Other People’s Thoughts, XV

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Other People’s Thoughts is a section in the Journal of the China Heritage site. It is inspired by a compilation of quotations put together by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), one of our Ancestors, during his reading life.

The character ‘record’ 記 in the hand of Mi Fei 米芾, or ‘Madman Mi’ 米癲 of the Song. Source: 好事家貼.

Pierre remarked that the resulting modest volume of quotations was ‘idiosyncratically complied for the amusement of idle readers’ (see Simon Leys, Other People’s Thoughts, 2007). Our aim is similar: to amuse our readers (idle or otherwise); as is our modus operandi: to build up an idiosyncratic compilation, one that reflects the interests of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and its coterie.

In collecting this material, and by adding to it over time, we accord also with a Chinese literary practice in which quotations — sometimes called yǔlù 語錄, literally ‘recorded sayings’ — have a particular history, and a powerful resonance.

The most famous collection of recorded sayings is The Analects 論語, compiled by disciples of Confucius. Then there is the timeless 5000-words of Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經, as well as the Chan/Zen 禪宗 tradition of what in English are known by the Japanese term kōan 公案, dating from the Tang dynasty. Modern imitations range from the political bon mots of Mao Zedong to excerpts from the prolix prose of Xi Jinping’s tireless speech writers, and published snippets from arm-chair philosophers and motivational speakers.

Other People’s Thoughts also finds inspiration in the ‘poetry talks’ 詩話, ‘casual jottings’ 筆記 and ‘marginalia’ 眉批 of China’s literary tradition.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
31 October 2018


Other People’s Thoughts Index


Other People’s Thoughts, XV

Hope

Hope springs eternal. It’s one of the most frequently quoted verses of English poetry. The poet was Alexander Pope, a decidedly cautious man. He had many enemies, and we know from his sister that he never went out into the street without his large, aggressive dog, and always with two loaded pistols in his bag. (Walter Lacqueur)

Steptoe and Son

Harold to Albert: ‘You are a dyed-in-the-wool, fascist, reactionary, squalid little, “know your place”, “don’t rise above yourself”, “don’t get out of your hole”-complacent little turd. You are morally, spiritually and physically a festering fly-blown heap of accumulated filth.’

Albert: ‘What do you want for your tea?’

Sydney Opera House

Can’t we have one thing that isn’t covered in degradation and garbage? (First Dog on the Moon)

Daemon

When your daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait and obey. (Rudyard Kipling writing to Rider Haggard) [JM]

Live

你丑你先睡,我美我直播
Off to bed, Ugliness. Leave the live-streaming to Pretty Ones like me. (Ingkee live-streaming app slogan 映客直播平台)

Encountering Evil

Evil, contrary to popular belief, is never straightforward. Perhaps the hardest part about confronting evil is its complexity. There is a potential for evil in everyone, and even the most bloodthirsty dictators retain some semblance of humanity. This is precisely why we cannot rely solely on others — courts, political representatives, diplomats, international organizations — to fight back for us. Each of us must take a stand. Each of us must do what we can to act against the evil that we see around us — now more than ever. (Christian Caryl, The forces of evil are getting bolder. We can’t let them win, The Washington Post, 10 October 2018)

One-upmanship

Yan’s mother filled him in on village news while he unpacked a suitcase of things he’d brought for her. When she left the room, his sister hurriedly conveyed the latest developments in a family crisis. For years, the siblings had been trying to get their mother to live with one of them, but she always refused. Eventually, they found a woman in the village who could look after her. The arrangement seemed mutually beneficial: their mother needed someone who could come at a moment’s notice, and the aide, a grandmother herself, could earn some extra cash.

