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时间:2020/3/10 阅读:7955


——穆 涛

To Write a Prose is To Talk Human Words


By Mu Tao

胡宗锋 罗宾·吉尔班克 译

Translated by Hu Zongfeng & Robin Gilbank


Prose is a form of speech. One can only speak in human language, using words which are truthful and meant sincerely.


To speak in human language means to not speak in the language of the gods, unless you are a heavenly being. Do not utter the language of ghosts unless you are the grim reaper. What is more, do not adopt the tone of an official. Even if you are in fact an official, you should not put on airs. The air of an official can be vented in the realms of officialdom, but when it comes to prose writing, such haughtiness ought to be weeded out. Avoid the language of dreams as well. Writing is a matter which concerns thousands of years. Write articles when you are sober-minded, express yourself in the manner of a normal and healthy person.


Use words which are truthful. Truthful words are solid, fecund and close to reality. Solidity implies the opposite of emptiness and means to carry authentic content. Fecund denotes having a positive outcome. Good articles convey good reasoning and good thought. When a farmer tends his crops, he is concerned with both the daily growth and the ultimate harvest. Literary writing should also focus on reality and, in fact, cling to it. Clinging to reality does not infer clapping one’s palms and declaiming a message loudly. It should not only register the pulse of the age, but also grasp the characteristics, rhythm and trends therein. What then are social trends? For instance, there is a folk proverb, “Thirty years on the east bank of the river, and thirty years on the west.”This sentence is a folk proverb which rings

quite true. Let us take the last century as a point of reference. From 1919 to 1949 thirty years elapsed and from 1949 to 1979 another thirty years elapsed. During these two phases of three decades, the changes were so acute that the heavens and the Earth seemed to have shifted places.


True words are also solid words which are effective and practical. True words wear no showy clothes, nor do they dress up or have the appearance of an actor. True words may sound not good. They might even grate on one’s ears. True words could raise the hackles of “big shots.” They are rare because they are innovative and shed a fresh understanding of the world.


Solid words can be stated in a solid manner. They can, moreover, make use of analogy and example. When ill-tempered and haughty listeners are present, solid words may provide a means of beating around the bush. However, no matter how one uses them, the speaker should maintain a calm mind. Speaking in high spirits, with one’s fists waving and ankles springing, or gasping for breath, or hair on end and flushed with anger – these are the battery of rich emotions an orator can deploy. If one simply speaks for the sake of self-satisfaction and to vent personal discontent, speech becomes like a song and dance routine. On balance, it is not healthy to cultivate such a habit. The body is overly-taxed by this.


True words are not lofty but ordinary. If in a particular era, telling the truth is regarded as a rare practice or as a sign of noble character, then that period and society must be benighted. By scanning the newspapers, watching television broadcasts, listening to the radio and skimming through magazines, it is very easy to gauge whether a society is benighted and sad or not. In order to build a civilised society, a basic and sincere etiquette must be cultivated in much the same way as these qualities are nurtured in writing. Having a civilised society does not mean that every day is like a festival and that swallows and warblers cavort and twitter all over the place. Rather the people are caressed by a smooth and gentle breeze and can cherish a sense of safety and inner calm.


Speaking sincere words means to have principles and boundaries. In life, people dislike those who talk big. Big talk is not empty talk, but endless ranting without limits. The power of the Buddha is boundless. He can use big words, whereas human beings cannot. Articles are written for people to read; words are spoken for people to hear. Thus, the content must be sincere and acceptable. Sincere words are household words. “The aged monk only speaks in household words,” while novices always have the sutras in their hands and on their lips. “Never show your whole

heart, only share thirty per cent of what is in your mind.” This refers to words spoken to strangers on the street. They are exchanged out of politeness and are not household words per se.


In writing a piece of prose, one must cherish the vocabulary. A marksman cherishes the weapon in his hands. The ancient Chinese language was broad and profound, elegant and substantial. Modern Chinese only stretches back one hundred years. For a man, living a century represents great longevity. For a language shared by billions of people, it is still juvenile. On account of this juvenility, it requires more solicitude.


Tracing back the developmental journey of Modern Chinese, we need to be critical on two basic points. One concerns an inferiority complex. When the use ofvernacular Chinese was advocated, the country was in what ought to be considered a state of acute backwardness and confusion when set against the great sweep of its history. We tried to learn more from abroad, but in fact absorbed less from our own ancient heritage. Even nowadays, this casts a shadow over our psychology. Some improper and half-digested loanwords remain popular. These days, when we emphasize the building of cultural confidence, there are too many basic elements which need to be reexamined. The other thing is that literary style bears the influence of “ne’er do well” politics. What is “ne’er do well” politics? Let me cite several sentences from China’s 1970 “New Year’s Pledge.” One glance is enough. “The 1960s have been and gone. All the proletariat and revolutionary masses of the world have strode proudly and belligerently into the great 1970s. Surveying the entire world with an eye to the future, peoples of every ethnic group in our nation are propelled by waves of emotion …. In the past decade, our enemies have grown more rotten by the day. We have grown better by the day …. During these ten years, under the new conditions the proletariat and the mass revolutionary movement have spread throughout the globe with the power of almighty thunder and the zeal to topple mountains and overturn the seas. The waves of the national liberation movement are surging on higher and higher.” This style of language is superficial with too much surface ornament and too little core. It is emotional, even irrational. In this bombardment of language, the vocabulary is not cherished in the least. The modern Chinese language is the basic material for modern Chinese literature. In constructing a grand building, the basic materials should not be merely adequate, but of premium quality.


The literary criteria for prose writing in the present day are not so clear. Beyond the overall concept of prose, there is the essay, the literary note and the sketch. As for fiction, there is the novel, the novella and the short story. For poetry, there are lyric, philosophical and narrative divisions. As far as the connotations of prose are concerned, its definitions are confusing. We are waiting for a theoretical combing and cognition to be initiated in this research field. Another fact must be taken into account. Namely, if we sweep away all Western theories from the study of literature, very little is left behind. The status quo of contemporary literary studies is somewhat like the automobile industry. The complete assembly line was imported. We did not achieve the target of being “made in China.” That is to say, we have yet to establish a contemporary system for literary evaluation based upon Chinese modes of thinking. Not only in the field of literary studies, but in numerous others do we lack our own self-defined benchmarks. China’s aggregate economy ranks the second in the world. This sprawling achievement has been made since we opened up to the outside world. Still, the criteria for this ranking were determined according to Western standards. For every index and criterion relating to economics, education, medicine, environmental protection, industry and agriculture, we lack a homespun standard. In building a great nation, we should insist on greatness from the very root. It is high time for us to establish Chinese criteria. This is true of Chinese literature also.

本文译者胡宗锋教授和罗宾·吉尔班克 博士


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