Ban Ma

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room III

Speaker: Ban Ma (China)


Writers and Artistic Originality in eBOOK Age

Ban Ma

Frankly speaking, as a Chinese writer and theoretical researcher of children’s literature, instead of being afraid, I’m quite curious about such transmission modes as “image”, “animation”, “video”, and “audio” which are becoming more and more important in this “multimedia age”. This is somewhat like a dream. It used to hide in our heart, but now it stands in front of our writers and presents bizarre and colorful landscapes, and asks us in a tempting tone of voice: “Don’t you writers want me?” I’d rather believe that maybe all writers want it. For instance, it would be good if writers can “draw” the feelings and images in their heart. It would be good if writers can “shoot” the images and visions in their heart. In fact, this is true about writers. That is, when they’re writing and conceiving, besides “words”, “images”, “pictures”, “scenes”, “things”, and “detailed part of things” are also created. We even fully possess the artistic effect of the quite subtle art in one’s heart—“tone”, “rhythm”, “rhyme”, and “model”. Yes, these “effects” in the heart of writers all belong to “art”. Or, they’re the films in the heart of writers. There’re one artist and one director in each writer’s heart.

So, these questions will be discussed here:

Should a “writer” re-present its identity as an “artist”?

In contemporary age, what kind of manifestation measure can a writer apply to present the “artistic effect” in his heart?

Or, we may put our questions in a quite frank way: today, should a writer possess a little identify as an “artist”? Is a writer not just a “worker dealing with words”? Is it possible for a writer to express some “arts”? If yes, how?

Or we may also put our questions in a practical way: Can we achieve all these?

Writers of children’s literary works even cannot avoid such questions. In fact, all “children” are somewhat like “artists”, this fact is somewhat both funny and annoying.

Compared with other writers, writers of children’s literature may be confronted with the artistic application of multiple media more directly and at earlier time. “Children readers” are the most vivid among all the readers of human being. Children readers are eager to “read” by eyes, ears, hands, and action at the same time or even the combination of all these; they hope to read the expression in words with plot and emotion, and view images and colors, listen to acoustic effect, and see “dynamic” video. In fact, writers dubbed as “literary artists” are more welcomed by children.

In my opinion, such seemingly tremendous and fastidious requirement for writers can be simplified. That is, contemporary writers of children’s literature should basically face the “relation between images and words”, in terms of basic creation tasks for “words” and “images”. Maybe this is not a fastidious requirement. Here, I want to mention painters. If our writers have thought about this: in fact, there’re contemporary writers “entering into” the field of “text” a long time ago, and they’ve greatly changed the ecology of children’s reading in the world, such as Hergé and Hayao Miyazaki. As painters, they’ve fully presented and accomplished the literary artistic value of great writers. In their works in drawings and text, there’re stories, figures, scenes, profound ideology, and high artistic conception.

The painters have firstly changed creation ecology. The painters have started to write.

Or, it’s fair to say that “drawings” have been incorporated into “articles”. The painters can present both “drawings and articles” at the same time.

So, our writers can create both “drawings and articles”, and incorporate such (and diversified) artistic means as “image”. To “write” or to “draw”, this is the question. This age has presented a somewhat difficult issue to our writers: this is a technical issue. No matter for drawing or music, or film and TV, it seems that all of them belong to a kind of “art”, which is somewhat more special than words. As far as my capability is concerned, I have to admit that I don’t have any “feat”.

Is it true that writers in this multimedia age are defeated by other “artistic” feat other than words although “artistic feelings” in multiple sounds, colors, and images do exist in the heart of writers? Or is it true that our “writing” has been derogated to “plane form”? This is even sadder in this age. For multidimensional, three-dimensional, and multimedia expression, should our artistic ideas and feelings purely rely on the illustrations of painters? Rely on the adaptation and shooting of film and TV? Or be handed over to a computer production company? Or games industry? Or the producer of TV or video programs? Or should we be bought over by them and bend down to provide words and conception services for their “technologies”?

It seems that the artistic space of our writers if completely obstructed by such “technical” issue. However, my intention and purpose won’t stop here, as we’re all anxious for the integration into this multimedia age. I think we should push our discussion forward to the solutions now. If the artistic dream of writers is obstructed by “feat” and “technical” issue, and this “technical” issue has been solved by a master who has provided very useful technical assistance. Then, how to make change to “creation”? As you have noticed, I’m glad to see that this master is “computer”, and in fact is the creator using the “feat” of computer.

I want to express my view very clearly: “computer” has changed the possibility of artistic creation of a writer. “Computer”, this new writing tool, makes it possible that a writer can become an artist at the same time. If a writer just uses a computer to “write”, the computer is not a computer but a typewriter. It’s obvious that when we start to apply various types of “wise” image tools, video and audio tools, and animation tools of computer, as well as that lovely and precious interlinked interaction happed between “new reading” and “it”, the computer then will become a treasure. The value of the treasure depends on how its owner uses it. In fact, this treasure depends on “originality”. A writer is indeed a person with originality. A computer may be of special use when its owner is a writer. At least it has the “feat” which the writer didn’t possess at the beginning. On the contrary, it seems that the computer held by a painter or musician cannot help him “write” more capably all of a sudden.