But there was trouble, Yan explained to me, employing the phrase zhan pianyi ([佔便宜] literally, ‘occupy small advantages’), which means to be on the sweeter end of a bargain. One legacy of Communism, he believes, is that people think the only way to get ahead is by pulling a fast one of some kind. In an unjust world, zhan pianyi becomes a private way of keeping score, so that, even when a deal seems demonstrably equitable, people are always asking themselves if they are being taken advantage of or, preferably, taking advantage of someone else. For the Chinese, Yan said, the feeling of coming out ahead produces a ‘skewed, misbegotten joy’ that has become his mother’s most intense pleasure. (Jiayang Fan, Yan Lianke’s Forbidden Satires of China, The New Yorker, 15 October 2018)

Iconoclasm Chinese-style

Yan and his brother, a retired postman, offered to show me around the village. I asked to see the one-room mud house where Yan was born, and they led me to a windowless concrete box topped with a sheet of corrugated metal. The old house was gone, Yan said, but the story of its destruction was an instructive parable. A dozen years ago, he’d wanted to buy it, but the current owner, a farmer, resisted, and the more money Yan offered the more intransigent the farmer became. One day, a neighbor saw that all the earth around the building had been dug up. Yan realized that the amounts of money he’d been offering had convinced the farmer that there must be valuables buried there. The ethic of zhan pianyi [take petty advantage] dictated that Yan must be trying to lowball him and that he’d be crazy to sell without having discovered what made an uninhabitable mud hut so desirable. The Cultural Revolution had robbed an entire generation of the concept of sentimental value.

Around that time, Italian and Japanese TV crews had come to film Yan’s birthplace. The county government became interested in turning the place into a cultural-heritage site that might attract visitors, and informed the farmer that he was obligated to sell. One night, in a vengeful rage, the farmer tore the old house down, and then erected the ugly structure that we were looking at. He’d made it as large as possible, in order to extract more compensation from the government, but he’d miscalculated: the state had no interest in buying something that wasn’t Yan’s birthplace, and the building had been abandoned ever since. The spiralling overvaluation of the site had ended up destroying what little value there was. (Jiayang Fan, Yan Lianke’s Forbidden Satires of China, The New Yorker, 15 October 2018)

Tenured Conservatives

Academics are the very opposite of revolutionaries: they intentionally speak to minuscule audiences rather than the masses (on campus, to speak of a “popular” book is to deploy a term of faint disdain) and they are fundamentally concerned with preserving the security and stability of their own position. This makes them deeply conservative in their day-to-day acts, regardless of what may come out of their mouths. …

But left-wing academics are all too happy to embrace the conservatives’ ludicrous idea of professors as subversives. This is because it reassures them that they are, in fact, consequential, that they are effectively opposing right-wing ideas, and that they need not question their own role. The “professor-as-revolutionary” caricature serves both the caricaturist and the professor. Conservatives can remain convinced that students abandon conservative ideas because they are being manipulated, rather than because reading books and learning things makes it more difficult to maintain right-wing prejudices. And liberal professors get to delude themselves into believing they are affecting something. (Yasmin Nari, The Dangerous Academic is an Extinct Species, Current Affairs, 7 June 2017)

The Trade

Even if every last dangerous academic hasn’t been hunted into extinction, many have accepted that domestication is the next stage of evolution. The psychological toll for academics who haven’t muscled their way into star status is significant. I’ve heard some people admit they’ve settled on spending ten or twenty years playing along (at times also swearing they’ll someday get back to the business of revolution). Still others I encounter seem comfortable lying, cheating, and stealing their way to the top, cravenly chasing trends and flattering their betters while stabbing friends in the back. (Jarik Ervin, No Joke: Bullshit in the academy, beyond Sokal SquaredThe Baffler, 10 October 2018)

Orthodoxy Rules

As the literary critic Terry Eagleton notes in After Theory, a paradigm shift in higher education has replaced the pedantry of yore with a new commitment to radical libertinism:

The bright young things who pen essays on foot fetishism or the history of the codpiece eye with suspicion the scrawny old scholars who dare to maintain that Jane Austen is greater than Jeffrey Archer. One zealous orthodoxy gives way to another. Whereas in the old days you could be drummed out of your student drinking club if you failed to spot a metonym in Robert Herrick, you might today be regarded as an unspeakable nerd for having heard of either metonyms or Herrick in the first place.

