Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rhetoric: The Use of It in Chinese

Karl Kao, "Review: Recent Studies of Chinese Rhetoric," Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR), Vol. 15 (Dec., 1993), pp. 143-154
Analogy, as the predominant form of reasoning in Chinese, is in fact also fundamental to its literary xiuci; it also underlies the operation of some of the most important Chinese rhetorical devices, for instance, bi and xing and the shilei allusion. The common and divergent features such as the above are the markers of cultural traits themselves or attributes that could be further analyzed for their differentiating values in identifying cultural character.
Regarding specifically the making of argumentation in speech, Aristotle's scheme conceives of three kinds of 'artistic proofs': ethos, pathos and logos. If logos, or logical proofs, receives the most extensive consideration in Greek rhetoric, Chinese practice seems to be more preoccupied with the power relationship in a persuasion and places the greatest emphasis on the factor of pathos,or the hearer's psychology. There the object of persuasion, the addressee, is normally the monarch of a state or an otherwise politically powerful personage; the persuader must therefore be extremely careful not to 'rub him/her the wrong way,' not to touch the nilin 逆鳞, the irritable 'inverted scale' of the human dragon. The art consists in subtly manipulating the ego of the auditor, sometimes reversing the power relation without appearing to do so. The factor of ethos, or proofs of the speaker's good character, in an extended context concerns the ethical question of rhetoric in general. Quintilian's "good man" theory, or Isocrates' stress on the importance of the moral character of the orator, could be seen as comparable to the Chinese concern as expressed in the dictum from the Yijing: "Xiuci li qi cheng" 修辞立其诚 (often understood as "polished expressions are to be based on sincerity" or "polishing the expressions in order to establish one's sincerity," although Kong Yingda interprets it differently).
The parallel couplet however is a binary system which, as critics have pointed out, is related to typical Chinese correlative thinking; it reinforces certain meaning associations and represses or excludes others in order to corroborate with and enhance the values of the imperial system. Similarly, the fact that the evocative xing mode has taken precedence over the metaphoric bi seems deterministic of the character of Chinese literature; it makes Chinese poetry different from that of the West which is grounded in a metaphoric principle. The seemingly open-ended way of signification of the xing analogy again has been found to be an effect of the correlative cosmology or the 'organic' Chinese world view associated with the imperial order. Part of the aim of a 'deconstructive' reading, as an effort in cultural criticism, would be to examine the reasons for the privileging of these figures and expose their hidden ideological implications.
The post-structuralist theory also emphasizes the autonomous operation of rhetoricity and its destabilizing effect, seeing rhetoricity as inherent in language and capable of generating a centrifigual force in contradiction to the explicit intent of the text. This position is most succinctly expressed in de Man's conception of rhetoric, equatable with literature itself, as something that "radically suspends logic and opens up vertiginous possibilities of referential aberration" (Allegories of Reading, 1979, p. 10). From this perspective, rhetoric is seen as a system in opposition to logic and grammar, working often at cross purposes with them, and thus could disrupt the unity of the text and lead to an indeterminacy of meaning. A rhetorical reading of a text along this line would need to trace and delineate such conflicting tendencies of the structuring systems and their associated values. Since neither grammar nor logic is well defined in the Chinese tradition, a preliminary step to such a reading is to determine the specific features of these or some other structuring systems against which rhetoric might collide (or collude).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Chinese: On Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. -- Aristotle
在亚里士多德著作《修辭的藝術》的第一句,他描述修辭為辯證法的相對物,即是說辯證方法是找尋真理的要素,修辭方法便用作交流真理。-- Wikipedia
修辭是辯證法的相對物。

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Guide to the Apostrophe

Every time I grade term papers, I'm tempted to put the link to this comic in my comments. But I don't, because it would be unprofessional to call my students "idiots."
I haven't visited Bob the Angry Flower in too long

Prelude to a New Year's Resolution

I found this image ready-made at AboutEnglish.it
From Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography:
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety in my mind and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particilars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a torable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious. My time for these exercises and for reading was at night after work, or before it began in the morning, or on Sundays, when I contrived to be in the printing-house alone, evading as much as I could the common attendance on public worship, which my father used to exact of me when I was under his care, and which, indeed, I still thought a duty, though I could not, as it seemed to me, afford time to practise it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Story: "Nineteen Fifty-Five" by Alice Walker

No need to grieve, I said. No need to. Plenty more where she come from.

He perked up. That's part of what that song means, ain't it? No need to grieve. Whatever it is, there's plenty more down the line.

I never really believed that way back when I wrote that song, I said. It was all bluffing then. The trick is to live long enough to put your young bluffs to use. Now if I was to sing that song today I'd tear it up. 'Cause I done lived long enough to know it's true. THem words could hold me up.

I ain't lived that long, he said.

Look like you on your way, I said. I don't know why, but the boy seemed to need some encouraging. And I don't know, seem like one way or another you talk to rich white folks and you end up reassuring them.

Joke: Psychoanalysis

This must be the paradigmatic joke about psychoanalysis:
A man walked into a bar and ordered a glass of white wine. He took a sip of the wine, then tossed the remainder into the bartender's face. Before the bartender could recover from the surprise, the man began weeping.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm really sorry. I keep doing that to bartenders. I can't tell you how embarrassing it is, to have a compulsion like this."

Far from being angry, the bartender was sympathetic. Before long, he was suggesting that the man see an analyst about his problem.

"I happen to have the name of a Psychoanalyst," the bartender said. "My Brother and my Wife have both been treated by him, and they say he's as good as they get."

The man wrote down the name of the Doctor, thanked the bartender, and left. The bartender smiled, knowing he'd done a good deed for a fellow human being.

Six months later, the man was back. "Did you do what I suggested?" the bartender asked, serving the glass of white wine.

"I certainly did," the man said. "I've been seeing the Psychoanalyst twice a week." He took a sip of the wine. Then he threw the remainder into the bartender's face.

The flustered bartender wiped his face with a towel. "The Doctor doesn't seem to be doing you any good." He sputtered.

"On the contrary," the man claimed, "he's done me world of good."

"But you threw the wine in my face again!" The bartender exclaimed.

"Yes." The man replied. "But it doesn't embarrass me anymore."

Thanks, Yukrus.com. In Lacan for Beginners, the man pees against the bar, but the bartender has come to know the man over time before he begins that habit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quotes for today

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if we live for a hundred years more, we will still say, 'This was our finest hour.'"

--Imitating Winston Churchill
Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination. No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those.

--Mark Twain

Listmania: Chinese Novels I've Read

The Complete List of Chinese novels I've read, in Chinese, cover to cover:

  1. Xizao 洗澡 by Yang Jiang 杨绛 (1986)
2011-2012 school year, scholarly works I read, complete: 
  1. Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity, by Keith McMahon (2010, almost done!)
Hrm. Clearly I read slowly and shallowly. Is that actually a problem, though?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving on Netflix Instant

A.'s parents like mainstream Hollywood film. The soda pop of the art -- but why not watch, at least with attention to the craftsmanship of film? My Fake Fiancé actually won me over with a few snappy scenes of forced heternormativity, and Kick-Ass was a queer psychological portrait. Nicely done, both of them.
 
 A Jackie Chan feature had mixed up politics, but I chose to focus on the most progressive side it presented: nation is a construction that doesn't always serve the people, and so deserves some criticism, especially from the 99% who don't rule.
 Blade Runner: best science fiction movie ever? With layers of subtexts, and totally bizarre styling, the film ages incredibly well.
 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Film: Margin Call

On Thanksgiving, we saw Margin Call.


The collapse of America's financial institutions during 2008 is clearly so ripe for film that even this poor effort got critical attention. 

I'm struck by a resemblance between Zachary Quinto and Farley Granger -- both are tall, handsome in a slightly off-kilter sort of way, but hard to place with a leading lady because they are so gay. 

