姚監复Yao Jianfu: Chinese Scholar, Former Researcher on CCP Policies; Copyright: Yao Jianfu
王丹，除了為人熟知的「六四」民運領袖身份 外，寫詩寫評論，還在美國哈佛大學拿到了歷史學博士，本書緣起於王丹二○○九年在台灣清華大學所開的「中華人民共和國史」課程。王丹認為兩岸對中國一九四 九年以後的歷史了解都先天不足，因此希望能整理出中國官方史學中沒有說或不能說的內容。比如過去所認識的毛澤東，都是從政治出發，但是從接近他的人的回憶 可以看到另一個毛澤東：對身邊的女人無可奈何、對長期相處的衛士長依依不捨，這些性格都可能構成毛澤東決策的要素之一。本書處理歷史鮮活有趣，用「八卦」 的方式挖掘歷史真相，別開生面，而由這位身份獨特的作者寫來，更別具意義。
The Dirt About Gossip
By HOLLY BRUBACH
Published: December 30, 2011
Most of us scriveners feel obliged to call our books something catchy in the hope of impressing potential readers with how clever we are. Not so Joseph Epstein. “What’s your book about?” “Gossip.” “What’s it called?” “Gossip.” Epstein has repeatedly opted for titles with the generic ring of labels on the files he must have kept for his research: “Ambition,” “Friendship,” “Snobbery,” “Envy.” On the part of any other writer, this might be taken as a sign of laziness or exhaustion. But in Epstein’s case, it seems a bold grab to own a great big subject, even — or especially — one on which the Almighty has had a tendency to dominate the conversation.
The Untrivial Pursuit
By Joseph Epstein
242 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $25.
Times Topic: Joseph Epstein
Gossip, in Epstein’s definition, is “one party telling another what a third party doesn’t want known.” A clunky subtitle — “The Untrivial Pursuit” — calls attention to a premise that would seem to be self-evident: now that gossip looms so huge in public life, he contends, the “major rap” against it, “that it is trivial, is no longer the main thing to be said about it, if it ever was.” As objections to gossip go, this one has been collecting dust for quite some time, and Epstein, by placing it front and center, seems to be justifying his choice of subject to the disapproving ghosts of his grandparents. By far the more likely case to be made against gossip at the start of the 21st century would be that it has become so invasive and ubiquitous.
All religions condemn gossip, and Judaism has gone so far as to declare it a sin: a sin to initiate it, to repeat it, to listen to it. Yahweh’s position, then, is unequivocal. But Epstein is of two minds, and while he deplores the blight gossip has inflicted on our culture, he convincingly argues that it serves any number of worthwhile purposes, from the literary (Elizabeth Hardwick called it “character analysis”) to the sociological (David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, says it’s important in regulating behavior and defining membership in a group). Ultimately, what makes Epstein such a congenial authority on the subject is that he relishes good gossip himself.
Much of the hearsay he uses as example will be familiar to anyone with access to a robust grapevine and the works of Kitty Kelley. Most items fall into familiar categories, among them: Sexual Proclivities of the Windsors, Unlikely Bedfellows, Funny Stuff That Happened to People Who Drank Too Much, Public Figures in the Closet, Heinous Acts Committed by Men of Illustrious Reputation. In the course of citing scuttlebutt to make his point, Epstein becomes, to his dismay, a purveyor of it. “There is still a thing called good taste, and I am reasonably sure that I have already outraged it several pages ago,” he admits as early as Page 20. What was the alternative? He might have followed the example of Isabella Stewart Gardner — who, according to George Santayana, “spoke ill of no one” — and confined himself to the broad philosophical and moral issues that gossip raises, without naming names. But I think it’s safe to say that Epstein has no more interest in writing that book than we do in reading it.
Wending its way through these pages is a procession of the rich, the famous, the infamous, the mighty and the fallen — and the people who have built careers talking about them. The parade route passes from ancient Greece to present-day America, with Alcibiades, Epstein’s candidate for “the first great subject of public gossip,” in the lead, followed at intervals by Lord Byron, Eugène Delacroix, Grover Cleveland, Cyril Connolly, Wallis Simpson, Ava Gardner, Aristotle and Jackie Onassis, Fidel Castro and Kathleen Tynan, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Alfred Kazin, Annie Leibovitz, Lillian Ross, Elena Kagan. The cardinal rule here: If you’re famous, you’re fair game. Waving from the thrones atop their floats are the Duc de Saint-Simon, Walter Winchell, Barbara Walters and Tina Brown. As the rumors pile up, the effect, even when the details are astonishingly intimate, is oddly superficial and impersonal, as if the protagonists weren’t our fellow travelers but stock characters in the story of our times.
