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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Change

It is like having been on an anchored boat for a long time before it starts drifting very gradually, undetected. Then I look up, suddenly surrounded by strange scenery, and my brain is disoriented, confused, with the past and present locations overlapping and fighting with each other within my senses, as if I were standing in two places at once. My body has moved but the head is left behind. It will take some getting used to. It will take some time.

On the Line

一天看完一本书,这种事儿我也偶尔干过。但是一般情况下,除非吃饱了撑的,哪有时间与动力和必要?

SJ Rozan 的新小说是Lydia Chin/Bill Smith系列中Bill Smith为主角的一本。之前在她的网站上看见第一章开头,觉得很吸引,就打算一出版(9/28)就买Kindle版一睹为快,可是绝没料到是这种"一睹为快"。

28日晚上下载到Kindle上,打算慢慢地看。29日早晨上班路上心一痒就开始看起来,下了公车心里已经有预感这本小说可能会让我忍不住看到深更半夜。中午lunch break 的时候,继续看,下午下班路上,继续看,已经收不住眼了。昨晚回家后,还做饭烧了蟹粉豆腐。饭后继续看,一直到十点半,该睡觉了,这时已读到>70%,无论如何放不下,心知即使放下了也睡不着,也不管 Kindle每页字少,连蹦带跳,连段跳过,哗哗狂翻,终于在凌晨1点10分看完了。

这就是"拿起就放不下,上厕所都带着"的page-turner典型呀。

**************

说起来这本小说跟之前的四本Bill Smith系列小说风格完全不同,虽然人物还是旧的。之前的小说布局缜密复杂,细节则纯写实主义,气氛很重,遵循传统的硬煮派侦探小说结构,而且她挑中一个环境(如:建筑工地,Harlem的老人院,纽约上州小镇)仔细地投入地描写。但是这一本完全颠覆前面的套路,转而采用另一个十分陌生的 thriller 小说结构 --- 怎么形容呢?最接近的比喻是: 跟 Mark Gatiss 写的电视剧 Sherlock 系列第三集几乎完全一样。

一开头,Bill就接到一个电话,电话里一个改造的声音说他绑架了Lydia,不为赎款,只要跟Bill玩一个游戏。然后Bill就收到一些线索(看似无厘头的物件),他必须从这些线索里拼凑出对方的指令,谜底是一个地点,等他到了这个地点,他会碰见一具尸体,或者一个马上就要被杀的人,受害者都是某唐人街黑帮手下的华裔妓女。第一次没救成,但是后面几次Bill得到救人的机会。每次谜底找到之后,他会接到信的线索,跑到下一个地方。如此,坏人把他在纽约市区调来调去,南北跑遍。Bill虽然失去了平时的搭档Lydia,但他在此案中也不是一个人,他的合作伙伴是Lydia的一个远房亲戚少年Linus和他的女朋友。Linus在一旁鼓捣电脑,iPhone,Facebook, Twitter,动用一切通讯技术协助他找线索,猜谜语;只会勉强用手机通话的Bill看得目瞪口呆。而这个坏人呢,也是一个疯狂变态但是精打细算的危险对手,在电话里以及当面冲突中的疯狂古怪也跟某Jim Moriarty的形象做派极其相似。整个小说摒弃了过去的细腻写实风格,变成 a crazy race against time,紧锣密鼓,一浪过去又来一浪,从头到尾让人几乎没有喘气的机会。

当然,故事本身的内容跟Sherlock第三集完全不同,线索与谜底与救人经过相当独特,反正我没见过类似的情节。但是这个追踪过程,plot device,是非常类似的。

这时机还真巧,几乎可以类比为凶杀案的 alibi (不在场证明),因为Rozan和Gatiss二人的写作时间是重合的,而且地理/职业环境似乎没有交集,所以我认为他俩绝不可能互相影响,二者的惊人相似只能是巧合。

On the Line 绝对应该拍成电影,太紧凑太抓人了。这本小说不如前面的小说深刻、真实、细腻,也完全没有讨论社会问题(前面的小说有,但写得好,没有说教感),人物刻画也很简略,一切为推动情节服务。非常非常紧张好看,情节则一如既往地精彩缜密,极少漏洞,节奏极快,是上佳的纯娱乐作品。如果这是某系列小说中第一本,就嫌有点功利主义,人物不够鲜明,描述有些单薄,但这是系列中第十本,作者早已建立了人物性格和彼此关系,也建立了她深刻思考和微妙体现的能力,现在只是 having some fun,并跳出臼套,颇有游戏味道,倒让人觉得她有求变的意图。

唯一的遗憾是,Lydia 和 Bill 最后还是没有解决两个人之间的暧昧!

深更半夜看完之后我叹口气,On the Line 这书名太平淡了,一个更贴切的书名应该叫 ...

The Great Game.

**********

忍不住引用一段,此处Linus和女友使用电讯技术帮Bill,令中年侦探感叹时代变化快:

I didn't understand what that meant, besides "No." I gave up. I was surrounded by people thumbing buttons on cell phones and I had no idea what was going on. I half-expected Woof (the dog) to paw a phone from his collar.

整个这段实际上更加好笑,连他们之中的一个黑帮打手都掏出手机说,来来来,你 friend 我一下。Bill在一旁看傻了都。

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Talk About What You Know, Know What You Talk About

什么仁儿都有吧。在 YouTube 上找了几个不同版本的 "Being Alive" 来听,就看见留言里有人很不屑地说 Raul Esparza 的版本用了太多 vibrato,鼻音太重,声音不美,手脚不动,blah blah blah。原剧看过没?讲啥故事知道不?一个畏首畏尾没勇气投入生活的男人,到最后终于鼓起爱的勇气。完美的声音有个P用。我没看过现场表演,不敢说 Esparza 版本的 Bobby 是最好的,但是里面的感情却是真的,追求完美反而肯定是错了。跑到 YouTube 上炫耀自己多么精通歌剧唱腔和技巧,无聊透了。

同时回想起前两天看见的影评,好像还是 NPR 上影评人写的,Philip Seymour Hoffman 在 Jack Goes Boating 里的人物呆头呆脑,让人疑心他是弱智,我当时肚子里发怒:你TMD才弱智,你全家都弱智,看不懂就别胡说八道,有这精力专门去写 Transformer 3 的影评好了。

艺术本来就是主观的,观众各自看法不同,这没什么稀奇的,我最烦的是看也没看过就信口开河,讲的是啥都没搞清楚就滔滔不绝。这年头最热门的做法就是高谈阔论你从没读过的书

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Being Alive

This seems to be a reprisal month. Just rewatched the DVD of Stephen Sondheim's musical Company (the 2006 revival version starring Raul Esparza). Sondheim is a fucking genius. Genius! Company speaks to me. Me. That is the power of art -- It's the lie that tells the truth (Picasso). It's fake but speaks about real people.

The lyrics of the last song in the musical, Being Alive:

Someone to hold you too close
Someone to hurt you too deep
Someone to sit in your chair
To ruin your sleep
To make you aware
Of being alive
Someone to need you too much
Someone to know you too well
Someone to pull you up short
To put you through hell
To give you support
In being alive
Being alive
Someone you have to let in
Someone whose feelings you spare
Someone who, like it or not
Will want you share
A little, a lot
Someone to crowd you with love
Someone to force you to care
Someone to make you come through
Who'll always be there
As frightened as you
Of being alive
Being alive
Being alive
Being alive
Somebody, hold me too close
Somebody hurt me too deep
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive
Being alive
Somebody, need me too much
Somebody, know me too well
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive
Make me alive
Make me confused
Mock me with praise
Let me be used
Vary my days
But alone is alone
Not alive
Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

Second Sketch of the Earnest Doc

It is 4 pm and my brain is mush.

Somehow I ended up working on another project with the earnest Dr. MH at the head of the table. Poor thing is so tightly wound (or, as some say, urgently need to have the stick taken out of his a**). Every member of the team giggled at one point or another during the meeting. Yes, he is a pain in our a**, but I think we all know that he is a nice guy at heart and cannot help being a neurotic. So we forgive him and indulge him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jack Goes Boating



Most of the reviews of the movie have been mixed. I kind of understand why after seeing it today. Its origin as a modest 4-person play shows in the movie version, and the director, PSH himself, decided not to "movie-fy" it too much with dazzling camera work and a lot of locations, with one exception --- a scene in which John Ortiz has a brief moment in the grand Astoria-Waldorf hotel. And it was an illuminating and effective scene, I would say.

Back to the public gripes. I can understand that a viewer, especially a critic, might feel the characterizations are a bit "cropped," confined, incomplete, for the Ortiz & Daphne Rubin-Vega characters. All 3 of them, Ortiz, Rubin-Vega, and PSH were in the original cast of the play. The last one, Jack's love interest Connie, is now played by Amy Ryan. It's a rather unambitious play that chooses not to dig too deep or too far into the roots of the characters' psychology. Yet, I have to point out, the observations are sharp and uncompromising.

OK, whatever, mixed reviews, flaws, modest setup, etc. Here is what happened to me.

*************

Before I left home for the movie theater, I looked up the metro web site and found that the trains were delayed by maintenance work. With some guilt I decided to drive. It turned out to be a fortunate decision.

I had expected to cry a little during the movie, but actually it was not too bad. The movie has quite a bit of hard edges and PSH did not go soft, either, in his first directing effort. I wept a bit, twice, but that was it. It ended. I slipped into another screen to watch "Catfish," rather enjoyed it, and walked out of there at 4 pm. I started driving home. Then I thought back on "Jack Goes Boating," and suddenly began sobbing violently in the car. I sobbed for a good 10 minutes with eyes fixed on the road and tears pouring down my face.

No, no, I don't think this is because I love PSH, although I do love him. Or perhaps it is because I love him, because I feel like I know him a little, and the movie seems so intimately and honestly close to the person I think he is. Like his acting, his directing is subtle, delicate, and introverted.

Is Jack PSH himself? No, not really. Jack is not portrayed as a shy, cute, entirely harmless and perfectly affable stuffed Koala bear. Actually, every character in the play carries certain unexplained shadows behind their eyes. PHS did not make Jack instantly lovable to win us over. This is not his sob story. At first he seems pathetic and --- perhaps the worst quality as a supposed romantic lead character --- incurably inarticulate. Besides a few grunts of "yeah" and an annoying throat-clearing tic, he hardly said anything. Of course, we all know that PSH is able to convey the tiniest emotional flutter with a twitch or a look --- and he certainly did. Still, for most of the movie I didn't *like* this character as much as I had expected. The writer made very little effort to manipulate us and push our pity buttons for any of them. And yet, hours after the movie, a wave of pity --- or perhaps empathy --- crashed in my face.

In many scenes, PSH would sit quietly in a corner, looking at others speaking or fighting. The expression on his face I immediately recognized, because I know people like that --- like Jack, while I suspect PSH himself is not so different either. They are extremely sensitive to the emotional state of others around them. They cannot help but tune into "the vibe" around them. The misery of another person within close proximity shoots a dose of pain in their vein. They can't bear the endless shocks of dread, anguish, hurt, and sadness permeating from people around them, so they shut down and barricade themselves to protect their peace and sanity. They need very gentle handling. This is an element that, I am sure, few if any critic picked up on.

Then, of course, there was also a few delicious 肚腩 shots for me to indulge in.

Rag

最近把 Bryan Wright 的钢琴独奏专辑 Breakin' Notes 听了很多遍。在 YouTube 上看见他的一些演奏视频,放几个链接上来记录一下。

1. 我很喜欢的 Roberto Clemente (1979,作曲 David Roberts).
2. Impressionistic Bix Beiderbecke piano solos (Candlelights, Flashes, In the Dark).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thais

见人提起 Anatole France 的小说 Thais,觉得故事内容忒眼熟。讲一个公元四世纪的苦行修道士,跑到亚历山大城去说服美艳绝伦的名妓 Thais 抛弃荣华富贵,去沙漠里信上帝修行。美女被他说服,跟着他去山里的修女院,和尚回到自己的修道院,情欲中烧 --- 原来他的潜意识里一直在狐假虎威,打着上帝的旗号去接近美女。实在忍不住了跑去找美女,嚷嚷着要放弃修行做她的情人,但是美女已经病危,看不见也听不见他,眼睛里只有大开天堂之门的上帝之光。

为啥说眼熟呢?原来我在高中的时候就在外国小说集里看见过这篇故事,当时就觉得很迷惑,这是宣扬赞颂呢还是在讽刺基督教?作者口吻模棱两可,我当时才十几岁,看不透作者的用意。但是在那上下还读过了毛姆的中篇小说 Rain,情节颇有相似之处,虽然背景大相径庭,而 Rain 是很明显的讥笑讽刺狂热传教士的。所以难免疑心 France 也是同道中人。(现在回想起来,Thais 出版在先,毛姆又精通法国文学,多半是看过的。)

现在随手一狗,即在 Google Books 上发现有英文翻译版(原著为法文)。随手翻到一页,说 Thais 拿了个价值连城精美无比的爱神Eros小雕像,犹豫地问要不要跟其他的精美珠宝一起烧掉呢?有艺术价值哎。修道士一把抓过来扔进火里“烧掉烧掉!被罪人碰过的都是罪物,都要消灭!” 我哈哈大笑,立刻就知道他是在讽刺而非颂扬了。

然后再一狗,发现他还写过一篇更直接的讽刺小说《企鹅岛国》,说是一个耳朵聋眼神儿也差的传教士跑到一荒岛上,遇到一群个子矮小,性情和平善良,但是未曾受洗得救,而且不穿衣服就晃来晃去的土著居民,就当即给他们集体受洗,且教他们穿衣服,走信神的正道... 光看情节简介我就要笑抽掉了。下载了这本书到 Kindle 上以后看。

Friday, September 24, 2010

黑箭

说起工科生(我自认是医科类),忽然想起 RLS 本来也是学工科的,后来念不下去,转学到法律系,然后还是念不下去,就彻底逃学鸟。:D

这篇小说看到一半,感觉比过去更诧异:这个人简直没道德!先给你树个坏人大 boss,但又讥讽跟他做对的绿林好汉们(这段好象是一边向前辈 Walter Scott 致敬一边还忍不住调侃几句),连男主角也免不了在不那么光彩的情况下出手杀人。大家都真小人,没有高大全的模范。自己没道德,也就没法深刻地探讨和挖掘道德/社会规范与人性的挣扎和无奈了。

我边看边吃吃骇笑:浪漫小说里给男女主角设置的障碍,有时是家仇国恨,有时是阶级分野,有时是性情或信仰冲突,有时是致命的误会,但是从来没见过男主角发脾气要痛打女主角一顿(不过她当时扮成了男孩子),然后想想又觉得不好意思没忍心下手。我又疑心是颠覆与嘲笑中世纪骑士准则与道德观,又好笑又可爱。

Thursday, September 23, 2010

心情不好想砸人砖头

忽然秋老虎起来,热得要死。我要考虑一下在加拿大置点地,老了再搬过去正好。

无意中撞到一个叫 Masaga 的影评博。大概是在国内的,被我看见一篇讲美国影评人的文章,真是无比搞笑,作者显然对这些影评人一点都不认识,人家的文章看样子也是没读过的,但这并没有拦住作者洋洋洒洒地写了一篇不着五六的概论综述。多半是被杂志约稿而胡乱翻译点资料拼凑的吧?看到一句好笑而穿帮的话:

