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Literature: A Spotlight on Society’s Soul

Chinese contemporary literature critic He Ping, writer Huang Yongmei, Estonian writer Indrek Hargla, and Irish writer Gavin Corbett started a dialogue around the topic of “Literature: The Spotlight of Soul of Society”.

Gavin said that his three novels, to some extent, had reflected the real world. In his opinion, literature bears certain social responsibilities, but media should play a better warning role. However, as far as the current situation is concerned, people cannot rely on media to convey truth. Many newspapers are monopolized by big companies, 80% of which are devoted to the promotion of capitalism and entertainment. However, the contents of revealing the truth are few. Then part of the warning responsibility for people falls onto literature. In creative writing, no writer hides the truth or evades the true inner emotions. Writers should have empathy and convey information and truth via literary conception in a complex way. One of my novels is about the protagonist’s struggle in such a materialistic society. In my opinion, literature is “medicine”, the right recipe to cure contemporary society.

He Ping believes that social responsibility of literature is a worldwide topic. Assuming that news has fully assumed such social function, then what we should think about is what literature can do. At the beginning of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun had used the image of “medicine” to express appeal and communication between different times. As a literary critic, He Ping needs to face two realities: one is the reality in life, and the other is literary reality of art world. In the face of the dual realities, a good writer should be an intellectual (a person who has the ability to reflect reality and criticize reality). It is disappointing that the contemporary Chinese young writers failed to realize their commitment to resume social responsibility. Facing social public events, young writers today lack the ability to express themselves literarily. For example, the French writer Layla’s The Song of Tenderness, taking the nanny’s murder event in New York as the background, has aroused great resonance in France while Chinese young writers seldom made themselves heard when the nanny set fire on the master’s platform and caused four death in Hangzhou, China.

Indrek offers the insight that literature is an elegant art. Fine art must be responsible for reflecting society, otherwise it may not generate social influence. We learned a lot from our father, although they did not deliberately impart knowledge to us. I think it is the same with literature. We must express this theme in a roundabout way. We also need to arouse people’s enthusiasm for literature and their passion for society. Only in this way can we warn people. For example, a kind of fear may stroke on me when I wrote scientific fiction. It is a kind of fear gazing down upon an abyss: Will a society of information bring us a beautiful future, and to where on earth shall we go? I like to read because books lead people to look up. The protagonist of a criminal novel of mine, whose job is to help cure people’s pain, and in the book he has devoted himself in finding out the killer. I hope to demonstrate the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty through this role. My works not only show the dark side of society, but also reflect the warmth of human nature. There are two key words to describe the Middle Ages. One is “sin” and the other is “virtue.” Most of my crime novels reflect “sin.” In the present society, money is supreme and “sin” constantly occurs.

Huang Yumei first affirmed He Ping’s view. She reckoned that literature went further than the media in dealing with social experiences. The ability to deal with social experience is closely related to the depth of human thinking and the angles of observing society. She is very much in agreement with Yu Hua’s saying: “novelists should present the details when dealing with daily concerns. A novel begins where a piece of news ends. The novelist will start with the details with his examination and thinking on these events. As a writer, in addition to dealing with daily issues, I have to deal with things in spiritual world. In fact, I am not sure about handling public affairs. Generally, novelists all want to present exclusive content, however, our daily experience is quite common, without much special points. It is hard for novelists to discover such special features. However, if literature cannot bear social responsibility, then it will be plain record of daily life.

As for his favorite literary works that reflects the society, Huang Yongmei recommended Yu Hua’s novels of Xu Sanguan Selling Blood and Being Living. He Ping approved of writer’s commitment to social responsibility in the fifties, among which are representatives of Yan Lianke, A Lai, and Chi Zijian. Indrek mentioned the American writer Philip K. Dick, whose works published in 1975 had already predicted future technology. Gavin held the view that Dickens and George Orwell are both milestone representatives in the presentation of social reality.