  


I still consider this a worthwhile insight, though A. told me otherwise. Quinto fairly screams to be used in a thriller in which he plays a guilt- and anxiety-ridden patsy, used by a more charismatic queen like Rope's John Dall or Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

World Literature Polemic


There is an important political and cultural point to be made…by answering Saul Bellow's question... "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?" with the names of Ousmane Sembene or Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who are entitled to ask in reply what has Bellow written lately that is all that great?.
-- John Beverly, "The Real Thing"

Friday, November 18, 2011

From the Chinese: A Hard Sentence

Free-lance translation brings me into large bureaucratic sentences at times. These are like puzzles:
代表团一行还分别与中国驻欧盟使团、中国驻德国使馆的官员,以及德国联邦议员、德国教育与科研部和德意志学术交流中心的有关官员进行了会谈,为中欧中心框架内的联合学位教育和合作科研等项目的实施争取支持。
The Mayor of Trier is a good friend of China
My first crack:
The delegation also divided into groups for talks with the Chinese Mission to the European Union and officials from the Chinese Embassy in Germany, as well as the German representative of the United Nations and officials from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the DAAD Information Centre, seeking support for implementation of joint degree education and cooperative research projects within the framework of the China-Europe Centre. 
Final version after two editors (the second of which does not have Chinese) worked on it:
The delegation also held talks with the Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union and officials from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Germany, as well as representatives from the Federal Republic of Germany, officials from the German Ministry of Education and Research and from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), for the purpose of seeking support for joint degree education and cooperative research projects within the framework of the China-Europe Centre.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From the Chinese

Ding Ling's hapless honest male, in "When I Was in Xia Village:"
"He had an honest-looking nose, but of what use was it to him now?"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Film: Paranormal Activity Series

I was a little hurt when one of my friends said he thought Paranormal Activity was hokey. A. and I have been addicted to the whole series.

Powers of Ten: A Metaphor for a Lecture

KT uses this video to visualize the introductory lecture to a novel (in reverse, I suppose).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Poem: "Approaching the Exams, To Zhang Ji"


Illustration by Shaoyang No. 1 Middle School

"Approaching the Exams, To Zhang Ji"
试上张水部

In the bridal suite last night stood a red candle,
Awaiting dawn in the hall where she'll bow for the in-laws. 
All made up I whisper to your worship,
Do my mascara'd brows count for fashion?

洞房昨夜停红烛,待晓堂前拜舅姑。
妆罢低声问夫婿,画眉深浅入时无?


Friday, November 11, 2011

Term: Figure

I begin by defining, in an inescapably simplistic way, what I mean by the three terms in the title: sublime, figure, and history….“Figure”…points to the subject, the concept of preference for denoting the makeup of the individual psyche, its conscious and unconscious workings, and all its social, cultural ramifications. But “figure” is more sensuous, imagistic, and specular, and it bears the traces of historical and cultural formations at their most visible and palpable. The figure can be a plastic figure, a figure of speech, a figure for mirror identification, or a historical figure enveloped in a mythical aura. I use the word to denote sensory or figural representations in contrast to the more abstract term “subject,” which in current theoretical formulations has revealed its manifold, historical contingent figurations.
– Ban Wang, The Sublime Figure of History, 1–2

Term: Pulsion

Pulsions (psychanalyse) Le mot pulsion vient du (latin pulsio, action de pousser, pellere, pulsum, il est une traduction du terme allemand Trieb) qui a été utilisé par Freud. --Wikipédia: L'encyclopédie libre
Je pousse, tu pousses, elle pousse, nous poussons, vous poussez, elles poussent.


...for centuries we have been overly interested in the author and insufficiently in the reader; most critical theories try to explain why the auhor has written his work, according to which pulsions, which constraints, which limits...
--Barthes, "Writing Reading"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

German Through Nietzsche

Missverständniss des Traumes
The Missunderstanding of Dreams
"Missverständniss" is the plural of "Missverständnis." "Des" is the definite article in the genitive case (gender?). Strange that "Missverständniss" is not preceded by an article:
Die Missverständniss des Traumes

Mißverständnis, Siebdruck, 21x31cm, 1975, von Margret Hofheinz-Döring

World Literature Theory: Complex structures?

Demonstrating the pitfalls and difficulties of an opening statement, we have:
It is their consummate artistry, their ability to express complex signifying structures, that gives access to multiple dimensions of meaning, meanings that are always rooted in a specific setting and cultural tradition but that further constitute, upon comparison, a thought-provoking set of perspectives on the varieties of human experience.
--Sarah Lawall, The Norton Anthology of World Literature

Theory: Nietzsche the birdcatcher

Enough, I am still alive; and life has not been devised by morality: it wants deception, it lives on deception—but wouldn’t you know it? Here I am, beginning again, doing what I have always done, the old immoralist and birdcatcher.
--Human, All Too Human

From the Chinese: 逆道而反德

君子有終身之憂,而無一朝之患,順道而行,循理而言,喜不加易,怒不加難。
The Superior Man has worries all his life, that he not have a single morning of catastrophe, for he behaves adhering to the Way, speaks according to principle, enjoys without excess of ease, and grows angry without adding difficulty.
-- From the Shuo yuan 說苑 (compiled by Liu Xiang, 2nd century BC)
Rouzer on the range of 而 as a connector of verbs:
小人逆道而反德
Inferior Man goes counter to the Way and opposes Virtue.

圣人自禁而不禁人
The wise person constrains himself but does not constrain others.

君行仁义而治国
The ruler implements benevolence and righteousness and so puts the state in order.
The ruler administers the state by implementing benevolence and righteousness.
The ruler uses benevolence and righteousness to administer the state.
The ruler implements benevolence and righteousness and then and only then puts the state in order.
The ruler implements benevolence and righteousness and then and only then will the state find order.
--A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese
Kings of the Warring States (3rd cent. BC), a contemporary Chinese impression

Theory: Writing Reading

Reading Barthes at the office:
...I kept stopping as I read this text...Recalling the camera's first feats in decomposing a horse's trot, I too attempted to "film" the reading of Sarrasine in slow motion: the result, I suspect, is neither quite an analysis (I have not tried to grasp the secret of this strange text) nor quite an image (I don't think I have projected myself into my reading; or if I have, it is from an unconscious site which falls far short of "myself"). Then what is S/Z? Simply a text, that text which we write in our head when we look up....

[D]ealing with a story...we see clearly that a certain constraint of our progress (of "suspense") constantly struggles within us against the text's explosive force, its digressive energy: with the logic of reason (which makes this story readable) mingles a logic of the symbol. This latter logic is not deductive but associative: it associates with the material text (with each of its sentences) other ideas, other images, other significations...

[T]here is no objective or subjective truth of reading, but only a ludic truth; again, "game" must not be understood here as a distraction, but as a piece of work -- from which, however, all labor has evaporated: to read is to make our body work (psychoanalysis has taught us that this body greatly exceeds our memory and our consciousness) at the invitation of the text's signs, of all the languages which traverse it and form something like the shimmering depth of the sentence....
--"Writing Reading," The Rustle of Language

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

World Literature Theory: Crosscurrents, Perspectives, Resonances

Wang Anyi (thanks to WanderMonkey)
The world’s disparate traditions have developed very distinct kinds of literature, even very different ideas as to what should be called “literature” at all. This anthology uses a variety of means to showcase what is most distinctive and also what is commonly shared among the world’s literatures. Throughout this anthology we employ three kinds of grouping…

--David Damrosch, Preface to The Longman Anthology of World Literature


Grouping terms by Damrosch et. al., 2004
Crosscurrents Highlights overarching issues or developments many cultures have faced,
e.g. creation myths (or World War II)
Perspectives Provides cultural context for a cluster of major works,
e.g. death and immortality in the ancient Near East
(or childhood experiences of transgression)
Resonances Links works across big reaches of time and/or space,
e.g. Odyssey and responses by Kafka, Walcott, Seferis
(or Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi (Shanghai, 1995),
“Song of Everlasting Sorrow” by Bai Juyi (Chang’an, 800s))

