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maestrowork
11-01-2007, 05:49 PM
Look around we can see certain cultural differences in terms of storytelling. Facts are facts but when it comes to storytelling, humor, politics or philosophies, it's very interesting to note the differences and also difficulty of communication. For example, many Japanese movies have to be "westernized" and "re-plot" for the American audiences or American humor has to be explained to people from other countries. I find this fascinating.

Take the following short story by Izumi Kyoka for example:

http://neojaponisme.com/2007/10/29/night-fishing/#more-141


I love the narrative, the descriptive language and the vividness of the storytelling, but I can't understand the ending. Or does it even have an ending? What does the story mean?

(I don't think I'm stupid, and I know Asian cultures... but can someone explain this to me? Or offer your interpretation?)

In western cultures, it seems that stories must have an arc: a beginning, middle, and end. Stories need to "make sense" with certain resolution or revelation. Not so in Asian cultures -- stories are often circular, and sometimes without any ending: they are more about themes, thoughts and experiences. Chinese poetry, for example, is usually about nature, landscapes, with layered meanings/subtexts hidden inside.

What are your take on this (and please, someone explains the story for me :) )? Do you read literature from other cultures? Do you have difficulty understanding or interpreting their meanings and themes? Does it help or hinder your own writing?

KTC
11-01-2007, 06:01 PM
I read from all cultures. Authors who stand out for me are:

Italo Calvino
Bohumil Hrabal
Naguib Mahfouz
Khaled Hosseini

Talk about differences in style. But Hosseini really followed tradition with The Kite Runner.

Mahfouz...I wonder if he would even be published here? He does not ascribe to Hollywood endings. He brings his readers to the depths of hell and sadness. But he does have the beginning, middle, end.

Calvino...he may be different just for the sake of being different. His novels are art on the page...doesn't really follow the traditional novel, but man, what a lovely and beautiful ride.

Hrabal...kind of the same as Calvino...but there is a clear cut story in his novels...he is big on dispair too. But his themes are not lost.

I love literature from every culture. These are just a few who come to mind. I don't think I ever get lost on theme. I do notice the one fundamental difference is if the story is sad, they are not afraid to tell it. They don't have that Great Expectations moment at the end where the sunny future is just a footnote away. I like that about the literature of other cultures. They celebrate sadness...put it under the spyglass so we can grow from it. Just my own opinion of course.

dolores haze
11-01-2007, 06:20 PM
My take on the ending of the story: The husband was turned into an eel. Perhaps as punishment for all the eel fishing he did for fun.

I often read literature from other countries. The most recent was a collection of short stories by Eileen Chang. (Have you read her, Maestro?) I find the themes and meanings don't really differ so much from culture to culture. I'm usually left with a feeling that people are much the same the world over. The difference is in the details. But I'm also sure there are many, many references that I miss. Reading "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth, with those massive passages about Indian/Pakistani politics felt more like a college lecture - an opportunity to be educated. But the story, a young woman's search for Mr. Right, was a universal theme. Despite the fact of the arranged marriage, I could relate to the story and the characters, while learning a lot about another culture.

As a writer I feel it helps me. I'm more knowledgable, educated, influenced, inspired.

I learned several languages in school, which meant I did an awful lot of translations of various things to and from various languages. The art of translation has to be mentioned. Translating the words is a technical feat, and not that difficult once you have the language down. Translating the meaning of the words, though, is a whole other ball game. It's incredibly difficult, and I have to wonder how much gets lost in translation. I believe Seth writes in English, and Chang did her own translations into English.

DamaNegra
11-01-2007, 06:21 PM
My take on the eel story is that the man finally got his punishment for taking the lives of living creatures :) He transformed into an eel and became locked up in his own house, buried by his own children. But maybe I'd have to read it in its original language to really grasp its meaning.

I feel the same way every time I read Borges or Cortazar. I have to read several times because I'm never sure of what the story means or how it was supposed to end.

Meerkat
11-01-2007, 06:22 PM
The journey itself. It was a simple ghost story; but the climax occurred in the anticipation rather than the ending, as we are so used to expecting. I believe his point was that the actual ending doesn't matter--he might even still return from Shinjuku in a few hours, and the tale is unrealistic at any rate. The climax and its reaction already occurred when the kids announced that an eel had been delivered anyway. There is one additional consideration, and that is the link between Buddhism and physics/multiverse/string theory: in most parallel universes, an eel would have been routinely delivered; in most universes, Iwaji (being of such unsound mind) would already be dead. The fact that some particles do not exist in any particular place until they are observed, is a similar case. Iwaji's wife is the observer, and she has just observed the true nature of this phenomenon. I really enjoyed this Ray, thanks for the link!

maestrowork
11-01-2007, 06:23 PM
I have never read Chang, but she was a renowned author.

