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The article itself wasn’t much, but I found the historical reference to Taichung’s Central Books to be of interest.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.

Who wants to research Achilles Fang?

A few days ago it struck me that too little is known about Achilles Fang, aka 方志浵, the man on the far left above, who wrote the introductions to several of Ezra Pound’s more important works, incl. Confucius, the Confucian Odes, and others. Turns out he was a brilliant, eccentric polyglot Chinese scholar at Harvard who taught famed sinologists like Arthur Wright, Francis Woodman Cleaves, and others how to read and interpret classical Chinese. Moreover, he was one of Qian Zhongshu’s (錢鐘書) few friends at Tsinghua University in the 1930s, so it’s really a pity so little has been written about him, especially considering he held major influence across a number of fields and intellectual undertakings in both China and the US during the 1950s. Plus, he’s just a fascinating personality who is central to American and Chinese Modernism. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the story goes that he was hired by Harvard’s East Asian studies program to work on their Chinese-English dictionary but got sacked for making too many cryptic references to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. He didn’t publish very much, but Fang’s papers and letters, archived at Yale Univ. in Connecticut, would probably reveal a dissertation’s-worth of important cross-cultural material.

“My Fatherland Doesn’t Dream” – Han Song (GB)

Since I myself had difficulty finding a “clean” copy of the original (?) text, I’m posting my re-formatted copy of 我的祖国不做梦 here. Since I took this off of a “free books” site without any publishing info, the question of which version this is open–I don’t think it’s the original but the one he revised, making foreigners (CIA?) responsible for making people into drones.

Kenneth Rexroth on the Web

Poet Kenneth Rexroth reading a book. (Photo by Nat Farbman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Rexroth, a poet and translator I’ve long admired, was also a fascinating individual. He was orphaned at an early age and sent to live with his aunt in Chicago in the 1910s, dropped out of school, studied painting at the Chicago Inst. of Art with Wen Yiduo, and traveled to Europe where he met the DADA poet Tristan Tzara among other people. A lifelong anarchist, his poems are often lyrics about the wilderness and his experiences traveling. Later in life he was a kind of big brother figure to some of the Beat poets, Gary Snyder esp., and because of a native ability with languages began translating Roman, Chinese, and Japanese poetry. His most famous translations are Women Poets of China and The Collected Poems of Li Ch’ing-zhao, a female poet of the Song Dynasty, both done in cooperation with scholar Chung Ling. Fortunately there’s a good bit of material on Rexroth on the web. The venerable, invaluable Rexroth site The Bureau of Public Secrets has been around forever. Morgan Gibson’s book, “Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East/West Wisdom,” has long been available online and my favorite chapter is the one on “Translation as an Act of Sympathy.”

 

“The Young Companion” and modern China

First published the same year Hugo Gernsback came out with his legendary science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, The Young Companion《良友》catered to the tastes of young middle class people, but it was also a force for social change. This fascinating article (in Big5) talks about 《良友》the “natural breast movement” 「天乳運動」 among young women in the 1920s-30s, and this sohu article (GB) discusses the fashion sense displayed in the pages of the magazine. In this pic you can see that the bobbed, flapper hairstyle we associate with the West was popular in China of the 20s also. The Young Companion is often thought of as product of Shanghai’s hybrid culture, but this article talks about its founding by a Guangdong native, Wu Lian-de (伍聯德).

 

 

 

Monkeys of Mayhem

In March we saw a big brawl between two rival gangs of monkeys in Lop Buri, Thailand, and then their  final take over of the town. Then, in June, came a life sentence for Kalua, the alcoholic Indian monkey who terrorized  over 250 pedestrians and will be spending the rest of his days in solitary confinement. According to the reports:

Local authorities said Kalua was formerly owned by an “occultist” who routinely supplied him liquor to drink, which turned him into an alcoholic. They said the monkey became very aggressive three years ago when his owner died and left him no avenue to acquire more alcohol.

Can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, and wonder why he didn’t join a monkey gang if he wanted to raise so much hell? The Lop Buri story reminds me of that Strugatsky novel “Doomed City”, where:
Could it be another portent of some kind?

 

Villains, Outlaws, and Antiheroes workshop

It was again a fun event, and I got to hear a lot of interesting talks. I was worried that 7 presenters might be too many, that folks would become tired, but it wasn’t too bad. (At least not for me). At the November workshop we only had four talks and that seemed to work out pretty well, though we only started in the afternoon. The after-dinner was fun too, although only 5 people were able to attend and the restaurant kicked us out after 2 hours. Nice to sit in the hole and consume Japanese food with friends, have a few beers, and talk about old times. Not sure if I want the responsibility to continue doing these events, but I do enjoy them and think that they could lead to better scholarship. As I told one participant, what I value in them is the scholarly community, the ability to talk with openly and freely about work we care about. In the US, starting my career, I imagined it would always be like this, but unfortunately I never found it in Taiwan.

Oobmab and other Weirdnesses

So I found a clean version of Oobmab’s “The Flock of Ba-hui” in (GB) Chinese (「巴虺的牧群」2013). The source is a very interesting Fantasy dojinshi and translation discussion forum called “The Ring of Wonder” (which looks completely different in its mobile format btw). There are many other works of HPL-inspired horror available on their Cthulhu board and, interestingly, the “Cthulhu” board is only one of three subforums of “the  Mirror of Obscurity – 幽暗之镜” category–which also includes subforums “Surreal Lullaby: General Subcultures 异夜咏谣” and “SCP Foundation.” A lot of translations from “CopyPasta” and things like Charles Stross’s Lovecraft-inspired SF “The Laundry Files.” Cha has a detailed review of “Flock,” and this site has a brief one.

Identity politics, artistic autonomy, and a disappearing SF Story

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It all began with a silly, transphobic meme [image right]…Then came the story, “I sexually identify as an Attack Helicopter,” which first appeared in Clarkesworld (Jan 2020 issue), but caused a huff among certain hypersensitive readers who claimed it was insincere, … Continue reading