Excerpt From Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin Explores Queer Themes, Is Amazing

Feature image via INK Literary Monthly

Gabrielle’s Team Pick

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop has posted a translated excerpt from Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin, one of the first openly lesbian writers in 1990’s post-martial law Taiwan. Famous for her unapologetic queer themes, she committed suicide at 26 and was posthumously awarded the China Times Honorary Prize for Literature for Notes in 1995.  As translator Bonnie Huie explains in the introduction to the excerpt, Notes is an exploration of dualities — masculinity and femininity, cruelty and mercy, and, perhaps most importantly, the boundaries created by heteronormativity and those who live outside of those boundaries. The narrator of Notes describes it a “survival manual for a younger generation.” But it’s not just a survival manual for younger queers. Huie writes, “You don’t have to be just one thing, Qiu seems to be saying, and if you are to become a truly empathetic individual, you cannot allow yourself to perceive others as such.” I think that’s a lesson that transcends queerness and encompasses all identity politics, and it’s something that resonates very strongly with me. I can’t wait to read the entire novel.

From Notebook #3:

Daytime. As soon as the alarm sounded, I’d leap out of bed and “go to work” for my club. Didn’t wash my face, didn’t brush my teeth. Had to practically fly on my bike to campus. It was as if I’d made an appointment with colleagues and was rushing documents to this extracurricular organization, or preparing for a noontime meeting. Even designing the promotional fliers, sending mailers, organizing archives, or running any type of errand might be of the utmost importance, though there was never enough time to handle the bulk of it. You had to treat it like a boring game by acting serious and earnestly focusing on the matter at hand. It amounted to self-motivation through a theoretical earnestness. This is what entering society and the workforce would be like in the future. This having been decided, if you wanted to move up, you had to play the game on a sophisticated level, and with excitement. Otherwise you’d lose your passion a little. Get muddled. Gradually descend into a voluntary state of meaninglessness.

Almost completely lost track of schoolwork. My gym teacher wanted to murder me. I heard the news that the military drill instructor was looking everywhere for me and “wanted to see me in his office.” Buried my head in the sand. I was about to fail half or even two-thirds of my credits, which would flunk me out of school. To an ordinary person, this particular shift to a value system that meant actually having a life was symbolic of a future roadmap with deteriorating hopes. I was throwing away my life. It was like hammering a steel axle through a spinning top, so that it would automatically spin on a fixed point on the ground. Though it was automated, in reality it was aimless, all meaning was lost. Eagerly hurrying off to attend to student organization affairs, I worked to my heart’s content straight up until 10 o’clock in the evening, when I went home. It became my steel axle, spinning faster and faster, to the point where it was unstoppable. After I got home, I’d habitually open a beer and drink myself into a stupor, and basically kill time until my alarm went off the next morning.

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Gabrielle used to be a contributing editor at Autostraddle. These days, she's the editorial director at NYLON, an international media company for millennial women, which obviously she tries to make as gay as possible. She lives in Brooklyn and her two favorite colors are black and blonde.

Gabrielle has written 96 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Quite surprised to see this here!

    Qiu Miaojin committed suicide by plunging a knife into her heart. Because a woman’s physique is not.. enough to cause enough blood loss, it is said that she had to throw her entire body on the floor several times to make sure the cut goes deeper (sorry for the graphicness, and TMI).

    Her last piece of work, “Letters from Montmartre”, was written just months leading to her suicide.. And includes her journals and letters to her exes (or just some girls, i can’t remember).

    Chinese is extremely hard to translate. The translation is really not bleak enough. If anyone’s interested, here’s Notebook #1, translated by the same writer i believe. http://intranslation.brooklynrail.org/chinese/notes-of-a-crocodile

  2. “Letters from Montmartre” is a very difficult book to understand, but at the same time…hauntingly fascinating. As a bi-lingual queer-identifying Taiwanese, I feel a great sense of pride whenever I see people (whether queer or straight) discussing her books from all the perspectives. Her works have attracted a lot of literary attention in Taiwan, making her one of the most prominent queer author in Taiwan. Simply amazing.

  3. Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I have translated this novel in its entirety. The translation will be published, with an introduction, by New York Review Books. Please feel free to contact me for more information. Thanks! Larissa

  4. Oops my mistake! The novel I translated which will be published by New York Review Books is “Last Words from Montmartre.” Bonnie, wherever you are, thank you for these wonderful excerpts from “Notes”! Larissa

  5. Correction, in response to CJ’s post above: The novel I translated which will be published by New York Review Books is “Last Words from Montmartre,” not “Notes of a Crocodile.” Bonnie, wherever you are, thank you for these wonderful excerpts from “Notes”! Larissa

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