Two days before Mo Yan was announced as the 2012 laureate of the Nobel prize in literature, I sat below a high ceiling in a library that dares not utter its name out loud, lest the world should know its location. Hiding behind tall doors and germ-free hallways, one Laputan presented a book of poetry written by another Laputan, published by a Brobdingnagian. And it was not just any Laputan poet, I tell you. It was Seat number 16 of the Nobel literature committee, no less. He had that delicious Swedish cadence to his English, rustique, clique, publique.
Suits and ties praised one another, medals and handshakes were exchanged. The poetry was read in three languages, fluid and gentle even at its darkest. Described in the opening accolade as “no young person’s poetry,” it was nonetheless performed by drama students in their late teens, their newly trained diaphragms bravely gloving their quivering hands.
My people, and yet I bite my cuticles on your margins. Foreigners to me, and yet I belong to you, for we love the same thing, this art of words. I love you, yet I cannot tolerate you. You beckon me with a promising finger, yet we speak different languages.
And they were so delightful, the Laputans. Old school gentlemen with that soft, pleasant, charming kind of male energy that one does not encounter very often anymore. Their peace was of the kind that resides in the eyes of sacred cows; complacent, well-meaning creatures incapable of aggression because they were never victims. Pure enlightenment, unadulterated humanism. Unthreatening, because never threatened. Refreshing in their ignorance of the alpha principle, because the umbrella of their institution did the dirty work for them.
So I sat beneath the high ceiling of this public institution, which belongs to me as much as it belongs to the Laputans’ bums occupying it, 145 of them gracefully deciding to welcome 15 representative XX-chromosomes into their protective alpha-not-alpha bosom. I listened to the pretty words recited in three languages, waiting for the only not-suit, not-tie, not-brown, not-tenured member of the festivity to speak.
Finally, she was summoned. The translator. The mediator. The arbiter. The nomad. The interpreter. The one without whom those three men would not have ever met. The publisher would have still been the publisher, the academic would have still been the academic, and the Nobel Seat number 16 would have remained nice and warm and occupied. Only the rope-bridge of her multilingualism brought them all together.
She was everything they were not. A complete and utter other to their class, gender, voice, energy.
And she spoke with her ice-glimmering dress and faux fur, her lioness hair and butterfly hands, as much as with her words. She ignored the officials in the front row and called out to the cubs that oozed fuchsia and red all over the brown and grey, working their way inward from the margins; puppies in training, at that confusing age where commands have been learned but you never know when they might decide to pee on the hallowed steps – out of joy as much as defiance. Readers of her work before it was published, confidantes of an art-in-becoming before it was shared with the publishers and academics.
Oh yes, dear, soft, genteel, courteous flying islanders, we just might make you want to become alphas again.