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.’


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?

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.

Words don’t do what I want them to

When I sat down to read this post “Against the New Vitalism” I was momentarily dazed by the opening paragraph:

Words are material; they matter. Words are material that matter.1 “Words,” Virginia Woolf reminds us, are “stored with meanings, with memories.”2 Words are historical, and words are relational. Words are living, and words are alive. This is important.

This opening is interesting to me not because it’s brilliant writing, but because even while I was reading it an old Talking Heads tune started playing in my head:

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don’t stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

Something about the syntax or rhythm of the words, that’s all. Continue on…

Iuli on “cybernetic aesthetics” in CoL49

Transatlantic Sixties (2013):

“In his first novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), trope of entropy, a crucial concept in Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication and in Second Order cybernetics, provides the ground for questioning theories of communication, meaning production and actualization, and technologies of memory” (Iuli 246)

Ehem…The Crying of Lot 49 was not Pynchon’s first novel (that would be V.), and this book proves literary critics often don’t know what the hell they’re talking about…Surprise!

Adam Shatz on Orientalism in NYRB

“Since the book’s first publication in 1978, “Orientalism” has become one of those words that shuts down conversation on liberal campuses, where no one wants to be accused of being “Orientalist” any more than they want to be called racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. That “Orientalist” is now a commonly applied epithet is a tribute to the power of Said’s account, but also to its vulgarization. With Orientalism, Said wanted to open a discussion about the way the Arab-Islamic world had been imagined by the West—not to prevent a clear-eyed reckoning with the region’s problems, of which he was all too painfully aware.”
“Orientalism,” Then and Now – May 20, 2019

October trip to “Beijing October Academic Forum”

Just a very ex post facto post about my conference trip to Beijing last October. The conference was co-organized by my old prof, Dr. M, and Beijing Transnational Studies University on the topic of “Philosophy as World Lit.”

So I arrived in Beijing somewhat late, a little after 9pm, and there was no one there to pick me up, despite assurances that there would be. That was a hassle because I kept walking back and forth trying to find my hosts and wondering why my roaming wasn’t working for domestic calls. It was getting near around midnight and the last buses were leaving so I decided, fuck it, I’ll just go to the area around the university and find a hotel there. This was a bad, bad idea.

I should have led by saying it was bitterly cold in Beijing that night and it seemed some kind of Siberian cold front was sweeping in. The bus let me off at the end of one of those giant, 6 lane thoroughfares you see all over the city. Stepped off the bus into one of the most frigid and unwelcoming winds I’ve ever felt and it was past midnight, so everything was closed and abandoned-looking. Spotting a convenience store I dashed across the giant thoroughfare (with almost no traffic on it) and scooted my ass into that thankfully well-heated oasis.

My Taiwan-in-China internet was working sluggishly but I was able to send off an email to the organizers at BTSU, and to discover that there were no hotels to be found anywhere in that area…That’s when I called the wife who, god bless her soul, helped me find one in less than half an hour. (Outbound calls to Taiwan were working, but not domestic ones to my friend at Renmin Univ. for some reason). The place she found for me, the Five Pine Trees Hotel, felt less like a hotel than a state post-office: the woman at the counter eyeing me suspiciously even though my wife had already called her to book the room, the gate with a guard booth, the slightly military-looking decor…I’d stayed at a place like this in Vietnam, but this one was about 10 times less comfortable and far more government dormitory-like. Paid about $100 for the room but it turned out to be a suite with wood paneling, a sofa and chairs in one room and a decent-sized bedroom + bath.

Slept quite well under the heavy down blankets and went out roaming early the next day. About half an hour into my walk I got a call from a woman from the Uni telling me to stay put, they would come pick me. I went back to the hotel, sat in the lobby, tried to read my still incomplete paper on “Thumos and the Post-Truth Humanities,” and waited. The guy who showed up was a friend of Dr. M’s, a nice enough guy in charge of Beijing-side organizing, explained that he’d sent me an email saying my flight was coming too late for someone to pick me up…(Discovered later it was true, I didn’t receive that email because it was blocked by my school’s server). Anyway, this ZHANG H guy took me and a female professor (from Shanghai I think) to the university, where I finally met up with Dr. M and Dr. S (my MA thesis advisor from Carolina). That’s when I discovered we’d be boarding a bus to go to a resort hotel far, far from Beijing. I forget how long it took to get there but it was nightfall by the time we arrived.

The conference was an extremely unremarkable, slapdash affair, and Dr M almost lost his patience when they told him his keynote (along with the keynotes of 5 or 6 other professors!) would have to be limited to 10 minutes. I gave my talk the next day to a group of about 10 people huddled in a small but comfortable conference room. No one asked any questions or made a comment, which was weird considering the grad students there seem a lot smarter and more outgoing than ours (in Taiwan). Maybe it just sucked, but oh well. Later that night I hopped a bus with some grad students and went to see K., an actual friend, at Renmin University. Next day it was still bitterly cold but we walked around the area near his school (where he bought a teddybear for Meredith) and saw Bei-da at length–very scenic school actually, with a large park that we walked around.

All in all it was a pretty sloppy conference but a good chance to see some old acquaintances and check out some of the capital. And have to say I wouldn’t want to live there: a huge bureaucratic, cold city with bad air? The clincher was that there were no street vendors, local food, or signs of “old Beijing” to be found near universities–just bland shopping malls and government buildings all over. Asked K to take me to a used bookstore but he reacted- “uh, see, we buy those online now…” Granted he’s the worst person on earth to act as a guide because he’s half hermit, even though he actually worked as a travel guide for years back in St Petersburg, but it would have been very nice to see more of the real city…And will there be a next time?

