Under the Covers: Linda Jaivin Pushes Boundaries Launch Project

From October 2008 to January 2009, I was the Contributing Editor for the book section at The Beijinger magazine, a publication covering events and culture for English-language residents of Beijing. As Contributing Editor, I wrote the front of the section introduction, compiled event listings, and interviewed writers for the monthly feature.

In this feature, I interviewed writer Linda Jaivin, a woman of many talents and tremendous sass.

Below is the full text of the article.


Linda Jaivin’s ongoing infatuation with China

Australian writer, journalist and translator Linda Jaivin is a woman of many talents. She has penned some internation­ally-acclaimed bestsellers – such as the erotically charged Eat Me and the darkly comedic The Infernal Optimist. Her non-fiction work includes co-editing New Ghosts, Old Dreams with ex-husband Sinologist Geremie Barmé, and her own memoir, Confessions of an S&M Virgin. She’s also taken forays into the art world and has had occasional turns as a punk rock diva.

Fascinated by China, Jaivin returns to Beijing in October and November as the first writer in The Bookworm’s Asialink Writer in Residence program. On the eve of her arrival, the Beijinger caught up with Jaivin to discuss erotica, academia and feminism.

the Beijinger: Your history with China dates back to 1980. How would you characterize your relationship with this country?

Linda Jaivin: I don’t know if you can have a “relationship” with a place as complex, big, in­teresting and heterogenous as China. If China were a man, my relationship might be described as an entirely one-sided, on-again, off-again infatuation. I’ve spent years learning the language and trying to understand his way of thinking, habits and moods, but China has never really noticed me at all. There’s a lot of freedom in that. But I wouldn’t call it a relationship.

tbj: Transgression, whether it is sexual (Eat Me) or societal (The Monkey and the Dragon), is a consistent theme of yours. What draws you to write about characters that are compelled to push boundaries?

LJ: I am often attracted to outlaw personalities, not in the literal sense of criminals, but in the sense of rebels and radicals, usually artistic, who dwell in the margins – guairen. This is true in fiction and in real life. As for sexual transgression, I think that for a writer, naughty sex is good sex. That extends to fiction generally – unless someone crosses some line they should not have, shakes up the order of things, breaks a rule, you don’t have much of a narrative.

tbj: Your translation work includes the subtitles for films in­cluding Farewell My Concubine and Hero. How is translating for film different from translating for literature?

LJ: Obviously, there’s the question of length. With fiction, you have the luxury of using as many words as it takes to convey the sense and “feel” of the original. With subtitles, you have a very limited space in which to work. It’s an interesting challenge to achieve the greatest economy of language possible. Whereas liter­ary translation can involve writing long, convoluted sentences (if that best reflects the style of the original text), with subtitles you need to order your words in a strict, linear logic. A subtitle has to be so instantly and easily understood it’s almost invisible. It should never pull focus.

tbj: Do you think of yourself as a feminist writer?

LJ: Absolutely. But I’m not a particularly dog­matic sort of feminist. I believe that any ideology without a sense of humor or which can’t admit the confounding complexity of human nature is doomed. That’s why I give the feminist lecturer character in Eat Me some of the wildest scenes, including rough sex with a man she’s just met, and sex with a student.

tbj: What do you have planned for the future?

LJ: I’m just finishing a historical novel called A Most Immoral Woman. It’s set in China and Japan in 1904, based on a fairly lusty episode in the life of the great Australian journalist (and later adviser to Yuan Shikai), George “Chinese” Morrison.

Linda Jaivin appears at The Bookworm and other venues around Beijing throughout October and November. See Events, p48, for more information.