Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Lao arts and the speculative

Why speculative literature for Laotians?

I had a conversation recently where I distilled the point to this: If our communities, especially those in diaspora, don't learn to explore ways to express a sense of the future or the many other possibilities within a life, we will remain trapped fixated on the past, without direction, struggling to heal and rebuild.

A healthy Lao futurism would enable us to unlock futures, the present, lessons learned, and dreams discovered for all.

Lao culture and Lao American culture already deals with what many would consider speculative literary themes. Modern examples include a Lao love for ghost stories or poems about meeting ghosts (Lao, American or otherwise), phi or other helpful spirits, organizations such as the kinnaly dance troupe invoking the memory of the half-human, half-bird women and men as metaphysical embodiments of the arts. 

People in Laos still insist there's a nak in the Mekong and celebrate the nak fireball festival. Lao just won an award for robotics in Laos this year.

 In Lao America, images of the nak continue to be popular subjects for tattoos as well as a guardians of the temples. When Lao culture adapts the Ramayana as Phra Lak Phra Lam, and then turns it into a Jataka, that says something about the culture.

In the US we find ourselves so flooded with the myths and science fiction visions of other cultures: Manga, anime, Star Wars and Star Trek, the Matrix, any number of video games and Harry Potter. Many of us have a love for this, and we are adding to the pre-existing, but where are we innovating, and where are we continuing our own traditions?

Where do the Lao want to go within these literary genres? How do we use our imagination? So much of Lao literary culture is currently fixated on memoir and children's stories, but not necessarily continued expression of what we want as a future.

 And without that expression of a future, just documentary work, we lose a part of art, and we also head ourselves towards a cultural dead end, and we fail the dreams and visions of our elders who worked so hard to hold Lao culture together for over 600 years.

As poets? When we look at the Odyssey, the Ramayana, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Canterbury Tales, the Lais of Marie de France, Le Morte de Arthur, Beowulf, the Raven, even the Bible, these are speculative poems of the highest order that transformed entire cultures and affected the world.

Modern Laos is a culture the size of Great Britain, and while it seems unlikely we'll ever rule almost the entire world the way Great Britain once did physically, how do we write and create ideas within our culture that the entire world would want to passionately embrace?

 Horror, fantasy, science fiction, mythology, folklore. It's all around us, and it's within our culture.

 I'm curious how other Lao writers are writing to get us to the stars and to worlds yet to be.

 I hope this helps serve as a spark for what you think a Lao American science fiction poem or story might look like. Good luck!

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