封杀影评人这事不奇怪。今年就有一起,纽约一个叫做Armond White的影评人被影片Greenberg封杀了,Greenberg的导演是出身影评人家庭的Noah Baumbach,岂不是咄咄怪事?当然Baumbach自己不会干这种事,肯定是发行公司负责宣传的人干的。

嗯,我虽然没听说也没注意过这事,不过 Noah Baumbach 拒绝让 Armond White 看自己片子倒一点也不意外,多半就是他自己搞的。因为 Armond White 是网上很有争议的一个 troll,喜欢大放厥词骇人听闻,说什么 Transformer 3 是从古至今最伟大的电影之一。很多时候他就是故意跟“主流影评界”唱反调,气他们,说话真真假假。总算他比普通的 trolls 智商高一些,耍起笔杆子还挺溜的,追随者众 --- 里面不少人大概就是跟着起哄的。Baumbach 特地把他赶走实在是太正常了。说实话这种需要哗众取宠填补内心的极度低自尊的人,我才懒得看,只是听过一些关于他的讨论,看过一些心智正常点儿的影评人转载他的话而已。Magasa 显然一点不知 Armond White 的名声,也没看过人家的只言片语。这也奇了,他从哪儿看来这条消息呢?怎么消息来源没提过 White 是个有名声的捣蛋分子呢?

其实一个影评人写篇应付稿,doesn't know what he's talking about, 关我P事。不过让我想起在高中与大学里观察到的一些有点智力的男生,梳着大背头,动不动就滔滔不绝地贩卖观点与新闻,唬得女生一愣一愣的。本以为他们毕业成年之后,都被老婆们欺负成努力工作、收入上交、蔫头蔫脑的中年驼背男,原来还有网络可以抒发一下转手倒卖信口开河的兴致,原来信口开河也不愁没有买主。

Barb 提起毛尖写过关于 RLS 的文章,从爱丁堡到萨摩亚,我在网上找来看(原来是恺蒂写的,不是毛尖)。这篇文里让我觉得最有意思的地方是,作者虽然声称“钟爱”RLS,但是从文章里看不出她读过 RLS 的任何一本书,小说也好散文也好,一笔带过,全部是官方观点,平铺直叙,读起来仿佛读 Wikipedia 或者 Britannica 里的条目,全无她自己的感情和主观印象,笔下的 RLS 也面目模糊,没啥个性。即使是八卦也得有点兴致勃勃气喘吁吁在你耳朵里叽叽咕咕热切地讲个不停的精神头么。让我想起以前跟着小K 的 bloglist 看过一些乔纳森和止庵的文章,也是好像读机器写出来的文章一样,四平八稳老气横秋味同嚼蜡,堆砌着渊博的知识,冷冰冰地推崇赞美一些早已众望所归的名知识分子,没有一点意外与率性的火花,读者如同挖了半天的土豆,得到的只是土豆,从来没撞见过半颗洋葱(除了乔纳森对挑别人翻译错误的执着与兴致让人对他的心理产生点八卦好奇)。我脑子里的 dopamine 已经低到谷底了,没有刺激闷坏了。

No wonder I love RLS --- He is the absolute opposite of stale pomposity ... and bullshit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Books on Kindle (An Inland Voyage and others)

自从买了 Kindle 之后,意外发现触觉和视觉的满足感尤甚读白纸黑字,我把电子版中篇小说也放了上去,而不是打印在纸上阅读。

看完了The Parasite (ACD), An Inland Voyage (RLS), Fire Watch & The Inside Job (Connie Willis) 几篇。

另外下了两本 Hamsun 的小说,一本是曾经疯狂地着迷过的 Pan,另一本是没看过的 The Wanderers,目前尚未开始看。周末在书店里看见一本硬壳纸书,Arthur Conan Doyle 的神秘恐怖故事集,这本书在 Amazon Kindle store 里没有,我就下了一本 ACD 恐怖短篇集,估计里面收集的故事大半重叠。

George Eliot 的 Daniel Delronda 细节极密,节奏缓慢,我只开了个头又放下了,一时没忍住,扭头重读 RLS 的 The Black Arrow,结果一打开 (figuratively) 就放不下了。啊,这本小说第一次读到是在高中时偷看哥哥的翻译小说集里碰上的中文缩写版;后来在大学里找到了全文版;后来又胡乱地读过一遍,所以对情节了然于胸。 This is my favorite romantic novel of all time, ever, bar none. 现在细细地品尝字句 (越来越习惯在 Kindle 上读书比看纸书认真细致),更喜欢了。对话里用了很多古里古气的、莎剧味儿的词句,看人看事的态度则冷嘲热讽,有时插科打诨,让我想起 Falstaff。而俩孩子主角刚认识的时候斗嘴吵架,额,是我读过的所有恋爱桥段里最可爱最真挚最逗的,bar none! 真是的,我并不是个感性浪漫的读者,不知为什么独独这段 teenage love 让我喜欢得要命。除此之外,冒险、打仗、逃亡、复仇,各色奇情,惊险刺激,兼古代细节与历史背景,节奏又恰到好处,不逊于现代 thrillers。总之,令上下班坐车的时间变短,一晃而过。

RLS 的小说非常不“严肃”,大多含有猎奇与刺激的基调,人物也都是“扁形” (ie, 不高级)的 --- 如果按照 EM  Forster 的定义分类来看。故事篇幅大多比较短,情节不复杂。好奇怪,我觉得这个人完全没有维多利亚时代感,甚至可以说没有“英国味儿”,特别率性,口无遮拦,充满了个人观点,兴高采烈地追求新鲜刺激,有时觉得,这人是不是心地很单纯啊?简直就是想啥说啥,太不象英国文人了(虽然他是苏格兰人,但文化环境和时代毕竟狄更斯、早期毛姆他们差不多嘛)。但他又写过两本暗黑纠结的小说,犀利地一刀查入人性与家庭关系里最隐秘的角落 (化身博士和 The Master of Ballantrae),我忍不住挠头。

不过这些还不是最重要的,现在最让我拜倒在地三呼万岁的是他的文笔风格: precise, vivid, elegant, and incredibly beautiful, but completely devoid of any excess or flourish. 各人趣味不同,各有心爱的文字风格; 我是看来看去,还是RLS最贴心。我自己最怕描写景色,左边是什么右边是什么,近处有啥远处有啥 --- 宁可多写动作少写静物,空间感不行,词句又枯燥。而且我也常常不耐烦读别人(包括一些大文豪)絮絮叨叨地描写景色与静态场面,总觉得没有任何事情发生,怕闷。

在 An Inland Voyage 里,他描写行船中一路的自然与人文景色,让我不仅看不腻,没有跳过的欲望,甚至还挺享受,看完80%之后,心里恋恋不舍,恨不得他跟朋友的旅途再长一点,别这么快就结束。描写农场野外也好,乡村少女也好,都活灵活现,而且特别清晰,有电影般的动态画面感,连我这个空间想象力奇差的人都毫不费力地在脑子里看得清清楚楚 --- 我怀疑这方面的天然缺陷是为什么平时我不耐烦看也头痛写无情节的描写段落的原因: 把文字转换成脑中的 actions 比较容易,转换成立体画面比较难。但是没有人比 RLS 写得更清澈优美了!这种优美不是绚丽灿烂、重重叠叠、充满意外的比喻与象征那种类型,绝不是 Ian McEwan 那种时刻提醒读者“瞧我的文字多独特多文艺多聪明别人绝对想不到写不出来”的 self-conscious 的类型,而是看似朴素但绝对精确、举重若轻信手拈来、既简单又美丽得不像话,sending chills of ecstasy tingling down my spine.

