Towards a fair market for all forms of literature

Thứ hai - 31/10/2016 15:33
logochuan - Recently, the Institute of Literature of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences held a national seminar with the theme: The literary market and market literature: theories and practices. It can be seen that this forum has raised concerns of the public about Vietnam literature in the market mechanism, in the literary market, and online literature. At the seminar, opportunities and challenges, strengths and limitations, and future dynamics of the literary market and market literary had been aroused, analyzed and adequately recognized, bringing about many repercussions. The magazine of Van Nghe Quan Doi had a conversation with Associate Professor and Doctor Nguyen Dang Diep, Director of the Institute of Literature relating to the issues discussed at the seminar. 
- Ass. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Dang Diep, as the Director of the Institute of Literature, Head of the Organizing Committee, please tell us about the purpose of this sizable seminar?

+ The contemporary Vietnam literature is forming a vibrant and complex literary market, requiring researchers to analyze and explain in an objective and scientific way, both in practical and theoretical aspects. Previously, in 2008, the Central Council of Art and Literary Theories and Criticism organized a seminar on arts and literature in the market mechanism. And in 2009, the Institute of Literature carried out a ministerial-level project on the impact of the market economy to Vietnam literature in the period of innovation. In 2016, on the occasion of reviewing 30 years of literature innovation, we want to continue offering more comprehensive insights in order to analyze and evaluate the development of the literary market and market literature. This is the main reason for the Institute of Literature to organize this scientific seminar.

- I configured that the seminar would focus on important issues in terms of both theories and practice of the literary market and market literature. From the commercial perspective, can the literary market be understood as a space of contemporary literature, and market literature is a division, a type, a genre of literature? By the way, please, say more about the topics of this seminar?

+ In my opinion, your understanding is not wrong, but pretty simple. In fact, if the literary market has been a reality, the so-called "market literary" discussed at the seminar, is still essentially a convention, a familiar name but not a scientific concept. Broadly speaking, in the view of many people, it is interpreted as literature in the market mechanism, entertaining literature, commercial literature or public literature, popular literature, etc. Popular literature is a term that has been wildly recognized and discussed in the world, and is understood as a part of popular culture. Popular literature has its own historic, cultural, social and philosophical basis. Currently, the Institute of Literature is conducting a literary thesis about popular literature in Vietnam which is chaired by me. While we are waiting for thorough researches on popular literature, it is thought that the study and discussion of the so-called market literature as understood by many people is necessary and a topical question. Stemming from such orientation, the seminar focused on the following main contents: First, to learn about general theoretical issues of market literature, the concept of market literature, the interactive relationship between literature and the market; market literature with popular literature, online literature, entertaining literature; the relationship between market literature and specifically selected literature. Second, to study the process of formation and development of the literary market in the world literature; impacts of the market economy to the literary life; developments of cultural life and literature of Vietnam in the market mechanism. Third, to assess the situation and the trend of development of market literature in Vietnam, issues like the quality and value of literary works, readers’ tastes and needs. Fourth, the possibilities and limitations of market literature in particular and literature in general in the market economy, challenges for literary managers, writers and critics. Firth, solutions for the development of Vietnam literature in a market economy, mechanisms and policies for market literature and the literary market. Many other issues are also risen and exchanged at the seminar, such as the reception of universal-love works in Vietnam, online literature, the comparison between the literary market in Vietnam and that in China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and so on, issues relating to narrative strategies, multimedia narrative, the limitations of contemporary literary writing, economics of literature business, etc. I think the seminar was really useful for the discussion of the issues we are talking about: the literary market and market literature.
- Thank you for recalling in detail the topics of the seminar. As a researcher, please tell us your view on the literary market and market literature?

+ Actually, in essence, the concept - the term “literary market” is a commercial space of the literature (as you said), placing literature in the context of a market economy, considering literature as a commodity, a commercial product. With such understanding, we must take into account all the elements involving in the movement chain of the commodity, namely publishing, distribution, intermediary forces and services, mechanisms, publishing policies and laws, cultural institutions, history, nations, time and readers’ tastes, etc. It means that, any component relating to the operation of the supply - demand chain of the literary commodity are the subjects of study at the seminar. The concept “literary market” as I said above, is not a strictly scientific terms. But we can use it to relatively identify a literary tendency, a literary division which has been strongly forming in the contemporary literary life. Market literature is briefly understood as the part of literature aiming at the commercial interest, considering the commercial interest and entertainment functions as its top criteria. But, a number of literary researchers, business managers believe that, modern literature is market literature. Some researchers also pointed out that there were works of medieval literature which were used for trade, not just for gifts or donation. On the other hand, after much debate, researchers have found that, specifically selected literature or market one once become commodities which are brought out for sale, they must take into account the "profit", the "profit" then becomes an element regulating and adjusting the literary market. Therefore, we must build a true market mechanism. Only then, literature could has enough conditions for its diversified development, forming a level playing field for different types of literature, and the literary market itself could be equal to other markets. Of course, we are not talking here about books ordered by the state which focus more on social effects than economic efficiency.

Hội sách mùa thu
The recent book festival attracts a lot of readers.

- It seems that, when outlining the main topics as well as the name of the seminar, the organizers had a sense of the contrast between specifically selected literature and market one. Can we talk about a market of specifically selected literature and the commercial value of this type of literature?

+ Oh, an interesting questions. I believe that, you have put a lot of thoughts into this question. We have to accept the relativity of concepts and terminology. Apparently, there are always certain dissonance between concepts, terminology and practices. Specifically selected literature which is understood as quintessential works, contain high artistic value, but, as we mentioned before, they are likely to become a unremarkable commodity with low profitability and poor sales. However, we can still talk about the existence of a market of specifically selected literature, but perhaps it is not a bright story, especially for businessmen in our country today. The problem is not simply economic profit or the wave of seasonal literature. Specifically selected literature may have not temporarily received adequate attention from the community, but it is the property, the heritage that we have to talk about the future of literature. I believe that, classic, valuable works will survive with human history, though they are at times neglected, receive little attention and are not a popular commodity. The manager of Nha Nam, a company on culture and media, Nguyen Nhat Anh shared that, for the publishing world, most of the classics are best sellers, excluding works of F. Kafka. From my observations, I noticed that, for the world renowned publishing houses, classic works were a commodity to ensure their business strategy. Since the brand of products will certainly be associated with the targeting brands of publishers. I just want to note one more thing, it is not because of the weakness of our literature that we can blame the market. The market, as well as any aspect of life, has two sides (positive and negative). It is important that we learn to take the positive side and avoid the negative one. Vietnam is new to the market economy and international integration. In developed countries, the market economy has existed for some three hundred years; why have there been many elite literary works, many talented Nobel prize-winners in their literature? I think this is what we must seek to explain frankly and openly.

- When learning about the issues of market literature, I always feel that there is a hidden stigma or despise in evaluating the object. What are your views on this matter?

+ The stigma or despise on market literature partly stems from the psychology putting agriculture above trade, the discriminatory attitude toward trade, considering businessmen as cheaters. I think it is not fair, not objective, especially when we see it as the object of study. Moreover, credibility has always been important in doing business. The way researchers despising market literature is no different to businessmen realizing the risk of losses from trading elite, specifically selected literature (or as Nguyen Nhat Anh said, serious publishing lacked hope for publishers). The thing here is that from which angle, with what purpose we assess the object. You see, if considered it from the revenue perspective, literary works which I temporarily called market literature is better than specifically selected literature. But, the problem is that if the works making big revenue, sold with a large number could persist in the heart of the public? Thinking about this reminds me of Albert Einstein’s wit: “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.

- Could you share your thoughts on the relationship between the literary market, market literature and the transformation of cultural and social life in Vietnam in the market mechanism? Is market literature a concept targeting young authors’ writings? On the occasion of the upcoming ninth national conference of young writers’ delegates, how do you assess the youth’s literature and literary market in Vietnam?

+ As we know, after the war ended, our country has embarked on the process of innovation, leading to various transformations in the society, especially the formation of the market mechanism, the development of economic - cultural - social sectors, etc. However, we can see that, the market mechanism is the most important factor affecting the transformation of the social life in Vietnam. Since then, the literary market and market literature have appeared and been strongly growing. Of course, not until now that we have market literature and a literary market. You might remember, at the beginning of the 20th century, Tan Da once lamented that what on earth was literature so cheap? However, nowadays, literature is strongly influenced by the market mechanism and must comply with "cruel" requirements of the market. Let's look at some examples: few people buy or read poetry and classic works, while universal-love works, teen stories, online literature thrive. Looking into the humanism of works by Trang Ha, Tran Thu Trang, Keng, Gao, Kawi Hong Phuong, Hong Sakura, Di Li, Nguyen Phong Viet, Nguyen Ngoc Thach, Anh Khang, Hamlet Truong, Iris Cao, and so on, we will see clearly the large impact of the market economy and the media on contemporary literature. This reality contributes to explaining why we must continue to discuss about the literary market and market literature. In fact, the so-called market literature is not just for young writers, because those who give prominence to commercial and entertaining factors can find themselves in this type of literature. But it is true that young authors account for an overwhelming proportion. It is understandable because they have more access to communication and technology than their elder generations. Today, young writers’ writings are always accompanied by the promotion, introduction, publishing, and Internet release. Readers know young authors through the Internet before they appear on paper books. I think it is the character of the generation and the time. However, we should not say the same for everybody because I know that, there are young writers who are not necessarily in favor of customers, or trying to meet the tastes of the public, but that they are aware of making breakthroughs, gradually assert their creativeness. That is the path towards elite values. So, we should not worry. Elite creativeness that earns money is better than the one that earns no money!

- Indeed, the number of publications together with the number of books sold by the aforementioned authors are wanted figures by all writers, including renowned ones in Vietnam. Considering the revenue perspective, it is clear that those authors and works have been very successful. But how are they from the perspective of artistic value? Could you comment a little more on this?

+ It can be seen that, looking from different angles we will obtain different results about the same object. According to my personal observations (and surely many people also found), the artistic quality of market literary is not high. The major trend is still of exploiting relatively easy stories in life, chasing the public tastes, especially young people’s psychology. However, talking about young writers, I think, we have a talented and dynamic generation of writers born in 80s and 90s of the 20th century. They give much hope to literature. I want to mention to Vi Thuy Linh, Nguyen The Hoang Linh, Linh Le, Nguyen Phong Viet, Tran Viet Anh, and so on. Of course, I am not sure if all of them will be successful, all of them are of value, but at least, in today's literary market, people can be satisfied with buying their works.

- The artistic value is not high, but readers like and the publishing is large with high turnover. How do you explain this situation?

+ That is the negative side of the market mechanism. In this mechanism, artistic quality is not necessarily a critical factor or the cause determining the success of a product or a business. From a researcher’s perspective, I think, the development of the literary market must be seen as a strategy to create value, build brands, and deliver products to consumers. Thus, literature is a commodity and a product in the supply – demand chain, meeting the the interest of parties involved. Another thing is that, even in this supply – demand chain, it is necessary to pay special attention to readers – customers’ needs and tastes. In the market economy and in modern life with a lot of pressure, not many readers have needs to access classic works with complex, super high aesthetic value, but things which are quick, short, relaxing, entertaining and help to reduce work pressure. Market music, market literature and other easy forms of entertainment appear from such demands.

- So, in your opinion, what are the strengths and limitations of market literature?

+ From my own observation, I notice that the strength of market literature is in communication, in association with the media, it is a product of the media. Frankly speaking, this type of literature is reaching the public more broadly, methodically, professionally and efficiently. This type of literature also brings profit to all the parties involved. For its limitations, perhaps the biggest drawback of market literature is its artistic quality. From the market literature, looking more broadly at the cultural and literary life, we can assert that, not only market literature has to comply with this mechanism but all types of literature must operate in the giant machine of the market mechanism. Broadly speaking, we can say that the strength of market literature is the limitations of elite literature, and vice versa.

- Can you tell us about the challenges faced by managers, writers, researchers and critics in the reality of the literary market and market literature in Vietnam?

+ The literary and art management, of course, must be based on the provisions of laws and the Party and State’s policies for cultural and art development. However, managers should not be rigid but flexible; they should support and create a healthy spiritual space, encouraging writers and artists to create. More than anyone else, people involving in literature management should be aware of market mechanisms and rules of the arts and spiritual, aesthetic forms. For writers, I think, they should improve their professional and civic consciousness, intellectual bravery and desire for devotion, etc. The model of development which harmoniously combines market characteristics and arts might be a challenge, at the same time, a reasonable direction for literature in the market mechanism. For literature researchers and critics, they should stick to literary life and timely assess and evaluate literary works and phenomenon. They should become a well-versed force of judgment, bringing aesthetic orientation to the public. Moreover, it is researchers and critics who inspire and act on writers, cultural and art managers. All these matters are challenges, as well as open up new space for development, ensuring the diversified development of Vietnam’s literature in the context of present-day innovation and international integration.

- Hopefully, in the coming time, there will be specifically selected works with a high number of publications in the literary life so that we can look forward to a fair market for all forms of literature, and there is a harmony between market characteristics and arts. Thank you for the conversation.

(Translated by VU HUNG)

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