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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mad Men's pathetic fans

I find it fascinating that the audience cannot help but want to like characters in Mad Men. There is something pathetic in this --- Mad Men writers seduce the audience members with glitz and glamor, then slap them around every so often, but the fans always come back and kneel at the feet of these characters and beg for more. It's almost like advertising. They feed you shit and mess with your head, so that they can rob you blind. People eat out of their hands and love and worship the dope pushed by advertisement. Here Mad Men folks drop plenty of clues to tell the audience how shitty the characters are, but the audience remain in blissful self-hypnosis.

It always amuses me to see the "smart" and well-educated reviewers and readers on Slate.com so eagerly identify with characters like Betty Draper and so earnestly hoping to "save" Betty and Don's marriage. They are no wiser than the numskull 师奶团 who advise silly girls to marry the first man who proposes or housewives to stay in their shitty marriage because they can't help but imagine themselves in the center of everybody else's story. It makes me want to puke and laugh at the same time to read how they all want the vain, infantile, self-absorbed Betty and cheating, lying, wandering Don learn to become a mature, wise, and loving couple with an exemplary marriage. Go watch "Seventh Heaven" will ya?

No matter how charming and seductive Roger Sterling is, the writers did not hesitate to slap his fans in the face with his "black face" performance a few weeks ago. Connie Hilton first appeared as a father figure and source of Don's good fortune a few episodes ago, and we got the rug pulled out of ... not his, but our expectations, very quickly. Even in his most vulnerable moment, we are reminded that Don caused the death of his kid brother who had harmed no one. And he just fired Sal for refusing the advances of a client and yelled at Peggy for asking for equal pay with her male colleagues.

If you expect to identify with the characters and imagine them as if they were your spouse or family, to care about and admire them as if they were your best friends, to love them and hope they live the good, righteous life for you ... forget it. Their flaws are gaping holes as large as those in real people. Their lives are as messy and dysfunctional as our families and neighbors.

And that includes Don Draper, who every man wants to be and every woman wants to marry/have an affair with. He is full of those gaping holes inside too -- not his tragic upbringing but his character flaws. So far the only character who has not been ruthlessly exposed at one point or another is Peggy, although I wonder how long that will last.

Other shows/movies beg you to like the characters and put yourself in their shoes. You need them to be OK in the end because you need to feel you'll be OK in the end. This is not that kind of show. The only danger for Mad Men is if the creator/writer becomes too attached to a character and cannot bear to expose the flaws and contradictions in him or her, if the writer wants the audience to like the character.

An Education



Rushed out to see this movie that I had long anticipated for no other reason than hearing Peter Sarsgaard's voice --- with an English accent, no less.

I didn't have huge expectations for the movie itself and was therefore pleasantly rewarded. All the critical praise on Carey Mulligan is amply deserved as she managed a delicately perfect balance between youthful naivete and intelligence. Young people are not stupid, they are merely inexperienced --- inexperienced adults can be stupid too, after all. She is constantly compared to Audrey Hepburn, but really this is much better than any of the silly girlish fantasies Hepburn sold to the public.

What made the movie work is not necessarily this morality tale of growing up, but the kindly and sensitive hearts of Lone Scherfig and Nick Hornby, who directed and wrote the script, respectively. Hornby's novel from a married woman's point of view, How to Be Good, was hardly a success, but here he has better raw material: Lynn Barber's memoir that he, supposedly, faithfully adapted. Perhaps more critical is the Danish director Lone Scherfig, who deftly handled the story with honest, while never mistaken honesty with cynicism. It does take a woman to keep the tone grounded in impeccable truth.

Why am I so sure it is true? Because in so many ways Jenny reminds me of myself, except that I was much less precocious and smart than she. The restless boredom and wide-eyed eagerness for "the real world" are exactly the same at 17 (and again at 25). I was that girl, and even my parents are similarly provincial and naive. I recognize so much in her, and understand exactly.

