03 喜欢

喜欢一个男孩子,见到他就没由来地高兴的那种喜欢。喜欢了二零一七年里面大部分的月数(二月,三月,四月,五月…九月,十月,十一月)。到现在,终于决定是时候了。这个秋天重新见面的时候约他出来吃饭了。用了一个也不完全是借口的借口。到现在,我大概慢慢走出了这场没有结果的暗恋。

他吸引我的地方,后来我明白,恰是我们不能,没有机会,再靠近的原因。

在另外两个朋友来之前,我们在餐厅等位。我们聊天。他跟我说两年前暑假去希腊的一个小岛上与静修士同住、徒步的经历,我听得眼睛发光。那个岛上没有女人,没有除了这些静修士之外的任何居民。他去了一个礼拜,用学校的奖学金(两年后我也拿到了一样的赞助),大概也用得非常节省。他说他得时刻穿长袖衫,在那个岛上,夏天,所有人没有例外。所以几英里的徒步,从码头走到山上,这一路,一直都大汗淋漓。后来说我。我说我暑假在意大利做了这个那个事情,建筑修护,什么的。其实,想起来,算是在修缮“the house of God”。我们不起眼的San Carlo也是一个教堂的。这么一说突然有点令人毛骨悚然。但我那时不曾意识到。不管怎样,我兴奋地说了这些。我又说,放假期间去了一趟希腊,非常喜欢。虽然只待了三天,但真希望能在希腊待久一点啊。他笑着说他在希腊只待了三个小时。我说怎么,他说没有多余时间,直奔着目的地去了。直接在雅典机场转机然后去码头坐船,去了那个小岛。是没有闲钱和时间做观光客,我明白。然后,突然觉得自己很有罪,因为我的旅行都是我的任性而已。我是没有理由去希腊的。我是最不值得去希腊的一个人。我的是无目的地游逛。

我的旅行也非不寂寞。事实上,一个人上路,避免青旅,是我主动寻求孤独的结果。而跟他比起来,我这所谓的追求真的不值得一提。你怎么能抓得住一个爱智慧与静默胜过一切的人呢?你所能提供的,对这样一个偏爱孤独,与日常生活保持礼貌距离的人来说,毫无吸引力。我的失败,在这里,不是个人得——自责是无益的。所以从一开始,我就没有机会成功,只是我那时不相信,所以换了方法,试了一次又一次。

只是从这场暗恋里我收获了太多,我从他那里偷到了太多智慧——所以不想松手。为了可以跟他做朋友,我也可以说有点不择手段了。做了很多我以前没想过会做出来的事。每一次都是我去找他。站在他面前。他会说什么我很清楚。他不会拒绝。他会笑。很真诚地与我说话。一起吃后。但是后来我明白,他永远不会把他自己交给我。这一点在我明白之后,除了惆怅之外,也没有别的办法了。我感到了我的愚蠢,每次出于紧张或者什么别的原因,总是觉得自己又说错做错了什么,很好笑,但又没有办法。我的厚脸皮已经全部用光了。到十二月,终于一切该结束了。大概不会再见面,下周三最后一次,真的很可能是这样了。我一定要沉住气,不去打扰他了。我也不会再跟人说起这件事了。我也希望我有机会表达对他对我所有善意的感恩。再要求跟多,就是我的不幸了。

给他写过两封信。手写的英文信。都是在我最绝望的这一个月里。都成功地,事后控制自己,没有带去给他。很多一时兴起想要做的事,都按耐下来,没有做。做了是不是会不一样,我不知道。但如果我对我的理性还有一点点信任的话,我就会祝贺自己。你做了对的选择。你抓不住这样的人的,你清楚——至少,不是现在。但是现在你至少知道,有这样一个同龄的人,是你值得学习和羡慕的。学习他的耐心与仁慈,聪明,温和的处事。

我们会变成很好的朋友的。这几个月来,你是我常常去照的一面镜子。我该感谢你让我有机会反思自己,看清做人行事。就算往后杳无音信,我也会记住你慷慨的沉默,你的礼物。我想要爱你,但另一方面,我也知道这可能只是我的自私。所以我会安静地成长,做好自己,不辜负你曾经不看轻我吧。

