On May 3rd, I attended a charming lecture by poet and crime fiction writer Qiu Xiaolong 裘小龙 at New York University’s Shanghai campus. Born on the Puxi side of Shanghai, Qiu embraced the opportunity afforded by his visit to the campus to walk around – and have his famous Inspector Chen walk around – Pudong’s futuristic vertical landscape. A graduate from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, Qiu Xiaolong was studying in the US when the aftermath of the June 4th incident of 1989 (also known as the Tiananmen Massacre) made it untenable for him to return to China. His decision to start writing in English was prompted by an announcement from his Chinese publisher that his works could no longer be published in China.Between 1988 and 1996, Qiu remained in the US, but since then he has returned to his native city of Shanghai at least once a year, only to be amazed at the changes and transformations he observes. While humbly acknowledging that he is now much less familiar with Shanghai than local writers, and much less familiar with the English language than native English speakers, Qiu suggested that his unique position as an ‘outside insider’ might be part of the recipe for his hugely successful novels.Another interesting product of Qiu’s in-between position is his approach to literary discourse. He described how, while composing in a second language, one need not necessarily shot out completely one’s first language, but rather use it to creatively combine and reshape linguistic thought patterns. As he puts it “a cliché in one language might be an innovation when translated directly into another one.”This approach breaks with practises of composition and translation that seek to ‘domesticate’ foreign idioms and phrases to secure what translation theorist Lawrence Venuti has called ‘the translator’s invisibility’. So, while Qiu’s lack of ‘domestication’ might risk sliding into auto-Orientalism, it more importantly serves to call attention to the text’s conception between languages.
(All photographs by Astrid Møller-Olsen, Shanghai 2017)
I have had my abstract on Cross-Cultural Detectives accepted for Asian Dynamics Initiative‘s 6th annual International Conference ‘Intra-Asian Connections: Interactions, flows, landscapes’.
I am looking forward to hearing Professor Prasenjit Duara, National University of Singapore, speak about how stories and narratives about the past as a collective formations have changed over time from cosmological founded local legends to the national romances being challenged by the globalisation today. (abstract here)
Also curious to hear Professor Adam Thomas Smith, Cornell University, talk about his research on the role of materiality and everyday objects in ideology and politics.
My paper is going to be about early 20th century Chinese crime writers (such as Cheng Xiaoqing 程小青 and Sun Liaohong 孙了红) who were inspired by Western detective fiction. It will also look at their contemporary Western counterparts and their use of Chinese protagonists and characters for their novels. Read full abstract here.
Just found Dashiel Hammet‘s The thin man on a summer flea market. After the first chapter it is already becoming my new favourite because of dialogues such as this one:
“She lived with him?” “Yes. I want a drink, please. That is, it was like that when I knew them.” “Why don’t you have some breakfast first? Was she in love with him or was it just business?” “I don’t know. It’s too early for breakfast.”
Sitting reading with a small glass of red wine in one hand, I feel embarrassingly sober, when the narrator has had five whisky and sodas in as many pages.
Though Hammet was born in the United States in 1894 his attitude toward drink reminds me of the poet 阮籍 Ruan Ji, who lived in China in the 3. century CE:
“Fleet worldly matters: I laugh at the strain. Quiet, sad feelings are wasted pain.
How to cure sadness: call for wine! When drunk all day bad manners are fine.
Each day of my whole life through, I should drink great pots of brew.
It is such bliss, to cruise the Land of Booze;
Sober, then drunk; drunk and wild as I choose.
Once in the hills I forget big news.”
(Coulombe, Charles A. (ed.): The Muse in the Bottle. New York: Citadel Press, 2000)