An under-estimated accomplishment of the movie, which has been lost in many reviews, is how precisely drawn the other characters are. Despite the limelight on the heroine Jenny, everyone else (from the old maid teacher to David's rogue friend) was delicately painted with rich details and impeccable precision. The movie does not stray into exposition about any of them, but I can pick up enough clues to understand the back story of every one of them. These are surprisingly realistic characters, each with his or her own history and psychology that determine their current life and behavior. They don't exist to serve the purpose of teaching Jenny a moral lesson. They are real people. (Again, good movies/stories have characters that live beyond and outside the frame of the story itself.) I marvel at the economy of their portrayal with little reliance on cliches. The writer and director rightly leave out most of their stories because the movie must stick to Jenny's point of view --- the schoolgirl hasn't got the experience to see through their human frailty. But we do. At least I do, now that I am no longer 17, or 25.

The ending was inevitably cut short and felt simplistic because it would take another movie or two to tell the rest of the journey into womanhood. I am now intrigued by Barber's memoir.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

国会山旧书店

今天下午去打敏感针,完了之后溜过去拜访上次去过的旧书店。店主老头儿仍然窝在书堆中间的那个小坑里,不过今天多了个女孩子,黄头发,瘦瘦的,年纪很轻,坐在那里整理乱七八糟满坑满谷的旧书。两个人嘀嘀咕咕地讨论什么作者目录之类,名字全是没听说过的,老头倒罢了,小女孩流利对答,显然是个 bookworm in the making。真是两个外星人,我好想加入他们的物种,除了书,什么都不干,什么都不想,吃喝住行全在书堆里, breathe the musty air and eat the crumpling pages。

老头说,那个谁谁的几本儿书,完全卖不出去,没人要买。Nevertheless,我得找个角落把它们塞进去,让人找不到,因为他的书我得至少留一套给自己。

书架上到处贴了歪歪扭扭手写的纸片儿,除了按名索引,ABCDE 的字母以外,还有些 "Lot 'a Melville", "Millers all on top", 和 "Maupassant to the right"之类的小标签。居然被我找到一本Sarah Waters的近期小说 The Night Watch,顺手拎了下楼付钱。他的收据都是手写的,包括书名,潦草的手笔。书桌上当然堆满了书,不过上面还竖着几本儿疑似招牌的书。赫然看见 Ann Coulter 一张脸占领的封面,心里还有点奇怪,凑上去看她脸下贴的纸片儿,上书: Watch out! Her (his) Adam's Apple was airbrushed out. 逗得我咯咯傻笑。跟老头套近乎:

I: Have you been here for a long time?
He: 15 years! We have been here 15 years. Where have YOU been?
I: I ... uh, I've been around. But I don't live in this neighborhood.
He: Yes! I've had the store for 15 years here, waiting for you to come in.

说着冲我笑笑,挤挤眼。我对这种俏皮的小老头很没有抵抗力,但是又没有急智答词,只好顾左右而言他。

I: You've got a lot of books here.
He: Yeah, they've been waiting for you to buy them. (another wink)
I: Hehe ... I'd need to buy a store for myself just to house all these books then.
He: Why not? We need more bookstores.

我笑着跟他道别。出门时赫然看见门上边贴一张横幅: "Book Thieves Will Be Deconstructed!"

15 年,想必是他退休之后拿起来的第二职业。

惊奇万分的巧合!



这件事说出来都没人会相信。大概一两个礼拜之前的某天,在波士顿街上乱走的时候,不知为什么脑子里有点发痒,忽然跟 S 同学提起电视剧 Man From Atlantis 。记不清是什么时候看到的英文片名了,应该是来美国不久后,或许偶然撞见关于 Patrick Duffy 的背景资料的时候看见的。那天也不知是什么原因,忽然就想起这个电视剧,S 同学说: 这个剧非常非常 obscure 耶,你怎么听说的?我说: Are you kidding? 这是中国在文革以后进口的第一部美国电视剧,轰动得要死,我和所有的同学都看过。他说:这个剧在美国很不红,拍了一季就取消了,我还是小孩子的时候恰好看过!而且很迷!觉得好看死了!而且去游泳的时候还学他的那个海豚姿势来着!简直不能相信你这个中国人也看过!

