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希望學會聆聽

書單交換|Yiyun Li 李翊云:悖離母語的寫作者

發布於
Yiyun Li, 2017. Hamish Hamilton. An imprint of Penguin Books
1.
My first encounter with before and after was in one of the fashion magazines my friend told me to subscribe to when I came to America...

My favourite column was on the last page of the magazine, and it featured the celebrity makeovers - hairstyle and hair colour, for instance - with two bubbles signifying before and after. I didn't often have an opinion about the transformation, but I liked the definitiveness of that phrase, before and after, with nothing muddling the in-between....

After years of living in America, I still feel a momentary elation whenever I see advertisements for weight-loss programs, teeth-whitening strips, hair-loss treatments, or plastic surgery with the contrasting effects shown under before and after. The certainty in that pronouncement - for each unfortunate or inconvenient situation, there is a solution to make it no longer be - both attracts and repels me. Life can be reset, it seems to say; time can be separated. But that logic appears to me as unlikely as travelling to another place to become a different person...Even the most inconsistent person is consistently himself.
3.
I have had a troubled relationship with time. The past I cannot trust because it could be tainted by my memory. The future is hypothetical and should be treated with caution. The present - what is the present but a constant test: in this muddled in-between one struggles to understand what about oneself has to be changed, what accepted, what preserved. Unless the right actions are taken, one seems never to pass the test to reach the after.

Dear @阿嗅

當我們在討論給彼此的交換書單主題跟內容時,你說給你介紹英文書,最好是散文,或短篇小說,女性題材、或女性作家,我第一個想到的就是Yiyun Li的散文集《Dear Friend, from My life I Write to You in Your Life》(這個很長的書名出自短篇小說作家Katherine Mansfield筆記本上的一句話),上面這段是本書所輯第一篇文章的開頭,她的文字是不是好的嚇死人?

一般介紹書,不見得需要講作者,甚至有時我們會說應該讓書自身為作者發言,而不該在閱讀前知道太多關於作者的故事或背景,但我實在無法在不提Yiyun Li的背景下去說我對這本書的感受。

Yiyun Li,李翊云,出生於北京,她在北大本科念科學,畢業後去美國讀研究所,在愛荷華大學取得了免疫學碩士,距完成博士研究只剩一年時,她卻選擇踏上作家這條路。她進了愛荷華大學知名的寫作工坊,開始發表短篇小說,她的第一本短篇小說集《A Thousand Years of Good Prayers》拿下各種獎:法蘭克・奧康納國際短篇小說獎(Frankt O'Connor International Short Story Award)、海明威獎 (PEN\Hemingway Award);她在紐約客於2010年發布的最值得期待的年輕作家當中榜上有名(New Yorker 20 under 40);其後是2012年的麥克阿瑟獎(MacArthur Fellows Program),這個獎素有天才獎(genius grant)之稱,頒給從科學到藝術等各種領域的傑出人士,獎金超過五十萬美金(2013年上修為六十三萬美金,分五年頒發,等於是讓"天才們"可以心無旁騖的專心從事他們想做的事)。

儘管二十幾歲去美國後才開始用英文寫作,且此前從來沒有寫作過,李翊云卻取得了這樣驚人的成績,我從她的履歷中刮取這些片段,倒不只是為了用這些光環證明她是一個厲害的作家,而是這本書的內容正是在這一串光鮮亮麗的履歷後展開:她曾經試圖自殺,兩次入院。而這本書正是她反思、反芻她所經歷的事的回憶錄。


死亡之書

阿嗅,我說第一時間就想到推薦這本書給你,你可以想見我很喜歡這本書,但當我為了寫給你的信而重讀這本書時,我卻遲疑了:為什麼要正常人看這樣的書?這本書裡面充滿死亡,書的第二頁她就提到了一個和她和她先生同期去美國的朋友自殺的故事,接著是她自己住進醫院的事,幾頁之後她又提到當她在2008年回北京時,得知從前中學的一個男同學自殺的事。

我想到之前你捎來一張照片:夕陽時分、天空浮著重雲,一排大樓間,華燈初上。照片下面的訊息卻是:「昨天在看這夕陽時,我家對面座有人跳樓身亡了。」或者你不久前寫的文章:宋子江 《自噬之花》。我把這些視為小小的線索,告訴我死亡、自己選擇的死亡,雖然常諱而不談,但又其實一直在我們週遭。

