Synopses & Reviews
From the National Book Award-winning author of Europe Central
comes a charming, evocative and piercing examination of an ancient Japanese tradition and the keys it holds to our modern understanding of beauty....
What is a woman? To what extent is femininity a performance? Writing with the extraordinary awareness and endless curiosity that have defined his entire oeuvre, William T. Vollmann takes an in depth look into the Japanese craft of Noh theater, using the medium as a prism to reveal the conception of beauty itself.
Sweeping readers from the dressing room of one of Japan's most famous Noh actors to a transvestite bar in the red-light district of Kabukicho, Kissing the Mask explores the enigma surrounding Noh theater and the traditions that have made it intrinsic to Japanese culture for centuries. Vollmann then widens his scope to encompass such modern artists of attraction and loss as Mishima, Kawabata and even Andrew Wyeth. From old Norse poetry to Greek cult statues, from Japan's most elite geisha dancers to American makeup artists, from Serbia to India, Vollmann works to extract the secrets of staged femininity and the mystery of perceived and expressed beauty, including explorations of gender at a transgendered community in Los Angeles and with Kabuki female impersonators.
Kissing the Mask is illustrated with many evocative sketches and photographs by the author.
"The performance of female characters by male Noh actors sparks a deeply researched, lovingly detailed, and obsessive discourse on the nature of feminine beauty by award-winning novelist and essayist Vollmann (Imperium). The book charts an increasingly peripatetic path through the meticulous yet ineffable art of Noh drama from the perspective of an enthusiast, all the while groping toward some definition of beauty and the feminine. But the feminine, and even the label 'female,' is something widely claimed, and so the search takes him from a Tokyo transvestite bar to the feet of a master Noh actor Umewaka Rokuro, scion of an ancient acting family to the lips of the uncanny masks themselves, the kimonos of Kabuki geishas, and well beyond, traipsing far and wide across India, Babylon, the American fashion magazine industry, old Norse literature, the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, Yukio Mishima's Noh heroine Komachi, and a transgender community in Los Angeles, among other stops. The fervently reflective, probing narrative replete with footnotes, glossary, illustrations, appendixes, and asides demands patience, but rewards it on almost every page." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The vista Kissing encompasses is — for the most resolute of fans, or for the reader with a lot of spare time on his or her hands — a uniquely Vollmann-esque one. Which is to say: Fascinating in the most dense and loquacious of ways." Oregonian
"[Vollmann's] own female makeover and encounters with geishas, transvestites, and transgender individuals lead to poignant and compassionate reflections on the nature of the soul and the allure of beautiful mysteriousness in a daring, brilliant, and idiosyncratic quest astonishing in its discernment, scope, and feeling." Booklist
"Courting controversy, flouting convention, Kissing the Mask
is classic Vollmann, right down to the dilettante manner in which he inserts himself directly into his subject. The words may go on (and on and on), but they are not minced." Ellen Urbani, The Oregonian
(Read the entire Oregonian review
Writing with the extraordinary awareness and endless curiosity that has defined his oeuvre, Vollmann takes an in-depth look into the unusual Japanese craft of Noh theater, using the medium as a prism to reveal humanity's conception of beauty itself. b&w photos.
“Intrepid journalist and novelist William T. Vollmans colossal body of work stands unsurpassed for its range, moral imperative, and artistry.”
William T. Vollmann, the National Book Award-winning author of Europe Central, offers a charming, evocative, and piercing examination of the ancient Japanese tradition of Noh theatre and the keys it holds to our modern understanding of beauty. Kissing the Mask is the first major book on Noh by an American writer since the 1916 publication the classic study Pisan Cantos and the Noh by Ezra Pound. But Kissing the Mask is pure Vollman—illustrated with photos by the author with provocative related side-discussions on femininity, transgender, kabuki, pornography, geishas, and more.
About the Author
William T. Vollmann is the author of seven novels, three collections of stories, and a seven-volume critique of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. He is also the author of Poor People, an examination of poverty worldwide through the eyes of the impoverished themselves; Riding Toward Everywhere, an investigation of the trainhopping hobo lifestyle; and Imperial, a panoramic look at Mexican California. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize, and a Whiting Writers' Award. His journalism and fiction have been published in the New Yorker, Esquire, Spin, and Granta. Vollmann lives in Sacramento, California.