这还不算最诡异的巧合。当时我就打算到 Netflix 上面找找看有没有 DVD 可借(S 同学说可能性不大因为这个片子实在是太小众了),但是回家后一忙就忘了,今晚毫无理由地想起来,果然没有 DVD。放狗搜了一下,哇,惊奇得要死,原来就在10月7日,两个星期之前,Warner Brothers Archives 发行了正版第一集DVD!三十多年啦,居然这么巧,发行 DVD 跟我偶然想起的时间竟然几乎吻合。而且我可以肯定想起不是因为瞄到 DVD 发行的消息,因为他们完全没有任何宣传和广告。当然不可能是我的脑波遥控了他们,多半是他们的脑波遥控了我(S 同学反驳道,不要搞封建迷信)。

不过原版 DVD 只发行了第一集而已,市面上有一些从电视录像带翻的 DVD,我也不会去买。所以暂时只能看优酷土豆上的中文版(!)全集了,可惜 S 同学没法一起享用了。

我不记得大西洋底来的人在中国放映是哪一年,如果是80年,那么我看此剧的年纪跟S同学看此剧的年纪也差不太多,又是一桩巧合。谁能想到呢?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

看完了,正在看,想要看

最近忙得很,一边忙工作的事,一边看花样滑冰 Grand Prix 比赛,慢吞吞地终于把毛姆短篇集看完了。有几篇的印象比较深: The Fall of Edward Barnard,读高中的时候就看过,影响深远啊,这辈子都留下了一定的痕迹; The Man From Glasgow,好厉害的鬼故事。另有一篇 Three Fat Women of Antibes,讲三个单身胖女人减肥的,虽然语气诙谐讽刺,但看完了让我颇羡慕三个人的亲密友谊。如果真成了中年独身女人,跟两个独身女友在地中海边上租间房子打打桥牌多惬意。故事里的主角之一明明是lesbian,赤裸裸毫不遮掩地写出来,倒比毛姆笔下的任何男同志都光明正大。

刚开始看 Lisa Scottoline 的 Killer Smile,前几页就让我咕咕笑出声好几次。

下面计划读一读 Sarah Waters 的近期小说。Fingersmith 很不错,现代古典派,这两年又出了两本儿二战时期的小说。在哈佛广场逛的那天下午,躲进书店喝茶休息,正好坐在文学部的边缘,瞄见她的书翻了翻,有兴趣。

Thursday, October 15, 2009

梦境

昨晚,不,今天早晨,做了一个非常清晰但是古怪的梦。梦见自己和S同学搬进一个公寓,分两层,古旧的木地板和木楼梯在脚下咯吱作响。从楼梯上二楼,两个地铺铺在地板上,中间一个写字桌,甚觉拥挤,但是却很 cozy。(醒来后想想其实为什么要两个地铺呢?)楼下也不宽敞,厨房与饭厅兼起居室。一切都很有老旧但是温暖的感觉。

怪在哪里呢?在于当时在梦里就回忆起曾经看过类似的公寓房间,梦中的回忆历历在目,非常肯定自己曾经被一个房地产经纪人带着看过另一家公寓,颇为宽敞,有三四间房,而且还有一个阳光充足的露台,也是木地板且房间之间有高高低低的差异,价格又很便宜。当时为什么没租下来呢?好像是因为地段街坊属于低收入地区,治安不太好,邻居都是穷人,而且很多小孩子,乱哄哄的颇嘈杂,于是我转而去租中产阶级地区的各自闭门老死不相往来的高层公寓了,但是心里颇后悔。

在梦里,当时心中已经模糊地意识到这是一个梦,但却认定回忆中的三房公寓不是梦而是是真实的记忆,并且使劲澄清这段回忆中的画面和细节,直到被迫(被闹钟揪着)醒来之后仍然迷迷糊糊地不能确定哪些是梦哪些是真实的经历。现在是晚上六点半,当然肯定两个公寓都是梦,这几年搬家多次,看房无数,但并没有进过什么低收入区的三房公寓。仍然不能确定的是,这是梦里回忆起过去的一个梦呢?还是今早梦里自动编造出一段假记忆。

