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音速 / 商禽

17 Dec

音速 / 商禽
─────────────────────────────────

─悼王迎先

有人從橋上跳下來。
那姿勢零亂而僵直,恰似電影中道具般的身軀,突然,在空中,停格
了二分之一秒,然后才緩緩繼續下降。原來,他被從水面反彈回來的
自己在蹤身時所發出的那一聲淒厲的叫喊托了一下,因而在落水時也
祇有淒楚一響。

一九八七年八月二十八日 中和

莫言:天堂蒜薹之歌

17 Dec

第10章

那个眉眼酷肖高马的孩子怒目直视着她,吼叫着:

“让我出去!让我出去!你不放我出去,你算个什么娘?”

她眼里流着血,推开枣红马驹长方形的冰凉头颅,说:

“孩子,娘想明白啦,你别出来了,你出来干什么?你知道这外边的苦处吗?”

男孩停止了挣扎,问:

“外边是什么样子,你说给我听听。”

她把正用温暖的紫舌舔着她的脸的枣红马驹推开,说:

“孩子,你听到鹦鹉们的叫声了吗,你好好听听?”

男孩竖起了耳朵,认真谛听着。

“这是高直楞家的鹦鹉群,有黄的,有红的,有蓝的,有绿的……五颜六色,色色俱全。它们都生着弯钩嘴,头顶上高挑着一撮翎毛,它们吃肉,喝血,吸脑子。孩子,你敢出来吗?”

男孩好像感到了恐惧,把身体紧缩了起来。

“孩子,你看,那遍地的蒜薹,像一条条毒蛇,盘结在一起,它们吃肉,喝血,吸脑子。孩子,你敢出来吗?”

男孩的手脚盘结起来,眼睛里结了霜花。

“孩子,娘当初也像你一样,想出来见世界,可到了这世界上,吃了些猪狗食,出了些牛马力,挨了些拳打脚踢,你姥爷还把我吊在屋梁上用鞭抽。孩子,你还想出来吗?”

男孩把脖子也缩了进去,整个身体团成了一个球,只有那两只大眼睛还是可怜巴巴地睁着。

“孩子,你爹正被公安局追捕着,你爹家里穷得连耗子都留不住了,你姥爷让车轧死了,你姥姥被抓走了,你两个舅舅分了家,家破人亡,无依无靠,孩子,你还想出来吗?”

男孩闭上了眼睛。

枣红马驹从敞开的窗户里把头伸进来,用温暖的舌头舔着她的手背,马脖子上的铜铃丁丁当当地响着。她用另一只手抚摸着马驹平整的脑门,和它的深深的眼窝。马驹的皮肤光滑凉爽,好像高级的绸缎。她的眼里盈了泪,她看到马驹的眼里也盈出了泪。

男孩又蠕动起来,他眯着眼说:

“娘,我还是想出去看看,我看到了一个圆圆的火球在转动着。”

“孩子,那是太阳。”

“我要看看太阳!”

“孩子,不能看,这是一团火,它把娘的皮肉都烤焦啦。”

“我看到遍野里都是鲜花,我还闻到了它们的香味!”

“孩子,那些花有毒,那香味就是毒气,娘就要被它们毒死了!”

“娘,我想出去,摸摸红马驹的头!”

她抬手打了枣红马驹一巴掌,马驹一愣,从窗户跳出去,嗒嗒地跑走了。

“孩子,没有红马驹,它是个影子!”

男孩闭死了眼,再也不动。

她从墙角上找到一根绳子,拴在门的上框,下端挽成一个圆圆的套,又找来一根小凳子,踏着。她用手摸摸绳套,绳子粗糙扎手,她有些犹豫,想找点油抹在绳上。这时窗外响起枣红马驹的嘶鸣,为了防止男孩再被惊醒,她赶快把头伸进套里去,然后一脚踢飞了凳子。红马驹从窗户里伸进头来,她想伸手再去摸一下那光滑冰凉的马额头,但胳膊抬不起来了。

Calvino on Ovid’s Metamorphoses

21 Aug

This technique of metamorphosis has been studied by Sceglov in an extremely lucid and persuasive essay. ‘All these transformations’, saysSceglov, ‘concern the distinctive physical and spatial characteristics which Ovid usually highlights even in elements not subject to metamorphosis(“hard rock”, “long body”, “curved back”) . . . Thanks to his knowledge of the properties of things, the poet provides the shortest route for themetamorphosis, because he knows in advance what man has in common with dolphins, as well as what he lacks compared to them, and what theylack compared to him. The essential point is that since he portrays the whole world as a system made up of elementary components, the process of transformation — this most unlikely and fantastic phenomenon — is reduced to a sequence of quite simple processes. The event is no longer represented as a fairytale but rather as a collection of everyday, realistic facts (growing, diminishing, hardening, softening, curving, straightening, joining, separating etc.).’

