Ouyang Jianhe named BNU Writer-in-Residence

Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河 has been named a writer-in-residence at Beijing Normal University. China Daily reports:

In a symposium at BNU on March 16, Yu Hua 余华 called Ouyang a “broad and complex” poet for relating history to modern times. Mo Yan 莫言, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012, said Ouyang’s poems always touch on the essence of life and the poet has the ability to make his culturally profound and philosophical poems understandable to the general public.

While compliments were paid to Ouyang’s literary achievement at the symposium, the poet said he wants to hear more criticism. He said that since many new things have occurred so rapidly in modern poetry over the past three decades, it’s harder for classics and milestone pieces to emerge.

“Our poems are still just the questions, not the answers,” he said.

Ouyang also said during the symposium that one of his biggest childhood dreams was to become a college professor. However, he never had the chance to even attend college as he was already 35 when he retired from his service in the army.

Click on the image for the full article.

In Other Words: a discussion about translation and translators at Asian Review

Julia Lovell, Sophie Lewis, Arunava Sinha, Marcia Lynx Qualey and I took part in a discussion at Asian Review of Books on the nature of translation and the role of translators in bringing Asian literature to the English-speaking world. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:

Peter Gordon, editor: A work in translation is, obviously, not the same as a work in the original language. But what is it exactly that readers are actually reading when they read a translation?

Lucas Klein: First, what a translation is not: a genetic clone of some original. Many criticisms of translation—such as that translation is “impossible”—are based on impossibly narrow definitions of translation.

Peter Gordon, editor: When setting up the Man Asian Literary Prize, I included an additional award for the translator (if there was one) of the winning novel. This was not just a matter of acknowledging the translators’ contribution: the Prize was initially for as yet unpublished works, and I figured if anyone would know what interesting works were in the pipeline, it would be translators … Where do translators and translations fit in this “eco-system”?

Lucas Klein: The role of translators in that ecosystem can seem both very large and very small. If Faulkner was influenced by the Bible and the great nineteenth century Russian novelists, say, and in turn influenced Gabriel García Márquez and Mo Yan, then not only was Faulkner influenced by the King James translators, but also by Constance Garnett, who translated Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the early twentieth century, as García Márquez and Mo Yan are influenced by the translators of Faulkner into Spanish and Chinese, while Howard Goldblatt is in turn influenced not only by Faulkner but by Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman—García Márquez’s main translators into English—in the formation of the literary style he has used to represent and recreate Mo Yan’s voice in English.

Click the image above for the full discussion.

After this, No More Mo Yan

Canadian author Alice Munro (PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Now that “Dissident writer Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday morning for her fiction critical of the Canadian regime,” the year of Mo Yan’s Nobel has ended.

So the last Mo Yan update from this blog will be a link to this interview with Liao Yiwu 廖亦武, who, upon being asked to compare himself with Mo Yan, who, ahem, “received the Nobel Peace in Literature,” said:

I don’t want to be compared to someone like Mo Yan. He is an official of the Communist Party. Whenever he makes a public appearance, he is representing the dictatorship. So my criticism is natural … Of course there is a happy medium; there are authors who criticize the realities of Chinese society without being political. But they aren’t on the side of the dictatorship. Mo Yan overdoes it.

A Little More Mo Yan

The Straights Times Asia Reporton how Mo Yan’s “Nobel win gets readers excited about Chinese lit” (the site is paywalled, but for excerpts, see Paper Republic)

Bruce Humes on Mo Yan and Chinese understanding of Chinese literature in translation:

This renewed interest in defining what constitutes a “good” literary translation comes in the wake of the awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature to China’s Mo Yan (莫言).  Chinese translation professionals—and government officials charged with expanding the country’s soft power overseas—are searching for lessons to be drawn from Mo Yan’s resounding success.

One key lesson could be that China’s customary academic emphasis on word-for-word translation, in the belief it yields the greatest accuracy, doesn’t actually fly, marketing-wise. The article points out that Mo Yan’s English translator, Howard Goldblatt, edited freely as he translated (连译带改) Mo Yan’s Garlic Ballads (天堂蒜薹之歌), and that the German publisher chose to base its translation on the English too.

And Anjum Hasan in “Chinese Whispers” on how Chinese literature looks from India:

When Mo Yan won the latest Nobel Prize for Literature, I was struck by a curiosity that the prize is perhaps meant to trigger: I hadn’t read Mo Yan and was wholly ignorant about contemporary Chinese fiction. So I ordered his novella Change (2010) from Seagull Books. The title had been put out as part of their ‘What Was Communism’ series, with a cover designed in-house that prominently mentioned the win. Change (and Mo’s Pow!, also published by Seagull) turned out to be the only examples I could find of Chinese fiction independently sourced and published in India. Most Chinese literature available to us, I discovered in the coming months as I looked for more to read from that country, travels here through Western channels—either reprints of Western editions or these editions themselves, priced for Indian markets.

