Pin It
Favorite

'Kissing the Mask,' William T. Vollmann 

At 500 pages, Kissing the Mask is almost an essay by Vollmann’s standards

click to enlarge art15340.jpg

Vollmann book: don’t. Just set it on your coffee table and hope the damn table doesn’t collapse. And because Vollmann writes in helter-skelter fragments, there’s really no need to peruse his noniction in a traditional linear fashion. Just grab something like the 1,200-page Imperial and stick it in the bathroom. After a few months, you’ll know more about borderland California than any of your friends.

At 500 pages, Kissing the Mask is almost an essay by Vollmann’s standards, though its subtitle (Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater With Some Thoughts on Muses [Especially Helga Testorf], Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Housewives, Makeup Artists, Geishas, Valkyries and Venus Figurines) indicates the breadth of its subject matter. I don’t know why Vollmann didn’t include cross-dressing in that list. In a chapter detailing his transformation into a woman, he muses on the perils of rough skin and becomes so enamored of his wig (“My reddish-gold hair spills down to my breasts, so soft and golden in its highlights”) that he’s inspired to quote a Sutra.

 

It’s a typical moment in a book where Vollmann confesses to being “deaf, dumb and illiterate in Japanese, innocent of formal study in any discipline of art, a graceless dancer aflicted with bad eyesight.” As a result, he is a captivated reporter of grace, a tireless interpreter of Japanese, and a writer whose best moments bring images to a clarity that surpasses the merely visual. His descriptions of Noh drama are penetrating in their attempts to render the art form into language. Rather than plead the impossibility of translating the experience, Vollmann bravely plunges in, making wide-eyed observations. He rewrites the poetry of Noh in his own verse.

Vollmann’s style allows him to express his enthusiasm in lights of fancy that ly in the face of conventional order. It reminds us that we are occasionally irrational, inspired, sensitive beings. In books like Poor People, the result is breathtakingly compassionate. In Kissing the Mask, it lifts the book’s esoteric subject to an almost sublime degree of importance. You don’t just read it — you live with it.

  • Pin It

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Variations of Zuill
  • Variations of Zuill

    Badass cellist. Musical missionary. Grammy winner. Zuill Bailey redefines Bach for the 21st century
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • Backstage Story
  • Backstage Story

    Behind the preparation and precaution: Why it practically takes a village to put on a Cirque du Soleil show
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • The Genius of Bach
  • The Genius of Bach

    His lasting influence, and a look at this year's Bach Festival schedule
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Blind Faith
  • Blind Faith

    In a vacant lot by the railroad tracks, an unlikely friendship is found
    • Jan 7, 2016
  • Rock Opera and Fart Jokes
  • Rock Opera and Fart Jokes

    Twelfth Night takes the line "If music be the food of love, play on" and runs with it
    • Aug 5, 2015
  • River Tales
  • River Tales

    The story of the Spokane River in 30 paintings
    • Sep 24, 2015

Comments


Comments are closed.

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Visualizing Science

Visualizing Science @ Prichard Art Gallery

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 15

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Marty Demarest

  • The Cowboy's Cowboy
  • The Cowboy's Cowboy

    A Canadian sings about the life —  not just the lifestyle — of the new West
    • May 15, 2013
  • Completing the Trilogy
  • Completing the Trilogy

    Mass Effect has finally arrived
    • May 23, 2012
  • Minecraft
  • Minecraft

    Adventure and survival too often give way to mindless crafts in this building-block simulator.
    • Feb 8, 2012
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Partisan Pagans

    The political divide is even splintering Spokane's witches
    • Feb 2, 2017
  • Finding the Words

    The sounds of 8,000 people taking to the streets of Spokane
    • Jan 26, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Songs of Summer
  • Songs of Summer

    With the Julyamsh Powwow canceled, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's "Cultural Experience" has stepped in with gifts of salmon, huckleberries and dubstep
    • Jul 15, 2015
  • BOOK | Priest Lake History
  • BOOK | Priest Lake History

    Some surprising aspects of "Idaho's Crown Jewel"
    • Jul 15, 2015
  • Small Towns 2015: Living History
  • Small Towns 2015: Living History

    A newspaper museum keeps Palouse close to its roots, and serves as a community centerpiece
    • Aug 5, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation