I have no way of knowing whether it was fate that has pushed me onto this dais but as various lucky coincidences have created this opportunity I may as well call it fate. Putting aside discussion of the existence or non-existence of God, I would like to say that despite my being an atheist I have always shown
A person cannot be God, certainly not replace God, and rule the world as a Superman; he will only succeed in creating more chaos and make a greater mess of the world. In the century after Nietzsche man-made disasters left the blackest records in the history of humankind. Supermen of all types called leader of the people, head of the nation and commander of the race did not baulk at resorting to various violent means in perpetrating crimes that in no way resemble the ravings of a very egotistic philosopher. However, I do not wish to waste this talk on literature by saying too much about politics and history, what I want to do is to use this opportunity to speak as one writer in the voice of an individual.
A writer is an ordinary person, perhaps he is more sensitive but people who are highly sensitive are often more frail. A writer does not speak as the spokesperson of the people or as the embodiment of righteousness. His voice is inevitably weak but it is precisely this voice of the individual that is more authentic.
What I want to say here is that literature can only be the voice of the individual and this has always been so. Once literature is contrived as the hymn of the nation, the flag of the race, the mouthpiece of a political party or the voice of a class or a group, it can be employed as a mighty and all-engulfing tool of propaganda. However, such literature loses what is inherent in literature, ceases to be literature, and becomes a substitute for power and profit.
In the century just ended literature confronted precisely this misfortune and was more deeply scarred by politics and power than in any previous period, and the writer too was subjected to unprecedented oppression.
In order that literature safeguard the reason for its own existence and not become the tool of politics it must return to the voice of the individual, for literature is primarily derived from the feelings of the individual and is the result of feelings. This is not to say that literature must therefore be divorced from politics or that it must necessarily be involved in politics. Controversies about literary trends or a writer’s political inclinations were serious afflictions that tormented literature during the past century. Ideology wreaked havoc by turning related controversies over tradition and reform into controversies over what was conservative or revolutionary and thus changed literary issues into a struggle over what was progressive or reactionary. If ideology unites with power and is transformed into a real force then both literature and the individual will be destroyed.
Chinese literature in the twentieth century time and again was worn out and indeed almost suffocated because politics dictated literature: both the revolution in literature and revolutionary literature alike passed death sentences on literature and the individual. The attack on Chinese traditional culture in the name of the revolution resulted in the public prohibition and burning of books. Countless writers were shot, imprisoned, exiled or punished with hard labor in the course of the past one hundred years. This was more extreme than in any imperial dynastic period of China’s history, creating enormous difficulties for writings in the Chinese language and even more for any discussion of creative freedom.
If the writer sought to win intellectual freedom the choice was either to fall silent or to flee. However the writer relies on language and not to speak for a prolonged period is the same as suicide. The writer who sought to avoid suicide or being silenced and furthermore to express his own voice had no option but to go into exile. Surveying the history of literature in the East and the West this has always been so: from Qu Yuan to Dante, Joyce, Thomas Mann, Solzhenitsyn, and to the large numbers of Chinese intellectuals who went into exile after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. This is the inevitable fate of the poet and the writer who continues to seek to preserve his own voice.
During the years when Mao Zedong implemented total dictatorship even fleeing was not an option. The monasteries on far away mountains that provided refuge for scholars in feudal times were totally ravaged and to write even in secret was to risk one’s life. To maintain one’s intellectual autonomy one could only talk to oneself, and it had to be in utmost secrecy. I should mention that it was only in this period when it was utterly impossible for literature that I came to comprehend why it was so essential: literature allows a person to preserve a human consciousness.
It can be said that talking to oneself is the starting point of literature and that using language to communicate is secondary. A person pours his feelings and thoughts into language that, written as words, becomes literature. At the time there is no thought of utility or that some day it might be published yet there is the compulsion to write because there is recompense and consolation in the pleasure of writing. I began writing my novel Soul Mountain to dispel my inner loneliness at the very time when works I had written with rigorous self-censorship had been banned. Soul Mountain was written for myself and without the hope that it would be published.
From my experience in writing, I can say that literature is inherently man’s affirmation of the value of his own self and that this is validated during the writing, literature is born primarily of the writer’s need for self-fulfillment. Whether it has any impact on society comes after the completion of a work and that impact certainly is not determined by the wishes of the writer.
In the history of literature there are many great enduring works which were not published in the lifetimes of the authors. If the authors had not achieved self-affirmation while writing, how could they have continued to write? As in the case of Shakespeare, even now it is difficult to ascertain the details of the lives of the four geniuses who wrote China’s greatest novels, Journey to the West, Water Margin, Jin Ping Mei and Dream of Red Mansions. All that remains is an autobiographical essay by Shi Naian and had he not as he said consoled himself by writing, how else could he have devoted the rest of his life to that huge work for which he received no recompense during life? And was this not also the case with Kafka who pioneered modern fiction and with Fernando Pessoa the most profound poet of the twentieth century? Their turning to language was not in order to reform the world and while profoundly aware of the helplessness of the individual they still spoke out, for such is the magic of language.
Language is the ultimate crystallization of human civilization. It is intricate, incisive and difficult to grasp and yet it is pervasive, penetrates human perceptions and links man, the perceiving subject, to his own understanding of the world. The written word is also magical for it allows communication between separate individuals, even if they are from different races and times. It is also in this way that the shared present time in the writing and reading of literature is connected to its eternal spiritual value.