Ovid’s writing, as described by Sceglov, appears to contain within itself the model, or at least the programme, for Robbe-Grillet at his most coldand rigorous. Of course such a description does not exhaust everything we can find in Ovid. But the important point is that this way of portraying(animate and inanimate) objects objectively, ‘as different combinations of a relatively small number of basic, very simple elements’ sums up exacdythe only incontrovertible philosophy in the poem, namely ‘that of the unity and inter-connectedness of everything that exists in the world, both thingsand living creatures’.

Setting out his cosmogony in the first book and his profession of faith in Pythagoras in the last, Ovid clearly wanted to provide this naturalphilosophy with a theoretical basis, perhaps to rival the by now remote Lucretius. There has been considerable discussion as to the weight oneshould attach to these professions of faith, but probably the only thing thatmatters is the poetic consistency of the manner in which Ovid portrays and narrates his world: namely this swarming and intertwining of events thatare often similar but are always different, in which the continuity and mobility of everything is celebrated.

Before he has even finished the chapter on the origins of the world and its early catastrophes, Ovid is already embarking on the series of loveaffairs that the gods have with nymphs or mortal girls. There are several constants in the love stories (which mostly occupy the liveliest part of thepoem, the first eleven books): as Bernardini has shown they involve love at first sight, overwhelming desire, no psychological complications, and demand an immediate resolution. And since the desired creature usually refuses and flees, the motif of the chase through the woods constandyrecurs; metamorphosis can occur at different times, either before (the seducer’s disguise), during (the pursued maiden’s escape), or afterwards(punishment inflicted by another jealous deity on the seduced girl).

Compared with the constant pressure of male desire, the instances of female initiative in love are rather rare; but to compensate, these are usuallymore complex desires, not sudden whims but real passions, which involve greater psychological richness (Venus in love with Adonis), often containa more morbid erotic element (the nymph Salmacis who when she sexually embraces Hermaphroditus blends into a bisexual creature), and insome cases are totally illicit, incestuous passions (such as the tragic characters Myrrha and Byblis: the way in which the latter realises her desirefor her brother, through a revelatory but upsetting dream, is one of the finest psychological passages in Ovid), or tales of homosexual love (Iphys), or of wicked jealousy (Medea). The stories of Jason and Medea open up right at the centre of the poem (Book 7) a space for a genuine romance tale,involving a mixture of adventure, brooding passion, and the ‘black’ grotesque scene of the magic philtres, which will resurface almost identically in Macbeth.

The move from one story to the next without any interval is underlined by the fact that – as Wilkinson points out – ‘the end of a story rarely coincideswith the end of a book. He will even begin a new one within the last few lines. This is partly the time-honoured device of the serial writer to whet thereader’s appetite for the next instalment; but it is also an indication of the continuity of the work, which should not have been divided into books atall, were it not that its length necessitated a number of rolls. Thisthen gives us the impression of a real and consistent world in which events which are usually considered in isolation interact with each other.
The stories are often similar, never the same. It is not by chance that the most heart-rending tale is that of the unlucky love of Echo (Book 3),doomed to repeat sounds, for the young Narcissus, who in turn is condemned to contemplate his own repeated image in the reflecting waters. Ovidruns across this forest of love stories which are all the same and all different, pursued by the voice of Echo resounding from the rocks ‘Coeamus!’‘Coèamus!’ ‘Coëamus!’ [1979]
Italo Calvino

Why Read theCLASSICS?
Translated from the Italian byMARTIN MCLAUGHLINTranslation copyright © 1999 by Jonathan Cape

pp. 34-35.

