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Month: July, 2013

書展為何不入流

一年一度的書展,是去了一趟,卻只是為了工作,亳無期望的去了。星期三書展的第一天,像個老行家般漫不經心的聽了大半部份無甚特別的論壇,仰首闊步的離場後,冷靜沉著的走了一圈展場,買了要買的書,施然步出展場去乘的士,回到辦公室時間剛好。除了曾答應出席一個小展覽的分享會,沒有甚麼讓我覺得非回去再看一趟不可的理由,而結果那分享會我也沒有去。雖然是整個亂七八糟的書展裡難得一個有心的小項目,但想到星期五晚下班後人已經累,還要冒雨跑去通宵夜的書展去同人迫,而今天剛巧身體狀態又不好,有點可惜但都放棄了。

今天在面書看到某藝術工作者說報道指書展人數多了,但她卻不見看書的人、有文化的人多了。我想了一想,沒有回應,也不是因為已經有太多人附和嘆息,而是對於這個所有稍有文化的人都能看出的事實我還用講些甚麼呢。於是我在自己的面書上寫道:不好意思,我從不覺得書展是一項文化活動。

的確,去書展的人很多,但是我並不覺得有很多人買書,反而比較像是一個具話題性而價廉的消遣,大家也不介意付二十五元進去迫半天,然後甚麼也沒買便離開。那些有買書的人,他們買的,是流行雜誌(主要是為了贈品)、流行讀物、漫畫、明星寫真或作品集、考試對策精讀、幼兒教育叢書、各類工具書。稍為有趣的書目,如純文學、藝術、文化研究、政治等,通常都是被冷落於一角。就連書展年度作家陳冠中的書,都只曇花一現於茫茫書攤裡的一個書攤的一角。書展只是一個大型散貨場早已有人說過;參展的書攤只賣銷量好但壽命短、人文價值低的書,以及為求擺脫倉底貨而將之以超賤價出售的,而那當中有很好的書,也有很差的。參展的大書店其實同屬某幾個集團,而其他書店也在其發行網內,所以整個書展基本上是一個大壟斷,在哪個攤看到的書都一樣,價錢也差不多。只有很少數被逼到場邊的小出版社和書店,才能給予讀書人多一點的種類和選擇。

放棄書展而選擇回家的我在途中一直在想,為甚麼同樣是在會展搞的展,藝術展和書展給人的感覺會差那麼多呢?當然批評巴塞爾藝術展的人也不少,但我們必需認清這個活動的性質本身是銷售,才能真正評價其對整個藝術生態的影響。在我看來,藝術展除了是關於奢侈品銷售的上等人遊戲,卻也因為高級(入場費要二百五十元,是書展的整整十倍),而成功令一部份公眾熱切的參與這「高級」的藝術活動。同樣地,書展基本上也是為了銷售,但因為書本跟藝術品不同,走的是薄利多銷,所以入場費不能貴,但結果也就造成一種(視覺)藝術價貴,文化價賤的印象。

於藝術展中,普羅大眾可以看到平常看不到(因為香港還未有展出當代藝術品的藝術館,而他們又大多不懂得本地的畫廊和藝術空間)、買不起的當代藝術品。即使只是進場走一圈甚麼都不買,都總能帶走一點體驗。相比起來,在書展裡繞一圈,是看到很多書了,但沒細閱內文的話,也是沒有甚麼體驗可言的。這或許是視覺藝術傳達訊息的途徑乃是展示,而文學藝術卻依頼書的封面之下,印在書頁上活字符號的關係。

說到展示,近年其實也看到書展裡某些小出版社和書店會特別花心思去「策展」,攤位撥出一部份空間來擺專題展覽,務求令書展內的商業味減少一點,增加一點文化氣息。對於一個愛讀書的人來說,因為書本自身已經無法吸引群眾,而要運用視覺藝術的展示模式去挽回一點觀眾,是有點可悲的。但是在現今這個常常講跨媒介跨界別的世代,這可能是一條不能避免的路。另一方面看,這些展覽也為觀眾帶來一些新角度去看文學、書本、寫作和出版,而不是一貫的買賣模式,也真是一件美事。不少參展商,為了招徠,也會叫新書作家到攤位搞簽名會或分享會的活動。可惜的是,不論是展覽還是分享會,結果都因為展場太人潮洶湧,人們都來去怱怱,駐足細看細聽的人少之又少。心思是花了,但是都失落於茫茫的銷售狂潮裡了。三年前試過一次在書展搞過一次新書發佈暨分享會,明白了是甚麼回事,就知道以後都不要搞了。

