The best place for a writer is to remain on the fringes of society so as to keep a clear head, maintain alertness and avoid becoming another victim of the political propaganda apparatus, exiled Chinese novelist and Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian (高行健) said yesterday at a talk at National Taiwan Normal University.
Dean of the university’s graduate institute of performing arts Jerry Hsia (夏學理) asked Gao how literature and politics could maintain an “aesthetic distance,” so that writers who entered politics could avoid being suborned by politics.
Hsia also asked Gao what suggestions he would offer to Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), a renowned writer, if Lung was sitting in the audience.
While side-stepping the question of offering advice to Lung, Gao said politics is in essence a squabble for power, adding that politics drove people mad and made them lose the basic qualities that made them human.
Any political ideology serves politics, Gao said, adding that while it is impossible for writers to separate themselves entirely from society, they should avoid meddling in politics.
“Literature and arts in my mind should be a wakeful observation of the world and present the doubts one has about the world, not to negate it; literary authors should also not devote themselves to politics. Being like [Chinese novelist] Lu Xun (魯迅) and immersing oneself into the ardor of political service is not to be encouraged,” Gao said.
Gao said writers entering political life would inevitably be influenced by it, citing the example of Chinese writer Xia Yan (夏衍), who was the Chinese deputy minister of culture from 1955 until he was toppled in the Cultural Revolution.
Xia was a good writer and playwright, but he was unable to prevent the Nanjing City Government from burning 3,000 Chinese novels when he was in office, Gao said, adding that such was an example of the bitter fruit that a cultured individual is forced to consume while in government office.
However, Gao did not entirely deny the value of having a person from literary circles in government. He cited the example of Andre Malraux, who made a great contribution to culture and the humanities when he was French minister of cultural affairs.
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer