Monday, April 19, 2010

William Vollmann, Kissing the Mask

William Vollmann's newest book Kissing the Mask is an exploration of beauty and femininity through the study of Japanese Noh theater, a traditional, formal theater style in which all the actors are men in masks. Kissing the Mask, is arguably Vollmann's best work, after Europe Central and Poor People, but it is inarguably his most beautiful work. Committed to finding or creating a meaningful understanding of beauty, Vollmann's prose is inspired by his project and reflects the striking subtlety of Noh theater itself. From masks many hundreds of years old, to unwashable kimonos, to men who get expensive sophisticated salon makeovers and then stay in the salon, to the works of Andrew Wyeth, to Geishas, Valkyries, and primitive icons, Vollmann stalks the ideas of beauty and femininity. Of course, he is never able to catch either of them, but as he seeks he also creates. Furthermore, he doesn't just hide behind the fluidity of taste, but argues for ideas of understatement and grace, providing material for debate, if not for conclusion.

William T. Vollmann is one of America's most prolific and challenging writers. He's written, among other things, a seven book fiction cycle set in pre-Columbian North America, a seven-volume exploration of violence, a National Book Award Winning novel set in in the eastern front of WWII ( Europe Central ), a sociological Studs Terkel-esque study of poverty ( Poor People ), a massive history of borderlands between Mexico and the United States ( Imperial ), and a memoir about hopping trains ( Riding Towards Everywhere ). If there is one word that would characterize his work it would be "fearless." Regardless of topic, scope, and personal health and safety Vollmann explores his ideas to their absolute limits and is generous enough to bring us along for the ride.

No comments:

Blog Archive