Archive for the ‘August 2012’ Category

Moroccan Fountain

十月 3, 2012

Moroccan Fountain, Vienna
Marokkanergasse, Vienna

the sun is streaming
against the mosaic.
the fountain’s broken,
turned off.
the people are busy, most of them.
it’s 9 am.
shopping, smoking.
high heels. maybe productive.
in jackets and scarves.
it’s chilly compared with a few days ago.
for a moment, the sun.
the warm morning sun.

MW August 2012

From August 28. 周二,8月28日。 The sun was on the door at eight or nine. In the afternoon it’s around the corner. The door to the street is over 100 years old, like the house. Military officer’s quarters, originally. Our apartment is downstairs, ground floor. Still expensive, inner city. The picture is from May. The pictures below are from Beijing. Click on them and get to a song of healthy food.

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Punks, empathy and torture: Pussy Riot in China and Vienna

八月 17, 2012

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Aug. 25

Daniele Kowalsky showed me a very interesting interview with Jonathan Campbell in the L.A. Review of Books. Jonathan Campbell talks with Jeffrey Wasserstrom about 盤古 Pangu,崔健 Cui Jian,無聊軍隊 Wuliao Jundui and other details of rock music and punk in China.

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with Jonathan that yaogun 摇滚 (Chinese rock music) could galvanize China like Pussy Riot seems to have galvanized opposition in Russia. Cui Jian 崔建 did have some very memorable moments, and people in China do remember them, and they will tell you readily about the parts before 1989, mostly. But those moments in 1989 were so painful in the end that no one knows if there will ever be a similar broad-based protest movement again. 1989 brought hope in Europe. Risk, very risky change, and some very ugly violence in Romania. But overall there was hope, and whatever came out of it, 1989 is generally remembered as a year of wonder. In China it’s a trauma. A wound that is usually covered up, but even China is very much connected to the world nowadays, and the world knows. And there are much deeper and older traumata, which can be accessed and shared via 1989. So in that way, there is hope. Connected to underground music. Like the kind that Liao Yiwu’s 廖亦武 music comes from.

There are parallels, certainly. Parallels between Pussy Riot and Ai Weiwei 艾未未, in the pornography. Parallels in the way of some Ai Weiwei news or other embarrassing news everyone gets to know about, and the dark stuff below. The disappearances, the longer ones, see Gao Zhisheng 高智晟. And the corpses. I learned about the late attorney Sergei Magnitsky via Pussy Riot. He died in jail in 2009, and among people concerned with Russia he is as famous as Gao is in and outside China, which means not so many people want to talk about him or even admit they’ve heard of cases like that. Of course, there are corpses under the carpets in every country. Only China is the oldest 5000 year old one, of course.

Aug. 22

2 years for singing in church. Perfectly absurd. Punk music, controversial art. Public space and religion. Russia, Africa, China. What is art? Depends where you are, what you are, who you are, who is with you. What you believe.

One week ago I read two books. A few months before I got to know a poet. Still haven’t seen her. A Jewish poet in Germany, soon to be teaching in Vienna. Esther Dischereit.

Last month I finally got around to pick up a book that contains many poems I translated. Freedom of writing. Writers in prison. A beautiful anthology, edited by Helmuth Niederle, currently head of Austrian PEN.

Connections. Connected to China. Punk music isn’t all that subversive, not in a big way, usually. What if musicians insult the government on stage. Well, I’ve been to about 300 concerts in China, said Yan Jun. Sometimes someone was screaming something in that direction. But they aren’t big stars. They can be ignored.

Christa Wolf. Stadt der Engel. The Overcoat of Dr. Freud. Long and convoluted. Gems in there. How she was loyal to the Party in 1953. And insisted on protest against Party policy. How and what they hoped in 1989. How and what Germany was and is.

Aug. 21

2 years for singing in church. And many more arrested. It does sound more like China than Russia, doesn’t it? The case of Li Wangyang 李旺陽李汪洋) comes to mind. Li Wangyang died around June 4th 2012 in police care after being released from over 20 years of jail. He was a labor activist in the 1989 protests that ended with the massacre on June 4th in Beijing. Li Wangyang supposedly killed himself, but the police report was disputed in China and in Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of people protested. Li’s relatives and friends are still being persecuted. One has been formally arrested and accused of revealing state secrets, because he photographed Li’s body.

