Being open to other perspectives in storytelling
I posted a Ted talk video not too long ago about the danger of the single story – a video that effected me greatly. Accepting only one perspective of a story limits our views and understanding of a person, culture and our world. To walk a path of only one perspective and not allow the colours of others to enter our awareness allows for the seeds of stereotypes and narrow-minded labels to take root in our mind.
Gracie Jin wrote an article about author Bill Cheng’s novel Southern Cross the Dog and how the attention for this book is not coming from the amazing writing or story that is within, but because he is a Chinese-American man writing about the American south (specifically Mississippi); a place he’s never been (till now of course). I conducted a search of book reviews for Cheng’s novel to see if this was the case. Yes, there are reviews that question the authenticity of his novel because when he wrote it, he had never stepped foot in Mississippi. Whether they are bringing it up because he is a Chinese man writing about the south or they are just questioning an author that writes about a place that he’s never been is an argument for another post. What I want to know, regardless of ethnicity or whether an author has been to a place they write about is, does it matter?
I am very intrigued by Cheng now; a man in interviews who talks about how his love for the blues inspired him to write a novel about the south. A story created with inspiration, love and passion? Sounds fine to me. From where I stand this is exactly the type of energy that would attract me to a story.
Do you remember the incredulous interview Reza Aslan had to endure from that Fox reporter (who shall not be named) for his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth? It wasn’t his book that was being questioned, it was the fact that he was a Muslim writing about Jesus. What she was essentially saying (whether she was conscious of it or not) was, “Reza, your perspective is not allowed”.
What is unfortunate about that scenario is that we know the Fox reporter is not the only person who thinks this way. There are many who would take offence to someone from a different culture or religion writing about their culture or religion – regardless if it was done with love and respect or from a purely scholarly angle. Does it matter that a person of another heritage, background, culture or belief system writes a book about a topic that isn’t from their own culture? If it does, then what we are ultimately agreeing to is that you will stay in your corner, and I will stay in mine. We won’t bother to get to know each other in any way, shape or form. We won’t bother to seek out information about each other’s culture. We won’t bother to question what we are told about others. We just won’t bother, period.
This is unacceptable. I need different perspectives. Good or bad, they help me in forming my own. They help change me, mold me. To turn away from other perspectives is to turn away from my evolution and an ever changing understanding of the world in which I am an active member.
Does Bill Cheng get the south right in his novel? I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet. But when I do, I still won’t know because I have never been there myself. I, the reader, am simply looking for another perspective, a story about the human condition. I am looking for universal truths, spiritual concepts and philosophical questions. I am looking to expand.
To not allow others to write stories outside of their own perceived world is to destroy imagination. It means we would live in a world where the likes of Tolkien never existed.
It is a slippery slope to tell people what they can or cannot create based on who they are or where they were born. I am not naive, I know there are individuals who use storytelling and books to push their agendas of elitism or hatred, but they are few while those who encourage expansion and awareness, who create out of love, are far more in existence. If we make rules to stop the ones who spread hate, we silence the ones who spread love, and that scares me more than anything.
So give it to me straight fellow readers, are you less inclined to read a story if an author’s pedigree doesn’t match the topic?
Posted on September 9, 2013, in For the Love of Books, General Musings & Thoughts and tagged bill cheng, book reviews, books, open-mindedness, perspective, reza aslan. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.