(Jarik Ervin, No Joke: Bullshit in the academy, beyond Sokal SquaredThe Baffler, 10 October 2018)

The Land of Oz

Australia is a wretched sunbed maintained by debt and founded in unspeakable acts of racist brutality. Even so, sometimes the old girl does us proud. One day, I’m all ‘this is a culturally inert toilet remarkable only for its willingness to be shat upon by empire’. And then the next? Well. … I was just so happy to know that Australians are somehow stubbornly incapable of writing good propaganda. (Helen Razer, The ABC’s Pine Gap is a Stinker, Daily Review, 11 October 2018) [SB]

Climate Change

It’ll change back. (Donald Trump)

In the Face of Tyranny

Iustum et tenacem propositi virum
Non civium ardor prava iubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranni
Mente quatit solida.

The man of justice, firm of purpose,
Is not shaken in his rocklike soul
By the misguided enthusiasm of fellow­
citizens
Or the visage of an impending tyrant.

(Horace, Odes, III: ill)

Harry and Meghan Downunder

The royal couple are also expected to eat a genuine Aussie meat pie. Not just any meat pie of course!

This meat pie will contain only the finest sphincter from pedigree sows hand-reared on truffles and moet, also with the snouts of 3 day old thoroughbred buffalo calves killed in a velvet lined shipping container with a single diamond bullet shot from a sold gold calf-snuffing rifle all of it mixed with the finest free range organic tongue root from wild Simpson Desert camels and mud flaps from artisanally raised goats, as per legislation the other 75% of the pie will be pastry, ‘gravy’, scrumptious soy protein based mass and clean fill. (First Dog on the Moon)

Final Words

‘The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries… They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information.’ Instead, rulers grew ever more repressive after the short-lived Arab Spring.

Today, hundreds of millions of people across the Middle East ‘are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives,’ Khashoggi wrote. They are either ‘uninformed or misinformed’ by draconian censorship and fake state narratives. As the headline of his last published words asserted, ‘What the Arab world needs most is free expression.’ (Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words — for Other Journalists Like Him)

Trump père

Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain!
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven looks like heaven
Where no black ones come to roam!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!

(Woody Guthrie, ‘Old Man Trump’ and a real estate empire’s racist foundations)

Moral Attention

When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)

Seizure

Carpe diem, carpe don’t-em,
Time to grab life by the scrotum.

(Crazy Ex-Girl Friend, ‘I’m Ashamed’)

Influenza

There’s an old saying that when the United States catches a cold, the rest of the world gets pneumonia. By a similar token, when the president of the United States celebrates a physical assault on one journalist, the rest of the world will feel free to murder another. It’s an example of the way in which the corrosion of liberal values at the core of the free world leads to their destruction at the periphery. (Bret Stephens, The Midterms Are Getting Weirder and Weirder, 23 October 2018)

An Eleven-step Programme for Xinjiang, China, America, Everywhere…

Invoke a threat.
Establish secret prisons.
Develop a paramilitary force
Surveil ordinary citizens.
Infiltrate citizen’s groups.
Arbitrarily detain citizens.
Target key individuals.
Restrict the press.
Cast dissent as treason.
Subvert the rule of law.
Disarm the Citizen.

(11 Steps to Fascism, based on Naomi Wolf, ‘Fascist America, in 10 easy steps’, 24 April 2007) 

Nobel Prize

I am lost like a beast in an enclosure.
Somewhere are people, freedom, and light.
Behind me is the noise of pursuit,
And there is no way out.

Dark forest by the shore of the lake,
Stump of fallen for tree,
Here I am cut off from everything,
Whatever shall be is the same to me.

But what wicked thing have I done,
I, the murderer and villain?
I, who force the whole world to cry
Over the beauty of my land.

But, in any case, I am near my grave,
And I believe the time will come
When the spirit of good will conquer
Wickedness and infamy.

(Boris Pasternak, 1959. Having being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature he was then forced to refuse it.)

