Posts Tagged ‘taipei book fair’

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

八月 17, 2012


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.

Magazine presentation in Vienna

四月 25, 2012

Mit dem Kopf durch die Chinesische Mauer

Wienzeile, a literature magazine coming out in Vienna, Austria, with entries in Chinese, English and German. Lots of new literature by Hsia Yü 夏宇、Yan Jun 顏峻、Hung Hung 鴻鴻、Zheng Xiaoqiong 鄭小瓊、Yu Jian 于堅、Ma Lan 馬蘭、Qi Ge 七格、Wu Yinning 吳音寧、Lin Weifu 林維甫、Tong Yali 彤雅立、 Pang Pei 龐培、Liao Yiwu 廖亦武 and many others.

Art work and photos by Linda Bilda, Yang Jinsong 楊勁松, Chen Xi 陳熹, Emy Ya 葉宛玲 and others. 

Articles by Han Han 韓寒 and Hu Yong 胡泳. And an article comparing Charter 08 to Charter 77, written by Helena Nejedla, Czech Republic. If you get hungry while reading, we have a recipe for 四川鍋盔.


Two books in German

四月 25, 2012

Two books in German

Simon Urban’s Plan D appeared in August 2011, Bei Ling’s Ausgewiesen has come out in March 2012. Both are tied to my experiences in Taiwan, in different ways. Simon Urban is a young German author. He is not from the East, the former GDR, and there seems to be nothing in his biography to make him destined for writing a novel on history. And yet he belongs to a continuing thread of history in German literature, told in various forms, often through family stories. Female authors tell family stories, and there are many immigrants writing in German. Their writings are often set in the regions where they come from, and many tell histories of families. History is a topic that just doesn’t seem to go away in Germany and Austria. Nobel prize laureates Elfriede Jelinek and Herta Müller both write about painful topics from the recent histories of their countries. Herta Müller is from Romania. She is a Romanian author writing in German, mostly about Romanian contemporary history. And she’s living in Germany, for historical reasons. Elfriede Jelinek writes on Austria’s contemporary history, through her plays and novels. She writes in a very special language, a language that unmasks the thoughtless style of the media and contemporary discourse throughout Austrian society. One of her plays is called Winterreise, evoking Schubert, in her own special way. Another play relives a murderous party in the small town of Rechnitz in 1944.

Simon Urban’s novel is a thriller. It is the story of an East German police officer who has to find the murderer of a mysterious man, hanged near the Berlin Wall. The wall still exists, the GDR still exists, in 2011. Agents and counter-agents, state security and the Energy Ministry. Don’t trust anyone. Including your colleagues from the West. It’s a thick book, bursting with very evocative descriptions of situations in Berlin inside a frustrated policeman’s mind. Often funny, as well as haunting.

Simon Urban attended a creative writing academy in Leipzig. One of his teachers was the Austrian Writer Josef Haslinger, who also became famous through writing a thriller. It’s about a terrorist coup at the Opera Ball, related to Austrian contemporary history, of course. But Mr. Haslinger was not supportive of Mr. Urban’s project. “The GDR is deader than dead”, he used to say. Mr. Urban has proven him wrong. Plan D will come out in English in early 2013.

Bei Ling’s memoir begins in 2009, the year he got famous in Germany. He was invited as an exiled Chinese writer to speak at a panel at the China-focus Frankfurt book fair, then asked not to attend, along with Dai Qing, a veteran female writer and environment activist in Beijing. Both of them gate-crashed Frankfurt, with German media support. The book then jumps back to 1979 and the Beijing Democracy Wall. Activism and literature are inseparable for Bei Ling. He gives a very personal account of the 1980’s underground poetry scene, and goes on through his years in the US and his friendship with Susan Sontag, who helps him out when he is imprisoned for printing an illegal literature journal in Beijing.