我想我的遲疑倒不是因為我以為你是擔待不起沈重題材的讀者,只是在重讀這本書的篇章時,我似乎比第一次讀時感受更強烈。我要怎麼形容Yiyun Li的文字呢,其實她是用很淡很抽離的筆調寫自殺的,她幾乎從不直接寫發生在她身上的事、她的情緒狀態及感受,從這來說,這本書通篇不帶會把人捲進情緒黑洞裡的沈重大石,但當我一邊讀那些令我驚嘆的篇章,卻又無法不同時感到寒徹骨。

書中有一段是她去愛爾蘭參加作家John McGahern節的活動,她描寫自己坐在水邊,一邊望著漁夫、船,一邊自問:

Were the waterbirds, the reeds, the falling dusk, and the foreign sky enough proof that life was worth living?

她讀著John McGahern的回憶錄,在一個句子下畫線,忽然間卻又把筆丟進水裡,她為自己突如其來的戾氣感到意外,她從小就從父親那學到惜物、敬物,只是她從來就避免過分依賴任何事物,她這麼寫:

I wished then and I wish now that I had never formed an attachment to anyone in the world either. I would be all kindness. I would not have done anything ruinous. I would never have to ask that question - when will I ever be good enough for you? - because by abolishing you, the opposite of I, I could erase that troublesome I from my narrative. too.


語言之書:母語的叛逃者

  When I started writing, my husband asked if I understood the implication of my decision. What he meant were not the practical concerns, though there were plenty: the nebulous hope of getting published, the lack of a career certainty as had been laid out in science, the harsher immigration regulations. Many of my college classmates, as scientists, acquired their green cards under the category of national interest waiver. An artist is not of much important to any nation's interest.
  My husband's question was about language. Did I understand what it meant to renounce my mother tongue?

from <To speak is to Blunder But I Venture>


阿嗅,散文集、文集、回憶錄,我上面用了好幾個不同的文體形容這本書,實在我也很難將它歸類,我無法不在講這本書的第一句話提到自殺,因為這是無法規避的事,但它完全不是自殺者的獨白或告解;李翊云在書中寫及她在醫院的片段,但這本書亦不是《遺失心靈地圖的女孩》那樣的心理病院回憶錄(不知道你有沒有聽過這書,但你肯定看過或聽過這本書的電影改編版,就是讓全世界為Angelina Jolie驚艷的Girl, Interuppted,台灣把片名翻成了和書名迴然的《女生向前走》,主演的Winona Ryder在不久後因受憂鬱症及酗憂鬱症藥之苦,在百貨公司扒衣服被捕、起訴,消沈了多年,但這些關於電影和看電影的回憶是另外一個故事了),我想著到底該說這本書是什麼時,發覺這麼多的形容都相符:時間之書、記憶之書、逃離之書、傷痕之書、文學之書...我一邊想,一邊越是發現它觸及所有令我心折的主題,我無法展開所有題目,也許只能擇一二略略述之吧。


  Nabokov once answered a question he must have been tired of being asked: "My private tragedy, which cannot, indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural language." That something is called a tragedy, however, means it is no longer personal. One weeps out of private pain, but only when the audience swarms in to claim understanding and empathy do they call it tragedy. One's grief belongs to oneself; one's tragedy, to others.

也許先來講一下語言這件事,這也是介紹Yiyun Li時幾乎不可規避的一條線,特別是對讀中文的人來說:當她開始寫作時,她選擇使用英文,而非她的母語中文,這對她來講並不是一件理所當然的事,她不是從小生長在國外,英文比中文還好的ABC,即便在她已用英文寫作這麼多年,幾乎沒有人會挑剃她的英文寫作後,她的英文仍然有亞洲口音(畢竟她二十多歲才去美國)。

我提這件事並不是說她英文不夠好(我其實很少、或者說幾乎沒有讀過亞裔英語作家的書,Yiyun Li是我極少數讀過且喜愛的),而是有時候口音是跟著我們無法改變的。雖然我不像李翊云成年後才出國,但我知道我的英語也永遠會有亞洲腔,對我來說,亞洲腔除了反映我少壯不努力、小時候不好好學英文這件事以外,長年來,我也一直認為它標記了我即使在出國多年後,即使在刻意學習英文、以英文閱讀後,仍然更是個亞洲人這件事。


  I feel a tinge of guilt when I imagine Nabokov's woe. Like all intimacies, the intimacy between one and one's mother tongue can demand more than one is willing to give, or what one is capable of giving. If I allow myself to be honest, I would borrow from Nabokov for a stronger and stranger statement. My private salvation, which cannot and should not be anybody's concern, is that I disowned my native language.

