LINER NOTES / TRANSLATION / Vincent Hsu - Homeland
Vincent Hsu - Homeland (AsiaMuse Entertainment Co Ltd.)
Released June 25, 2014
This is a translation of the liner notes for Homeland, the debut album by Taiwan-born, New York-schooled jazz double bassist Vincent Hsu. The album includes the full text in both English and the original Chinese.
Some people, they have something in the blood running through their veins. It’s the power to keep striving forward in life, as if it were all to capture a dream that was always destined to be. After 25 years, a dormant flame was lit. It wasn’t just come hell or high water, but thinking, after having been through the struggles and the good times, never had a doubt.
Vincent Hsu arrived in New York at the age of 25 and bought his first double bass. At the age of 28, he gave his first public performance. At 31, he wrote his first solo jazz composition, Homeland, then hoping it might convey the kind of indefatigable strength that the local gods of our native lands bestow upon us. And yet New York also appears throughout the album as a boundless source of musical and philosophical inspiration. Dedicated to his native Taiwan, the album follows the new paths in jazz that were opened during his New York days, crisscrossing and intertwining the two, and utilizing distinct idioms to deliver an account of the yearning inside him that he has chosen music to communicate.
From the time he was in elementary school till he arrived in New York and started from scratch, Vincent’s musical abilities were in constant pursuit of what his heart wanted to say through the medium of music. And so, on this album, in his compositions and his performances, every cherished note, along with the most unmediated emotion, can be heard. What he hopes will come through in his music is a kind of integrity, as his debut album is influenced by the dictum of his mentor, the revered master Cecil McBee: “Express, not impress.” In those eight years in New York, he was never alone with music, as he encountered countless kindred spirits who shared the same love for music. Together with Vincent on the recording of Homeland are the following instrumentalists, who include celebrated Argentine pianist and instructor Guillermo Romero; from a younger generation, the outstanding Israeli saxophonist Yoran Elyashiv; a stalwart of the New York music scene, flutist Justin Wood; Vincent’s instructors at New York University, to whom a special invitation was extended, as well as countless jazz legends such as Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Joe Henderson, and J.J. Johnson; and past collaborator Billy Drummond, who served as the principal drummer.
A real work of art. It means digging deep down into the most primal energies and realest emotions inside of everyone, and confronting them. The album Homeland, in addition to serving as a record of the trajectory of Vincent’s career from its very beginnings, also endeavors to make you come face to face with that something in the blood running through your veins and the dreams within. As Vincent says, “It’s almost like my love for music is my only natural-born gift.” It’s through music that he returns to the homeland that is intrinsic to himself.
FICTION / TRANSLATION /Excerpt from Qiu Miaojin’sNotes of a Crocodile
The State, July 2014.
This is the third excerpt of the forthcoming novel by Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile (NYRB Classics) to be published. It appears in Lonely Girl Phenomenology #1: A Violation of My Quotation Marks, a special mini-issue of The State, a Dubai-based publishing practice. The guest editor of the Lonely Girl Phenomenology series, which takes its name from the work of Chris Kraus, is Amanda Lee Koe.
As crime’s high tide inched nearer, I anticipated, I schemed, I feared. I had to be prepared for a fight to the death.
She was used to relying on other people. I had a habit of looking after girls. If she was in class at a set time for a set time, I was there to soak it up. In class I was a show-off, but from the moment classes ended till the moment they started up again, I was gone. Her long hair trailed over her shoulders. Her elegant clothing gave her the appearance of being around 24 or 25. That entire year I went for a kind of misfit look, wearing out-of-fashion jeans that made me look barely 15 or 16.
She was like a pendulum’s motion between school and home. I’d sleep until the sun disappeared off the western horizon. Then I’d cut loose from my cave like a charged particle and hit the town like a social butterfly. Hindered by shyness, she had refused to socialize. Cunningly, I changed all of that.
Two very different types of people, mutual attraction. And for what reason? It’s hard to believe, this thing beyond the imagination of the chess game known as the human condition. It’s based on the gender binary, which stems from the duality of yin and yang, or some unspeakable evil. But humanity says it’s a biological construct: penis vs. vagina, chest hair vs. breasts, beard vs. long hair. Penis plus chest hair plus beard equals masculine, vagina plus breasts plus long hair equals feminine. Male plugs into female like key into lock, and as a product of that coupling, babies get punched out. That product is the only object that will fill a square on the chessboard. All that is neither masculine nor feminine becomes sexless and is cast into the freezing cold waters outside the line of demarcation, into an even wider demarcated zone. Man’s greatest suffering is born of his mistreatment by his fellow man.
Translating on the Edge With Robyn Creswell, Bonnie Huie, Sara Khalili Moderated by Heather Cleary
Saturday, May 3, 2014 1:00-2.30 p.m. The Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, The Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square
Translation can be dangerous and subversive from a literary perspective. It can also take on a political or ideological dimension. Two translators of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses were attacked, one fatally, while the Turkish translator and publisher of William S. Burroughs’s The Soft Machine were put on trial. In other far less visible cases, translations have been suppressed for the voices and ideas they convey, and not for any lack of literary or cultural merit. This panel brings together translators who have worked with texts considered blasphemous, obscene, or otherwise dangerous to offer their views on the place where art meets politics.
