On Literature

Excerpt from an essay on literature by Gao Xingjian after the publishing of “Soul Mountain (靈山)”:-

“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 others’ needs…..

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.”

Excerpt from Gao’s Nobel Lecture entitled “The Case for Literature” (December 7, 2000):-

“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 It is precisely for this reason that Greek tragedy and Shakespeare will never become outdated.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.”

Excerpt from Susan Sontag’s Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech (May 9, 2000):-

“The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth…..and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers. The job of the writer is to make us see the world as it is, full of many different claims and parts and experiences.

It is the job of the writer to depict the realities: the foul realities, the realities of rapture.”

“Furnishing opinions cheapens what novelists and poets do best, which is to sponsor reflectiveness, to pursue complexity……. Concrete, specific, detailed, historically dense, first-hand knowledge is the indispensable prerequisite for a writer to express opinions in public.”

Excerpt from Susan Sontag’s first Nadine Gordimer Lecture (March 2004):-

“It is a singular honor to be invited to give the first Nadine Gordimer Lecture and to have the occasion to pay tribute to what her work has meant to me, to us all, in its lucidity and passion and eloquence and fidelity to the idea of the responsibility of the writer to literature and to society.

By literature, I mean literature in the normative sense, the sense in which literature incarnates and defends high standards. By society, I mean society in the normative sense too – which suggests that a great writer of fiction, by writing truthfully about the society in which she or he lives, cannot help but evoke (if only by their absence) the better standards of justice and of truthfulness that we have the right (some would say duty) to militate for in the necessarily imperfect societies in which we live.”

“In storytelling as practiced by the novelist, there is always – as I have argued – an ethical component. This ethical component is not the truth, as opposed to the falsity of the chronicle. It is the model of completeness, of felt intensity, of enlightenment supplied by the story, and its resolution – which is the opposite of the model of obtuseness, of non-understanding, of passive dismay, and the consequent numbing of feeling, offered by our media-disseminated glut of unending stories.”