B.O.S.S. Empirically Exegetic Examination #00000000015
“He was satisfied that someone was beside him. Formerly he had been disgusted by the character in fiction who would say, when asking a woman to live with him, “Please give me solace.” Solace is purely spiritual but it is used here as a euphemism for sex. But now he knew the line between the spiritual and the physical could not be drawn so clearly. Words are no use after all. Holding hands for a long time is a more apt consolation, because not many people talk well and still fewer really have anything to say.”
Eileen Chang (The Golden Cangue, 1943)
And if few really have anything to say, let those who say it be sharp, be succinct. Let the old clash with the new, the individual with the movement, the dream with the reality. For the deepest complexity comes in that which is simple at the surface, the layered nuances that can only be:
Naked Earth by Eileen Chang
And reading it is going to be cool for the following reasons:
Eileen Chang was a key figure in 20th century Chinese literature, initially getting her start writing short pieces of fiction for Shanghai periodicals during World War II. Her work in this time period, grouped in the collection Love in a Fallen City, captures some of the war time tensions—certainly shaped by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong that caused her movement back to Shanghai in the early ‘40s—but the main focus lies in the social strains of Westernization pulling on the exposed threads of time honored Eastern traditions. Her dissection of these forces and their pressure on the individual makes her work uniquely psychological and emotional.
Mirroring the West versus East divide, Chang’s own influences came equally from early 20th century Hollywood flicks and the classic Chinese tales of dynasties, servants, and power struggles. The blend is perhaps best seen in her novel Half a Lifelong Romance, a tale of missed opportunities and subtle misunderstandings that depicts the age-old battle for love in the shadow of arranged marriages. With a backdrop of noisy 1930s Shanghai, it does indeed seem fit for the silver screen.
Naked Earth was a product of Chang’s fleeing from Shanghai back to Hong Kong in the early ‘50s to escape the Communist Party’s rule of mainland China and is a study in the complexities and extent of adaptable human behaviors of the individual under authoritarian rule. Yet when considering the fact that Naked Earth was paid for with a grant by the United States Information Service, one must ask: What is the definition of propaganda? Can state funded art transcend its intended political purpose? Who’s paying for this book club invitation?Let’s shoot for a halfway point for Naked Earth in late May and a finale in late June.
Reading about authoritarian rule is so in right now,
B.O.S.S. Department of Most Definitely Unfunded Artistic Propaganda
Post-script: Since many have argued that Eileen Chang’s greatest works have been her shorts, we’ll be reading the story Love in a Fallen City in the collection by the same name as an introduction to her writing.