What I’m Reading Dec 2015-Jan 2016 我最近在看什麼書?

Just a quick update on what I’ve been reading and what I plan to read over the coming months.

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I bought a book called 《斷代》 by  Taiwanese author Kuo Chiang-sheng (郭強生) after the salesperson recommended it at the GinGin Bookstore and have just begun to read it. I suspect the title is a piece of wordplay, as it can mean “to divide between distinct periods of history” and by extension hints that the book goes into the division between the older and younger generation of gay men in Taipei and the driving ideologies behind their attitudes (this certainly seems to be the case from what I’ve read so far); in addition to this, however, 「斷」 also means “cut” and 「代」can mean “successor” – which suggests the title also points to the gay experience as the final generation of a family (in that they cannot reproduce). This put me in mind of a passage from Chu Tien-wen’s (朱天文) brilliant Notes of a Desolate Man (《荒人手記》):

我站在那裡,我彷彿看到,人類史上必定出現過許多色情國度罷。它們像奇花異卉,開過就沒了,後世只能從湮滅的荒文裡依稀得知它們存在過。因為它們無法擴大,衍生,在愈趨細緻,優柔,色授魂予的哀愁凝結裡,絕種了。

《荒人手記》,朱天文,時報文化,二版,臺北市,65頁

Translated by the talented Howard Goldblatt Continue reading

A Dictionary of Maqiao 《馬橋詞典》書評

A Dictionary of Maqiao is a really considered and philosophical book, whilst managing to retain an earthiness and wit throughout. 10867069_10101763657599809_38699079_nI liked the way the narrator poses the book as an effort to deconstruct traditional story-telling. He sees the traditional novel as directing its gaze selectively – focusing in on those things that relate to the central narrative, while ignoring the things that are on the periphery of this:

Things that can’t be put in the traditional novel are normally “insignificant.” However, when your focus is theocracy, science is insignificant; when it is humanity, nature is insignificant; when it is politics, then love is insignificant; when it is money, then aesthetics are insignificant. I suspect that everything in the world has the same level of significance, however, and that the reason that some things appear insignificant at times, is because they are filtered out by the author’s framework of meaning and are resisted by the reader’s framework of meaning, as they are not exciting enough. Clearly, these frameworks are not innate and unchanging, but rather the contrary, they are reformed by fads, habit and cultural tendencies – this mould is then set in the form of the novel. [My translation]

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What I’m reading 我在讀什麼?

I have been jumping from book to book lately, so going to post what I’m reviewing next in the hope that this will put a little pressure on me to stick with one all the way through. I started I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, but not overly impressed by what I’ve read so far – a tired story about a Chinese dissident rocker who is seeking asylum in the UK that right now is seeming a little bit pretentious, somewhere between an Amy Tan novel and Ma Jian’s Red Dust, except not as edgy, equipped with dullish references to the Beat generation (((((Kerouac’s overrated))))) and China’s misty poets – but going to give it a chance, because I completely misjudged Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and ended up loving it – so going to put it on the back-burner, and I am currently nose-deep in the long-awaited counterpart to Li Ang’s (李昂) 1997 work 《北港香爐人人插》 (Everyone sticks it in the Beigang incense burner) called 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road). The new book, published this year deals with men and power, whereas the previous book dealt with women and power. I haven’t read the previous book, but have heard interesting things about the author. I’m also interested to see if the “restricted to ages 18 and over” label stuck on the front is actually warranted, or is just a marketing technique.

 

The other books I’m lining up are 《馬橋詞典》 (A Dictionary of Maqiao in English) by Han Shaogong (韓少功), recommended to me by Chris Peacock, so looking forward to it.

I’m also going to give Yu Hua a second chance after the average but disappointing 《活著》 (To Live).

maqiaoyuhuaGot any recommendations? Reading any books that you are enjoying? Or read these books and want to have your say, comment below and I’ll get back to you.

I’ve also got a review of A Touch of Sin by Jia Zhangke in the pipeline, it’s a great film.

