A few short days ago, Barack Obama was in Shanghai surfing on the edge of the Great Firewall of China, his calm demeanor belying the clangor he was re-initiating over Chinese censorship of the Web.
Meanwhile, I was escaping from Seattle’s incessant rain, having stormed up the Sound and past the volcano draped in mists. Hoisting instruments of both scholarship and music, I strode through the sheets of precipitation, ducked into a doorway overseen by a goddess, and found myself in the University of Washington library. It is a place to which I find myself drawn, often, incessantly, gently. And, as it is a dry place in this Rain City, and it allows indulgences of one’s curiosity in ways that surpass even this dynamic Web platform via which we are communicating presently, it seemed to be a good place to take stock.
I wandered up and down the place: I climbed the stairwell where Gordon Hirabayashi decided to break curfew in 1942; took in the girth of an old desk of that defender of the Pacific, the Senator from Boeing, Warren Magnuson; ran my hand over the glass housing a giant book of monks blowing our their lungs in Bhutan; gorged up on a few blue tomes; eschewed the call of the ether, this blog. Let the pixels strike the eyes of the others: on this night, analogue interactions seemed enough.
Somehow I ended up dry and awake in the exhibition hall ( 展览堂 ) in Suzzalo Library where, to my delight and shock, a display was being held to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Sino-US diplomatic ties.
It was sponsored by the PRC Consulate-General in that city which seems to be the renewed object of scholarly lust on my part, San Francisco.
(I would venture to initially define “scholarly lust” as something that intermingles rational and subconscious elements akin to a “wildesdrang nach Wissenschaft / wild desire for science,” or the perpetual and persistent veering towards a trigger for one’s “Schaffensdrang / desire to create.” But this is a paradigm which others might better define. I am merely proposing it here, and I would imagine there are a handful of chengyu 成语, Chinese idioms, which may already better express this notion.)
As it was pouring rain outside, dark, and late — ideal conditions for work as far as I was concerned — not another soul was in the exhibition hall. “Ah, solitude, my home!” Nietzsche’s words, placed in the mouth of his Zarathustran protagonist, ran on a little crawler through some unseen ventricle in my brain, causing a little smile to appear. It was me alone with the dead masters.
And then there were photos that made me blanch just a bit, feeling the burn of something we Americans are understanding ever more keenly: national humiliation.
And then I began to feel just a bit insouciant, getting into self-referential mode, inserting myself into photos of Chairman Mao and Edgar Snow, a Cathcart-as-Forrest-Gumpism, if you will:
But what hit me most was this big banner straight off the dusty walls of Yanan, 1938:
which is explained as follows:
I suppose that the operative word here is “correct” [正确/zhengque] but I can’t help thinking that the CCP as a party in power has lost very much its connection to the Yanan years, that insurgent insistence on democracy even if they didn’t really mean it.
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