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Still from 小厂主 (1925, The Young Factory Owner) Thanks to The Chinese Mirror
[G]iven the intricate nature of Chinese polygamy, we should begin to wonder what remolding people had to undergo in order to assume post-polygamous identities.
***
To be "Lacanian," as I interpret it, is to occupy the position of the analyst, the fourth of his four discourses of subjectivity, which are also crucial to this discussion and are as follows: Master and University (which comprise the masculine pole), Hysteric and Analyst (which comprise the feminine pole). In particular, the analyst is one who, like a Zhuangzian Daoist, engages in the continuous exposure of the arbitrary and self-enclosed nature of the Confucian master's discourse. Lacan points out that in the paradigm-shifting passage from one discourse or social formation to another, the discourse of the analyst always emerges for a brief moment. He is referring to the moments in history in which one master regime gives way to another, during which the inherently arbitrary and contingent nature of any regime is at least revealed.
-- Keith McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion, "Introduction: The Male Consort of the Remarkable Woman"

From the Chinese

她又像一般教會中學畢業的女學生,能閱讀西洋小說,愛慕西洋小說裡的男主人公:身材高,膚色深,面貌俊秀,舉止瀟灑。
She was just like any other high school girl: able to read Western fiction, she loved best the male heroes of novels: tall, dark, and handsome -- and unrestrained, too, though accomplished.

上了大學,圖書館裡可讀的書可豐富了,夠他仔細閱讀和瀏覽欣賞的。
At university, though, he could read all the books he wanted, because there were enough for him to read closely and to skim those that he liked.

他的笑容軟化了老師的嚴厲。
His smile melted the sternness of his teacher.

彥成笑嘻嘻他說,他正在看一本書,思索一個倫理問題,想到牛角尖裡去了。
Yancheng laughed -- ha! ha! -- and said that he was just then reading a book, considering a theoretical problem, and had gone off into a trivial matter (cow-horn-tip).

雪仍在飄,兩人越談越親密。一個是癡心,一個是誠懇;一個是愛慕,一個是感激。
With the snow still blustering, the two of them became more intimate the more they spoke.  One was a fool for love, the other honest and sincere; one was in love, the other was filled with gratitude.

-- Yang Jiang, Baptism, chapter 7

Barthes: "From Science to Literature"

"From Science to Literature" is the first entry in The Rustle of Language -- thanks to gH for leaving your copy in our Cina office. The piece first appeared in The Times Literary Supplement in 1967.
...[T]here is certainly not a single scientific matter which has not at some moment been treated by universal literature: the world of the work is a total world, in which all (social, psychological, historical) knowledge takes place, so that for us literature has that grand cosmogonic unity which so delighted the ancient Greeks but which the compartmentalized state of our sciences denies us today....science will become literature, insofar as literature -- subject, moreover, to a growing collapse of traditional genres (poem, narrative, criticism, essay) -- is already, has always been, science; for what the human sciences are discovering today, in whatever realm: sociological, psychological, psychiatric, linguistic, etc., literature has always known; the only difference is that literature has not said what it knows, it has written it. >

Monday, November 7, 2011

Film: Strangers on a Train



I still think it would be wonderful to have a man love you so much he'd kill for you.  -- Barbara, Strangers on a Train.

Test-Writing Digression

Students should be working in Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. Ideally instruction is aimed at the level where students can learn with the aid of a teacher or more knowledgeable peers (Vygotsky 1962).
-- Carol Jago, Classics in the Classroom

The Best Way to Write...

I'm working to optimize my "workflow" by starting all professional writing with a wonderful software package called Scrivener, using the MultiMarkdown codes for simple formatting like italics, lists, tables, images, and footnotes, which results in fair copy that I can then send, in whole or in smaller modules, to LaTeX for typesetting as a .pdf or to .rtf/.doc for collaboration and editing.
Detail from "Blue Maunderings," one of the Lost Divers series by Josh Dorman (Cerise Press)

Teaching: Unpacking writing


One of my students writes a response paper with the sentence, 
For example there was a story in the end where his brother says that to help your sick mother you must feed some of your flesh and the narrator remembered this at the time of his sister’s death and believed that his brother had eaten her and was sad because maybe he wasn’t full and was wanting to eat someone else, and that this world is kind of like survival of the fittest."
The student is being a bit lazy, writing quickly, mangling syntax. Worst of all, they make a weak gesture at an idea "survival of the fittest" that is complex and even intriguing. 


Nevertheless, the response is basically correct. So the role of the teacher then, is to make them slow down, take more time, and expand on their answer, right? I offered: 
This is a really good thought, but I'd like you to expand it a bit: how does the first part of this sentence, up to "eat someone else," make us feel that the world ensures the "survival of the fittest?"

The Stump-Watcher

From a response paper by one of my students:
Based on further research I have found that in ancient China there was a widely-known tale about a farmer who found a dead rabbit in his field one day who had run into a stump and broken his neck upon impact. As the story goes on, the hopeful farmer then proceeded to disregard his work in order to watch the stump, hoping that more unfortunate rabbits would meet their end by it. Instead of capturing more rabbits, the farmer became the laughingstock of his community and therefore became known as the stump-watcher. The title of stump-watcher eventually became coined as a term for “those who think they can take the ways of the ancient kings and use them to govern the people”.
I looked this up; it's from Han Feizi.
守株待兔 (illustration from MyChinaConnection)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Johnson's Definition of Wit

Thanks to PowerOfBabel
A wit, Mr. Rambler, in the dialect of ladies, is not always a man who, by the action of a vigorous fancy upon comprehensive knowledge, brings distant ideas unexpectedly together, who, by some peculiar acuteness, discovers resemblance in objects dissimilar to common eyes, or, by mixing heterogeneous notions, dazzles the attention with sudden scintillations of conceit. A lady's wit is a man who can make ladies laugh, to which, however easy it may seem, many gifts of nature, and attainments of art, must commonly concur. He that hopes to be received as a wit in female assemblies, should have a form neither so amiable as to strike with admiration, nor so coarse as to raise disgust, with an understanding too feeble to be dreaded, and too forcible to be despised. The other parts of the character are more subject to variation; it was formerly essential to a wit, that half his back should be covered with a snowy fleece, and, at a time yet more remote, no man was a wit without his boots. In the days of the Spectator a snuff-box seems to have been indispensable; but in my time an embroidered coat was sufficient, without any precise regulation of the rest of his dress. --Samuel Johnson

Story Reading

The cyst turned out to be a benign tumour. Kat liked that use of benign, as if the thing had a soul and wished her well. It was big as a grapefruit, the doctor said. "Big as a coconut," said Kat. Other people had grapefruits. "Coconut" was better. It conveyed the hardness of it, and the hairiness, too.
-- Margaret Atwood, "Hairball"

One has to admire the Americans. Who else would come up with the idea of turning the belly of a fighter into a robot's head and then proceed to create a machine that executes the transition so flawlessly?
-- Bi Shumin 毕淑敏, "Broken Transformers"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Folktale: "Die Vagina"

In olden times the vagina went around on her own. She had not yet fused with the woman. The vagina wandered about all parts of the earth. She was constantly on the move. She let anybody sleep with her. ... The vagina met the scorpion and said to him: 'Have sexual intercourse with me.' The scorpion did so. But the scorpion stung the vagina with his tail while they were making love, whereupon the vagina screamed with pain. Frightened, the vagina ran away. She ran to the woman and hid herself there. The vagina said to the woman: 'Hide me and protect me!' The woman did so. Ever since that time, women have had a vagina."

--Old Tale of Guinea


-- quoted in "Borderlines of the Body in African Women's Writing," by Flora Veit-Wild.

Concept: Lacan's Nothingness

McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion:
Ultimately, qing involves an experience of abyssal nothingness, whether sacrificial death, castration, or the severing of one's flesh, all being forms of the dissolution of the self...

