Should literature be linked to the topical? 2009-04-15 09:08:02   Print

    BEIJING, April 15 --  Where is Chinese literature going? What is its relevancy to our lives?

    At a forum of poets preceding the 7th Media Award for Chinese Language Literature, held at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, a couple of students questioned the wisdom of moving literature, especially poetry, into the realm of the inner world and eschewing hot issues of the day as we know it.

    It turned out things are more complicated than they knew. Case in point: last year's catastrophic earthquake. It produced a flood of poems, out of which Duo Yu was nominated for "Poet of 2008". But Yu Jian, a previous winner and a poet known for his stand on environmentalism, opposes this kind of "connection" with current events. He believes poetry should explore the inner psyche and time-revered topics, such as life and immortality.

    If anything, the earthquake suggested that literary value comes more from sincerity than topicality. The tragedy gave rise to some of the most emotional poetic outpourings, many anonymous, and also to some of the most disgusting lines, most notably by Wang Zhaoshan, an official of the Shandong Writers Association, who visualized happy ghosts from the earthquake zone watching the Olympic telecast from their graves.

    The judges of the award took a stand, too. They named Li Ximin "Non-fiction Writer of 2008" for Survivor, his book of recollections. Li, a writer of horror stories, happened to be near the epicenter when the quake struck and was buried for 76 hours. This experience not only made him a better writer, but a totally different person. "From the moment I got buried by a pile of rubble, I found myself on the path to self-redemption," he says.

    The Media Award for Chinese Language Literature is different from other awards mainly because it uses the platform of the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, an influential newspaper known for its investigative reporting. 

    Relevancy is one of the issues it agonizes about. Another is the expansion of the publishing platform, specifically the rise of online literature. Several judges acknowledge that there are "gems" in cyberspace. One notes that online fiction resorts to a language so vivacious and colorful that it leaves professional writing behind. Murong Xuecun, whose online story Pardon Me for Confusing Red Dust got high praise from the judges, was a contender for "novelist of 2008".

    The reading public often debates the pros and cons of high-brow and low-brow genres. But as poet Hu Xudong says, the line is becoming blurry. Of the 8,000 Chinese novels published each year and countless more posted online, only a few will survive the test of time. In the chaos of literary boom, "our award will not only focus on what has been achieved, but what lies ahead, ie, the future of literature," says Cui Xianghong, an organizer. "We haven't changed our goal of making it China's Nobel Prize."

    (Source: China Daily)

Editor: Fang Yang
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