实际上记忆是一个非常非常不可靠的东西,很容易被改造,而且不留原稿,所以永远也不能肯定事情的真相了。

在写这一篇blog的过程中,我逐渐意识到这两个公寓虽然跟我住过的几个地方都大大地不同,但却明显地含有一个共同因素:它们具有小时候外婆家的一些特征,包括木地板,窄而陡的木楼梯,阁楼,喧闹而混杂的街坊邻居,迷宫一样的后门通道。

另一个奇怪的因素是我对地铺的 fascination。上高中的时候搬家,跟我爹要求在自己房间里打地铺打了一年,后来因为房间朝北不舒服,搬到另一间朝南的,就睡床了。在两个梦里(姑且算做两个梦),要么是地铺占领几乎整个房间地面,要么就是两张巨大床塞满整个房间。说明啥?我很懒,随时随地想倒在床上?

按理说,房子越新越好,但是我却经常梦见老房子,想必也是外婆家老房子留下的印象。(那房子早拆了,现在是南京东路地铁站。)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

狮子皮

这是昨天在飞机上重看毛姆短篇小说集的时候撞见的一篇,居然也用了借战争之机会改名换姓开发新人生的桥段,真巧。只不过,改写人生的男主角是英国人,所以他选的新生道路也跟 Gatsby, Don Draper 那种美国梦截然不同,而是英国梦,即跻身上流社会的梦。不过殊途同归,其实人性都是一样的,只是环境不同,所以 manifestation 的具体形状虽然各有其主题,但本质的追求都是往上爬,社会指定哪边儿是上,就往哪边儿爬啊爬,等爬到了才发现一生已经流逝,到手不过如此。

毛姆当然是冷嘲热讽一番,不过他是好心人,故事里的诸位都各得其所,包括披着狮子皮舍不得脱下来的那位主角和他的美国太太,丑而心地善良,而且"Unfortunately she was also a damned fool." 真正的批判靶子,英国阶级分垒,都是间接地批判。

Drum Roll....

星期五一早,花样滑冰新赛季正式开始,Grand Prix 系列大奖赛法国站揭开序幕!今天赶紧把转播比赛的网站费给交了。奥运赛季啊,竞争要激烈死了,但却不一定好看。

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Draper and Gatsby




It dawned on me when I was listening to Matthew Weiner's commentary on Season 1 DVD of Mad Men. He said, "We had a policy to audition everyone, regardless of how famous. And I insisted on casting no British actors." He explained that, despite the thespian quality of Brits, he is too sensitive about a minor deviation in the American accent. I have to suspect he insists on the casting policy out of principles, because Weiner said something akin to "This is fundamentally an American story."

That was when I made the connection to The Great Gatsby.

Since the beginning when the identity problem of Don Draper was revealed, I have been bugged by a sense of deja vu. Yes, there have been many previous examples of someone taking someone else's identity and go on to live a new life. The Talented Mr. Ripley was far from the only known sample. Although all impostors have some commonality, the vibe from the aptly named Don DRAPER is entirely different from the desperate Tom Ripley. Only when I superimposed his impeccably American man's image over Jay Gatsby did I realize where this whole thing is about. No wonder.

Mad Men is indeed the quintessential American mythology: the self-made man, the unique opportunity to reinvent yourself, to be anyone you want yourself to be and never be bound by your class or origin or who you truly are.

The Great Gatsby was told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, who seems to hold an overly romantic view of Jay Gatsby and the mythical American Man. Gatsby's own mind remains inaccessible to us all, including the quintessential American reader. Here, Weiner obviously wants to expose the real American Man from the inside, and it's not a pretty picture. Yet this is also why American audience, especially male viewers, finds him irresistible and admirable despite the merciless depiction of the hollow and fake reality of the American mythology. He is so flawlessly dashing and ruthlessly domineering. He inspires awe in them. They want simultaneously to be him and to worship him, to be ruled by him.

