11 von 13 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
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I know this letter will reach you too late. Almost 20 years too late, since you died at the age of 26 in 1995. This is the first of your novels to be translated into English, and before reading it, I hadn’t known of your influence on the gay and lesbian culture in Taiwan and in the Chinese-speaking world at large. I wonder what you would have thought of the ascendency of the Internet and the instant globalization of art, literature, ideas.
Ah, but you were already ahead of the times, weren’t you? The global outlook of Last Words from Montmartre looks beyond Taiwan and presents a Chinese lesbian living in Paris and travelling to Tokyo, finding and losing lovers along the way. And yet, for all the globetrotting, the book’s focus never veers far. It’s aimed square at the narrator’s heart, a magnifying glass, and the light that comes through sharpens like a laser.
It’s tempting to read this book as autobiographical—you, yourself, were studying in Paris with Hélène Cixous at its writing—but I know this is the wrong approach. I get the sense that you blend these elements together—fiction, autobiography, aphorism, journal entry, poetry—to disorient the reader. You want us to inhabit the narrator’s headspace so fully that her feelings of dislocation become our own.
And what a dislocation it is. Though you insist that the 20 letters that comprise Last Words can be read in any order, I had to resist piecing together a timeline, organizing your lovers, men and women, in their proper sequence. I apologize: as a reader, I’m used to the comforts of chronology and of psychological causality. But I realize that, for this book, it’s a futile task. You don’t mean to present a standard narrative. You don’t mean to offer the back-and-forth of the traditional epistolary novel. Instead, these letters constitute an eternal present—a pain so palpable that it seems to have no past and no future. It can only be felt now.
Can I say that I often could not read more than one letter in a single sitting? Not because of the language—your translator, Ari Larissa Heinrich, has made an excellent effort, rendering your work into colloquial English—but because the emotional intensity can get overwhelming. The depths of your heartbreak seem limitless, and as I plunged deeper and deeper into it, I felt as if the letters were not meant for their intended recipients, but were instead a last will and testament. Indeed, as Heinrich points out, the title can also be translated literally as Last Testament from Montmartre.
But here I go again, conflating your narrator with you. Maybe there never was that separation to begin with. Maybe this book exists in the intersection of text and author, just as you lived in the intersection of genders and cultures, in the intersection between Eros and Thanatos. But as your narrator spirals out of control, the letters becoming more disjointed and fragmented, recounting not only her emotional state but her increasing violence towards herself, I think about your own death, at your own hands.
Miaojin, I know that you cannot read this letter. I know that time continues on its forward trajectory and that I cannot diverge from it to speak to you directly. But know that I am thinking about your book and that you speak through it still.
2 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Thomas F. Dillingham
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The author of this novel (memoir? fantasia?) worked hard to keep any prospective reader from feeling comfortable or confident that she or he could depend on previous reading experiences to aid in navigation through the "letters" that compose the parts of the text. Not only is the reader invited to read the parts in any order whatever, but that challenge, it becomes obvious very soon, offers an unnecessary further "complication"--the letters are not, in any case, chronological, nor are they written/spoken/narrated by the same "voice," nor is it always apparent that the same narrator is "present" in all the letters. One can start with the premise that though names and genders shift and relationships, such as they are, may be fluid or imagined, fantasized or distorted by the shifting moods of the narrator of the moment, the narrative voice is always the same, only putting on alternative masks. But that is a question--at any given time, the voice of the narrator may be congruent with that of the author, but the rapid shifts of attitude and tone regularly move the reader to wonder whether, in fact, this narrator is truly a "divided person," one with multiple personalities or one driven into fragmentation by the extremes of her own emotional reactions to the friends, lovers, helpers, enemies with whom (or toward whom) the letters are to be exchanged. For the most part, the letters all appear to be intended for one particular faraway lover, Xu, even though some are addressed to Yong, and other characters are named, even addressed, even in the context of the letters supposedly addressed to Xu.
