Pierre Ryckmans (writer)

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Pierre Ryckmans
Pierre Ryckmans.jpg
Born (1935-09-28)28 September 1935
Brussels, Belgium
Died 11 August 2014(2014-08-11) (aged 78)
Sydney, Australia
Occupation Professor
Nationality Belgian
Alma mater Catholic University of Leuven (1834–1968)
Notable awards Prix Renaudot,
Prix mondial Cino Del Duca,
Prix Guizot-Calvados,
Christina Stead Prize

Pierre Ryckmans (28 September 1935 – 11 August 2014), who also used the pen-name Simon Leys, was a Belgian-Australian writer, essayist and literary critic, translator, art historian, sinologist, and university professor. His work particularly focused on the politics and traditional culture of China, calligraphy, French and English literature, the commercialization of universities, and the sea in literary works. Through the publication of his trilogy Les Habits neufs du président Mao (1971), Ombres chinoises (1974) and Images brisées (1976), he was one of the first intellectuals to denounce the Cultural Revolution in China and the idolizing of Mao in the West.[1]

Biography[edit]

Pierre Ryckmans was born in Brussels, Belgium. From 1953 he studied law and art history at the Catholic University of Leuven.

In May 1955 he was a member of a delegation of young Belgians invited to spend a month in China. During that visit he took part in a conversation with Zhou Enlai, the Premier of the People's Republic of China.[2]

Upon his return to Belgium, he finished his studies in art history and began to learn calligraphy.

From 1955 he studied Chinese language, literature and art at the National Taiwan University.[3]

In 1963 he went to Hong Kong where he taught at the New Asia College.

In 1970 Ryckmans settled in Australia and he taught Chinese literature at the Australian National University (Canberra) where he supervised the honours thesis of future Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.[4]

He returned to China in 1972 for six months as a cultural attaché for the Belgian Embassy in Beijing.[5]

In the period 1987–93 he was Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney. After that he returned to Canberra, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

He died of cancer in Sydney, Australia at the age of 78 in August 2014 surrounded by his wife and four children.[6][7]

Works[edit]

Ryckmans wrote in French, English and Chinese.

His books on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, based on his first hand observation, give scathing descriptions of the cultural and political destruction, as well as denouncing the hypocrisy of its western defenders.[8]

In 1971, on the advice of his publisher, he decided to adopt a pseudonym before the release of Les habits neufs du président Mao, in order to avoid the risk of becoming a persona non grata in the People's Republic of China. He chose "Leys" after the main character of Victor Segalen's novel René Leys (published in 1922).[9]

In 1996 he delivered the Boyer Lectures on the theme "Aspects of Culture",[10][11] in which he argued the need to cultivate the gardens of the mind and which were later published as The View from the Bridge: Aspects of Culture (1996).[12]

Ryckmans was also a translator of Chinese literature, such as the Analects of Confucius and The Treatise on Painting by Shi Tao.

His translation of The Analects of Confucius (1997) sought to introduce readers to “the real, living Confucius” rather than the official Confucian cult portraying him as “always proper, a bit pompous, slightly boring” — and appropriated by authoritarians.[13]

The 2001 film The Emperor's New Clothes, directed by Alan Taylor, was based on Leys' novel The Death of Napoleon. Leys expressed distaste for the film, however; stating in an afterword accompanying a reprint of the novel that this "latter avatar [The Emperor's New Clothes], by the way, was both sad and funny: sad, because Napoleon was interpreted to perfection by an actor (Ian Holm) whose performance made me dream of what could have been achieved had the producer and director bothered to read the book."[14]

His collection of essays, The Hall of Uselessness (2011), revealed the scope of his eccentric interests, wit and insights.[15][16][17]

His translation (2013) of Simone Weil’s 1940 essay On the Abolition of All Political Parties was inspired, he said, by the “toxic atmosphere” that had started to pollute Australian politics.[18]

He wrote regularly for the English-language press -- The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Quadrant, and The Monthly—and for the French-language press -- L'Express, Le Point, Le Monde, Le Figaro littéraire, and Le Magazine Littéraire.[19]

He was a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, an Honorary Commander of the French Navy and member of the Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique.[20]