这本游记相当短,只有一百页出头,让我不停地想起 Bill Bryson 的 A Walk in the Woods,虽然没有那么 LOL 的地方。两本书甚至连直言不讳旅途中的枯燥、不耐烦、又冷又饿、差点打退堂鼓这些负面叙述都很相似, 但总是不缺自嘲的幽默感, 例如两个人屡次被旅馆老板娘当成 peddlers 而扫地出门。书中还散布了很多人物速写,也是各色各样,没有刻意美化或者丑化的倾向,冷嘲热讽大发议论也是毫无遮掩,一点没想给自己建立一个公允或睿智的形象,真是想什么就说什么啊,真是口无遮拦啊,真是一点扮酷都无啊。 He must have been a hedonist.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More 抓狂

Currently going through some very Kafka-esque shit.

Like many mishaps during travel, I will probably look back on this incident with amusement later, but it is not amusing -- indeed very annoying --- when I'm going through it now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

抓狂

我们这层楼里一定有一家很会做菜的中国人,经常在楼道里或者从窗户里飘进来中餐炒菜味儿,而且是很家常的那种味儿,不是餐馆气。有时是青椒炒肉片,有时是糖醋(不是排骨就是鱼)。现在是周日晚八点五十分,从开着的窗户里又飘进来强烈的爆炒肉菜的香气, drives me up the wall!我不爱切肉,又烦擦锅台上的油腻,所以很少炒菜,真嫉妒,好想去跟人家搭伙呀。

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Connie Willis,时间旅行




十月末打算去一个科幻迷大会 Capclave --- 到底大不大也不知道,不过交通方便,离家近,而且有不少关于写科幻小说的讲座,希望能有点鼓励作用吧至少。

今年的“贵宾”是获奖无数的 Connie Willis,她的小说我基本上没看过,不过前阵子在NPR的广播节目Studio 360上听到一集,专题是关于 Time Travel 的文艺作品,其中就有请 Willis 来讲讲,盖因她写了好多好多关于回到历史时代的故事 --- 但不是 alternative history,不是 Harry Turtlelove 的那种改变历史进程的巨型史诗级小说,而是讲一些不能改变历史进程的小人物。

这节目让我好奇起来,跟S同学一说,他哗哗地从电脑存货里翻出好几篇 Connie Willis 的小说给我拿去恶补。刚看了一个中篇 Fire Watch,讲的是未来的某个历史系学生到历史去实习,被派到1940年的伦敦 Blitz 中,任务是参加保护圣保罗教堂的志愿者们,不让它被炸坏烧坏。在此处网站上可以读到全文。又风趣又温暖又感伤主义,看到结尾时让我哭得眼睛都要肿起来了。这篇小说是当年的 Hugo 和 Nebula 双料奖得主。她的注意力不在于改写历史进程这种宏大的主题和演绎,而是微不足道,无法改变历史但仍然留下足迹的小人物。我喜欢。

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最近在长途飞机路程中因为自己忘记带书看(那时候还没买 Kindle),去抢S 同学带的小说,他塞给我两篇关于时间旅行的短篇小说,一篇是1958年的(作者忘了),一篇是去年发表,今年获得 Hugo 奖的,Charles Stross 写的 Palimpsest。两篇都采用“整个历史可以并且正在被一个极有力的组织随时篡改”这个设定,两篇都不能算特别成功,我觉得。

当然,一旦扯到篡改历史的时间旅行,必然会陷入悖论,不过还是有很多人迎着悖论上阵。这倒没什么,但是 what to do with the premise 仍然是一个问题。 Palimpsest 让男主角回到过去杀了自己的祖父,又回到过去杀了自己,搞出极其宏大的横跨时空的设计,包括改变地球轨道,改变太阳命运,改变太阳系的位置等等,但是在描写一个人的心理上却不能胜任。一个人如果能随时回到过去,抹杀曾经做出的人生决定,抹杀曾经度过的人生,那选择还有什么意义呢?如果我不需要 live with the consequences of my decisions,那我还是我吗?这些问题都被忽略不计。据 Stross 自己说,要把这个设定扩展写成长篇小说,甚至小说系列。也许在长篇中可以对这些问题进行讨论。

两篇小说对比一下很有趣。虽然情节都很奇幻,但是其中人物的关系反应了作者所处的时代变迁以及人自己的视角。1958年的小说里,主角是个女性,她的身份是安慰照顾男性战士的护士兼酒吧女的暧昧职业,恐怕跟二战时的情景记忆犹新有点关联。2010年里的小说,主角是男性,他在年轻受训的时候被一个年长的女教授引诱失身发生关系。

Connie Willis 的 Fire Watch 是1982 写的,所以里面的一个(无关宏旨的)情节也反应了当时的国际局势。三十年后世界形势已经大变,今天看来不免觉得有趣 --- 虽然题材是超越时间,但大家谁都免不了当时的印记。

Friday, September 17, 2010

RLS

Of the hundreds of people (at least) on whose words I have rested my eyes in my life, there is no one for whom I feel more warmth and affection than Robert Louis Stevenson. If I had ever been in love with someone across the space of time, it would be him. As I read his preface to "An Inland Voyage" on my Kindle (just the preface!), my heart swells again at his pure and exuberant soul, as open as the autumnal sky, and I nearly wept with joy and tenderness. I love him. I love, love, love him. If he were alive today I would cross the continent in a wagon to kiss the ground he treads. About his book, he wrote in the preface:

It is best, in such circumstances, to represent a delicate shade of manner between humility and superiority: as if the book had been written by some one else, and you had merely run over it and inserted what was good. But for my part I have not yet learned the trick to that perfection; I am not yet able to dissemble the warm of my sentiments towards a reader; and if I meet him on the threshold, it is to invite him in with a country cordiality.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

亨利八世

这个话题我先挂着,周末来慢慢地说。

最近在从伦敦回家的飞机上看了两集电视剧 The Tudors,觉得很有趣,特别是推行维新变法的 Thomas Cromwell 的故事。嘿嘿,什么东西先天差别,文化差别,制度差别,blah blah blah。搞政治都是一样的。

学术论文

黄仁宇的《万历十五年》,我稀里哗啦连蹦带跳地翻完了。很多地方的确是跟不上,常常会浮出 “真的吗?是不是这样子的啊?”的疑问,但是因为自己对明史(以及通史)都P也不知道,里面的人物也不认识,所以也没有什么具体的想法。

不过他自己在后记中说,论文在1976年写完之后找不到出版社。采用历史学家,哦不,马后炮的角度来看,这也很合乎逻辑。题材本来就如此冷门,内容又太专业,里面又没有通俗点的背景介绍和解释,绝不可能有足够的英文读者大众去买,让出版社收回成本 --- 即使是 riding the wave of post-Nixon public curiosity about China,也不能指望他们读得下去。那么只好靠大学出版社(不营利,靠大学补贴,替大学挣脸)印刷发行,如果走这条路必然要经过 peer review,这么冷门的专业,想必有资格 review 的专家人数很少,圈子很小,大家抬头不见低头见。之所以碰壁了两年,或许是因为行文风格比较通俗和随意 ,欠点儿学院研究者的严谨,又多了几分小说家的想象,还在文中零零落落地散布了不少对历史人物的心理分析甚至用childhood history解释性格,但又没有全面应用心理分析学系统来解释全部现象。(我这么说可不是鼓励人用psychoanalysis 的理论全面解释历史,哆嗦一下。)真正学院派对这样的解释 (interpretation) 多过理论 (theorizing) 的论文不怎么待见,甚至疑虑重重,也是难免的。

当然,后人先揣测再评论古人心理这种事,人人都干,谁也没少干,金庸就写过这种文章,夹带在武侠小说里卖出去。不过金庸不用经过同行教授老学究们的 peer review,他自己的出版社,想印啥就印啥。