想起来,喜欢你至今是一件令人高兴的事。你是好人。我也得变得很好才好啊。

02 眼泪

我也没有想到写字最终会变成一种放松的方式吧。写essay本来应该是促进思考的,奈何课程要求的essay根本是另一回事。因为有很多不能写成作业但我又觉得对我更重要的想法、还没形成argument的想法,所以需要给它们一个地方,一个语言的出口吧。

今天我在玛萨·努斯鲍姆的一篇文章“绝非偶然事件”:哲学与公共生活中读到,正如伊壁鸠鲁(Epicurus)指出的,“根本无法减弱一点人类的苦难的哲学论证就是空谈。正如药品若不能治疗身体的疾病就没有了用途一样,哲学若不能治疗灵魂的痛苦,它的用途何在呢?” 我深以为然。然而,“治疗灵魂的痛苦”肯定不是当下大学哲学系的兴趣所在。而就我个人而言,本着因为有未解的疑惑的好奇,上哲学课的动机、读书的动机,虽然我之前不曾意识到,但就是这个吧。

圣奥古斯丁也说,“Man has no reason to philosophize, except with a view to happiness.”

刚为写《情人》的论文重温了一遍 Kristeva 的 Black Sun 第一章。我始终记得初遇精神分析理论,翻开这本书第一页读到的那句话。

For those who are wrecked by melancholia, writing about it would have meaning only if writing sprang out of that very melancholia. I am trying to address an abyss of sorrow, a noncommunicable grief that at times, and often on a long-term basis, lays claims upon us to the extent of having us lose all interest in words, actions, and even life itself. (Kristeva, 1)

“Pain is the hidden side of my philosophy,” 她说。蒙田又说了什么,亚里士多德又说了什么,我记不清了。没错!我就这样想。

痛苦的深处有哲学,有信仰。齐奥朗的《眼泪与圣徒》是另一本我爱而时时希望重读的书。还有帕斯卡尔的《沉思录》。

《情人》也是。除了死亡,除了弑母,贫穷,暴力,与激烈的爱,回忆起这本书,浮现在眼前的画面是缓缓流淌,宽广,波光粼粼的湄公河,还有男女主一直在流的眼泪。我不知道为什么每一次杜拉斯写两人做爱,他们都在哭。到最后我竟然不记得他说的任何话,留下印象的只有源源不绝的眼泪。语言也没有办法表达的伤痛。我写的课程论文主要是关于mourning以及matricide,“wrting melancholia” 这样的题目。我没有写到的是眼泪。但眼泪过于深奥,我还不能用我一个臆测的理论玷污这个圣洁的意像。”Love finally comes after tears,” 她说。爱终于在眼泪后来临。生也没有那么不能忍受,疼痛的事转为狂喜。边缘于痛苦的狂喜,不可知的femine jouissance

话语不再此作用了。因而变成了物质的话语,不是眼泪吗?哭,不是一种很高级的语言吗。你不能懂吗。

我又想起黛玉的眼泪。没有办法,就得一直哭,一直哭。不像话语,眼泪没有一滴是假的。你不能说,“她刚才没又哭过。那是假哭。” “她哭得不是这个意思。” 哀悼是一个神秘又必须的过程,在黛玉葬花的时候,她是哀悼的,她是永远在哀悼的。她的泪水是浇灌生的。灌溉之恩无以为报,绛珠草说,那我就用来生的眼泪来还吧。一株以泪水浇灌而生的植物,我们的生命不都是这样的一株植物吗?生于他的受难,长存的苦痛,眼泪。

所以眼泪干涸,悲伤停止,生命也大概到了尽头。“千红一哭”,是《红楼梦》里的偈语。 这样可以了解了吗?