Parallels between Russia and China were drawn in media comments after the verdict in Moscow. One comment wondered whether Russia is trying to emulate China, where the word civil society is banned on the Internet. China has had economic success for decades. People put up with authoritarian one-party rule there, the comment said. But it won’t work in Russia, because the economy depends on natural resources, not on industry. The comment contained the old misunderstanding that in China, government policy and enforced stability have caused economic success. Beijing wants the world to think that, of course. However, the prominent law and economy professors Qin Hui 秦暉 and He Weifang 賀衛方 have been saying for years that the economic miracle of the 1980s depended on a consensus to move away from the Cultural Revolution, as well as on investment from Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas. After 1989, there has been no comparable social consensus. After 1989, the social drawbacks and the gap between rich and poor may have grown faster than the economy. But the middle class has also grown. Regional protests are frequent but limited. Or the other way ’round. The Internet remains vibrant. With Weibo microblogs inside the Great Firewall, and very much Chinese going on outside. Not because the government initiates it. They let it happen. The economy, the art, the internet. Even protests, when they are against Japan, and/or not too big. And they profit. The oligarchy is the Party.

Religion and more or less independent art have been growing in China, about as much as the social conflicts. Art brings huge profits, so they let it happen. In Russia, Pussy Riot have succeeded in connecting independent art, oppositional politics and religion in a highly visible way. Art, political activism and religion are voluble factors, so much that societies where everyday news has been fixated on finance for at least four years now could almost grow jealous.

Pussy Riot were not mentioned in our church on Sunday, as far as I could tell. I had to look after the children. But the preacher drew on her experiences from jail work. She championed the rights of refugees and was a prominent anti-governmental figure in Austria in the 1990s. Direct relevance for religion in Austrian politics is rare. We had Catholic Austro-Fascism in the 1930s, paving the way for Hitler. Some Protestant Nazis as well. After the Holocaust, religion in Austria has a somewhat undead quality. A bit like traditional opera in China, which is rallying, hopefully.

For international discussion about the relevance of underground art, music and religion, China has Liao Yiwu 廖亦武. And Russia has Pussy Riot.

Photo by Vincent Yu/AP

Aug. 17

Worldwide empathy for Pussy Riot is great. The trial in Moscow ends today, so I don’t know yet if three women have to remain in jail for years after singing in a church. There was a lot of worldwide attention last year as Ai Weiwei 艾未未 was abducted and detained by Chinese state security. He was released and voted most influential artist worldwide. I have seen graffiti in support of Pussy Riot here in Vienna in the last few days. One at newly renovated Geology Institute. Not very nice. And there was some kind of happening at the Vienna Russian Orthodox church, I heard. Church authorities not amused. Well, hopefully worldwide support can help enough this time. Quite recently, many political prisoners in China have been sentenced to more than 10 years. There was a lot of attention abroad in one case. And a Nobel.

Austria is a nice place, generally. Sometimes it’s uglier than Germany. Generally uglier, in terms of police abusing, even killing people, always getting away with it. Have been reading Vienna Review and Poetry Salzburg Review in the last few days. News and poetry. Many of our friends here in Vienna are not from Austria. Coming from abroad often provides a clearer perspective.

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Aug. 14

Read two good books. Not in Chinese. Ok, in Chinese I’m reading poetry. And other books, not enough. Anyway. Cornelia Travnicek and Manfred Nowak. Both in German. Non-Fiction and Fiction. No connection. Like Liao Yiwu 廖亦武, Bei Ling 貝嶺 and that Berlin novel, what was it called? Plan D. Ok, there was a connection. Taipei Bookfair 台北國際書展. Ok or not, no connection. A novel. Punks in Austria. Young and female. Male protagonists dead or dying. Ok, not all of them. Anyway, good novel. Vienna, occupied, death, youth, love, society, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s. 2012 exhibition at Wien Museum. Empathy. And the other book? Torture. Human Rights, UN, Austria, torture in Austria (see this newspaper report, also in German), Moldavia, Equatorial-Guinea or how do you call that country, Uruguay and so on. Neglect. Conditions of/for empathy. Ok, so both books are about empathy. Good. And in German. Oh well, maybe some people who read this read German. Or they’ll get translated. The books, not you. Manfred Nowak’s books and other written sources are available in several other languages than German. You can get some very useful stuff in English for free here.