黄对万历的性格流露出不少同情,但是说实话,万历到底是斗不过文官而泄气加赌气不管朝政,还是因为缺乏能力、才智、和魄力而让朝政陷入混乱和 inefficiency ,光凭他描述的那些史实,至少我看不出来。黄自己也屡次承认,中国地大人多,分权到地方就有分裂和战争的危险,但是中央集权又很难管理。鞭长莫及,天高皇帝远,这是没办法的事情,罗马帝国和大英帝国一样搞不定。政治制度搞得越来越细致、越来越庞大、越来越死板,就算不是必然也是无可奈何的事情。管理这么大一摊子事, It's a management nightmare. 所以万历的例子不过是个典型,大多数的皇帝(不包括诸侯小国)都会头痛欲裂乃至撂挑子不干或者另寻人生乐趣,为啥单挑万历来讲呢?他很独特么?我没看出来。

象康熙和唐太宗那种天生就是管理和政治天才而且有兴趣钻研这个搞得兴高采烈,they were the exceptions, not the rule。反正一大帮弄权的人放在一起总有分帮结派互相斗争的,聪明领导会四两拨千斤,用甲方搞倒乙方,再用丙方弄垮乙方,最后自己渔翁得利,这种例子我们都见过了哈。而笨领导会跟阻力斗啊斗,直到自己精疲力竭,资本耗尽。皇帝怎么啦,皇帝如果不会玩拉帮结派的政治游戏,也是废物一个,这并不是明朝独有的现象。

别的我不懂,不过这个文官制度和权力之大,猜也猜得到为什么会这样。历史武官颠覆现有政权取而代之的事儿频繁不断,史书里的案例越积越多,后来的政权又那么爱看史书,当然会引以为鉴而尽量遏制武官的权力。这种制度和哲学本身并不一定是错的,如果没有文官制度说不定明朝撑不了那么多年就被颠覆了。后人看历史常常会忘记立场问题。作为皇帝,他的第一要义是保住自己和后代的龙位,其他的事情能凑合就凑合着,你总不能指望一个从未打过仗、面对过军事危机的人,去花费自己的时间精力和政治资本来巩固军备整饬军队,更不会放手让岳飞或者戚继光这种人掌握大权。文官、武官、与皇帝,以及中央与地方,大家都有不同的 incentives,当然就有不同的立场和动机,矛盾是不可避免的,没有什么谁对谁错,大家都是为了自保与争权。

还好,黄在此书中理论讲得少,尽量绕开 reductionist 倾向,也就避免了结论太简单就容易被驳倒的命运。

小声地说,我觉得,黄的理论如果放在西方历史学院派的框架里,其实也不算太新奇独特,拒绝道德眼光和判断自然很好,但在学术界并不是独创。甚至拿到中国历史学的框架里,虽然绝对不算主流正统,但在当时的学术环境里也未必石破天惊闻所未闻。因为他的一些角度和立场跟李约瑟的理论系统有千丝万缕的关联,而李约瑟在49年后的中国颇有点儿市场,他的批儒看法就触动诱发了一些领袖的看法(当然只是诱发和影响而已,人家并不真的就全面接受他的学院派理论)。也许这就是为什么此书早在1981年即被翻译出版,并非二十一世纪的时髦发现。

速度

最近被问,看中文书和英文书哪个比较快。我想想后回答:大概还是中文比较快。当时给出的原因是,中文比较短,同样内容的一篇文章,英文需要25页,中文可能15页就讲完了,因为中文里的词体积小,而同样意思的英文词可能横着排会很长,而且冠词介词一大堆占地方,都是中文里罕有的东西。

现在用 Kindle 看书不得不调整习惯,发现了另一个看中文比英文快的原因。我发现如果“被迫”地细细读,虽然不能每个词都在脑子里过一下(这是永远不可能的),而是每句或者至少每个段落要在脑子里过一下,基本上读中英文的速度差不多。但是如果快速而粗略地浏览,我会一眼看过一页纸,只抓一些略有兴趣的词/字节,得到个大概印象而已,把枯燥或不感兴趣的部分模糊化、跳过去---脑处理这个过程,中文比英文要容易得多。我想这是因为中文的形状差异甚大,要从一大片字儿里迅速抓出一些关键词,随抓随扔,比从一大片“长相”类似的英文(因为字母差别有限且单位更小,看词的形状不那么容易区分)里抓关键词方便得多。

The Parasite

上周末下了两本不要钱的书:George Eliot 的 Daniel Deronda 和 Arthur Conan Doyle 的 The Parasite。后者是早就从 David Pirie 那里听说过的,一直没去找来瞧瞧。其实我一直想看看ACD医生的其他小说,为什么没有动手呢?也许是太忠于福尔摩斯而害怕这些"竞争者"改变了我的立场?

昨天看完了纸书之后开始在 Kindle 上看 The Parasite。这小说其实挺短的,即使被 Kindle 强迫着细细阅读,差不多三四个钟头也就看完了。越看越心惊肉跳。难怪 Doyle 医生老想把福尔摩斯除掉呢,他的千古名声都被绑在那上面了,而他的主意和能力和感受的范围其实远远超过了那套侦探小说。他真是一个绝佳的 thriller 作者,布局,悬念,节奏,气氛,设计得十分完美,把人抓得紧紧的,简直透不过气来。

我都觉得可惜,如果不是被福尔摩斯系列的光芒盖住了,这篇小说完全可以跟他的朋友 Robert Louis Stevenson 的"化身博士"媲美。题材内容 ... 嗯,我也不剧透了,反正,非常非常 psychological 。It has many elements and concerns that I have myself been fascinated with. 你可以说是悬幻,我觉得更象心理学的科幻类,正是我自己最喜欢最有兴趣的类型。创意很独特,还没见过其他人染指。我要把它偷为己用!

The Long Fall

Finished listening to the novel a couple of days ago.

This is the first in Walter Mosley's Leonid McGill private detective series. I am a bit relieved that he is still interested and motivated to write mysteries in the same vein as his Easy Rawlins series. By the end of the ER series I was a little worried that he was burned out on mysteries altogether. Thankfully not. The plotting, characterization, and mood are all fairly conventional, unlike his more experimental books in the past few years.

Mosley can be a little over-expository sometimes, a little too much sighing and philosophizing. This novel suffers from too many character introductions from the beginning to nearly the end; therefore too many back stories to interrupt the flow. But the prose is beautiful, which reminded me of his claim that practicing poetry is good for the novelist. Love the vulnerability and emotional intimacy of the characters.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

History

Well, as I said before, I am extremely ignorant of history and should really shut the hell up about it. It is extremely dangerous to comment on someone's work based on skimming a few pages on Google Books and a little background stuff learned from Wikipedia. But, this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, so I might as well make a fool of myself here.

History is primarily about collecting facts. The rest is interpretation. It is both impossible and inevitable that historians should guess at the undercurrent of historical events --- Why? How? Why did things happen this way but not that way, in this moment but not that? Why did key figures (kings, emperors, generals) choose this road but not that road? What if?

From the little bit of stuff I skimmed, it seems that Ray Huang and his colleague/mentor Joseph Needham took an approach to studying Chinese history that is dispassionate and detached, quite the opposite of the traditionally moralistic tone that has dominated Chinese history since the days of 司马迁. Which is fine. The human history, especially a massive and massively complex one like Chinese history, is impossible to be thoroughly understood from all possible angles. One can use the macro-history or the micro-history approach to study it. Neither is righter than the other as long as the limitations are clearly drawn. There is no absolute truth.

Anyway, what the hell was I trying to say? Oh, yeah, it is extremely valuable to introduce an non-moralistic and macro approach to studying history. However, it seems to me that Huang and Needham might be a little too deterministic and a little too ambitious in trying to quantify and explain why things happened the way they did. I can't completely agree that the current history is completely inevitable and that China (or whatever) is this way because it has to be because its geography or scientific progress have forced it to go this way and none other was possible. Nor do I believe that it would have been drastically different if someone went back in time and stepped on a butterfly or shot Hitler dead.

