Chinese SF authors and the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign (ASPC)

Both Ye Yonglie (葉永烈) and Zheng Wenguang (鄭文光) were “struggled” during the ASPC of the 1980s. Zheng was a Vietnamese astronomer and emigre SF author of “Pacific Ocean Man” 《太平洋人》 and Mirror Image of the Earth 《地球的鏡像》– the latter of which is about aliens who have developed an interest in the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile Ye was singled out for ridicule in the official press for promoting “quack science,” and later condemned for writing a story in which AIDS has reached China.* In addition to Ye and Zheng, the archaeologist Tong Enzheng (童恩正)wrote very popular SF works and ran afoul of the authorities–only in Tong’s case it was a few years later, when he supported the students during the June 4th 1989 protests. Tong was a truly fascinating scholar and made a definitive contribution to Chinese SF with his highly influential personal essay “My Views on the Art of Science Fiction” (1979): 「我對科幻文藝的看法」 *

References:
*Hussman, Mikael.“Hesitant Journey to the West: SF’s Changing Fortunes in Mainland China.” Science Fiction Studies, Volume 27, #80, Pt 1 (March 2000).
* Ed. Chinese Pen. 「中国科幻为何在80年代陨落?

Wen Yiduo (聞一多, 1899-1946)

This is a pic of poet Wen Yi-duo taken while he was studying art in Chicago in the early-1920s, at approximately the time he was writing his famous collection Red Candle 《紅燭》. As some readers may know, Wen was murdered before the eyes of his son by Kuomintang thugs in 1946. A tragic loss because he was a brilliant poet, an excellent literary scholar, and a gifted illustrator in the Art Deco style. (See below).

Anti-protest rhetoric of the PLA

This post from Thursday’s LTN (自由時報 08.15.19) reports that the PLA has moved within 10 minutes of HK and called Hong Kong protesters 「港毒分子」(HK poisoners) and 「秋後的螞蚱」(post-Autumn grasshoppers) on Weibo. The former is a corruption of 「港獨分子」(HK independence supporters) but the latter is a saying used to describe something/someone that is ephemeral, as in ‘wont be seen hopping around much longer.’

 

Scholar-Officials of China | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The unique position occupied by the scholar elite in Chinese society
has led historians to view social and political change in China in light
of the evolving status of the scholar. One theory holds that the virtues of the scholars were appreciated only in times of cultural upheaval, when their role was one of defending, however unsuccessfully, moral values rather than that of performing great tasks. Another theory, relating to art and political expression in Han-dynasty China, offers an analysis of the tastes and habits of the different social classes: “the imperial bureaucracy, not the marketplace, was [the scholar’s] main avenue to success, and he was of use to that bureaucracy only insofar as he placed the public good above his own. … [Thus] the art of the Confucian scholar was … inherently duplicitous and was encouraged to be so by the paradoxical demands [that Chinese] society made upon its middlemen.”

Scholar-Officials of China | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The strange story of the Zhong Kui

The Zhong Kui (鍾馗) story:

According to Song Dynasty sources, once the Emperor Xuanzong was gravely ill. He had a dream in which he saw two ghosts. The smaller of the ghosts stole a purse from imperial consort Yang Guifei and a flute belonging to the emperor. The larger ghost, wearing the hat of an official, captured the smaller ghost, tore out his eye and ate it. He then introduced himself as Zhong Kui. He said that he had sworn to rid the empire of evil. When the emperor awoke, he had recovered from his illness. So he commissioned the court painter Wu Daozi to produce an image of Zhong Kui to show to the officials.

Changsha ACCL 2019

Probably write this up at some point but until then these are my notes:

    • Changsha airport late night arrival again; bus to city center, then taxi to:
    • Staggering number of hotels (brothels?) along road
    • 楓林賓館 hotel w/lobby full of cheap cigarette smoke odor
    • 1st day conference mildly interesting*heard a panel on senses/affect in Chinese lit.
    • 2nd day me/sci-fi people…great!
      *smog/霾 of life; smog smothers; alienates
      *Xia Jia: sci-fi and community probs…should have talked to her 🙁
    • 3rd day sickness, only attends keynote; wanders streets like zombie
    • (Orange phlegm..inflamed mucus membs – my soar throat/cold is pollution allergy?)
    • it occurs to me: poison air, but no face masks! (unlike .tw/Beijing)
    • few chain or convenience stores..funny knockoff brands
    • No noticeable foreigner anxiety/老外恐懼症 toward me (unlike .tw)
    • Far fewer foreigners in this city, almost none
    • construction happening everywhere…
    • old guys driving deadly silent scooter-taxis BEEP!
    • Strange, semi-abandoned low-rent shopping malls
    • old neighborhoods remind of E Berlin
    • fewer tattoos..piercings…not as colorful
    • women in long summer dresses
    • women in feathery flats and bright 口紅
    • smart, sensitive women…with opinions
    • Xia Jia’s funny ”young Chinese girl” tattoo anecdote
    • 公安 guys filming student clubs in park
    • beautiful girl gamer on subway playing
    • old man writing sutra in water on sidewalk
    • so many kangaroo scooter delivery guys
    • asked by a girl to buy some pens
    • next day a boy asks “is there a Chinese bank nearby?” in perfect English
    • Starbucks guilt ..their prices relative to local salaries
    • Am I a cosmopolitan or nomadic subject? Expat or immigrant?
    • 誰最代表中國人? Old socialist/young consumer?…How can nationalism survive this?

