“Language is the chip of human spiritual life”
Interview | Wang Weilian
Wang Weilian has studied physics, anthropology, and Chinese at Sun Yat-sen University. His published novels include Wild Future, Inner Face, Illegal Residence, Listen to the Sound of Salt Growth, Upside Down Life, etc., and a collection of literary essays Sadness Unable to Roam, etc. During the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival, Wang Weilian expressed his thoughts on the future forms of literature, spoken and written languages, and the beauty of printed books.
The future form of literature
Nowadays, technology has become part of our everyday lives and it has brought a shock to the forms of literature. Discussing how literature should reflect the complicated reality of the information age, Wang said, “Literature should maintain its own sensitivity and strive to be open to the changes of life. Writers should include more new and dynamic elements into their writings, both positive and negative. Only when they go beyond their conventional way of thinking and overcome traditional biases can they present to their readers the diversity of cultures and delicacy of human hearts in this great transitional period of civilizations.”
Considering the future form of literature, Wang commented, “Today, with the spirit and artistic characteristics of literature spreading to different industries, people from all walks of life feel the need to tell their own stories. In an age overloaded with all kinds of information, one has to make their existence known to others through telling stories. Therefore, literature has become the foundation of social culture. In this process, literature will experience polarization. On the one hand, it will be universalized, fragmented, popularized and commercialized. On the other hand, it will focus more on people’s internal world, their critical thinking and self-exploration. The ultimate form of literature, I believe, will be entangled with other forms of art. Together they will form a big comprehensive artistic form. We can imagine it’s like the birth of the movies. In the future, literature will integrate into every aspect of virtual scene technology.
Wild Future, science fiction that belongs to pure literature
Wang has been including sci-fi elements into his writing since 2018. Wild Future (CITIC Press, 2021) is a collection of his short stories that could be labelled humanist science fictions or, as Wang says, “science fictions that belong to pure literature”.
“While writing I seized many new forms and new changes of the reality through the lens of language. I reexamined some of the commonplace things, came up with a few new ideas, and at the same time, struck a chord with some of my friends. Of course, some still hold doubts about my creation because they do not fit into conventional literary models. But for me, this is a new beginning for my continuing exploration,” he said.
Spoken and written languages, and printed books
Technology has brought a huge shock to spoken and written languages. For example, Internet slang, code-switching and emojis have become major ways for people of the Internet age to communicate. It seems they are gradually losing patience with savoring the charm of language. They just want everything to be fast. The faster, the better. Speaking about the changes of spoken and written languages in the Internet age, Wang said, “On the one hand, we see languages are losing their rhetorical function, as evidenced by emojis taking their places. However, on the other hand, we also see many new Internet phrases are coming into being, and many Internet jokes are spreading fast every day. All these prove that language will not vanish from the mainstream Internet culture, nor will it vanish in humans’ spiritual life.
“Language is the ‘chip’ of human spiritual life. This is a fact that cannot be changed no matter how technology evolves. Even with brain-computer interface technology, I think it is unimaginable, or even dangerous to exclude languages from humans’ communication. Because this will dissolve the boundary between self and others,” Wang said.
Technology not only changes spoken and written languages themselves, but also gives rise to more ways for people to consume books. Readers have more choices; they could listen to the audio version, watch films adapted from the book, check the book’s ranking on Douban or Amazon before they decide to read it or not. Or they could just listen to an online expert summarizing and analysing the story. About the phenomena above, Wang said, “Though I also tried hard to embrace new forms of reading in the Internet age, I still love printed books. This is not only because reading printed works is better for our eyes, but also because I believe books represent a structure of thinking, a pattern in which knowledge is produced, which is often overlooked by many people. These people might think the Internet is only another form of an information carrier compared with a book, but in fact this is not the case. We usually describe our age as an age of fragmented information. Why would information become fragmented? Basically, it is because these fragments are floating outside the system, and they lack any cohesive force. In contrast, books contain the power to reconstruct the system, that is the cohesive force.”
The 7th EU-China International Literary Festival will be held online (7-25 Sept, 2022) focusing on the theme “Explore·Imagine·Inspire” – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Worlds Beyond. During the festival, Wang Weilian will join Spanish writer Munir Hachemi, and Zhang Fan, a scholar, translator and science fiction expert, in a discussion themed “Why we Write”.