...[in Liaozhai zhiyi stories] The man's foolishness, the literal and metaphorical acts of the self-negation of severing the flesh, and the liminal quality of the remarkable woman -- all these are signs of the negativity of the frame, and in themselves amount to the empty core of the individual subject...
Previously, McMahon gave:
...To say that the subject is fundamentally split is a way of referring to the impossibility of full and present self-consciousness or self-understanding. In simplest terms, there will always be a gap between what subjects think they know of themselves and what is hidden from them. The subject can only fantasize that "I am what I say I am." ....The I is a pure void, an empty frame only knowable through the predicates that make up except through the endless series of predicates and statements that fill out what the I thinks....(8-9)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Profound Thought: Rorty on two desires

Quoted in Testiminio: The Politics of Truth, by John Beverly (2):
There are two principal ways in which reflective human beings try, by placing their lives in a larger context, to give sense to those lives. The first is by telling the story of their contributions to a community. This community may be the actual historical one in which they live, or another actual one, distant in time or place, or a quite imaginary one, consisting perhaps of a dozen heroes and heroines selected from history or fiction or both. The second way is to describe themselves as standing in immediate relation to a nonhuman reality. This relation is immediate in the sense that it does not derive from a relation between such a reality and their tribe, or their nation, or their imagined band of comrades. I shall say that stories of the former kind exemplify the desire for solidarity, and that stories of the latter kind exemplify the desire for objectivity.

Book: Polygamy and Sublime Passion

Keith McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity (University of Hawaii, 2010)
[On Honglou fumeng a 19th century sequel to Honglou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber) ] Even though Baoyu now has twelve wives, he is fair to all, harboring no favorites. Reborn as Mengyu, he is all "sentiment" and no "lust" (that is, all qing and no se), as the narrator describes in a stunning take-off on the motif of gender fluidity, such that when he consorts with this wives and maids, "he is not even aware that he is female and they are female. ... Even if one of the women is sponging herself or taking a bath, he comes and goes as he pleases and no one minds... 
[On Qilou chongmeng and Honglou huanmeng, other sequels of the 19th century] In both, Baoyu resembles the sexually active polygamist of Ming and Qing erotic novels who enjoys cozy and harmonious relations with them all his wives. ... He has five wives by age sixteen...Before marriage, he learns the trick of having sex with prepubescent girls, especially maids, so that none will get pregnant. He learns erotic arts form a nineteen-year-old female acrobat, after which he practices the arts with a new group of twenty-four maids, of whom he takes four each night... (Chapter 2, "Qing Can be With One and Only One" 39-40)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jobs: Common Interview Question 1: 1. What attracted you to this position?


Pass 1: 

B__ University combines the best of a research institution and a liberal arts college. There’s the East Asian Studies major, which is hard at work producing equities analysts, hospital managers, political scientists, and so forth, and there’s the department of German, Russian and Asian languages, which is clearly an outstanding home base for cultural exchange among specialists in language education and the role of literature and the arts in society. I’m interested in doing cross-cultural translation and thinking through the big questions offered up by a deep consideration of art and language, and also in imparting the urgency of this work to young people even if — especially if — they will be making their new knowledge just one part of a larger liberal arts experience intended to prepare them for leadership and innovation in fields far beyond literature and the arts.

Jobs: Common Interview Questions



  1. What attracted you to this position?
  2.  How can your courses assist our institution in strategic goal (to increase equity, diversity, social justice, sustainability, etc.)
  3. What was your greatest teaching challenge?
  4. How is your work interdisciplinary?
  5. This position calls for a teaching load and an active research agenda. How will you balance these two things?
  6. Please describe your research plans for the next five years.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bibliography: Polygamy and Sublime Passion

McMahon, Keith. Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity. (University of Hawaii, 2010).
Singapore edition of Heroic Sons and Daughters, a major Confucian Romance.

For centuries, polygamy was a basic organizing principle of Chinese families, and so romance stories in China need not denigrate "polygynous-philanderers," and "remarkable women" can organize concubines for their men with no loss to their virtue, at least in theory. Drawing on Lacan's analysis of narrative as fantasy, McMahon reads a wide variety of late Imperial Chinese literature to show us the tension between the deeply conservative Confucian patriarchy and a rapidly emerging native form of romanticism -- what McMahon calls "qing egalitarianism." Accepting McMahon's model of qing egalitarianism, I show how Yang Jiang's fiction and essay merge the model of the "remarkable woman" with still more notions of sexuality and family responsibility inherited from the Western picaresque and comedies of manners. Where McMahon concludes by saying that China's heritage of polygamy continues to exert a "shadowy influence" on sexuality in China today, I argue that Yang Jiang's appropriation of the category of "remarkable woman" is one way that Confucian notions of virtue inform her social and political values.

Poem: "Gatha" 偈 by Sikong Tu

"Gatha" 偈 means Buddhist devotional verse, though as my advisor comments this one by Sikong Tu 司空图 (837-908) is not very Buddhist (my advisor's translation):
Photo via John Pappas


人若憎时我亦憎,
逃名最要是无能。
 后生乞汝残风月,
自作深林不语僧。

 If others hate the times
      then I too hate them:
To flee from fame the vital thing
      is to have no talent.
Later generations! I beg you,
      to lay waste to your sensual urges,
And turn yourselves into silent monks,
      who dwell in the deep woods.
. Funny it seems so simple, yet neither of us are sure how the lines all go together.

Story: "The Real Story of Ah Q"

‘Hurrah for revolution!’ Ah-Q thought. ‘It’ll do for the whole rotten lot of them!…I’m going over to the revolutionaries as soon as I get the chance.’ His sense of grievance against the world sharpened first by the rather embarrassed circumstances in which he had recently found himself, and second by the two midday bowls of wine he had drunk on an empty stomach, Ah-Q floated ruminatively along his way. -- Lu Xun, "The Real Story of Ah-Q," tr. Julia Lovell (Penguin and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun (Penguin Classics, 2010) (p. 109).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Poem: "Fallen Flowers"

James Liu, The Poetry of Li Shang-yin 李商隐: Ninth-Century Baroque Chinese Poet (University of Chicago, 1969)

Fallen Flowers

From the tall pavilion the guests have all departed,
In the little garden flowers helter-skelter fly.
They fall at random on the winding path,
And travel far, sending off the setting sun.
Heartbroken, I cannot bear to sweep them away;
Gazing hard, I watch them till few are left.
Their fragrant heart, following spring, dies;
What they have earned are tears that wet one's clothes.

《落花》

高阁客竟去,小园花乱飞。
参差连曲陌,迢递送斜晖。
肠断未忍扫,眼穿仍欲归。
芳心向春尽,所得是沾衣

...As the poet watches the fallen flowers, he identifies himself completely with them, so that the heart that dies and the tears that wet his clothes belong as much to the flowers as to the poet. The poem is thus a remarkable example of empathy. (136-7)

Also see a Chinese reader wrestle with the poem. This Chinese recitation has nice slow pacing

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not dead yet

Syllabus idea: Chinese Modern: Lu Xun and His Times
Professor Fang Zhesheng
Fall 2011: Tuesday evenings after beer, unless I don't feel like it, location TBA
Office Hours: Wednesday noon, just come to my hammock out back. Yell if I'm asleep.
Course description: Students will gain a greater appreciation of the innovations in prose and poetry of late 19th and early 20th century China with a focus on the works of Lu Xun (1881-1936). In addition to Lu Xun's classic short fiction, we will also explore his essays, classical Chinese poetry, History of Chinese Fiction, and Old Stories Retold. Our aim is to see both the revolutionary and the conventional in modern Chinese literature. (The allegory of the iron house, for example, is arguably a variation on the parable of the burning house from the Lotus Sutra.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Diary, October 18: Evolutionary Beacons

As we talked, Adam reminded me that he has crack memorization skills. He can recite this entire song:
Running with the wolves.
It's time for us to go.
Left all our clothes.
With the car left by the road.
And we were running.
For a reason.
For the burning, in our veins.
And we were running.
For a reason.
We just need to get away.