He received many awards including the Prix Renaudot, the Prix Henri Gal, the Prix Femina, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, the Prix Guizot-Calvados, the Prix Quinquernal de Litterature, and the Christina Stead Prize for fiction.[21]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Shitao, Les propos sur la peinture du moine Citrouille-amère (Brussels: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1970) - translation from Chinese to French and commentary by Pierre Ryckmans
  • La Vie et l’œuvre de Su Renshan, rebelle, peintre, et fou, 1814-1849? (Paris and Hong Kong : Centre de publication de l'U.E.R. Extrême-Orient-Asie du Sud-Est de l'Université de Paris, 1971. 2 volumes).
  • Les habits neufs du président Mao: chronique de la « Révolution culturelle » (Paris: Champ libre, 1971)
  • Ombres chinoises (Paris: 10/18, 1974)
  • Lu Xun, La mauvaise herbe (Paris: 10/18, 1975) - translation from Chinese to French and commentary by Pierre Ryckmans
  • Images brisées (Paris, Robert Laffont, 1976)
  • Chinese Shadows (New York: Viking Press, 1977)
  • The Chairman's New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978)
  • Human Rights in China (United Daily Newspaper, 1979)
  • Broken Images: Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics (London: Allison & Busby, 1979; New York: St Martin's Press, 1980)
  • La Forêt en feu: Essais sur la culture et la politique chinoises (Paris, Hermann, 1983)
  • Orwell, ou l'horreur de la politique (Paris, Hermann, 1984 ; Plon, 2006)
  • The Burning Forest: Essays on Chinese Culture and Politics (New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985)
  • La Mort de Napoléon (Paris: Herrmann, 1986)
  • "The Chinese Attitude Towards the Past" (presented as the Forty-seventh Morrison Lecture, 16 July 1986; republished in China Heritage Quarterly, No. 14, June 2008)
  • Confucius, Les Entretiens de Confucius (Paris: Gallimard, 1987) - translation from Chinese to French, notes and commentary by Pierre Ryckmans
  • Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Deux années sur le gaillard d'avant (Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 1990) - translation from English to French and commentary by Pierre Ryckmans
  • L'humeur, l'honneur, l'horreur: Essais sur la culture et la politique chinoises (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1991)
  • The Death of Napoleon (London: Quartet Books, 1991; Sydney: Allen & Unwin Australia, 1991)
  • Aspects of Culture (Boyer Lectures, 1996): Lecture 1, "Introduction; Learning"; Lecture 2, "Reading"; Lecture 3, "Writing"; Lecture 4, "Going Abroad and Staying Home".
  • The View from the Bridge: Aspects of Culture (Sydney: ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1996)
  • Confucius, The Analects of Confucius (New York/London, W. W. Norton & Co., 1997) - translation from Chinese to English and commentary by Pierre Ryckmans
  • Essais sur la Chine (Paris: Laffont, 1998, Collection "Bouquins")
  • L'Ange et le Cachalot (Paris: Seuil, 1998)
  • The Angel and the Octopus: Collected Essays, 1983–1998 (Sydney: Duffy and Snellgrove, 1999)
  • Protée et autres essais (Paris, Gallimard, 2001) - awarded the 2001 Prix Renaudot de l'Essai
  • La Mer dans la littérature française: de François Rabelais à Pierre Loti (Paris: Plon, 2003. 2 volumes.)
  • Les Naufragés du Batavia, suivi de Prosper (Paris: Arléa, 2003) - awarded the 2004 Prix Guizot-Calvados
  • The Wreck of the Batavia: A True Story (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2005)
  • Les Idées des autres, idiosyncratiquement compilées pour l'amusement des lecteurs oisifs (Paris, Plon, 2005)
  • Other People's Thoughts: Idiosyncratically compiled by Simon Leys for the amusement of idle readers (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2007)
  • The Hall of Uselessness: Selected Essays (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2011)
  • Le Studio de l'inutilité (Paris: Flammarion, 2012)
  • Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2013) - translation from French to English by Pierre Ryckmans

For a more comprehensive list of his publications in various languages and editions, see World Cat for Pierre Ryckmans and Simon Leys; see also his Simon Leys byline in The New York Review of Books.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ian Buruma, "The Man Who Got It Right", The New York Review of Books, 15 August 2013.
  2. ^ Daniel Sanderson, "An Interview with Pierre Ryckmans", Chinese Heritage Quarterly, No. 26, June 2011.
  3. ^ Pierre Mertens, Réception de Simon Leys, Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 30 May 1992.
  4. ^ Nicholas Stuart, Kevin Rudd: An Unauthorised Political Biography, Scribe, 2007
  5. ^ Laurent Six, "Aux origines d’Ombres chinoises: une mission de six mois au service de l’ambassade de Belgique en République populaire de Chine", Textyles, 34, 2008.
  6. ^ Rowan Callick, "Chairman’s New Clothes author Pierre Ryckmans dies aged 78", The Australian, 11 August 2014.
  7. ^ Michael Forsythe, "Pierre Ryckmans, 78, Dies; Exposed Mao’s Hard Line", The New York Times, 14 August 2014.
  8. ^ Ian Buruma, "The Man Who Got It Right", The New York Review of Books, 15 August 2013.
  9. ^ Simon Leys: "Victor Segalen, les tribulations d'un poète en Chine", in Figaro Littéraire 3 February 2005
  10. ^ "Boyer Lectures", ABC Radio National website.
  11. ^ Aspects of Culture (Boyer Lectures, 1996): Lecture 1, "Introduction"; Lecture 2, "Reading"; Lecture 3, "Writing"; Lecture 4, "Going Abroad and Staying Home".
  12. ^ Pierre Ryckmans, The View from the Bridge: Aspects of Culture (Sydney: ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1996)
  13. ^ Rowan Callick, "Pierre Ryckmans’ early books triggered outrage and controversy in Europe", The Australian, 12 August 2014.
  14. ^ Simon Leys, The Death of Napoleon. Author's Afterword. (Black Inc., 2006), p. 118.
  15. ^ Geordie Williamson, "Simon Leys' essays reveal a writer cunning like a hedgehog", The Australian, 16 July 2011.
  16. ^ Ian Buruma, "The Man Who Got It Right", The New York Review of Books, 15 August 2013.
  17. ^ Rowan Callick, "Pierre Ryckmans’ early books triggered outrage and controversy in Europe", The Australian, 12 August 2014.
  18. ^ Rowan Callick, "Pierre Ryckmans’ early books triggered outrage and controversy in Europe", The Australian, 12 August 2014.
  19. ^ Décès de Simon Leys, Le Magazine Littéraire, 10 August 2014.
  20. ^ Pierre Mertens, Réception de Simon Leys, Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 30 May 1992.
  21. ^ Luke Slattery, "Pierre Ryckmans: Distinguished Australian intellectual was a figure of world renown", The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 2014.

External links[edit]