In my view, for a writer of the present to strive to emphasize a national culture is problematical. Because of where I was born and the language I use, the cultural traditions of China naturally reside within me. Culture and language are always closely related and thus characteristic and relatively stable modes of perception, thought and articulation are formed. However a writer’s creativity begins precisely with what has already been articulated in his language and addresses what has not been adequately articulated in that language. As the creator of linguistic art there is no need to stick on oneself a stock national label that can be easily recognized.
Literature transcends national boundaries — through translations it transcends languages and then specific social customs and inter-human relationships created by geographical location and history — to make profound revelations about the universality of human nature. Furthermore, the writer today receives multicultural influences outside the culture of his own race so, unless it is to promote tourism, emphasizing the cultural features of a people is inevitably suspect.
Literature transcends ideology, national boundaries and racial consciousness in the same way as the individual’s existence basically transcends this or that —ism. This is because man’s existential condition is superior to any theories or speculations about life. Literature is a universal observation on the dilemmas of human existence and nothing is taboo. Restrictions on literature are always externally imposed: politics, society, ethics and customs set out to tailor literature into decorations for their various frameworks.
However, literature is neither an embellishment for authority or a socially fashionable item, it has its own criterion of merit: its aesthetic quality. An aesthetic intricately related to the human emotions is the only indispensable criterion for literary works. Indeed, such judgments differ from person to person because the emotions are invariably that of different individuals. However such subjective aesthetic judgments do have universally recognized standards. The capacity for critical appreciation nurtured by literature allows the reader to also experience the poetic feeling and the beauty, the sublime and the ridiculous, the sorrow and the absurdity, and the Humour and the irony that the author has infused into his work.
Poetic feeling does not derive simply from the expression of the emotions nevertheless unbridled egotism, a form of infantilism, is difficult to avoid in the early stages of writing. Also, there are numerous levels of emotional expression and to reach higher levels requires cold detachment. Poetry is concealed in the distanced gaze. Furthermore, if this gaze also examines the person of the author and overarches both the characters of the book and the author to become the author’s third eye, one that is as neutral as possible, the disasters and the refuse of the human world will all be worthy of scrutiny. Then as feelings of pain, hatred and abhorrence are aroused so too are feelings of concern and love for life.
An aesthetic based on human emotions does not become outdated even with the perennial changing of fashions in literature and in art. However literary evaluations that fluctuate like fashions are premised on what is the latest: that is, whatever is new is good. This is a mechanism in general market movements and the book market is not exempted, but if the writer’s aesthetic judgment follows market movements it will mean the suicide of literature. Especially in the so-called consumerist society of the present, I think one must resort to cold literature.
Ten years ago, after concluding Soul Mountain which I had written over seven years, I wrote a short essay proposing this type of literature:
"Literature is not concerned with politics but is purely a matter of the individual. It is the gratification of the intellect together with an observation, a review of what has been experienced, reminiscences and feelings or the portrayal of a state of mind."
"The so-called writer is nothing more than someone speaking or writing and whether he is listened to or read is for others to choose. The writer is not a hero acting on orders from the people nor is he worthy of worship as an idol, and certainly he is not a criminal or enemy of the people. He is at times victimized along with his writings simply because of other’s needs. When the authorities need to manufacture a few enemies to divert people’s attention, writers become sacrifices and worse still writers who have been duped actually think it is a great honour to be sacrificed."
"In fact the relationship of the author and the reader is always one of spiritual communication and there is no need to meet or to socially interact, it is a communication simply through the work. Literature remains an indispensable form of human activity in which both the reader and the writer are engaged of their own volition. Hence, literature has no duty to the masses."
"This sort of literature that has recovered its innate character can be called cold literature. It exists simply because humankind seeks a purely spiritual activity beyond the gratification of material desires. This sort of literature of course did not come into being today. However, whereas in the past it mainly had to fight oppressive political forces and social customs, today it has to do battle with the subversive commercial values of consumerist society. For it to exist depends on a willingness to endure the loneliness."
"If a writer devotes himself to this sort of writing he will find it difficult to make a living. Hence the writing of this sort of literature must be considered a luxury, a form of pure spiritual gratification. If this sort of literature has the good fortune of being published and circulated it is due to the efforts of the writer and his friends, Cao Xueqin and Kafka are such examples. During their lifetimes, their works were unpublished so they were not able to create literary movements or to become celebrities. These writers lived at the margins and seams of society, devoting themselves to this sort of spiritual activity for which at the time they did not hope for any recompense. They did not seek social approval but simply derived pleasure from writing."
"Cold literature is literature that will flee in order to survive, it is literature that refuses to be strangled by society in its quest for spiritual salvation. If a race cannot accommodate this sort of non-utilitarian literature it is not merely a misfortune for the writer but a tragedy for the race."
It is my good fortune to be receiving, during my lifetime, this great honour from the Swedish Academy, and in this I have been helped by many friends from all over the world. For years without thought of reward and not shirking difficulties they have translated, published, performed and evaluated my writings. However I will not thank them one by one for it is a very long list of names.
I should also thank France for accepting me. In France where literature and art are revered I have won the conditions to write with freedom and I also have readers and audiences. Fortunately I am not lonely although writing, to which I have committed myself, is a solitary affair.
