As we should all know by now, Jonathan Franzen is a serious writer who plays for the highest literary stakes, who is uncomfortable with American TV consumerism, and whose last two novels, “The Corrections” and “Freedom,” have legitimately catapulted him to the front ranks of American fiction. Less known is that he has also published three nonfiction books, “How to Be Alone” (essays), “The Discomfort Zone” (a short memoir) and, now, a second essay collection, “Farther Away.”
到了今天，大家都应知道，乔纳森·弗兰岑(Jonathan Franzen)是一位严肃的作家，对文学有着崇高的追求，对美国电视所宣扬的消费主义非常反感，最近的两部长篇小说《纠正》(The Corrections)与《自由》(Freedom)，理所当然地将他推到了美国小说的前沿。大家不太知道的是，他还出版了三部非虚构作品，《如何独处》(How to Be Alone) （随笔集）、《不适地带》(The Discomfort Zone) （一部不长的回忆录)，及随笔集《远去》(Farther Away)。
The nonfiction of pre-eminent novelists is bound to fascinate, shedding light on their mentality and fictional practice, even if such authors seem to be giving less than full energy to this second-choice genre. Saul Bellow, for instance, wrote magnificently essayistic fiction, but his actual essays pale by comparison; similarly, John Updike was an ever-graceful critic, but few of his nonfiction pieces stir the blood the way his short stories or novels can. There have been exceptions, of course, including Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence or, in our own day, J. M. Coetzee and Cynthia Ozick. Most dyed-in-the-wool novelists, however, do not excel at the essay, for good reason: they are wired otherwise. And so we come to Franzen’s latest collection, which, while not nearly as strong as his novels, still has its attractions, as might be expected from so insightful and resourceful a writer.
小说名家的非虚构作品注定具有魅力，反映出作家的心态与小说创作的历程，即便是这些作家貌似并未全力投入这第二选择的体裁创作。譬如，索尔·贝娄(Saul Bellow)就写出过非常精彩的带有随笔风格的虚构作品，但他实际所写的随笔，相形之下，就显得苍白；同样，约翰·厄普代克(John Updike)也是一位文字优雅的评论家，但其非虚构作品远远不如他的短篇或长篇那样，令人热血沸腾。当然，也有例外，如弗吉尼亚·伍尔夫(Virginia Woolf)和D. H. 劳伦斯(D. H. Lawrence)，或者当代的J. M. 库切(J. M. Coetzee)和辛西娅·奥齐克(Cynthia Ozick)。然而，绝大多数彻头彻尾的小说家并不擅长随笔，原因也很明显：他们的兴奋点不在这个地方。因此，说到弗兰岑最近的集子，虽不如他的长篇有力，却依然有其亮点，这本随笔集出自如此具有洞察力而又才思敏捷的作家之手，这一点自然不难预料。
The book begins with a commencement address, “Pain Won’t Kill You,” which may be summarized as: Get past your adolescent brooding; turn off your narcissism-promoting social media; drag yourself out of your room; engage with the natural world (he chose birds) and your fellow human beings; try to love, and embrace the hurt and messiness that love entails. This message, delivered in a casual colloquial style to the graduating class and in a more urgent manner elsewhere, runs through the essay collection. The author is not shy about preaching simple morality; he can be both hedgehog and fox, and here he is often the hedgehog, with convictions born out of a personal crisis and the lessons learned. That crisis, which he discusses freely in these pages, stemmed from the failure of his youthful marriage and his attendant depression, guilt and shame. His overcoming the anguish successfully is reproduced here in what we might call a Healing Narrative.
这部随笔集以一篇毕业典礼演讲开篇，《痛苦不会要了你的命》(Pain Won’t Kill You)，大意或可归纳如下：摆脱自己少年的伤感情怀；远离那些滋生自恋情结的社交网络；奋力走出自己的房间小天地；拥抱大自然（他选择了鸟类），与他人为伍；努力去爱，去面对因爱而来的伤痛与混乱。这一思想始终贯穿这部随笔集，在这片文章中他以随意的口语风格向即将毕业的学生娓娓道出，而在别的篇章，他表达此意显得更为紧迫。作者并不避讳于宣传简单的伦理观念；他既是狐狸又是刺猬，而在这本集子里，他更多的是刺猬，所持有的那份信念则既源于自身经历的个人危机，也有学到的教训。 他在书中自如地讨论了那场危机，它源自早年婚姻的失败以及由此带来的压抑、负罪感与羞愧。他成功地从痛苦中走出的经历，在我们可称之为治疗叙述(Healing Narrative)中得以再现。
It is no accident that the graduation speech was presented at Kenyon College, the very same venue where David Foster Wallace had given his famous commencement address several years previously. These pages are haunted by Wallace, whose suicide hit the author, his good friend, hard. In the title essay, Franzen goes off to an island in the South Pacific Ocean to bird-watch, to recoup his sense of identity after a grueling, boring book tour — and to allow himself to feel, by imposed isolation, the fullness of grief that he had been keeping at bay. Wallace’s widow, Karen, has given the author some of her husband’s ashes to distribute on that beautiful island. Though Franzen mocks himself for playing at Robinson Crusoe, this is essentially a solemn, somber essay, and a flawed one — too attenuated for the redemption it mechanically delivers (mission accomplished: he cries and sprinkles the ashes), too truncated to process all the murky emotions that lie beneath the surface.