OK, sorry, actually the puny amount of knowledge I have about history has been largely derived from the alternative history genre in science fiction. Anyway, my feeling is somewhere in between. On the one hand, it is obvious that geography, including connections and exchanges with neighboring civilizations, and agriculture and technology can play a key role in shaping history of a particular region or tribe. On the other hand, one must (well, there is no such thing as "must" in history, but that's what I believe) concede that random occurrences and coincidences have important effects in pushing the underlying tendencies in one direction or another. An innate propensity (deterministic elements such as geography or climate, or a family-centric hierarchical philosophy) is amplified or suppressed by fairly limited local circumstances, either spatial or temporal.

In my opinion (which of course nobody gives a ****), the most significant force in history is neither deterministic factors (ie, destiny) nor random events, but rather the cumulative weight of the past. A people with a history cannot one day wake up and make a U-turn from their long-held trajectory. If we really want to understand why something happens at a given time, we might have to take in account the few thousand years before it, as well as the fog, drizzle, and wind on that day. And we cannot predict what a people will do in the next year without considering where they and their ancestors have meandered on the road leading all the way to now. That's crazy, but somehow that is the way of human behavior.

Even an individual human is unable, in 100 years of his life, to veer too far from his life trajectory drawn before and immediately after his birth, how could a gigantic group of them, carrying enormous baggage of thousands of years through language, folklore, memes, morality, social structures, and value system --- known as collective unconsciousness --- do anything change drastically? Birds fly the same route year after year, generation after generation. Salmon swim to the same upstream place.

Nevertheless, accidents happen. One could be destined to live a long life thanks to his indestructible genes, but he might go out and get hit by a bus. A tribe might be great and stable, but the deterministic forces of geography and cultural characteristics cannot anticipate the rapid rise of a power who discovers a superweapon, or has such amoral advantage as carrying some resistance to smallpox or the plague, that crushes the great, stable, and virtuous tribe nevertheless. Historians are pretty good at delineating the past, but the future is anybody's guess.

One thing that bothers me is the role of history studies as a key tool in politics. Politicians frequently seek solutions to their current problems in history books, and historians write history books with the intention of advising and influencing current and future policies. I guess this tradition is good sometimes and bad other times. It helps the powerful rule effectively if they understand the patterns of people and events --- perhaps this is why Chinese politics is so sophisticated and labyrinthine. Nevertheless, it may be a mirage to hope that, because you know exactly what mistakes (?) were made to cause (?) the decline of the Ming Dynasty, somehow you can prevent your own dynasty's decline by avoiding these mistakes through policies and politics. A rationalized, macro-history view carries the risk of oversimplification, which may convince some that, if only we make our fellow tribesmen change and behave this way or that, we could avoid a repetition of another fall of the empire, the glory of the tribe will burn brightly forever, and somehow studying history can and should do all this. I think that's crap, but then what do I know?

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好吧,我也就是偶尔撒撒野,其实对这种学术话题既无知识也无兴趣。李约瑟这种学者我觉得副作用太大---虽然他不是故意的。真喜欢中国历史和文化,象 Robert van Gulik 那样最好,研究下古代闺房秘技,写写侦探小说,有益无害。

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

提醒

差点忘记了,Barb 向我推荐裘小龙的侦探小说,英文原著,红英之死。记一下提醒自己。

A Bitter Feast

随手拿起这本 SJ Rozan 的小说,又放不下了。里面的华人移民文化与社区的细节真实得不像话,tickle me to death,让我一时咕咕傻笑一时抓耳挠腮。例如Lydia Chin跟朋友在中餐馆吃饭,点的菜是“通心菜腐乳”,绝不是鬼佬会点的菜;她喝茶不喝咖啡,从云南普洱到英式红茶,随口形容香气与口味,从不露馅。而且不是那种炫耀卖弄“我做过好多研究调查”的口气,而是奢侈地一带而过。

更重要的还不是这些外物,而是描写各代移民的心理,把我都看傻了---不,把我亲眼所见所闻甚至亲身体会都自内而外地深刻形容了出来,惟妙惟肖。例如老派华人之间的客套,你夸我一句,我赶紧否认,你再接再厉地夸。例如那个敏感微妙的面子问题。例如,几十年前的移民,背井离乡而且因为女性移民极少而不得不独身,一方面孤独怀乡,但另一方面也让一些人感到独立和自由(注意不是吹嘘美国式自由而是讲白手起家闯天下的自由感)。还有秦妈妈这代父母与Lydia这些第二代华人的关系和观念。当然,每一本Lydia Chin故事都有大量细节,但是在这本小说里特别多,特别细腻。

引两段搞笑的(秦妈妈跟好朋友纪妈妈在背后议论各自女儿,Lydia当私家侦探Mary当警察):
Mary's mom and my mom have been best friends for 30 years; offspring one-upmanship is their favorite game.

...

Mary's no bigger than I am ... and she was even more of a tomboy when we were kids. Our mothers used to complain about it together, spitting out the shells of melon seeds on the sidewalk as they waited to walk us home after school, shaking their heads over our bruises and our skinned knees.

小说甚至讨论了复杂而道德模糊的偷渡移民的问题 --- 特别让我回想起90年代中期(小说写的时候)屡屡爆出蛇头偷渡船在海滩搁浅的新闻,电视上常播出被集体递解出境的中国偷渡客。仅仅十几年后,华人与美国的关系已经大变,而这些偷渡新闻也逐渐绝迹。这十几年里,纽约/美东地区福建移民急剧增长,福建人跟广东人老移民之间产生矛盾摩擦,这个走向也在书中敏锐地捕捉到。最恐怖的是,她还下手写老一代移民看新一代偷渡客的复杂眼光和微妙心理,丝丝入扣,绝对真实,绝无简单化浪漫化。

一个鬼佬,哪怕是个观察入微的纽约客,又怎么达到这个境界的呢?即使做过很多 research,读过无数篇社会学论文,也不能达到如此感情上的真实;即使是结交很多华人朋友细细盘问,也挖不出那么微妙的心理---更何况华人一般不爱跟洋人讨论牵扯到事关集体面子的深层感受。她从哪儿搞来的这些内幕啊?

(说起来我一直心里有点抵触描写中国或华人的小说,因为总免不了有种“啊呀瞧瞧多么新奇多么exotic”的吆喝着兜售的口吻---不论华人还是洋人作者都忍不住会落入这种俗套。但是这个系列能让人直觉不是显摆卖弄的口气,很真,很诚恳,很实在。)

Monday, September 13, 2010

More on Kindle

玩了两天,觉得还挺值回投资的。最主要的优点是轻而薄,重量跟一般的 paperback 书差不多,而体积则小很多。本来我还以为要为之买只新手提包,看样子也不用了,除非配个体积较大的 Kindle 皮壳子。网上有很多免费电子书,可以直接从 Amazon 下载,也可以从古登堡计划的网站上当下 txt 文件之后直接复制在 Kindle 上阅读,来源甚广。

除了早已预料的不能前后翻来翻去,现在感到另一点跟阅读纸书不同的地方:在default setting 下,每页的字数比纸书要少很多,我不由自主地读得更仔细,眼光在字句上停留时间比较长;而读 paperback 纸书的时候,密密麻麻的一页一页,有时候迅速扫过一页,不知不觉跳过段落中的词和句。这个有点想看字体大,行间空隙大的 hardback 书,一眼之下吸收的细节词句比较清楚。

一辈子当两辈子使

人到中年,越来越觉得人生之有限,可以玩儿的时间看得到头,嫌不够多。难怪自古都想找长生不老药。Roy Walford 和其他搞 calorie restriction 的人相信限制热量摄取和保持低于标准程度的体重能让他们多活几年,结果人算不如天算,Walford 自己虽然坚持 calorie restriction,得了肌肉萎缩症而七十几岁就死了,不过还是有很多人鼓捣这个,少吃饭。对我没有可行性,不予考虑。

最近在 Jonah Lehrer 的 blog 上面看到一篇报道,讲人脑对时间的主观感受,特别是主观感受的长短差别,的生理根源。简略地概括,就是说有人研究表明人对时间长短的主观感受跟当时的记忆信息数量多少有直接关系。在固定一段客观时间里,记得的细节越多越生动,感觉这段时间越长;记得的细节越少,感觉时间越短。而人在惊吓过程中脑子的信号吸收过程特别有效,吸收一切环境和感官的信号细节,使人感觉时间被拉长了,而时间进程变慢了。
This is a deeply Proustian idea. It turns out that our sense of time is deeply entangled with memory, and that when we remember more – when we are sensitive to every madeleine and sip of limeflower tea – we can stretch time out, like a blanket.

