As intellectuals wrestled with the need to be both Chinese modern, the madman’s expository role as “monster yet mirror” – to borrow a phrase from the late historian Roy Porter – became a crucial articulation of what it meant to be Chinese in an era of tumultuous change.), published in 1935, a haughty Chinese intellectual, holding utter disdain for those around him, is eventually fired from his work and divorced by his wife.
Unwilling to face the source of his personal and professional misfortunes, the protagonist ultimately goes mad and is institutionalized.
This study of rage restraint in classical antiquity must have been completed before 11 September.
In the shadow of that trauma, it has a topicality its author can hardly have expected.
When real and fake, right and wrong have appeared to become hopelessly enmeshed, it can be difficult to remember where the line between madness and sanity lies.
‘We should flatten a country or two,’ said a young man to the television camera on 11 September last year.“Perhaps there are still children who have not yet eaten men? “Save the children…”Criticizing the barbarism of his fellow countrymen, the madman simultaneously evokes hope for a more humane future: one in which the lucidity of his “madness” is exposed for the sanity that it truly is.It is an injunction that, one hundred years on, continues to feel .Achilles is angry because Agamemnon has grabbed his girl, his booty in the war against Troy.A great insult to his honour and prestige, which Homeric values count as injury to the person.‘Justice, not revenge,’ the Roman Catholic bishops warned that same day.They were not given time to explain the difference, nor was the young man asked to name a country or two for flattening. It would be going too far to say that 11 September undid centuries of Christian teaching and made revenge respectable again, just as William Harris is over the top when he opines: ‘In the United States, views about revenge seem to have sunk to a level appropriate to a neolithic village.’ But it is troubling how much public talk of revenge there is at present.Despite a somewhat rambling organisation and quirky remarks like the one just quoted (what’s the evidence for neolithic views on revenge? Harris’s only serious omission is anger in the context of war.The ancients had much to say about anger both as a major cause of war, including civil war, and as a potent factor in the fighting.Convinced that his parents are engaging in cannibalism – and are grooming him to be cannibalized in the near future – the madman progressively loses his grip on reality. Indeed, the brilliance of the story is that the protagonist, though ostensibly insane, is actually the only character to see the inhumanity of his “man-eat-man” society with an unimpeded view.Cannibalism does, in fact, appear with disturbing frequency in the literature of Chinese antiquity: aside from the expected cases of survival cannibalism during times of famine, filial children were praised for (often perpetrated by rebels against state magistrates) occurred during periods of instability.