李翊云不僅選擇用英文寫作,她甚至選擇不讓書被翻譯成中文("I have declined to have my books translated into Chinese, which is understood by some as odiously pretentious"),這種決絕背後可以引發種種猜想,關於國族的政治解讀:她生於1972年,剛好比六四的學生們略小一點,她在書中提到,也許是了預防六四重演,她那一整代人在進大學前都得先當一年的解放軍。

或者關於親族的佛洛伊德式解讀:多年前,我曾在讀書節聽過她的訪談,與談者問她當初為什麼選擇用英語寫作,她說:so my mother couldn't read what I write. 底下一片笑聲,很久之後我才意識到,這個問題多年來她應該被問過無數次,而這個看似為了製造效果的巧妙回答,或也蘊含著一些真實的象徵,在這本書裡,Yiyun Li不止一次提到母親作為一個既脆弱又殘酷難測的家庭暴君("a family despot, unpredictable in both her callousness and her vulnerability"),個性溫和的父親教會她惜物、佛理、打坐,卻無法也無能遮蔽她與姊姊於母親的陰影。


  The tragedy of Nabokov's loss is that his misfortune was easily explained by public history - his story became other people's possession. My decision to write in English has also been explained as a flight from my country's history. But unlike Nabokov, who had been a Russian writer, I never wrote in Chinese...
  Once a poet of Eastern European origin and I - we both have lived in America for years, and both write in English - were asked to read our work in our native languages at a gala. But I don't write in Chinese, I explained, and the organizer apologised for her misunderstanding. I offered to read Li Po or Du Fu or any of the ancient poets I grew up memorizing, but instead it was arranged for me to read the poems of a political prisoner.

...my abandonment of my first language is personal, so deeply personal that I resist any interpretation - political or historical or ethnographical.

當我讀到這本書中她和母語的關係時,那個刻意的斬斷與悖離,讓我對自己當年的無知與幼稚感到後悔(與羞慚):在那個讀書節前我並不知道她是誰,但那場訪談甚為精彩,訪談結束後照例有簽書會,我買了她的書加入隊伍,輪到我時我胡言亂語了一兩句(關於她的短篇小說集Gold Boy, Emerald Girl把中文成語轉換成英文很有意思之類),然後請她用中文簽名。簽名的那本小說The Vagrants我最後大概只看三分之一(如果多年前留下的書籤位置正確的話),而我真正成為她的讀者是數年之後的事。

讀到這裡,我想你已經知道為什麼我不翻譯引用書中段落,甚至我刻意以英文名字稱呼她(即使這也許造成閱讀上的不通順),除了希望想在這封書介裡傳達書的原味,更是因為:這正是她的選擇。

我無知、幼稚的證據



消失之書:選擇一個新的語言,是不是就能夠成為一個新造的人?

李翊云提到當她開始用英文寫作時,受到了種種批評,同輩作家寫信告訴她,她的英文不夠自然、不夠優美、不夠詩意,教授勸她放棄用英文寫作:那是一個你永遠無法駕馭的外語。他們不知道的是,她選擇用英文寫作,和英文無關,這個決定重點不在她選擇棲身的語言,而是被她拋棄的母語。

她曾經可以用中文流利地作文:在學校裡,她的作文被列為模範文;在軍隊裡,她的小隊長讓她選擇幫她起草演講稿或是清廁所、豬圈,她選擇寫講稿,她在高中時是演講能手,總能從群眾裡有效收割眼淚,她寫:我的謊言甚至可以感動我自己落淚,那時她想過自己可以成為一個很好的政宣寫手。當她用英文寫作時,和作為公眾語言的母語相反,英文反而成了她的私語言:

  When we enter a world - a new country, a new school, a party, a family or a class reunion, an army camp, a hospital - we speak the language it requires. The wisdom to adapt is the wisdom to have two languages: the one spoken to others, and the one spoken to oneself. One learns to master the public language not much differently from the way one acquires a second language...

  I often forget, when I write, that English is also used by others. English is my private language. Every word has to be pondered over before it becomes my word.


她在她所選擇的新語言裡,重新塑造自己與世界的關係及位置。使用英文表述的抽離、不自然,恰恰就是她想要的:

  In my relationship with English, in this relationship with its intrinsic distance that makes people look askance, I feel invisible but not estranged. It is the position I believe I always want in life. But with every pursuit there is the danger of crossing a line, from invisibility to erasure.


Yiyun Li一直想要的就是使自己隱形,她形容自己從小就有彷彿一直在閃躲什麼:

I have been asked throughout my life: What are you hiding? I don't know what I am hiding, and the more I try to deny it, the less trustworthy people find me.

她在二度入院後,參加了類似AA那樣的集體治療小組,成員們述說自己的經驗,許多人講到哭泣,她的一貫緘默被視為閃躲、以及沒有任何進步,但她無法言說她的感覺:

But my pain was my private matter, I thought; if I could understand and articulate my problems I wouldn't have been there in the first place.
I had only wanted to stay invisible, but there as elsewhere invisibility is a luxury.

書中另外一個段落她甚至這麼形容:她寫故事、她創造小說人物,就是為了使自己隱形、消失。我記得我幾年前第一次讀到這個段落時的那種驚異:我是一個標準作者論的信徒,有多少職業跟業餘寫字人都奉我寫故我在為圭臬,我難道不也一直以為寫作甚或只是寫字都是對付生存焦慮的一種方式嗎,我第一次讀到有作家不是為了銘刻、貫徹自己的ego而寫,而是為了刪除自我、使自己消失而寫。

她用英文寫作,她用英文重塑自己,她藏身於一個又一個故事人物底。但一個人老想要消失的人,最徹底的隱形,難道不也只能是最終極的自我刪除?

One crosses the border to become a new person. One finishes a manuscript and cuts off the characters. One adopts a language. These are false and forced framework, providing illusory freedom, as time provides illusory leniency when we, in anguish, let is pass monotonously. To kill time - an English phrase that still chills me: time can be killed but only by frivolous matters and purposeless activities. No one thinks of suicide as a courageous endeavor to kill time.


遺忘之書:我們用什麼語言在夢中哭泣?

  Over the years my brain has banished Chinese. I dream in English. I talk to myself in English. And memories - not only those about America but also those about China; not only those carried on but also those archived with the wish to forget - are sorted in English. To be orphaned from my native language felt, and still feels, a crucial decision.

上文的大部分段落出自To Speak is to Blunder But I Venture這篇文章,Yiyun Li在文章首段提到她的一個夢境:夢中她重回幼時北京她所住的小區,公寓入口有一個公共電話,由一個年長的女人看守,夢中她向現實生活中已過世的女人問電話用(她由午餐錢積攢下來的零用錢都花在電話與郵票上),女人回答她:這年頭大家都用手機,我們已經不提供公共電話服務了。Yiyun Li形容此夢無甚了了,唯一特別的是,夢中的女人是用英文跟她說話。

比起現實生活的刻意濡染練習,夢境是不是更反映了一些潛意識?(我想到之前@桐生茂豫 曾說剛到加拿大時:「為了能在英語的環境下生活,暫時迴避了所有有關中文的事物,連做夢都是英語世界。」)。Yiyun Li放棄了母語,用英文思考,用英文寫作,夜裡卻總是夢到北京,但當北京的夢也開始以英語進行時,也許她終於成功地叛離、切割了母語,或者也可以說是用英文重新理了一遍記憶、重造了一個敘事:

  When one remembers in an adopted language, there is a dividing line between the remembrance. What came before could be someone els's life; it might as well be fiction. Sometimes I think it is this distancing that marks me as coldhearted and selfish. To forget the past is a betrayal, we were taught in school when young; to disown memories is a sin.

當我們棲身於另一個語言裡——在之前文章的衍生討論中提到,因為不同的語彙、文法,不同的語境、邏輯,有時用另外一個語言,彷彿打造一個新的自己,我甚至曾經浮想聯翩:使用另外一個語言時的自己是不是也擁有不同的靈魂。

確實Yiyun Li的英文當中有著不自然的成分,那不自然與她掌握英文的能力無關(我應該不用再多解釋我有多喜歡她的文字?是的她的文字不夠「漂亮」:沒有絢爛華麗的形容詞、大雜燴般豐富的名詞罕字。跟很多以英語作為母語,或英語能力比母語更強的亞裔英語作者來說,她的英文確實「不夠好」,但是她的文字裡的深邃洞察、犀利地像手術刀的思考,卻是任何語言的作家中都極為罕見的),而來自於她非常冷靜、抽離的寫作方式。她是一個冷靜,但絕對不冷漠的作者(我始終沒看完她的長篇小說,卻讀了幾篇她的故事,她對待她的故事人物,都是溫柔的),她不允許自己濫情,那恰恰是她用英文寫作的方式,但是,她卻說,她很難用這個選擇的語言感覺

  What language does one use to feel; or, does one need a language to feel? In the hospital, I visited a class of medical students studying minds and brains. After an interview, the doctor who led the class asked about feelings. I said it was beyond my ability to describe what might as well be indescribable.
  If you can be articulate about your thoughts, why can't you articulate your feelings? asked the doctor.
  It took me a year to figure out the answer. It is hard to feel in an adopted language, yet it is impossible to do that in my native language.


