mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Tales from the Sofa

Yesterday, for reasons I won't go into, saw me at work from 8 am to nearly 6, with a snatched 15 minute break. I am consequently much richer and infinitely stiffer than I was on, say, Monday, and last night was spent on the sofa with my swollen feet up, re-reading a tattered copy of The Red Pavilion.

The essay on van Gulik at the start of the first volume says he had to change certain conventions of the Chinese detective novel for western tastes, most particularly the one about telling you at the start who dunnit. He also attempted to humanize the detective from the sublime all-knowing magistrate figure of the Ming books, giving him 'tender emotions' and occasionally displaying him in a domestic setting. I'm fine with the domestic background, since Dee certainly had one, and as he also has three wives there's no 'see, he's just like us right-thinking Europeans.'

Van Gulik himself wrote that his (female, I believe) readers said they wanted to see Judge Dee showing human emotions, and so he had the Judge fall in love at one point- or feel an attraction, whichever. I'm bemused, because the female in this corner thinks van Gulik did it really badly, rather as if he didn't understand the process himself. I'm the more suspicious because van Gulik had his kinks, foot binding being one (that fortunately didn't make it into this Tang-set novel) and in my observation, men with kinks have no interest in the psychology of the women who embody those kinks for them. Actually the general attitude towards women of most early 20th century mandom is depressing to contemplate, so let's not do it.

But I have to wonder if in fact van Gulik wasn't still expressing (consciously or not) the ethos of the Ming detective novels he was pastiching. All his characters are types- the good so good and the bad so bad- and men of course are allowed a wider latitude of emotional and moral complexity than women, and women are of course sexual creatures first and occasionally last. Van Gulik embodies a very foreign attitude as to how humans are comprised: western theories of human psychology might almost not exist. Granted that the foreign attitude might only be that early 20th century mandom one, still, its simplistic oddity goes rather well with the odd and in some ways simplistic detective stories one is reading. The whole thing is coming from quite another world than mine.

Maybe the real oddity is this- placed against the Woxin ethos that currently occupies the rest of my brain, particularly Gou Jian and Ya Yu, van Gulik's view is other-worldly to the point of little green men.

And I must add: annoying as his kinks get over time (every flipping story has to have a nude-not-naked woman bound and mistreated) there's a fanwriter quality to it that makes me snorfle. Someone's clearly writing to turn himself on, and it shows.
Tags: reading_08, woxin

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