À la recherche du temps perdu

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Category: Ex Libris

Reading in the time of coronavirus: On Black Lives Matter and others

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剛剛看完《Orange is the New Black》大結局,大件事,又是那種小遺憾大團圓曲終人散喊住唔捨得走的感覺。在這感覺被另一波長編劇沖淡之前,想寫少少相關的想法。簡單的劇評是人物故事結構氣氛全部控制得啱啱好之餘不乏驚喜,非常多的政治不正確的笑話、美國社會政治現實的明示暗示、所有可笑可愛可憎的角色雖然誇張但充滿人性, 一路笑住都覺得心裡隱隱作痛,並且非常不成熟地希望編劇可以讓所有人願望成真幸福美滿。

開始lockdown不久,就發生了Black Lives Matter。柏林這邊也舉行了大規模集會,我們戴着口罩走過了擠擁但安靜的群眾,回家後開始了一系列的BLM伸延閱讀和Netflix放映。劇情片方面,《Harriet》停留在上世紀九十年代的荷李活式英䧳歌頌實在太爛,人物內心世界更為複雜曖昧的《Mudbound》反而非常可觀,而《Westworld》Tessa Thompson擔正的《Dear White People》對於美國黑人不同心理的觀點也頗有趣。要對這方面的歷史有更多的掌握,關於上世紀的重要非裔美國人民權運動者Malcom X的紀錄片系列《Who Killed Malcolm X?》和改編自James Baldwin未完作小說的映像詩《I Am Not Your Negro》固然不得不看,但也不及講述美利堅合眾國憲法第十三條修正案的歷史源流的《13th》的背景補足充份。加上Alex X. Vitale所撰《The End of Policing》對於美國的司法、警權和監獄制度如可造成了針對有色人種的迫害和現代奴役制度,如The War on Drugs和Mass incarceration等的分析,不但構成了《Orange is the New Black》的故事背景和大部份情節,更是了解BLM和當下世界的各種威權(包括自由主義社會)如何壓迫異己時必須認知的。再遠一點,關於種族主義和極權主義,有Hannah Arendt《The Origins of Totalitarianism》和Timothy Snyder《On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century》分析了二十世紀的極權,後者更提出了對應的方法,其理論框架也可作為一個警醒。

一方面,我一路看《Orange is the New Black》一路覺得吊詭的是,那麼大眾化的喜劇,以嬉笑怒罵的方式談論美國的監獄制度和社會現實裡種種的腐敗和不公義,是因為美國的言論自由文化能夠容納各種聲音,那是香港未曾成功,國安法下的將來也不會到達的境地;另一方面又會覺得即使把社會問題明明白白的攤出來,面對全世界的批判,卻好像無法撼動那制度絲毫?是否把社會問題娛樂化了,問題反變得輕描淡寫不可理喻?若沒有一場全球大爆發破壞了世界秩序,美國警權過大的問題也不會被正視並促成改變。心裡忐忑不安之際,一邊不想好劇就此完結,一方面又怕自己只在消費人家的痛苦,忽然劇終送來一個小彩蛋,劇中虛構的「Poussey Washington Fund」,本由劇中黑人女囚犯Taystee為被獄卒殺死的亡友Poussey所成立,目的是支援初出獄人士更生的賃款計劃,在現實世界也正式成立了,電視劇也開始為世界帶來實質改變,也算是一個讓人釋懷的美好結局。

面對香港身處的困境,對於世界因為疫症和Black Lives Matter等等內亂而一時無暇顧及這遠東小城市的問題,一向目中無人的香港人在悲憤之際,也許是時候留意一下世界上正發生的其他比香港問題更久遠的不公義,認識每一種威權制度和各種對應的方法,想想為甚麼自己的不幸比其他人的不幸更重要,香港以及對抗中國對於世界的重要性,香港的歷史和可想像的未來,嘗試讓香港跟國際和世界歷史連結。

Reading in the time of coronavirus: Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