Suhrkamp deserves credit for recognizing some of Bei Ling’s potential. They certainly helped to make him known in Germany. The translation of “Ausgewiesen” is good. Most of the book reads very similar to Bei Ling’s essays in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and in Der Spiegel. The empathy, the little details, the very personal atmosphere. Bei Ling can make you feel as if you were there with him in Beijing in the early 1980s. Maybe you know some of the names, like all the famous Misty Poets. But nobody has  told it in such an intimate way, not even Bei Dao, in his fascinating recollections. When “Ausgewiesen” came out in March, the FAZ carried the first review. It was dominated by the complaint that Bei Ling didn’t include much, much more about all these fascinating topics. That’s the fault of his editors at Suhrkamp, of course. The original manuscript was easily twice as long. I’ve seen it. And like other publishers, they don’t have an editor who reads Chinese. Maybe you know Jung Chang, who wrote Wild Swans. I am pretty sure Bei Ling mentions her, but in the German text she becomes a man called Zhang Rong. Hu Ping, editor of Beijing Spring and one of the oldest Chinese exiles in New York, becomes Hu Pingzheng.

Plan D is a rather thick book. Well edited, nothing important peeled away. Simon Urban is a maniac for detailed descriptions, and you always feel these locations in action. Urban succeeds in creating a Berlin that can feel at least as real as the one you know. It is all there, this is how it could have turned out. How it is, behind the surface, at many places.

So how are these books related to Taiwan? Simon Urban was at the 2012 Taipei book fair. His book was very well received, and many people asked questions. They have a real life Communist country to deal with, which is related to them in various ways. Bei Ling runs a small press in Taiwan called Tendency, which grew out of the literature journal with the same name. They print works by Havel and Celan, among others. Taiwan is a place that accommodates many different ventures and makes many things possible. A long tradition of immigration, everything thrown together. They had a one-party dictatorship themselves, and an economic miracle too. But since 1987 they have an ongoing process of democratization, including recognition of their own history, their various ethnicities and so on. It makes one think of recent history and present times in parts of Europe and elsewhere. These are the connections, between the late Vaclav Havel and a fictional Undead GDR, between Paul Celan, exile and reckoning with the past, between poetry and stories of spies.

Addendum: Exiled Chinese writers, like Ma Jian and Bei Ling, have protested against official China monopolizing the China focus at the London book fair this spring. Click here for press coverage in Dutch, English and German.

Happy Lanterns!

二月 7, 2012

Thanks to Ursula Wolte!

Lantern festival was today, or now it’s yesterday, Mon. 6th, 2012. All the best and many happy moons to all we love!

2 recent poems

vienna’s flat
frankfurt a mat
above the clouds.
a sea of wool.
flying is cool.
somewhere there’s a big bird
or another plane.
then we dive
through the mist
and arrive.
frankfurt is long.
i like hong kong.

MW Jan. 29/30, 2012

grosze rosa azaleen
schmetterlinge, blaetter fallen
geigenklaenge, bass, klavier
zeit der groszen stoerungen
endlich sonne ueber taipei
flohmarkt, festival der kuenste
blaetter wachsen in den himmel