Reading “Crampton Hodnet,” a Barbara Pym novel set in North Oxford, Epstein gets the sense that “gossip traditionally has worked best in a small, one might even say tight, community.” I can’t help wondering how many citizens of small communities whose destinies are not in Barbara Pym’s benevolent hands would agree.
In any case, we all live in a small town now. Epstein acknowledges the power to libel and “wreck lives” made so widely available by the Internet. But he cites no more than a handful of online gossip’s casualties, in examples ranging in gravity from Malcolm Gladwell’s reputation (after his inclusion in a database of bad tippers) to a Rutgers student’s suicide (after video of his encounter with another male student was streamed online). Nor does Epstein seem particularly interested in gossip’s relationship to power, though he suggests it may have a role in revolutions. What for him constitutes a kind of spectator sport has been (and still is) for the disenfranchised a means of reconnaissance, a way of acquiring information crucial to their status and survival. It’s not for nothing that the two groups most notorious for trafficking in gossip have been women and gay men. Epstein quotes Leo Lerman, who said he kept a gossip-filled journal “because I am always interested in the disparity between the surface and what goes on underneath.”
In the end, Epstein seems less concerned with gossip’s role and ramifications than with the stories it tells, and as a curator of hearsay, he is attuned to not only the salacious but also the sublime. Of all the gossip that “Gossip” contains, my favorite is the story of a young woman who admired Isaac Bashevis Singer’s writing, attended one of his readings at an unnamed university, and afterward found herself alone with him, at his invitation, ostensibly to recount her family’s history in Bialystok. What happened next took her by surprise, though the reader sees it coming: He interrupted her recital of facts and asked if he might kiss her. He was 30 years older and reminded her of her grandfather; the prospect of sex with him was for her unthinkable. She was terribly sorry, she explained, but she had just begun her second marriage. He cut her off and, pointing to a bowl on a nearby table, suggested she take some fruit to her husband. She picked out a large apple and a green banana, and when she turned around, he was gone. The vaguely patronizing offer of fruit (presumably supplied by the university), sent on behalf of the spurned celebrity author to the husband waiting at home; the abrupt exit, prompted by embarrassment or disappointment or a refusal to waste another minute on a woman who had proved to be unwilling — from the reader’s point of view, this denouement is surely better than their winding up in bed together.
In the days preceding his mother’s death, Epstein learned that her father had committed suicide. She had kept it a secret, even from her own husband. To her mind, Epstein conjectures, there was nothing to be gained by talking about it; silence was more dignified, and Epstein admires her for it. “But I see that in telling this story, I am gossiping about my own mother, telling a tale she would not even now want told,” he writes. “What do you call a man who gossips about his own mother? At the very least, a writer, but also someone who, in regard to gossip, is not the man his mother was.” The generational divide where gossip is concerned is at its widest here. I doubt a reader under 30 would comprehend the dignity of Epstein’s mother’s silence or the shame that attached to suicide in his grandparents’ time.
“Shame” is my nominee for Epstein’s next book. Or “Remorse,” a potential companion volume. Or, returning to something he said earlier, “Good Taste.” Epstein brings a journalist’s appetite for research and an essayist’s talent for reflection to themes that traditionally have been left to novelists. “Gossip” takes its place as the latest entry in his entertaining and idiosyncratic catalog of human nature.
Gossip: the Untrivial Pursuit
|Gossip: the Untrivial Pursuit，Joseph Epstein 著，紐約﹕Houghton Mifflin Harcourt，2011年11月|
作者被譽為復興小品文的功臣，筆鋒常帶感 情，對眾生的貪嗔癡亦不乏同情。世人樂於揭人陰私，進而標榜自己高人一等，縱然是飽學之士亦未能免俗。凡夫俗子把傳聞與新聞等量齊觀，甚至藉互聯網將謠言 傳遍天下，早已形成風氣。作者剖析人類的劣根性，而不是譏諷或痛加抨擊，只因為「由來同一夢，休笑世人癡」。