Archive for December 6th, 2010

Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian in Paris: “I hate Chinese food most.”

Monday, December 6th, 2010
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A "global citizen" who eats Japanese

Liu Xiaobo‘s Nobel Prize in literature is not the first award to a Chinese writer.  That honor went in 2000 to novelist, playwright, critic, and painter Gao Xingjian, who emigrated to Paris as a political refugee in 1987.  Now, he says, “I live in Paris, but eat Japanese food almost every day for my health.”  The 70-year-old writer adds, “I hate Chinese food most.”

Excerpts from Akihiko Shiraishi‘s interview in today’s Asahi:

On nationalism and the writer:

Nationalism isn’t necessarily pushed on the people by the powers that be. Nationalism can bubble up from among the people themselves, as did Japanese militarism during World War II. That war was not caused by the emperor alone. The Japanese people themselves were caught up in their nationalistic frenzy. Mao Tse-tung was responsible for the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, but the Chinese masses were also guilty of irrational behavior. We all need to become more aware of this sort of insanity inherent in human nature. And perhaps literature can help there.

On his play, Escape:

Q: You then dashed off the play Escape. The story revolves around a young man, a young woman and a middle-aged intellectual who escape the massacre at the hands of the military and hide in an urban warehouse. But in the end, they are all killed, aren’t they?

A: I wrote it at the request of an American playhouse. But when I sent my finished manuscript, they asked me to rewrite it and include an “American hero” in the story. I refused. Even some of my pro-democracy activist friends in China got on my case because I didn’t give them the hero they wanted. After the publication of “Escape,” I was dispossessed of my home in China, purged from public office, and expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. I became a bona fide fugitive.

Q: But your play wasn’t a denunciation as such of the Tiananmen protests. It dealt with a theme that is universal–how people act in extreme circumstances.

A: I wrote a tragedy of contemporary people, not a political drama. There is no mention of China or Tiananmen. Just like in any classic Greek tragedy, I tried to depict the difficulties of human existence itself. The play has since been performed around the world, including Japan. When it was recently staged in Slovenia, one local reviewer said, “This play is about our very history.”

On Chinese culture:

Q: Soul Mountain, which you published in 1990, chronicles your spiritual odyssey when you traveled deep into the Chinese hinterland. The work left a lasting impression on me, especially your depictions of quaint villages of ethnic minorities and sensuous folksongs sung by village elders. Am I correct to assume that China, in your mind, is a conglomeration of these diverse cultures, rather than a nation-state?

A: That is exactly my understanding of Chinese culture. In China, the history of emperors has been recounted as China’s legitimate history. But aren’t there also other histories? I always asked myself. While traveling along the Yangtze river, I collected many old local poems and mythical folk tales, including those of the ethnic minorities. This made me realize that there is no single source of Chinese culture, but that Chinese culture is a composite of diverse ethnic and regional cultures. This revelation deepened my understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity, and freed me from thinking of China as a monolithic state.

“Non-consumptive research”? There must be a catchier word for it.

Monday, December 6th, 2010
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Jockers: Definitely "non-consumptive" (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Patricia Cohen ran a post on the “Arts Beat” at the New York Times spotlighting my recent piece on Matt Jockers‘s and Franco Moretti‘s “non-consumptive research” — that is, they shovel books into a computer, which allows researchers to make more empirical judgments on books, if you ask the right questions and look in the right directions.  It’s “non-consumptive” because the researchers don’t actually read the books — heaven help anyone who tried to read thousands of Victorian novels; it would do something to the brain. It’s a fascinating line of research — though not quite my thing.  I’m interested to see what they turn up.

Cohen’s beef?

Did the folks at the Literature Lab try to come up with a particularly un-catchy phrase? Readers, I’m sure you can do better. Send in your suggestions for a more felicitous phrasing.

For those of us who have read a lot of Victorian novels, the word “consumption” certainly does have other connotations.  Jockers is a strapping young man — definitely not “consumptive.”

Unambomber in the news again: “He’s not crazy,” says Jean-Marie Apostolidès

Monday, December 6th, 2010
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The man known as the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, has been in the news again — or rather, his property has.  The Huffington Post announced that Kaczynski’s 1.4-acre parcel in western Montana is on the block for $69,500.

John Pistelak Realty of Lincoln said that the listing offers potential buyers a chance to own a piece of “infamous U.S. history.”

Kaczynski was a subject of a blog post on the Book Haven awhile ago — on the basis of his writings, not his crime.  Psychologist and French scholar Jean-Marie Apostolidès takes the Unabomber’s anti-technology manifesto very seriously. He tells the story of how he translated the Unabomber’s works into French, and was briefly Kaczynski’s pen pal:

In retrospect, Apostolidès thinks the lawyers wanted him to help certify Kaczynski was insane. Yet, he said, “I’m convinced he has neurotic problems – but no more than anyone else. He has to be judged on his ideas and his deeds.” Our insistence on his insanity may be a way to avoid grappling with that, he said.

In an interview, Apostolidès leaned forward across the desk in his campus office and his voice dropped: “This will shock you. He’s a very nice guy, sweet, open-minded. And I know he has blood on his hands. You cannot be all bad – even if you kill, even Hitler.”

More here.