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十章半的历史  

2010-05-08 17:40:00|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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1,十章半的历史

朱利安·巴恩斯的“十又二分之一章世界史”,是一部小说。我看了前两章,觉得太了不起了,但第三章开始就不是那么了不起了,但总的来说挺好的。开头第一章讲诺亚方舟,却是以一只木蠹的视角来叙述,这套说法自然和《圣经》不同。你知道为什么在物种中有所谓进化跳跃的现象,达尔文将原因归结为环境的突变,小说家的解释是,有些动物被诺亚一家人给吃掉了,所以人们现在看到的是残缺不全的动物谱系。第二章的故事更好玩,有个历史学家,其实也算不得什么学者,是写电视片解说词起家的,慢慢就成了学者。反正我是看到这个角色就想到了易中天老师,这位学术超男,被邀请到游轮上去演讲,游轮是去埃及,为了让头等舱的顾客们觉得物有所值,学者要讲解古代文化。半路之上,这条游轮被恐怖分子劫持,游客全被当作了人质,恐怖分子要求释放被西方关在监狱中的同伙,否则就开始杀人,先杀美国人,再杀英国人,然后杀加拿大人。恐怖分子的头头觉得这个学者还有利用价值,就让他去向游客们解释——中东的矛盾是怎么来的?以色列和巴勒斯坦人之间的恩怨是怎么回事?为什么你们会被当作人质?为什么你们应该被杀死?这是我见过最好看的对历书的讽刺。

 

2,被当作科学小常识解构的艺术家

贝小老正在翻译一本书,《普鲁斯特是个神经学家》,作者叫JONAH LEHRER,曾经在一个神经科学实验室工作,干的都是些无聊琐事。当然,科学家相信,真理就像灰尘,总是慢慢聚集。集在一起多了,就是真理了。当然,也有可能还是一堆灰尘。这位约拿先生在实验室里读普鲁斯特,实验的目的是要揭示人是如何记忆的,而普鲁斯特恰好写的也是关于记忆的。约拿先生起初认为,普鲁斯特所做的工作是虚构,这和讲究实证的科学相反。

什么叫实证的科学呢?我们来看一个小实验。美国一所大学的实验室,意图揭示睡眠的奥秘,他们拿小白鼠做实验,弄一个箱子,装上水,架上隔板,隔板上的小白鼠一旦睡着了,就撤掉隔板,让小白鼠掉到水里去,这样一来,小白鼠自然就醒了。实验的目的是为了证明,不睡觉就会死。果然,没过几天,箱子里的小白鼠都死掉了。但文学家不会做这样的实验,普鲁斯特天天躺在床上写小说,他自己知道,要是老不睡觉,自己就会死。也就是说,文学家以自己的生命体验作为基础,科学家总要看见小白鼠死了才知道自己也会挂掉。

约拿这本书,写了八个艺术家和作家,惠特曼和乔治·艾略特是和达尔文同时代的,普鲁斯特和伍尔夫是爱因斯坦同时代,这些作家见证了现代科学的诞生。现在,他们被科普作家约拿当成了小白鼠来分析——塞尚的视觉、伍尔夫的自我意识、普鲁斯特的记忆。

 

 

3,卢斯和罗斯

419日一期纽约客杂志有个大书评,讲时代周刊创始人亨利·卢斯和纽约客出版人罗斯之间的八卦。卢斯是要办“大众媒体”,给每个美国人看。罗斯说,他的杂志是精英读者的标识,绝不是给乡下老太太看的。罗斯死的时候,时代周刊发表讣闻,说,连乡下老太太都会怀念这位杰出的出版人。这两本杂志都诞生于1920年代,读者文摘也是那年头的,到现在都90来岁。读者文摘虽然在破产保护之下,但我看保护不住了。时代周刊发行量急速下滑,他的竞争伙伴NEWSWEEK连续几年亏损,目前正在出售。不知道谁会买这样一本新闻周刊。去年7月,大西洋月刊有一篇文章分析“新闻周刊的最后一枪”,一年不到,资本家就要把NEWSWEEK卖掉了。纽约客目前发行100万份左右,还是最有文学腔调的杂志。有康泰纳士撑腰,这本杂志还是那么牛。

卢斯想办商业杂志的时候,本来想起个名字叫“POWER”,结果经济不景气,杂志名字改叫“FORTUNE”,他的合伙人海登不同意办一本粗俗的商业杂志,“你要办这样的杂志,就得踩着我的尸体过去。”结果,海登还真的死了。《财富》号称开创了“公司报道”。那个掌舵的编辑来自纽约客。不过,这样的八卦也没啥意思。

 

4  Fiction in the Age of E-Books

 

For better or for worse, the age of the e-book is upon us. Analysts estimate Americans will buy on the order of 6 million e-readers this year—and by 2014, an estimated 32 million people will own one. What does the proliferation of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and other e-readers portend for the publishing industry? What does the e-reader mean for writers, for storytelling, for the place of fiction in the cultural landscape? We put these and other questions to Paul Theroux, who published his first Atlantic short story, “Two in the Bush,” in 1968 and his eighth, “Siamese Nights,” this past February, as part of The Atlantic’s Fiction for Kindle project. (These questions will also be the focus of a panel discussion featuring Theroux, Richard Bausch, and other writers at the Luminato festival in Toronto, on June 19.)