这个理论是不是真的,天晓得,我觉得还没有足够的证据。当人觉得很闷很无聊的时候,似乎时间也过得很慢---至少当时如此,但是事后啥也不记得。总之我觉得对于时间的主观感受这件事,我们的研究工具和方法还远远不够精确,到底在量什么也没太搞清楚。

先把脑神经研究放一边,就讲记忆与经历。只是在不远的过去我才忽然意识到自己是一个非常非常怕死的人,从小就怕。为了尽量把“终点”推得越远越好,我一直下意识地往脑子里塞进去各种各样的新鲜信号。虽然不是个行动的巨人,但是在脑处理/记忆方面加以补偿,一旦空闲下来就感到恐慌,到处搜寻新东西新刺激灌进去。导致直接的结果是不停地找书看,简直是种 compulsion。想起最近出门旅游的时候---其实过去旅游也是这样---忍不住到处乱走,即使没看什么名胜古迹,只要周围是新鲜画面和街坊背景,就觉得很刺激很兴奋,走啊走,几乎要瘫掉都舍不得停下来,好像打了鸡血似的。寻求新鲜刺激,陌生的感官信号,让脑子里的 dopamine 哗哗哗开了水龙头似的暴流,记忆也因此生动鲜明,记录大量的细节。主观感受显得人生被“抻长”了,因为增加了记忆中的内容。

Dopamine 的释放强化记忆的形成与保存,这是经过试验证明的:给老鼠打了 cocaine 之后,它们脑子里 dopamine 暴流,对当时的环境的记忆也特别鲜明持久。所以涅,如果没有频繁的新鲜刺激,cocaine 对保存记忆细节的效果也类似,只不过比较麻烦的是用cocaine 留下的鲜明记忆也包括当时多么多么high,令人更容易上瘾(因为一看见相同环境就回忆起high的感觉),变成一个vicious cycle。

我这样还不算什么,有更加急吼吼地不停寻求感官和新鲜刺激的人们,想必他们是更加迫切地感受到/惧怕终点的迫近,余生之短暂,因此更加要把人生的记忆塞得爆棚,一辈子当两辈子三辈子用。有时候我也会羡慕那些心灵平静的人,岁月静好,没有恐慌感,但是似乎我没生成那样的人。

Impressionistic

A few days ago I wrote about Wright's Ragtime piano album Breakin' Notes, and wrote that I thought the four Bix Beiderbecke's pieces were impressionistic. I swear the comment was merely based on my own impression: primarily the "in-between" tonality and melodies as well as the theme/context suggested by the titles -- "Candlelights", "Flashes", "In the Dark", and "In a Mist". It seemed to me pretty obvious that these pieces were each composed to convey a mood with reference to a particular situation. "Impressionistic" was, I felt in my gut, the best word to describe them.

Imagine my surprise when I finally sat down today and read Wright's extensive notes (printed in the accompanying booklet) about the pieces in the album regarding Beiderbecke's piano compositions:

...[M]any have pointed out that in both his cornet and piano solos, Beiderbecke betrays a keen interest in the Impressionists.

Shit, I swear I don't even know what musical Impressionism means! I only know a little about Impressionism pertaining to Monet and Renoir in art. Apparently, Debussy and Ravel are representatives of Impressionist music. I was completely ignorant of the concept, yet it is naturally obvious to me that Impressionism was Bix Beiderbecke's approach to composing these four jazz piano songs. No joke. Perhaps this coincidences implies a common pathway/process in the human senses and experience involved in music, art, and language (sound, sight, and abstract thoughts).

Toronto Film Festival

这件事我已经想了好几年了,九月去多伦多看世界上最大的影展。但是因为各种各样的原因,一直也没去成。

虽然身体不怎么样,今年 Roger Ebert 又精神很好地跑去了,还写大量的报道。又勾起了我的遗憾,好想明年跑去呆一个星期,什么也不干,光是从影院到影院的跑。

有朋友曾想去 Cannes,但我却没啥兴趣,还有威尼斯、Sundance、纽约Tribeca 其实都可以去但我没那么想。多伦多的名声,不仅是规模大,参赛电影多,还有其平易近人,对影迷友好(而不是象其他影展那样偏重工业内人士和媒体),没有正式评委会,以及参加影片类型巨广,等等,让我一直都很向往。

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kindle

昨天终于收到了 Kindle 。今天设置上 Wi-Fi connection 之后立刻先把福尔摩斯全集给下载了。

颇有一些因为版权过期而免费的老书,加上可买的新书们。暂时我还没想好要下点什么。

Charles Dickens? George Eliot? Wilkie Collins? Dostoyevski? (翻译的书可能不是免费的。)光想想都头昏了。

使用初期的感想:

Kindle 有几个缺点,第一,不能在上面直接写 notes,必须间接地通过旁注方式输入 text,我知道 Nook 是可以的,Sony 大概也可以。第二,不能代替 MP3 player。有声部分必须通过 Audible.com 的固定格式下载,而我从图书馆下载的书只能当作音乐来听,但是 Kindle 上处理 MP3 文件的功能仍处于试验阶段,非常简陋。第三,Kindle 带有自动查字典功能,如果把 cursor 移到某个字上,屏幕下自动显示此字在字典中的定义。不知为什么我觉得这个功能非常 annoying 。平时读页时倒不会出现,但是移动 cursor 插入 notes 的时候,以及翻目录的时候会出现。虽然只有两行字,但遇到很普通的字也会上来一个字典定义,我觉得好傻。而且这个功能是 default 的,不能取消。

好处是相当轻,长宽跟 trade paperback 差不多,但厚度很小,很薄。而且我喜欢这种没有 backlit (即电脑屏幕发光的类型)的字迹。

Friday, September 10, 2010

Breakin' Notes



出门之前订的CD,昨天终于收到了,拿出来一听,一点没失望,几乎每一首曲子都很好听。

演奏者 Bryan Wright 弹的主要是 Ragtime ,这里收集的曲子里有一半是纯 Ragtime,另一半是有 其他味儿的。例如 Bix Beiderbecke 的四首都有点抽象和现代---嗯,也不是抽象,而是 impressionistic。我大爱的 Ernesto Nazereth 的那首“七月九日”则是 Tango 和 Ragtime 的混合。

也不知为什么,Ragtime 很久以前就吸引了我,它的节奏很有规律,不象现代爵士那么自由浮动,天马行空,但是仍然跟传统的音乐节奏相左,并带有传统爵士乐复杂的和弦 ... 反正,我喜欢。

Bryan Wright 在照片上非常娃娃脸,看了CD上的说明才知道这孩子是82年的,难怪。而且难怪是在本地的电台上听到他的钢琴曲,原来他就是 Virginia 本地人,在当地的小电台也有主持爵士乐节目。这张唱片是 Wright 自己录制和制作,通过自己的独立公司(label)发行,在自己的网站上和通过Amazon中介出售。看CD标签,录音是在东京做的,大概跟当地的哪个录音室有熟人或其它关系,整张碟几天之内就录完了。

这种大公司/商业发行渠道之外的“地下音乐”还真是到处都有。说起来我还是从花样滑冰的音乐里间接发现的。Michelle Kwan 在2002年奥运会的赛后表演节目里使用了 Eva Cassidy 版本的 "Fields of Gold" (Peter Gabriel 的歌),令原本只在当地小范围内唱歌,在酒吧和小店里表演的 Cassidy 被更多人所知。美国青少年组全国冠军 Jason Brown 今年的短节目用的音乐 Baliwood,也是三藩市的一个西班牙风的“地下乐队”的作品。

厌腻了千人一面炒冷饭,无风险无个性的主流商业文艺,总还能找到千里之外(或者百里之内)毫无野心的小作坊制作的微量产品,这是还得感谢网络呀。

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Snooze

Because of reverse jet lag, I have been dozing off since returning from the trip, especially in the evening. Yet I need to write something, if only to prevent my fingers from rusting. This is one of the most important reasons I write this blog. I need to get keep writing, no matter how little I have to say, just to lubricate the keyboard, eh? It's important for me to keep writing now that I'm no longer constructing coherence, whole articles at work, now that I'm drowning in memos and e-mails and other crap utterly devoid of imagination. The keys yielding softly under my fingertip is a heavenly sensation.