The narrator(s) is/are writer/artist/university student/Taiwanese citizen/Parisian flaneur on occasion/underground person, and more. Sometimes generous--seeking presents to give, offering loving thoughts; otherwise, grasping, demanding, insistent on having her own way on her own terms. Sometimes female, occasionally male, lesbian, heterosexual, queer-asexual. Through the many transformations of consciousness and -- if we dare use the word -- identity, we nonetheless "hear" the voice of a young person desperately seeking love, reacting hysterically or angrily or with despair to perceived rejection, refusing the love of those who offer it, demanding love of at least one who runs from her because of her demands and, perhaps, her instability. One oddity of the novel--the narrator is undoubtedly a fractured personality, and by comparison, those around her seem stable, well put together, able to function in a "normal" society, though she suspects (and diagnoses) that they have found stability only through espousing false, fake, artificial personas, assumed because they perceive them to be socially acceptable.
The narrator's letters often reach a crescendo of conflicted emotions--"So my desire became unhinged and my pain excruciating. When you stop wanting me--withdrawing your eros--I go insane, truly insane. I've reached an apex of insanity (ha ha). Why am I laughing? Because I have a fatal, mortal, terminal passion for you. Ultimately I have no choice but death: an unconditional allegiance, an eternal bond to you. (The ultimate rule of desire/eros is this: At their peak, "sexual desire" [erotic desire], and "desire for death" [the death wish] are the same.) I'm a passionate person, and as you're someone I would die for, death seems inevitable, though it's still painful thinking about it." This heightened rhetoric and nearly hysterical tone are characteristic of the language and substance of many of the letters. As a result, this reader, at least, frequently felt that I was being harangued, subjected to a self-indulgent rant by a person who, in the best of times, is self-centered, selfish, and probably destructive (not only self-destructive). And that is when one, as a reader of this narrative, must retreat into thinking of it as, after all, a literary construct. This incessant hyperemotion is not a person talking to me on the phone, but a character (or is she?) in a fictional (albeit heavily autobiographical, apparently) narrative. But that takes us back to the beginning--the author has done her best NOT TO ALLOW us, as readers, to experience this as a literary artifact. In this sense, the book may be reminiscent of some other experimental writings that do their best to force defamiliarization and alienation as the primary reading experiences. (I think of, for example, Djuna Barnes's Nightwood, a far more conventional work in some ways, but also demanding of the reader, or the strange and alienating narrative by Anna Kavan, Ice. One might even add E.A. Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, or Sterne's Tristram Shandy.)
To the extent that there is a "story" here, it includes the death of a pet rabbit and its burial, encounters with a famous woman scholar and writer, journeys back to Taiwan and Japan and then returns to Paris, "quiet days in Clichy," though not so quiet as all that, and some visits to art galleries and performances. Names of some artists and writers, and especially movie directors, are dropped. I don't mean to mock this--the author makes no pretense of constructing a coherent narrative, though the reader (this reader, at least) is likely to indulge the lifelong habit of constructing coherence where it is not apparent, weaving a plot line where none exists, working to frustrate the author's apparent wish to create a work without a plot and with no characters in the conventional sense of those terms. As a kind of mental wrestling match between the reader and writer, this book is arguably fascinating.
One might mention that the focus on what is crudely called gender-bending, or more recently "queering" relationships, is pervasive and in a few passages generates some erotic fascination. While readers who are phobic about such subject matter might avoid the book, one can say that there is little in it to shock or dismay the reader who is familiar with the explorations of alternate sexualities in so much of modern literature.
I did not take the challenge of reading the chapters randomly (I had enough of that when I faithfully followed the printed and then the proposed alternative order of chapters in Cortazar's Hopscotch many years ago), but the challenge itself, of course, put me on notice that there would not be a linear narrative, and indeed, the chapters might be said to spin around each other, creating not a plot nor stable characters, but a kind of galaxy of interacting (if not illuminating) parts, related but not kept in order. I did several times return to re-read earlier letters, and that was interesting enough as the re-reading revealed perceptions I had not realized during the first reading--that, in itself, might be a strong argument for randomly re-reading the whole. But I think I will not.
