Sixty-Four Chance Pieces in the Asian Review of Books

Jonathan Chatwin has written a very nice piece in the Asian Review of Books about my [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces&asin=9888273027]. We met up the other week down in Birmingham, and spent an enjoyable Saturday morning talking about writing, China and other matters. Here’s an extract from Jonathan’s write-up:

The tales of Sixty Four Chance Pieces wear the scholarly and creative struggles of their creator lightly. Playful and inventive, they link imagistically to the I Ching but do not require prior knowledge of the text, and generally avoid direct allusions to Chinese culture or history. The literary reference points are Western: Italo Calvino is a key influence on the text, particularly his novel inspired by the tarot, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, whilst there are also echoes of Borges and Garcia Marquez.

Buckingham’s stories are glimpses into worlds familiar yet somehow distant, their landscapes and cultures verging on the mythical… Eclectic, with a healthy dose of humour, the stories of Sixty Four Chance Pieces act as provocations to consider the nature of our respective political, social and personal realities….

To see the full review/article, go to the Asian Review of Books.

Divination in Nottingham Event

This coming week, on Tuesday 14th July, I’m doing an event at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, reading from and talking about my I Ching-based novel-of-sorts, [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes&asin=http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sixty-Four-Chance-Pieces-Book-Changes/dp/9888273027], then leading a workshop on writing and divination, putting the I Ching to work as a tool for writing. It should be fun and relaxed, and all are welcome. The time is 7pm, and the suggested donation is £1 for members and £3 for non-members. I’ll also have advance copies of the book on sale (not yet out in the UK), at a reduced price. Do come along if you are in town. Find out more at the event’s Facebook page. Or, if you are not a Facebooker, email me for more information.

Five Chance Questions About the I Ching

Now that my I Ching-based book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces is out (see the page here for how to get hold of a copy), I thought I’d post this quick interview that I did recently about the book. So here are five chance questions about my sixty-four chance pieces about the I Ching.

Why did you write Sixty-Four Chance Pieces?

It started out as a whim. I wanted to write sixty-four intriguing stories, using the I Ching simply as a means to this end. But then the I Ching got the better of me. If you mess with a book that has survived for three thousand years, it is going to get the better of you. So I found myself getting sucked in. The project was supposed to take a couple of years. But in the end—what with learning Chinese, doing the research and all that—it took almost a decade.

What has an old Chinese book got to do with global 21st century people?

Old books are not to be underestimated. The I Ching has had a huge influence on China and, increasingly, on the rest of the world. Whilst writing this book, I was surprised by how many people confessed to me that they used the I Ching in their daily life. One student I met in Suzhou asked me whether it could be trusted when it came to fashion advice. I’m still not sure about this. I am not the person to ask about fashion advice.

Do you believe in fate? Do you think the I Ching reflects some higher power?

I don’t believe in fate. The world seems to me to be too messy and chaotic for things to be preordained. So one of the reasons that I like the I Ching is that it encourages me to think about change, uncertainty and mess. One of the biggest problems, perhaps, is that we suffer from too much certainty. The I Ching sows confusion in a very useful fashion. As for other powers, whilst I don’t think that the I Ching reflects a higher power, I think that it is a curiously cunning book. You have to be cunning (or else very stubborn) to survive that long.

How do the stories link to the I Ching?

Sometimes the links are very direct, sometimes they are more oblique and obscure. I wanted all the stories to be linked organically to the hexagrams of the I Ching, rather than being imposed upon them. Some stories came quickly, some I had to wait for a year, two years, or five years before they started to work.

What do I get as a reader from reading this?

Because I’m interested in uncertainty, I hope that readers will get things out of the book that I hadn’t even anticipated. When I was writing the book, I wanted it to be entertaining and intriguing. I take the I Ching seriously, but I don’t think seriousness is opposed to lightness and playfulness. So I didn’t want to write a heavy book. One of my early readers said to me that they were afraid that the book would be like Ulysses, but when she read it, she found herself laughing out loud. This was encouraging.

Making Books, Making Ourselves

A couple of days ago I arrived in Beijing, and I hit the ground running, with two events yesterday — a school visit and a novel-writing workshop – and three events today. So there’s not much time in between the blog. But I thought I’d post this picture of my new book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: it’s hugely exciting to see get my hands on a real, physical copy.

 

Chance Pieces

 

The book is so hot off the press that I haven’t got my author copies yet. This one is borrowed from the people at the Beijing Bookworm Literature Festival, where I’m launching the book later this evening (the launch is just next door at iQiYi cafe, where I’m writing this). So it’s not yet generally available, although if you are in Beijing, come to the Bookworm and buy yourself a copy. For the rest of the world, it may be a couple of weeks before it filters through to distributors.

Writing books is strange. Before I started on this project, I hadn’t planned to get involved in all of this thinking about China and Chinese thought. I had never been to China. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese. But as readers and writers, the books we get involved with shape us. And for me, it has never been more true than in the case of this particular book. We make things. And in making things, these things in turn make and remake us.

Anyway, come along to the launch tonight if you are in Beijing. And if not, I’ll post again on this blog when the book is available on general release.

Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: Machines, Mathematics, Organs and Pandas

I’ve just about finished the proofs for Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, my I Ching-based novel-of-sorts, ready to send off to Earnshaw Books. All being well, I’ll be launching the book in a few weeks at the Beijing Bookworm book festival. But just to whet the appetite, here’s an extract from the book’s index. All novels, I feel, should be equipped with an index…

I’ll post again when the book is finally published.

yijing_index

A. C. Graham on the Uses of Divination

I thought that this was worth sharing. It comes from A.C. Graham’s [amazon text=Disputers of the Tao&asin=0812690885], and is about the creative potential of divination techniques such as the Yijing, even if we accept (as I do) that the divinatory process is simply an exercise in playing with randomness.

 

An openness to chance influences loosing thought from preconceptions is indispensable to creative thinking. In responding to new and complex situations it is a practical necessity to shake up habitual schemes and wake to new correlations of similarities and connexions […] There is no reason to doubt that divination systems do help many people to reach appropriate decision in situations with too many unknown factors, and that the Yi is among the more successful of them.  Unless we are to follow Jung in postulating an a-causal principle of synchronicity, we must suppose that the Yi serves to break down preconceptions by forcing the diviner to correlate his situation with a chance sequence of six prognostications. If their meaning were unambiguous, the overwhelming probability would be that the prognostications would be either obviously inapplicable or grossly misleading. Since on the contrary the hexagrams open up an indefinite range of patterns for correlation, in the calm of withdrawal into sacred space and time, the effect is to free the mind to take account of all information whether or not it conflicts with preconceptions, awaken it to unnoticed similarities and connexions, and guide it to a settled decision adequate to the complexity of factors. This is conceived not as discursive thinking but as a synthesising act in which the diviner sees into and responds to everything at once, with a lucidity mysterious to himself. The Yi is not a book which pretends to offer clear predictions but hides away in tantalising obscurities; it assumes in the diviner that kind of intelligence we have discussed in connexion with Chuang-tzu, opening out and responding to stimulation in perfect tranquility, lucidity and flexibility. (p. 368-370)

 

Image: Grinding Cinnabar and Annotating the Yijing.

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