Sara Khalili reads from Kissing the Sword: A Prison Memoir by Shahrnush Parsipur; Bonnie Huie reads from Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin; and Robyn Creswell reads from That Smell by Sonallah Ibrahim.
Before was Haruki Murakami, there was Natsume Soseki. Or so the story ought to be told for the sake of posterity, to give a nod to the author of Sanshiro (1908), the novel Murakami cited as an influence on his own Norwegian Wood (1987). As far as literary lineages go, the Tokyo-born Soseki (referred to by his first name, a pseudonym) was the godfather of modern fiction, a literary giant who helped lead Japan’s national literature onto the worldly, self-conscious terrain of the 20th century. He did it by adopting the use of plain vernacular prose, and he did it by exploring the themes of youth and self-realization through coming-of-age stories, like those of a kid from the sticks fleeing his roots, moving to a new city, and making adult decisions for the first time. There is a tremendous clarity to his renderings of that unmistakable moment of decision, as if to call attention to a rite of passage or to define a certain phase of life. He is a reliable author that you can read once and again in a lifetime. Revisit the same novel years later, when you realize that you’ve become part of a different, bygone generation. In order to accurately trace his footsteps, much like his protagonists, you have to stumble, and learn how to take a fall.
His portrayal of the universally beloved good-for-nothing who manages to fall short of the usual standards of success—socially, romantically, financially, or all of the above—is part of the enduring appeal that makes him a hero and a household name to this day. The title character of Botchan (1906) was once a hellion of a child who jumped off a roof on a dare and cut his own finger to show off his knife, whereas the main character of And Then (1909) is a hopelessly indecisive, well-to-do loafer in his thirties, unemployed and entirely cherished as a friend and family member. Soseki’s works are included in the public school curricula, and many people can recall having read a title or two. These days, his name and image are used to draw the public out of a deep winter’s lethargy on a brisk Saturday afternoon in February for a classical recital of Chopin, Dvorak, and Raphael von Kroeber—a German-Russian composer and Soseki’s philosophy professor at the highly elite Tokyo Imperial University. The author’s portrait is widely recognized as a cultural icon, to be sure: the mustached Japanese gentleman who spent a few years living overseas in England, now reclining pensively in his tweed suit.
TRANSLATION / FICTION / Yin Yang People: A Tale in Two Parts
Chutzpah! Literary Bi-monthly 《天南》, April 2013, Issue 13: To Be Continued.
This short story of love, lust, and revenge by up-and-coming Sichuanese writer Zhou Kai first appeared in the original Chinese in Issue 9: Speaking in Tongues, which explores writing in dialect.
Chutzpah! is a Chinese-language literary magazine published in the mainland by Modern Media. It aims to push the boundaries set by its well-loved predecessor from the 1980s, Tiannan. Curator and art critic Ou Ning serves as the current editor. Each issue features contemporary fiction, reportage, and translations of international literature into Chinese, as well as Peregrine, a special English-language supplement.
THERE WAS ONLY one Zhang family in all of the Guola Dam area: Zhang Ergeng, his old lady, and Zhang Yulu. Raped was what Zhang Yulu was. If she’d been a Guo, things wouldn’t have been so bad. There were thousands of families with the last name Guo living near the dam, and no one would ever have known who Guo Yulu was. But when word got out, it went down like this: Somebody fucked the Zhang girl.
The thing that irrigated water from the Dadu River was what was known as a dam. To understand why it was called Guola Dam requires a little background. There was a plaque over the entrance of the Guo Family Shrine, and inscribed on it were three words: SCIONS OF FENYANG. It was an allusion to Guo Ziyi, Emperor of the Fenyang Period in the late Tang Dynasty, whose descendants the Guos claimed to be. This claim was impossible to verify: the Yangs claimed to be “scions of Hongnong,” and the Huangs claimed to be ”scions of Ru’nan,” but this was nothing but posturing. As to the “la” part of Guola, the word “fall” was added to memorialize “The Fall of the Guos.” The dam spanned the entire width of the Dadu, forming a weir along the channel. One day some idiot standing on the bridge of the weir saw Zhang Yulu coming back from the island on a boat, and the idiot thought: Zhang Yulu went out to the island and got that pussy fucked good. The idiot was right. As Zhang Yulu’s belly grew larger by the day, the rumors spread like wildfire. When Zhang Ergeng sent her to town, people who saw her said: Zhang Yulu got fucked.
When I first started translating Notes of a Crocodile, I showed a draft to a friend from Taipei who once worked as a journalist and had read one of Qiu’s novels for her research. She couldn’t remember exactly what the book was about, she told me, but when she was cleaning out her apartment, it occurred to her that she should donate her copy. But then she hesitated. She didn’t think it was a good idea to donate a book that might not be a positive influence on teenagers.
Notes of a Crocodile is not a book that shows teenagers how to live a straight life, in any sense of the term. And yet it is intended to be a survival manual for teenagers, for a certain age when reading the right book can save your life.