What I would also like to say here is that life is not a celebration and that the rest of the world is not peaceful as in Sweden where for one hundred and eighty years there has been no war. This new century will not be immune to catastrophes simply because there were so many in the past century, because memories are not transmitted like genes. Humans have minds but are not intelligent enough to learn from the past and when malevolence flares up in the human mind it can endanger human survival itself.
The human species does not necessarily move in stages from progress to progress, and here I make reference to the history of human civilization. History and civilization do not advance in tandem. From the stagnation of Medieval Europe to the decline and chaos in recent times on the mainland of Asia and to the catastrophes of two world wars in the twentieth century, the methods of killing people became increasingly sophisticated. Scientific and technological progress certainly does not imply that humankind as a result becomes more civilized.
Using some scientific -ism to explain history or interpreting it with a historical perspective based on pseudo-dialectics have failed to clarify human behavior. Now that the utopian fervor and continuing revolution of the past century have crumbled to dust, there is unavoidably a feeling of bitterness amongst those who have survived.
The denial of a denial does not necessarily result in an affirmation. Revolution did not merely bring in new things because the new utopian world was premised on the destruction of the old. This theory of social revolution was similarly applied to literature and turned what had once been a realm of creativity into a battlefield in which earlier people were overthrown and cultural traditions were trampled upon. Everything had to start from zero, modernization was good, and the history of literature too was interpreted as a continuing upheaval.
The writer cannot fill the role of the Creator so there is no need for him to inflate his ego by thinking that he is God. This will not only bring about psychological dysfunction and turn him into a madman but will also transform the world into a hallucination in which everything external to his own body is purgatory and naturally he cannot go on living. Others are clearly hell: presumably it is like this when the self loses control. Needless to say he will turn himself into a sacrifice for the future and also demand that others follow suit in sacrificing themselves.
There is no need to rush to complete the history of the twentieth century. If the world again sinks into the ruins of some ideological framework this history will have been written in vain and later people will revise it for themselves.
The writer is also not a prophet. What is important is to live in the present, to stop being hoodwinked, to cast off delusions, to look clearly at this moment of time and at the same time to scrutinize the self. This self too is total chaos and while questioning the world and others one may as well look back at one’s self. Disaster and oppression do usually come from another but man’s cowardice and anxiety can often intensify the suffering and furthermore create misfortune for others.
Such is the inexplicable nature of humankind’s behavior, and man’s knowledge of his self is even harder to comprehend. Literature is simply man focusing his gaze on his self and while he does a thread of consciousness which sheds light on this self begins to grow.
To subvert is not the aim of literature, its value lies in discovering and revealing what is rarely known, little known, thought to be known but in fact not very well known of the truth of the human world. It would seem that truth is the unassailable and most basic quality of literature.
The new century has already arrived. I will not bother about whether or not it is in fact new but it would seem that the revolution in literature and revolutionary literature, and even ideology, may have all come to an end. The illusion of a social utopia that enshrouded more than a century has vanished and when literature throws off the fetters of this and that -ism it will still have to return to the dilemmas of human existence. However the dilemmas of human existence have changed very little and will continue to be the eternal topic of literature.
This is an age without prophecies and promises and I think it is a good thing. The writer playing prophet and judge should also cease since the many prophecies of the past century have all turned out to be frauds. And there is no need to manufacture new superstitions about the future, it is much better to wait and see. It would be best also for the writer to revert to the role of witness and strive to present the truth.
This is not to say that literature is the same as a document. Actually there are few facts in documented testimonies and the reasons and motives behind incidents are often concealed. However, when literature deals with the truth the whole process from a person’s inner mind to the incident can be exposed without leaving anything out. This power is inherent in literature as long as the writer sets out to portray the true circumstances of human existence and is not just making up nonsense.
It is a writer’s insights in grasping truth that determine the quality of a work and word games or writing techniques cannot serve as substitutes. Indeed, there are numerous definitions of truth and how it is dealt with varies from person to person but it can be seen at a glance whether a writer is embellishing human phenomena or making a full and honest portrayal. The literary criticism of a certain ideology turned truth and untruth into semantic analysis, but such principles and tenets are of little relevance in literary creation.
However whether or not the writer confronts truth is not just an issue of creative methodology, it is closely linked to his attitude towards writing. Truth when the pen is taken up at the same time implies that one is sincere after one puts down the pen. Here truth is not simply an evaluation of literature but at the same time has ethical connotations. It is not the writer’s duty to preach morality and while striving to portray various people in the world he also unscrupulously exposes his self, even the secrets of his inner mind. For the writer truth in literature approximates ethics, it is the ultimate ethics of literature.
In the hands of a writer with a serious attitude to writing even literary fabrications are premised on the portrayal of the truth of human life, and this has been the vital life force of works that have endured from ancient times to the present. It is precisely for this reason that Greek tragedy and Shakespeare will never become outdated.
Literature does not simply make a replica of reality but penetrates the surface layers and reaches deep into the inner workings of reality; it removes false illusions, looks down from great heights at ordinary happenings, and with a broad perspective reveals happenings in their entirety.
Of course literature also relies on the imagination but this sort of journey in the mind is not just putting together a whole lot of rubbish. Imagination that is divorced from true feelings and fabrications that are divorced from the basis of life experiences can only end up insipid and weak, and works that fail to convince the author himself will not be able to move readers. Indeed, literature does not only rely on the experiences of ordinary life nor is the writer bound by what he has personally experienced. It is possible for the things heard and seen through a language carrier and the things related in the literary works of earlier writers all to be transformed into one’s own feelings. This too is the magic of the language of literature.