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近日一連串事件引發了另一場大規模存在危機Facebook 併發抑鬱症。有人問歷史到底是進步的、退步的,還是周而復始循環不斷的。若然我們覺得世界人文道德美好在崩壞,所有實踐都無法扭轉步向毁滅的局面,撰寫《Sapiens》的史學家會指出那是我們主觀感情的判斷,因為無論是看數據還是客觀條件,我們現在身處的世界在各方面都比以前進步。各種平權解放運動以外,科技帶來優化的健康衛生條件,軍事戰役是歷史新低,因戰亂疫病飢荒而死的人比自殺和癡肥死的少人。我們認為此刻正在失落的人文價值,來自把焦點放在個體主觀經驗的「人文主義」,源於幾百年前人類殺死了神,轉而從人類內在找尋生命意義,人類就成了神。但是這「人文主義」也快來到終結了,原兇不是獨裁政權或新自由主義,而是日新月異的科技發展,破解了人類個體是神聖的神話。現今科學不但無法證明人類具有使其與其他物種分別開來的「靈性」,甚至得出相反的結論:人類的主觀感覺是能夠被操控的生物化學作用,跟所有的有機體無機體一樣受algorithum 操控。實際經濟操作層面,在人工智能逐漸取替人腦的現在,人類一直在貶值。史學家提出在可見的將來,視人類個體為神聖的自由主義面臨瓦解,我們要擔心的是甚麼人在操控智能科技。

Yuval Noah Harari 寫這書時是2015年,那時他大概仍然覺得中央集權式的經濟模式理論上不可能勝過自由經濟,獨裁國家的科技一定追不上自由主義國家,因此他的焦點在矽谷王國裡的Google 和Facebook 這些科技巨人。但是Harari 忽略了中國這個anomaly,這獨裁國家不但成為了世界第二大經濟體,還建立了龐大的科技系統操控壓迫人民以鞏固其政權。而我們也不能指望Google 和Facebook 保衛自由主義社會的人文價值,因為他們信奉的不是人文,而是科技。一方面,我們知道重視個體權利的人文主義並不是自古長存,而是有其歷史意義,它的歷史任務一旦完成,我們的意義也同樣完結;另一方面,我們只要仍是具有主觀感情的個體,珍視每一個個體的價值,相信我們的生命有其意義,那麼即使歷史將要把我們淘汰,我們還是不得已的要抗命下去。

Reading in the time of coronavirus: Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900

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當代文化人必讀班雅明,他的童年傳記卻沒有太多人知道,很多關於書寫柏林的書單裡也不見這部《Berlin Childhood around 1900》。班雅明是Marcel Proust《À la recherche du temps perdu》德語版譯者之一,他這夢囈般的童年絮語讀上去不免帶着Proust 的影子,雖然他曾對友人說他的是全然不同的實踐。然而這組由碎片組成的散文集並未完成,後人只能猜想班雅明的意圖。班雅明的童年記憶並不由一塊餅乾的味道勾起,而依附於聲音、物件和空間。他對空間的聯想(例如衣櫥、涼廊、奶奶的屋子)也讓人想起Gaston Bachelard 的《La Poétique de l’Espace》。不過對我來說,讀這個跟《À la recherche》最相近之處,是每每遇到一些物件或情景的描述,勾起了久遠的回憶,我便不自控的掉進回憶的深淵,久久不能出來。是以一段小小的散文,都會花我很長的時間才能讀畢。於是大好的閱讀時光,就在回憶中渡過了。

Reading in the time of coronavirus: Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and other stories

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《Death in Venice》是去年前往威尼斯之前,連同Luchino Visconti 的電影一併看。結果我看的關於威尼斯的作品大都不是來自也不是關於威尼斯的,不過那是別話。看完《Buddenbrooks》後,再回頭把《Death in Venice》以外的短篇都看了。也許如Mann 自己所言,他寫短篇是比較擅長的。《Buddenbrooks》和《The Magic Mountain》裡的人物劇情和主題,早在這些早期的短篇反覆試驗,可以說他的所有作品都是半自傳,也可以說他的所有作品都環繞相同的、必需窮作家一生反覆探索的命題。非常德國的、冰冷沉鬱的、哲理分析的、無法輕浮歡樂的、不能承受的,生與死的欲望永恆的對抗。《Tonio Kröger》主人公對著俄羅斯女畫家友人發表了長篇大論的藝術觀,然後女畫家簡單一句回應:「問題的答案,是因為你太bourgeois。」我笑了出來。

Reading in the time of coronavirus: Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks

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不記得從哪時起每到一個地方就去找當地的文學著作來看,把自己生命中(到現時為止的)兩大熱愛:文學和旅遊結合在一起。幾年前因為去德國看展讀了《The Magic Mountain》,跟很多所謂文學鉅著一樣過程不無痛苦,也不是可以三言兩語單憑故事情節解釋得了,所以那時去完Mann 的出生地Lübeck 和故居博物館,然後再一次回到德國,發現其半自傳《Buddenbrooks》還是逃不了,只是一想到那洋洋灑灑六百頁心又怯了。瘟疫蔓延時閒在家裡的時間多的是,逐一清掉家中的德國文學清單,才發現《Buddenbrooks》不但一點不沉悶,講述中上流從商家族幾代的興衰還很有那些大時代劇集感。這麼一部寫實主義的作品,人物外內刻劃細緻到連鬍子的形狀都不放過,最後對疾病和死亡(喪禮)的描寫才漸漸露出與《The Magic Mountain》主題上的聯繫。到最後家族中所有男丁都去了(或被關進精神病院),剩下一屋女人哀嘆家族的衰亡,如果不是故事男女描寫的比重相對對等持平(那年代的男人可以這麼寫女人也真的算很開明),或許又要被現代的女權分子杯葛了。

