The Monkey King in the American Canon

The Monkey King in the American Canon - COMPARATIVE...

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Unformatted text preview: COMPARATIVE LITERATURE STUDIES, Vol. 43, No. 3, 2006. Copyright 2006 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 355 THE MONKEY KING IN THE AMERICAN CANON: PATRICIA CHAO AND GERALD VIZENORS USE OF AN ICONIC CHINESE CHARACTER J. Stephen Pearson The past few decades have seen the incorporation into American life of one of the most popular fi gures in Chinese culture: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. The stories of Monkey and his companions, Sandy, Pigsy and the Buddhist monk Tripitaka, have circulated throughout China for centuries, being told and re-told in numerous oral traditions, written texts, theatrical and operatic performances, movies and television series. In America, the Monkey stories have recently been re-told by David Kherdian, appropriated by Mark Salzman, and adapted both as a serial comic for adults by Milo Manara and Silverio Pisu, and as a childrens story by Aaron Shepard, while Monkey himself has shown up as a character in a Sesame Street TV special and as an Offi ce Assistant for Microsoft Offi ce. 1 The Monkey tradition is also being established within the American literary canon (that idealized collection of Americas most important books, purportedly determined by academics and critics but more plausibly established and updated by major authors through their own literary infl uences) thanks in large part to the publication of three critically lauded novels from high-caliber authors: Ger- ald Vizenors Griever: An American Monkey King in China, which won the 1986 Fiction Collective Prize and the 1988 American Book Award; Maxine Hong Kingstons Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, which won the 1990 PEN USA-West Award; and Patricia Chaos Monkey King, which received favorable reviews and was a fi nalist for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great Writers Award. 2 Vizenor and Kingston are well-established writers whose works are routinely studied in universities, while Chao is a promising young novelist who represents the next generation of Asian American writers. As 356 C O M P A R A T I V E L I T E R A T U R E S T U D I E S will be seen, these three authors use the Monkey tradition in sophisticated but radically different ways. For this reason, they form a convenient set with which to examine the ways non-Western literary traditions can be integrated into American literature; specifi cally, the authors take the character of Mon- key and either imitate, parallel, or invert him. The Monkey Tradition At this point, a summary of the Monkey story is useful. What is here called the Monkey tradition refers to a family of legendary stories that grew up around a historical incident from the seventh century: the journey taken by the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang (also spelled Hsan-tsang, but usually referred to by his Buddhist name, Tripitaka) to bring Buddhist scriptures from India to China. Over the centuries, the stories were expanded to include a set of three magical disciplesMonkey, Sandy and Pigsy. Several versions of set of three magical disciplesMonkey, Sandy and Pigsy....
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The Monkey King in the American Canon - COMPARATIVE...

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