2011年9月6日 星期二


(No one is as upset with the closing line of this piece as I am. I apologize in advance AND after.)

Going back through a long list of saved and unread articles I came across the “Right to Rewrite?” article from my old alma matter, (no, not literally) the China Daily, and thought, '”Is it possible that they could possibly be missing the point any more than they are?

(Yes, I write this way on purpose.)

Outside of the babbling on about minutiae and “literature” and whether to say “goose-egged” (oh, how important!) and the usual dickishness (a generous term, to say the least) from Kubin and the eternal “I’m not responsible for anything, I have editors” nonsense from Goldblatt, there’s not really much there.

The problem China has, and Chinese as well, is that it’s not written well enough. And no, I don’t mean that in a Kubin/racist kind of way. I mean that in a screenwriting kind of way, a Game of Thrones kind of way because ultimately, that’s what China (and Chinese) is competing with in this world. Other places, other languages and cultural products are competing for time, attention and money with everything else that is out there. For giant superstructures like China, Chinese culture or Chinese languages, serious competitors aren’t Singapore (a weekend retreat) or “books” from other languages/places, but rather other superstructures that offer engrossing, rich, interesting worlds (universes) that take up time, attention and money. Sure, old favorites like France or Japan are competitors, but the real competitors are sports, ESPN, and drilling further down, the entire universe that grows around a single “sport”, like professional wrestling. And they’re not limited to sports, but rather also include individual book series, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, or the entire niche of jumping from one sci-fi/fantasy/mystery universe to another: Dune to Star Wars to James Bond to Game of Thrones. And then there’s the 20-500 hour console and computer games that began as one-player quests and now have transformed into literal virtual worlds, a la WOW. And while it’s true that you may learn a lot from these things and connect with real, individual people, it is also true that these things are not the world. These things are not the manufacturer of the device you use to experience these things, nor the parent yelling at the kid for being home all day doing this stuff, nor the pollution outside, nor the political repression or freedom all around that self-enclosed space.

If you don’t bring Paris with you, you’re not going to find it there.

What China (et al) lacks, and what these universes (ESPN, pro wrestling, game of thrones, etc.) have is the quality of being well written.

When you find something that sucks you in, that’s engrossing, you know immediately that you’ve found something special. You can tell that the things fit into place in that universe just as well as the laws of physics hold together in ours, even though that final bit of glue to make everything appear seamless is probably done by the audience, with the cracks only revealed on careful examination (an visible boom mic in a shot of pro-wrestling only seen by someone not paying attention to the match, or CPT violation observed at CERN only after the 1000th try.)

Despite what the haters say about Japan’s anime and manga culture, the visual and artistic distinctiveness and innovation, the clear presence of a unique element in the work and the ability to resonate issues universal, addictive, and engrossing is why Japan is in the public imagination. It’s not that other factors don’t account for this, but it’s that there’s something to dream about there’s something in people’s heads that doesn’t pop when you think about Korea (Samsung) or China (Tiananmen square guy). The depth of the rabbit hole hinted at and brought forth in the anime/manga world in Japan is just staggering. It bleeds into everything else. It is the Paris you take when you get there. Sure, you find out that everything is a bit more dull, the Parisians aren’t actually that rude, and the magic isn’t really there most of the time, but once in a while you’ll take a wrong turn down a dark alley and spot that little totem that links in to all that imagination bubbling up just under the surface of your mind and puts that little aura around everything you were sure was there all along, but were slowly coming to believe was all in your mind. This is how you make kids eat vegetables. It’s slow and doesn’t always work, but the read your 道德經 school is never going to get anyone very far. And that’s what the Hollywood movies have done for America (in the way anime and manga have done for Japan), they’ve written an engrossing and attractive story of the country/people/language etc. Sure, most of it’s bullshit or exaggerated or not true, but you’re not going to get many people to go pick up the Federalist papers or learn about Hip-Hop lyrics without a well-written story. Maybe they’re written into that story, subtly, like a Dickens character someone loved for 50 pages and was never heard from again, or maybe after Games of Thrones people actually want to go read up and really get more into the history and life of that time. It’s not that this can’t be done: the rich history and culture that something like Dune or Star Wars or Game of Thrones (or even baseball) is something that China (et all) can compete with. Maybe not every country can, maybe Estonia can’t, but China certainly can. And it won’t be one Steven Spielberg collabo flick, or a good adaptation/showing/translation of Condor Heroes or Dream of the Red Chamber shown on western television. We don’t live in a single-event world anymore (if we ever did). We live in an event-driven world that is typified by streams of everything. There’s four major sports (ok, hockey doesn’t actually count) in America that push it to the fore during all seasons, but ESPN is way ahead of them, putting 4 different sports on each season and expanding to new channels exploring the past, the celebrity, the funny, the everything. There’s wrestling channels to keep you up all the time, combined with communities online whose ranks grow and deplete as new fans come and go as they age. But if you turn on your television you won’t find a Chinese channel. You won’t even find good Chinese stuff slipped into Adult swim like anime or British sitcoms slipped into BBC America. In fact you won’t find it on the internet either. There’s literally nothing. A new dark continent, opaque all the way down. Sure, you’ll find a Chinese channel, with people in suits stiffer than a wall reading the news at you in a range of accents from FOB to not good to I know I look Chinese, but I my family has been here for 150 years, I have no connection to the culture, oh, by the way I was your neighbor and probably dated your brother during high school and I myself wonder why I have this job. But of course, a hipster (or really anyone under 40, 50?) stumbling across this station could only watch it ironically (like wearing a vote McCain t-shirt) or laugh at how stiff and serious the people were and how equally stiff and serious they imagine their audience to be. There’s an entire world out there for you to compete with, CCTV, you’re doing it wrong. To compete with the world, you first have to decide you have to be part of the world, and that may be the barrier to break through before we can even begin to talk about being written better.

That brings us back to the point here. You’re losing. You’re losing to that kid who dumps 200 hours into that SNES game which means a lot to him. And the next 10 where she tries to replicate that experience and find that deepness and richness of that universe repeated. For every 200 hours dumped into that, you have 200 hours not dumped into learning a language, or getting involved in your country/culture/people/languages, even obliquely. You have to be a time sink and you’ll never get there with government marketing push alone. If you think kids are smart, then you must know adults are even smarter. Letting a thousand flowers bloom guarantees I never have to think again about getting angry about some random translator thoughts about goose-eggs or abdicating responsibilities to editors. That’s the translators invisibility, getting the audience to the place they want to be, that rich engrossing world that is pulling them in. I can’t name the thousands of translators of the anime I’ve seen or read. Sure, now that I translate myself I have criticisms of styles and quality, but they all more or less got me there because the universe they were mediating over was powerful enough that even they couldn’t mess it up. Think the bible. Only stuffy fucks are still bitching about “with child” and other drugs. The rest of the world is busy getting their Christ on. So, China, I think you’ve got what it takes to have a larger percentage of the world get their China on. Maybe not Bible sales, but maybe Japan sales aren’t too far out of reach mid-term. You’ve just got to do a better job writing yourself, because the video games and the novel/movie universes and the MMORPGs and the Sportstravaganzas and Hollywood and anime are written really, really well, and they’re totally kicking your ass. So get off of your ass, especially whatever ass thing you think literature means, and go Git-R-Dun. (No one is as upset with this closing line as I am. I apologize here, one more time.)