Chen Qiufan Links / 网路上的陈楸帆 (ongoing)

Just some Chen links that are worth noting:

Note: I’ll continue to update this as time permits.

Chen Qiufan: “Science Fiction is the Height of Realism”

Holy cows, in this interview  the author exactly affirms what I claim in my paper…Excerpt:

陈楸帆:科幻是最大的现实主义”
2015-09-10 鈦媒體
陳楸帆屬於前者,他在自我剖析時說:「雖然我創作資歷尚淺,但是通過有意識的回顧,在自覺與不自覺間,我發現在創作里確實貫穿著這樣的一個母題/主題/意象:異化。」他所稱的異化包括了生物上的變形、疾病或變異;心理學上的疏離扭曲、分裂;社會體系/人際結構上的隔離、對立、變遷。比較鮮明的作品包括:《墳》(2004)、《麗江的魚兒們》(2006)、《深瞳》(2006)、《遞歸之人》(2007)、《第七願望》(2007)、《雙擊》(2009)、《鼠年》(2009)、《喪屍》(2009)、《開竅》(2011)等。這些都是通過技術變革作為其誘因或結果出現,屬於比較明顯的「異化」母題。

「事實上這也是我對科幻小說這個文類鍾情的原因,可以從一個極端真實的語境出發,通過可理解的/邏輯自洽的條件外延及思想實驗,將文本中的情節/人物推向一個極端超現實的境地,從而帶來一種驚異感及陌生化效果。」在陳楸帆看來,當代(或近未來)中國這個大背景下,本身就是一片異化的最佳試驗田,即使遭遇發表坎坷,他也執著地堅持思考、體驗、和書寫中國科幻故事的緣由。

Another interview with Chen: “何平访谈陈楸帆 :它是面向未来的一种文学

Chen Qiufan and Stan Lee

As i’m tweaking my paper for the fast approaching ACCL conference in Changsha I’ve run across a lot of interesting things on Chen Qiufan (陈楸帆, whose work I’m writing about), with perhaps the most intriguing being this (uncredited) image of the author posing in shades with the legendary Stan Lee.

“Competitive Wokeness” and Taylor Swift

Didn’t quite get it when I saw this Onion tweet:

But a conservative from the The Atlantic clarifies that “Taylor Swift Succumbs to Competitive Wokeness” (Oct 11, 2018). There he explains:

“I get the sense that the most aggressively “woke” young people are precisely those who find themselves in the most fiercely competitive environments. Status and prestige matter to everyone, of course, but they matter to some more than others. Most of all, they matter to those who find themselves in precarious industries where one’s reputation counts for a great deal and, just as important, to lonely, unattached people who long to feel valued and desired. Delayed marriage and child-rearing ensure that many more young people spend many more years in the mating market and, by extension, orienting their lives around fulfilling their own social and sexual appetites over the care and feeding of children. This is especially true among children of the culturally powerful upper middle class, who’ve been trained to fear downward mobility in a stratified society as much as our primitive ancestors feared being devoured by toothy predators. The result is what you might call a culture of “competitive wokeness.”

Basically: “liberal elites” are convincing young people that they need to be loonie lefties and this is generating a ‘competitive wokeness’ that makes celebrities want to show off how socially progressive they are….Hmm, right. The Onion said it more persuasively with one headline, but it did so in a way that proves the Atlantic guy is wrong: so-called liberals are sensitive to pseduo-wokeness too. “Competitive wokeness” is a rightwing red herring.

Morphine Lollipop and the End of the World

short review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Now that the movie is a flop I might as well publish this overly detailed review of the book I did some time ago.

Tartt’s novel begins with Theodore Decker, a thirteen year old New Yorker, visiting a downtown museum with this mother. Lingering on the first floor alone Theo meets an enchanting girl just moments before a terrorist attack takes the life of his mother is killed in a terrorist attack. When Theo wakes up he is in shock, lying in the dusty ruins of the museum with a dying old man who turns out to be the girl’s guardian. The man gives him an old ring and tells him to take it to an address on the Lower East Side, and shortly afterwards dies. Still in shock, Theo rescues his mother’s favorite painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch, stashing it in his backpack and beginning a lifelong attachment to great art.

