Nobel-winning author Mo Yan delivered his official lecture in Stockholm on Friday, recounting his development as a storyteller through tales of his rural upbringing and especially of his relationship with his mother. The speech—well worth an open-minded read in its entirety—came amid renewed controversy after a press conference on Thursday, in which Mo defended censorship of rumours and defamation as a necessity akin to airline security checks. He also refused to discuss the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, instead urging his audience to search online for his earlier remarks.
This reawakened the heavy criticism of Mo’s politics that followed the announcement of his prize in October, but had substantially subsided after he expressed hope that Liu could soon be free. Compounding matters, the Associated Press published the first interview in over two years with Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, while Chinese activists, international Nobel winners and hundreds of thousands of others signed petitions calling for the couple’s release.
Mo addressed his critics at several points during his lecture. From Howard Goldblatt’s translation at NobelPrize.org:
My greatest challenges come with writing novels that deal with social realities, such as The Garlic Ballads, not because I’m afraid of being openly critical of the darker aspects of society, but because heated emotions and anger allow politics to suppress literature and transform a novel into reportage of a social event. As a member of society, a novelist is entitled to his own stance and viewpoint; but when he is writing he must take a humanistic stance, and write accordingly. Only then can literature not just originate in events, but transcend them, not just show concern for politics but be greater than politics.
Possibly because I’ve lived so much of my life in difficult circumstances, I think I have a more profound understanding
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