另外一點藝術展有而書展沒有的,是帶動周邊活動的力量。每年五月尾藝術展開催,吸引了很多海外的藝術界人士雲集香港,因而也引發了很多周邊的藝術活動:畫廊、藝術空間、藝術團體和藝術家,都趁着這個時機推出各式各樣的展覽、行為藝術和表演、座談會、業界酒會飯局、藝術介入等等。如此的就自然衍生成一個人人有份的大型藝術節了。可是,除了受邀出席書展官方活動的,我們不會見到其他海外著名的文學界及出版界人士參與或出席書展,書展基本上仍是一個本地為主的活動。而且,跟視覺藝術持分者的多樣不同,跟書展有關聯的單位基本上就只是出版、發行和零售書店。於是書展所能引發的周邊活動也就只是書展其間,市內的書店同時也推出減價優惠這種程度而已。看不見因為書展而令市面上有人舉辦更多的作家座談會、讀書會、任何形式的專題討論如書刊設計、出版歷史、書藝、數碼出版等;絕少小型出版獨立出版站出來唱主流出版的反調(這樣說可能有點不公平,因為本身我獲邀去分享的主題便是小型和獨立出版),或者其他因書展或書本而衍生的其他藝術形式。這樣的一個書展,當然就無法讓文化人感到滿意了。

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In sooth, I kno…

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

—- William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, I.i.1-7

 

And so it goes that Antonio, who could never express his love for Bassanio, hid his love in his heart; and Bassanio, ignorant of Antonio’s love for him, appealed to him for means to win Portia’s hand. That Antonio did, and his melancholy was never abated, and would last till the couple’s marriage, way beyond the finale of the play. He would have preferred death by losing a pound of flesh and blood to Shylock, so as to be rid of this sadness, if he were not prevented by the thankful couple who were happy and therefore cruel.

In living long enough to cease fearing death

Melencolia: A one-man performance on Albrecht Dürer, mind illness and the sacred

The word Melencolia, or Melancholia, or Melancholy, has been fascinating to me even since I first stumbled upon a discussion of it in Professor Jeremy Tambling’s course ‘Carnival versus Tragedy: Reading Renaissance Culture’. Since then I have acquainted myself with art and literature related to or inspired by melancholia, such as Albrecht Dürer’s Melencholia I, the distorted skull in Holbein’s The Ambassadors, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic film, etc. etc., being not at all happy with the too clinical modern interpretation of depression as a mood disorder that can be healed by medication. To me, Melancholy is not depression. It is something far more profound and beautiful which is only known to a chosen few.

Peter Suart’s Melencolia is one man’s melancholic contemplation of melancholy, human sufferings and death. What is interesting is the Chinese translation of his name: small talk. This is a melancholic man’s small talk to himself. In darkness, the man confronts his own past fears and the history of human sufferings, and enlarged fragments of words and images resonate within this dark hole while he soliloquizes. It is a beautiful presentation of a man’s melancholy which is not depression, but the profound sadness that was once manifested in many Renaissance men such as Dürer and Hamlet, the Melencolia that is preoccupied with Death, that is intellectual and beautiful.

According to Peter Suart, we are affronted by Melencolia the moment we lose our innocence. From the day we learn about Death, we fall into this profound fear of death and disillusion of life. The inevitability of our mortality, the futility of life, the evils we commit and committed against us. Reason cannot save us from this profound sadness, nor can any one religion. Somebody once said something to the effect that people forget about death because it is impossible for anyone to continue living while conscious that he or she must die. Indeed most people avoid thinking too deeply about Death, and Melencholia finds its way to philosophers and artists, who ponder, probably not a bit too much.

Bonjour WordPress, bonjour tristesse.