Yan Jun: July 19th, I 颜峻:7月19日,我

八月 9, 2012

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颜峻
7月19日,我
Yan Jun
July 19th, I

have mosquitoes left a piano
summer evenings like being empty

what I know nothing about
what I wore forgot fished out keys

I know emptiness is impossible
I am sweating watching myself

unsure if I really know
maybe I really don’t know

this wild beast of summer I have said too much
mosquito coil burnt to ash. patient piano

I said too much of myself
in the elevator I am empty alone

2006-07-19

MW    Tr. August 2012

===============================
颜峻
7月19日,我
……只剩下蚊子和钢琴
7月的夜晚  像是空的一样
而我对此一无所知
我穿过  忘记  掏出了钥匙
我知道空也是不可能的
我出汗  看自己
不确定是否真的知道
或者  我可能真的不知道
关于7月的猛兽  我说的太多
蚊香变成了灰  钢琴在忍耐
我说了太多的我
在电梯里  我空无一人 

2006.7.19

Yan Jun
19. Juli, ich

hab’ nur noch mücken und ein klavier.
abend im juli wie völlig leer.

ich weiß dazu überhaupt nichts
was ich trug vergaß such meinen schlüssel

ich weiß die leere ist auch unmöglich.
ich schwitze sehe mich selber

unsicher was ich wirklich weiß
oder wirklich nicht weiß

über das biest im juli sag’ ich zuviel.
mückengift wird zu asche. klavier kann’s ertragen.

ich sag’ zuviel über mich selbst.
ich bin im lift menschenleer.

2006-07-19
Übersetzt von Martin Winter August 2012

Murong Xuecun, Yu Hua, Liu Zhenyun, Bob Dylan and Rivers of Bablyon

八月 5, 2012

I don’t think Murong Xuecun exaggerates, like one commentator suggested on the MCLC list. Yes, you could encompass many alarming, saddening, embarrassing stories in one speech in other places than China, and people do it all the time, naming names, practices, products. The difference is that in China you will be silenced more swiftly and harshly. Yes, there are exceptions.

Does Mo Yan revel in cruelty like Dan Brown? Does Yu Hua make better use of the cruel parts in his novels? Ok, I’m an interested party, I can’t really say. Would be interesting to analyze in detail. Mo Yan’s novels are great works, at least those I have read, he has written a lot. Deep, cathartic, even accusing use of cruel events and structures. I love Yu Hua’s tone. And I associate Liu Zhenyun in Remember 1942, and Murong Xuecun’s Sky and Autumn speech.

We had Jeremiah in church today, along with that story where a guy goes abroad and gives his gold and silver to his servants. The ones that receive more trade with it, and when their lord comes back, they can give him double. The one who received very little buries it, and when the lord comes back, he digs it out and says, I know you are a harsh governor and reap where you haven’t sown, so I was afraid to lose what you gave me, and kept it double safe. His colleagues get to join the big party, and are rewarded with great posts. He is cast out into the darkness, which is filled with howling and chattering teeth. It’s a horrible story. Yes, it’s a parable, and if you have very little reason for faith, you should still risk it and try to make more, because if you bury it deep in your heart you might lose the little trust you had and received and be cast out into the darkness. But if you are the one who has reason to be afraid, how can you trust your lords? The ones who have more and get more have it easy. Even if they lose everything, they are often rewarded – those powerful managers and functionaries. And if there are enough of those who are cast out, and they get organized, maybe some bishops or other lords might dangle from lamp posts. A Hussite reading, said my wife. Yeah, maybe. No shortage of horrible stories in Chinese literature, like in the Bible.

Jeremiah is even worse, it’s a much bigger story, infinitely more horrible. And there is a detail, not in the Jeremiah parts used in church today, but in the songs in exile. By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, where we wept when we remembered Zion. And in the end the singer wishes, or the singers wish they will one day brutally kill the children of the oppressors. That’s the detail in Murong Xuecun’s speech I was thinking about.

The calling of Jeremiah, where he says he’s too young, and God says he has to go and obey, and open his mouth, and God will put His words into his mouth, and he will be set above nations and kingdoms, so he can pluck out and demolish, ruin and destroy, as well as plant and build. The preacher said she thought of parting and setting off to other posts, and how the Marschallin in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s and Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier sings of what she will have to give up. What a horrible comparison! There is nothing light in Jeremiah. There are no waltzes. Ok, Rivers of Babylon, yes. But with Jeremiah, if you have to mention Austrian writers, Franz Werfel would be much more apt. Werfel was Jewish and used Jeremiah, a lot. Ok, she did mention, much too briefly how nobody would heed Jeremiah, and that it’s actually the most terrible story.

