We All Change into Somebody Else: In Acceptance of the 2015 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

By T'ien-wen, Chu | Chinese Literature Today, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

We All Change into Somebody Else: In Acceptance of the 2015 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature


T'ien-wen, Chu, Chinese Literature Today


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First, like all other laureates, I thank the host of the Newman Prize, the Institute for US-China Issues at the University of Oklahoma, and the Newman jurists.

I am truly grateful to the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, because until now, I had never imagined that I would fly from a distant subtropical island to this continent to join this banquet with all of you. The Chinese word yuanfen ... describes the convergence of various causes and conditions. At this time, in this space, not sooner, not later, it happens precisely here and now. Our meeting is one such amazing convergence, and I am thankful for it.

Moments like this make people want to be silent and ponder what literature means to us. I will talk about myself, about my own relationship as a writer with writing, as well as my relationship to the world in which we live.

You probably have heard the Greek myth about Medusa, a female monster with hair of snakes. Everyone who looked at her face turned to stone. Therefore no one could kill her, except Perseus. How did Perseus accomplish it? Flying in a pair of winged sandals, he fought with Medusa without looking at her face-instead, he watched her reflection in his polished bronze shield, and he killed her.

The Italian writer Italo Calvino regards the snakehaired Medusa as a metaphor for reality. The gravity of reality hardens and petrifies people, but the relationship between a writer and reality is different: a writer relies on winds and clouds, eyes fixed only on indirect visual representations, that is, the reflections caught in the mirror. Writing is not meant to record or imitate reality. The power of Perseus lies in his rejection of staring at reality face to face. At that moment, words, and everything carried by words over thousands of years of sedimentation, become the mirrored surface of that bronze shield. Reality loses its weight in the reflection of this bronze shield, and the curse of petrification is lifted.

Therefore, I am grateful to the Newman Prize jurist who referred to my novel Witch's Brew as "a work [that] probes still more insistently into the nature of writing itself." The title Wuyan ... literally means "a witch's words." The most important tool or skill of witches is their ability to awaken the souls of multitudes of things, and to change the outlook of reality. The witchcraftof novel-writing dates back to the most primordial, pre- Adamic age, when witchcraftwas cognate to and parallel with science, and was used to understand the world, the surrounding phenomena, the situation of the self, and the nature of knowledge. My novel is named after the witch, and it speaks for my aspirations. However, my younger sister, Chu T'ien-hsin, who is also a writer, commented that my book "vividly and thoroughly captures an era which I belong to and live in." I am greatly honored by this statement. …

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