Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain
by Ivan Klein
Is there a way to this so-called Soul Mountain of his?
And why are we wandering this cluttered earth if not to find it?
Through the underbrush & rocks & deep gorges & running rivers going nowhere;
past misleading directions of provincial persons and small-minded officials—
past all the talk & futility of unfocused sex & unrealized feelings, on to the highest ground of
the experience of pure being—
Is there such a way
to such a place?
And why would we be wandering this cluttered earth if not to find it?
He hears a flitting rumor of an ancient text with directions to the next world that will take us there & to some place called home at the same time. A better place than the common dust we come from is the elusive promise…and I ask myself what I’m looking for & how I’m killing time in this exile I call my life & hope this search is for real & that all other bets are off…
On the path to Soul Mountain there are common grey snakes with dull eyes that strike like lightning to absolutely sudden deadly effect.
There are interminable humdrum yin/yang conversations with a girl whose heart and cunt are elsewhere;
And demon shadows dancing our own dance, mimicking our affrighted selves, scaring us out of our wits as we shine our lanterns into the black mountain night.
A peasant tells the seeker that humans can’t overcome fate & he wonders, “If my soul showed itself, could I understand it?” — And what would be the consequences if it really exists and if we really could?
The final message of the venerable Buddhist master of Soul Mountain long ago was pure paradox understood by no one, not even his closest disciples.
— Someone who he loves who loves him, is that what it boils down to? — after all the Buddhists, Taoists, magicians, shamans—more elusive than the Holy Grail, more elusive, finally, than all the wisdom the universe could possibly proffer.
Look hard enough in the mist on Soul Mountain
And see a lost city of incontinent would-be Buddhas turned to ashes and dust;
Then see nothing at all.
AIso, is it true then that the dragon of creativity is no match for the snake of malice?
The longing for the perfect mate — a graceful dancer with silver anklets tinkling with little bells, a red mouth, perfect little feet, teeth like sparkling pearls—and then there is the wind in the cave on the mountain, brutal, blowing through the hole in your old heart.
Is the cave on the mountain a dream?
The dancing girl you heard & saw a dream?
Perhaps it is death & old age you are dreaming.
Humdrum yin/yang conversations with ordinary girls:
an ordinary man simply killing time.
Dream or reality so-to-speak,
it’s all the same to us,
to him and me.
But no, don’t die like this, in the mists of a mountain that doesn’t exist,
Back stage in a nightmare that won’t go away;
far, far from the world of real human beings,
from the decent possibility of love.
No, not like this.
The woman tells him that she loathes him, that he is going straight down to the King of Hell from this so-called Soul Mountain;
that she is going back to her old man, no matter that he knocked her around a bit & talked about other women when they fucked; now she realizes that he loved her & only talked about other cunts when they made love in order to turn her on…
Not like you, you creep…who abuses my mind with myth & metaphysics
He winds up talking to his shadow on the winding mountain road & thinks himself better off…dreams & desires all jumbled up…
He’s searching for his childhood memories among other things while I’m running away from mine, feigning amnesia—they come & go as they please in my empty defenseless mind. It’s all too shameful, too frightened, too small & difficult. I’d rather simply wrestle with death & the demons of hell than the awful sea of recollection…
He comes down from Soul Mountain, no haircut in months, looking like a wildman, a writer now somewhat famous, reading the palms of hordes of pretty girls, reading them in a most cunning & penetrating manner, claiming shamanistic powers.
getting ready to die.
No friends to speak of, an afterthought to my children. All my plans come to naught—it doesn’t seem so bad when I look at it in a certain light…
The first book born within us:
to articulate that book is the great task of a writer’s life—
The mystery of this elusive and primary book, of cellular truth greater than mere autobiography or personal mythologizing.
–What do our lives say when they speak truly to us, in what language do these lives speak & how can we translate them into the general tongue?
The author of Soul Mountain searches out pre-Confucian folk songs…
Give me the day, the month, the year song was born, give me the principle of heaven & earth; give me back myself from this meaningless chaos.
“With Yin there is language,
With Yang there is sound.”
Somehow man finds himself born & hears himself singing in pain & wonder. – In the dark he hears the beating of a drum and is no longer alone.
The Record of Darkness
The ancient death songs of the primordial Han people suppressed and destroyed by the bureaucracy—
“A race with empty, desolate souls! the author exclaims.
He believes the age of poetry is over; that everything has already been sung or rhythmically shouted—everything worth singing or shouting all said and done.
–just impressions left—somewhat vague inkblots, I suppose.
He beats it quickly from the Taoist Temple Of Supreme Purity—he’s too attached to himself, to his heart, to that cute little trick in the guise of a Taoist nun. He’s not really interested in anyone else’s suffering, in the persecution stories of the old Taoist priests, how they managed to save a remnant of their holy books from burning at the hands of the authorities. No, he can’t be bothered with anyone else’s suffering; he is himself & nothing makes more sense than that. And his precious heart, he wishes to preserve it, just for himself alone.
[for his own use—from the forces of destruction which are everywhere and include
practically everybody and everything]
He also tells us that he recoils from both beauty and evil…tells us that his probable
(hypothetical) tragedy is needing a normal life.
Deep down in the dark forest of dead trees with its living, disapproving eyes, he runs screaming toward the valley of forgetting—women companions, crying children abandoned in the dust of the traveler’s road for the urgent needs of what we’ll call his living spirit.
Looking at a blank mirror in an abandoned temple, he sees only an empty blue sky.
Having been to the mountain, he is still asking directions and trying to find his way there—The wind howls; a solitary man is blown about; a frog blinks; a soul ascends or descends to no place at all that allows itself to be known. UG
Ivan Klein published a book of poems, Alternatives to Silence, and a chapbook, Some Paintings By Koho and a Flower of My Own, on the Japanese brush painter Koho Yamamoto. He has been published in “Leviathan,” “Long Shot,” “Flying Fish,” The Jewish Literary Journal and featured in the Forward. Most recently anthologized in the April 2015 Holocaust issue of the Poetry Super Highway. He is currently completing a book on Herman Melville with the working title Toward Melville: Notes, Poems and Commentaries. He read from this work by invitation at the International Conference of the Melville Society in Jerusalem in 2009. He lives and writes in New York City.