm that Lee thought she was meditating – communicating with the quartz all around them.” Lee wonders if he was awake and isn’t sure. Then, like Liujin falling into the abyss, Grace hears “Qiming’s voice echoed in the cave. ‘Above us is the snow mountain. Didn’t you guess? In the morning, we’ll be blown by the wind [chi, qi, or tao] from the snow mountain’” (190). In Tibetan, Kailash (Gangs Rinpoche) is called the precious jewel of snows. This reminds us of Deng Xiaohua’s choice of a pen name, Can Xue, which Porochista Khakpour tells us, in the introduction to the novel, means “the purest snow at the top of a high mountain.”

.... snow in the desert   Liujin returns in the novel to hunt, with her father, for the magic garden in the Gobi Desert. When they return from the desert, “Liujin was still unable to come back to earth. In the daytime, she often asked herself, ‘I was dreaming, wasn’t I?’” (Frontier 201). Frustrated by the lack of success of her willful efforts, Liujin “changed her view of life: she would not deliberately try to understand anything again. She would just stay alert – that was enough” (233). However, this is still a resolve or another goal and not yet, as Kasulis describes the enlightened monk, one who is “No longer sitting to be enlightened, one merely sits to sit” (113).

Sherman seems to have become a monk. His daughter, Little Leaf, sees that her dad “had changed greatly. He had shaved his head and was wearing a gown that was neither gray nor blue. He wasn’t at all like an office worker. And his gaze was bright and wild, as though he were burning inside” (Frontier 235). Marco is Little Leaf’s companion. He is guided in crossing a bridge at night to enlightenment by old Shao who lights the way and asks “if the lamp brought back any memories. Marco said he remembered many things, but he couldn’t say what they were. Old Shao said, ‘Your karma hasn’t yet run its course’” (241). The allusion here is not only to the Jatakas, but also to the tale of the Buddha’s dying guidance offered to his disciples as translated by Paul Carus in his popular Gospel of Buddha (1894): “O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves …. Look not for assistance to any one besides yourselves” (234). The context for this self-reliance is not Romantic indulgence in emotion, nor is it a call to anarchy. The context is bare-awareness (vipassana) or meditation focused on constantly monitoring – by the light of our own lamp of consciousness – our emotions and perceptions.

 After 250 pages of cryptic images, dreams, and questions, the novel indulges in something like dénouement when we learn about how the director was appointed by her father, a florist in a southern city. “She hoped that her death would simply be the fading away of her physical body while in reality she would still be the director of this massive – yet false – Design Institute” (Frontier 243–4). We also learn the caretaker of the “intangible tropical garden” is “a flower grower from her hometown” (246). The director tells Nancy, “You can’t find him easily. He always plays hide-and-seek with people around him!” (254). These putative causes explain nothing. The true or actual characters mean or explain nothing.

Liujin returns to wonder about her genealogy or how and why her family came to Pebble Town. “Her coming to the city was a little strange, for her family had never discussed the move.” However, “She couldn’t think too much about things that were happening to her. They happened, that’s all. It was only afterward that she could think about them” and as we know, this retrospective view and explanation entangles us in illusory thinking about logical causes (Frontier 270). Kasulis tells us, “Not directed by an outside agency” that would make our experience meaningful or intentional, “experience directs, or constitutes, itself” (99). This is echoed by Richard Rorty when he writes, “Nobody whispered in the ears of the early Greeks, the poets of the West. There is just us, in the grip of no power save those of the words we happen to speak” (36). Liujin’s neighbor, Amy, illustrates a related feeling; “She sensed she was on the verge of discovering something. It was almost on her lips, but of course she still couldn’t say what it was” (274). As for Qiming, “he still didn’t know why he wanted to live only in these temporary places. Was it for those dreams? Each time he moved to a new place, he had very good dreams. He enjoyed these dreams very much” (313). He asks the dying director, “do your really have to go?” She tells him that he can also disappear. So, Qiming decides to become a monk; “He resolved to become a deaf mute. In other words, he would say nothing and hear nothing.” The narrator explains that “with his change in identity, he could behave more freely than before. He felt he had retreated successfully” from naming to silent, meditative awareness. Qiming’s monastic name is “Uncle Flower” (315).

Uncle Flower tells Liujin to look across the street at a “headless man,” commenting, “See how free he is!” when not encumbered by analytic thought. Liujin agrees, saying, “It’s great to be headless.” She reflects that “maybe she could gradually learn to be like them – [to] calmly accept whatever came up in life” (Frontier 317). Liujin tells Qi that she is very happy. “Just now when I awakened and heard the flute [of Krishna], I felt as though I were living in Shangri-La. I’ve heard people say that this is Shangri-La” (320). Qi tells her “Our Pebble Town is a huge magnetic field [of Shakti], attracting people who are fascinated with secret things” (322).

The final chapter is titled “snow.” It is the snow of mount Kailash or Shiva from whom all Shakti, chi or life flows just as the Ganges River flows from Kailash. “Pebble Town and the mountain used to be connected by an invisible path” of feng shui (wind-water). Somewhat like James Joyce’s Gabriel, who at the end of “The Dead,” listened to “the snow falling faintly through the universe … upon all the living and dead,” Liujin watches the snow fall and feels “that in this instant, everything all around contained a certain clue” (Joyce 194; Frontier 346). Amy confesses that for her, “Something’s always covering my eyes, or you could say that in the past I looked without seeing.” She feels that “The boxes in her memory that were always kept separate were now fusing. Obstacles were vanishing” (349). Liujin “felt that she was sort of approaching the stuff of legends” or that recounting her dreams and experiences offered legends, Li () or literature (351). Then, “As she cooked, Liujin thought of things that were even less focused. This helped her calm down” (352). In a dream Qi appears to say, “The cart” or vehicle for enlightenment “is waiting at the courtyard gate. Let’s go.” Liujin asks where. Qi says, “You’ve forgotten again. We’re going to the snow mountain, of course,” back, or into, the origin of awareness and speech (353).

On the mountain and in the snow, Liujin says, “I see. That sort of garden is everywhere. Snow weather is wonderful” (Frontier 357). It is wonderful because snow makes transparent rain (chi) visible just as language makes thought manifest. Reminiscent of Gabriel in Joyce’s “The Dead,” Liujin “sat in front of the window and once more heard snowflakes falling lightly to the ground.” Like the fade-in opening of the novel, the narrator tells us, “She sat there until deep into the night. She simply gave up thinking and enjoyed the touch of the cool evening air.” Similar to Kasulis’ enlightened monk, she sits to sit, or to have being, to taste being (rasa). “Bit by bit, her mind became luminous” (358).


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John Rothfork
is a professor and former chair of the department of English at Northern Arizona University. As a Fulbright professor, he has also taught at universities in Japan and India.
    trees under moon