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It’s a truth universally acknowledged that election in Taiwan is nothing more than a melodrama full of tears, sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Election in Taiwan is a carnival festivity; the hierarchy of high and low, rich and poor is temporarily debunked when candidates implore electorates to give them a vote. The common populace enjoys a transitory delusion of their power, knowing that after the festivity, everything will be restored to its former state; the high and low, the rich and poor will resume their respective roles.


Election in Taiwan is a Roman style of vomiting, very much like the quarrel between lovers as illustrated in Roland Barthes’ Lovers’s Discourses: “I tickle my uvula, (I rouse myself to contestation), I vomit (a flood of wounding arguments), and then, quite calmly, I begin eating again (207). The candidates adopt the role of lovers, keeping swallowing and regurgitating their wounds. They spin, unwind and weave new accusations each day until the end of election.

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Discourses everywhere:

As if we don't know how to love our mother, social media taught us the ways---Flowers, gifts, feasts make this grand day a commercialized holiday. "Buy your mother something," so said the commercials. We are hailed by the dominant discourse, inescapably, resignedly and unknowingly!  Once the Festivity drops, everyone goes back to the normal world with dear mothers standing at the kitchen sink, washing toilets, drying laundry, making bed...... 

A structuralist analysis:     

"I love you, mother!" means "I'm always forgetting you!" Always without you in my mind, acutally, mother. But this day enforces the memory of you, eliciting the sentiment of gratitude in me, which lies dormant, languid, undisturbed in the depth of my heart. The space for a mother is monotonous. The sound of a mother, while sonorous, meets a dead end. Unlike lovers' world, mother' world is full of soliloquy without passionate or due response from the other side. Love message beckons an immediate and frenzied echo; mother's message waits for time to reverberate.

Unrequited love:

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Fifty years of romance writing didn't awaken Giong Yao (瓊瑤)from the illusion of love. From the turbulent era of WW2 (幾度夕陽紅) to today's technological world, (花非花霧非霧) her kingdom of Love remains perfect, passionate, and eternal. The medium of Love may change from letter writing to email, smartphone and skype, but the essence of Love remains the same. It's violent tempests or burning flames to consume lovers away. Say "I love you" a thousand times and her fictional lovers don't feel exhausted by the soothing words, but the audience do! Love, once expressed verbally, loses its mysterious luster and becomes jejune. Oscar Wilde perceived this well: "The essence of love is uncertainty." The most unbearable part of romance is when lovers confess their love and are accepted by their beloved. The beginning of marriage is the end of romance. No wonder, Giong Yao's kingdom of Love is populated by unmarried lovers suffering from either unrequited love or temporary misunderstanding. And her lovers are always willing to die for Love, as if they had nothing else to do in life except to love. [sigh]  Aye, one should always remember the friar's warning in Romeo and Juliet:    

These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume: the sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness

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clip_image001作者: 洪秀瑛、林志勳╱台北─浙江連線報導 |2012530 上午5:30


The sensational news highlights the moral issue of prostitution. It is because the “criminals” have a high social status that this incident got special attention. If the working class commits the crime, the society wouldn’t give a damn about it. The fact is, prostitution is forbidden in law but condoned in real world. This article aims to explore prostitution from the perspective of morality, clarifying its “should” and “should not” by the libertarian and Kantian philosophy respectively. The line of argument is borrowed from Michael Sandel’s two books, Justice and What Money Can’t Buy.

According to libertarians, justice is connected to freedom. People are free to choose for themselves the value of the things exchanged. Thus the ideal of an unfettered market is produced, wherein goods and services are freely sold and bought by consenting individuals. Libertarian philosophy emphasizes the autonomy of self. They object to interferences from the government, moral legislation being one of them, which includes the ban on prostitution or homosexual marriage. Their central argument is that since I own myself, I can do whatever I like with my body, like being a prostitute, selling my body and even killing myself. I am the master of myself; I do nothing wrong, as long as my act doesn’t hurt others, and I can even benefit others by gratifying their sexual desire or saving their life! This logic sounds solid enough: two consenting individuals carry out their contract, each reaping what they need. This free market logic validates prostitution on the ground of mutual benefit. The headline news fits this argument in the sense that both parties consent to the sexual deal without hurting anyone else. Both get what they want---the actress, a big fortune; the bureaucrat, sexual gratification. There is also no problem of fairness in this deal. Both made this choice voluntarily. There was no coercion involved here, as in the case of cheap prostitution when one disadvantaged side desperately needs money to support her family. Since neither the actress nor the bureaucrat is the “disadvantaged” side desperately needing money to sustain life, the “fairness objection” to prostitution doesn’t apply here. The actress is more like the “upscale prostitute” who likes the work and freely chooses it (What Money Can’t Buy 112). So, we may say that the free market logic excludes the possibility of moral censure in this case.