Running with the wolves.
We're screaming at the stars.
Left all we own.
In a hole in our backyard.
And we were running.
For a reason.
Left our cubicles in little flaming piles.
And we were running.
For a reason.
I need to feel something different for just a little while.
I'm not coming home.
I'm staying with the wolves.
They can burn all my mail.
And disconnect my phone.
Tell my mom I'm sorry, sorry for leaving.
But I'm staying.

Now we're running to find meaning.
We're gone, and we're never coming back.
 The lines seemed so much more significant since I had heard the line by Joseph Brodsky about poetry: “Poetry is not a form of entertainment, and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but our anthropological, genetic goal, our linguistic, evolutionary beacon.” In Cloud Cult speak: "We're screaming at the stars." Like everything these days, the idea makes me cry!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lists: Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror

From Kerri Miller's NPR show:

  • "The Wasp Factory" by Iain Banks
  • "Reamde" by Neil Stevenson
  • "The Road" and "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy
  • "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami
  • "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Class: What works

I had a good class, and my recent prep, and conversations with KT on next semester's classes, have re-affirmed one basic wisdom:
Imitate my betters. 
KT lent me a cool powerpoint on Persepolis, which I used yesterday and today to produce a decent lecture taking us from Feng Menglong to Lu Xun. I decided to make some cuts to the reading list, ditch this weekend's homework, and have students focus on Lu Xun stories. More planning on that tomorrow.

I made great use of China in Revolution, segment 1:

Since A is coming into Duluth tomorrow instead of me going back to Minneapolis, I find myself with a tiny amount of relatively....wait for it...free time. All I plan to do with this evening is:


  • Work on my conference paper
  • Revise cover letters and CV
  • Start on postdoc bibliography
  • get some grading done
Why that's practically nothing! One day at a time....



Recipe: Pumpkin Curry

Pumpkin Curry, trial 1

2 lbs butternut squash, peel and chop
salt, sugar, neutral oil.
12 oz package of tofu, drain and cube
Thai Kitchen red curry paste, coconut milk
brown sugar, fish sauce,
cilantro and/or basil

Toss pumpkin in salt, sugar and oil and roast in a 400 deg F oven for 30+ minutes, turning once (best to place on foil, darn it's hard to scrub off otherwise.) Cool and leave to one side.
Whisk curry paste into coconut milk in a crock pot according to package directions. Add sugar, fish sauce (veggie Worcestershire to keep it vegetarian), and tofu, and cook for an hour.
Add roast pumpkin and cook another hour.

Not bad!

Diary: Wednesday, October 12

I spent the entire morning, 8:30-12 noon, in meetings on how to write the cover letter and the CV. I've received much more advice from the mentors here than from my dissertation committee -- thank heavens, and I swear that in the future, if I have PhD students, I will instruct them in the importance of drafting these documents again, again, and again, and starting much earlier in the process.

 In my second work block, I attacked revisions to my statements, a reading of a chapter draft by my classmate JN, class prep for Thursday, and preparing dinner for my fellow dissertation writers. I hoped to get to my Qian Zhongshu poetry conference paper, and to get some grading done, but there was no time for that.

 My pumpkin curry was a success. We discussed JN's dissertation chapter, on the tensions between British India and the smaller territory of Pondicherry controlled by France. Pondicherry became known as a place that tolerated dissidents, as JN showed with portraits of Aurobindo Ghose, Mira "la mere" Alfassa, and Varadarajulu Subbiah -- these last accounts were particularly fascinating, even through the painful "dissertationese" we all must endure together in this period.
I got Wiki'd and Instapapered, yo
GH also gave a practice talk on the work of Paul Beatty, which impressed itself on me slowly, and seems more important the next day. Afterwards I felt much reassured, and cleaned up the kitchen and dining room with great lightness of heart. Even after 11pm, I found the wherewithal to craft a thesis sentence for my conference paper:
There is something thrilling about finding a distinctively modern consciousness that can express itself in classical form — the classical Chinese poems of Qian Zhongshu (1910-1998) are a particularly thorny example which I believe deserve our attention, and call for new thoughts on the staging and presentation of Chinese poetry in translation.
It's always best, I think, to read a little before bed, even if it's only a very little. I've been reading "Dog Run Moon" by Callan Wink for three nights, and still didn't finish the story. (NB: Googling for the title brought up an entry on the story by writer Clifford Garstang)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Three Narrative Poems

Narrative poems have a special power to reverberate, and it occurs to me that they should be used in the classroom to develop terms and issues. Here's three that I heard on the way to work today: "Mrs. Miller" by Charles Douthat takes the form of a memoir in progress ("And to the south lived dear old Mrs. Miller...") and peaks in a sharp connection between the woman of the past and the man of the present:
Saturdays, I'd wash Mrs. Miller's Buick with a bucket, soap and sponge. The fifteen cents she paid was good money in '61. Later, on the lanai, she'd pour my coke, wave away her cigarette smoke, and engage me in grown-up conversation. "Since nothing ever goes according to plan," she'd say, "You'd think we'd figure out the plan." I was at most eleven. She was a drunk, I suppose. Confused, but open-hearted. Lonely, of course. The first person like me I'd known.
The eye of the poem is in the last stanza, but the penultimate stanza is full of narrative details that set up, stage the point to come. "Changing Genres" by Dean Young is a great reflection on story, and what it is to have plot:
I was satisfied with haiku until I met you, jar of octopus, cuckoo's cry, 5-7-5, but now I want a Russian novel, a 50-page description of you sleeping, another 75 of what you think staring out a window. I don't care about the plot
Ahem, excuse the interruption -- this is another poem with good use of enjambment and other rhetoric (come back to this) to keep us interested. The second part of the poem is on plot in the general sense -- metalitureature!
although I suppose there will have to be one, the usual separation of the lovers, turbulent seas, danger of decommission in spite of constant war, time in gulps and glitches passing, squibs of threnody, a fallen nest, speckled eggs somehow uncrushed, the sled outracing the wolves on the steppes, the huge glittering ball where all that matters is a kiss at the end of a dark hall. At dawn the officers ride back to the garrison, one without a glove, the entire last chapter about a necklace that couldn't be worn inherited by a great-niece along with the love letters bound in silk.
Finally, I love the poem "Spilled Milk" by Willa Schneberg, and think it would be useful to open my course unit on senescence with a close look at the poem. I'll read it twice, and we'll close read the ending:
Lovemaking wasn't so easy between us in the early years. We both felt guilty. We thought we weren't supposed to enjoy it and I was always worried about becoming pregnant. Later on we worried the children would hear. But after they grew up and moved out and I couldn't bear anymore we began to have fun. It wasn't always before going to sleep either. Sometimes during breakfast he would say, Let's go and roll his eyes up to the bedroom. Luba, he would say, I'll help you take out the hairpins.
Why end with "lovemaking"? How does this convey the experience of aging in all its ironies, bodily disfunctions, and new freedoms appear in the poem? Students will answer such a question in 10 minutes, then pass the papers in on their way out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bibliography: Brander Matthews on 3 Kinds of Story

Branders' The Short Story from 1907 must be one of the first anthologies of its kind. In the "Appendix," it says:
THE SHORT-STORY differs essentially from all the longer forms of fiction because its brevity forces the writer to confine himself to a single one of the three elements which the author of a novel may combine at his pleasure. These three elements are the plot, the characters, and the setting. The novelist may pay equal attention to what happens, to the persons to whom these things happen, and to the places where they happen. But the limitations of space forbid this variety to the short-story writer; he has to make his choice among the three. If he centers his efforts on his plot, he has no time to elaborate either character or background; this is what Poe has done in the “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”


Matthews in his Wikipedia entry

Bibliography: "The Making of the Pearl-Sewn Shirt and The Courtesan's Jewel Box"

