cover image Pleasure of Thinking: Essays

Pleasure of Thinking: Essays

Wang Xiaobo, trans. from the Chinese by Yan Yan. Astra, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-1-66260-125-5

This stimulating if uneven posthumous anthology from novelist and sociologist Xiaobo (Golden Age), who died in 1997, brings together 35 pieces of his nonfiction, including philosophical musings, book reviews, and personal anecdotes about travel and his upbringing. The title essay details how the author covertly found intellectual stimulation from a contraband copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses during his years in an army-run commune in China, where the only permitted reading material was Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book. Selections on sex and sexuality show their age. For instance, Xiaobo’s reflection on his 1992 sociological study of gay men centers on the now obvious conclusion that “there is in fact a widespread male homosexual population on the Chinese mainland,” and his suggestion that appeasing “radical feminists” would require him to “undergo a sex change and castrate myself” is overwrought. He fares better when meditating on his time studying sociology in the U.S., serving up brief, humorous dispatches on food and clothing (“There were only a few occasions in which you couldn’t dress casually”). Not all of the pieces work, but Xiaobo’s sharp criticisms of how state censorship constricts intellectual ferment resonate, as when he excoriates state censors for excising discussions of sex from novels (“Could Hemingway write something that would satisfy the [censors]? I think not”). This is worth dipping into. (July)