NOT

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Mo1

My favourite comments on Mo Yan in the last few months are in the article by Liu Jianmei (刘剑梅), published in FT Chinese on Dec. 11 and posted on the MCLC list on Dec. 19. The title asks something like ‘Does literature still work like a shining light?’ Maybe my translation is not too bright. Should literature be a shining lantern? That’s one of the questions in Liu’s article. Literature and art were thought of as relevant to society and the nation in the 1980s. Liu talks about different approaches and relationships of life and art. Mo Yan deserves careful reading, just like Yan Lianke and Lu Xun. Nothing more or less. Liu uses “Save the cildren”, the last line from Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman, for a close look into Mo‘s works as well as Yan Lianke’s latest novel Four Books (not published in Mainland China). The main characters of Republic Of Wine and Frogs are unable to save the children, like Lu Xun’s narrator. Republic of Wine features cannibalism and a riotous carnival of language. It’s my favorite among Mo Yan’s novels, along with The Garlic Ballads.

What is art? What is it for? A little more than 100 years ago now, the Dadaists (in voluntary exile in Switzerland and other places) concocted a virtual antidote to the First World War. Words, ordinary and exalted speech, had lost any meaning in the collective carnage. Not much later, Hu Shi, Zhou Zuoren, Lu Xun etc. attempted to change the Chinese language, in written form and on stage. Yomi Braester shows in Witness Against History how Lu Xun’s most famous passages retain ambiguities that belie any straight nationalist reading, even if the author himself would have read them that way. I like the crazed language of the Madman. Republic of Wine, more experimental than any other works by Mo (to my knowledge), goes into that direction. In Bei Dao’s Rose of Time (Shijian de meigui), a collection of essays that appeared in Shouhuo (Harvest) magazine in the early 2000s, when Bei slowly became acceptable in China again, he writes about Pasternak and Mandelstam. In his youth, Pasternak praised Stalin. Later he tried to extricate other writers from the Gulag, with mixed success. Mandelstam believed in Communism all the way to his death in a labor camp. Bei Dao doesn’t say that. But the chapter on Pasternak invokes Russian Formalism and Structuralism that grew out of the abortive 1905 revolution. Art makes reality appear strange and different, enabling the spectator to perceive it more clearly. And the flag of art is always different from the flag on the citadel.

Republic of Wine is wilder than the real Mo Yan on the Nobel stage. When the real Mo (sounds funny, doesn’t it? The real NO, or the real NOT, like NOT A WORD), when the real Mo Yan talked about his mother, I was moved. It sounded like my grandmother in rural Austria around 1920. Sometimes she couldn’t go to school in winter because she had no shoes. But Mo Yan also said his mother was afraid he would “leave the collective” with his storytelling. Qunti 群体, the masses, the collective, could that be called an example of Mao wenti or Mao-ti, Mao-Speak in this usage? Actually not, qunti 群體 is an older word, could have been used by Li Dazho and other founders of the Chinese Communist Party, before Mao, Prof. Weigelin told me recently here in Vienna. She was right, I encountered qunti in another text I liked very much, was it by Yu Hua? Anyway, I was rather baffled when Perry Link related how a mother would tell her child on the bus to “jianchi 堅持”, to hold it until the driver could stop and let the child out to go to take a leak. Would “jianchi” really sound strange outside of Mainland China? But the discussions about Mao-style are still relevant – Mo Yan is an establishment figure nowadays, and generates critique of China’s established system in general.
I was a little surprised when Chinese critics of Mo Yan talked about the carnivalesque language in his novels. As if you had to be careful not to lose yourself in there. I did think of Mikhail Bakhtin and his concept of carnival in Dostoyevsky’s novels when I read Republic of Wine. But as far as I remember, Bakhtin had defended language and storytelling that would sound strange and crazy, as opposed to Socialist Realism. So when was Mo Yan’s writing first associated with carnival? Maybe in the 1980s? And how did this association evolve?
A few days after the recent massacre in a primary school in Connecticut, Ross Douthat in the New York Times talked about Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Although Dostoyevsky was a Christian, Douthat says, the senseless cruelty against children in the novel is just cruelly senseless, there is no “rhetorical justification of God’s goodness”. You have to look at the behaviour of characters who show “Christian love” to find any counterpoint. Below this op-ed, there are 121 reader’s comments, all within one day. Many say they want to talk about guns, not literature.
What is literature for? Why is there a Nobel for literature, but not for music or fine art? Or films? Nobels make for debate. Very much debate, in this case. Great.

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2条回应 to “NOT”

  1. 樹 | 中国大好き Says:

    […] not 莫 […]

  2. Mo Yan 莫言 and Liao Yiwu 廖亦武 | 中国大好き Says:

    […] December 2012, after Mo Yan’s Nobel lecture, they had heated discussions in Sweden, for example between Göran Sommardal and […]

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