Chance Pieces on Creative Transformations Asia Blog

A few weeks back Michael Keane, who is a Professor of Chinese Media at Curtin University and who runs the Digital China Lab, wrote a very generous review of my Sixty-Four Chance Pieces over on the Creative Transformations Asia blog. Here’s an extract.

There is so much in the book to savour if you like a taste of magic realism mixed with observations about change and the passing of time. History, scholarship and finely honed literary skills combine to produce a minor masterpiece. A book about philosophy, adventure, discovery, about life and death, yin and yang, it’s also about creative transformations.

 

You can read the whole review here.

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.

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.

On Failing to Understand the Yijing

How do you culturally translate a text when one of the most striking things about the text is that it is either misunderstood, or simply not understood, in its original language? This is a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time with respect to the Yijing (I Ching 易經) or Book of Changes. The question is particularly pressing as I have been attempting to carry out just such a cultural translation for my forthcoming book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes. And so I’m very pleased to have just published a paper on this topic in JOMEC journal’s special issue on Cultural Translation and East Asia.

Alongside questions of cultural translation, this paper also discusses fish, fish-traps, Zhuangzi, understanding Derrida, not understanding Derrida, the terror of the English when faced with that strangest of French contraptions, the bidet (“what is it for?”), tango dancing in Hong Kong and three-legged birds made of bronze that turn into fish. In other words, it covers most of the things that are of pressing contemporary concern.

You can get hold of it as a PDF (nicely open access) by clicking this link.

A Book of Changes

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that I’ve just signed the contract on my novel-of-sorts, “A Book of Changes: Sixty-four Chance Pieces” with the excellent Earnshaw Books, purveyors of all good things China-related.

The book should be out some time in the first quarter of next year, and will be available in the UK, USA and East Asia. This project has been a long time in the making — it started out seven or eight years ago with an interest with Calvino’s literary experiments, and the idea of playing with the I Ching (易經) as a literature machine capable of generating new and surprising stories: because what is divination, I asked myself, if not the creation of new and surprising stories? Read more

A Note on Bread and Books

Over the last few days, I’ve been up to my ears in edits of my I Ching book project, this curious novel-of-sorts that has been preoccupying me for seven or eight years now. I’m hoping to get the final manuscript sent off by Christmas, so the next few days will be busy. In between long stints editing, I’ve also been baking bread. I’m not sure at the moment how the fiction is going, but the bread (sourdough with poppy seeds) seems to be doing well. Here’s what I found when I came downstairs this morning… Read more

Postmodernism? What postmodernism?

Don’t you just hate those Postmodernist writers? You know the ones… the ones who can’t just get on with telling a story. The ones who pop up all the time and say, “Hey, folks, look — this is a story!” The ones who just can’t do anything straightforwardly. The ones who like mucking around. The ones who are too clever by half…

I’m busy at the moment putting the finishing touches to my long-term project, A Book of Changes, a strange kind of novel-of-sorts based on the I Ching. And now I’m getting to the end of it, I’m realising that the book will, when it is eventually published, almost certainly annoy readers who have a distaste for this so-called “cleverness”. It fools around with mixing fiction and non-fiction, it comments on the stories that are unfolding as they unfold, it addresses the reader directly. It occasionally stops mid-story to say, “Oh, look at this…”, before moving on again. Read more

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