Pheng Cheah on the relationship of NGOs and nation-states

23 Dec

“Ideally, a global civil society or public sphere would transcend nationalist interests because it would be the autonomous site of mediation between ‘humanity’ and a global political order. However, human rights NGOs do not possess the requisite autonomy. In the first place, transnational social movements occur in a decentralized political system where no supranational executive body independent of the compliance of nation-states for the enforcement of its decisions exists and where mass-based loyalty to the world of humanity is insignificant. Thus, civil-society institutions are constrained by and have to rely on the agency of nation-states and are largely defined in terms of national bases.” (Pheng Cheah, “Posit(ion)ing Human Rights in the Current Global Conjuncture,” in Transnational Asia Pacific: Gender, Culture, and the Public Sphere. eds. Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, Larry E.Smith and Wimal Dissanayake. Urbana and Chicago: Univ.of Illinois Press, 1999, p. 27; 11-42).

A Great Zbigniew Herbert Poem

1 Aug

“There is a curious poem by Zbigniew Herbert, ‘Mona Lisa.” Leonardo’s painting in the Louvre symbolizes the Europe of supreme cultural achievements, but a Europe that was for many years forbidden to the inhabitants of countries behind the Iron Curtain. Images of war and annihilation are the background for the representation of a dream about going one day to Paris. The narrator obviously is a survivor with obsessive memories. Those very memories make a mockery out of a meeting with Mona Lisa, an inert object.”

Through seven mountain frontiers
barbed wire of rivers
and executed forests
and hanged bridges
I kept coming –

through waterfalls of stairways

whirlings of sea wings

and baroque heaven

all bubble with angels

-to you

Jerusalem in a frame

So I’m here

You see, I am here

I hadn’t a hope

but I’m here

Laboriously smiling

resin colored mute convex

As if constructed out of lenses

concave landscape for a background

between the blackness of her back

which is like a moon in clouds

and the first tree of the surroundings

is a great void froths of light

so I’m here

sometimes it was

sometimes it seemed that

don’t even think about it

only her regulated smile

her head a pendulum at rest

her eyes dream into infinity

but in her glances snails are asleep

so I’m here

they were all going to come

I’m alone

when already

he could no longer move his head

he said

as soon as all this is over

I’m going to Paris

between the second and the third finger

of the right hand

a space

I put in this furrow

they empty shells of fates

so I’m here

it’s me here

pressed into the floor

with living heels

Quoted in Czeslaw Milosz, Beginning With My Streets, trans. Madeline G. Levine NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1991, 74-76.

Roland Barthes: Empire of Signs

17 Jun

In Barthes’ Empire of Signs, Barthes begins by outlining his desire to “isolate somewhere in the world (faraway) a certain number of features (a term employed in linguistics), and out of these features deliberately form a system” (trans. Richard Howard, NY: Hill and Wang, 1982, 3). The system, “though in no way claiming to represent or to analyze reality itself (these being the major gestures of Western discourse)” is “[one] which I shall call: Japan” (ibid.). This is the first hint of one of the constitutive limits to Barthes’ project: this fictive “Japan” will also in some sense be based upon a materially existing “Japan” which is implicitly posited, like Derrida’s deconstruction of logos, as the limit of “the West”. Indeed, Barthes openly states as much:

“Hence Orient and Occident cannot be taken here as ‘realities’ to be compared and contrasted historically, philosophically, culturally, politically. I am not lovingly gazing toward an Oriental essence – to me the Orient is a matter of indifference, merely providing a reserve of features whose manipulation – whose invented interplay – allows me to ‘entertain’ the idea of an unheard-of symbolic system, one altogether detached from our own. What can be addressed, in the consideration of the Orient, are not other symbols, another metaphysics, another wisdom (though the latter might appear highly desirable); it is the possibility of a difference, of a mutation, of a revolution in the propriety of symbolic systems. Someday we must write the history of our own obscurity – manifest the density of our narcissism, tally down through the centuries the several appeals to difference we may have occasionally heard, the ideological recuperations which have infallibly followed and which consist in always acclimating our incognizance of Asia by means of certain known languages (the Orient of Voltaire, of the Revue Asiatique, of Pierre Loti, or of Air France)….[it is absurd] to try to contest our society without ever conceiving the very limits of the language by which (instrumental relation) we claim to contest it: it is trying to destroy the wolf by lodging comfortably in its gullet. Such exercises of an aberrant grammar would at least have the advantage of casting suspicion on the very ideology of our speech” (ibid., 3-4, 8).

