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

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed
Return of the Natives

Return of the Natives @ Blue Door Theatre

Fri., Dec. 26, 10 p.m.

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

  • Captain Planet

    Recycle Man is making the world a little better for people and mascots alike, one bottle at a time
    • Dec 10, 2014
  • Swipe right for love

    Technology has totally revolutionized romance. Or maybe it hasn't.
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • More »

Top Tags in
Culture & Food

Culture


Last Word


Digest


Food


for your consideration


© 2014 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation