Perry Link's Response to Criticisms of his NYRB Piece

In my view, Laughlin’s essay raises two important questions: 1) To what extent, if any, are Mo Yan and other contemporary Chinese writers trapped in a Maoist language that constricts their expression, and perhaps their vision as well? and 2) Can writers who live under political censorship nevertheless find ways to write to write well?

attached to: Mo Yan


# 1.   

I liked this article much more than the original NYRB piece, and felt it came much closer to pinning down the nature of what Chinese writers are up against.

Eric Abrahamsen, December 27, 2012, 2:59a.m.

# 2.   

Agree with Eric it is a very interesting article. Perry Link tries to show that he is unbiaised and independent of politics, "I have never been a handmaiden to US power" while Mo Yan "distorts history in order to preserve his career prospects under Party rule".

After confirming that Mo Yan does not deserve the Nobel, he lists his favourites; most of them have been previously mentionned by many critics (A Cheng, Jia Pingwa, Wang Anyi...) but two are a surprise: Liao Yiwu and Zheng Yi (who is one of his favourites).

Liao Yiwu, who now lives in Germany, and a well known dissident, is the author of interesting interviews of prisoners and Chinese "lumpen proletariat"! ("The corpse walker") and a political essay on Sichuan earthquake and corruption...

Zheng Ti is known for a good investigation and reportage on cannibalism in Guangxi during the Cultural Revolution and a film scenario; an active dissident he lives in the US. Perry Link has of course the right to support his friends but this has not much to do with literature and the Nobel Prize.

Bertrand Mialaret, December 27, 2012, 1:40p.m.

# 3.   

Link's most convincing in his argument that he just doesn't think Mo Yan is a good writer. That's why I don't like Salman Rushdie's writing as well. But I still think Link is confusing his identities as literary critic and human rights advocate, which detracts from his argument.

I'm also surprised he includes his own straw man argument accusing Laughlin of West-centrism, when Laughlin clearly discusses the Chinese literary traditions Mo Yan is working within. I would think that of all places in Laughlin's article that would make Link's skin crawl is when Laughlin repeats the party line verbatim: "But the remarkable thing about the People’s Republic of China is that after the death of Chairman Mao, in the subsequent period of Reform and Opening under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping and his successors, there has been a cultural renaissance in the areas of literature, fine art, film, music, and beyond."

I'm also a little confused by Anna Sun's argument that Mo Yan’s writing is disconnected from the long history of China’s literary past. As she says, "The characters in his novels engage in struggles with war, hunger, desire, and nature; it deals with brutal aggression, sexual obsession, and a general permeation of both physical and symbolic violence in Chinese rural life." With maybe a few exceptions, this is a very accurate description of Journey to the West (which is also in the long Chinese tradition of satire, which nobody mentions either). That work also featured jarring juxtapositions of linguistic registers, which Anthony Yu was very conscious of and tried hard to preserve in his translation.

You can find plenty of other jarring examples throughout Chinese literature. For example, after reading a handful of poems from the Shijing, it is quite a shock to go read some Chu ci, and these poems are often placed at the front of the long tradition of Chinese poetry.

Perhaps the most interesting question is that most of these critics agree that there is some sort of disconnect between Mo Yan's writing and Goldblatt's translation. To Li Jie this makes him a terrible translator, but to Anna Sun, it makes him brilliant. In any case, if there is a disconnect in the translations, and the translations were used in the judging process, what does this mean in terms of Mo Yan being deserving of the award?

Jeff, December 27, 2012, 8:33p.m.

# 4.   

I think the point about the jarring registers is not that such a tactic has no place in literature, but that Mo Yan isn't actually making conscious use of it -- he simply doesn't have enough control of his own language to manipulate these registers deftly.

One of the reasons I liked this article was that it made me re-evaluate my opinion of Mo Yan's writing, and not in a positive way. I started thinking about the writers he mentioned and Bertrand noted -- Ah Cheng, Wang Anyi, Jia Pingway -- as well as those he didn't -- Wang Xiaobo, Wang Shuo -- and the accusations against Mo Yan's prose seem more and more compelling. He writes quickly and I think Link is right in saying: carelessly. And if you're going to talk about satire of political language, just put Mo Yan next to Wang Shuo and watch him pale!

I also continue to be confused about Anna Sun's complaints, though for a different reason. He's very rooted in folk literature and culture. Journey to the West and Story of the Stone... maybe yes, maybe no, but so much of his narrative approach and aesthetic is drawn from the less classical stuff, I don't see how you can argue he's "betraying" any traditions -- as if that was valid criticism to begin with!

Eric Abrahamsen, December 28, 2012, 6a.m.

# 5.   

Interestingly, Ah Cheng has highly praised Mo Yan's fusion of contemporary language with a story-telling approach rooted in (what he says is) pre-Tang traditions. He's critical of Mo's later, more epic work, but his main issue is that Mo Yan's focus has shifted from individual to collective expression, which strikes me as somewhat similar but not entirely the same as critiques that he's aligned with the establishment. There are excerpts on Douban of an essay and an interview with Zha Jianying.

jdmartinsen, December 28, 2012, 7:12a.m.

# 6.   

For the record, the Swedish Academy read translations of Mo Yan's work in many languages - English, Swedish, French, German and probably a few more. They would not base their choice of laureate on translations into one language alone, when there are many available.

Anna GC, December 28, 2012, 9:55p.m.


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