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.
As far as myself and many others, the most important question in our lives is, How do we go on living after what we experience, endure, and know? Continue reading
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
I love San Francisco. Especially the book stores and thrift stores. The Community Thrift Store in the Mission has been a goldmine for me the last six years and each time I come here I check in and check out with jewels for about $1.50 each. I remember going there and finding the first six issues of NOON for $.50 each. Last year there were two first editions of Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist and one of his The Hundred Brothers. Ardvark Books in the Castro also has great finds. The first two days of my trip there was, bookwise, delightful.