Mr. Sum received the book entitled I Myself Am a Woman and started reading. The title made him wary. As soon as I feel like a peeping Tom I stop, he decided. But he didn’t. First that detailed introduction, and then the stories. The first of these are about young women and men and how they meet and see each other. Sum was enthralled by the streams of conscience in the stories that, at the age of 76, made him relive the days of when he himself was 18 and exploring the world. Why don’t I put this book away? It forces me to look inside young people, that is peeping isn’t it? But it is not gross. I recognize how certainties and contradictions get confused with each other and with uncertainties and moments of happiness. She (Ding Ling) is writing well, so well that dissertations are being devoted to her work in the US and China and, perhaps more telling, that it still has the power to capture an old white man, not from Shanghai but born in Enschede, the Netherlands.
Why? How? And why were these stories written?
Why and how is simple. The work invites me into characters who live through failures against the background of unattainable and rarely compatible ideals. That is fascinating. Actually I have already mentioned how: intriguing networks of internal monologues are. (An afterthought: when I tried to follow the threads separately, it became clear that they consist of internal dialogues – between myself and myself – that alternate randomly. This yielded the suspicion that my own internal dialogues show me who I am and how I can do something about it).
Such fragments are sometimes Dionysian, then Apollonian (pace Nietzsche), sometimes elitist, then proletarian (pace Marx), sometimes organic, then mechanical (pace Durkheim).
Why were they written? The stories were written as weapons, for battle. Battles against social conditions that Ding Ling perceived to be wrong. First against fundamental Confucianism that left women without a chance, later on the side of the Chinese communism variety under siege, for which she wrote until she fell from grace (1933-1957) and then, when reinstated, continued to write for again (1979-1986).
Last week I read with great approval the first half of Ramsey Nasr’s cry against how our world is working towards its own ruin (De Fundamenten, 2021). This week I read the second half. It lacks stories like Ding Ling’s, stories like weapons, stories that show how the prevailing collective ideals work out and can be faced individually. The awareness of and knowledge about actual impending doom is insufficient. A power takeover by a populist idiot cannot be stopped academically (philosophically, economically, sociologically). That is only possible with good stories. With stories that are better than those of a populist. That’s why we need art (and why administrations hate it). I hope that Ramsey Nasr will use his talent again soon.