KTC
11-01-2007, 06:28 PM
I sensed a terrible longing in the story. A loss. The key for me was the look but don't touch comment made by one of the children. The barrel looming, menacing...I took this to represent the wife's worst fears. I think it's probably a story about leaving. I have to admit I didn't completely understand it...but there was a brush with understanding. An aha moment. Good story.

maestrowork
11-01-2007, 06:29 PM
The journey itself. It was a simple ghost story; but the climax occurred in the anticipation rather than the ending, as we are so used to expecting. I believe his point was that the actual ending doesn't matter--he might even still return from Shinjuku in a few hours, and the tale is unrealistic at any rate. The climax and its reaction already occurred when the kids announced that an eel had been delivered anyway.


Interesting. As an Asian-American writer who writes mostly for a western audience, I find myself sometimes caught in this net. There are times when I write a story that is rich in themes and thoughts and anticipation and the ending really doesn't matter, when the editor would come back and say, "There is no ending. I don't get it. Give me a resolution." Certain times I find it frustrating, and other times amused. I think we're so conditioned to expect a "climax" and neatly tied-up loose ends that we forget what stories are really about, or that there are many types of stories and many ways of telling them.

dolores haze
11-01-2007, 06:34 PM
Oops - I lied. The most recent one was "Girls of Riyadh". Saudi chick lit. Not the best book I ever read, but fascinating insight into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia. It taught me that I have very little empathy for rich people, and that I need to work on that.

The English speaking readership. Yeah, in general, they like those very firm endings. I wonder is this more an American leaning vs. a Brit or Aussie? Not sure.

maestrowork
11-01-2007, 06:43 PM
Someone said to me once: Western literature is like sex with a man; it's all about getting off, the climax, the final payoff, the finish line, the gold medal. Eastern literature is like sex with a woman; it's about the experience, the anticipating, the going through the motions, and it doesn't matter if she climaxes or not (or so she said)... it can go on forever and have no destination...

KTC
11-01-2007, 07:03 PM
I like that analogy. I also admit to liking it both ways. Sometimes you want to read the western story...sometimes you want to just experience story in a deeper way...that's when I pick up one of the authors I mentioned above. Especially Mahfouz.

dolores haze
11-01-2007, 07:16 PM
Someone said to me once: Western literature is like sex with a man; it's all about getting off, the climax, the final payoff, the finish line, the gold medal. Eastern literature is like sex with a woman; it's about the experience, the anticipating, the going through the motions, and it doesn't matter if she climaxes or not (or so she said)... it can go on forever and have no destination...

Oh, that's a very interesting analogy.
I write romance, among other things, and I'm going to apply this analogy to that genre. I'm always getting feedback that my love stories are a wonderful journey (eastern lit) that lacks the ...um...explosive ending (western lit) that the romance reader expects. Gotta give 'em the money shot, I guess.

Namatu
11-01-2007, 07:34 PM
I like Meerkat's take on it. I also like the imagery DamaNegra suggests, with the barrel being the casket and the rock on top the tombstone.

The meaning of it escapes me. The reward of the story is everything leading up the end, which, as Ray says, doesn't really matter. Although I really do want to know now.

I like Naguib Mahfouz, Michel del Castillo, Anchee Min, some others escape me at the moment. I like the viewfinder into different cultures and ways of life. I like to watch foreign films for the same reason. If I ever see a Chinese movie that ends in the traditional Western style, I will be very unhappy. I want my unexpected ending!


There are times when I write a story that is rich in themes and thoughts and anticipation and the ending really doesn't matter, when the editor would come back and say, "There is no ending. I don't get it. Give me a resolution." Certain times I find it frustrating, and other times amused. I think we're so conditioned to expect a "climax" and neatly tied-up loose ends that we forget what stories are really about, or that there are many types of stories and many ways of telling them.
It's nice to have everything tied up with a bow at the end, but at the same time, that unsettled feeling of a "non"-ending has its own rewards. It makes you think more and makes the characters linger longer. One of the things I like about familiarizing myself with foreign works is what it also teaches me about American culture. We're somehow conditioned to expect that climax, with loose ends tied up and the implication of a happy ending. There's a definite template, so to speak.

Good topic!

Tiger
11-02-2007, 01:22 AM
Man, Maestro... I can remember watching American movies in Tokyo theaters and being the only one laughing sometimes. I got weird looks from the other patrons--doubtless due to my permanent camoflauge.

Still, I think a lot more emphasis gets placed on perceived differences than similarities.

RG570
11-02-2007, 01:51 AM
I read a lot of Czech literature. I think it's mainstream western stories that are the aberration, not the rest of the world. Everywhere else it seems they are able to appreciate pure imagination for its own sake, where here it seems to be not the case.