我的金庸記憶

⋯⋯可說是沒有。大概我是極少數愛看書而從來沒有讀過金庸小說的人。小時候家裡行禁電視令,兒童節目時段以外的電視劇綜藝節目甚麼的統統空白,也曾因為無法跟學校的同學搭嘴而自慚形穢。家裡金庸小說倒是齊全,父親也曾鼓勵我去讀。但中學生時代的我,對於武俠小說的印像是無線廠景的發泡膠石山和極愚蠢笨拙的吊威也輕功,現代面孔的男女穿着廉價古代服裝,覺得自己就像去了國貨公司,中國古代的東西就是沒有美感,再看看那些小說的粗糙印刷裝幀,不知哪一冊的其中某幾頁還已經掉了落在床下底,就更加心生嫌棄了。之後選修了英國文學後,就更加沒有怎麼看華語文學。所以當我差不多看完了一半莎劇全集、上千頁的《魔戒》共七部書的《追憶逝水年華》都一口氣讀完了,我還是一本金庸也未碰過,即使聽過某些人物招式情節,都只是沿路拾來的碎屑,不構成一個金庸世界。心底裡卻開始覺得,金庸是不得不回頭去讀的;金庸小說已經不只是小說,它已經構成了我們的文化身份。五月來法國之時,在平板電腦下載了免費版本的金庸電子書,由《射鵰英雄傳》開始,終於展開了我這遲來的金庸武俠旅程。跟阿達一邊翻煲1994年張志霖朱茵版的《射鵰英雄傳》的同時,也驚訝以前的無線劇原來好好睇!與此同時,英文版的金庸小說也首次在今年面世了。也許當幾世代的小孩都懂得玩點穴功夫、大人隨口都能引個九陰真經玉女心經降龍十八掌,之前只懂得Bruce Lee Jackie Chan 的老外們也終於姍姍來遲的發掘到這一「新文學類型」,金庸老師也真的可以功成身退了。

悲慘世界

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. — Proverbs 3:27 (KJV)

 

我有一個心願是把聖經由頭到尾讀一遍。唸英國文學的人,不能不懂聖經和希臘神話,聖經之中又尤以King James Version 最為文人採用。之前試了兩次,都是去到舊約的三分之一左右便半途而廢。這次來歐特別在平板電腦上載了King James Bible,再戰創世紀無限復活。上面引述的是app 裡內置的今日特選經文。

來歐不久,我很快便留意到車站裡和街頭上,常有來自敍利亞的難民坐在地上行乞。他們有時是一個人,多是年㒖的男人或女人(又或者只是戰亂催老),穿戴着沾滿風塵的傳統衣飾和頭巾,地𥱊子也沒有一張,就這樣或盤腿或跪坐在地上,手上拿着一個紙牌,上面以油性筆寫着:「我是敍利亞人,請給我吃的。」有時他們是一家幾口,男人和女人帶着幾個小孩,同樣骯髒沾滿灰塵,靜默疏離的冷眼看着身旁快速走過的冷眼的路人。然而除了難民,街上更多的是無業的無家者,每天在街上蹓躂向路人要零錢。這些無家者裡有男有女,有年長的,二十來歲的年輕人也見過。

我每次遇上他們的目光,難過之餘,更是尷尬萬分。我是一個遊客,拿着不多但顯然是余裕的金錢,來到這個地方消費我的時間與夢想。另一方面,他們的政府和同胞畢竟也沒有給他們施予援手,作為外國人的我,為甚麼就要負上這個責任?以我一人之力,又幫得了多少?我又如何可以知道我一時的善意(或偽善)結果不會害了他們?由政治和政策衍生的社會問題,該當由政治和政策解決,不是嗎?

