In “Collaborating with Surveillance: Wolfgang Hilbig’s East German Fiction” (see below), Angela Woodward highlights, among other things, Hilbig’s tendency in his fiction to privilege objects over persons:
How often do two people who have been watching a film look upon each other breathless and transfixed at the end? I had seen Yi Yi, Edward Yang’s 1999 film, but as is often true with any pleasure, I had to share the experience with someone and so a week after seeing it I played the DVD for a friend. For a second time I was crushed, weeping at many of the same scenes, yet finding different shadings in the various plots and subplots. It’s the story of birth and death in an extended family, but it is much more.
The film is set in Taipei, and its opening piano music set over a wedding reception makes one think it may be a Taiwanese Terms of Endearment. To some extent this is true, but people coming into this film won’t be overwhelmed by the star power of the American film, though a few of Yi Yi’s actors are famous in the East. If all the players are strangers and to some extent the culture (the island of Taiwan has a checkered history, being thrown back and forth between Chinese and Japanese rule), audience identification can be purer. If given, trust won’t be tainted by the accuracy of marketing to the right demographic. So who is Yi Yi aimed at? Yang’s film is directed to the humanists and to the people who have loved life and hated it—people who have tried to do their best and ever endeavor to know themselves better.
From Letters of Note:
In July of 1883, the novelist Henry James received an emotional letter from Grace Norton — a good friend and fellow writer who, following a death in the family, had recently become depressed and was desperate for direction. James’s beautiful response can be seen below. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest letters of advice I’ve ever had the fortune to read.
Embedding oneself in The Ambassadors by Henry James is like reading little else. Every time I take book in hand again, an unending endoscopy of my perceptions proceeds until I shut it. Take this section of beauty from a quarter of the way through. Strether, the main character, is talking to Madame de Vionnet—a woman who has some hold on Chad. This young man is the son of Mrs. Newsome. It is she who has dispatched Strether to Paris to see what is keeping her son there—she wants him to return to Massachusetts and take over the family business. Mrs. Newsome is also Strether’s love interest and it is probable he will marry her if he succeeds in getting her son back to the old USA:
Parts PLURAL NOUN 1. Personal abilities or talents: a man of many parts. 2. short for private parts.
Both of these readings are clearly sustained throughout the novel. Wells is clearly a man of talents, which are varied if not always compatible. He is also a man driven by his private parts, a priapic adventurer whose sexual conquests often undid much of what his talents might have achieved. But having read much by and about Wells over the last few years, I am inclined to a third reading: that he was a man in parts, a man whose life was in bits that in a sense even he could not put together. He was not whole. Continue reading
[By now it was late. The three stars were dimpling the sky. The baby raccoon was crying for its milk (I’d taken in an orphan the week before). But Jeremy and I weren’t finished yet discussing the movies we’d just watched.]
A D: You had a rather serious reaction to this one, Jeremy. Were you crying afterward?
Jeremy: Yes. Crying because I realized how much of my life I had wasted watching movies. What George Lucas did for his own franchise with the prequels, Malick did for all of cinema with The Tree of Life.
How can I contain myself? (But perhaps the question is: how could Gass both contain and not contain himself to have done what he did?) Having had The Tunnel to go back to every morning was like having the one you love next to you, to be transfixed and freshened, to be, as that worthy words man said, surprised by joy and impatient as the wind. (First post on approaching The Tunnel)
In the end (and there can’t be an end to such a work that reverberates on itself and the whole of literature, philosophy, and history), Gass’s explication of Kohler’s consciousness is all tongue, all logos, but a logos of the highest order. Is there pity and terror? Is there sentimentality? Many monsters have their sweet side and though some have called Kohler a monster, I would just call him a guy who tells the truth of his story, no matter the lies of old age one tells to lessen the pains of the past. At the center of his thoughts is the idea of the fascism of the heart, with Kohler himself as the case study. He gives us his life in many slices of pie (sugar and sweets, such as ice cream and cake abound in the book). He also heaps us with shit, with the staged, and with something surfacely sentimental, but wholly human: