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Global writers, Local Stories

On May 22nd, at the invitation of The Beijing Bookworm, Irish writer Gavin Corbett, Hungarian writer Noemi Laszlo, Chinese writers Lu Nei and Pan Xiangli came to Yanyouji Book Store at Changning Raffles Shanghai for the 2nd China-Europe International Literary Festival. They brought readers a wonderful discussion. In the nearly ninety-minute workshop, they shared their writing experiences with readers on how to present global themes in literature and how to maintain the meaning of narratives under the trend of globalization.

In recent years, the concept of “global literature” has gradually entered our field of vision, and novel is generally considered a literary genre suitable for presenting a sense of nationality and country. This has created a problem: how does a writer combine the theme of “global” with elements of country, nation, and localism within his/her own work?

Gavin first expressed his opinion. It is not so much that he is a thinker who has “global” notion. It is better to say that he is writing with interest, rather than taking “global” as his goal in writing. As an Irishman, he is always willing to write about the plight of his people. And at the same time, he announced through his words: Ireland is not an island but has its own path of globalization. There are more and more people from this nation going out to seek a unique immigration experience and trying to experience different culture and life.

The Chinese writer Lu Nei took Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul as an example to illustrate that the author made the city Istanbul gain continuous attention globally via his writing. While such kind of international writing, whether it is the city itself, or the people living in the city or the history of the city, is still a learning process for Chinese writers. In addition to this question, he also proposed a question: whether such kind of internationalized movement tendency existing in writing makes personal writing shallow? It remains to be explored.

Noemi talked about her own growth experience. As a global citizen, her writing driving force come from different languages and cultural traditions and all spiritual wealth behind them. All kinds of people and things in everyday life can be creative inspiration for writers. For her, although she came from Hungary and inherited its European tradition, she recorded more of Romania because her daily life happened on this land.

From this point of view, writers can almost reach a consensus – whether novelists or poets, their writing is always rooted on the land where they live. Pan Xiangli, the other Chinese writer believed that this issue is actually related to everyone’s view of writing. The existence of a writer and his/her writing is like a tree, growing on the land where it stands. However, unlike those writers in Shaanxi and Qinghai deeply rooted in their hometown, Pan Xiangli has experienced “migration” – from Fujian Province to Shanghai. She had encountered a huge gap in culture, language and even custom. Therefore, it can be said that rooting is affirmative, and “local” has never been a geographical concept but a concept of Chinese indigenous culture. In her view, the Chinese indigenous culture is constantly changing, incorporating the temperament of modernity. Compared with “globalization”, “modernity” is more easily accepted and welcomed by writers.

Nowadays, due to the intervention and development of the Internet, more reading choices have been placed in front of readers. In such a globalized era, how do writers maintain their own narratives and arouse readers’ sympathy when the characters are from a different country?

In Gavin’s view, writers should try to capture the present, show different experiences and different levels, instead of worrying about readers’ feedback during writing. It is more important to maintain the authenticity and originality of writing. The best way to combine local stories with the global society is to write the stories of ordinary people and city living rhythm in the global context, which is the universal perspective.

Taking maps as an example, Noemi vividly illustrated that people is inclined to regard their perception as the center of the world. In fact, when people talk about literature, they do not know what is authentic and what is beautiful. Everything depends on personal values. Therefore, on the issue of global or local matter, we should base them on values, not only understanding what is authentic and what is beautiful, but also knowing who made this criterion.

Lu Nei agreed with Pan Xiangli’s opinion upon the previous question. He held the view that there exists difference between modernity and globalization. For Chinese writers, modernity is often a positive and progressive concept, while globalization is relatively ambiguous. As more and more Chinese writers gain honor in the international arena, today, Chinese writers naturally have a kind of expectation and aspiration for “global”. As far as his/her personal experience is concerned, entering the “global” field will undoubtedly bring pressure and loss to writers.

Pan Xiangli then expressed her point of view – the process of going global will encounter countless unknowns and insolvable matters. Her work has been pointed out by some readers and literary critics that its background is a standard modern metropolis, which can be replaced by New York, Tokyo and other international cities. And this may happen to be an authentic restoration. At the same time, she was utterly perplexed. The writings on contemporary urban life are often suppressed, while writings on isolated and lagging behind rural life are considered as of literary historic value. Such kind of query and negation of separation from the work itself and the scarcity of literary pedigrees is undoubtedly unreasonable.

In the end, upon Lu Nei’s view on writers going global, Noemi put forward her own understanding. In her opinion, compared with feelings of self-identification, more importantly, writers should fulfill their spiritual mission and communication from the source of inspiration.