最近我总是在想,高兴大概对于哲学来说并没有什么益处啊。我的体验里,太高兴的时候,往往脑子里是空空的。光顾着高兴,没有什么思想,也没有什么写作的欲望。所以能写出任何东西,大概都是悲郁憋了一段时间,又有想法,所以不得不写。相比之下,看书大多数时候是高兴的,特别是好书令人振奋。写作则像一场绵绵不绝的苦役,就像人生吧。

昨天我在豆瓣上写,“活得好好的,久存的,不说那么多话,不需要写很多文字。这样说来,语言总是去弥补生与灭之间的虚隙,不满,不平的,要用语言的轻与重去平。好像没有人过世,也不需要悼文。可惜时光在每天死去,不得不时常为它哀悼。书写,因为没有一个明天能代替昨天了。就只能编出一个昨天了。创作大概是这么回事吧。”

以初读《情人》中文时印象深入骨髓的一段话终结吧。我在2016年8月12日的微信上分享过这段。

我的血肉深处,就像刚刚出世只有一天的婴儿那样盲目。恨之所在,就是沉默据以开始的门槛。只有沉默可以从中通过,对我这一生来说,这是绵绵久远的苦役。我至今依然如故,面对这么多受苦受难的孩子,我始终保持着同样的神秘的距离。我自以为我在写作,但事实上我从来就不曾写过,我以为在爱,但我从来也不曾爱过,我什么也没有做,不过是站在那紧闭的门前等待罢了。——玛格丽特・杜拉斯,《情人》

眼泪在神秘与信仰这一边,语言在哲学和阐释这一边。等我终有一天,也会渡过这条河吧。

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没记错的话应该是出现在 Tears and Saints 的 dedication page。

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01 The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Chance, chance along has a message for us.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

 

Dear Friend,

I’m half way through Yiyun Li’s new book Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life now. I told you last time that because of the heavy reading course load I’m under this semester, I probably wouldn’t have time for it. Yet this weekend (against my wish) I started reading anyhow. Although I’m only half way through the book, I could say that this book has successfully seduced me and that my affection for it is duly returned.

This week, via Kristeva, I also understood a little bit more about the Kundera novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But let me first tell you a bit about Dear Friend so that you could know how this train of though started. In one of Li’s essays Two Lives, she talks about (as I understood it) the magical power of literature that brings strangers’ lives together. The same literature could unknowingly be an umbrella of two, if not more, distinct lives. The title of the essay comes from William Trevor’s Two Lives, a collection of two novellas “Reading Turgenev” and “My House in Umbria”. Although there are echoes and reflections, in fictional reality the two protagonists has very little in common: one a Protestant Irish woman from a small town who has chosen to spend more than thirty years in an asylum, the other an English woman who has a handsome house in Umbria. However, grown up in China and voraciously consumed every word Turgenev had ever written as a teenager (and hospitalized twice in America due to suicidal depression years later), Li unmistakably sees herself reflected in “Reading Turgenev”, if not as a double of the fictional protagonist. She writes, affectionately, “That Turgenev would be read and memorized by an Irishwoman in an asylum is not far from his being singled out in a middle-school library in Beijing.” She also adds, however, “One could easily give meaning to the serendipity of reencountering him in Trever’s work, though to do so is foolish” (93). I felt that I understood her feeling of being tied to fictional characters, that two lives becomes one, thanks to Trevor, but ultimately united by Turgenev. I also understood her reluctance to spell out this “serendipity” and feeling compelled to call it “foolish.” Now we can talk about Kundera and Kristeva. You see, I’m embarrassed to the same degree to say that I’ve read myself in the lives they created, fictional and in reality. But perhaps I’ll venture a narrative anyhow.

I read Kundera’s ULB when I was 11 or 12, in the last year of primary school. Our Chinese teacher Ms. Q is a literature enthusiastic (and a life enthusiastic!). One day in school she introduced to us this “magnificent,” “mind-blowing” book called “The Unbearable Lightness of Life”, as it was translated in Chinese then. I was always eager to find new things to read, and you know, 12-year-olds don’t read literature reviews, so naturally I trusted my teacher and bought this book on a weekend in this bookstore near a newly erected shopping mall. I understood nothing in the book (well, maybe some? I don’t know). However, it left a big impression on me ever since; some scenes like Teresa’s dream of being made watch Sabina and Tomas making love on a theatre stage stayed with me for ever. And I promised myself to read it again while I become older. The title of the book, so beautiful and melancholy, left an inscription on my mind. In retrospect, this is a highly inappropriate book to be introduced to six graders. I wonder really, what made she give that speech in class about this book. What made her think that a bunch of sixth graders could possibly understand this book? But growing up always a little precocious, I welcomed all kinds of inappropriateness.