By Paul Theroux

Image credit: Shonagh Rae

The Atlantic: How would you characterize the state of fiction today? Are we producing more or fewer good writers than in the past, and more or fewer good readers? How have the writing life and the reading life changed since you were starting out, 40 years ago?

Paul Theroux: Fiction writing, and the reading of it, and book buying, have always been the activities of a tiny minority of people, even in the most-literate societies. Herman Melville died in utter obscurity. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books were either out of print or not selling when he died. Paul Bowles was able to live and write (and smoke dope) only because he wrote for Holiday, the great old travel magazine. Nor are writers particularly highly regarded. A few years ago, Boston—a city of writers and thinkers—needed to name a beautiful bridge and a graceful tunnel. The first was named for a recently deceased social worker and civil-rights activist, the second for a baseball player. This happens in most U.S. cities, partly from ingrained philistinism and also from the non-reader’s fear of books, of writers in general. Many aspects of the writing life have changed since I published my first book, in the 1960s. It is more corporate, more driven by profits and marketing, and generally less congenial—but my day is the same: get out of bed, procrastinate, sit down at my desk, try to write something.

TA: You’re an inveterate world traveler. Is literary culture more healthy or less so outside North America? What geographic differences do you see, and how have those changed over time?

PT: Literary life used to be quite different in Britain in the years I lived there, from 1971 to 1989, because money was not a factor—no one made very much except from U.S. sales and the occasional windfall. And many of us were reviewing books or writing pieces for the same poorly paying magazines. Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Raban, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, and I—all well-paid today—were regulars on the New Statesman.

Japan, Germany, and India seem to me to have serious writers, readers, and book buyers, but the Netherlands has struck me as the most robust literary culture in the world.

TA: What does the advent of the e-reader mean for reading—for the health of narrative storytelling as a form, for the market for fiction, for the future of books? E-readers certainly make it easier to tote lots of novels and other texts while traveling. But don’t we lose something—in sustained concentration, or in a sense of permanence, or in the notion of a book as an art object—in the migration away from the codex?

PT: Movable type seemed magical to the monks who were illuminating manuscripts and copying texts. Certainly e-books seem magical to me. I started my writing life in the 1940s as an elementary student at the Washington School in Medford, Massachusetts, using a steel-nibbed pen and an inkwell, so I have lived through every technology. I don’t think people will read more fiction than they have in the past (as I say, it’s a minority interest), but something certainly is lost—the physicality of a book, how one makes a book one’s own by reading it (scribbling in it, dog-earing pages, spilling coffee on it) and living with it as an object, sometimes a talisman. Writing is one of the plastic arts, which is why I still write in longhand for a first draft. I can’t predict how reading habits will change. But I will say that the greatest loss is the paper archive—no more a great stack of manuscripts, letters, and notebooks from a writer’s life, but only a tiny pile of disks, little plastic cookies where once were calligraphic marvels.

TA: Does the migration to e-readers increase access to good stories or diminish it?

PT: Greatly increases access. I could not be more approving. But free libraries are full of books that no one reads.

TA: What has the Twitter-ization of our attention spans, and the hyperlinking of our storytelling, and the Google-ization of all our knowledge meant for imaginative literature as an art form and a vehicle for transmitting ideas?

PT: In a hyperactive world, the writing of fiction—and perhaps the reading of it—must seem slow, dull, even pedestrian and oldfangled. I think there is only one way to write fiction—alone, in a room, without interruption or any distraction. Have I just described the average younger person’s room? I don’t think so. But the average younger person is multitasking. The rare, unusual, solitary, passionate younger person is writing a poem or a story.

TA: You just finished a book tour: Did you find that e-reading, the varying ways of reading, are affecting your readers, or your audience, in any way?

PT: I liked being able to say that anyone could download my work, or my Atlantic short story, on their Kindles. “You want to read me? Log on and download”—I liked leaving them no excuse. Non-readers are full of the dumbest excuses.

TA: Do you think of yourself primarily as a novelist, or as a travel writer, or as a journalist, or none of these? What are you working on now?

PT: I am a fiction writer, who loves traveling and has managed to make my travel into a narrative form. I am writing a novel at the moment—with my right hand. With my left hand, I am compiling an anthology of the books that have thrilled me.

TA: Your work has been noted, perhaps unfairly, for its misanthropic view of the world. Yet in a recent NPR interview, you said that the secret to being a successful traveler is, in essence, to be polite. How do you reconcile your misanthropy (if that’s a fair characterization) with your politeness?

PT: I am probably a crank, as most writers are. But far from being a misanthrope, I hold the view that you get through life best by understanding that most people have it much worse than you do—really difficult lives, almost unimaginable hardship. So I grin like a dog and wander aimlessly and am grateful for my life.

TA: The inevitable question: What’s your advice for a young person who wants to grow up to become a fiction writer?

PT: Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home

 

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