I dropped by Nury Vittachi's blog and found that after deliberately not writing about the controversy for months
because it is important that the focus goes on the writers, not on the backstage shenaniganshe was lured out to comment once more on the choice of judges for the prize:
Not only was it racially and culturally insensitive, but it raised some massive issues ...he said. And this seemed to be the massivest:
Asian story arcs differ significantly from Western ones.* Our narrative traditions are also totally different. And modern Asian story conventions are simply not the same as classic ones, nor Western ones, nor do they trace their roots to the Greek drama form which is the bedrock of Western tale-spinning. I failed miserably to get any of the organizers to understand these issues or take them seriously.(*My emphasis.)
Now this question intrigues me because I must say that I hadn't given it much thought until The Stars Rise in the East panel discussion at the Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival when Xu Xi (who is incidentally one of the shortlisted authors for the Man Asian) talked about how Asian ways of telling stories differ from western ways.
Let me quote Ann Lee's article on the festival which appeared in Off the Edge, because clearly Ann was taking better notes than me!:
Xu Xi, maintains that there are Asian ways of storytelling - a climax at the end of the story is 'very western, very Greek'. She suggested, wryly, that perhaps as in the tale of Buddha, a short story should just 'mosey along, this way and that, and then one day achieve enlightenment if it happens'.Xu Xi slipped in a very interesting example from the work of psychologist Richard Nisbett showing how groups of Asians and westerners tended to read the same news article very differently. (I wish I had the exact quote ...).
So Nury's point, I suppose, is that because Asians think differently, this is going to be reflected in the way that Asian authors write and therefore the best people to judge the writing and understand the cultural nuances are people with the same way of perceiving the world i.e. other Asians.
The influence of different writing traditions would, I suppose, have to be factored in too.
Now all this leaves me once again with more questions than answers. Would be grateful if you could help me out, dear reader, because you are likely to have a broader perspective than I have.
The Man Asian prize remember is for a novel, that most western of literary forms.
First, do Asian stories and Asian novel (particularly for us here Malay novels, Chinese novels) have a different story arc from western novels?
Would this be true also of Asian movies vs their western counterparts?
Is good storytelling the same thing in all cultures?
Are Malaysian novelists writing in Malay or in Chinese or in English more influenced by the literary traditions of those languages, or by western writing ... or indeed by other factors?
(As British novelist Patrick Gale pointed out in another session at Ubud, the dominant form of story telling now is the computer game and probably this is even truer in Asia than in the west!)
And if one of the aims of the prize is win Asian writers greater exposure and acceptance internationally, doesn't their work also have to succeed by western standards?
I've a feeling that Nury has opened up a big can of worms with this talk about story arcs and I suspect it would take a lengthy academic thesis to even begin answering the question!
Still, the debate could be very interesting!