As with a curse or a blessing language has the power to stir body and mind. The art of language lies in the presenter being able to convey his feelings to others, it is not some sign system or semantic structure requiring nothing more than grammatical structures. If the living person behind language is forgotten, semantic expositions easily turn into games of the intellect.
Language is not merely concepts and the carrier of concepts, it simultaneously activates the feelings and the senses and this is why signs and signals cannot replace the language of living people. The will, motives, tone and emotions behind what someone says cannot be fully expressed by semantics and rhetoric alone. The connotations of the language of literature must be voiced, spoken by living people, to be fully expressed. So as well as serving as a carrier of thought literature must also appeal to the auditory senses. The human need for language is not simply for the transmission of meaning, it is at the same time listening to and affirming a person’s existence.
Borrowing from Descartes, it could be said of the writer: I say and therefore I am. However, the I of the writer can be the writer himself, can be equated to the narrator, or become the characters of a work. As the narrator-subject can also be he and you, it is tripartite. The fixing of a key-speaker pronoun is the starting point for portraying perceptions and from this various narrative patterns take shape. It is during the process of searching for his own narrative method that the writer gives concrete form to his perceptions.
In my fiction I use pronouns instead of the usual characters and also use the pronouns I, you, and he to tell about or to focus on the protagonist. The portrayal of the one character by using different pronouns creates a sense of distance. As this also provides actors on the stage with a broader psychological space I have also introduced the changing of pronouns into my drama.
The writing of fiction or drama has not and will not come to an end and there is no substance to flippant announcements of the death of certain genres of literature or art.
Born at the start of human civilization, like life, language is full of wonders and its expressive capacity is limitless. It is the work of the writer to discover and develop the latent potential inherent in language. The writer is not the Creator and he cannot eradicate the world even if it is too old. He also cannot establish some new ideal world even if the present world is absurd and beyond human comprehension. However he can certainly make innovative statements either by adding to what earlier people have said or else starting where earlier people stopped.
To subvert literature was Cultural Revolution rhetoric. Literature did not die and writers were not destroyed. Every writer has his place on the bookshelf and he has life as long as he has readers. There is no greater consolation for a writer than to be able to leave a book in humankind’s vast treasury of literature that will continue to be read in future times.
Literature is only actualized and of interest at that moment in time when the writer writes it and the reader reads it. Unless it is pretence, to write for the future only deludes oneself and others as well. Literature is for the living and moreover affirms the present of the living. It is this eternal present and this confirmation of individual life that is the absolute reason why literature is literature, if one insists on seeking a reason for this huge thing that exists of itself.
When writing is not a livelihood or when one is so engrossed in writing that one forgets why one is writing and for whom one is writing it becomes a necessity and one will write compulsively and give birth to literature. It is this non-utilitarian aspect of literature that is fundamental to literature. That the writing of literature has become a profession is an ugly outcome of the division of labor in modern society and a very bitter fruit for the writer.
This is especially the case in the present age where the market economy has become pervasive and books have also become commodities. Everywhere there are huge undiscriminating markets and not just individual writers but even the societies and movements of past literary schools have all gone. If the writer does not bend to the pressures of the market and refuses to stoop to manufacturing cultural products by writing to satisfy the tastes of fashions and trends, he must make a living by some other means. Literature is not a best-selling book or a book on a ranked list and authors promoted on television are engaged in advertising rather than in writing. Freedom in writing is not conferred and cannot be purchased but comes from an inner need in the writer himself.
Instead of saying that Buddha is in the heart it would be better to say that freedom is in the heart and it simply depends on whether one makes use of it. If one exchanges freedom for something else then the bird that is freedom will fly off, for this is the cost of freedom.
The writer writes what he wants without concern for recompense not only to affirm his self but also to challenge society. This challenge is not pretence and the writer has no need to inflate his ego by becoming a hero or a fighter. Heroes and fighters struggle to achieve some great work or to establish some meritorious deed and these lie beyond the scope of literary works. If the writer wants to challenge society it must be through language and he must rely on the characters and incidents of his works, otherwise he can only harm literature. Literature is not angry shouting and furthermore cannot turn an individual’s indignation into accusations. It is only when the feelings of the writer as an individual are dispersed in a work that his feelings will withstand the ravages of time and live on for a long time.
Therefore it is actually not the challenge of the writer to society but rather the challenge of his works. An enduring work is of course a powerful response to the times and society of the writer. The clamor of the writer and his actions may have vanished but as long as there are readers his voice in his writings continues to reverberate.
Indeed such a challenge cannot transform society. It is merely an individual aspiring to transcend the limitations of the social ecology and taking a very inconspicuous stance. However this is by no means an ordinary stance for it is one that takes pride in being human. It would be sad if human history is only manipulated by the unknowable laws and moves blindly with the current so that the different voices of individuals cannot be heard. It is in this sense that literature fills in the gaps of history. When the great laws of history are not used to explain humankind it will be possible for people to leave behind their own voices. History is not all that humankind possesses, there is also the legacy of literature. In literature the people are inventions but they retain an essential belief in their own self-worth.
Honorable members of the Academy, I thank you for awarding this Nobel Prize to literature, to literature that is unwavering in its independence, that avoids neither human suffering nor political oppression and that furthermore does not serve politics. I thank all of you for awarding this most prestigious prize for works that are far removed from the writings of the market, works that have aroused little attention but are actually worth reading. At the same time, I also thank the Swedish Academy for allowing me to ascend this dais to speak before the eyes of the world. A frail individual’s weak voice that is hardly worth listening to and that normally would not be heard in the public media has been allowed to address the world. However I believe that this is precisely the meaning of the Nobel Prize and I thank everyone for this opportunity to speak.