This piece in its entirety is one of my favorite takes on Chinese fiction in a contemporary global context. Too often our discussions of world literature, in Chinese as well as English, assume the centrality of the New York – London publishing axis; here, I found the view from India particularly illuminating.

Even more Mo Yan

Translators need to strike a balance“An Epic Tale of Comic Realism”: a reader’s words on Life & Death are Wearing Me Out.

Peter Tieryas Liu on Sandalwood Death:
The best of Chinese literature doesn’t just give insight into the Chinese condition, but that of all humanity. Mo Yan’s specialty is the uniquely local spectrum through which he plays out the tragicomedy of life as in this case with a rebellion in a small town and its cast of eclectic characters.

And Mo Yan on translation in conversation with Adonis:

“From the perspective of literature and art, it’s undoubtedly a huge loss. My attitude is, forget the translators when you write. Care not about whether they feel happy to translate. The real talented translators aren’t afraid of difficulties,” he says.

[not that I know who translated that passage]

In “White Happy Doves,” Nikil Saval reviews Change, Pow, and Sandalwood Death for the London Review of Books:

When the English translation of Mo Yan’s novel Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996) was published in 2004, it was seen by some critics as his bid for global literary prestige. It hit all the right notes: it was a historical saga of modern China featuring a proliferation of stories, it was unceasingly violent and nasty, and it came near to puncturing Party myths … the Washington Post praised Mo Yan for having ‘spoken out courageously for freedom and individualism’. Here was a liberal voice in repressive China. ‘The Swedish Academy, which leaps at any chance to mix literature with politics,’ he concluded, ‘might well find in Mo Yan just the right writer through whom to send a message to the Chinese Communist leadership.’

Last year the Academy did indeed give Mo Yan the prize. But this time the Nobel’s literature-politics mix came out all wrong. Rather than taking it as a targeted affront, as it had with the Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo two years earlier, the Chinese Communist Party was ecstatic. Li Changchun, minister of propaganda, wrote to congratulate Mo Yan on a victory that ‘reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing national strength and influence of China’. Mo Yan’s dissident reputation in the West, it turned out, was false. He was an established figure in Chinese literary officialdom. He had been a member of the Communist Party since 1979. He was vice chairman of the China Writers’ Association. He had participated in a public ceremony in which he copied out several Chinese characters from Mao’s Zhdanovite ‘Talk at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art’, a text which declared the subservience of literature to the class struggle. And in Stockholm before receiving the prize, Mo Yan spoke up in favour of censorship: it was, he said, a bit like airport security. The cadres were already moving swiftly to turn his ancestral village into a literary theme park.

Brendan O’Kane, interviewed by Jeffrey Wasserstrom for LA Review of Books:

Mo Yan didn’t send Liu Xiaobo to jail, and there is absolutely nothing he could say or do, up to and including getting the words “FREE LIU XIAOBO” tattooed on his bald pate, that would do one bit of good for Liu Xiaobo or anyone else in China. (This is especially clear given the Chinese government’s continued persecution of Liu’s brother in law Liu Hui, and the ongoing extrajudicial house arrest of Liu’s wife Liu Xia: the authorities are impervious to moral argument, and they have no shame.) Mo is a deputy chairman of the China Writers’ Association, which is to say that he has slightly less power, in actual terms, than your average deputy chairman at the National Endowment for the Arts in the US. Meanwhile, as much as we might wish otherwise, moral/political courage and literary merit are not the same thing — if writing bad poetry were a criminal offense, Liu Xiaobo would never see daylight again. So I wrote that post on Rectified.name in hopes of getting people to disentangle the two. Once you do that, and once you actually read Mo Yan’s books, I think you find that he’s a much sharper writer than he’s been given credit for. His books don’t make any kind of overt criticisms of the system — perhaps because he’s overly cautious; perhaps because he’s just not much interested in lifting his gaze from the village level — but they are all, in one way or another, about the human suffering created, perpetuated, and intensified by that system.

No End of Mo Yan

mo-yan2.png
Mo Yan’s new book ‘Grand Ceremony,’ written about his trip to Sweden to receive the [Nobel Prize], made its debut on Friday at the opening of a national book fair.”

But he spent half his spoils on “a 200 sq metre (2,152 sq foot) property outside Beijing’s fifth ring road.