Then there was a series of heartbreaking teenage romance, none of which “actualized.” I was a good student and that was because I was cruel to myself in many ways. One of the good things about Communist ideology, or that worth being called “heritage”, is one learn to cooperate with a highly demanding set of rules, physically and mentally, and in turn (hopefully) develops an iron-like willpower, a strict self-discipline, a grit that will help you succeed in anything you set your mind to. This mechanism worked well for me during the three whole years of middle school, and the first and half year in high school. During the years of puberty, I had nothing on my mind except studying and competition. I remained top 5% of my class, and my essays got me first-place awards above school level. I had a position as student leader in the student council as well as in my own class. I represented my class to give the “Speech under Red Flag ” to the rally held on Mondays after the singing of the national anthem (Rise! People who do not wish to remain slave!) the headmaster’s speech. In short, my teachers liked me, spoiled me even, and I proved worthy of their indulgence by never stepping outside the line once, being this obedient, yet competitive kid aspiring to very kind of academic excellence.

What on my mind was, despite all that math and sciences I’ve done, vaguely, “literature.” I loved writing, and yearned to read. But my teacher then centered all out classwork around the exams we had to take and eliminated our reading to the few essays included in our thin text book. The sort of writing promoted encourages us to write allusively and to use the most complicated phrase that could be thought of, so my classmates, especially young female students like me, competed in flowery language. We would be tested in our ability to read Classical Chinese (poetry and prose), then asked to analysis essays and short stories in modern Chinese (Mandarin) with very limited freedom of interpretation. In the end we’d be asked to produce a 800-word essay in about an hour. You see, there was, if you follow the design of the system, no need (therefore no time) to read novels. Simply put, we were not taught how to read books. We did not read a single novel in class all those years.

But I did read some, without guidance, very unsystematically. It was not until the latter half of high school, that I finally said goodbye to the public education system in China. I enrolled in private institutions to study English in cities (Shanghai, Hangzhou) near my hometown (Jiaxing), living in hotels, sometimes with other students, sometimes alone. It was then I began my infatuation with films. I escaped, finally; I enjoyed a certain freedom envied by my fellow classmates, you could say. But what they didn’t know was that I was utterly alone and disoriented. The sort of rules that sustained my life was no longer applicable here, in big cities, among students coming from all kinds of backgrounds but with the same goal to compete for admission to a prestigious university in the U.S. I didn’t start the sort of meticulous preperation as early as they did. Until the Junior year of high school I didn’t know that I would be applying to universities in America. Everything was too late, I felt. And in that state of isolation and depression I turned to books and films, under the excuse that I was using them as materials to study English, though most of the films were in European languages and the books too weren’t necessarily in English.

First semester of Senior year, in October I think, I flew to Hong Kong with some fellow students to take my first SAT. Most of the applicants had already taken the test in May and no body with any planning would wait till then to give the first try, except me. I had never been to Hong Kong before, and the first time there only as a test taker. Didn’t do any sightseeing or shopping, as people usually do in Hong Kong. Stayed in a hotel for two or three nights and spent the evenings reviewing my vocabulary book; didn’t go out, didn’t do anything. Not in the mood for fun anyway. Feeling guilty to have fun actually.

I went to Hong Kong three times in three months, all for the SATs. Once, on my way back, I had this long wait at the airport for my flight back to Shanghai. It was already late at night and the majority of duty-free shops and restaurants were closed. I went into this book store (Relay?) that was still open, trying to rid myself of the few HK dollars I had on me. While waiting in line for checkout, I overheard a brief conversation that struck me like a lightning. A white man (excuse me for lack of a better expression…) dressed in a pilot’s uniform, very handsome, with leather shoes and a smart suitcase, asked the store attendant if they had a copy of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” “What was the title of the book?” I remembered the sales girl asked him as reply, not getting what he was saying. “The-Un-bea-ra-ble-Ligh-tgh-ness-of-Be-ing,” he repeated in slow, careful English. She still couldn’t get it correctly, so she asked him, apologetically, to write it down for her. Then he wrote it down with a pencil on a piece of paper. I didn’t know if he got his copy eventually. I had already checked out my book and left by then. But this melancholy, otherworldly beautiful book title, uttered with such precision and so lovingly by a stranger, suddenly brought all my lost time back. The phrase exerted itself and resonated with me, who was yet eighteen, alone, lost under the florescent light of a busy international airport. Now I had to read that book again, I thought.

