Sunday, October 23, 2016
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Writers examine uncertainty of truth

Thit Sar Ni. Ko Taik/ The Myanmar TimesThit Sar Ni. Ko Taik/ The Myanmar Times

Writer and poet Thit Sar Ni, who has published several well-known novels that he describes as “postmodernist”, says that one of his main creative influences is American poet Ezra Pound’s famous exhortation to “make it new” and forge a self-conscious break from the obsolete traditions of the past.

Never mind that Pound’s maxim is seen by scholars as typifying not postmodernism but its precursor, the modernist movement of the early 20th century; postmodernism is generally said to have emerged after World War II as a severe reaction against modernism’s exaltation of rational, Enlightenment thought as well as its indulgence in utopian cravings.

But writers in Myanmar — and anywhere else for that matter — can be forgiven for using the term loosely when describing their own works: The concept of “postmodernism” has long been the bane of literature students around the world, the cause of countless sleepless nights for young scholars who, as the deadline for their term paper looms, find themselves yanking out handfuls of their own hair as they wrestle with ambiguous, mind-bending concepts such as maximalism, poioumena, pastiche, intertextuality and hyperreality.

In fact, Thit Sar Ni — whose novels include Sakku Paw Ka Thit Pin (Tree on the Paper) and Sat Hnit Myat Yay (Machine and Tear) — is well aware of the “defining features” of these literary movements, but says he is not bound by them, nor does he set out to write in any particular style or genre before he sets pen to paper.

“Authors write about whatever is in their minds, and their stories might drift into modernism or postmodernism. I don’t fix any boundaries between modernism or postmodernism or semi-postmodernism before I write a story,” he said.

“I just write what I feel, and after writing I often notice that the style of my stories bear some resemblance to the concepts and theories of postmodernism.”

Thit Sar Ni also stressed that there was no agreed, universal definition of postmodernism.

“But general characteristics of postmodernism include the absence of a centre and the uncertainty of truth, because what might be the truth for today might be untruth for tomorrow. I am very attracted to these ideas,” he said.

He added that he was also interested in exploring the concept of the infinite, which also fits in with the nature of postmodernism even as it coincides with the teachings of the Buddha.

Thit Sar Ni started his career as a writer in 1965, at a time of growing popularity for Khit San Sar Pae, a type of experimental literature pioneered by Yangon University students during the 1930s that marked a renaissance of Myanmar literature.

“I lost interest in the type of literature that became monotonous. I prefer change and innovation,” Thit Sar Ni said.

He said he was inspired by the Modern European Poets series published by United Kingdom-based Penguin books, and started composing modern poems and stories in the 1970s that departed from realism.

“The technique of realism was insufficient to portray the indefinite reality of the current situation. Writers began to invent new ways of writing, and modern literature was born out of boredom with realism,” he said.

“In this era of globalisation, we should free ourselves from the embrace of dogmatism. We need to be more flexible and imaginative in our approach. And the literary sensibilities of readers also change as time passes.

“This is why postmodernist writers break the rules that limit our creativity. I write poems without rhyme and start novels from the middle or the end as my mind desires, because art is free and new,” he said.

Thit Sar Ni said he enjoys the work of challenging authors, including Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, particularly his 1967 novel Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude); Portuguese novelist Paulo Coelho; and Haruki Murakami of Japan.

“Some people say they can’t understand stories that don’t have a plot, but they can understand realist stories that are based around a plot, so all they understand is the plot. But other readers are meaning hunters. They make a practice of looking for the meaning of the story rather than merely enjoying the plot,” he said.

Another writer, Min Khite Soe San, who wrote the novels The Last Testament of the Ghost and Kyat Tu Yway Parsat (Parrot’s Mouth), agreed that many authors do not impose genre limits on themselves before they start writing.

“Most writers are more heavily influenced by their feeling of solitude while they are working on their stories,” he said.