Translation by Mabel Lee © Copyright The Nobel Foundation
Nobel Jubilee Symposium on Witness Literature delivered in December 2001 at The Swedish Academy, Stockholm
The topic I wish to discuss literature and testimony. I am presuming that those here today will not object to the claim that literature testifies to human existence, and would agree that truth is the minimum requirement for such literature. Literature is subservient to nothing but truth, and in this domain of the free spirit, the writer obeys only one command: to search for that truth. In fact, truth has always been the most fundamental criterion of literature — that is, if literature that transcends practical utilitarianism continues to be valued, still justifies personal suffering, and is still worth writing.
However, during the century just ended, politics interfered with and stifled literature to an extent that has seldom been seen in human history. This unprecedented ideological mischief turned literature into political propaganda, or else made it serve political ends. Literary revolution and revolutionary literature did not create a beautiful new world, out instead divested literature of its basic nature, promoted Woodshed, and, by resorting to linguistic violence, turned this domain of spiritual freedom into a battlefield.
Politically engaged literature is widespread both in the and in the East. Literary criticism is essentially a political Judgment that labels writers as leftist or rightist, progressive or conservative. Under authoritarian regimes, these labels are extreme. If a writer is not patriotic, he is a traitor; if he is not a revolutionary, he is a counter-revolutionary — there are no intermediate positions. The tyranny is such that not to have • political attitude is deemed political, silence is protest, and disengagement from politics is simply not allowed.
If literature is to transcend political interference and return to being a testimony of man and his existential predicament, it needs first to break away from ideology. To be without isms is to return to the individual, to return to viewing the world through the eyes of the writer, who relies on his own perceptions and does not act as a spokesman for the people. The people already have rulers and election campaigners speaking in their name.
Of course, the writer who does not involve himself in politics must not flaunt himself as the embodiment of social justice. Needless to say, abstract social justice is not to be found anywhere, and this sort of rhetoric has a very false ring. The writer is not the embodiment of morality either. Short of -, becoming a sage, how can he instruct the people of the world in morality? And the writer is, of course, not a judge. Oddly enough, while the profession of judge is not at all an enviable f one, there are plenty of people aspiring to it. It would be better for the writer to return to being an ordinary person, born in original sin and without special privileges or powers, because this is the most appropriate position from which to observe the human world.
During the century that has just passed, many of the intellectual elite went mad. Following the death of God, it was as if everyone had suddenly become a saviour who wanted to ||
annihilate the obsolete world order or establish a Utopia. Naturally some were writers. There is madness in everyone, | and intellectuals are not exempted simply because they possess
knowledge, since when one loses control over the self, the result is madness.
No one can eliminate self-love, so control of the self is built upon self-observation. Those who possess a certain amount of knowledge, even the very learned, do not necessarily have the capacity for introspection: tyrants and madmen are generally not ^intelligent. In fact, human misfortunes are not always due to external pressures, but are sometimes due to people's own weaknesses. The unrestrained bloating of the self distorts the Individual's observation of the human world and brings about errors of judgment that can even destroy the individual.
The world did not begin from the self, and it will not come to an end because of a particular individual. The iconoclastic overthrowing of one's predecessors and the eradication of one's entire cultural legacy throughout the twentieth century did not derive solely from a patricidal complex. Linked to the ideology of continuing revolution, it was no longer just an inner impulse but an infectious disease that was able to wreak havoc and bring catastrophe to the world.
If, while observing the boundless universe, the writer is able to scrutinise his own self, and based on this scrutiny of his self also scrutinise others, the incisiveness of his observations will far surpass objective descriptions of reality.
Writers are dissatisfied with purely objective reports on real people and events and instead turn to literature, because through literary techniques they can achieve a deeper understanding of the human world, even though this sort of observation, based as it is only on the individual writer, has its limitations. While subjectivity is inevitable, true human perceptions can be recorded.
It would be best for the writer to revert to being an observer, and to look with dispassionate eyes upon the various facets of human life. If he is able to soberly observe his own self in the same way, he will gain considerable freedom, find the act of observation fascinating, and give up foolishly trying to recreate the world. In any case, a person cannot recreate "himself, so he is even less capable of recreating others. This sort of writing has no mission; it is unburdened, does not Manufacture falsehoods and can approximate truth.
Literature that does not fabricate lies is written primarily for the writer himself to read. What a person records in a private diary is generally the truth, and it is only if he is anxious that it might be read that he will use a secret code. Yet if the whole diary is in code, and in the end the person cannot decipher it himself, then there is no point in continuing to write the diary.
A writer does not write because he hopes it will provide a livelihood, but because he experiences a real discomfort that needs to be alleviated through writing. This sort of writing does not require pandering to readers, and is in fact the essential purpose of literature.
Unfortunately, the profession of writing becomes more commercialised as a society modernises. Literary products cannot escape market forces and writers must fight to sell their works. This market-driven literature no longer has truth as its main object.
Harassed by continuing political and ideological interference, and squeezed by the escalating cultural commercialisation that comes with economic globalisation, literature that has the truth of human life as its main criterion is forced to retreat to the margins of society. Writers who persevere with this sort of writing can only survive in obscurity, and fortunately this is still possible in the free world. Under autocratic regimes, how can such writers survive without fleeing?