昨天在前往地下鐵站的路上,一個男人走過來跟我講了一堆不知甚麼話。他的語氣是客氣的,並不帶任何威嚇,但我下意識的就起了自衞機制,邊擺手邊說我聽不懂。那個男人就笑了:「就不過是一些零錢,有甚麼明白不明白的?」我搖搖頭,走了。走着,心裡卻覺得非常羞恥。那男人只是想要幾塊零錢,我雖然一下子聽不懂,但大意也看得出來,那又為甚麼要假裝呢?我在保衛着區區幾塊零錢還是些甚麼原則?

如果這個世界只會一路變壞,我們也只等着政府為人民服務而對當前的不幸坐視不理嗎?其實會不會只是,我們能救一個就算一個呢?也許雨果的悲慘世界一百年後的這個悲慘世界裡,莫以善小而不為就是這個意思吧。

Quote from Albert Camus, The Rebel

There is not one human being who, above a certain level of elementary consciousness, does not exhaust himself in trying to find formulae and attitudes which will give his existence the unity it lacks. Appearance and action, the dandy and the revolutionary, all demand unity, in order to exist and in order to exist on this earth. As in those pathetic and miserable relationships which sometimes survive for a very long time because one of the partners is waiting to find the right word, action, gesture, or situation which will bring his adventure to an end on exactly the right note, so everyone proposes and creates for himself the final word. It is not sufficient to live, there must be a destiny which does not have to wait on death. it is therefore justifiable to say that man has an idea of a better world than this. But better does not mean different, it means unified. This passion which lifts the mind above the commonplaces of a dispersed world, from which it nevertheless detaches itself, is the passion for unity. It does not result in mediocre efforts to escape, however, but in the most obstinate demands. Religion or crime, every human endeavour in fact, finally obeys this unreasonable desire and claims to give life a form it does not have. The same impulse which can lead to the adoration of the heavens or the destruction of man, also leads to creative literature which derives its serious content at this source.

—- Albert Camus, “Rebellion and Art,” The Rebel

Quotes from Testaments Betrayed

Try to reconstruct a dialogue from your own life, the dialogue of a quarrel or a dialogue of love. The most precious, the most important situations are utterly gone. Their abstract sense remains (I took this point of view, he took that one, I was aggressive, he was defensive), perhaps a detail or two, but the acousticovisual concreteness of the situation in all its continuity is lost.

And not only is it lost but we do not even wonder at this loss. We are resigned to losing the concreteness of the present. We immediately transform the present moment into its abstraction. We need only recount an episode we experienced a few hours ago: the dialogue contracts to a brief summary, the setting to a few general features. This applies to even the strongest memories, which affect the mind deeply, like a trauma: we are so dazzled by their potency that we don’t realize how schematic and meager their content is.

When we study, discuss, analyze a reality, we analyze it as it appears in our mind, in our memory. We know reality only in the past tense. We do not know it as it is in the present, in the moment when it’s happening, when it is. The present moment is unlike the memory of it. Remembering is not the negative of forgetting. Remembering is a form of forgetting.

We can assiduously keep a diary and note every event. Rereading the entries one day, we will see that they cannot evoke a single concrete image. And still worse: that the imagination is unable to help our memory along and reconstruct what has been forgotten. The present – the concreteness of the present – as a phenomenon to consider, as a structure, is for us an unknown planet; so we can neither hold on to it in our memory nor reconstruct it through imagination. We die without knowing what have lived.

—- Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts, Milan Kundera

Maxims, La Rochefoucald

We have no more say in the duration of our passions than in that of our lives.

Our self-esteem is more inclined to resent criticism of our tastes than of our opinions.

The steadfastness of the wise is but the art of keeping their agitation locked in their hearts.

Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.

We have more strength than will-power, and when we imagine things are impossible we are trying to make excuses to ourselves.

If we had no faults we should not find so much enjoyment in seeing faults in others.

Pride plays a greater part than kindness in the reprimands we address to wrongdoers; we reprove them not so much to reform them as to make them believe that we are free from their faults.

People too much taken up with little things usually become incapable of big ones.

We are never as fortunate or as unfortunate as we suppose.

People with a high opinion of their own merit make it a point of honour to be unhappy so as to convince others as well as themselves that they are worthy victims of the buffetings of fate.

The scorn for riches displayed by the philosophers was a secret desire to recompense their own merit for the injustice of Fortune by scorning those very benefits she had denied them; it was a private way of remaining unsullied by poverty, a devious path towards the high respect they could not command by wealth.

Sincerity is openness of heart. It is found in very few, and what is usually seen is subtle dissimulation designed to draw the confidence of others.

There are few people who, when their love for each other is dead, are not ashamed of that love.

Reconciliation with our enemies is nothing more than the desire to improve our position, war-weariness, or fear of some unlucky turn of events.