Hanan, Patrick. "The Making of the Pearl-Sewn Shirt and The Courtesan's Jewel Box." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 33 (1973): 124-53. I've already used Hanan's translation of the classical tale upon which "The Pearl-Sewn Shirt" is based to teach the differences between classical tale and vernacular story in my freshman seminar. Today I draw on it again, for the close reading of "Pearl-Sewn Shirt" and its antecedent tale, pp. 134-8, especially the term simulated context:
In all the critical concern with "point of view" in fiction one aspect of narrative method has generally been overlooked, perhaps because it is not very important in modern European fiction. This is the search for a plausible context of situation in which the fiction may be conveyed from author to reader. The series of letters, the diary,the psychiatrist's notes -- these are merely the most glaring examples of contexts which have been used at one time or another in European fiction.The context is, of course, a pretence, but it is a pretence in which both author and readers acquiesce in order that the fiction may be communicated effectively. Let us call it a simulated context and note that it may include not only the identity of the narrator and the identity of his audience, but also the precise situation in which one addresses the other. Thus,if we adopt a common definition of literary style as governed by just such factorsas these,[6] the context will determine the "voice" or style in which the work is couched, and, in a wider sphere,will affect practically all of its technique.
I put the definition in bold. Note six gives as further reading on the "contextual" definition of style,see, for example,Nils Erik Enkvist, John Spencer,and Michael J. Gregory,Linguistics and Style (Oxford,1964). I'm fascinated by the investigation of the simulated context of "The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg" and how this makes the story quite different from "The Three Brothers."
Simulated Context of the Chinese Vernacular Story

Story: "The Reservoir" by Janet Frame


Kate Figes’ introduction mentions “The Reservoir” by Janet Frame as a good story about “childhood fears and fantasies,” of the specific sort in which the child decides to transgress. Since I read that, I’ve decided to begin my course on women’s literature on the theme of childhood, which I will say is the story of the person’s first cultural clash: the experience of their own. 

Sadly, “The Reservoir” breaks Elmore Leonard’s summary rule: it sounds like writing. The story evokes the New Zealand of the author’s childhood, an idyllic place with hidden dangers as various as sharks and infantile paralysis. The two aspects of New Zealand life, beauty and danger, are symbolized in the local reservoir, which is a good place for a snog but also a place where several children have drowned. The narrator and her friends visit, and return home. It is not as thrilling as the writing wishes it to be. 
Figes’ taste, for character and plot and issue and interpretive meaning, is on the line here. Why did she not choose something from the more intensely dramatic biography of Frame, as Jane Campion knew to do?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

List: MCL: 1987

Leung, Timothy. Highlights of the San Francisco Symposium on Contemporary Chinese Literature. Translated by John Balcom. Modern Chinese Literature, 3: 1-2, Spring/Fall 1987.
Ma Yuan, who I did not know about

  • "Ku he" (Dry river), Mo Yan
  • "Shanshang de xiaowu" (A small house in the mountains), Can Xue
  • "Xingfu dajie 13 hao" (13 Happiness Street), Bei Dao
  • "Ba ba ba"  ; "Nu nu nu" , Han Shaogong
  • Ma Yuan, "Gangdisi de youhuo" (The seduction at Gangdisi), "Die zhiyao sanzhong fangfa" (Three ways to fold a paper hawk)
  • Zhaxi Duwa, "Xi zai pisheng koushang de hun" (Souls tied to the knots on a leather cord)
  • Wang Zengqi
  • Ah Cheng
  • Liu Suola, "Xunzao gewang"
  • Gao Xingjian, "Yeren"

Weekend of Work

"Don't dissimulate!" I've been told many times at the "Secrets to Success" fellowship-writing workshop. Which means it was a joy to watch the story of a pro dissimulator last night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book: The Penguin Book of International Women's Stories

Kate Figes, editor, The Penguin Book of International Women's Stories (1996).

 Figes' short introduction helps me see how a reading list at the intersection of women's writing and world literature would probably proceed by theme, beginning with childhood experiences (read "THe Reservoir" and "Games at Twilight" next, and return to Jamaica Kincaid), through adolescence and motherhood, widening in political and social content along the way. Class, war, and gender oppression need to be negotiated as personal expressions of artistic minds, and placed under a general rubric of seeking agency -- one that I'm not convinced is female uniquely, though there is probably such a thing as uniquely female experience. A recurring, or even constant, motif will be that of the culture class, as in Alison Lurie's "Fat People" (a related title might be "Out on Main Street" by Shani Mootoo, mentioned by Sucheta Choudhuri at SWCAS last weekend).
Kate, exhibiting her own signs of nation, class and ideology
I didn't see any reviews of this collection, but it's clear from Kate Figes' web site and new blog that she is a British woman spending a lot of time intellectualizing her experiences of coupledom and motherhood. One wishes to bring up the term "navel-gazing" with the kids, and explore along with them what distinguishes the helpful from the selfish.

UPDATE: I did find a notice for the book in the Times Educational Supplement:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Brainstorm: Women's Literature

I read a teacher's statement regarding the purpose and function of women's literature; I'll summarize it and break it down later.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Film and Book: Che Guavara



The Motorcycle Diaries narrates Che Guavara's crucial coming of age experience: a trip around South America, including visits with unfortunates such as the inhabitants of an Amazon leper colony. The movie didn't quite work for us, but suggests some of the problems with Che's biography: he is both an ordinary adolescent male with a conscience and an idealized portrait of social conscience. Because his story is intended to introduce adolescents to social and political awareness, there is always the problem of how to balance biographical, social and political content. The film if anything errs on the side of leaving things out -- there is nothing on his actual career as a revolutionary, and only the briefest of glances at his experience of authoritarianism or the corruption of multinationals in South America. Mostly we get surreal shots of poor people, which I suppose is meant to hit on a deeper emotional level. Unfortunately, the beautiful Gael Garcia Bernal lacks the skill to affect us (me at least) on a deep level.


Completely by chance, I came across a manga biography of Che in eBook form from the Hennepin Public Library. The work is partly based on The Motorcycle Diaries, but many other books as well, and so takes us through Che's entire life. More than Motorcycle Diaries, Che comes across as a idealistic hero, the man who exemplifies the duty to:
...try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world
There is more of the political here -- most revelatory to me was the state of American corporations in South America in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Before Castro, the manga says, 2/3 of arable land in Cuba was owned by foreign companies, mostly from the United States. I hope to follow up on this -- I suppose it means that the number and level of injustices in the name of commerce perpetrated by and for US interests is far greater than I was ever taught. Surprise, surprise.

SWCAS 1: William J. Cunningham on Ping Pong Diplomacy

This weekend I was at the Southwest Conference on Asian Studies (SWCAS), where one of the most colorful figures in the crowd was a retired foreign service officer named William J. Cunningham. Cunningham and his wife were often together in the conference rooms at Trinity and Friday evening at the San Antonio Museum of Art, where they were a perfect portrait of old-school diplomatic grace and gentility, he with his memories, she with her lovely hats.

Cunningham supplied many memories of the founding of SWCAS 40 years ago, and various Chinese diplomats he knew or knew of, like V. K. Wellington Koo and Yang Hsi-kun. But his paper was on the biggest event of his career: the 1971 invitation of the US Table Tennis team to China. This event was a prelude to President Nixon's 1972 visit, and so all parties involved must have known it was much more important than a simple game of table tennis.