Don Draper is no longer an honorable gangster but an advertising man. He represents more acutely the modern American man and a society that runs on manufactured desire, the insatiable appetite to sell --- and buy --- more and more and more. Thus Draper is the Gatsby of our time, which began in the booming 1950s, just like the booming 1920s, before the whole dream came crashing down into a pile of rubble.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cold

53 degrees on Monday in Boston! What should I pack? (Panicking.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

最近的杂碎

最近比较 taking it easy,不知是年纪不饶人还是今年身体不利,这一两个月来不是嗜睡就是头痛,还发了一通 occipital neuralgia,今天又被眼科医生警告 。所以就看一点 The Avengers 65 季的 DVD ,翻一翻淘旧书买的毛姆短篇集,在沙发上打个盹儿。过得象我们家的猫。

昨晚电视里放了一集 Maigret,当然是法国版的,Bruno Cremer 胖大叔。跑到乡下去拍的故事,特别好看,满地的泥,满院儿的动物,难道是在捷克的乡下取景?也不知哪儿找来的一群演员,从老头到小孩都土得掉渣儿,除了有点文艺和城市气的两个女演员,其他人都特别“乡”,淳朴加“农民的狡黠”,狡猾而平淡的幽默逗死了。

下周四去打敏感针的时候,准备去刺探一下旧书店老头的来历。上次去只顾惊叹那满坑满谷随时都会倒下来把人活埋的旧书,让我想起EL Doctrow 最近出的小说 Homer and Langley,关于埋在古董堆里的Collyer兄弟的故事 --- 没有工夫找来看,光是听听广播已经很诡异了。

旧书店的老头大概七十来岁了,坐在如棺材般逼挤的屋子里,昏黄的灯光,狭窄陡峭的木楼梯。他一直在听广播里的C-SPAN,我甚至不知道 C-SPAN 还有广播版。小店距离国会山庄只有一里地左右,放眼可见白色圆顶。弄得我疑心老头跟政治有什么牵连,简直要在脑子里替他编一套 Baldacci 或者 Le Carre 式的故事,有惊险历史的老头隐士。

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More Mad Men

The show defies interpretation.

不管是谁写什么,总有个目的性。差一点儿的作者,目的性明确,视角单一,只代表他自己的立场;遇到立场坚硬的作者,看了一阵子即可猜到他下面要说什么,很有规律。Mad Men 最奇异的地方是看了三季仍然无法预料里面的人物下一步要做点什么,以及人物在某一刻心里想的是什么。

例如最近一集,Betty 先是精神出轨,跟又帅又有权势又迷恋她的中年男人接吻了之后,忽然主动跟丈夫 Don Draper 示好,要求跟他去罗马,打扮得极其迷人,逗得丈夫心痒难熬。别忘了 Don 有多次出轨的纪录,而 Betty 一直难以释怀怨气憋闷。

网上 Mad Men 的观众评论也好,Slate 杂志上有文化有评论经验的“专业影评人”也好,我觉得都说得不对 --- 当然很可能我的理解也不对。不同的观众戴着自己的有色眼镜,所以看一样的行为和表象,对别人的动机得到相反的结论。

Mad Men 是一个相当 brutal 的故事,绝大部分的观众,甚至喜欢迷恋它的那些,都常常有受不了的时候。上上礼拜中,Sterling 涂了黑脸唱老人河逗新娘子开心,很多观众都炸了,太恶心人了,作者竟然没有借哪个人物之口批判一下表明立场。Don Draper 的反复出轨乱搞跟他的强烈个人魅力与阴沉忧郁的历史混在一起,作者们拒绝替他开脱又拒绝批判他猥琐,简直让男女观众各自发狂。最近这次处于强奸边缘的戏,也是一记耳光打在前两集还嚷嚷着 “Pete 跟太太 Trudi 跳 Charleston 好可爱”的观众脸上。哇,真是让人吞也不是吐也不是。