In a piece called “Mo Money–Nobel prize winner’s novel attacks China’s food safety,” Week in China argues that because of the “10,000 dead pigs [that] turned up in the Huangpu River,” Mo Yan’s “most recently translated book – titled POW! – … seems almost eerily timely, even though the original Chinese version came out more than 10 years ago.”

Salman Rushdie on Chinese Censorship: “the reason that so many are upset with Mo Yan isn’t that he didn’t oppose censorship, but that he went out of his way to defend it.”

And in a piece I must have missed when it came out months ago, “Mo Yan: Frenemy of the State,” Nick Frisch argues that “In the Chinese tradition, literature does not exist as a sphere outside the state: literature is the state. Or rather, the state is literature itself.”

And in an interview, Mo Yan’s translator Howard Goldblatt says, “I take pride in the fact that the head of the Nobel Literature Committee told me in Stockholm how critical my English translations were in selecting Mo Yan as the 2012 laureate; I assume he said something similar to the French or Italian or Swedish translators, since the committee members read several languages, but, with one exception, not Chinese.” But: “On behalf of literary translators everywhere, let me declare that we have nothing to apologize for”

And pictures of the town Mo Yan grew up in.

Howard Goldblatt feature in the Chicago Reader

Howard Goldblatt, pictured in his home office, jokes that 'translation isn't a field anyone sensible would go into."The Chicago Reader has a feature on Howard Goldblatt, with generous quotations from Dylan Suher of Asymptote. The first paragraph is awful, so here’s the second & third:

readers who pick up an English translation of a book by Mo Yan, Wang Shuo, Su Tong, or any other contemporary Chinese novelist are, more likely than not, reading Goldblatt. “It’s all my words,” he says. “If they’re reading a translated novel, they’re reading the translation and hope that the translator got the story, style, and characters right.”

Because Chinese and English are completely distinct languages, with no history or linguistic roots in common, the work of any two translators of the same text will vary widely. Goldblatt is considered by authors, scholars, and colleagues to be the most trustworthy interpreter of Chinese, as well as the most prolific; to date, he’s translated more than 50 books.

Ever Mo Yan

Spiegel Online interviews Mo Yan, who says “I am guilty.”

The Guardian writes that “Mo Yan dismisses ‘envious’ Nobel critics.”

Mo Yan writes that “Good Literature Should Let Readers Discover Themselves

One “Mo reason for culture promotion

The Complete Review notices Mo Yan has more than one agent with “full rights to represent him in copyright talks and any other negotiations on cooperation.

Sabina Knight on “Mo Yan’s Delicate Balancing Act.”

Martin Winter blogs about Mo Yan and Liao Yiwu 廖亦武

Chad Post on a book that didn’t make the Best Translated Book Award long list.

Charles Laughlin on “Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize for Literature: Resetting Chinese Literature” (a development of his article on “What Mo Yan’s Detractors Get Wrong“).

Perry Link at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law, 28 March: “A Tale of Two Nobels: Liu Xiaobo & Mo Yan” (in Chinese). Click to register.

At the Popup Chinese Sinica Podcast Alice Xin Liu, David Moser, and Brendan O’Kane talk to Kaiser Kuo about Mo Yan’s writing & reception, including a quick analysis of the three anecdotes from his literary acceptance speech. Click the link or listen here:

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Yet More Mo Yan

Sandalwood Death and Pow! make the top of the New York Times’s “Editors’ Choice” book list: “Abuse of power, gross materialism, corruption and venality are the targets of the Chinese Nobelist’s satirical novels.”

Yiyun Li reviews Pow!: “Perhaps this is a way to stay away from politics: to be a fabulist, but not to be taken so seriously.”

Ian Buruma of the New York Times reviews Pow! and Sandalwood Death: “By concentrating on human appetites, including the darkest ones, Mo Yan can dig deeper than political commentary. And like the strolling players of old, the jesters and the public-square storytellers he so admires, Mo Yan is able to give a surprisingly accurate impression of his country. Distorted, to be sure, but sharply truthful, too. In this sense, his work fits into a distinguished tradition of fantasists in authoritarian societies: alongside Mikhail Bulgakov or the Czech master, Bohumil Hrabal.”

Chad Post talks to Tom Roberge in the first 3% Podcast of 2013 about Pow! and Sandalwood Death and the wrongness of how Mo Yan has been pitched for his cultural significance rather than his literary significance. Roberge asks, “What are you selling? Are you selling the book or are you selling the fact that it’s different, and a novel about China?”

Charles Laughlin speaks on “Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize: Resetting Chinese Literature” at University of Iowa.