Contrary to the libertarian conception of autonomy as “I do what I like,” Immanuel Kant regards autonomy as acting according to a law produced by pure reasoning, not according to the dictates of nature or social convention (Justice 109). True autonomy lies in doing what is right for right’s sake, not in doing whatever I like. And the right thing is determined by pure reasoning. Prostitution is an act yielding to the dictates of nature---sexual desire. Therefore, it is not autonomy as defined by Kant, because the desire is not chosen by pure reasoning; it rushes within my body beyond my control, the so-called “dictates of nature.” Then, what is it the right thing determined by reason? Here is Kant’s argument: “human beings are not entitled to offer themselves, for profit, as things for the use of others in the satisfaction of their sexual propensities “(Justice 131). Kant considers prostitution immoral because it degrades humanity by using the female body as a means to the ends---sexual gratification. The act reduces human beings to objects; there is no soul left but the sexual organs sold and bought. So, in Kant’s view, an ideal sex should involve the union of soul and body, which can uplift humanity. In other words, only when sexuality leads to the union of body and soul can human dignity be kept (Justice 131-2). In What Money Can’t Buy, Michael Sandel reiterates this point by eliciting the “corruption” opposition to prostitution. This argument views prostitution as a “form of corruption that demeans women and promotes bad attitudes toward sex” (112). The “bad attitude” means the violation of the norms that should govern sex. That is, market values corrupt the meaning of sex in human life. When sex becomes a commodity ready to be sold and bought, it deprives true intimacy between two persons, both physically and spiritually. Furthermore, prostitution erodes the value of marriage, in which love plays a central role with sex serving to unite two people in body and soul.

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On my second viewing of Good Will Hunting, some lines still moved me to tears, especially Sean, the mentor’s remark about Life and Art. When he uttered these words, it seemed as if he was talking to me, not Will Hunting, the genius kid he was trying to help. Besides these, the part dealing with true friendship is also touching. These significant lines were illustrated as follows:

I. Life and Art

Sean: if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo. You know a lot about him; life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up with that beautiful ceiling.
If I asked you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus of your personal favorites. You may even have been laid a few times, but you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid.

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The instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth and have begun striving for ourselves.  -----Buddha's teaching        

With the upcoming Presidential election in Taiwan on January 14, many overenthusiastic voters suffer from insomnia, anxiety, or illusion, collectively called “election syndrome.”Caught specifically during the election season, this disease causes obsessive voters physical and mental disorder. According to psychiatrists, it is hard to dissuade such people from getting too caught up in the election. Tranquilizers may help if the election fever disrupts their normal daily routine to an excessive degree.

This disease can be attributed to human nature. We are made of such stuff as crave for excitement and spectacle, both of which are manifest in the election campaign. To see the opposing candidates fight is a pleasure for some voters. Their stagnant life is ruffled by such a spectacle. At least, they have something to hate. And with something to hate, their life is endowed with the spring of thought and action. The jarring interests, the heated debate, and the denunciation of others’ values arouse excitement among the opposing supporters. They may assemble in crowds to show their worship to the favorite candidate; they may decry, interpret or recite the candidate’s remarks. Somehow, human mind takes a perverse delight in antipathy. Love may turn insipid; pain may be healed by time; hatred alone is immortal! For Taiwanese voters, the sentiment of hatred recurs whenever an election involving the KMT and DPP is held. The election campaign has become a never-failing source of hatred. And the irony is that the zealous voters love it! They find it a remedy for the ennui of their existence; in other words, it saves them from the boredom of life. Yet, these bigoted haters are not brave fighters as they smugly claim themselves to be. They are, in fact, the slender vines which must twist around the sturdy oak simply because they have no sufficient strength to support themselves. How sad they know so little about their weakness! It is the weak mind that should rely on a hero to lend it some luster.  

Another danger about hatred is the unknowing strengthening of one’s folly. Does the denunciation of others’ vices lead to the enhancement of our virtue? Nothing of the kind! In most cases, the more vices we discover in others, the fewer faults we find in ourselves. The spirit of censoriousness, the intolerant watchfulness over the actions of others makes us blind to our own faults. Love of virtue, the assertion of justice, the redress of iniquity---all these political slogans don't help much in amending our own frailties; instead, they end up the ruthless punishment of others’ immorality!