正因为心里记着了这些 brutal 的细节,我才不能同意那些一厢情愿呆在 Don/Betty 的婚姻饭特希里做梦的观众和评论。出轨,哪怕是精神上的,在 Betty 这种平时正经得有点呆板的女人身上,很可能激发罪恶感和兴奋感混合的反应(特别是被丈夫的出轨反复羞辱之后),让她主动散发女性的魅力和自信,主动向丈夫调情,反常地亲密。这是一个并非罕见的现象,虽然很少有人有这个神经去描写出来。

作者们如此持续而残忍地不让观众 root for 任何一个人物,不让他们安全地代入任何 Mad Men (or women),随时都会掉入真实的冰窖里,或者撕下温情脉脉的面纱。我真不知道这些人是怎么凑到一块儿去的。

这样的写法不是没有缺点和风险的。有时候太过 clever,会给人一点冷酷和距离的感觉,好像人类都是显微镜下的小虫。但是这个剧即使有时滑向冷酷和 too self-consciously clever的方向,仍然是历史上最令人上瘾的剧集之一,ever.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Oh, Mad Men!

If I have to use one word to sum up the series, it would be “各怀鬼胎”。Isn't that the ultimate human condition!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Princess Mononoke



When I first saw the Disney-dubbed Princess Mononoke in 1999 in a West Hollywood theater, I knew not Gibli or Miyazaki. Seeing, on the big screen, the kodamas (tiny white dolls that represent tree spirits) first floating and then falling amidst the dark blue forest gave me the chills. I had never seen anything like it.

That was 1999. I knew next to nothing about environmentalism. But I wept at the end of the movie for the pervasive melancholy.

Three years later a guy gave me some anime tapes after I mentioned how much I loved this movie. Among them was Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, which I watched alone in the darkness in my apartment into the night, completely blown away. I began to understand.

Something strange is happening this year, as I have been rewatching and rereading quite a few things from 10 years ago, which was a sharp turning point in my life. Perhaps I am unconsciously looking back, taking stock, and marking that turning point. Re-watching Princess Mononoke was far more emotional now than 10 years ago, because I have seen more of the world and grown older.

I rather believe that Ashitaka and San are both parts of Miyazaki himself, one part being deeply humanistic, and one part hating humanity. All the callous destruction and deaths for the purpose of war, of killing each other. This is one of the most uncompromising movies I have ever seen. Even as the main characters are frantically mediating all sides of the conflicts, Miyazaki is steeling himself from caving to a ... not a happy ending, but an illusion of a solution -- that man and nature can somehow find a way to live with each other. He does not really see a solution, and he tries very very hard not to pretend that he does, or that the conflicts can be resolved. That is why, in the end, the sadness soars with Hisaishi's soundtrack.

Red (毛姆)

前天在 Eastern Market 附近撞见了一家旧书店,顺手抓了一本毛姆短篇小说集,可惜没有短篇全集。回家翻了翻,发现里面没包括曾经留下深刻印象的一篇叫做 Red,于是上网搜了搜。全文可在 Project Gutenberg 网站上此处读到,很短,细细读来也就一两个钟头而已。多年之后重读,除了回忆起teenager时感到的惊叹和奇情,而且发现这么短的篇幅里集中了好几条毛姆的 persistent themes,在他的小说里反复出现的意象与concerns。

这个故事的技巧特点之一是转移视角。故事一开头,读者跟随某肥胖中年且秃头的船长 "the Skipper" 进入一个美丽的南洋珊瑚岛,摸索到林中小溪,走过独木桥,来到一个小屋前,遇到高瘦的瑞典中年男人 Neilson ,在此隐居多年,两个人坐下来喝一杯。然后 Neilson 开始讲述一个二十五年前的故事,美国青年 Red 与土著美女 Sally 的恋爱故事。正当读者的注意力都集中在这个扣人心弦的故事时,作者subtly笔锋游移,将叙述的视角转移到了 Neilson 身上,用第三人称的角度交代他的历史以及现下的思想和心情,读者进入了他的脑子,从他的眼睛往外看,而听者(无名船长)现在成为“不可知”的对方。这一点转换很重要,否则结尾的包袱便抖不出来。但是开头的视角又是一个为结尾包袱埋下的伏笔,并且起到另一个作用(我第一次读未曾意识到):暗示读者 Neilson 的叙述未必绝对可靠。这种"unreliable narrator"手法在毛姆的小说里反复出现,特别是“刀锋”与“月亮和六便士”之中,一边推动情节,一边揭露叙述者本身的bias和自私/自我中心的立场。

