Mar 23, 2008

Soul Mountain

I used to enjoy reading as a child. I loved it. I chewed through books obsessively; once I started, I wouldn't put it down until I finished. I'd read under the desk in class, and under the covers in bed with a flashlight. Once in high school though, that died down a fair bit. There were other things to do, other forms of entertainment. Now that I've graduated, I rarely read books. There's enough email, tech specs, whitepapers, code and webpages to go through.

Usually the time I start reading is before a flight to Hong Kong. Ever since I finished Les Miserables on a flight to HK, I've found it a wonderful 14-20hrs of clear reading time. Alas, the last book I bought, Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian, was as dry as cardboard. The translation by Mabel Lee contains little in terms of flowery language. The vocabulary is simple and the conversational style obtuse. The only characters are pronouns, there is no plot, the text is prone to philosophize or drift into descriptions of psychadelic dreams. It even contains a chapter of a conversation between he and she, conversing on the philosophy of a book with no plot.

I end up buying books before flights to Hong Kong. Ever since I read through Les Miserables on a flight in high school, the 15 hour flight time becomes a luxury to chew through a book that might take months for me to get thru piecewise. Unfortunately, this book took me a year and a half to get through. I wonder if all Nobel Prize winning books are so dry.

I think though, that the Prize might have been for the few moments of clarity, where Xingjian pulls together guilty thoughts and emotions of being human, the ones I'd rather not think about, and drops them bluntly on the page with little adornment.

"I drink some tea and experience a moment of bitter regret. Maybe she will one day look me up, maybe not. However this chance meeting leaves me with a pleasant feeling. I would not pursue such an innocent young girl, perhaps I will also never truly love a woman. Love is too burdensome, I need to live my life unburdened. I want to find happiness but I don't want to take on responsibilities. Marriage always follows and then the tiresome anxieties and resentment. I have become too indifferent and no-one can make my blood surge with passion anymore. I suppose I'm getting old and there's only a bit left of what can barely count as curiosity, and there is a lack of desire to bring about an outcome. The outcome isn't hard to imagine and would end up being burdensome. I would rather drift here and there without leaving traces. There are so many people in this big wide world and so many places to visit but there is nowhere for me to put down roots, to have a small refuge, to live a simple life. I always encounter the same sort of neighbours, say the same sort of things, good morning or hello, and once again am embroiled in endless daily trivia. Even before this becomes solidly entrenced, I will already have tired of it all. I know there is no cure for me." --Soul Mountain, Gao Xingjian

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