Nobel Winner Mo Yan: ‘Limitations or Censorship is Great for Literature Creation’

Chinese novelist Mo Yan, who today received the Nobel Prize for Literature, previously spoke with Granta magazine about state and self-censorship. 

Mo Yan and Gamal al-Ghitani. Beijing, 2008.

He said:

Many approaches to literature have political bearings, for example in our real life there might be some sharp or sensitive issues that they do not wish to touch upon. At such a juncture a writer can inject their own imagination to isolate them from the real world or maybe they can exaggerate the situation – making sure it is bold, vivid and has the signature of our real world. So, actually I believe these limitations or censorship is great for literature creation.

It’s an opinion that I’ve heard, although never, I don’t think, from an Arab author. For instance, Iraqi author Hadiya Hussein recently answered a question of mine by saying: الإبداع لا يعيش تحت مظلة الخوف وإنما في فضاء الحرية الواسع

Looking at some books. 2008.

Roughly: Creativity doesn’t live under the umbrella of fear, but in the vast openness of freedom.

I suppose one wouldn’t know a concept of freedom without also knowing limitations. But too many red lines surely make for a dull sort of literature.

A few searches, on Goodreads and Neelwafurat, didn’t turn up any Mo Yan translations into Arabic, but Mohamed Shoair said on Facebook:

اول ترجمة لمو يان فى العربية كانت فى اخبار الادب منذ عدة سنوات وقام بها الدكتور حسنين فهمى ..الذى ترجم رواية كاملة يعنوان ” الذرة الرفيعة الحمراء” وقدمها منذ سنوات للمشروع القومى للترجمة ولم تصدر حتى الآن … والمجلس القومى للترجمة وعد الدكتور حسنين بنشر الرواية خلال ايام بعد ان ظلت على قوام الانتظار لسنوات

Presumably there will be more demand for Mo Yan, Red Sorghum and the rest, now that he’s won the Big Prize. As novelist Khaled al-Berry joked, the translation problem can be solved with a simple expansion of the Nobel.

Images swiped off Facebook, via Mansoura Ezz Eldin and Mohamed Shoair.

Excerpts from his work:

From Mo Yan’s Frogs, trans. Howard Goldblatt: “I have to admit that, though I did not make it public, I was personally opposed to my Aunty’s marriage plans. My father, my brothers and their wives shared my feelings. It simply wasn’t a good match in our view.”

From Mo Yan’s Change, also trans. Goldblatt: “By rights, I should be narrating events that occurred after 1979, but my thoughts keep carrying me back to that fall afternoon in 1969, when the sun shone brightly, the golden chrysanthemums were in full bloom and the wild geese were on their southern migration.”

From Mo Yan’s forthcoming Sandalwood Death, also trans. Goldblatt: “That morning, my gongdieh, Zhao Jia, could never, even in his wildest dreams, have imagined that in seven days he would die at my hands, his death more momentous than that of a loyal old dog. And never could I have imagined that I, a mere woman, would take knife in hand and with it kill my own husband’s father. Even harder to believe was that this old man, who had seemingly fallen from the sky half a year earlier, was an executioner, someone who could kill without blinking.”

Some have suggested that Yan is too eager to censor. From the Shanghaiist: Is Mo Yan ‘unworthy’ of the Nobel Prize in Literature? 

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