THE BOOKS OF MARCH 2019

MADELEINE THIEN《DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING》

this is the book I have dreamed about writing. by which I mean this is a book one writes in honouring the legacy of one’s ancestry, country, stories passed by blood and scraps of fabric and brief touch, in place of language. it is ode to what language is capable of in a century of lost words. the lineage that renders the melodic narrative into symphony is breathtakingly present upon every page. in configuring a tale commemorating the generations of chinese people for whom the spoken and written truth were dreaded and lethal, madeleine thien has—redeemed is the wrong word, because there is no redemption in horror—somehow wrought a belated justice for the silenced. the kind of justice that is not synonymous with fairness, but exists wholly within the unjust reality, the justice that does not give voice back to the massacred, but delivers their message. it is a well-known historical anecdote that in china, any scrap of paper possessing language was considered sacred, and this totemic work of literature is the embodiment of that invulnerable quality. I am reminded of a segment from understory, by craig santos perez:

because you
will always

find shelter
in our 


stories, you
will always

belong in
our stories,

you will
always be

sacred in
our ocean

of stories

KEVIN YOUNG《FOR THE CONFEDERATE DEAD》

the first thing that strikes you in their poems is their musicality— they perform the dance of the living. the second is the poet’s consuming sight, in which attention is directed with brutal precision and intention: the signs of southern america, bruised eye that turns the light, hovering feet, blue, then green. the lines measure brief and track the pages like pioneering footpaths. in this volume is the elegy that turns its back on grief— not out of pain, but stemming from a refusal to be dissolved by mourning. there is mourning to be done, but in kevin young’s poems is the sterling knowledge that we mourn not with the vacuous sense of loss, but by vividly paying tribute to the brilliant living, the living that was done, despite.

if I did not know
better, I would think
we were living all along

a fault.

HANNAH ARENDT 《ON VIOLENCE》

this work is perhaps meant to be read in tandem with frantz fanon’s enthralling work, the wretched of the earth, in which violence is deemed necessary in the relocation of power from the colonizers to the colonized. fanon assigns to violence “a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.” arendt, however, is utterly disparaging of the notion that violence has the ability to empower; the most powerful statement from this brief treatise is that violence is only of an instrumental nature, and that any attempt to equate power and violence is ultimately fallible, as power necessitates a concerted mutuality between the governing and the governed. to delve into the psychology of the colonized is something fanon boldly achieves, and such is where arendt’s intellectualism may prove worthless in the overall application of violence— in the face of brutality the conceptual nature of power is pushed to the peripheral. on violence is a vital text in considering with clarity the use of violence as strategy: “… what needs justification by something else cannot be the essence of anything.”

YUKIO MISHIMA《THE TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILION》

there is no one who writes about beauty the way mishima does— as a grotesque manifestation of humanity’s constant darkness, as a scornful construct bred by disgust and defilement. as a man infamous for his insatiable desire for physical perfection, mishima reveals to us in this work the seemingly degenerate psyche of one who craves beauty, yet there is something veracious or perhaps even noble about the act of revealing the corrupt system of beauty, as being equated with worth or absolution. discussing the moderation of human behaviour in japan is no longer so interesting to me, but there is little doubt that such rigorous abeyance plays a significant role in the creation of mizuguchi, in whose mind the entire novel takes place. the hierarchy of beauty has always been a tortuous one; there is no choice but to admit to desire, and when one finds oneself to be so estranged from it, the true toxicity of aesthetic worship is overwhelming. the act of radical elimination is a case of revolting against conscripted standards of degradation. mishima’s prose is absolutely magnificent in its craft, brought into its second life by ivan morris’s translation. the work of the artist colluding with the assurance of self-destruction is such a transfixing element of his oeuvre, and this novel is the distillation of his genius.

《THE SELECTED POETRY OF RAINER MARIA RILKE》

I turn to rilke on the occasions in which words begin to lose their radiance. there is always something to be plumbed from the splendor that holds deeply to his verse, and in stephen mitchell’s considerate and illustrious translation there is the true pleasure of seeing language thrive in the expanded borders of its subject. rilke wrote about poetry with painful sagacity. I quote here from to hölderlin:

From images that are full, the spirit
plunges on to others that suddenly must be filled;
there are no lakes till eternity. Here,
falling is best.

yes, falling is best. we lose ourselves in his lines. in the vital contours of his craft. I owe him a great debt, him, who commanded landscape, moonlight, the earthly and the eternal.

shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.