So I did. After December all the application work came to an end. My then boyfriend returned all the letters and postcards I wrote him and said we shouldn’t be together (or something like that) on Christmas Eve (not that I celebrate Christmas, but why?!). So you see, I had plenty time starting January to watch films and, read, if I was not busy being sad. I think it was during that few months that I reread ULB (in Chinese, of the copy that I got years ago). I understood it for the first time, at least for then. The book shed light on my thinking of Communism, fidelity and fate; love and sex, too. I produced extensive note on it on my blog in Chinese, now lost. But Kundera has remained my most loved author, someone I had great affinity with because the book had become part of my personal history. There are many more “greater” writers, sure, but it’s difficult to discredit your first love.

Now three years later, toward the end of last semester to be exact, I read ULB for a class in English for the first time. I was studying psychoanalysis theory with the professor who had Kundera on her reading list. There was another book that I read in conjunction, although later taken out from the syllabus, Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran by Gohar Homayounpour. She was invited to give a talk at Harvard by my Professor and almost all my classmates went to sit at the seminar room. I loved the book and loved the author in person. Here is a minor detail that might interest you: I was in both in her Novels class in which we read ULB and the Theory class that introduced psychoanalysis theory. In other words, at the time of the talk, my Theory classmates had not necessarily been familiarized with Kundera’s ULB, and my Novels classmates did not spend as much time with psychoanalysis theory, that is Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, in addition to Gohar’s Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran. Although the book title sounds like it has nothing to do with Kundera, the book is actually, an intimate and lengthy reflection on ULB in disguise. Kundera was trained as a psychoanalyst before he wrote his novel, too. Gohar’s father, now this might interest you, is the translator of ULB in Farsi. I read the following passage from her book in horror—I think this must be a feeling similar to when Yiyun Li first learned the fictional life of the woman in “Reading Turgenev”—

I have to say that my love relationship with Kundera also began because of the Farsi translator. My relationship with the translator of the Unbearable Lightness of Being goes even further back than my relationship with Kundera. I had a very ambivalent relationship with the translator; a very difficult one, to say the least. I would find myself furious at him most of the time, and even more furious the rest of the time. So how come I had fallen in love with the book he had just translated, carrying it with me everywhere I  went, underlining various parts in different colors? I had become a Kundera fan with all the intensity and passion available to the immature heart of an eleven-year-old girl. 

How can I describe this sweet horror, when I discovered the unbearable affinity between me and a stranger? The connection between two lives irrelevant to each other forged by a writer—how is that possible beyond the fictional world? It happened yet, happens and is always going to happen.

Dear Friend, I hope you are not too bored with me yet, for I can finally start telling you what all this has to do with Kristeva…

This semester I continued to study lit theory with the same professor, and we started, as before, with psychoanalysis theory. She quoted Kristeva at the beginning of each semester, that theory is an anti-depressant. It came from the title of the first chapter of Kristeva’s book Black Sun: “Psychoanalysis—A Counterdepressant.” I concur.

The book we read from Kreiteva is a fairly new one, The Severed Head (2012). While I was more interested in death (decapitation in this case) and the need to represent, our class discussion unfortunately centered only around matricide, which I think, is not the major problem discussed in this book. Anyway, I liked reading Kristeva and after some simple search I came across this book co-authored by her and her husband, Philippe Sollers, pulished in English by Columbia University Press in 2015 and French the year before, Marriage as A Fine Art. It is not a scholarly book, as you can judge from the title. Nevertheless, I took a lot interest in reading it. Fortunately it’s only about 100 pages long, and I read it for just one night in the library. It’s a great read. Not necessarily helpful for my paper-writing projects but, I guess could be helpful in a long run?