If it were possible, I would probably give this 3.5 rather than 4 stars, but 3 seems a bit too stingy. There is much to admire in the energy and imaginative ingenuity of this work, whether or not we want to call it a novel. But the hectoring and ranting tone of many of the "letters" finally becomes irritating (as it would in "real" life), and as a reader, I found it distracted me from whatever kind of admiration I might be constructing from the shards of the experience..
2 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
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-- "Oh... if one were to call this book an unintelligible collection of hieroglyphics with no words and a plot that had long since disappeared, one would be right."
Imagine you are in a booth of a restaurant, or perhaps on a train. From behind, you hear a woman talking. Either her companion does not reply, or you don't catch what is said. It is not always easy to understand the main speaker either; there is a lot of talk about love, perhaps love between women, though different partners are mentioned. As most of the proper names are Chinese, you are not sure of the genders. But the speaker is clearly in distress; there are even hints of suicide. Should you intervene? But then the tone changes. You are no longer sure that the speaker is a woman after all. The setting of what s/he is describing is no longer Paris, but Tokyo, or is it Taipei? Several of the same names crop up again. Gradually you guess at a story: a passionate affair, betrayals, separation, reunion, determination, pain.
-- "If this book should be published, readers can begin anywhere. The only connection between the chapters is the time frame in which they were written."
I admit to buying this solely on account of this unusual challenge (and because I trust NYRB books). There are twenty "letters" in this epistolary novella, although not all of them are in letter form. The book keeps them in more or less numerical order, although Letter Five comes just before Letter Eleven and there is an additional Letter Seventeen, coming after Letter Ten. I used the randomizing function on my computer, and printed out the resultant order to use as a bookmark: 19, 5, 1, 8, and so on. The result was like no other reading experience I have ever had: reading as a matter of immersion rather than following a thread, getting to know the narrator from the inside before I had the slightest idea of her biographical facts. If it does not sound sexist to say so, I would call it a profoundly feminine way of reading, rather than my normal let's-get-on-with-it masculine one.
-- "For dead little Bunny / and / Myself, soon dead." Qiu's dedication.
Weeks after completing this manuscript, the author, twenty-six-year-old Qiu Miaojin kills herself. Among other things, this novella is her suicide note, turning her death into an artistic statement rather than an act of despair. Already celebrated as a writer in her native Taiwan (especially among feminist and lesbian circles), she has gone to Paris to join the women's studies program run by novelist Hélène Cixous; the book is laced with references to other feminist writers such as Marguerite Yourcenar and Clarice Lispector. And this being Paris, she embraces cinema as high art, following especially the films of Theodoros Angelopoulos and Andrei Tarkovsky. But her main dealings are the interpersonal ones, and most of her writing is about love: love lost, love turned to despair, love persisting against all odds, and just occasionally love at the height of sexual passion. I can't say I enjoyed these passages of self-analysis, which can get quite turgid; I don't know whether to put this down to the translator, Ari Larissa Heinrich, or to the author's own confessional earnestness. All in all, it was a book I enjoyed in concept more than while actually reading.
-- "What I desire is the full profundity of eros in my life, the 'eternal'."
The eternal takes no account of normal time. Would I have fared better if I had read the chapters in their printed order? I don't think so. About halfway through my reading, I came upon an extraordinary passage of normal exposition, in which the writer lays out her movements and partners in chronological order, with names and places and dates. It explained a lot. But this comes in Letter Fourteen! It is not until quite late that we learn who or what "dead little Bunny" is. And I was able to go for most of the book delightfully perplexed that the narrator (who is never named) occasionally seems to refer to herself as "Zoë" -- but this "Zoë" seems to be female at one moment and male the next! The one chapter that goes any way towards explaining this (and then not completely) is Letter Six -- which is the one I happened to read last, making a neat but entirely accidental "Aha!" ending.
-- "As she tested the boundaries between fiction, literary autobiography, and lived practice, the line between life and art grew increasingly indistinguishable for Qiu."
This last quotation is from Heinrich's helpful afterword. I am struck by his phrase "lived practice" and its implication that the book in our hands is no more than half Qiu's artistic statement. It may not make for easy reading, but it is a unique product of literary art.