The Black Language(excerpts)

Excerpt from Chapter Language and the World

Different cultures, religions and ethnic groups truthfully stand for different voices. Diverse individual thoughts above this natural basis are worthy of respect, while those below go blind. I accept vast diversity with peace, as I appreciate the facts about biological diversity, along with its constructional strengths, its right and wrong, good and evil; they are all an integral part of the time and space that passes through our life pipes.

But this does not stop me from combating the eroding effects on lives from pluralism and relativism. Diversity is a structure without which life will lose its living space. However, individual lives themselves are not plural and they cannot become immaculately towering, lofty and fulfilled by roving between plural ends in their lives. On part of a particular person, pluralism can be the embodiment of hypocrisy, sloth, selfishness, and cunning. Though someone who holds pluralist and relativist views may not be as bad as someone who submits to authoritarian privileges, he wreaks havoc on himself and people around him to a larger degree.

Diversity means different co-existence, just as it means in a Chinese proverb, “Gentlemen seek harmony but not uniformity”. More importantly, the “non-uniformity” marks the unique individuality that can only exist with diversity. The same is true of life and academia as the uniqueness of “the one”, with personal charisma and values, deserves our wholehearted efforts to maintain. As to those I oppose or feel detached from, they serve as a mirror and a good medicine to me to which I therefore cannot marshal powers to crush down. Without the diversity, “the one” I hold onto will rot in the dark and become the diametrical opposite of “the one”. To know this is to grasp the essentiality of independent individuality.

I admire the intellectuals’ bold spirit in the period of the Republic of China(1912-1949) who showed remarkable persistence on “the one” and picked their students according to this clear idea: those who practice my philosophy are my students, otherwise they are not, no matter whether we are in a teacher-student relationship at school or not. Academic fruits need passing on. In fact, every human spiritual attribute needs passing on just as genes do. Teachers and students are working for the same spiritual attributes as those who share their ideals and roads. How can they develop a real teacher-student relationship if things pan out like “those whose courses are different cannot lay plans for one another” (a Chinese proverb) or “everyone only works for his own goals”(a Chinese saying)?

Excerpt from Chapter Language and Art

       Artistic ambition must be selfish, because of its glory and its inclusion of the artist’s time and endeavours. The glory illuminates the surrounding place, attracting those who are lit up to come along, including the artist who holds the ambition. This ambition belongs to the Firstness in the Universal Categories as Peirce puts it. The relationship between a man and his ambition is that the ambition occupies the person and not the other way around. As long as the person has not totally been alienated by the material world, he will have ambition for his life art, for whom he was born to and is living for. He thinks little about himself, but other people can think him selfish because he defends the selfishness of his artistic ambition. How can he keep himself apart from this type of selfishness? Other people are attracted by the glory of his ambition but find his selfishness repulsive; those onlookers are therefore not able to be connected with the person and his ambition from the very beginning.

       An ambition will end up being part of the relationships between “me”, “ambition” and “the other”.

       The artist’s selfishness is not the artistic selfishness; it is not necessarily for art either. If the artist is not aware of this, he may confuse these two different types of selfishness. Artists who devote their lives to art normally hope to have ideal personalities themselves too, but they also risk developing their selfish characters, namely, they ask others to devote themselves to the artists instead of art. Artists often lean on their artistic talents to think lightly of others and think too high of themselves, taking the selfishness of artistic ambition down to the mundane world and looking down other people’s everyday behaviour, which is unbearable. Artists don’t have the right to do so; they can only guard the selfishness of their artistic ambition, but as human beings, they are not free from human humbleness, or they will have to steal the power of art to ask for people’s selfless devotion.

       This is horrible small-mindedness. It may not impede their artistic achievement in a short term, but this detrimental effect will be transferred from their lives to their art. Did I ever accidentally misuse the power of art, and how can I keep the balance between artistic selfishness and human humbleness?

Li Xinshi(李心释) is a poet and university professor in linguistics in Southwest University in China, he likes ruminating on questions about linguistics, poetry and art and the like. His recently published book is The Black Language(《黑语言》), a prose collection of artistic and academic essays published by Changjiang Literature and Art Publishing House(长江文艺出版社) in China in 2020.

Translated by: Ellie; QIN Ziyan

Edited by: Cathy Davies


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