It’s actually not as cliche as you might think. It’s Kristeva after all and, are you not curious about how she, the author of Tales of Love and the foremost scholar in psychoanalysis—essentially a discipline about love—managed her love life? And I’ve always enjoyed reading writers’ (auto)biographies and letters alongside their work. Sometimes they tell you more and can really help your sense of judgment.

Back to the book with that funny title—the things struck me at first read were many, but one relevant to the discussion here is the part where she gives her autobiographical account of her first arrival in Paris and how she consequently met her future husband Sollers, whom she has been with for fifty years now. And how that whole story sound familiar to The Unbearable Lightness of Being!

I’ll start by quoting a definition of love that I liked by Sollers, on the first page: Love is the full recognition of the other in their otherness. Kristeva continues by clarifying that male and female humans feel a different jouissance, that men and women are mutual foreigners, and a couple, just like her and Sollers, is always formed of two foreigners. It’s just that in their case, they are foreigners–but their different nationalities only accentuate something already present in every couple the majority of people often try avoiding to see.

I remember reading something similar in Rilke’s “Letters to A Young Poet.” His words on on love, poetry and solitude have always been very close to my heart:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crows to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharing which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation. . . .

Now let me quote the biographical account Sollers gives of Kristeva:

Julia is a child who went through the experience of totalitarianism. She lived in Bulgaria, under the former Soviet regime, and she underwent a traumatic experience, the death of her father, which she related in a very fine book called The Old Man and the Wolves. I met her as a person just emerging, escaping, from a totalitarian experience. I found that tremendously intriguing and impressive, and it made me ask her over and over again about her childhood. (16)

And then she says, in supplement, a few pages later:

In any case—coming back to your political remarks—when we met, Philippe and I, two years before May ’68, it was not so much France and the French language I discovered— because kindergarten with the Dominican nuns, then the Alliance Française, and then doing Romance philology at Sofia University for my doctorate had more than acquainted me with both. The surprise was that sexual explosion and my long-awaited liberation. The affinity between us was obvious from the start. And that word, obvious, sends me back to the childhood theme, in the sense I was trying to explain: a child-hood recovered in retrospect, via an encounter, that makes one brand-new again, renascent as a different person according to the obviousness of the magnet-lover (aimant-amant); that makes one relive a sensory memory retrieved, revealed, and suddenly more intense, renewed. This is the base. Given this base, an existential complicity that is intellectual, cultural, pro-fessional, and lasting through time becomes possible. For me, the foreigner, this chiming with Philippe’s infant self made me feel I could relate to what he embodies, what sustains him: the French language and mindset, the history of France . . . Of course, I’ll always be this semi-integrated foreigner. How-ever, in the love that rekindles our confided childhoods, and nowhere else, I cease to be a foreigner. (19)

Now from Part Six “The Grand March” in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Sabina’s initial revolt against Communism was aesthetic rather than ethical in character. What repelled her was not nearly so much the ugliness of the Communist world (ruined castles transformed into cow sheds) as the mask of beauty it tried to wear—in other words, Communist kitsch. The model of Communist kitsch is the ceremony called May Day. (249)

Whenever she imagined the world of Soviet kitsch becoming a reality, she felt a shiver run down her back. She would unhesitatingly prefer life in a real Communist regime with all its persecution and meat queues. Life in the real Communist world was still livable. In the world of the Communist ideal made real, in that world of grinning idiots, she would have nothing to say, she would die of horror within a week. (253)

Sabina had once had an exhibit that was organized by a political organization in Germany. When she picked up the catalogue, the first thing she saw was a picture of herself with a drawing of barbed wire superimposed on it. Inside she found a biography that read like the life of a saint or martyr: she had suffered, struggled against injustice, been forced to abandon her bleeding homeland, yet was carrying on the struggle. “Her paintings are a struggle for happiness” was the final sentence.

She protested, but they did not understand her.

Do you mean that modern art isn’t persecuted under Communism?

“My enemy is kitsch, not Communism!” she replied, infuriated.