So, while we cannot part with the human essence of hostility and discrimination, we can at least hold the mirror of virtue to reflect our inner self once in a while, to see how similar human folly is despite the opposing political positions!  

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Recently, there was a sensational news about the romance between Taichung City Deputy Mayor, Hsiao Chia-chi's (蕭家淇) 18-year-old son and his 40-year-old female cram school teacher. According to the report, this romantic liaison began after Hsiao’s son entered college this summer, and was prohibited shortly after Hsiao knew this affair. Hsiao revealed how shocked he was initially by the fact that such an affair befell his son, only to admit later that perhaps falling for one's teacher is a rite of passage for his son’s mental growth. Interestingly enough, before such an enlightenment dawned on him, he fiercely accused the teacher of seducing his innocent son, who had the misfortune to fall prey to her female erotic power! (「課業輔導到床上去這像話嗎?」「她怎麼會對一個剛上大學、沒談過戀愛的小男生下手!」Now, the cram school teacher has fled to China, and Hsiao's son publicly lamented on his Facebook profile how adults’ interference caused him to lose everything.

This is a glaring example of something perfectly legal yet looked down upon by society. The teacher is unmarried; so is the student. There is no adultery involved here, only that gender and age still reign supreme in such affairs. Would people be as disturbed if the two criteria were reversed? What if it’s an elderly male teacher dating a young female student? Is it still a curse or is it a blessing? Some such marriages happened in the past and met with earnest applause, with the elderly males being respected celebrities and younger females their students or worshippers. Why didn’t our society denounce such a liaison? What is at stake here, the “should” or “should not” for the May-December romance?

For those who side with the May-December romance, love is a personal affair based on mutual consent. The liberal philosophy applies here, for I am free to choose what I like; I am the owner of myself. No one can prohibit me from choosing a lover double my age because I am a rational being worthy of respect. My autonomy grants me the freedom to love and marry anyone I like, be it the old or the same-sex. From the liberal perspective, there seems no room for the governmental or familial interference when it comes to personal relationships.

For those who strongly object to such a liaison, what’s the core problem that bothers them? Don’t they support the ideal of individual freedom? Of course they do, unless their children fall for elderly lovers! Clearly, there exists in this liaison something disapproved by our society. That is, May-December romance, especially that of an elderly female dating a younger male, lacks the virtues that our society values and honors. For one thing, the liaison goes against the principle of eugenics. When a middle-aged ovum meets young sperms, the inferior quality of the product may be expected! Cast aside the purpose of reproduction, the May-December liaison still leaves room to be desired. It implies the feminization of the younger male under the care of the elderly female. Effeminacy in a male is certainly an unfavorable quality. Even worse, the younger male may be exploited as a tool to gratify the elderly female’s sexual crave. This relationship therefore may erode the honorific aspect of masculinity in a bourgeois society.

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Based on Roland Barthes’ analysis of the flood in Paris, 1955, this essay aims to examine the ravage of tsunami in Japan, 2011 with a similar semiotic approach.

The big flood brought by a massive tsunami of March 11, 2011, caused numerous deaths and serisous damage in the northeast coast of Japan. Despite the trials and agonies inflicted by Nature, the flood takes on two implications--- festivity and solidarity. 

To begin with, the so-called festivity means the abrupt change of the daily routine. In a festival, ordinary things are suspended and replaced with something unusal. So is the phenomenon of flood. In a flood, everyday objects, like houses, cars, trees, even landscape itself are all displaced. All is torn away from their roots---houses carried away, cars reduced to their roofs, household items drifting everywhere. Such a threatening sight dazzles our gaze but distances the real horror experienced by the victims or survivors of the disaster. Either the newspaper photographs or TV broadcast are a collective means of consumption of the flood. When we watch the flood scenes, our sensation remains calm, occasionally with pity and fear elicited by sensational scenes, like separated family reunited or ferocious flood engulfing everything in its path. All this is a break from the ordinary life, and what we see is already a finished act. That’s why we can just feel its terror vicariously. For those who are not the afflicted residents, the flood becomes a sensational show without the real horror of a catastrophe. For some, the flood has even created a more accessible world, a world manipulable with the pleasure a child takes when playing with his toys. The swampy wasteland littered with rubble is the replica of children’s sand castle---the houses no more than cubes, the cars stuck in mud, the utensils lying untidily. An ordinary landscape becomes unusual with the submerge of everything in a landscape. Unconsciously, each spectator of the flood experiences it as a festival in the sense that it disrupts the order of daily life (power blackout, shortage of clean water), turns the inside out (household items swept out onto the ground), tears the lofty apart (the high-rise buildings knocked down), and most importantly, it elicits the hidden emotions when witnessing a show, be they fear, pity or even relish (for a rival country).  

