This must qualify as a rather unusual way to mourn: by cloning Shakespeare. Ten face-lifts, ten months, US$153,000 will give Chinese author Zhang Yiyi the look he desires. He is using money from the royalties on his last book. But why look like the Bard? He says, “Life is a process of striving to become a better person. I think the surgeries are worth the money.”
His admiration is understandable, but is there not an element of vanity here? How different is it from people aping film stars and other celebrities? Why must this seem more like commemoration rather than another marketing strategy, for it does not stop at himself and the mirror; he wants to “let the people across the world mourn”. He assumes that he will be the medium; it might turn out to be some circus with photo-ops, readings, maybe even a facsimile version of Stratford-upon-Avon.
There could be invitations to impersonate, like they do for Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Will the people be mourning the loss or just having a good laugh at the mimicry?
How would all this make him a better person, or even a better writer? What happens to his own voice, his identity, his cultural moorings?
I am afraid this is no different from crazy fan following and it won’t do anything for Shakespeare although it might do a bit for Zhang Yiyi – make him into a caricature, thereby inadvertently reducing his hero at least in tangible physical terms.
Is literature, or at least the literature you can hold in your hands, the ‘in’ thing? It’s called Paper Passion. For real. You can buy it and spray it on yourself and get a whiff of those flaky pages that may not be on your shelves anymore.
Karl Lagerfeld, who has a huge personal library and his own publishing company, is already working on a fragrance that will smell of printed ink and unprinted paper. After someone brought out cow fart in a can to remind you of the countryside, these notes will be a tad better. What is the purpose? True, we are using less paper, reading less real books, but don’t we have any left with us? Besides, the pleasure of those scents was not isolated.
It had to do with where we were – in the library, sitting in a park, in book stores or at a favourite spot at home. It came with becoming part of the stories we read, tracing the journeys of the characters, identifying with them, rejecting them. The fragrance was about all of these. I don’t think many people would go to books just to dig their noses in them.
I can imagine the perfumers calling this a niche market for the intellectual fashionistas. I guess I am neither and like my fragrances woody, musky or citrusy and most definitely not nerdy.