MW Februar 2012


二月 6, 2012


今天六月四日下午翻譯討論會我們四個人都說了翻譯的使命、條件、樂趣、難點、技巧等等。主持人唐薇讓我們報告自己怎么選擇了中文、怎么來到了翻譯文學一行業。其實我們有一部分說出來根本不是選擇中文、選擇文學。一步一步地碰到了機會而已。自己從小對文學感興趣,從十一歲左右開始讀詩歌,一開始就讀不衕語言。八九歲以后父母對亞洲的食物,對打坐、太極拳等等很投入。一方面想保著身體健康、一方面尋找生命的意義。奧地利第二次世界大戰結束重新建立經濟以后在六十年代末、七十年代初開始尋找、開始重新反省國家、社會、藝朮等等在這個世界上的意義。其實一直都得反省,一直必須自問我們到底從哪里來,到哪里去。只是大部分人未說出,沒功夫說出、沒辦法說出我們從納罪制度、從倫理、宗教、道德根本跨了的世界上從未發現的巨大罪惡出來。柏林文學學會代表東格斯(Thorsten Dönges) 昨天在另外的、也是書展的場合簡單地介紹德語戰后和現在的文學,他說得很清楚,德國在二十世紀兩次想控制歐洲,結果是在全世界發動了戰爭。沒說日本在亞洲有衕樣的目的,衕樣地發動了第二世界大戰在亞洲的一面。東格斯代表說當代德語寫作非常重視曆史。在二戰以后第一代作家,像君特·格拉斯(Günther Grass)、海因里希·伯爾(Heinrich Böll)等等他們講戰爭和戰后的恐怖,講納罪德國軍隊和支持他們的人在東歐作出的災難、以后德語民族被驅除的后果。很多作家都講曆史,克里斯塔·沃尔夫(Christa Wolf)等等`民主德國』作家都是。那麽第二、第三代作家,他們就講自己的生活和他們一代的社會嗎?不,很多還是講曆史,講當代曆史,包括奧地利的艾芙烈‧葉利尼克(Elfriede Jelinek)和從羅馬尼亞來的赫塔.慕勒(Herta Müller)等等。而且很多年輕作家這几十年都講家庭的曆史,以講出家庭的曆史講整個社會的曆史。柏林代表沒說奧地利老作家多德勒爾(Heimito von Doderer,1896~1966)他也講曆史,不過主要不是講二戰和奧地利人的罪惡。他有自己的原因,他在三十年代曾經有點支持納罪黨,不過戰后支持進步的、積極的實驗文學,像恩斯特·揚德爾(Ernst Jandl)等等。反正東格斯代表講出了要害,人家作品里到處都是曆史,包括他介紹的新作家西蒙.吾邦(Simon Urban)。吾邦在他第一本長篇(德語叫Plan D)把最近二十几年的曆史改寫,好像1989、1990的變化從未發生,德國仍被分割,2011年秋天還有民主德意志共和國,兩個德國的秘密警察和間諜在仍然分割的柏林勾心斗角、殺人等等。



廖亦武在朗誦會被問對旺旺集團董事長最近好像否定六四屠殺的看法。回答了很好,說他一般不估計商人對政治說一些什麽,因為按照需要很 快就會變。如果明天劉曉波當中國總統,商人都會贊美民主。政治家也一樣,包括目前你們的台灣總統,廖亦武說。人家問廖亦武以后屬於什麽國家,他回答屬於永 遠屬於四川,也引用了《三國》開頭。以后中國因為制度不行了而分開了,我們四川就關心對陝西、湖北等等的外交關系,不那麽注意台灣。

其實今天已經二月五日。這几天睡覺沒規律,這次根本沒有入睡,先是樓下現場音樂未結束,后來出汗,也想到上說的要害和要點。廖亦武的朗誦以后有作家在出版社展位簽字的機會。以后廖亦武去跟他的朋友楊曉斌見面,晚上要回新竹。廖亦武在他的書里面給我簽字以后我就有機會跟新竹的詩人倪國榮先生談話。倪國榮老師給我講他的太太翻譯愛蜜莉.狄金生(Emily Dickinson)几十年的經驗,還介紹他怎麽分學朮寫作和民間寫作。說周夢蝶、亞弦、七等生等等詩人都比較屬於民間寫作。而余光中、樣牧、王文興等等比較都是學朮的寫作。

鴻鴻和他編輯的雜志《衛生紙+》里那些年輕詩人多半該屬於民間寫作吧。夏宇呢?屬於宇宙吧。那彤雅立呢?其實我不清楚。兩種都有,可能是。她辦的《月照無眠》詩聲雜志里有布萊希特(Bertolt Brecht)、有魯迅、有周夢蝶、有不少宋詞。為了詩聲雜志,我給她把一些詩譯成英語,包括周夢蝶寫恆河的那首。是的,我詩歌寫作和翻譯的目的語言是英語和德語,兩種都是。


不過最后什麽叫做文學、什麽叫做藝朮等等往往都是重新被討論的話題,永遠講不完。我自己屬於什麽? 待續。

照相:Benny Au (Hong Kong)

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