This unfortunate situation in literature actually reflects the existential predicament of human life. Literature that seeks truth refuses to be subservient to politics or to the market, so its readers are limited to people such as those of you here today who are interested in and approve of it. That such readers exist is a good thing in itself, so there should be no need to complain.
This sort of literature is essentially non-utilitarian. Writers who persevere in writing such literature naturally cannot rely | on winning prizes, but probably write in the hope of one day gaining recognition. If a writer does not obtain some gratification from this sort of writing it will be hard to sustain, so the search for truth is an indispensable stimulus. The thirst for truth comes with the beginning of life, whereas the ability to lie is gradually acquired during the process of trying to stay alive. However, writers devoted to this type of writing are particularly stubborn. The impulse to search for truth is a passion that demands gratification; it is a form of lust.
Truth has numerous layers, and a simple, superficial statement of facts cannot satisfy the writer. Eyewitness accounts about real people and events, even when not constrained by political or social interdictions, are affected by personal advantage or disadvantage as well as social practice. Their confirmation of truth can therefore only be framed within certain boundaries. A statement in itself predisposes a judgment, because it can only focus on the event itself and cannot deliberate on the causes and consequences. Statements can therefore only remain at the surface layer of fact, and although they satisfy the requirements of the media, they do not reveal deeper layers of truth. Literature as testimony, however, is not satisfied with just a few eyewitness accounts.
It should also be noted that not all eyewitness accounts are reliable. A witness's cowardice or personal standpoint may lead to intentional or non-intentional omissions, and psychological inhibitions may prevent a witness from divulging certain things. And, needless to say, a witness could very well be ignorant of the motives of certain people who may have been responsible for what has taken place. However, literature has no taboos and can transcend all of these problems.
The writer who chooses to write literature as a testimony is, °f course, aware that by writing about real people and events °r about his personal experiences he inevitably imposes a 'imitation on his literary creation. But a writer will accept such a limitation, because the search for truth is his overriding goal.
The testimonies of literature are often much more profound than those of history. History inevitably bears the imprint of a ruling power and is therefore revised with each change in power. In contrast, once a literary work is published it cannot be rewritten. This makes the writer's responsibility to history even greater, even if it is not the writer's intention to take on this burden. History can be repeatedly changed because it does not require an individual to take responsibility for it, whereas the writer must confront his own book in print with its indelible black words on white paper.
How much of truth does history conceal? Through retrieving lost memories, the writer seeks the truth that history has concealed, by digging through cold historical materials and, more importantly, making reference to the experiences of living people. Often these are the experiences of the writer himself or his family, so such testimonies naturally have elements of autobiography or biography. When embarking on this sort of writing, it is best for the writer to be an observer in order to maintain adequate distance, especially if dealing with a historical period fraught with disasters. This will allow him to avoid the pitfall of becoming a victim whose writing is bitter and amounts to nothing more than an indictment.
Indeed, this mode of observation can preserve the individual's perspective even if he is confronting immense disasters over a prolonged period. With adequate distance, even if Mount Tai were to crumble he would not be crushed to death. Although his testimony would only be that of one person, it would at least preserve memories overlooked by history and constitute a necessary supplement to history.
Literature that is testimony does not avoid politics — that is, not in content. But it is not political in intent. It does not wave a flag or shout out about any particular line of political action, and certainly does not stand in a war chariot for particular political faction. It therefore transcends differing political viewpoints. By dealing with taboo issues in the realm Of politics, society, religion or social custom, it promotes the uncompromising independence and spiritual freedom that are passionately sought by writers.
A writer can, of course, have a clear political goal, seek to serve in a particular branch of politics, and even join a political party or faction. These choices are for him to make as an individual, providing he does not force others to join him. It is \vhen political involvement is transformed into the unassailable will of the people that all members of society are forced to comply and the whole nation is driven to madness. Under the dictatorship of an authoritarian ruler, this is not uncommon.
The individual should have the freedom to take part or not to take part in politics. But as far as literature is concerned, the writer who engages in politics must be able to disassociate his political engagement from his literary works. Writers from Hugo to Zola and Camus have succeeded in doing so. This very fine tradition among French writers is worthy of emulation in both the East and the West.
In contemporary literature, especially fiction, it has become an increasingly widespread practice for writers to fictionalise their own experiences. By keeping close to what one has been through personally, one's writing is not total fabrication, and it is easier to project oneself into the experience and feel it pulsating with life. However, this is not anything new. Many classics of the past are more or less fictionalised autobiography. From Cao Xueqin to Proust, writers have fused their lived experiences with their inner perceptions, presenting fabrications as real events and concealing real events behind fabrications. As long as authentic human feelings are captured, *here is the boundary between fact and fiction? While that boundary may be useful for verifying an author's biography, as ar as literature is concerned, it is of no significance. What is of
significance is the depth to which human nature is probed and whether or not truth in human life is revealed.
Truth can be reached but cannot be exhausted. Much has already been written about the complexities of humanity and the predicament of survival, but there is still more to be said about life, death, love and lust. Literary revolutions proclaiming the death of antecedents have failed to deliver people from their difficulties. As long as humankind is not completely destroyed by its own madness, literature that probes human life will continue to be written, because more can always be said.
