This was the first time he had kissed her, but it didn’t feel like the first time to either of them—they had both imagined it so many times. They’d had many opportunities—the right place, the right moment—he’d thought of it; she had worried it might happen. But they were both such clever people, always planning carefully, that they’d never dared to risk it. Suddenly it was reality, and they were both dazed. Liusu’s head was spinning. She fell back against the mirror, her back tightly pressed to its icy surface. His mouth did not leave hers. He pushed her into the mirror and they seemed to fall into it, into another shadowy world—freezing cold, searing hot, flame of the forest flowers burning all over them.
From Love in a Fallen City, by Eileen Chang. Translated from the Chinese by Karen S. Kingsbury.
Here in this uncertain world, money, property, the permanent things—they’re all unreliable. The only thing she could rely on was the breath in her lungs, and this person who lay sleeping beside her. Suddenly, she crawled over to him, hugging him through his quilt. He reached out from the bedding and grasped her hand. They looked and saw each other, saw each other entirely. It was a mere moment of deep understanding, but it was enough to keep them happy together for a decade or so.
The transformation of life into drama is unhealthy. People who have grown up in the culture of the city always see pictures of the sea before they see the sea; they read of love in romance novels and only later do they know love. Our experience is often second-hand, borrowed from artificial theatricals, and as a result the line between life and its dramatisation becomes difficult to draw.
Yee wants Wang not in spite of his suspicion, but “it is precisely because he suspects her that he desires her… And so lust and caution are, in Chang’s work, functions of each other, not because we desire what is dangerous, but because our love is, no matter how earnest, an act, and therefore always an object of suspicion”.
Scriptwriter James Schamus invokes Zizek to explain Eileen Chang’s Lust, Caution
Gradually the streets grew quiet too - not a complete silence but voices turned blurry, like the soft rustling of marsh-grass pillow, heard in a dream. The huge, shambling city sat dozing in the sun, its head resting heavily on people’s shoulders, its drool slipping slowly down their shirts, an inconceivably enormous weight pressing down on everyone.
Small white clouds floated in the blue sky above, and on the street a flute vendor was playing the flute–a sharp, soft, sinuous, Oriental tune that twisted and turned in the ear like embroidery, like a picture of a dream in a novel, a trail of white mist coming out from under the bed curtain and unfurling all sorts of images, slowly uncoiling like a lazy snake, till finally the drowsiness is just too great, and even the dream falls asleep.
She could hardly believe it, but he rarely so much as touched her hand. She was continually on edge, fearing he would suddenly drop the pretense and launch a surprise attack. But day after day he remained a gentleman; it was like facing a great enemy who stood perfectly still.
From Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang; translated into English by the author and Karen S. Kingsbury.