For all the different styles of play in different countries and continents, football is a game whose rules can be universally applied. North Korea plays Mexico with a Swedish referee and despite one or two contested offside decisions a result is recorded and one team can pass to the next round without too much discussion. But can we feel so certain when the Swedish referee judges poems from those two countries that he will pick the right winner? Or even that there is a “right” winner? Or even a competition? The Mexican did not write his or her poems with the idea of getting a winning decision over the North Korean, or with a Swedish referee in mind. At least we hope not.
The overlapping world of literary critics and cultural commentators is still arguing about Mo Yan 莫言 and his Nobel Prize. Nobel Literature Laureate from 2009, Romanian-raised Herta Müller calls Mo Yan’s win “a catastrophe” because he “celebrates censorship.” And Anna Sun of the Kenyon Review calls Mo Yan’s writing “diseased“; as for the “shimmering poetry and brutal realism” of his writing as advertised? Sun says “only the ‘brutal realism’ is Mo Yan’s; the ‘shimmering poetry’ comes from a brilliant translator’s work.”
As for the translator, Howard Goldblatt’s “Memory, Speak” is online at Chinese Literature Today. Chinese Literature Today co-founder Jonathan Stalling responds to criticism of Mo Yan with “Mo Yan and the Technicians of Culture.” And an audio interview with Mo Yan has been posted at Granta.
Finally, Tim Parks doesn’t mention Mo Yan in “A Game Without Rules,” but he does say: