On this day, Gao Xingjian was born in 1940

Happy birthday to Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, a painter, novelist, essayist, and more. Below, read about two essay collections Gao published with Cambria—in which he discusses aesthetics, the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic—and a study of his original artistry:

Calling for a New Renaissance Gao Xingjian

Called “a tour de force” and “a most valuable collection of writings and public statements,” Calling for a New Renaissance covers the Gao’s concerns of the last decade. In the essay collection, he discusses the climate crisis, his literary self-education, and his boundary-crossing cine-poems. He also calls for a new renaissance in literature in art that pushes against a time when politics and advertisements are inescapably pervasive. Read a short except below of Gao discussing this:

In the present age, is there any chance for literature and art to transcend politics and the market, and not seek after practical benefit? This literature and art would not shun the present problems of human existence, and writers and artists would have no taboos; they would confront life directly, think independently, and moreover express themselves freely. This is the literature and art that I want to discuss. This sort of literature or art must derive from the perceptions of writers and artists. It must completely come from an individual’s independent and uncompromising thinking, which demands articulation. This is, in fact, the primary intention of literature and art. This sort of literature and art is the crystallization of human consciousness; they are testimonies to humankind’s survival and to human nature. Moreover, the history of literature and art is formed from the sedimentation of such writers and artists and the works they leave behind. From this it becomes the spiritual legacy of human culture that can be transmitted, possess cognitive value, and will stand the test of time. Whether writers and artists of today have the courage to accept this challenge is the ultimate test facing them.

“Highly recommended” by CHOICE for undergraduates, faculty, and general readers, Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics demonstrates the extensive reach of the artist’s transcultural, transdisciplinary and transmedia explorations. Showcased here is the panoramic aesthetics of a polymath who has successfully personified modern-time renaissance by projecting the struggles of the individual’s inner landscape onto stage, film, black-and-white paintings, and in the multilayered narrative expressions of fiction and poetry, even dance and music, to evoke a sense of sincerity and authenticity. Below, Mabel Lee and Liu Jianmei discuss the aims of the edited volume:

This volume crosses the boundaries of traditional academic writing and takes the reader to the in-between spaces of different styles of writing, research, and commentary, which help us better understand Gao’s endeavors in literary, theatrical, and pictorial creation and their accompanying philosophical insights. The chapters in this book transgress the boundaries of different media and genres—fiction, drama, poetry, painting, film—in their deliberations, and these diverse approaches serve to broaden the scope of Gao Xingjian research through what can be described as a dimension of heightened freedom, that is suggestive of Chan Buddhist comprehension. Gao Xingjian often states that for him creative innovations emerge at boundaries and in-between space. The aim of this collection thus seeks to explore such boundaries and inbetween spaces in academic research on Gao Xingjian.

When it was published ten years ago, MCLC wrote that Aesthetics and Creation “announces Gao (to English language readers) as a major voice in literary aesthetics and politics.” The essay collection remains a crucial source of aesthetic and political thought. Below, Gao discusses the political forces on writers:

Literature in essence is divorced from utility. But under a totalitarian dictatorship it is politics that prevails over literature and writers: the writer must be subservient to politics, otherwise he will not be able to write, not have the means to survive, and could even lose his life. The writer’s situation in the democracies of the West is much better, and one can write whatever books one wants and pursue whatever literature one wants, and as long as one does not depend on it for a livelihood, freedom lies in one’s own hands. The problem is, there are very few writers who actually enjoy such conditions because the laws of capitalist profits similarly apply to literature. If writers do not submit to the pressures of the market but persist in not following the fashions and do not toady to readers, they too will find it hard to survive. The pressure of globalisation on serious literary creation continues to increase unabated. And in democracies, politics also interferes with literature so that it is quite difficult for a writer who is unaligned with either the left or the right to have his or her voice transmitted in the media. In the West, the writer may enjoy freedom of expression and freedom to create, but the freedom to publish what is independent of politics has limitations.