Later, when he finds the address the old man gave him, Theo meets the man’s partner, Hobie, who befriends Theo and treats him as an equal in mourning for a lost loved one. Unexpectedly Theo is reunited with the museum girl, Pippa, whom he met but didn’t speak to at the museum on that fatal day. The story takes on an aura of love mysticism from this point, and one day in the hospital Pippa kisses him after sucking on a morphine lollipop, literally making herself intoxicating to him. Tartt’s Theo attempts to reconstruct the presence of his lost mother in various ways—both Pippa and the Fabritius painting are his connection to a maternal “absence” he can’t quite fill up.

A fatal family greed tears the two apart, even though they are so naturally drawn to one another, and we get to a major shift that is one of the few inconsistencies of the book: although Theo is clearly in love with Pippa, he seems to utterly forget about her after she departs for Texas to live with her aunt and he is taken to live in Las Vegas with his estranged father. There is no further recollection of Pippa for the next hundred or so pages, and we are left to assume that Theo has either become very unsentimental or he copes with the loss of Pippa so well because he has already overcome the loss of his mother(?). When Theo meets his best friend, Boris, a Polish-Ukrainian émigré whose father is a cosmopolitan miner, the atmosphere of the novel abruptly shifts to the other side of American culture. As the boys soon discover, the subdivision they live in is a deserted suburban wasteland on the outskirts of Las Vegas, and their shared sense of abandonment seems to weld them together for life. It is in this section that we encounter some really brilliant, unusual dialogue that makes it easy to discern that Tartt, author of another adolescent-focused novel, The Secret History, enjoyed writing this part the most.

It would be unfair to compare Tartt’s novel to Extremely Loud and Very Close, and even though the plot of the marginally upper class young New Yorker who must overcome the loss of a parent due to terrorism by discovering his roots is far too similar, I wish to avoid insulting her work. It’s not a question of Tartt’s book being superior (even though it is), the trauma narrative is not a mystery to be “solved”, but a beginning that takes Theo out of the city and puts him in the middle of the Nevada desert in his father’s enormous, vacant home. There he meets his best friend, Boris, and his life truly begins.

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. Tartt’s style is atmospheric but leaves hollow spaces in you after you read it, places that you really want to be filled up with pieces of Theo’s life. The novel is not entirely without problems though, I think. At the end, when Boris sees to it that the painting is returned and earns the reward from the museum for leading to the location of the painting, returning to Theo in his Amsterdam hotel room on Christmas morning, it is not clear why. Boris explains that he has discovered something about fate and the mystery of unintended consequences, but then….[spoiler]? The problem is that although Boris is likable in many ways, he sometimes seems a bit too one-dimensional and all too often the stereotypical Slavic émigré. It also seems implausible that Theo hasn’t opened the painting since he left Las Vegas, and hasn’t discovered Boris’s hated Civics textbook in lieu of the painting.

Despite these minor problems, the book is a page-turner that brilliantly evokes the wonder and amazement of youth, a novel that eschews experimentalism in favor of in-in-the-gut storytelling. It is most definitely worth reading at least once.

Four ★s

As near as I can recall this was written in a blur shortly after I read the book, in 2014.

Hayles on “Literary texts as cognitive assemblages”

“Following Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and Bruno Latour (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Latour, 2007), I conceptualize an assemblage as a flexible and constantly shifting network that includes human and technical actors, as well as energy flows and other material goods. A cognitive assemblage is a particular kind of network, characterized by the circulation of information, interpretations, and meanings by human and technical cognizers who drop in and out of the network in shifting configurations that enable interpretations and meanings to emerge, circulate, interact and disseminate throughout the network. Cognizers are particularly important in this schema because they make the decisions, selections, and interpretations that give the assemblage flexibility, adaptability, and evolvability. Cognizers direct, use, and interpret the material forces on which the assemblage ultimately depends (Hayles 2017).”

–N. Katherine Hayles, from Electronic Book Review, Aug 2018

Color in “Gravity’s Rainbow” (Hayles/Eiser ’85)

“The possibility of co-option is inherent in the way Pynchon constructs his critique. He can create color within his text only by naming it, and he can name it only by classifying it as distinct and identifiable hues. Similarly, we can participate in Pynchon’s creation of color only by decoding his color names, which implies that both reader and author are implicated in reducing the rainbow’s “endless streaming” to the distinct hues of Newton’s spectrum. At the same time, Pynchon’s color coding achieves its force because it utilizes Newton’s rules for color combination and refraction to create precise transformations that connect the color names with such far-reaching themes as racism, the link between the dye and munitions industry, and the effect of synthetic chemicals and drugs upon the fragmented consciousness that they both create and control. As the color names become linked with these thematic concerns, a pervasive ambiguity arises: are Pynchon’s acts of naming colors an escape from routinization, or an extension of ‘Their’ totalizing patterns?”

–N. K. Hayles and Mary Eiser, “Coloring Gravity’s Rainbow,” Pynchon Notes, 16 (Spring, 1985): 3-24.