乔纳森·弗兰岑的毕业典礼演讲在凯尼恩学院(Kenyon College)并非偶然。几年前，也是在这所学校，戴维·福斯特·华莱士(David Foster Wallace)发表了著名的毕业典礼演讲。文章处处有华莱士的影子，好友华莱士的自杀给作者带来沉重的打击。在与文集同名的随笔中，弗兰岑去了南太平洋的一个岛，为了观察鸟类，也是为了在一场艰难而又烦闷的图书推广之行后，重拾自己的身份感——通过强加的隔离，让自己尽情感受一直逃避的悲伤。华莱士的妻子卡伦(Karen)把丈夫骨灰的一部分给了乔纳森·弗兰岑，让他撒在美丽的岛上。虽然弗兰岑自嘲自己扮演了鲁滨逊的角色，但这基本上算是一篇沉重而伤感的随笔，而且带有瑕疵—— 文章力道过于虚弱，在机械地传达救赎（完成的任务：痛哭、撒骨灰）的理念，同时也过于短小，无法处理内心深处那些说不清道不明的情感。
“Once, when we were driving near Stinson Beach, in California, I’d stopped to give him a telescope view of a long-billed curlew, a species whose magnificence is to my mind self-evident and revelatory. He looked through the scope for two seconds before turning away with patent boredom. ‘Yeah,’ he said with his particular tone of hollow politeness, ‘it’s pretty.’ In the summer before he died, sitting with him on his patio while he smoked cigarettes, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the hummingbirds around his house and was saddened that he could, and while he was taking his heavily medicated afternoon naps I was learning the birds of Ecuador for an upcoming trip, and I understood the difference between his unmanageable misery and my manageable discontents to be that I could escape myself in the joy of birds and he could not.”
One can read this passage as both compassionate and gloating. Franzen manfully admits to competing with Wallace, but cannot refrain from similar comparisons in his favor, like: “It was time to accept finitude and incompleteness and leave certain birds forever unseen, that the ability to accept this was the gift I’d been given and my beloved dead friend had not.” There is also the occasional clunky, ex-graduate student diction: “If boredom is the soil in which the seeds of addiction sprout, and if the phenomenology and the teleology of suicidality are the same as those of addiction, it seems fair to say that David died of boredom.”
Here are some reasons, I think, that Franzen’s essays do not match his fiction. While his prose is always cogent, he is not that consistently stylish a sentence writer. Essays put a different kind of pressure on the sentence, calling for more aphoristic compression and wit. His novels work best through patient accumulation of social detail and character development. By contrast, the I-character in his essays is not as strongly developed, nor as vivid. He is better able to convey moral irony by dramatizing a fictional conflict than by baldly stating his views. Finally, since, as he puts it, “fiction is my religion,” he may simply be a literary monotheist who has never fully grasped the imaginative and expressive possibilities of nonfiction; he’s not trying to catch that fire. When he speaks of the authors who influenced him, they are all fiction writers.
The collection features a lovely personal essay, “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which begins as an amusingly grumpy rant against cellphone users, who intrude their private “I love you”s onto his public space, and transforms into a touching portrait of his parents. We have met these two people before, more or less, as Alfred and Enid, the parents in “The Corrections,” and the author again writes wonderfully about his stoical father and overdemonstrative mother. There are also several deft journalistic pieces of eco-travel reportage, one involving the killing of birds in the Mediterranean, another, the efforts of Chinese bird-watchers in a country facing radical habitat loss. Franzen pays tribute, in a series of graceful appreciations, to some quirky and unjustly neglected writers: James Purdy, Donald Antrim, Paula Fox, Frank Wedekind (if only he didn’t try to sell Wedekind to us as a proto-rocker!). He also argues that the great short story writer Alice Munro has not gotten her due. These valentines demonstrate his generosity, humanity and love of fiction, as well as his own preference for the morally complex over the sentimental. The struggle to be a good human being, against the pulls of solipsism and narcissism, can be glimpsed in every page of these essays, which if nothing else offer a telling battle report from within the consciousness of one of our major novelists.
这本集子里有一篇可爱而又带有个人色彩的重头文章，《我打电话只为说我爱你》(I Just Called to Say I Love You)，文章开头便是佯装的对手机用户的一番怒斥，他们打着私密的“我爱你”旗号，侵入他的公共空间，作者继而笔头一转，描绘起自己的父母，令人动容。我们此前已多少认识这两位了，即《纠正》中的父母艾尔弗雷德(Alfred)与伊妮德(Enid)，作者在此又对自己坚韧的父亲与过于招摇的母亲做了绝妙的描写。还有几篇生态旅游报道的随笔，一篇讲的是地中海鸟类的捕杀，另一篇讲的是中国鸟类观察者在这个鸟类栖息地严重缺失的国度所作出的努力。弗兰岑在一系列优雅的评论赏析文章中，称颂了一些另类而又被忽视的作家：詹姆斯·浦迪(James Purdy)、唐纳德·安特里姆(Donald Antrim)、葆拉·福克斯(Paula Fox)、弗兰克·魏德凯(Frank Wedekind)（但愿他不是想藉此把魏德凯作为首席摇滚乐手向我们推销！）。弗兰岑还认为，十分了得的短篇小说家艾丽丝·门罗(Alice Munro)尚未受到应有的重视。 这些歌颂显示出作者的慷慨、人性，对小说的热爱，以及他自己对复杂的道德伦理而非情感的偏爱。力争做一个好人，摆脱自我中心与自恋情结的诱惑，这一点，在这个集子里随处可见。仅此一点，足可成为当代一位重量级小说家内心的战地报道。