Sorry that we said Beijing and not Wuhan. I guess we meant “Beijing” more in the symbolic sense. But that aside, we absolutely grant (you do, after all, work in China) that your knowledge of Chinese geography far exceeds ours.
Seriously, we’re glad you have written again. We are all about open, uncensored exchange here.
OK, I think we are getting somewhere now. But first to go over some things, in the interests of clarity.
You repeat a question you earlier asked:
“Is Dispatches really interested in effecting change in China, or is China just an instrument in the quest to increase someone’s sense of moral superiority?”
You seem to have been fixated on the belief that our positions are expressed in bad faith, nothing more than “moral grandstanding,” motivated by impulses of “self-gain.”
What can we say to that, Lucas? If we say, as we have said until we’re blue in the face, that “No, we think it’s totally unethical for leading figures of ‘avant-garde’ North American poetry to conduct business-as-usual relations with the Chinese state and its official soft-power agencies without uttering a public word of protest about the mistreatment of writers and artists at the hands of that same state,” it apparently only confirms for you that we are merely driven by some vendetta against…. (ahem) Language Poetry. So I trust you can appreciate how there has been a frustration on our part about some of your manner of framing things. Are PEN International, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch–all organizations who ask people to openly campaign in defense of persecuted Chinese writers– doing so to satisfy some anachronistic grievance against Language Poetry? Sorry, but can you see my point: Shouldn’t you grant us the reasonable assumption that maybe, just maybe, we might really feel ethically impelled by this issue?
If in your various finger-wagging you had by now come forward and told us how it is, exactly, that your approach to human rights violations in China (or that of responsibly prudent China-sojourning writers like Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff, or Kenneth Goldsmith, just for instance) is more effective and less “self-serving” than ours, then we might be getting somewhere. We’d certainly listen. But you’ve seemed distracted by a displeasure about our having highlighted a fact no one else has previously brought up: that the matter of locked-up cultural figures there is almost totally off the radar for North American poets of the “avant-garde,” who seem perfectly content, given the deafening silence, with the current official arrangements of things.
This is the real issue, Lucas, and not what you may believe our hidden, “self-serving” agendas are. The change in China that North American writers have a moral duty to do their damn best to “effect” is quite specific, and the one that they can truly have a voice on: The release of those writers, artists, and intellectuals who are guilty of nothing more than expressing thought and speech proscribed by a dictatorial, widely corrupt, one-Party regime.
There is nothing novel or inherently “grandstanding” about calling for the freedom of writers jailed for their beliefs. Writers have committed themselves to the defense of human rights and creative freedoms for their fellows in other countries for a very long time. I gave you a prominent and successful example of such a case, which bears similarities to the current situation in China, though things are much worse in China, to be sure.
Thus, for the above reasons, we are very happy that toward the end of your most recent letter you state the following in perfectly clear terms:
I support Dispatches wanting to take a moral stand. I support Dispatches working for the rightful release of Liu Xiaobo and other prisoners of conscience—poets, artists, and otherwise—in China and around the world.
With this, now, we are much closer. For if you support us doing this, as we most certainly have tried to do within our little corner of the world, then there should be nothing to argue about, really. We can disagree on this or that, but if we unambiguously agree on the central matter above, then there is no reason to continue arguing or nitpicking. Let’s have a concerted, united front on the question! We hope that all U.S. poets will agree with you (and us) and come forward in coordinated fashion to demand the release of the many creative people unjustly imprisoned and–by quite reliable accounts–grossly mistreated in China. Thank you for saying this. The PEN International campaign is the place to start (see our various links to it at Dispatches).
Then, in conclusion, you ask:
Why hasn’t Dispatches published the work of living Chinese writers whose stance it promotes, who either agree with the mission of Dispatches or who would complicate it and therefore improve it? Why doesn’t Dispatches have, among all the people and places listed on the masthead, a single contributing editor to represent Asia?
While it is not true that we have not published living Chinese writers (Brian Ng, whose work we have featured, is a living Chinese writer, by the way, and he has, in fact, just written you a subtly ironic letter-poem in Chinese at Dispatches, in case you haven’t seen it), and while we have published other work in Chinese translation, it is undoubtedly the case that we need to do better in this regard. Dispatches is striving to be as international in its outlook as it can be, including with the publication of work in original languages, sometimes sans translation, as you might have seen. We do have representatives from other countries and languages on our Board, and they will be helping us to keep an international focus. But we aim and need to expand our offerings. This is one reason I have asked you, more than once in the past, to please send us samples of your important translation work. In fact, let me now broaden that request: Would you agree, Lucas, to join our Contributing Editors Board, with a view to helping us to increase the visibility of current Chinese writers, especially those currently imprisoned? Dispatches is committed to this and we ask it seriously. Someone like you, with your expertise, translation gifts, and connections, could help us immeasurably in this task.
Let us go forward, then.