Bangor Pier (Nick Macneill)

Accidental Sinology

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I’m down in Bangor for a brief spell, where I’ve been talking to creative writing and translation students about how a few years back I found myself stumbling into matters Sinological, and the general mayhem that has ensued since then. I wasn’t sure that I was going to get here at all this morning, as there was train chaos across the midlands; but five trains (five!) later, I pulled in to Bangor station on time. And I’m glad I made it.

It’s been a fun afternoon. My talk was called “A Book of Changes? Writing, Chance and the I Ching: or, The Adventures of an Accidental Sinologist”, so I was talking about my forthcoming novel-of-sorts, A Book of Changes, based around the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching. Then in the second half, we spent some time playing with translation of poems from the entirely invented language of Ogdish. Both in terms of the book, and in terms of the Ogdish, what interests me is question of the minimum conditions needed by a system to generate novelty. In some perhaps somewhat spurious mash-up between Lucretian physics and I Ching metaphysics, it seems to me that the conditions are these: structure, chance and motion.

But this all on one side, it has been good to have the chance to look back at my seven-year tussle with the I Ching, this strange, erratic walk that has led me down avenues I could never have anticipated. It all seems to me in retrospect to be not unlike Zhuangzi’s xiaoyao you 逍遙遊, or free-and-easy rambling. And speaking of which, this evening I’m looking forward to spending an evening of such rambling in the company of my wonderfully welcoming hosts from the university here in Bangor, before I face the train home tomorrow afternoon.

Image of Bangor Pier courtesy Nick Macneill

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