Here there is expectation before one reads the first word, and people want to read things that reinforce their vision of reality. In other places, it seems perfectly acceptable and even desirable to undermine that idea.

maestrowork
11-02-2007, 05:11 AM
Watching Spirited Away, for example, was so much different than watching a Disney cartoon. It's not just because of subject matter or language, but everything.


Still, I think a lot more emphasis gets placed on perceived differences than similarities.

True, but I the the similarities are based on the commonality of human conditions and stories are about the human conditions: characters, relationships, action/reaction, etc. as well as universal themes such as death and love. But the treatments and the philosophies can be vastly different from culture to culture. The Japanese's fascination with monsters, demons and death is notorious, for example. The Russians, on the other hand, are split between intellect and passion with rather rigid conformity, perhaps. Russian cinema, for example, is extremely interesting to observe -- to a fast food nation such as the US, it's like watching paint dry sometimes. Yet they're still all rich with themes and imageries and emotions and thoughts, and they do tell a story about the human conditions.

Spiny Norman
11-02-2007, 05:58 AM
I definitely got that vibe with Haruki Murakami. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The Town at the End of the World basically had two plotlines that referred to one another and had no solid resolution, not to me.

I agree with the extremely reflective nature of Russian lit. I could never get into it. I'm too introspective in my normal life, having people think so carefully about every little detail gets overwhelming.

I have always had the trouble of viewing stories much like an essay or an equation or a proof - there's a great deal of work, but at the end it's saying something. It's putting the world in a place and drawing a pattern on it, saying, "This is how I see it, it's like this." I didn't realize that until I got done with my last book, which specifically avoided that and in fact tried to do the opposite - the big revelation was that, in life, there is no big revelation. But I still feel somewhat frustrated when a story "just ends" and doesn't acknowledge or refer to the previous events in the story.

You should see me watch David Lynch movies. It's unbearable.

Tiger
11-05-2007, 11:07 PM
Just watched "Spirited Away" again. The good thing about the DVD is that it can be viewed in English and Japanese. It made as much sense to me either way, but I can see the same foreignness in the storyline in either language. There were cultural subtleties that I hadn't noticed.

I don't know... Maybe Americans are more likely to appreciate the animation and imaginative creatures than the whole Earth Spirit cleansing theme set in a traditional Japanese bath house.

JoNightshade
11-05-2007, 11:24 PM
I dunno about the discussion of cultural differences in general, but this story made sense to me. My interpretation of the ending of the story was the same as the guy who translated it, here: http://no-sword.jp/blog/2007/11/night_soil.html

It's your classic campfire ghost story. The suspense builds and builds and then at the end the storyteller jumps at the listeners. This occurs in lots of traditional American ghost stories as well. So I don't really see the big cultural difference. There are lots of stories in Western tradition that don't really have "endings" so much as themes. One that comes to mind is The Lady or the Tiger. I think maybe certain forms are more popular than others in particular cultures, but in my opinion humans are always fascinated by the same kinds of things.

Personally, I love Russian literature. I also like Czech folktales. Okay, I like folktales from anywhere. I think they're fascinating. :)

maestrowork
11-05-2007, 11:43 PM
The Lady or the Tiger is a great example.

maxmordon
11-05-2007, 11:46 PM
Has anyone read Camus' The Stranger and Sabato's The Tunnel? Camus admitted that he based in part The Stranger on The Tunnel. Both books have the same spirit, but are quite different; The Tunnel is more passionate, it's the story of a man who doesn't love but can't bear the fact that her lover is cheating on him. He feels that she is the only one who can understand him, but he murder hers because he couldn't share it with the world (nor her blind husband).

Is quite interesting seen how each culture tells their way they percieve the world and how this affects thier narrative. Like the European and Russian that are more internal about the MC, Latin America and the Magic Realism, Honestly, I haven't read many Asian books. The only one was Conffessions from a Mask by Yukio Mishima

Carmy
11-06-2007, 09:34 AM
Interesting. As an Asian-American writer who writes mostly for a western audience, I find myself sometimes caught in this net. There are times when I write a story that is rich in themes and thoughts and anticipation and the ending really doesn't matter, when the editor would come back and say, "There is no ending. I don't get it. Give me a resolution." Certain times I find it frustrating, and other times amused. I think we're so conditioned to expect a "climax" and neatly tied-up loose ends that we forget what stories are really about, or that there are many types of stories and many ways of telling them.

I often feel that way when I read stories written by some Canadian writers.

The challenge of writing a story is to end it in a way that satisfies the reader. If the story has a beginning and a middle, but the end if missing, I wonder how those writers manage to get published.

It's even worse when you plough through 300 pages of inner angst and are left to supply the ending yourself.