From that time on, she began to insert mystification in her biography, and by the time she got to America she even managed to hide the fact that she was Czech. It was all merely a desperate attempt to escape the kitsch that people wanted to make of her life. (254)

Finally, from Part Three “Words Misunderstood” entry “Sabina’s counttry”:

Sabina understood Franz’s distaste for America. He was the embodiment of Europe: his mother was Viennese, his father French, and he himself was Swiss.

Franz greatly admired Sabina’s country. Whenever she told him about herself and her friends from home, Franz heard the words “prison,” “persecution,” “enemy tanks,” “emigration,” “pamphlets,” “banned books,” “banned exhibitions,” and he felt a curious mixture of envy and nostalgia. . . .

It is in this spirit that we may understand Franz’s weakness in revolution. First he sympathized with Cuba, then with China, and when the cruelty of their regimes began to appall him, he resigned himself with a sigh to a sea of words with no weight and no resemblance of life. He became a professor in Geneva (where there are no demonstrations), and in a burst of abnegation (in womanless, paradeless solitude) he published several scholarly book, all of which received considerable acclaim. Then one day along came Sabina. She was a revelation. She came from a land where revolutionary illusion had long since faded but where the thing he admired most in revolution remained: life on a larger scale: a life of risk, daring, and the danger of death. Sabina had renewed his faith in the grandeur of human endeavor. Superimposing the painful drama of her country on her person, he found her even more beautiful. (103)

[TO BE CONTINUED…]

 

 

00 Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

It occurred to me the other day that one of the advantages of letter writing is that your word is guaranteed with a readership – one person at least, to whom your letter is dedicated to. English has become a pragmatic language for me, in which I write academic essays and use to communicate during foreign travels. But I’ve longed for it to become a personal language as well, for example, to be the language of my diary, secrets and irrelevant thoughts in addition to more pragmatic projects. I’ve also hoped for a day when I can write truly free from worrying about making grammar mistakes / word choices all the time. (Just imagine what a burden that is, especially when you try to establish an inmate relationship with someone.) But so be it.

Now I have decided to start writing for myself in English. Although I want to write as well as possible – I did choose English to be one of my two majors afterall – whether my sentences are grammatically correct becomes a secondary concern here. I’ll promise myself to stop checking every sentence for mistakes immediately after I write it, as I often do when I write for my classes, and only focus on documenting my moments of reflection in the way that they occurred to me as genuinely as possible. I’ll do minimum editing, as if I’m back to handwriting a letter to my friend on paper. There I would not dream of producing the most perfect essay. I would rather relax, write whatever and however I want, leaving the task of understanding to her. She’ll understand what I meant – I’d think, gratefully. I can never thank her enough for taking the burden of writing off my shoulders, being always so patient and tolerant with my lengthy and messy style. Now we don’t write letters anymore, but took up instead the habit of blurting out sentences on the web, supposedly “constructing individual presence” on the social media. I do lament this change. And I want the practice of letter writing back.

Words used to mean something. When you read a letter from a friend you take her words seriously, as it is the only chance for the them to be understood. Vice versa, when you write and wait for your words to be read and understood, you know that the process of language can be trusted. This is what we may rightly call communication. Now though, it seems that writing on facebook has made it easier to get ourselves a wider readership. But I wonder, is there anyone at all who would seriously read and try to understand what you write, as a friend used to do when a letter unfolds? How would she be able to think that the words (and visual aids, ha) are not just part of my personal PR? Therefore, is it right to ask her to treat me seriously, as it is no longer certain for whom the words are written?

But to ask anyone to read anyone’s writing is a huge favor, if not friends. I can now only ask for that kind of favor from no more than half a dozen persons. Therefore, for their friendship I pledge to write for no other purposes than try to make understand by the disclosure of my life, or the phenomenal world negotiated in no other way than this, with words. Hopefully all faithful as a letter to you.


“Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life” is the title of Yiyun Li’s new book, a collection of essays “written over two years while the author battled with suicidal depression.” I was very excited to get my copy last week, as I ordered it from amazon as soon as I got back to the U.S. from China two weeks ago. With the workload of the current semester, however, I don’t really have time to read it or any other book. But I promise to report as soon as I get to finish it.