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Every time I return from Europe, it would take a week or two to claw my way out of the nadir that inevitably follows. It does not help that this time I came home to discover even worse bus service in my commute thanks to the city government's budget cuts. This, after the frequent and impeccable public transport in Copenhagen and London, is even more disheartening than usual. I don't know how long I can take this shit.

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The collection at Victoria and Albert Museum is kind of crazy, a mishmash of everything. Theoretically it is supposed to be all about art and design, but throwing together jewelry and Italian Renaissance sculpture replicas, Samurai swords and modern fashion, it's enough to give me a whiplash.

But I was pleasantly surprised by their Chinese export porcelain collection. Not that it makes much sense in the grand scheme of things, but that I actually knew something about it. Just last month I read SJ Rozan's first mystery novel China Trade, which centers around this very subject. Export porcelains were made in Chinese workshops in the 16th and 17th centuries to the orders of European merchants.

According to Rozan, who apparently did a lot of research, export porcelain was the step child in the world of antique porcelain collection in comparison with 官窑 productions, which were intended for 进贡。 Sometimes the western merchants would present western designs to the Chinese workshops, thus creating an interesting mix of styles. Some of the pieces have paintings of bare-breasted European women with Oriental facial features. I chuckled at the mirth of those Chinese artists upon seeing those indecent gweilos' blueprints for their orders.

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I think I'm falling in love with Vitaly Solomin's Dr. Watson. I didn't think it was possible, but the Russian Watson is even more of a doey-eyed cute puppy than Martin Freeman! The writer/director Igor Maslennikov and the actor Vasily Livanov conspired to create a warm, caring, expressive, and funny Sherlock Holmes in this adaptation, while preserving the eccentricity of the character from the Canon. But I am most touched by the lovely Watson --- innocent, sentimental, sweet, and so very handsome. Livanov and Solomin are adorable together.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

伦敦奇遇记

今次去了马尔默,哥本哈根,伦敦三个地方。回家的路上问S同学喜欢不喜欢伦敦,他竟然说更喜欢哥本哈根,瑞典也很好,伦敦最末,让我大跌眼镜,气呼呼地说下次老子自己去伦敦住上一星期,天天看戏,你就在家孵着吧。不过想想也不是意料之外,这位纳德同学神经比较脆弱,太喧闹拥挤的地方呆一会儿即晕头转向,躲在人迹罕至的地方闷着最舒服。在马尔默的时候被Barb带着去Ystad的鱼店吃饭,和蔼可亲的大叔留下了很好的印象。下次带他去新西兰,周围更加是人人都友好亲切得不似真人,恐怕就不想回家了。

今次去伦敦本来只打算造访一下221B贝克街“遗迹”,结果没想到碰上各种巧合。先是第二天下午逛完西敏寺之后时间地点都差不多,就心血来潮地加入了London Walks提供的“福尔摩斯足迹”的步行旅。在步行旅中被导游带着路过各个小说原著里提到的地方:例如路过Charing Cross地铁站外面时告知The Bruce-Partington Plan里面的尸体是在此站的铁轨上发现的,路过Lyceum戏院时引用了四签名里的一段:Mary Morstan收到一封信,请她某夜在戏院外左边第三根柱子旁见面,还有一家Sherlock Holmes酒馆(不是221B贝克街),邻居就是某侦探常去的土耳其浴室,现在砖墙上仍可见伊斯兰花纹。然后在Lyceum与皇家歌剧院之间的路上,赫然看见一家小戏院贴了招牌"The Secrets of Sherlock Holmes",正在上演这出话剧。

当天暴走完之后,把某同学打发回家,自己忍不住跑去临时买票看了。剧本是1988年作家Jeremy Paul 的作品,也不知为什么放在今夏revive,从七月到九月初,似乎跟电视剧也没啥关系。演员只有两个:Peter Egan和Robert Daws,前者有点眼熟,估计在BBC电视剧里见过;后者举止和念白有点象Nathan Lane。其实这个剧也就是so-so,情节卖点就一个:福尔摩斯觉得很闷,吸毒还不够刺激,就自己发明了黑社会幕后大boss Moriarty 教授。这个理论其实过去我也听说有人提出过,不过当然我才不信,就好象现在打出的“他是不是psychopath”的幌子话题一样,不值一驳。剧本太过依赖抄用原著中的大量对白了,新鲜内容不多---但是,我羞愧地承认,自己竟然看得津津有味,也还是因为他抄用了大量的原文。

当日下午还有个偶遇,坐巴士去St. Paul 教堂的路上忽然看见窗外的路标之一指着 St. Bartholomew Hospital 。好奇顺着路标走啊走,居然给我摸到了 St. Bart 的大楼。从街对面拍了一张有医院招牌的照片,角度跟电视剧里的外景镜头一模一样,因为能拍到墙上招牌的角度只有这一个。当然内部场景,实验室什么的,都不是真的在St. Bart里拍的。反正总之Dr. Doyle当时随手采集地名街坊,到处都是现实中的细节,也是让当时读者们看得发狂的原因之一。原著系列是冷峻的现实主义和哥特式神秘气氛的最妙结合,后人模仿随众但在这方面无人能及。

然后在伦敦第三天,去221B贝克街的伪“故居”参观。贝克街的名声远扬,地铁站出口的墙上也贴了很多瓷砖上印了那张让人一眼认出的侧影。隔壁一家是 Hudson's Restaurant,这倒也没什么,当然是故意的,但有趣的是隔壁门口挂了个黄铜牌子,说明楼上是Moffat Associates事务所,我疑神疑鬼地猜想跟Stephen Moffat有啥关联,难道Dr. Who的制作者真的跑到这里来开个小办公室不成?但是招牌灰不溜秋的,也不象是最近才挂上去的羊头/噱头。多半是巧合,但也真是个搞笑和奇异的巧合。

最后,当天下午去国家剧院看看有无可看之戏,在南岸转悠了半天才摸到。某同学本来还跟着跟着,忽然抱怨感冒恶化,又饿又累,闹着要回家,不肯等到晚上看戏,我只好带着他往外走,路过BFI 门口的旧书摊又徘徊半晌。磨蹭中发现不少人站在那里看小孩子玩滑板,就发现了电视剧第二集里的墙壁涂鸦艺术中心的取景处:我几乎可以肯定那片满坑满谷的涂鸦墙画所指此处。

Monday, September 6, 2010

回家鸟

累死了。从伦敦到纽约的飞机上背后坐了一个两三岁小男孩。呃,请自己想象吧... 他妈妈也不怎么管。我只好戴耳机看电影打发时光。看了一出澳洲的 film noir (The Square) 和半部法国文艺片 (Madamoiselle Chambon)。

晚上打算把拉下的 Mad Men 看一眼。

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