What literary factors develop the tragic aesthetics of Hong Lou Meng? While this broad question may be ascribed to many perspectives like language, content, theme, character, etc., this paper examines it through the form of time, a seemingly technical but perhaps fundamental point. The form of time means the structure of time which is artistically represented in a narrative, (both a narrative feature of language and a cognitive concept). It affects not only the length, speed, and rhythm, but also the ending, ideology, and aesthetics of a narrative.
Based upon these suppositions, this paper looks at the internal temporal structure and aesthetics of Hong Lou Meng by examining the relationship of two main forms of time in the book: the “immortal temporality” in the mythical world (the Great Fable Mountains 大荒山) as large-scale structure, and the “mortal temporality” of the characters’ quotidian existence (the Prospect Garden大觀園) as small-scale structure.
This paper argues that the overall form of time in Hong Lou Meng, which can be simplified as “emptiness- form-emptiness”, corresponds with the structure of “nothing-being-nothing” in traditional perception of time. This shows the mutual reflection between individual lifetime and time order in the universe, in the logic of “the totality of time”. On the other hand, the exceedingly detailed day-to-day life in Hong Lou Meng disproves the nothingness and totality of time as well. In this sense, the unary tragic connotation inside the text is largely dissolved and neutralized.