Laurence Sterne at archive.org

It is my pleasure to teach Laurence Sterne’s brilliant and incomparable A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (only the early sections) next week, so I looked it up in Archive.org – turns out they do have this 1774 edition of the work, in excellent condition, and I think that is amazing. I will try to update this post after I teach it, next week. Love this passage

 

“It will always follow from hence, that the balance of sentimental commerce is always against the expatriated adventurer: he must buy what he has little occasion for, at their own price;—his conversation will seldom be taken in exchange for theirs without a large discount,—and this, by the by, eternally driving him into the hands of more equitable brokers, for such conversation as he can find, it requires no great spirit of divination to guess at his party—

This brings me to my point; and naturally leads me (if the see-saw of this désobligeant will but let me get on) into the efficient as well as final causes of travelling—

Your idle people that leave their native country, and go abroad for some reason or reasons which may be derived from one of these general causes:—

Infirmity of body,
Imbecility of mind, or
Inevitable necessity.

The first two include all those who travel by land or by water, labouring with pride, curiosity, vanity, or spleen, subdivided and combined ad infinitum.”

Odeonsplatz in der Nähe

Ages ago, trekking Neubiberg to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek every day to do dissertation research, I rubbed this feline nose (the shiny one at bottom) many times on the way home, since it’s supposed to bring luck and seemed like a nice ritual and all. Was thinking about him today because today, here in Covidia, we’re so paranoid about touching anything outside. Those were good days, despite their being terrible. <img>

United Daily article on Taichung’s Central Book Store 中央書局

The article itself wasn’t much, but I found the historical reference to Taichung’s Central Books to be of interest. Basically the millionaire guy who founded pchome.com and who is from Taichung, Jan Hung-tze (詹宏志), wants to organize a reading group at the old Central Book Store (中央書局) building. According to him,「中央書局是1927年台灣中部仕紳們共同成立的一個帶有強烈浪漫文化色彩的書局。」Err, so I guess in the same extremely romantic spirit he wanted to form a reading group to contemplate works of (mainly) Western literature. And he did.

The book store, which is almost 100 years old, founded when Taiwan was still part of the Japanese empire, was recently reclaimed (I think it used to be a clinic) and re-opened to much fanfare last October (2020). Pic above, from this detailed CNA article, is canonical image of the founders.

 

The story of “American Po”

American Po (林博文, 美國博仔), so called because he was the son of an American GI and a Taiwanese nightclub hostess, was a mixed-race Taichung gangster active in the 1980s  (Heijin, Chpt 5, p 89). His deadbeat father was in the US Air Force, and his mom, who was 16 at the time, abandoned him or left him to live with his grandmother (uncertain). At a young age he became a member of the 15 Divine Tigers (十五神虎幫), a triad gang that had been active in Taichung City since the 1960s. After that the story is a bit muddled, but after a shootout with Yan Qing-biao’s men (the well-known thug who runs the Ma Zu temple in Dajia) and the police, he was executed by state. There was a film made about him in Taiwan “槍擊犯變英才” (臺灣電視公司, 1985/05/22: Wiki) and one in HK called《美國博仔》 (1991/full film, which is terrible, in mandarin). Found this crappy TW documentary about him too, and also this article is informative.

*Interestingly, there is also an online book called <中台灣黑道風雲> (in 105 chapters!) by a guy called Yue Zhongxing (岳中興 which I assume is a pseudonym) documenting organized crime activities in my adoptive city.

Sun Yisheng, or the difficulty of finding Chinese detective short fiction

This week we read Sun Yisheng (孫一聖) in my Detective Fiction class using the Nicky Harman’s awesome (if incomplete) translation of “The Shades who Periscope Through Flowers to the Sky.” The title is a reference to the Dylan Thomas poem “When once the twilight locks no longer” and succeeds in imitating the surreal power of that work to forge a double murder crime story of urban China. Harman has written about the difficulties of translating the work elsewhere on WP, but what I found interesting about Sun’s story is the way it turns tiny details into microcosms, as he does, for example, when the protagonist uses a shard of glass from his prison cell to reflect light on a girl who is taking her clothes off in a nearby building: just as he is becoming aroused everything turns dark because a solar eclipse is taking place. Students liked it, I think, but it doesn’t fit so well into the genre of detective story. In a way it’s good that I can’t easily find good examples of this genre from China as it allows me to throw in experimental works like this one. Last time I taught the course it was a Yu Hua story, as I recall(?), but originally I just taught one of Van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” stories, which of course is cheating even though these are based on original Chinese Judge Dee (狄公案) stories. Still, would greatly appreciate recommendations if any of my readers (totally fictional) have any.