Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Annie Dillard: Encounters with Chinese Writers

This book only runs for barely a hundred pages -- but still I couldn't finish it -- and have no idea why anyone would recommend it.

And I have no idea why this young woman was chosen, back in 1982, to join an American delegation that was meeting with Chinese professional writers -- since it doesn't appear that she had ever read any Chinese history or literature -- even in translation.

And, finally, I have no idea why she -- as an intelligent person -- would have wanted to join that delegation herself (other, of course, than for a free ride to an exotic place - and perhaps the opportunity to publish this little book)

There she is -- in the beginning pages of her account -- meeting a man who:

"holds my eyes. There is something extraordinary in his look. This occurs a dozen times over the course of the banquet -- the man is taking my measure -- he is measuring what I can only call my "spirit", my "depths" such as they are. No one has ever looked at me this way. There is nothing personal or flirtatious about it. He is going into my soul with calipers"

Or... maybe he was just curious ?

This is what I'd call fanciful nonsense.

But, perhaps, there is some purpose to this manuscript:

It serves rather well to exemplify the attitude of mainstream American intellectuals of our time toward Chinese civilization -- an attitude which is in no way reciprocated by the Chinese -- who, ethnocentric and arrogant as they may be, have driven themselves to study the English language and the Western world.