The Butterfly Dissected

During recent Nabokov centennial celebrations, mandarin passions and academic pedantry, notably north American, ran riot. Acolytes and impassioned scrutineers offered their findings on ‘Tropes of Transparency’; ‘Nabokov, “snobizm” and the representations of the self’; on ‘The Flight of Icarus and Daedalus’ in the master’s works; on ‘Nabokov, Mach and Monism at the Turn of the Century’; on the possible relations of Lolita or Pale Fire or Glory to Tolstoy, Pushkin, Yeats, Proust or T.S. Eliot. Parallels were adduced between the philosophies of memory in Bergson and Nabokov’s successive memoirs. A 2,000-page commentary on Ada, an often prurient and arguably botched torso, is in progress. Armadas of monographs and doctoral dissertations are hoisting sail. (George Steiner)

Two Things

Life is mainly grief and labour,
Two things get you through.
Chortling when it hits your neighbor,
Whingeing when it’s you.

(Kingsley Amis’s reworking of ‘Ye Wearie Wayfarer’)

and Seven Ages

Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
Then fucks, and then fights
Next judging chaps’ rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.

(Robert Conquest’s rendition of ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ from As You Like It)

Leave the Wise to Wrangle

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub couch,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

For in and out, above, about, below,
’Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

(Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, 45-46, trans. Edward FitzGerald)

Deng on Deng

鄧樸方講話:我們要堅持長期處於社會主義初級階段這個基本判斷。小平同志說過,‘我們搞社會主義才幾十年,還處在初級階段。鞏固和發展社會主義制度,還需要一個很長的歷史階段,需要我們幾代人、十幾代人,甚至幾十代人堅持不懈地努力奮鬥,決不能掉以輕心’。為什麼要這樣講?為什麼要講幾十代?就是要強調這個階段的長期性、艱巨性、曲折性和複雜性。我們一定要有這種實事求是的態度,保持清醒的頭腦,知道自己的份量,既不妄自尊大,也不妄自菲薄,堅持立足國情,從社會主義初級階段的實際出發謀劃一切工作。(Deng Pufang, 14 October 2018)

The Cat and its Prey

恐怖主義不僅指一般意義的恐襲,也應指國家的恐怖統治。當千萬中國人對鄧小平說的「不管白貓黑貓,能抓老鼠的就是好貓」額手稱善的時候,他們是否知道:對共產黨來說,百姓永遠只是老鼠?

號稱「所有動物都平等」的一黨專政社會,到頭來不只是「有些動物更平等」,而且是貓和老鼠的「平等」。

林鄭把一向稱呼「主席」改為稱呼「總書記」,如果我們對此無感的話,我們也變成老鼠了。(Lee Yee 李怡, ‘The Inequalities between Cats and Mice’ 貓和老鼠的「平等」, 26 October 2018)

Uneducated Youth

李锐在2013年出版的《李锐口述往事》亦提过这一段往事。然而,他在专访中话锋一转,公开批评习近平:“我那个时候不晓得他文化程度那么低,你们知道吧?他小学程度。”美国之音记者解读,李批评习2012年上台后展现的文化水平低,对此大感失望。在香港资深的中国政治新闻从业员亦认为,李老此番话是评论习近平的思想水平。

记者又问李对习有没有忠告,李锐突然沉默:“做不到,我也做不到嘞……这个人他现在能接受。(摇头)不可能,不可能。”在《李锐口述往事》会见习近平章节中,李锐曾写道:“人有权以后是会变化的。这样的人我接触多了。” (李锐习近平只有小学程度且刚愎自用 17 April 2018)

Awakenings

同學們,教育的目的在於「喚醒」,喚醒人性、喚醒生命、喚醒尊嚴。文學和藝術是最親近人性、生命和尊嚴的領域。因此,文學院是最能夠培養豐富人性和健全人格的地方,選擇文學院,是您最正確的選擇! (Zhao Siyun 趙思運, Speech to new students, 15 October 2018)

Verboten 

During their pedagogical activities teachers and lecturers are forbidden from any actions or making any statements that contravene the Party’s Line or Policies. 不得在教育教學活動中有違背黨的路線方針政策的言行 (The Second of Seven Red Rules 紅七條: 其二, Ministry of Education, People’s Republic of China, October 2014)

Books

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. (Carl Sagan)

Courage

I pray for courage
Now I’m old
To greet the sickness
And the cold
I pray for courage
In the night
To bear the burden
Make it light
I pray for courage
In the time
When suffering comes and
Starts to climb
I pray for courage
At the end
To see death coming
As a friend

(Leonard Cohen)