What men have called friendship is merely association, respect for each other’s interests, and exchange of good offices, in fact nothing more than a business arrangement from which self-love is always out to draw some profit.

Our self-esteem magnifies or minimises the good qualities of our friends according to how pleased we are with them, and we measure their worth by the way they get on with us.

Old people are fond of giving good advice; it consoles them for no longer being capable of setting a bad example.

A man’s ingratitude may be less reprehensible than the motives of his benefactor.

Nothing is less sincere that the way people ask and give advice. The asker appears to have deferential respect for his friend’s sentiments, although his sole object is to get his own approved and transfer responsibility for his conduct; whereas the giver repays with tireless and disinterested energy that confidence that has been placed in him, although most often the advice he gives is calculated to further his own interests or reputation alone.

We often do good so that we can do evil with impunity.

When we resist passions it is more on account of their weakness than our strength.

One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing or persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.

The glory of great men must always be measured against the means they have used to acquire it.

Our real worth earns the respect of knowledgeable people, luck that of the public.

We are held to our duty by laziness and timidity, but often our virtue gets all the credit.

Repentance is not so much regret for the evil we have done as fear of the evil that may befall us as a result.

We own up to our failings so that our honesty may repair the damage those failings do us in other men’s eyes.

We do not despise all those with vices, but we do despise all those without a single virtue.

Our misdeeds are easily forgotten when they are known only to ourselves.

Virtue would not go so far without vanity to bear it company.

Gratitude is like commercial good faith; it keeps trade going, and we pay up, not because it is right to settle our account but so that people will be more willing to extend us credit.

The deficit in the amount of gratitude we expect for kindnesses done is due to the pride of both giver and receiver, for they fail to agree upon the value of the kindness.

Over-eagerness to repay a debt is in itself a kind of ingratitude.

Afflictions give rise to various kinds of hypocrisy: in one, pretending to weep over the loss of someone dear to us we really weep for ourselves, since we miss that person’s good opinion of us or deplore some curtailment of our wealth, pleasure, or position. The dead, therefore, are honoured by tears shed for the living alone. I call this a kind of hypocrisy because in afflictions of this sort we deceive ourselves. There is another hypocrisy, less innocent because aimed at the world at large: the affliction of certain persons who aspire to the glory of a beautiful, immortal sorrow. Time, the universal destroyer, has taken away the grief they really felt, but still they obstinately go on weeping, wailing, and sighing; they are acting a mournful part and striving to make all their actions prove that their distress will only end with their lives. This miserable and tiresome vanity is usually found in ambitious women, for as their sex precludes them from all the roads to glory they seek celebrity by a display of inconsolable affliction. There is yet another kind of tears that rise from shallow springs and flow or dry up at will: people shed them so as to have a reputation for being tender-hearted, so as to be pitied or wept over, or, finally, to avoid the disgrace of not weeping.

Those who obstinately oppose the most widely-held opinions more often do so because of pride than lack of intelligence. They find the best places in the right set already taken, and they do not want back seats.

In every walk of life each man puts on a personality and outward appearance so as to look what he wants to be thought: in fact you might say that society is entirely made up of assumed personalities.

Civility is a desire to be repaid with civility, and also to be considered well bred.

Pity is often feeling our own sufferings in those of others, a shrewd precaution against misfortunes that may befall us. We give help to others so that they have to do the same for us on similar occasions, and these kindnesses we do them are, to put it plainly, gifts we bestow on ourselves in advance.

Readiness to believe the worst without adequate examination comes from pride and laziness: we want to find culprits but cannot be bothered to investigate the crimes.

Absence lessens moderate passions and intensifies great ones, as the wind blows out a candle but fans up a fire.

We own up to minor failings, but only so as to convince others that we have no major ones.

Commonplace minds usually condemn whatever is beyond their powers.

Most friends give one a distaste for friendship, and most of the pious a distaste for piety.

Decorum is the least important of all laws, but the best observed.

The very pride that makes us condemn failings from which we think we are exempt leads us to despise good qualities we do not possess.

Those who have known great passions remain all through their lives both glad and sorry they have recovered.

Moderation in times of good fortune is merely dread of the humiliating aftermath of excess, or fear of losing what one has.

Each one of us finds in others the very faults other finds in us.

When you cannot find your peace in yourself it is useless to look for it elsewhere.

As man is never free to love or cease loving, a lover has no right to complain of his mistress’s inconstancy, nor she of his fickleness.

We do not always regret the loss of our friends because of their worth, but because of our own needs and the flattering opinion they had of us.