Kamila Shamsie and Pankaj Mishra discuss the absence of political anger in Western literature and why we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn writers like Mo Yan: Guernica
Kamila Shamsie: The decision to give the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan was heavily criticized by many writers, not because of his work’s literary merit, but on the grounds that he had refused to sign a petition calling for the freedom of Liu Xiaobo, a fellow laureate. The criticism grew even stronger when Mo Yan defended censorship, comparing it to airport security. You’ve always been politically outspoken, and have expressed your frustration with writers who remain quiet over political issues. You might have been expected to join the chorus of disapproval. Instead you turned around and criticized those who were criticizing Mo Yan. Is there a contradiction here in your own position? Read more
Pankaj Mishra, author of ‘A Great Clamour’, refuses to accept Western prescriptions for China at face value, preferring to find out how Chinese society sees itself. He talks to Ajachi Chakrabarti about the pragmatism that is at the heart of where China finds itself today: Tehelka
You have tried to maintain a “careful distance from the instrumentalist worldviews of foreign affairs pundits, security experts and financial analysts” while researching this book. Is there something restrictive about refracting your impressions of China through their distinctly utilitarian prisms? What do conventional narratives miss about China?
The conventional portraits and ideas of China are all filtered through particular prisms, whether they are of national security — which is the case in India at least, to a large extent, or even in the United States — economic rivalry and definitely military rivalry, increasingly, in the South China Sea. So much of the reporting you see on China in the American media is about China’s moves in those particular realms. What I really mean by getting away from that kind of instrumentalist view of China is becoming interested in how the Chinese look at themselves and how society looks at what kind of place it seeks for itself in the wider world. I think that’s an idea of China that can only be accessed through its literature, through its cinema and through its internal intellectual debates. For that, you really have to be interested in how the society sees itself and not what you want to get out of that society, because there is a big difference there.
Writer Pankaj Mishra’s A Great Clamour: Encounters with China and Its Neighbours explores a country of considerable interest. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Mishra discussed the idea of China, films, freedom, Narendra Modi – and whether he’ll be at lit fests soon: TOI
Is there an idea of China?
Well, there’s a grand narrative of the ruling elite which the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping invokes – the China dream. There’s been a dream of Chinese regeneration through the last century, repeated by Mao Zedong. Deng Xioping’s reason for liberalising was, we must develop – or be bullied.
That remains important in how the Chinese perceive themselves and the world. It’s a defensive idea, unlike the idea of India which accommodates pluralism, diversity, etc. The idea of China is defined against a fear of being encircled, threatened – you see that in Chinese nationalism.
Pankaj Mishra reports from Indonesia: LRB
I first visited Indonesia in 1995. For someone from India, as I was, to arrive in a country that was once part of the Hindu-Buddhist ecumene was to drift into a pleasurable dream where minor figures familiar from childhood readings of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata loomed over city squares. The Dutch, unlike the British in India, had inflicted few obviously self-aggrandising monuments on the country they exploited. Squatters now lived in the decaying colonial district of Kota in Jakarta where the Dutch had once created a replica of home, complete with mansions, canals and cobbled squares. By the time I visited, the language of the colonial power had been discarded and a new national language, Bahasa Indonesia, had helped pull together an extensive archipelago comprising more than 17,500 islands and including hundreds of ethnic groups. Read more
Pankaj Mishra and Eliot Weinberger discuss world literature at Hay Festival, Dhaka: The Daily Star
While the lawns of Bangla Academy soaked in the early winter sun’s glory, curtains to the Hay Festival rose with an insightful session, titled “Is there a World Literature?”, featuring Pankaj Mishra and Eliot Weinberger. K Anis Ahmed welcomed the audience to the first session of the day, right after the inaugural. Read more
In the 1970s, long before the word “globalization” achieved common currency, the buzzword in India was “brain drain” — an apparent problem that almost everyone in my family and circle of friends wanted to be part of.
Many young men and women educated at highly subsidized public institutions started leaving the country in the 1960s to deepen or monetize their skills in First World countries. Unlike short-term contract workers servicing the construction boom in the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia, these expensively educated seekers of greener grass, many of whom ended up as prominent bankers, entrepreneurs, innovators and scholars abroad, seemed unlikely to return to a slow-growth economy.
Meeting Pankaj Mishra face to face was for me like my daughter going backstage to see Katy Perry. So a recent dinner with the great man was certainly worth it, though it didn’t come cheap. We both arrived at about the same time – late. Other guests were already congregating and deep in conversations. So I had a short time with arguably Asia’s leading literary thinker today, all to myself.
He was unfortunately rather taciturn, and we ended up talking about the weather and a bit about Hong Kong’s democratisation and “mainlandisation” before he was duly returned to the other guests.
“I am not surprised at all about Hong Kong’s reactions to the mainland,” he said. Well, that’s the thing about having an awesome intellect; you already have the conceptual repertoire in hand before you familiarise yourself with the specifics about a new place.
The Tata group and Literature Live! today announced the 2013 edition of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai International LitFest. Over 120 writers and thinkers from all over the world are expected to participate in the fourth edition of Mumbai’s premier literary festival.
Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest will run from November 14 to November 17, 2013, at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. The festival’s various events will be spread across the NCPA’s Tata, Experimental, Godrej and Little theatres, as well as the outdoor Sunken Garden.
Pankaj Mishra explores Japan’s tormented relationship with its modernity in The Caravan
Tokyo these days looks like Asia’s oldest metropolis—at least to those accustomed to the shinier buildings, grander avenues, and the more garish newness of Shanghai. Compared to the upstart countries of Asia today, much of Japan presents a spectacle of aged modernity: brown plains marked by a clutter of small houses, and crisscrossed by giant power pylons. Even the wild beauty of the country’s coastal areas is now touched, after the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima, with menace. And it is with some shock that you recall that Japan was where once the future lay, before its bubble burst in the early 1990s, and the country, pushed inward by adversity, became a strange absence in our lives. Read more
The idea of the global novel can obscure the many ways in which African and Asian writers still grapple with the traumas of the postcolonial world, argues Pankaj Mishra in the FT.
Large economic and demographic shifts since the 1980s have brought a new generation of writers to the fore, besides spurring the rapid growth of such genres as mystery, science fiction and – in India, at least – “mythological thriller”. A growing Indian readership today sustains much outstanding and un-exportable writing in English as well as indigenous languages. Readings, writing workshops and panel discussions in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria draw immense crowds – of aspiring writers and serious readers as well as celebrity-spotters. One upshot of this flaring of energy and ambition in places long considered hopeless or stagnant is that the globalised Asian and African intelligentsia, once programmed to boost the west’s most flattering self-images, is now politically more recalcitrant and internally diverse.