The Minoans: The Labyrinth


“The first temples were built through the 20th century BCE lasted til around 1,700 BCE, when an earthquake destroyed most everything on the island, ending the Old Temple period. Minoans would stand resilient in the face of such devastation, as each city rebuilt their temple and life went on. Thus the New Temple period began and temples increased in their structural complexity. Ambitious planners took advantage of their opportunity to re-envision old traditions, and to re-solidify old power structures…” 

The Minoans: The Labyrinth

Cigarettes and Coffee

Yes, could I quit just one considering I seem to have wired both together in my brain? Not because of the PTA movie by that name surely, but probably because we once indulged in these vices simultaneously…As a kid, coffee just meant my grandma’s percolated brew, a dark scalding hot liquid she’d consume in her own unique style, first pouring it from the cup into the saucer and back into the cup while drinking it very fast as it cooled in this way. Despite the way it invigorated that dear old octogenarian lady, percolated coffee never really appealed to me, and it wasn’t until college that I became a serious caffeine and nicotine addict.

Dave, my college roommate, and I had a large pot of Mr. Coffee on most of the time and sometimes drank 5 pots a day, smoking constantly and discussing the latestX-Files episode or getting high on left-handed cigarettes and listening to Bach (because D. owned the stereo). This drop coffee taught me that it’s really only the first cup or two of the day that tastes good, after that it’s just poor man’s cocaine.

Later, during my first Taiwan stint, studying Mandarin at NCCU, coffee meant siphon-made coffee from a little café my classmates and I went to after our Chinese lessons let out. It was a soulless kind of place inside a supermarket, but, along with my Korean and Japanese friends, I actually learned Chinese there, chain-smoking and drinking Mandheling ‘vacuum coffee’.

Afterwards, in grad school, things became very intense, and cigs and coffee meant a productive day at Adriana’s, the café that served my shots-in-the-dark, while I smoked one Merit after another, while I corrected one essay after another trying not to listen to the philosophy students jabbering on about Heidegger at the next table.

After that, in Munich, coffee was Segafredo cafés in the u-bahn, a powerful lungo or espresso served with one of those Lotus cookies that are just big enough to make you hungry, and a glass of water. Cigs on hand were usually blue Gauloises blondes because the American brands were owned by Japan Tobacco and didn’t taste nearly as good…They also meant standing in the night cold on a Kobaldstrasse sidewalk, puffing away while watching the snow come down.

After going back to the US and then coming here, to Taiwan, I reverted to American drip coffee and Marlboros, former being easiest to acquire in this land of tea-drinkers and latter because you can only find American and Japanese brands (thanks Taiwan Cigarette and Alcohol Monopoly). However, in 2006 (or ’07) I went to Vietnam, where the coffee is both stunningly strong and stunningly sweet — like, you can “stand a spoon up in it” as my grandmother would have said.

These days I smoke less and have an espresso machine at home, but what really has changed? I’m nearly 50 for one thing, but not sure where I was going with this highly unhealthy post, just another rabbit hole of memory I guess; toxic nostalgia…

Final word on ‘yellow fever’ rhetoric

Was re-reading this post at Danwei about how the “yellow fever” myth–not the illness but you know, white guys with “a thing for Asian women” — was finally debunked in one Columbia University study:

We found no evidence of the stereotype of a white male preference for East Asian women. However, we also found that East Asian women did not discriminate against white men (only against black and Hispanic men). As a result, the white man-Asian woman pairing was the most common form of interracial dating—but because of the women’s neutrality, not the men’s pronounced preference. We also found that regional differences mattered. Daters of both sexes from south of the Mason-Dixon Line revealed much stronger same-race preferences than Northern daters.

This got me to thinking about how, in the South, when I was a kid growing up, the racist white men I grew up around would talk about those white women who found themselves in relationships with black men because of “jungle fever.” That these assholes could get away with talking shit about people that way always annoyed me, especially because two of my childhood friends were a mixed brother and sister with an adorable (and hot) mom. If you ask me the “yellow fever” nonsense you hear today is exactly the same, just spoken by a different group of people, most of them so self-righteous as to think they’re somehow qualified to judge other people’s relationships. In fact, I’m willing to bet the term “yellow fever” could be traced back to that reprehensible 1970s term (jungle fever), though I have no idea how to prove it.

The term supposedly describes the supposedly “fetishistic” behavior of white males who are morbidly attracted to Asian women to the exclusion of all others. I wish someone would explain to me how these hypothetical men are different from the white ladies who go to predominantly african-american bars to meet guys? Better still, how are these supposed “fetishists” (white men w/yellow fever) any different from the gay white men from Oklahoma or Alabama who emigrate to San Francisco to find happiness? Sure, white privilege all around, but the Columbia U study destroyed the stereotype of the “Asians only” fetishist, the legendary lech who doesn’t exist.

Maybe I take all this too personally, but what most annoys me most about this rhetoric is that people who use it never seem aware of the feelings of the Asian women voluntarily in such relationships. Are you saying they are just naive bimbos who don’t know their boyfriends and husbands are perverts? What about the kids who are offspring of these “yellow fever” marriages? Did you ever think of them? Before casting aspersion on other people’s relationships, making them into racist-sexist cliches, I think the world needs to take one big step the fuck back from our private lives and stfu.