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     Just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Taipei 101 has become a landmark in Taipei. It is a must-see for both tourists and locals. Tourists may be attracted by the modern architecture itself, while the locals can't help seeing it everwhere they go.

     A tower, according to Roland Barthes, is always a dream and function, an expression of an ideal and also an instrument of a convenience (6). The duality of the tower finds its origin in the Babel myth. Babel is a tool for humans to communicate with God; meanwhile, it symbolizes a dream to compete with God. Hiding behind the visiting of a tower is exactly Hubris!

     The panoramic vision of a tower is appealing in that we get the temporary control of space and time. For example, when we perceive Taipei from Taipei 101, our mind tries to decipher the mutation of the landscape nearby. We seek spontaneously certain familiar locations from our knowledge. In other words, the astonishment of space plunges us into the depth of time. And we all fall into a state of anamnesis. The current identity is dropped in the panoramic vision. We are merged into history while we are trying to recognize known sites. And a feeling of sublime rises with the inspection of history. Ah, this is civilization we witness; how great mankind are!            


Barthes, Roland. The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. Trans. Richard Howard. Berkeley: U of Calif. P, 1997.

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以遲暮之心重讀琦君的菁姐,對於那眷戀過去的情懷,別有一番滋味在心頭! 陳去非的「臨江仙」中有這麼一句:「長溝流月去無聲,杏花疏影裡,弄笛到天明。」是怎樣的執著,讓人只顧弄笛,忘了夜深,也忘了時光的流轉,直到天明? 能這樣弄笛的人應該是最幸福的人了! 心中只為一件事,不為一個人而活。做個徹底的美學家吧,可愛的菁姐。活在藝術裏,即便是高處不勝寒,總勝於悲歡離合的情愛世界。寧可起舞弄清影,也不要望眼欲穿的等待。等待是被閹割的女人姿態;追尋、探索是男人的氣度。執著於情愛的女人是原始的叢林,只能被動的等待探險家的開發。讓張愛玲的名言絕跡江湖吧,菁姐!「女人一旦愛上一個男人,如賜予女人的一杯毒酒,心甘情願的以一種最美的姿勢一飲而盡,一切的心都交了出去,生死度外!」情愛之毒酒不可飲;Emily Dickens的詩行要謹記啊: “The Sweeping up the Heart / And putting Love away / We shall not want to use again / Until Eternity---掃淨心中之癡 / 移走愛情 / 我們不想再碰它 /直至長眠時 

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In the play Blue Bird, each person is said to be born with a gift from their previous life. A pair of lovers are unwilling to be separated from each other when their life comes to an end. Before they embark on the journey for next life, they are anxious to know how they can recognize each other in afterlife. The woman says, “I’ll take the gift of ‘sadness’to my next life so that you can recognize me easily.” So, from generation to generation, “sadness” becomes a distinguishing mark of lovers. The couple without true love have no such privilege! And happy is the man who can do without love all his life, for he carries no such gift as “sadness” from his previous life. 


Hunchbacked and stammering on the outside

He had lost all sense of human warmth and coldness

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These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness

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What is best about Jane Austen is that her description can always be manifest in people around you. Lizzy’s mother in Pride and Prejudice fits my grandma so well: “she was a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous.” And Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park is the exemplar of the dominating and snobbish middle-class women: “---trying to be in a bustle without having anything to bustle about, and laboring to be important where nothing was wanted but tranquillity and silence.”About the deep and eternal happiness, Austen also gives us some light. It’s  solitary walk, reflection, and appreciation of the beautiful nature that tranquillize our minds! And no quote on marriage is more famous than this: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

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The nature of reflection is sadness. For a happy memory, we lament over its transitory existence ; for a sad memory, we experience again its heart-piercing pain. So, what’s the use of reflection? We reflect, as Roland Barthes claims, in order to be unhappy instead of being enlightened. Reflection is like vomiting; we throw up what is inside us, and then we calmly resume eating. And this is life!

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Roland Barthes has a piercing insight on the nature of lovers' embrace:

Embrance, according to him, is a "motionless cradling" in which we are enchanted and bewitched. In such a state, we enjoy the "voluptuous infantilism of sleepiness." This is return to the mother's womb. By embrace, we experience two subjects at once, one the maternity and the other, genitality. A shocking yet precise comparison of a lover as a child getting an erection    

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Buddha is a great Master of Life. What he teaches lightens up the darkness of my life:

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

Do not dwell in the past; do not dream of the future; concentrate the mind on the present moment.

The instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.

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