I think that computer would bring about a kind of fairy tale creation feeling to the writers of children’s literature, as computer presents two most important feats: “image and text”—one is words processing system and the other is image processing system. These two most important “feats” can be interlinked and combined. A computer is a big toy, and of special use to children and writers of children’s literature. In terms of the importance of the artistic expression by “image and text”, no other writers and writings are comparable with children’s literature. I think that I have expressed this view: In terms of the most important artistic space and most basic media factor in children’s literature, the artistic room above “vision” is more important. Such visual medium has exerted its functions. No matter for words, style, font, format, colors, painting, photos, model, things and shape, optical illusion, treatment of space, animation and moving images, they’re indeed “artistic”.

We stress the new writing significance of computer feat in assisting the “visual art space” of children’s literature. As a matter of fact, I’d like to make our discussion focus on “writing” and “reading”; that is, such important visual reading function of “literature in written form” should be focused upon. Even in this computer and multimedia age, this is the actual discussion on literature, especially on children’s literature and even on “book”. We’re still discussing on “reading”.

So, I’d like to return to “book” from “computer”.

Let’s make the comparison again between the “screen” of computer and “book”.

—Let’s come back to our essence: writing-publishing-book, the final result of this process is to present “book”, and to eliminate some possible misunderstandings, i.e., some writers might think that “book” and “computer” are in conflict, and that “computer” is the terminator of “book”, and might blame the multimedia visual mode represented by computer is destroying “words” and “culture” at deep level. I think this is not necessarily true. Besides, we can make our observation from a very interesting aspect (I don’t know if someone else has presented this observation), that is, why “squares” and “square frames” are used very frequently in human’s civilization history and dissemination history for dissemination and display—from paper, volume, book, and bulletin, to photo, film screen, and TV screen, and then to today’s computer screen, Windows, interfaces of application software, and WebPages—do these paper, books, screens, and interfaces most of which in “square” have some significance? Why all changes have stuck to the same essence? Why human being has stuck to this dissemination mode “in square” which has been mostly welcomed? In the meantime, this “square” dissemination mode is the same in the whole world. Even among vivid and funny children’s reading materials, books in multiple shapes don’t represent the main stream, and square books are still the most common ones. We even may ask this question: why the exercise books or children’s computers for contemporary children are not in circular, oval, or triangle?

Or does this mean that we may ask this question from the opposite aspect: do the “screens” of various types of displays in the E-media age share interlinked root with “paper” and “books”? Obviously, there’re many explanations and theories for “square”. For instance, “square” is related with human’s vision and sense of stability; “square” may be related with maximum capacity. But I think no matter for ancient “books” or modern “screens”, the square shape comes from the needs for expression and reception of human being. That is, the needs for writing and reading. Does its profound mystery lie in the expression relation between “words” and “lines”? The intellectual relation between “words” and “consecution”? Are “screens” actually updated tools of “books”? Or just a type of new writing tools? Please understand why we talked about “square”. As a matter of fact, I’m expressing the “screens” of multiple displays coming into existence in the computer age. The “screens” must be intimate to our writers, as they’re of the same type as “paper” which we used to face. “Screens” and our “books” to be published also belong to the same type. “Screens” are not quite different from writers’ “writing” habit. It’s fair to say that a writer’s traditional writing format is retained in the dissemination media of a “screen” interface, which also provides diversified artistic expression means to us. The connection of the diversified means and “text” is that what’s mostly needed by our writers of children’s literature.

Now we come to the final topic of the discussion: “BOOK” and “eBOOK”.

We may see that the so-called “eBOOK” is facing perplexities and problems from hardware carrier, reading pattern, and publishing and marketing. In my opinion, the market judgment that people would pay to buy a “reading machine” isn’t correct for the time being. However, its trend may be correct. It’s like a new type of “BOOK” when it can be carried without changing the basic feature of reading. It may be carried on MP4 player, so that it can enter into the real mainstream trend of “mobile display”. However, this is not that we should discuss. Our writers may be more concerned about “writing habit” and “originality”. I think that we should show more concern about how the square “new paper” and “new book” on screen and in multimedia art forms can serve our writing and originality. No matter it’s displayed on PC, or portable MP4 and eBOOK screen, or the screen of classroom, we care about writers’ creation and readers’ feelings from it.

Last but not the least:

For the sake of new writing and children’s new reading, it’s necessary for a writer to add some “new pens”:

New writing tool 1: “computer”.

It’s the most intimate to a writer: words processing system and storage, link, indexing, image processing and image database.

New writing tool 2: Image tools like“Photoshop”.

It’s of special significance to the writer: level of “feat” doesn’t matter, and its spirit is “originality”.

New writing tool 3? “DV” digital video and “DC” digital camera.

They should become the “pens” to a writer for recording and observation, and to form “image” capability.

—Writing tools may be improved in quantity and quality, but we don’t need many new writing tools. In my opinion, a few new writing tools can make a writer become powerful in modern age via the “interface” of a computer, so as to express his artistic feelings in his heart. As a matter of fact, this is recreation of both the writer and originality.