Saturday, 10 November 2012

"Speak Out, Mo Yan!": Ruminations on the Latest Nobel Laureate

Mo Yan, the first Chinese resident to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (jailed dissident Liu Xiabo who was Nobeled in 2000, but moved to France!), was born in 1955 to a farming couple on the dusty plains of the eastern Shandong Province. He was named Guan Moye, but his parents recommended the pen name of MO YAN which means “Don’t Speak!” because as he explained at a forum in 2011 at U.C., Berkeley: “At that time in China, lives were not normal, so my father and mother told me not to speak outside, and say what you think, you will get in trouble. So I listened to them and did not speak.” 

Not a very Nobel attitude! He was indeed even criticized by Beijing for attending the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009 after Beijing had barred Chinese several dissident writers! (Now that’s a functional definition of Chutzpah!)To which, Mr. Mo responded in his Frankfurt acceptance speech, “A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.” (International Herald Tribune, 10/12/12.) What is the vice chairman of the Chinese Writers Association to do—but equivocate! 
 
Beijing set an ambiguous standard In 2010 when the jailed dissident Liu Xiabo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Beijing brass erupted, blocked the award from the Internet, calling the award a “desecration”, perverse propaganda to insult and destabilize the Chinese ruling party. (Ho Hum!) They even retaliated against Norway, denying visas to Norwegian dignitaries, but, what really hurt, delaying shipments of Norwegian salmon so long that the fish rotted in customs!

What a difference two years make. Mo’s literary Nobel unleashed a national celebration—its nationalistic Golden Times tabloid posted a “special coverage” page on its website, motivating the state-run People’s Daily to exude that the prize was “comfort, a certification and also an affirmation—but even more so, it is a new starting”. Mo’s style was compared with the Magic Realists of Latin America! What a stretch!

The plot of “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out” (2006) is simple, even Simple-minded. Perhaps Notre Dame professor Howard Goldblatt the translator was hampered by Mo’s writing the novel in Chinese images rather than a transliteration. Ximen Nao, the anti-hero of this celebration of Mao’s China, is a benevolent and noble landowner in Gaomi county, Shandong. As a matter of principle he refuses to join the local farming collective. His eventual punishment is transformation into a donkey! (before the novel is over he has had his species shifted into pig, dog, and monkey, to be rewarded finally by a return to his manhood.)

His chief antagonist, by the way, has a instatiable hunger for donkey gonads, which he ritually consumes evenings along with his favorite drink. I presume this ballsy humor is meant to amuse the Coop peasants. There is much (too much) plot devoted to strategies for deballing our in-aminated hero, not to forget equivalent palaver over strategies for guarding his (its) balls from extrusion. Ho Hum! I think we should complain to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Disembodied Human Animals. (SPCDHA). 

Puzzled by all this Hoopla, I turned to my omniscient Wikipedia, whereas it allowed that this “novel” garnered ”some highly favorable reviews”, but that some critics “suggested the narrative style was hard to follow.” Ahem. Hard? Metaphysically impossible to comprehend. I wish his parents had counseled him to assume the pseudonym, SHUT UP!” Whew what an obscure experience!

All this inscr(o)table discourse is feebly connected to the calamities that Mao engendered between 1948 and 2000. Damn, I’d much prefer the longeurs of the Long March!

Another version of this essay is published by Broad Street Review.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

Nice way to decorate your walls. I have never done that. My effort to beautify the walls in my house was to order big-sized canvas prints from wahooart.com, from images of western art. I use the same angel motifs in all of the rooms painted by different painters, such as this one by very interesting English artist Stanley Spencer, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT7K6.