Joyce Carol Oates & Cao Hanh Kien – Who is the Artist?

Joyce Carol Oates (1938) – American writer, permanent candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature and Gao Xingjian, Chinese writer in exile, who received this prestigious award in 2000 give the same definitions. about the responsibility of artists and art in modern society through the short translated excerpts below. For Oates, the artist is both a perpetual antagonist, a self-determiner, but at the same time a person who establishes deep relationships with others. With Cao Hanh Kien, a writer must always be someone who has the courage to speak the voice of an individual, even though he is deeply self-aware, that individual is a fragile entity in a social and historical environment. History is willing to make it compromise or, more cruelly, crush the individual.


Joyce Carol Oates

Art and ethics?

The problem for the artist, of course, is: whose ethics? Whose morality? Who set the standards of correctness and appropriateness? Whose community? Whose censorship? Whose judge? – prosecutors? prison guards? executioners? Whose state? The customs of a community, to outside observers, seem as arbitrary as language itself – the linguistic system in which the word denotation is understood as something that is not a thing – but within that community, they are rarely able to negotiate with each other. The less likely they are to be violated by individuals if they do not accept a great risk… The dominant morality of a society is a stone wall against which the individual can fight a mortar. windmills, to no avail – or thrown, injured…

In the artist’s own experience, of course, art is essentially indefinable, unspeakable; there is something divine in the demands it places upon the soul; something mysterious is inherent in its forms as well as in its content… If we were told that art is only for the state, we would rebel; if we are told that art is useless, useless, we will rebel; we are creatures who decide for ourselves; yet we are creatures of our time, deeply connected, nourishing each other, defining each other in countless ways.

Take, for example, the case of the Belgian surrealist painter, René Magritte. He was the creator of “anti-art” images in the period 1920-1930; he is seen as a painstakingly experimental painter who views art as a “lamentable expedient” by which thought can be born. The paintings that most characterize Magritte’s style of this period are ideological allegories, paradoxes that have nothing to do with the visual world and can only be conceptually explained (eg. , in a famous painting… “The Treachery of Images” [Sự phản bội của hình ảnh], he drew a pipe just above the words This is not a pipe). Magritte considers art made only to evoke emotions in the viewer and to show the effects of painting as worthless. But during the Nazi invasion of Belgium, the artist suddenly switched to a different style of painting. If in the previous period, his paintings were usually very flat, the images carried the characteristics of the genre, but there was nothing special and monotonous like the wall paper, in this period – lasting from 1943-1946 – his paintings the colors are very jubilant, the tones are bright and playful; His brushstrokes followed the method of impressionist painting. In this “Renoir Period,” Magritte is obsessed with warm, sensuous images, images that are clearly intended to evoke emotion, even sensuality. Magritte, the foremost intellectual painter, believes that his work is a response to the dictatorship of the Nazi regime and the fear of war: “My work is a counter-offensive.” .

The artist as a perpetual antagonist; the artist as an individual – the ultimate authority to define himself; the artist as one deeply bound to his world and in a meaningful relationship with a community – that is the artist’s ethics, the artist’s aesthetics.

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The source: Joyce Carol Oates, “Art and Ethics?” printed in Ethics, Literature, and Theory: An Introductory ReaderRowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1995.

Cao Xingjian

Writer’s position

… Writers are not prophets, nor are they supposed to weave beautiful fairy tales or make promises about the future to people or select groups of people; Nor is the writer definitely obligated to create an illusion of a utopia in order to incite the mob into war against the world. Moreover, in the century that our humanity has just passed, this has happened many times.

Writers are not the saviors of the world, and although images of Nietzsche superheroes were common in the twentieth century, writers cannot shoulder the mission of Christ. Since God is dead, countless people with inflated egos can present themselves as the saviors of this world. It is more interesting to see Nietzsche’s romanticism as literature rather than philosophy because of the traditional exaggerated image of a superman replacing the martyred Christ. But this concept does not portray the person truthfully; it is simply a philosopher’s illusion. The real situation of man in modern society is not as claimed by Nietzsche but is described by another writer, also in German: Franz Kafka.