Anyway, when I heard Jeremiah, I thought of Bob Dylan. Masters of War. “How much do I know, to talk out of turn? You might say that I’m young; you might say I’m unlearned. But there is one thing I know, though I’m younger than you, it’s that Jesus would never forgive what you do. […] And I’ll watch while you’re lowered onto your deathbed, and I’ll stand on your grave and make sure that you’re dead.” I don’t know if Dylan thought of Nixon and Kissinger explicitly, when he wrote this song. America’s Vietnam War was raging, and I think the song came out when Nixon and Kissinger where in power. Anyway, there is that Monty Python song about Kissinger. Very explicit. Dylan and Monty Python would not be able to sing these songs in China on stage today, to say nothing about what Chinese artists can do. No, Murong Xuecun doesn’t exaggerate.

x and y

x was cruel

butt is sore

y was able

and suave.

both loved culture

both destroyed

hundred million

butts are cold

MW         March 2007

Yes, I thought of Mao and Nixon, and their sidekicks. But x and y could stand for many people, and could be mentioned anywhere, at least today. Almost anywhere, probably. Anyway, it’s about smoking, you know. Littering. OK, enough for today.

Murong Xuecun, Yu Hua, Liu Zhenyun and Dan Brown, among others

八月 3, 2012

Click on the image to go to the English version of Murong Xuecun‘s text.

写得很好,我觉得。写得就像说话,谈话。就是演讲,但也像偶尔跟你一块走一段路,跟你分一些心事。

I like Murong Xuecun‘s recent essay (or speech) The Water in Autumn And The Unending Sky very much. He quotes Lu Xun, very aptly. All the quotations are apt, within the text, of course. This kind of essay very easily gets misunderstood as a mere pamphlet. It is a pamphlet. It is meant as a very sharp critique. But just like Lu Xun’s non-fiction pieces, this one is also meant to be read and listened to very carefully.

The Republican era in the decades before 1949 was roundly condemned for its society and government by many writers. Its downfall was expected, and there was so much contempt, in retrospective, that it seemed the new era after 1949 had to be something better, simply because the war and the state of China before had been such disasters. The Chinese writers and commentators of the Late Qing and Republican eras very often understood themselves as patriots, especially in their most acerbic writings. Lu Xun is the most famous example.

I’m not interested in whether Murong Xuecun could write as well or could become as famous as some Republican writers. He is one among many present writers who are publicly critical of the PRC government. Many of the most critical ones are mostly or permanently abroad. I don’t know if Murong Xuecun can continue to live mostly in China. He is certainly more consequent than Han Han, for example. I don’t know what exactly has driven Murong Xuecun to non-fiction. Seems it has been a gradual process.

The present state and the more or less contemporary history of the PRC have been described and inscribed very starkly by many writers ever since the late 1970s, basically by almost everybody in the world of letters, whether or not they still go through the motions of hand-copying Mao’s totalitarian directives in 2012, as some of the most famous have done.

The Republican era was roundly condemned, in fiction and non-fiction. On the other hand, some people see it as an era of freedom, in retrospect. Both could be justified, it seems. Liu Zhenyun, who could be seen as just another member of the establishment and as a non-serious TV- and popular movie-collaborator, is actually very eager to mention the famine of around 1960 in his works. Remember 1942, Liu’s non-fiction story from 1992, has just been filmed. The story is about remembering a local famine that occurred in 1942. It was a terrible year around the globe. The Holocaust in Europe was coming into full swing. War was raging in many places. Total war was going to be proclaimed. 1942 is a year that has received a lot of historical attention. But the context of Chiang Kaishek’s and his government’s decisions about the famine in Henan is not very widely discussed. Liu Zhenyun manages to combine the Republican era and the PRC in a piece of stunning critique of both. The PRC part is mostly implied, but it works. I don’t know how or if this works in the film as well. Anyway the film, wherever it will be shown, will make some people want to dig out the text.

Liu Zhenyun, Murong Xuecun and Yu Hua have something in common in their tone. They are very close to the common people, aside from some stylistic differences. Yu Hua has only recently become well known for his non-fiction, which is not published in the PRC, but available on the internet. Maybe Murong Xuecun will turn to fiction again, and maybe he will continue to live in Mainland China. Doesn’t look like it at the moment, but it seems more feasible than, say, Liao Yiwu returning to China.

Murong Xuecun, Liu Zhenyun and Yu Hua are very conversational in their non-fiction. These pieces are written for popular appeal. They could be seen as very patriotic, in a way. Many very popular works in other languages are patriotic, like Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. Non-fiction in Chinese won’t become quite as world-famous, but it has come a long way in the last few years.

Murong Xuecun‘s text is a speech held in Hong Kong. There is a lot of classical Chinese at the end, although it is still very clear. The fragile heart sounds very 19th century to a Western reader. To me, at least. But so what? It’s not Wordsworth or Blake or one of the Shelleys, but it’s going in that direction. There have always been many kinds of writing at one particular time.


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