Yiyun Li切除了母語,她掌握了比大部分native speaker更強的英語寫作能力(我相信現在應該沒有人會質疑她的英文能力了),卻仍然覺得徒勞:

  Often I think that writing is a futile effort; so is reading; so is living. Loneliness is the inability to speak with another in one's private language. That emptiness is filled with public language or romanticized connection. But one must be cautious when assuming meaning. A moment of recognition between two people only highlights the inadequacy of language. What can be spoken does not sustain; what cannot be spoken undermines.


做了關於公共電話的夢之後,Yiyun Li想起了她在軍中的一件回憶:除夕夜時,她和同袍奉命看央視春晚,節目進行到一半時,執勤的一個女孩來喚她:有一通打給她的長途電話。

那是她人生中第一次接到國際長途電話,電話另一端是她的姊姊(大她四歲的姊姊1989年時是醫學院生,曾去現場支援絕食的學生,回來給她帶了一頂現場送給學生的陽帽,那頂被她暱稱為簡愛帽的帽子後來不翼而飛,無疑是被她父親因擔憂會給姊姊惹禍而銷毀了),她第二次接到越洋電話是在四年後,來自紐約市西乃山醫院的教授的面試電話,詢問她對免疫學的興趣,談論自己的研究,在美國的生活等等。

多年後,Yiyun Li想不起來那個除夕夜她們姊妹在長途電話中說了什麼,她寫道,當我拋棄了母語,是不是也就是將自己從記憶中刪除了?

  In abandoning my native language I have erased myself from that memory. I have often been asked if - or else told that - English allows me the freedom of expression. As if in taking up another language one can become someone new. But erasing does not stop with a new language, and that, my friend, is my sorrow and my selfishness. In speaking and writing in an adopted language I have not stopped erasing. I have crossed the line, too, from erasing myself to erasing others. I am not the only casualty in this war against myself.

  In an ideal world I would prefer to have my mind reserved for thinking, and thinking alone. I dread the moment when a thought trails off and a feeling starts, when one faces the eternal challenge of eluding the void for which one does not have words. To speak when one cannot is to blunder. I have spoken by having written - this book or any book; for myself and against myself. The solace is with the language I chose. The grief, to have spoken at all.


阿嗅,對不起,應該是一篇簡單的書單交換簡介,我卻寫得這麼長,而且還沒寫完(落落長好像是我的惡習)。

如果你對這本書有點興趣,書中有兩篇文章是網路上看得到的,你也可先試試看合不合胃口

  • 第一篇就是本書第一篇文章:Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
    此文最早登在A Public Space上,後亦被收錄於The Best American Essays 2014
  • 另外一篇就是上文大量引述的文章:To speak is to Blunder But I Venture
    這篇文章曾登在紐約客上,當時的標題是To Speak Is to Blunder,副標題為Choosing to renounce a mother tongue
  • 另外,Yiyun Li雖然拒絕把書翻譯成中文,幾年前倒是給介面的正午單元做過專訪
  • 再及,我們都知道馬特市有很多隱藏版的秘密關卡、高手跟寶藏,我剛來不久在翻舊文尋寶,曾經讀到一篇關於Yiyun Li的文章(以及因為Sapiens火紅的Yuval Harari ),雖然這作者已經不在馬特市 ,但我還記得我看到@Isaac提到:「因爲一次偶然原因我們通過一次信後,我開始關注她的作品」時的驚嘆:果然臥虎藏龍。

如果想要用聽的:

如果你看完這些,並且對Yiyun Li感到興趣的話,我想再任性地一下:請你先不要去查Yiyun Li的biography,跟其他書介、書評。不是要吊你胃口,只是我想在下篇書信中講完我在這篇文章中刻意先繞開,但仍然無法規避的主題:自殺作為一種終結生命的方式(為什麼直接說自殺這麼難以啟齒)。

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