Lecture: Writing, Ethics and Social Justice at Dong Hwa University

We set up Wind&Bones back in 2017 because we were interested in the power that writing has to transform lives. At the most fundamental level, writing is about human communication. We don’t particularly care about distinctions between high art and low art, literary and non-literary writing, and all those other hierarchies that you stumble across when you read about Literature with a capital “L”. Instead, what we care about is how people can use the written word to communicate better, more deeply and more compellingly.  We believe in the value of making space for multiple voices, in how this can contribute to a richer shared world, offering more diverse possibilities for thinking and acting. 

It was great earlier this week to be talking about our work at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan. Two years in, it is a good time to reflect on the work we have done, and on new directions for Wind&Bones. We were invited to Dong Hwa by the fabulous scholar, associate professor and film-maker, Chun-Chi Wang (王君琦) . Like us, Chun-Chi is interested in the way that art can give voice to many perspectives, throwing new light onto our shared world. 

It was a pleasure to spend the morning with a group of engaged, lively and thoughtful students from Dong Hwa, and to talk about our work — both our writing, and our work with Wind&Bones. After our lecture, we had a free-wheeling question and answer session, which was both stimulating and challenging. We covered a lot of ground: creative writing in multiple languages; collaboration and co-working in writing; the future of relations between Taiwan and the mainland; Brexit (inevitably!); and how to get involved in activism, when there are so many issues of concern in the world.

We also talked a lot about the ethics of writing; and how to deal as a writer with sensitive and socially contentious issues. We’ve been concerned with this for a while, and we run workshops looking specifically at the ethics of writing (for example, our ethics workshop at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2018). In academic creative writing contexts, ethics is often sidelined. Distressingly, the claim that “you shouldn’t worry about all that messy ethics stuff, the artist’s duty is just to write” (itself an ethical claim) is all too common. We take a different view. Our own concern with ethics arises out of our basic position that writing is about human communication. It is about how we relate to each other. Writing impacts upon our relationships. It impacts upon the kind of world we perceive, upon the kinds of future we can imagine, and on the kind of world that we can build together. In all of this, ethics is inescapable. 

It was a privilege to be talking about all of this with the students from Dong Hwa, to be learning from their perspectives, and to be forging new connections.

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