September 16, 2007

Lazy Dragon: Chinese Stories from the Ming Dynasty, Geremie Barmé, editor, Yang Xianyi, Gladys Yang, translators

In the first place, these are great stories in the way that Elizabethan street tunes are great tunes, and for the same reason; this is from handbooks for professional street storytellers who ate or didn't on the attractiveness of their stories. The pacing is great; stuff always happens.

There is the occasional ghost or fairy, with a few glimpses into rich life, but mostly the stories are realist and moralizing. I suppose there are some truths evident in any age:

...the unfortunate concubine and Cui Ning were tortured until they broke down and agreed that they had been tempted by the money and killed Liu...

(which they hadn't)

Anyone who thought twice could see that injustice had been done; but the city magistrate was a fool who, in his impatience to close the case, did not stop to think that anybody will confess under torture.

(Now we get to less universal, though universally comforting, beliefs)

And when a man commits injustice, either he or his descendants will suffer; for the wronged ghosts will not rest till they are avenged.

(and realize that the condemnation isn't as universal as all that)

Thus a judge must not condemn people as the whim takes him, nor torture prisoners as he pleases: justice and wisdom are required.

(Some truths are, though)

For the dead can never come to life again, and the broken can never again be made whole.

Another theme skew to ours is the total acceptance of women's being sold into slavery, combined with a narrative rule that you have to respect their intelligence and emotions or Bad Things will happen to you.

Find in a Library: Lazy Dragon

Posted by clew at 11:17 PM

September 14, 2007

Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage, William Rathje & Cullen Murphy

Good subject, trash in the US: and a good hook, the Garbage Project, Rathje's combination of (zero-day) archaeology and (zero-distance) anthropology. I think it got too popped up, though, too reduced to bite-sized anecdotes, and is aging poorly. (Rathje's writing online has more pith.)

Both Fat of the Land and Waste and Want are better books on the history of waste in the U.S. Both have stronger narrative and are willing to go into more systematic detail about less "pop" topics.

I'd like more of the anthropology.

Find in a Library: Rubbish!

Posted by clew at 05:13 PM
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