Cunningham conveys the story with the eye of the professional diplomat, which at its best surveys the dynamics of multiple actors on the world stage, as in this passage about the ominous climate in Asia in 1971:
Internationally there were ominous signs also. Only ten months previously Mao had issued a furious, personal manifesto denouncing the United States' "treachery" for the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk and the April invasion of Cambodia. After having earlier agreed to resumption of the Warsaw talks, China broke them off again and attacked U.S. policy on Taiwan. Although border talks with the Soviets continued, the Chinese observed Lenin's centenary by accusing Moscow of betraying his legacy, and the Soviets responded in kind, attacking China and Mao for "imperialism's malicious anti-Soviet, anti-Communist campaign." Concurrently, China was energetically orchestrating a vocal anti-militarism campaign against Japan.
Given the environment, it's easier to see that China's participation the table tennis in Japan was the result of hard work by many diplomats. Japan, for one, was in 1970 on track to re-emerge into the world community, and so very much wanted China to be there to make them look good. Even more interesting, the International Table Tennis Federation Congress had some notion of the high-stakes diplomatic work they were doing, whether they liked it or not, at their own planning meetings.

The story of the US visit involves both Mao Zedong, who as the supreme leader of his nation knew that every decision he made was tremendously risky, and so stayed up late smoking the night of April 6, 1971, worried about whether to invite some table tennis players to his country. But another character was Glenn Cowan, a 19-year old from California in "corduroy bell bottoms, long hair topped with a floppy yellow hat") who blundered aboard the Chinese bus in Nagoya on April 4, and so helped precipitate Mao's April 6th crisis evening. International relations events can involve such disparate individuals!

Cunningham is now an old man, with a paper that relies on other personal accounts, biographies, and also emails, letters and telephone calls to the generation that lived through the great thaw in US-China relations in the early 1970s. Among the many worthwhile sources he cites are:


  • Crossing the Divide, 1997, by John Holdridge, the memoirs of another foreign service officer
  • War and Peace with China: First Hand Experiences in the Foreign Service of the United States (1994), by Holdridge and others
  • Image, Perception, and the Making of US-China Relations, ed. Li Hong (1998)
  • The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Li Zhisui (1994) -- been meaning to read this one a long time
  • Henry Kissinger, White House Years (1979)
  • Kissinger: A Biography (1992)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaching: Lesson 7

On class day 7, I'm dissatisfied with the course again. I was too timid to try another group activity, and my efforts to have the class see how tension works in sentences seemed quite blunt to me. My short lecture on Chinese culture went better, but was still, after all a lecture.

I want to plan another session that applies in-class writing exercises to have them understand passages, but I need to find more examples of how this is done well. I think I have to :

  • Return to basic summarizing of the text -- make them bring these into class!
  • Have them search for passages, sentences that touch on our themes (characters, relationships; sequences, tension, climax) 
  • Write about the passage. Just say what they touch on. Just write!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Philip Hill and David Leach, Lacan For Beginners (1999)

Chapter 3

The real means the events of a life which cannot be symbolized or imagined. Reality is all that we cannot say. Thought, the symbolic and the imaginary, grapples with the Real.

Essay: "On Writers" by Qian Zhongshu

Qian Zhongshu, Humans, Beasts and Ghosts: Stories and Essays, ed. Christopher G. Rea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 70-74.
In brief, we should destroy literature and yet reward writers -- reward them for ceasing to be writers, for having nothing to do with literature.
Qian's ambiguous satire of "the will to get ahead in the world" has its funny moments, though he ignores the industry of mainstream entertainments, and so misses out on such Wildean wit as his piercing of memoir:
...I dislike modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering; which, however, is, no doubt, the true explanation of their popularity, as the English public always feels perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity is talking to it.
Still, Qian's most devastating point is that only writers may serve as the opposite of servants, and so those of us possessed of the will to get ahead are also forced to serve.

Readings of Interest Mentioned:

  • Tao Kan said we should use cow dung as fuel to save wood (Jinshu 66)
  • Wang Ziyou commented on the usefulness of bamboo (Shishuo xinyu, Rendan)
  • Cao Pi: "Literary men disparage one another; it has always been that way."
  • Gautier, Les Grotesques
  • The poetry of Alexander Pope
  • Yang Xiong regretted being a writer ; Wuzipian
  • "In Browning's ideal world..."

Essay: "A Prejudice"

Qian Zhongshu, Humans, Beasts and Ghosts: Stories and Essays, ed. Christopher G. Rea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 62-65.
Prejudice can be said to be a vacation from thinking. For the unthinking man it is a daily necessity, while for the thinking man it is a Sunday amusement.
Everyone has prejudices; the situation is the result of our need to speak, which in humans is endless. We even desire to speak at length on silence, and our love for it, and thus how annoying are the voices are others. This of course makes our prejudices still more ingrained!

Readings of Interest:

  • "Man is that animal which drinks without thirst and is lustful year-round." Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro.
  • Tang Zixi, "Drunken Sleep" 醉眠, "the mountains are as still as in ancient times"
  • the Book of Odes, "As if at ease, the horses neighed..."
  • Family Instructions of Master Yan, "noise without clamor."
  • Coleridge, "The Aeolian Harp:" "The stilly murmer of the distant sea..."
  • Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, "a thinker should be deaf."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book: Lacan for Beginners

Philip Hill and David Leach, Lacan For Beginners (1999)

Chapter 1

"Ego psychology" holds that psychoanalysis can lead to a conflict-free ego, an idea analogous to Plato's proposal for a conflict-free state. Lacanian psychoanalysis, though, posits an ego always already in conflict.

Chapter 2

Words and images lack fixed meaning; meaning depends on shifting distinctions, in an endless chain: "the signifier is the subject of another signifier." Persons lack fixed desires and sense of being; relationships depend on shifting meaning: the subject is the signifier of another subject.

Dreams, jokes, and slips of the tongue should be studied as links between signifiers that help explain the conflicts within the subject.

Conflict in meaning is only possible in humans, who have the capacity for language. That is why only humans, of all the animals, ever commit suicide (the lemming story is a myth).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book: "Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters" (5)

Theodore Huters, Traditional innovation: Qian Zhong-shu and modern Chinese letters, (PhD dissertation, Stanford, 1977)

Chapter 4, "Creative Work" presents a neat exposition of the problems of prose style and the reasons for studying such problems via a fascinating set of theoretical readings, and ending with a short reading of "Lu Xun style" and the story "Kong Yiji" as a meditation on the problems of the Chinese language and the crisis in Chinese culture. That's just the chapter opener!

Section two presents, first, a reading of Qian Zhongshu's 1937 essay "Tan jiao you" (Discussing friendship) that illumines his careful, yet playful approach to prose style, including especially the key term che dan, or che dan fa, which Huters coins to describe Qian's deliberate underpinning of strong propositions. This important gesture is at work, explains Huters, throughout the essays in 寫在人生邊.
"Discussing friendship's" prose is also marked by parallelism and substitution, such as: "In lovers although one wants new ones to maintain interest, in friends one still considers old ones best." Furthermore, the last sentence of the paragraph composes a trope that is constantly to reappear: after steadfastly holding to the superiority of friends over lovers through so many sentences, Qian summarizes by saging, "this of course, cannot be generalized, it depends on what sort of friends you have." This sort of paradoxical construction is also characteristic of seventeenth-century European prose; as Fish analyzes a similar construction of Bacon's:
if anything is being clarified here, it is the extent to which the confidently proferred pronouncement of the first sentence does not hold up under close scrutiny; and, moreover, the reader's experience of that clarification is somewhat chastening, since it involves the debunking of something he had accepted without question.[Quoting from Fish's Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth Century Literature
This device, which I shall call the che dan fa 扯淡法 (nonsense or "making light" method, so called becase Qian the fictional narrator often has one of his characters end a tense scene by che-dan, or making a joke out of the situation) is only the sure marker of a transition in the essays. It signals not a logical transition within a developing theme, but simply the wrapping up of one discussion so that a new one can be broached. It often equilibrates two contrasting features of one issue, in mimicry of the traditional essay. But unlike the traditional essay, the equilibration in this case is purely negative: the two features are equated only in the sense that neither is left standing.
Huters subsequent commentary on this collection takes the form of a thick translation of the 6th such essay -- would that I had seen this passage years ago, and so given myself a proper passage to imitate. (If I am a graduate professor in the future, I shall instruct students at the beginning of their programs to break down relevant PhD dissertations, as I have done here, so late in my PhD career.).