Kafka was silent because he could not publish his work while he was alive, but he deeply understands the dilemma facing twentieth-century humanity in modern industrial society. Today’s popular literary histories all regard Nietzsche as the starting point of twentieth-century modernism, as if modern literature began with Nietzsche. In fact, it would be more correct to place Nietzsche in the romantic literature of the late nineteenth century; Kafka, instead, should be seen as the landmark that marked the birth of modern literature. Kafka paints an accurate portrait of the real predicament of humanity in modern society. In all social relations, even family relations, man is no more than a worm, meaningless and pitiful. Individuals are no longer able to control their own destiny, even more so in their ambition to dominate the world, yet it is difficult to explain when people think that the situation could be different. Kafka sees through the deceptions of utopias: they are like the castles of his novels, where it is impossible to find an entrance.

It was at the beginning of the last century that Kafka foretold the predicament of mankind in modern society; and at the present time, humanity is still struggling in the same unfortunate problem. Individual people become more and more fragile, their autonomy is eroded more and more strongly, individual people disappear into different group identities. Inside the huge social machines, culture became a market-facing commodity that was always capable of engulfing it, and the media lost its true independence because of major divisions. treat. It is very difficult for anyone to speak up for themselves, to speak for themselves instead of using words associated with some form of politics. Only in serious literary creation, overcoming profit and loss, overcoming politics, not following fashionable forms, can such voices be raised, individual people can protect themselves. protect its independence and integrity. Of course, the voice of the individual is always weak, but it refuses to exaggerate. It is the real human voice.

Where can this authentic voice be found? In literature. Only literature can tell the truth about human existence that politics can’t touch or is reluctant to tell. Nineteenth-century realist writers such as Balzac and Dostoevsky do not present themselves as world saviors, nor do they see themselves as spokespersons for the people or the embodiment of what is right – for, after all, what is what is right? They simply recount reality, not presenting an ideology to criticize or judge society; Nor did they craft a blueprint for an ideal society. But it is works like those of these authors that, by overcoming politics and ideology, have brought about realistic depictions of humanity and society, revealing the whole predicament and dilemma. of human existence, the complexity of human nature. Judging from their intellectual and aesthetic qualities, these compositions have stood the test of time…

Writers don’t have to become warriors or see the purpose of literature as social criticism and reform. Of course, writers have their own opinions on politics but they don’t have to put that into their literature. If the writer is well aware of his true place in the present society, it is best to return to the voice of the fragile individual person, for the authentic voice of this individual excludes artificiality. . If one does not wonder if one voice can reach other voices, one can at least tell oneself that one has a need to hear one’s own voice. This inner need is the primordial driving force of the act of writing; it arises from perceptions that arise from real human emotions and experiences.

The fact that society imposes many limits on individual people is of course not something that is seen today. The individual is always bound by the social circumstances within any collective community and allows an individual voice to speak without being drowned out by the chorus of the crowd or by the utterances of the people. The powerful are obviously a great challenge, but it is by challenging this reality that the existence of an individual is confirmed. This is what new literature is supposed to express, therefore, in this sense, literature is not a weapon of criticism but a testimony. The writer is a witness of the times in which he lives. The honest testimony that literature leaves people with is more real than the history written by political forces. That is because successive political forces edit and revise history according to their political needs. This causes official history, in the hands of the powers that be in power, to undergo changes in appearance…

Literature is a testament to the existential situation of man. Writers do not need to make moral or ethical judgments, nor do they need to accept the role of the judge and the moral judge. Both literature and history are seen as forms of testimony that record people’s experiences and emotions. But today we know very little about the political history of ancient Greece and only historical experts conduct research on that subject. However, there were many people with knowledge of Greek literature.

Each dynasty, each ruling power will write history to suit their own interests and interests, thereby asserting their authority. Histories written by the ruling powers will always have to follow political changes and are constantly being edited and revised. But there are historical forms that cannot be reviewed and these are the creations of the writer. This history is more true than the history written under the direction of the ruling power. Although fictitious, as long as literary narratives relate to real existential situations, what literature offers is likely to last. The excellent literary works from ancient times to the present do not disappear with the passage of time but instead shine like crystal fragments of human culture.

Literature differs from history in that it writes about the history of the individual and the history of the human soul, it records knowledge of the world and of man himself: this understanding of the human world can be called consciousness. Ego and human nature cannot be reproduced by individuals but writers can record experiences and that is the starting point of literature. In this realm, so to speak, the writer enjoys a limitless freedom…

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The source: Gao Xingjian, “The Position of the Writer”, printed in Aesthetic and CreationMabel Lee translated into English, Cambria Press, 2012.

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