It is remarkable to read this passage, published some nine years before Said’s Orientalism, but which seems almost as if Said had used it as his own thesis (Said also used the example of Voltaire). Still, even if Barthes is acknowledging the faults of much popular (and “intellectual”) literature that takes an object of difference as a source of negative knowledge (“the East offers what the West does not/no longer does”), his own project does not seem entirely different from that literature, notwithstanding it attempts to avoid the lure of reading in Japan “another metaphysics”. There remains in Barthes’ project a material basis which it shares in common with the Revue Asiatique: the status of late sixties Japan as a developed, modern country in Asia, one which had become a prominent object of Western interest since the reforms and “opening” of the Meiji period. It is hard to ignore this context, since it is precisely what must be taken into account in accounting for why Barthes has chosen “Japan” as a “system of signs”, and been able to visit this particular “system”, as opposed, say, to Vietnam, or Thailand, or any other number of possible “systems”.

Still, there is much to enjoy in Barthes, not least of which is his style. Here he perfectly captures Pachinko’s boredom and American conservatism:

“What is the use of this art? to organize a nutritive circuit. The Western machine sustains a symbolism of penetration: the point is to possess, by a well-placed thrust, the pinup girl who, all lit up on the panel of the machine, allures and waits. In pachinko, no sex (in Japan – in that country I am calling Japan – sexuality is in sex, not elsewhere; in the United States, it is the contrary; sex is everywhere, except in sexuality). The machines are managers, lined up in rows; the player, with an abrupt gesture, renewed so rapidly that it seems uninterrupted, feeds the machine with his metal marbles; he stuffs them in, the way you would stuff a goose; from time to time the machine, filled to capacity, releases its diarrhea of marbles; for a few yen, the player is symbolically spattered with money. Here we understand the seriousness of a game which counters the constipated parsimony of salaries, the constriction of capitalist wealth, with the voluptuous debacle of silver balls, which, all of a sudden, fill the player’s hand” (ibid., 28-29).

Two more excerpts from this work demonstrate the poetic aspects of Barthes work: much of his writing feels very relevant to performance arts (drama, music, film) because of how it affirms the value of space and action in and of themselves. It often reminds me of the style of writing Ballard developed around the time of The Atrocity Exhibition:

“The other politeness, by the scrupulosity of its codes, the distinct graphism of its gestures, and even when it seems to us exaggeratedly respectful (i.e., to our eyes, ‘humiliating’) because we read it, in our manner, according to a metaphysics of the person – this politeness is a certain exercise of the void (as we might expect within a strong code by one signifying ‘nothing’). Two bodies bow very low before one another (arms, knees head always remaining in a decreed place), according to subtly coded degrees of depth. Or again (on an old image): in order to give a present, I bow down, virtually to the level of the floor, and to answer me, my partner does the same: one and the same low line, that of the ground, joins the giver, the recipient, and the stake of the protocol, a box which may well contain nothing – or virtually nothing; a graphic form (inscribed in the space of the room) is thereby given to the act of exchange, in which, by this form, is erased any greediness (the gift remains suspended between two disappearances). The salutation here can be withdrawn from any humiliation or any vanity, because it literally salutes no one; it is not the sign of a communication – closely watched, condescending and precautionary – between two autarchies, two personal empires (each ruling over its Ego, the little realm of which it holds the ‘key’); it is only the feature of a network of forms in which nothing is halted, knotted, profound. Who is saluting whom?” (ibid., 67-68).

On the zengakuren riots: “All this combines to produce a mass writing, not a group writing (the gestures are completed, the persons do not assist each other); finally, the extreme risk of the sign, it is sometimes acknowledged that the slogans chanted by the combatants should utter not the Cause, the Subject of the action (what one is fighting for or against) – this would be once again to make language the expression of a reason, the assurance of a good cause – but only this action itself (The Zengakuren are going to fight), which is thereby no longer covered, directed, justified, made innocent by language – their external divinity superior to the combat, like a Marseillaise in her Phrygian bonnet – but doubled by a pure vocal exercise which simply adds to the volume of violence, a gesture, one muscle more” (ibid., 106).

Ammons

9 Jun

Mansion

So it came time 
for me to cede myself 
and I chose 
the wind 
to be delivered to 

The wind was glad 
and said it needed all 
the body 
it could get 
to show its motions with 

and wanted to know 
willingly as I hoped it would 
if it could do 
something in return 
to show its gratitude 

When the tree of my bones 
rises from the skin I said 
come and whirlwinding 
stroll my dust 
around the plain 

so I can see 
how the ocotillo does 
and how saguaro-wren is 
and when you fall 
with evening 

fall with me here 
where we can watch 
the closing up of day 
and think how morning breaks

(A.R. Ammons, 1955)