第一次读过这个故事的人都不可避免地被倒叙中的Red&Sally的爱情悲剧深深吸引,失去Red后的Sally与爱她她不爱的Neilson之间的纠葛么,恋爱失败过的人也会心有戚戚。但是在这些近似俗套的情节之外,甚至在结尾抖的包袱之外,仍藏有大量的余音,到了中年以后重读,我才发现这些余音的妙处。

Neilson 这个人物含有毛姆翻来覆去写了一遍又一遍的故事:爱情的执拗obsession。在这个基本构架里,总是一个人爱上比自己低一个社会社会等级的人,爱得死去活来,爱得无私奉献,而对方总是无力回报,因为对方不爱或者不那么强烈地爱回来,或者因为对方本来就没那么强烈的感情内储,挤也挤不出来。 Neilson 跟 Sally 显然是两个宇宙的人,她是南洋岛上的一朵花儿,天生丽质,淳朴无邪,头脑简单,没见过任何世面。或许正是因为这些是 Neilson 自己缺乏的特质而让他神魂颠倒,但也因为 Neilson 缺乏这些特质而让他没法跟她沟通,因为他是“文明人”,即使被南海珊瑚岛的纯净天然的美吸引迷惑,他还是要住在西式房子里,周围堆满海运过来的书籍,无论他怎么热情洋溢地赞美当地环境多么出神入化甚至将他从濒死的肺结核中挽救回来,他还是不能变成 Sally 这样的“原人”。正因为此,所以他才会拼尽一生嫉妒传说中的Red,那个跟Sally和自然融合的白男人。

这就是毛姆小说(特别是关于英国殖民地的)中的另一个重复主题,“高度文明”,高等教育,道德发达,维多利亚时代的英国人特别是知识分子跟一切天然物质的冲突,包括殖民地的自然环境和土著人民,也包括他们自己的天然人性。他们才是无法生存无法适应环境的外星人,必然水土不服而支离破碎告终。这个环境(土著人包括在环境中)与文明人的冲突,在很多小说中反复出现。看得出他自己其实也类似 Neilson ,只不过他很清楚自己与环境的格格不入,一边毫不留情地解剖和展示这些 displaced souls,一边承认天然土著美之魔力和遥不可及。所以在很多小说中他都流露出一种又向往又保持距离的态度。

当然 Neilson 并不是毛姆自己,仔细看看就会发现 Neilson 的肺结核派感伤浪漫主义的世界观(以及过度文明的背景)给他戴上一双粉红色的眼镜,所以从他嘴里吐出的Red&Sally之传说,以及他对Red和Sally的定义,也不那么可靠或者客观,而是带有他附加上去的西方视角,the European artistic framework of interpretation,已经变形走样,附和西方知识分子的理想境界。这种罗生门的游戏,毛姆早已玩得娴熟至极。天性轻信的读者照单全收,但是只要存了一点儿skepticism,就能发现他常用的story-within-a-story的手法其实是个双向望远镜(或者显微镜),既讲述了他人的故事,又揭露了叙述者自己的心理。

这是一个强烈对比 perception and reality、理想与现实的故事。毛姆非常喜欢戳穿 what we want to distort with romanticism ,我们的粉红眼镜,我们对事实的误解和扭曲。这是不是跟医学有点关系呢?This relentless pursuit of the truth in the human condition. 在他的小说里常常讨论表象与真相,掩饰与事实,虚伪与率真的矛盾和冲突,现在去看,难免会联想到他在真实人生里那些半心半意但又积极努力的措施,硬撑着体面的、"I'm not queer"的外表。

