Literature and Perspiration by Lu Xun ~ 鲁迅 《文学和出汗》 with English Translations


鲁迅 《文学和出汗》












Literature and Perspiration
Lu Xun

A Shanghai professor lecturing on literature states that literature should describe the eternal human qualities, otherwise it will not live. For example, in England Shakespeare and a few others wrote about the eternal human qualities, hence they are still read today; other writers failed to do this, and their work perished.

This is true a case of: “The more you explain the more confused I grow.” I am sure it is possible that many earlier English works of literature have been lost, but I never knew that they perished because they failed to describe the eternal human qualities. Now that I know this, I am at a loss to understand where this professor saw these works, since they have perished, so that he can be sure that none of them described the eternal human qualities.

What has lasted is good literature, what has perished is bad literature. If you seize a country you are king, if you fail you are a bandit. Don’t tell me the Chinese theory of history is going to be applied to the Chinese theory of literature!

And do human qualities really never change?

Man-like ape, ape-like man, primitive man, ancient man, modern man, future man..if living creatures can evolve, human qualities cannot remain unchanged. I doubt if we can guess even prehistoric men’s feelings, let alone those of apemen; and the men of the future will probably not understand us either. It is really hard to write and about eternal human qualities.

Take perspiration, for example. I believe we have always perspired, we perspire today, and we shall perspire for some time to come; so I suppose this can be counted as a comparatively “eternal human quality.” But delicate young ladies have sweet perspiration, workers who are as stupid as oxen have foul perspiration. If I want to be a writer whose name will live, and write works that will be immortal, is it better for me to describe the sweet perspiration or the foul perspiration? Until we solve this problem your position in the history of literature is “in fearful jeopardy.”

I hear that In England, for instance, most of the earliest novels were written for ladies, so naturally there was a preponderance of sweet perspiration; but towards the end of the nineteenth century they were influenced by Russian literature, so there was quite a little foul perspiration. Which kind will last it is too early to say?

In China, hearing Taoists speak about Tao or critics hold forth on literature makes your fresh creep, and no perspiration dares come. But perhaps this is the eternal human quality of the Chinese.

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