dijous, 4 de febrer del 2010

My lamp is very bright

In Chinese education, though, the group mentality tends to be relentless. Most writers are individuals, but that instinct usually gets to be broken in a Chinese classroom. And when they teach writing, it’s not through an emphasis on voice, perspective, narrative, character. Instead, they have the kids copy poetic phrases over and over. They are taught to spout off set opinions instead of coming up with anything unexpected. And they do a lot of handwriting. Lots and lots of handwriting. It’s incredibly deadening. In the village outside of Beijing where I have a home, I was once helping a neighbor kid with his homework, and his assignment was: “Write an essay about your lamp.” He wrote “My lamp is very bright,” and then he got stuck. Well, that’s another bright kid who probably won’t be writing novels in 20 years. Or if he does, it’ll be a 600-page allegory about a lightbulb.

I’ve always believed this cultural issue is more significant than political censorship. Look at Taiwan – where are the great novels about Taiwan? It’s an amazing place: you have a class of elites who lost a terrible war, fled to exile on a strange island, brutalized the natives, built toy factories, went abroad to study, developed a repressive regime and then opened it up, and eventually lost their ruling status. There’s no Communist Party to censor writers. Where’s the epic that captures this half-century? Why hasn’t this environment produced a Tolstoy or a Conrad? It’s because writers do not develop simply because they live in interesting times. The environment does not create a writer, sui generis. People need to be educated to write, and they need to be educated to think as writers.

One thing I liked about being in China was that I couldn’t over-estimate my significance, either as a teacher or as a writer. When I arrived with the Peace Corps, the country was clearly going its own way, and that’s still the case. Foreigners have some impact, but they aren’t guiding the country, and it’s not a playground for NGOs like so many parts of the world. The state-level stuff is of questionable value. When a head of state like Obama goes to Beijing, he’s performing certain rituals that are part of big-picture politics, but he’s not making a lot of earth-shattering decisions that will change China. In a sense, he has a lot less leeway than a migrant going to Dongguan looking for a factory job. So as a writer you’re best off sticking with that migrant or somebody like him; you should try to understand Chinese people. You try to figure out their stories and their motivations, and you try to write in an artful way. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough.

Why I write, interview with Peter Hessler. Urban Anatomy.

1 comentari:

D. ha dit...

Bright Hessler. Andrea has very good taste. ;-P