10 years ago, I abandoned diaryland for xanga. 10 years later, I abandon xanga for wordpress. Or am I the one who is abandoned? If you write in your diary, the little notebook stays with you until you lose it someday or the day you exit from this life. But when you sign up a blog, it can vanish into thin air at any moment, unannounced, carried along with the rapid current of technological progress. Even if you are smart and cautious enough to archive your blog and save a backup copy in your local harddisk, the digital format becomes obsolete and unreadable in almost no time. What makes it even sadder is that people are not particularly saddened by the fact that our own histories disappear as we progress. These days we get informed about everything each day and we remember nothing. On the other hand, it is probably our human nature to be so treacherously forgetful. And many of us choose to forget. My mother told me she used to keep a diary, but decided to burn it. Can a memory be so traumatic that one prefers the sadness of forgetting? This is so sad I refuse to believe it. Today someone reminded me of 2 names and I was surprised that I could still feel the pang in my heart. That was when I realised that I do so need a container for my sadnesses, however transient and futile that may be. Therefore bonjour WordPress, bonjour tristesse.

Goodbye, xanga

I began using xanga in the summer of 2004. Before that, I had been using the relatively primitive diaryland to write and post my diaries and writings. I moved to xanga for a number of reasons, first being an unfortunate event involving a friend, when I wrote and posted something about her that caused some uproar among our group, and shortly afterwards I locked and closed my originally open and public diaryland. That event made me think a lot about the nature of online diaries, or as they were beginning to be called, blogs. At the same time, compared to  diaryland or opendiary or the like, xanga was getting more and more popular among young people in Hong Kong, celebrating many new features including social functions such as subscriptions and groups, which were new and very appealing at the time. And so marking a new stage of life – my graduating from HKU and diaryland, I opened a free account with xanga, and began customizing and posting on my new blog page, which was to accompany me for a total of 10 years. I never thought I would stop using it, so essential it had become to my everyday life, or I should say, to my private and sentimental life. I can go so far as to say that my sanity depended solely upon it, being the one refuge for my youthful anguish and melancholy.

In many ways my xanga has been a portrait of me as a young woman. What I wrote, how I wrote, the language I used, the proportion of text and image, the photographs I posted, the online resources I posted from, the book quotations I posted, the purposeful posts intended for somebody, the meaningless posts intended for my own gratification, the public and private and semi-private posts, how I named my xanga, how I designed my xanga, the xangas I subscribed to, the groups I joined, the people I befriended through xanga, the people I stalked, how I spied the people who stalked me, the frequency of the posts, the panic to archive, the eventual negligence… all these mapped the internal changes and development through my turbulent twenties.

It is true that xanga has become less important to me now than in the beginning. Probably growing up has something to do with it – I am no longer that angry and melancholic youth to need this refuge anymore. With the advent of facebook, people stopped reading blog posts and turned to the much easier social network functions such as instant status posts and the like button. While hundreds of people viewed my xanga per day, now I can hardly find one footprint even if I shared my xanga post on facebook to boost traffic, while all the former xanga acquaintances either turned into facebook friends or simply vanished into thin air, never to be heard of again. This is just the trend: people are not willing to read or write text based blog posts anymore. When xanga first appeared, people joyed in discovering interesting anonymous blog writers that they can subscribe to and connect with, and it seemed that books and the traditional text based media were being substituted.

So, though I feel sad about this turn of events, it is perhaps just another historical stage we must face in this age of racing information technology. It is also time for us to reflect on the relationship between this fleeting technology, self-publishing on the internet and our own private histories. To me, I have always delighted in the interactions that revolved around my xanga, but at the end of the day, it is still this personal archive of me as a living individual. I read somewhere (not a xanga post) somebody was commenting on the fall of xanga, that even if he archived all his previous posts, he would not have the courage to look at them again, as the brazenness of one’s former self would be unbearable. Indeed, it might prove a difficult task to stand face to face with the past self, this self who was so ignorant and selfish, so pathetic and narcissist, so devoted and mistaken. But still, I would not for the world give up this sad little person who is also myself, without who I will never be who I am today. Very likely, after I have archived this 10 years of history, I would print it all out and have in bound into a personal copy. After 10 years of relationship with the digital and virtual, in the beginning of my thirties, I have finally decided that I prefer the more grounded, archaic form of the printed text on paper, which is, surprisingly, way more enduring than many of our contemporary digital containers. That this long and wordy xanga post in English, without embedding any internet language in vogue now, must be the testimony.