China and Inner Asia
Harvard University, United States
It is a common belief that the hallmark of modernity lies in the disenchantment of the world. However, in literature, stories of (re)enchantment are not only plenty, but they are often actualized in human-animal encounters. Despite such stories’ abundant presence in the field of human-animal studies and Sinophone literature, little attention is paid to the feeling of ling (the numinous) that is often expressed in forms of wonder and awe followed by a recognition of that which is beyond. In this essay, I focus on the return of a religio-spiritual discourse, revolving around the much-neglected concept of ling. Three animal-related short stories are selected to contextualize “the feeling of the numinous” in different cultural, ethnic and religious traditions. The stories include Sinophone Tibetan writer Tsering Norbu’s “The Emancipated Sheep,” Sinophone Muslim writer Shi Shuqing’s “Knife in the Clear Water,” and Han Chinese writer Hong Ke’s “The Merino” in Xinjiang. The paper argues that, without relying on a divine creator that presumably falls beyond the mundane, the immanent feeling of the numinous (ling) is only generated and actualized in human-animal interaction after engaging with various preparatory practices involving care, contemplation or simply becoming aware. The paper provides a new understanding of human-animal relations by bringing Agamben’s bare life into dialogue with the Tibetan Buddhist idea of life-release (tsethar), juxtaposing Chinese Sufi mysticism and Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum, and navigating Zhuangzi’s transcendental eco-cosmology under the backdrop of the Xinjiang prairie.
Keywords: Sinophone literature, animal studies, religion, Tibet, Chinese Muslim, Xinjiang, ling, numinous