A friend recently forwarded me Mo Yan‘s speech at the Swedish Academy, accepting his Nobel Prize in Literature. I’ve read a novel and a collection of Mo Yan before and my reading group is in the process of reading another novel of his now. To me, Mo Yan is not only a writer, but social critic. I wonder if those who voiced the controversies regarding his winning of the prize have read or understand his writings.
I read his novel “Life and death are wearing me out” in English and found his way of revealing the social changes and injustice via the eyes of reincarnated animals refreshing and clever. I’m also very impressed by the English translation done by Howard Goldblatt, though I must say, the title in Chinese is much better and cleaner. (Goldblatt is such a good translator that I sometimes prefer reading his translation than the originals, which has never happened to me in reading others’ translation before.) For “Big Breasts and Wide Hips”, the novel my group is reading now, I’m shifting between Chinese and English, trying to get a better sense of both the writing and the translation. A nice exercise.
Below is a few excerpts from his speech that I find inspiring:
“Humility and compromise are ideal in one’s daily life, but in literary creation, supreme self-confidence and the need to follow one’s own instincts are essential.”
“What I should do was simplicity itself: Write my own stories in my own way. My way was that of the marketplace storyteller, with which I was so familiar, the way my grandfather and my grandmother and other village old-timers told stories.”
“My greatest challenges come with writing novels that deal with social realities, such as The Garlic Ballads, not because I’m afraid of being openly critical of the darker aspects of society, but because heated emotions and anger allow politics to suppress literature and transform a novel into reportage of a social event. As a member of society, a novelist is entitled to his own stance and viewpoint; but when he is writing he must take a humanistic stance, and write accordingly. Only then can literature not just originate in events, but transcend them, not just show concern for politics but be greater than politics.”
“Possibly because I’ve lived so much of my life in difficult circumstances, I think I have a more profound understanding of life. I know what real courage is, and I understand true compassion. I know that nebulous terrain exists in the hearts and minds of every person, terrain that cannot be adequately characterized in simple terms of right and wrong or good and bad, and this vast territory is where a writer gives free rein to his talent. So long as the work correctly and vividly describes this nebulous, massively contradictory terrain, it will inevitably transcend politics and be endowed with literary excellence.”
“Many interesting things have happened to me in the wake of winning the prize, and they have convinced me that truth and justice are alive and well.
So I will continue telling my stories in the days to come.”
Translated by Howard Goldblatt. Read entire speech at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2012/yan-lecture_en.html
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.