回到第一个主题,爱情的 obsession 施加在一个不能回报的人身上而不能自拔。这个 pattern 显然在毛姆自己身上很强烈,书里书外反复出现,从“人性的枷锁” 里的 Philip 到 "Theatre" 里面的中年女明星,到毛姆自己的人生。想必是早年家庭生活中形成的一个规律,大多数人都是历史的俘虏,成年以后也逃脱不了童年建立的规律习惯,哪怕这个习惯反复导致痛苦和纠结,却因为熟悉感带来的comfort而难以跳出来,更幸福更和谐的关系,被别人爱抚和关怀,反而不要,因为小时候没有经历过,所以陌生而别扭而抵触。从外面看,似乎毫无逻辑地跟自己过不去,自讨苦吃,只有他自己知道,非这样不可。

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Joanie

I don't know why, on a brisk early autumnal morning, I woke up to remember Joanie, a coworker at the Kaiser pharmacy where I worked as an intern for two and a half years.

During the ten years since I left that place, I thought of other coworkers occasionally, some more often than others, but rarely Joanie. In that brightly lit cave with rows of medicine shelves, I had spent many a Sunday afternoon or Christmas eve, behind the lower counter that separated patients with cashiers, or the higher counter that separated Mel (the grouchy old pharmacist), Jack (the grouchy middle-aged pharmacist), and other pharmacists, from everyone else.

But I digress. Back to Joanie.

I can see her face clearly in my mind: suntanned and freckled, with full cheeks pinching the small nose and mouth in the middle. She was rather tall with a heavy built, which felt safe and smothering when she hugged me goodbye when I quit. Brown eyes. Wrinkles. Light brown hair with a golden sheen -- she must have been a blond baby -- that draped long and perfectly straight down her back. She was in her mid-40s and looked every day of her years.

"This is why I look so old," she said without obvious complaint in her voice. She worked two full-time jobs as a pharmacy technician, one at Kaiser and one at a pharmacy that supplied nursing homes and long-term care. I did that too for a time, but only part-time, as I was also in school.

She liked to read Ayn Rand. When I said I liked to read science fiction and mystery, she said with an earnest mocking, "You need to come back to earth, Jun." (Yeah, I've heard that all my life.)

"I got my work ethic from my father," I can still hear the girlish chirp in her voice, younger than her face. I do not remember what she said her father did for a living, however, except that he worked very hard to raise his family. We all repeat at least some part of early lives.

Joanie worked hard perhaps out of habit, perhaps to support her husband. We never met him. When she talked about him her voice oozed with pride. He was a musician. He worked in show-biz. He worked on film scores, but not as a credited composer. He also suffered from chronic sinusitis, so Joanie bought Afrin nasal sprays by the dozen. I warned her they cause a kind of dependence (rebound congestion). She said, "Oh, too late. He's been using it everyday for ten years."

They had gone through some hard time, as jobs were hard to come by for artists. This was one reason why Joanie was working 70 to 80 hours a week. But there were fun and glamors. They lived in (near?) Hollywood. She had met Emilio Estevez when he was still married to Paula Abdul. They would get free tickets to Lakers games and rub shoulders with celebrities. "If you're a celebrity, you can get a lot of free stuff."

Only in LA would you meet people associated with The Biz in totally drab places, like a pharmacy. At that time I thought the show biz was only for the rich and privileged who did very little real work.

"One night I was so tired I dozed off on the drive home at 60 miles an hour," she mentioned one time. "I had to roll down the window and let the cold air blow in my face to stay awake."

Many a night, three or four of us would close shop at 10:30 and drive out into the dark La Cienega Blvd. The 10 freeway was wide open, no longer the crawling parking lot during the day, and I could zip home in half an hour. A strange peace floated on the road, and the brightly lit night sky always calmed my mind.

Things were looking up, Joanie said, he was carving out a niche for himself and getting more and more projects. He knew producers and studio bosses and other Important People who would refer more work to him. Soon, he will become very successful -- maybe even famous, and then I'll retire, she said. City of Angels, the land of dreams.

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