余華之《活著》書評 A Review of To Live by Yu Hua

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余華的短片小說我念大學時就讀到幾篇了,讀到時候感覺很新鮮——尤其是〈現實一種〉這篇——人物跟敘事者對小說中的血腥行為保持客觀的距離、漠不關心的態度,似乎主角在害他弟弟時也沒有多留意就心被分到光線那邊去。讀了許多年的刻版式的課文的我突然感覺有了活力——原來中文也有不濫情的、現代主義小說。不過,看《活著》看到一半又有一點失望,余華在這個作品中的敘事形式很像寫實主義的那派「傷痕文學」或賽珍珠的《大地》,只是以平民的視野去敘事內戰、文化大革命時期的那段歷史。這當然不見得是不好看,只是我在念高中時看這類型的小說看膩了,例如《野天鵝》、《落葉歸根》等等。

然而到最後(死了很多人之後)又讓我想到史坦貝克之《憤怒的葡萄》悲觀的收場。只是余華似乎跟史坦貝克的意圖不同,到最後富貴還是以正面的態度繼續活著。他那樣地接受所謂的「天意」令人想到台灣新電影的風格,尤其是《戀戀風塵》。

This was a an average but ultimately disappointing read from an author whose short stories promised something more. ‘A Kind of Reality’ had an interesting narrative style, completely unengaged from the tragedy that occurs in the story, To Live, however, seemed derivative of a lot of the scar literature I read as a teenager, like Wild Swans, Life and Death in Shanghai, and Falling leaves return to their roots. Not that these books were bad, it’s just that I expected a more interesting technique from Yu Hua than a more or less straightforward narrative, although Yu Hua distinguishes his story somewhat in being less critical of the Communist Party than other novels in the genre. The almost Job-like persistence of Fu Gui, despite the death of his entire family brought to mind the determinism of the New Taiwanese Film wave, particularly films like Dust in the Wind. Although I identify more with the outlook of Steinbeck at the end of Grapes of Wrath or Hemingway at the end of A Farewell to Arms.

About to Awaken / 將醒 by MuXin (木心)

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Mu Xin is the pen name for author, painter and poet, Sun Pu (孙璞). He came from a wealthy family in Zhejiang and was the nephew of the famous Chinese author Mao Dun (茅盾). After graduating from art school he became a teacher and later a professor. During the cultural revolution he was arrested and imprisoned. After being released from prison, he continued to work in fine art. In 1982 he migrated to the United States, where he continued to write and paint. He was the first 20th Century Chinese artist to be housed in the British Museum. In 2006 he returned to his hometown in China. He died in December of 2011 after having been admitted to hospital for a lung infection in October.

About to Awaken

Man just awoken from his dreams, is man at his most basic.

In that instant, man’s nature is neither good nor evil, it’s empty, weak, vaguely disconnected .

A hero’s failure, the deflowering of a beauty, all occur at such a moment. An instant on the blurry line between the conscious and the subconscious, an involuntary moment.

Man’s effusiveness, his distance, his magnanimity, his miserliness, are all deliberately acquired behaviour. Rudely awakened from one’s dreams, the pious or the villainous, the gentleman or the pleb, the loyal lover or the cad, they’re all more or less the same, after a little time passes, the differences become clear as day.

However, why is it that the masterful battle strategies, that strangely beautiful inspiration, often comes out of these instants at which one is neither awake nor asleep?

It’s the persisting presence of the dream, when the routine logic of the mind has yet to kick in; instinct, intuition take advantage of the opportunity, and man is able to exceed the limits imposed by habit – instinct, intuition, are the fundamental intelligence formed by tens of thousands of years of experience, lying dormant in the deepest recesses of our intellect, they surface only occasionally, making up for lost time with their brilliance.

That which is brilliant and majestic can be found to have been achieved by way of man’s instinct.

As if the gods had intervened to help, man actually helps himself – this without doubt is something to rejoice in. However, one mustn’t be too happy.

將醒

剛從睡夢中醒來的人,是「人之初」。

際此一瞬間,不是性本善也非性本惡,是空白、荏弱、軟性的脫節。

英雄的失策,美人的失貞,往往在此一瞬片刻。是意識和潛意識界線模糊的一瞬,身不由己的片刻。

人的寬厚、澆薄、慷慨、吝嗇,都是後天的刻意造作。從睡夢中倏然醒來時,義士惡徒君子小人多情種負心郎全差不多,稍過一會兒,區別就明明顯顯的了。

然而高妙的戰略,奇美的靈感,也往往出此將醒未醒的剎那之間,又何以故?

那是夢的殘象猶存,思維的習性尚未順理成章;本能、直覺正可乘機起作用,人超出了自己尋常的水平——本能、直覺,是歷千萬年之經驗而形成的微觀智慧,冥潛於靈性的最深層次,偶爾升上來,必是大有作為。

宏偉、精彩的事物,都是由人的本能直覺來成就的。

若有神助,其實是人的自助——這無疑是可喜的。不過不栗太高興。

(Translation by Conor Stuart/翻譯:蕭辰宇)