A final section to this 70-page chapter gives short readings of Qian's four stories in Humans, Beasts, Ghosts. I remember that Edward Gunn, in his review of the book version of the dissertation, said Huters underplays the positives in the stories; this, I suppose is where my paper finds room to exist. Barely!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Story: "Cat" (7) Satirical Sentences

When I first read Qian Zhongshu's story "Cat" in English translation, I was inspired to write a paper that would tackle the satire present in the multilingual sentences. At the time I had just finished How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish, and wanted to write criticism in his vein. Just looking over notes I posted to this blog, I can see several sentences that will work well:

My friend, earlier this morning
  1. The passage describing how the cat, "Taoqi," got its name. Yes, I need to narrow it down to a single sentence. (post 1) This shows the tradition as a source of play, and also introduces the central gesture of refinement as a layer over coarseness
  2. Aimo's character, which reflects her American socialization through a pun on Bill. This shows off an implied reader. 她受過美國式的教育,養成一种逢人叫小名以表親昵的習气,就是見了莎士比亞的面,她也會叫他bill,何況貓呢?Perhaps Aimo symbolizes the communality that is continuing to fail at the hands of self-centered men, as we see in sentences on the United Nations. Also we might remember the transformation of Beiping into a city of relics which have value as signs of refinement, flocked to by self-deceiving Chinese of all types. (post 1)
  3. Jianhou's father represents a relics attitude towards other cultures: “吃中國菜,住西洋房子,娶日本老婆,人生無遺憾矣!” (post 1)
  4. Aimo's condescension toward her husband -- no multilingual element, exactly, but I just love the comment and love the translation in the Rea volume: “你知道,我這次跨海征東,千里迢迢來受痛苦,無非為你,要討你喜歡。我的臉也就是你的面子。我蒙了眼,又痛又黑暗,你好意思一個人住在外面吃喝玩樂么?你愛我,你得听我的話。你不許跟人到處亂跑。還有,你最貪嘴,可是我進醫院后,你別上中國館子,大菜也別吃,只許頓頓吃日本料理。你答應我不?算你愛我,陪我受苦,我痛的時候心上也有些安慰。吃得坏些,你可以清心寡欲,不至于胡鬧,糟蹋了身子。你個儿不高,吃得太胖了,不好看。你背了我騙我,我會知道,從此不跟你好。” (post 2) The wordplay does come, however, in the sentence that follows, which leaves us with no doubts that Jianhou is a nothing, a zero: 李太太深知缺少這個丈夫不得;仿佛亞刺伯數碼的零號,本身毫無价值,但是沒有它,十百千万都不能成立。因為任何數目背后加個零號便進了一位,所以零號也跟著那數目而意義重大了。(post 2)
  5. Two jokes about Jianhou's inability, first, on sitzfleisch, which is perhaps after all not a joke: 頭腦不好,沒有思想,沒有理想;可是大著作有時全不需要好頭腦,只需要好屁股,听鄭須溪說,德國人就把“坐臀”(Sitzfleisch)作為知識分子的必具條件。(post 3)
  6. Second, the gout/gout pun, 那時候,這個討厭家伙已算家里的慣客了。他知道自己講究吃,一天帶了初版薩梵冷的名著Physiologiedugout(《口味生理學》)來相送。自己早把法語忘光了,冒失地嚷:“你錯了!我害胃病,不害風痛病,這本講gout的生理學對我毫無用處。”那家伙的笑聲到現在還忘不了。(post 3)
  7. Still another joke at Jianhou's expense: 建侯假如生在十六世紀的法國,他這身段的曲線美,不知該使多少女人傾倒愛慕,不拿薪水當他的女書記呢!那時候的漂亮男女,都得把肚子凸出--法國話好象叫Panserons--鼓得愈高愈好,跟現代女人的束緊前面腹部而聳起后面臀部,正是相反。建侯算得古之法國美少年,也配得做淘气的榜樣。所以我說老袁倒果為因。

Story: "Cat" (6)

I think I'm about as tired of this story as a reader/writer can be, but still I must plunge onward.

The eternal tea party sequence, with comments on Fu serving as a pivot to turn the conversation back towards taste in women. In particular, there is a distaste for covering up coarseness with refinement which creates a dramatic irony insofar as Fu himself is doing this:

有時一個女人遠看很美,頗為可愛,走近了細瞧,才知道全是假的,長得既不好看,而且化妝的原料欠講究,化妝的技巧也沒到家⋯⋯今天听俠君的話,才明白她們跟槍炮一樣,放射力有一定的距离,這种女人,我一天不知要碰見多少,我恨死了她們,覺得她們要騙我的愛,我險的上當。虧得我生在現代,中國風气開通,有机會對她們仔細觀察,矯正一眼看去的幻覺。假使在古代,關防嚴密,惟有望見女人憑著高樓的欄干,或者瞥見她打起驢車的帘子。
Jianhou laughs at these comments, following. Does this indicate he knows what a hypocrite Fu is?
建侯笑得利害,不但嘴笑,整個矮胖的身体也參加這笑。 
Next, Jiajun's standards: 
我安分了,沒有奢望了,假如有可愛的女人肯大發慈悲,賞賜我些剩余的溫柔,我象叫化子討得殘羹冷炙,感激涕零。她看我一眼,對我一笑,或臉一紅,我都記在心上,貯蓄著有好几天的思量和回味。
Jiajun strikes me as trying to be honest...is he Bertie from Wodehouse?
字隱躲在字和字聲音的夾縫里,偷偷的帶過去。
This line, I take it, reveals something of the author's attitude towards language.

To cap the sequence, we have a brief moment of Yigu alone, considering all that he has heard, and amplifying his own lust for Aimo. 

After Yigu leaves the scene, the party goes on for a bit more. Jiajun applies a bit of gentle ribbing to Yigu's naivete. We also begin to learn a bit more about Aimo -- she fears aging. 

In the next sequence, Yigu becomes even more obviously a tool in the power struggle between Aimo and Jianhou. Aimo steals Yigu from Jianhou, and Jianhou takes his vengeance, in a way that is too far. Jianhou's problem is his complete inability to stand up for himself at the time, which translates into a passive action later. The story is at its most touching when we realize that the big problem between Aimo and Jianhou is that they cannot communicate. 
建侯到飯廳里,坐下來喝湯,一言不發,愛默也不講話。
Perhaps its related to see that when they do fight, it's in English, ostensibly so the servants can't understand? (Here we see clear signs of the comedy of manners from English entered into the writing, as well.)
MSP Airport Shuttle Stop, Monday, Sept. 19

 建侯覺得躺著吵架,形勢不利。
Shades of Noel Coward? In the ensuing fight, with great dialogue, we grow to appreciate Aimo's verbal ability. This puts us in mind of Jianhou's father's advice about combining cultures, and Jianhou's mistake. 

Finally, we return to Yigu as he makes his move on Aimo. A really wonderful line: 
一個十八九歲沒有女朋友的男孩子,往往心里藏的女人抵得上皇帝三十六宮的數目,心里的污穢有時過于公共廁所。
Made me think that the gesture of refinement on top of the coarse contains a message that language play is a refinement thrown over the coarseness that we all have in common. Yigu is able to recognize the coarseness underneath Aimo in the end, but is still no kind of hero, because he lacks the compassion to say anything useful to Aimo in her hour of need. 
頤谷看見愛默哭了,不知所措,忽然發現了愛默哭的時候,她的年齡,她相貌上的缺陷都顯示出來,她的臉在眼淚下也象潑著水的鋼筆字,模糊浮腫。
The final, lyrical, sentence brings to mind how the conflicts and tensions have been passed down from 30 year olds to 20 year olds, and even younger. So the worst bits of humanity propagate, in short steps, and yet always with some hope for change. 
這許多思想,攙了他手同看窗外風景的女孩子全不知道。她只覺得人生前途正象火車走不完的路途,無限地向自己展開。