The ecstatic writing of Qiu Miaojin: Ari Larissa Heinrich in conversation with Scott Esposito
Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
Ari Larissa Heinrich in conversation with Scott Esposito
discussing the work of Qiu Miaojin
Last Words from Montmartre
translated from the Chinese with an afterward by Ari Larissa Heinrich
published by NYRB Classics
When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love. In a style that veers between extremes, from self-deprecation to pathos, compulsive repetition to rhapsodic musings, reticence to vulnerability, Qiu's genre-bending novel is at once a psychological thriller, a sublime romance, and the author's own suicide note.
The letters (which, Qiu tells us, can be read in any order) leap between Paris, Taipei, and Tokyo. They display wrenching insights into what it means to live between cultures, languages, and genders—until the genderless character Zoë appears, and the narrator’s spiritual and physical identity is transformed. As powerfully raw and transcendent as Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, and Theresa Cha’s Dictée, to name but a few, Last Words from Montmartre proves Qiu Miaojin to be one of the finest experimentalists and modernist Chinese-language writers of our generation.
Qiu Miaojin (1969–1995)—one of Taiwan’s most innovative literary modernists, and the country’s most renowned lesbian writer—was born in Chuanghua County in western Taiwan. She graduated with a degree in psychology from National Taiwan University and pursued graduate studies in clinical psychology at the University of Paris VIII . Her first published story, "Prisoner," received the Central Daily News Short Story Prize, and her novella Lonely Crowds won the United Literature Association Award. While in Paris, she directed a thirty-minute film called Ghost Carnival, and not long after this, at the age of twenty-six, she committed suicide. The posthumous publications of her novels Last Words from Montmartre and Notes of a Crocodile (forthcoming from NYRB Classics) made her into one of the most revered countercultural icons in Chinese letters. After her death in 1995, she was given the China Times Honorary Prize for Literature. In 2007, a two-volume edition of her Diaries was published.
Ari Larissa Heinrich received a master’s in Chinese literature from Harvard and a PhD in Chinese studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Heinrich and Qiu—who would have been the same age if Qiu were still alive—crossed paths without knowing each other in Taipei and in Paris. He is the author of The Afterlife of Images: Translating the Pathological Body Between China and the West and the coeditor of Queer Sinophone Cultures. He teaches at the University of California at San Diego.
Scott Esposito's criticism has appeared in Bookforum, the Los Angeles Times, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The National, The Point, Tin House, The Paris Review Daily, and numerous others. He has also written introductions to novels for the Dalkey Archive Press and Melville House Publishing. He is the editor of online publications for San Francisco's Center for the Art of Translation and has been a consultant on translated literature for presses including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McSweeney's, Graywolf, and Open Letter. He is also the editor in chief for The Quarterly Conversation, an online periodical of book reviews and essays. He is the co-author, with Lauren Elkin, of The End of Oulipo: An attempt to exhaust a movement from Zero Books.