Eric Van Hove:
"A year ago I escorted her home in the evening. There was
no one else who could be asked to do it. In the company of
several others, I walked happily along at her side. And yet it
seemed to me that I was almost happier in my hiding place;
to come so close to actuality, yet without actually being closer,
results in distancing, whereas the distance of concealment draws
the object to oneself. What if the whole thing were an illusion?
Impossible. Why, then, do I feel happier in the distance of possibility?"
Quidam in Søren Kierkegaard's Stages on Life's Way, 1845, page 205.
"Only in freedom is there love, only in freedom
are there diversion and everlasting amusement (...)"
Johannes in Søren Kierkegaard's Either/Or, 1843, page 360
When Han Chinese Confucian hegemonic customs of betrothal were brought to the Naxi people of Western China around 1723, strict sexual repression curtailing the process of courtship took over local traditions, and soon strong reactions of intolerance against arranged marriage emerged. Young Naxi lovers couldn't accept for their whole lives to be coupled without possibility of free love relations.
Soon, inspired by the legend of a young woman ????? (K?â mâ? gy?nbsp;m?nbsp;gkyî), who committed suicide rather than being forced into arranged marriage, ritual love suicide (y?vû or "Yuwoo") became rampant, and remained so for more than two hundred years. Lovers would escape to the high slopes of the highest peak in the southern area of the Yangtze River, ???? (Y??gxu? Sh?n - Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, formerly known as Mt Satsetso) looking for scenic spot where "they could see as far as possible". There, thinking they would rather "be a shattered vessel of jade rather than an unbroken piece of pottery" (????,????) they would look for the Cao Wu "Yuwoo" flower (which means "suicide" in Naxi language), build a shelter and play the mouth harp (k??kwuô kwu?. Named ?? in Mandarin Chinese, I identified the Yuwoo as being a variety of Aconite known as the Kusnezoff Monkshood which grows at an altitude of about 3300 meters. The Greeks hailed the Black Aconite as "the Queen of Poisons", created from the saliva of three-headed Cerberus, mythical guardian of the underworld. Used in countless societies, it is alternatively named monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard's bane, women's bane, Devil's helmet or blue rocket, and was the deadliest toxin known to mankind until the 20th century. In James Joyce's Ulysses, Rudolph Bloom, the father of Leopold Bloom, used monkshood to commit suicide, and it was with an aconite poisoned wine cup that Medea tried to poison Theseus.
He Limin, a professor of Naxi culture, explained to me that the Naxi traditionally had two paradises resting one on each side of the easternmost 7000 m peak in the world known today as ??? (G????? sh?n). The main one was made of the five original villages and mirrored the normal social structures in mortal life, and was accessed via natural death, but there was another, a sort of Metaparadise which was "better" as it was a place of freedom from those very social constraints that the love-suiciders were dying to escape. This paradise could only be accessed for sure through love suicide. While Dtô-mb?nbsp;(Naxi shaman) tradition identifies unnatural death, those who had died by their own hand without the benefit of a coin and rice in the mouth to open the gates of the Celestial Mansion, as the cause of transformation of the spirits of the dead into demons, love suicide turns them into "Wind Demons" (y?ts?? "wind" means "to flirt" in Naxi). Those demons, earthbound spirits haunting the Third World of Y??gxu? Sh?n, a sort of dystopian utopia on the upper part of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, could then tempt other young couples into y?vû as long as they had not been appeased and sent off to G????? sh?n. To do that, the Dtô-mb?nbsp;had to perform the largest-scale propitiation ceremony known: the five day long Hâr lâ ll? k?? ceremony to "propitiate the wind demons of suicide". (References: Naxi and Moso ethnography: Kin, Rites, Pictographs
, Volkerkundemuseum Zurich, 1998, page 139. Edited by Michael Oppitz and Elisabeth Hsu.)
Following the indications of ??? (Li Shikun), a Naxi herbal doctor from ??? (Yuhu village), formerly known as ??? (Xuesong village) when it was home to Austrian-born American botanist and linguist Joseph Rock from 1922-1949, early September being their flowering season, I hiked above 3400 meters on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, west of ?? (the jade lake) up to ?? (the poison gorge) past ?? (the heaven spring), and collected ?? "yuwoo" flowers. Then, I went up north into Sichuan Province and climbed on G?gg?nbsp;sh?n, the mountain that He Limin asserts to be the location or inspiration for the aforementioned Naxi paradises. There I collected water from the glacier. Using that which had made its way down for hundreds of years from the supposed location of Naxi paradise near the summit and an improvised steam distiller I extracted the aromatic compounds from the purple Yuwoo petals. I then dried the deadly roots, and gathered the whole folded into two white Buddhist scarves into a black lacquered wooden receptacle carrying a passage from John Keats' Ode on Melancholy
on its lid. A USB stick is included in the box containing various documentations including recordings from several conversations about Naxi love suicide with:
?nbsp;Mr ??? (Li Shikun), a Naxi herbal doctor from Yuhu village, about the ?? "yuwoo" flower.
?nbsp;Mr ??? (He Limin), professor of Naxi culture at the Dtô-mb?nbsp;Cultural Research Institute in Lijiang, about the tradition of Love Suicide in the Naxi culture and an accurate description of its mythology.
?nbsp;Mr ??? (He Qi Long), Buddhist and Dtô-mb?nbsp;researcher at the Five Pheonix Pavilion, Lijiang.
?nbsp;Mrs ??? (He Shufen), a Naxi farmer from Lashihai Lake, about her sister who committed love suicide by hanging about 40 years ago at the age of 22.
The title of the piece in Chinese is ?? (x?q?g) "committing suicide in the name of love" and ?? (shinj?) in Japanese: the "double suicide" of two lovers whose ninjo
, "personal feelings" are at odds with giri
, the "social conventions" or familial obligations. In Japanese puppet theatre (bunraku
theatre), the tragic denouement is usually known from the audience and is preceded by a ?? (michiyuki), a small poetical journey, where lovers evoke the happier moments of their lives and their attempts at loving each other.
Without being in any way educated on the matter, most of what I heard and saw about the Love Suicide of the Naxi people in Western China leads me to Søren Kierkegaard's existentialist philosophy. Going from the "dizziness of freedom" in The Concept of Dread
, as experienced by a man standing on the edge of a cliff because of his complete freedom to choose whether or not to throw himself off, to the concept of "First Love" as a pinnacle for the aestheticist in Either/Or
, speaking of the opposition between the aesthetic and the ethical as reason for the contradictions inherent to love, reconciled for Kierkegaard in the aesthetic validity of marriage. It seems to me that Naxi "love suicide" might go beyond marriage's aesthetic validity in reconciling the aesthetic and the ethical. Juxtaposed under the title Either/Or
, it seems as if there can be no continuity, no dialogue, between the two notions for Kierkegaard, but only an exclusive choice. Naxi love suicide seems to bring the aesthetic
and the ethical
into conversation, bridging Eros and Agape.
Commissionned and funded by Lijiang Studio. Realized thank to the support of Wallonia-Brussels International (CGRI