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Why We Write

The Inaugural EU-China International Literary Festival
Why We Write
Chengdu Bookworm, November 25, 2:30pm
Jiang Lin (China),Yuan Yuan(China), Richard Obermayr (Austria),Jasna Horvat (Croatia), Dimitrios Stefanakis (Greece)

Article by Zhenming Tian

Nobody can be said to know the Chengdu literary scene who does not arrive at The Bookworm—who cannot take a moment to peer through the bookshop’s softly lit windows, tempted by the burgeoning presence of enthusiastic writers, and ask to be included by the inaugural EU-China International Literary Festival that made its debut in what is home to generations of literary and artistic talents. Tonight, joined with writers of contemporary literature from Europe and China, the opening session born on the crucial question for any author: what has shaped their decision to embark on a journey in literature?
For Richard Obermayr, the act of writing retreats into an imagined conviction that the unfinished book is already written in invisible ink: “every sentence I write is a reference to the book of which I not yet know.” Here, writing seems to contain more faith in its proper existence than reality itself and, by putting ink to paper such belief, enables a partly realistic, partly imagined journey that reveals the interconnectedness of the self, the other, and the deferred. While Yuan Yuan’s existential crisis as a writer took the form of insomnia at the age of 13, Obermayr’s inquisitive state of mind is constantly plagued by daydreams, the traces of which escapes, rather than nourishes the mind of the dreamer. “It is neither a thought nor feeling, but rather a bastard of everything, lingering in a limbo,” the Austrian writer recalled, “I am the only one who can be burdened with this task of bringing it into existence. I consider it an act of resistance, of deliberately choosing something reserved for myself—a comforting thought that readers might be enriched by this process as a result.”
The confessedly exclusive life of Obermayr has obliged the private writer to contemplate on both the senseless and the boastful: “I am prone to think about things that don’t come to mind at first sight, focus on what’s overseen by the oftentimes assertive narratives in the media, and dedicate my life to something to which no value is assigned.” For his Chinese colleague Jiang Lin, on the other hand, writing arises out of the mundane existence of the material world as a response to a call of life: “I observe the world and write for the enrichment of the self. Similarly, for the readers, literature liberates the soul and widens the perspective.”
Acknowledging the enormity of this task, Dimitrios Stefanakis consulted that enhancement of the self prepares a writer the development of a good idea. “Walter Benjamin said that ‘genius is toil’, which mustn’t be forgotten when we try to define the idea of ‘muse’ in literary production. That Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is a vast territory where nothing takes place means that the subject matter doesn’t really matter; instead, great authors combine poetry, history, and political art,” the Greek writer remarked as he insisted on the mixture of thoughts and ideas. “Moreover, we literary men are not journalists; we are not closely connected to the actual situation, but rather concentrate on the self. It is my duty as an author to describe this world, what I believe about life, by giving readers something global and allowing them to become familiarized with human existence.”
Indeed, a glimpse into the strangeness of history has roots in the reflection of ourselves. It is not just the act of recollection; it also implies imagining how to make a human connection with the invisible yet influential. When faced with the huge reservoir of what has been inscribed in words, Obermayr professed that it is up to the new generation to revise the past and evaluate if it is still of contemporary relevance: “otherwise tradition is used a lifeless set of rules. If we just obey, then we are paralyzed, unable to dare nor breath.” On this subject, the Croatian writer Jasna Horvat raised an important question of the potential of literature in today’s world. As a mathematician and novelist, Horvat has concerned herself to think about life as an unpredictable experiment by combining digital technologies, games, science, and art. To the extent that the stimuli for writing continues to grow amongst these vast fields of possibilities, perhaps her question deserves further contemplation in the digital age: “how can we construct and make predictions of the world by not only keeping alive, making better, but also giving grace to literature in this fast-changing world?”