Humility and compromise are ideal, says Mo Yan, while wearing a shirt printed with his own name
by Dustin Kurtz
This year’s Nobel Laureate in literature, Chinese novelist Mo Yan, gave his acceptance speech to an assembled crowd in Stockholm on Friday. While the rich and prestigious prize is always a cause for controversy, Mo’s receipt of the award has sparked a furor of broader dimensions, perhaps, than even that of Elfriede Jelenik in 2004.
As we’ve mentioned already on MobyLives, the author’s ties to the government have earned him scorn from Chinese dissident communities, his Swedish translator Göran Malmqvist, a member of the Nobel committee, stood to gain financially if the prize went to Mo, and just recently he’s gone on record saying that censorship has its place, comparing it to a necessary inconvenience like airport security — a stance that would seemingly put him very much at odds with the spirit of the Nobel Prize.
Among the most important details to have arisen from the media fervor however, is a China Daily look at Mo’s newly acquired fashion designer Bei Chen. It seems that part of the author’s extensive and much-analysed wardrobe for his various events in Sweden this past weekend was a shirt printed with a pattern made entirely of his own pen name.
Mo has already given the customary lecture, though the prize itself isn’t awarded until Monday. The full transcript of his speech is online on Nobel website, but some points provide such a window into the man’s extensive oeuvre, I think it important to excerpt them below.
- “Many people have shared in the honor of winning this prize” he said, while wearing a shirt printed with his own name.
- “Humility and compromise are ideal in one’s daily life,” he said, adjusting the cuffs of his shirt, printed with his own name, “but in literary creation, supreme self-confidence and the need to follow one’s own instincts are essential.”
- Later, while wearing a shirt printed with his own name, Mo explained “My early work can be characterized as a series of soliloquies, with no reader in mind.”
- “The announcement of my Nobel Prize has led to controversy. At first I thought I was the target of the disputes, but over time I’ve come to realize that the real target was a person who had nothing to do with me,” he claimed, while wearing the name of that real target printed across the entire front, on the collar, and down the sleeves of his shirt.
- “Like someone watching a play in a theater, I observed the performances around me. I saw the winner of the prize both garlanded with flowers and besieged by stone-throwers and mudslingers, ” he added, seemingly unaware that his name, printed on the shirt he wore, might perhaps serve to enhance the aim of any potential stone-throwers.
- Most pithily, he proclaimed, “Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated.” Unless, presumably, it is your own name, written all over your own goddamned shirt, and you wash it in hot water.
The major lessons of the lecture are that Mo has overcome privation far beyond what many of us could understand; that the value of literature is in its imagination, its sense of place, and the moral examples it can provide; that a political reading of fiction is misguided and poor; and lastly that he is being unjustly tarred and feathered for his success. Tar and feathers that happen to delicately spell out the man’s own name on his own shirt.
Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.