The medium through which humans articulate perception — language — is likewise inexhaustible. Describing an event or an emotion can be an endless quest, and even a momentary impression or a fleeting thought in the inner mind can be related in different ways. Whether or not a description is accurate, as well as fresh, depends on how the narrator views the emotion or event and how he articulates it in writing. The writer is continually searching for a unique narrative method. In other words, he is searching for his own path to articulating what he perceives, even if he has to do this through fabrication.
The writing of fiction of course does not need to adhere rigidly to a particular formula. But it is meaningless to search for a new way of writing unless it is to stimulate clearer perception, just as it is meaningless to explore new modes of literary narration unless this exploration contributes to the search for truth. Stylistic exploration should not be a goal in itself, undertaken for the sake of creating a controversy. Writers have introduced eyewitness accounts, editorial reports, biography, autobiography, memoir, diary writing and even notes into the creation of fiction because they are looking for a path to truth.
Literature's road to truth is built on perceived experiences. The writer relies on his memories of these experiences and on
his imagination to evoke new concrete perceptions that act as location markers, giving him access to regions he has not personally visited. Even if what is written is fabrication, it has real perceived experiences as its starting point, and the writer continually returns to these so that his imagination does not become cast adrift or lost in sheer fantasy.
Of course, the writer does not simply depend on the experiences of his own life; he can also draw from the experiences of others. However, such indirect experiences roust be able to arouse authentic feelings in the writer before they are introduced into his work, otherwise they will only be so much dead matter. So-called inspiration is direct perception aroused by the stimulation of such indirect experiences; it will suddenly illuminate an inner road leading to truth. While in this state of high concentration, the writer's perception is extremely sharp, and all at once everything becomes so clear that he can almost physically experience even what was previously unknown to him. This sort of awareness is like a scientific discovery and not something the writer is capable of concocting.
Literature can only set out to know human life by using the individual's perceptions as a starting point. Hence it always begins with the perceiving subject, and this predetermines the impossibility of inheriting experience. If the experiences and teachings of others do not pass through the niter of the writer's own lived experiences, they will remain bookish knowledge. Deep-rooted defects within man Predetermine that it is impossible for him to change, just as there is no immunisation against jealousy and hostility. This is mankind will always suffer and go mad, violence and war inevitable, and lies that are constantly repeated become. While education can transmit knowledge, it cannot necessarily awaken the conscience. Literature cannot do this and to use literature as a means to educate is merely wishful thinking that both exaggerates the function literature and restricts its freedom. What can a writer do leave a testimony of his times?
Perfect beings do not exist. In revolutionary practice, Utopian concept of "new people" deprives men and women 0 their basic awareness of being human, so that they beconjc tyrants, assassins and hatchet men who can turn a whol country into a prison and a hell. Evil and cowardice are what make people human, and are not proof of God. It would be wiser for the writer to give up trying to be a Creator, a saviour or a Superman, and instead revert to being a frail individujj who observes the world and himself.
While scrutinising various facets of human life, the writer may become aware that as an observer he is in fact not so objective, and is at times hindered by prejudice and fanciful thinking. If he also scrutinises his chaotic self, which will usually be in a state of blind self-love, he will naturally become much more sober. He will be released from stubborn bias anj delusion and will obtain a greater capacity for scrutiny, whici will give rise to feelings of self-deprecation, humour, pity an| tolerance. A writer's conscience is an awakening froi| instinctive chaos and blind violence. This conscience is a innate; it is a pair of clearer eyes that transcends the write views of morality and politics, so that what is observed is moi profound and more penetrating.
It is the process of writing, not previous training, th< allows the writer both to realise these observations of world with clarity and to transcend his own self. In o words, the writer's self-transcendence is an attitude: actually turns himself into an observer and sets out not judge. He sustains this attitude throughout the entire wri' process in order to maintain the distance necessary observation, and his concentration allows for an appreciate of beauty that brings joy, revelation and understanding. This|
reward of the writer who devotes himself to writing that is jetached from practical gain. Otherwise it would be difficult for him to sustain such passion while preserving such serenity.
All literature, from ancient times to the present — not only I'terature that takes real people and historical events as its material — is a testimony to the existential predicament of hurnan life. All writers live in their own times, and the great hooks in the history of literature are authentic portrayals of their times. In this respect, the myth and the epic profoundly touch upon the truth of human lives. The lyrical poetry that carne later on, and the fiction that came later still, also capture authentic human perceptions.
However, history and literature gradually came to be separated, and while the former turned into a record of political authority, the latter increasingly spoke of the true feelings of the individual. Homer's epics of ancient Greece, said to be works controlled by mankind's collective subconscious, were composed before the separation of history and literature. The fiction of Ming and Qing China and of Europe in the nineteenth century tell of various facets of life, based on dispassionate and incisive observations of human relationships in society. Since the advent of modern literature in the twentieth century, concern for the human world has tended to focus on the inner mind; nevertheless, truth remains the fundamental quality of literature.
Other people may be hell, but so too is this totally chaotic self. People whom modernity has turned schizophrenic have also lost their way because of linguistic demons that they themselves have invented. Using words to debunk words as a substitute for truth is the same as using ideology to reform the World. This is the fallacy of people who think that only they ^ right. Truth is here before one's eyes and does not depend upon speech for description or explanation, and introducing semantic analysis into literature in fact distances it further truth. Literary theories that employ linguistic concepts can be applied to the literary analysis of a text, but theories are very remote from literary creation.
