Fashionable topics

I’ve just finished reading Julia Lovell’s translation of Lao She’s wonderful novel, Mr. Ma and Son, and I thought I’d share the following short quote.

In the book, the hapless ex-missionary, Reverend Ely, is trying to persuade Mr. Ma to write a book comparing Western and Chinese cultures. The good clergyman is not entirely disinterested in his urging, because he himself is working on a book called A History of Taoism, and needs some help with his poor Chinese. Anyway, here’s the quote, which is still pertinent today:

The Reverend Ely pulled out his pipe, and slowly filled it with tobacco. ‘I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking on your behalf for some time now, and I feel that while you’re abroad, you ought to take the opportunity of writing something. The best thing would be a comparison of Eastern and Western cultures. That’s a fashionable topic nowadays, and it doesn’t matter particularly whether what you write’s correct or not. As long a you say something with conviction, anything at all, you’ll be able to sell it…’

— Lao She, Mr Ma and Son, trans. Julia Lovell

Lucretius, Liu Xie 劉勰, and Literature

Those visitors who are interested in comparative approaches to creativity may be interested in the paper that I have just had published over in the excellent Taiwanese journal, NTU studies in Language and Literature. The paper is about different models of literary creativity in Liu Xie’s early 6th century Wenxin Diaolong (文心雕龍) and Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. I’ve long been frustrated by the odd claim—made by a surprising number of scholars—that there is something inherently uncreative about Chinese approaches to literature, and so this is to some extent an answer to this, as well as an attempt to set out a more modest and universal notion of what it might mean to create literary works.

You can find a link to the article below.


Mo Yan, Politics and Writing

Having heard this afternoon that Chinese novelist Mo Yan 莫言 had won the Nobel Prize, I thought that I would track down some of his work to have a quick read. I only know Mo Yan indirectly, through the film [amazon_link id=”B001BHTNAY” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Red Sorghum[/amazon_link], which was based upon one of his books, and for which he sold the rights for £80. This seemed not very much to go on, so by a bit of judicious rooting around online I managed to dig out a copy of his short story Soaring (翱翔) in both English and Chinese; and having picked my way through the story in the original, and then read it in English, I have to say that I was very impressed. It was an old-fashioned tale of village brutality combined with uncanny, unearthly happenings, the latter very much after the model of Mo Yan’s forebear in his home province of Shandong, the strange and wonderful seventeenth-to-eighteenth century writer [amazon_link id=”0140447407″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Pu Songling[/amazon_link]. The Nobel Committee called it “hallucinatory realism”, and it seems a fitting name for the genre. Read more


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