To reach truth, one does not have to depend upon metaphysical speculation. Truth is perceptual and concrete Full of life, truth is available for human observation at any time and in any place; it is the interaction between subject and object. The material world that is external to the subject is the focus of science, whereas literature can only start from an individual's subjective impressions, which affirm truth in human life. To introduce the applied reasoning of science to literature, to turn literary knowledge about people into the construction and deconstruction of concepts, reduces literature to intellectual games and wordplay.
In this age of endless new concepts, any simple idea can be adopted into a certain system and developed into a theory. Even before a theory has been formulated, it can be superseded by a newer concept. Modernism, which initiated changes in literature and the arts at the beginning of the twentieth century, has already succumbed to the dynamics off commodity marketing in postmodern consumerist society! Fashions are continually created yet have no impact on society, and the principle that only the new is good has become meaningless and fails to generate any fresh thinking.
The globalisation of the market economy and the| information explosion have left the world of today increasingly bereft of critical thinking. Struggles between political powers have led to uncompromising, antagonistic, bipolar positions that have invaded every corner of social life. The obligation to choose either the left or the right and to be politically correct has replaced independent thinking; if the voice of the writer is not swept into this global chorus, and if he fails to give hi allegiance to a political party, he will be marginalised.
Fortunately, literature is a refuge for the free spirit and last bastion of human dignity. Herein lies the gift of the writer when people have turned mute because of their sufferings, he js blessed with a voice.
The language required by literature comes from spontaneous speech that goes straight to truth. Vivid perceptions of a particular instant are without isms and transcend concepts, people are human by virtue of their ability to express themselves in language and to thus become aware of their own existence, not by virtue of their ability to formulate definitions and concepts that explain their existence.
People were people initially without isms; isms were imposed to standardise them. Literary isms, in the same way, force literature into a theoretical framework so that it can easily be embedded in specific ideological or moral teachings that conform with the social and political order.
However, people are still aware of their own humanity because of the unwavering independence of the individual, so there remains a need for self-expression, and for literature. When the old isms come to an end, there is no need to go searching for new ones.
Say goodbye to ideologies and instead return to the truth of being human — that is, return to the true perceptions of the individual, return to this instant, and stop manufacturing lies about tomorrow.
And say goodbye to atrophied historical isms that place aesthetics into chronological sequence and label literature as progressive or conservative, avant-garde or passe, because truly profound works about human life are never passe.
And also say goodbye to the subversion of language. Introducing the strategies of social revolution into literature, or turning literary creation into tumbling word ganes, in fact removes the human content that is inherent in literature.
Return to human nature, return to focusing on humanity. Such a focus transcends ethical judgments of right and wrong and is superior to all values, because there is no greater than truth.
However, focusing on humanity transcends all judgments only if one is able to grasp the pulse of human life It is the throbbing of life that is supreme. The tremors Of
frustration, joy, lust and the soul cannot be measured by any system of values. .:
Observation is superior to and loftier than judgment !' because any judgment requires a pre-existing standard. To ^ consider others as hell is to ignore one's own cowardice * Moreover, the reason evil is able to manifest itself is a deficiency within oneself. The distances between serving, I giving tacit approval and complicity are not great. If, in the » observation of evil, one pays attention to human weaknesses, f one will stop making moral accusations, and instead will f. wonder why evil is able to wreak havoc everywhere and why f people are not able to rid themselves of such predicaments, f
The greatness of the observer lies in his tolerance. The f understanding and compassion that are awakened by observing;! and reflecting on the human world and on the self far surpass I any judgments about injustice or right and wrong. Whether the work is a tragedy or a comedy, if the writer sits in the audience or adopts the position of the reader in order to view his characters, the cleansing and release he experiences will far exceed what he gains from historical testimonies. In the end, the writer is an eyewitness of human nature.
While thus focused on truth, the writer ceases to be| concerned with values. To observe and to search for truth thus become the writer's unique and ultimate ethics.
Return to the reality of human life, even if it causes anxiety When the writer concentrates on truth, he may be able to save the literature that he writes even if he cannot save himself.
Indeed, literature cannot resolve any problems, nor can people resolve those glaringly big rights and wrongs that have no solutions. Can humankind abandon war? Or stop ethnic massacres, political purges, religious fanaticism and terrorism? people cannot prevent man-made disasters — which are millions of times worse than natural disasters — but can only tell of their experiences and feelings about them. In life there is discovery and amazement, perplexity and fear, and of course at times there will be happiness, enthusiasm and excitement, as well as the uncertainty and frustration that breed illusions and fantasies. Literature can only provide a few references for human beings, particularly those who have not seen a great deal of life.
People may not know where they are heading, think they want to go somewhere but cannot get there, or know where they are heading and be striving to get there. But of what significance is this?
If people are somehow affected by literature, moved or awakened, that is enough. If a work can stimulate thinking, then there is a need for it, but if it cannot, then it could very well be dispensed with. When literature arouses feelings and induces thoughts, we should become immersed in these feelings and thoughts and experience their meanings.
At present, readers and writers probably communicate on a similar level. Every individual hopes that others will understand him. But if a minimum understanding between people cannot be achieved, fighting and violence are inevitable, and it is pointless even to talk about tolerance and compassion. For people who are locked into their own experiences, mutual understanding is difficult. Yet through literature there can be a certain degree of communication, so the writing of literature that essentially has n° goal does leave people a testimony of survival. And if literature still has some significance, it is probably this.