Throughout The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Fadiman often references the Hmong’s maximalist worldview, which takes into account all aspects of life and seeks to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things. As a metaphor for this, she tells a story about a young Hmong man who, in a presentation during his French class, spent forty-five minutes thoroughly explaining every action that goes into preparing fish soup, including how to choose the right hook to catch the fish. This all-inclusive recipe, Fadiman decides, is symbolic of the Hmong conception of life and the idea that all things are related, including everything in the spiritual and physical worlds. To understand Hmong culture, readers must recognize that this is a group of people to whom it makes sense to include in a recipe for fish soup information about which kinds of fishhooks fit the mouth shapes of various fish. In keeping with this comprehensive disposition, the Hmong are also people who may believe that a stomachache is an indication that “the entire universe [is] out of balance.” In the context of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, fish soup comes to stand for this kind of wide-ranging attentiveness to cosmic and everyday influences alike.
Fish Soup Quotes in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
The Hmong have a phrase, hais cuaj txub kaum txub, which means “to speak of all kinds of things.” It is often used at the beginning of an oral narrative as a way of reminding the listeners that the world is full of things that may not seem to be connected but actually are; that no event occurs in isolation; that you can miss a lot by sticking to the point; and that the storyteller is likely to be rather long-winded.
I hovered uncertainly, pages in hand, and realized that I was suspended in a large bowl of Fish Soup. Medicine was religion. Religion was society. Society was medicine. Even economics were mixed up in there somewhere (you had to have or borrow enough money to buy a pig, or even a cow, in case someone got sick and a sacrifice was required), and so was music (if you didn’t have a qeej player at your funeral, your soul wouldn’t be guided on its posthumous travels, and it couldn’t be reborn, and it might make your relatives sick). In fact, the Hmong view of health care seemed to me to be precisely the opposite of the prevailing American one, in which the practice of medicine has fissioned into smaller and smaller subspecialties, with less and less truck between bailiwicks. The Hmong carried holism to its ultima Thule. As my web of cross-references grew more and more thickly interlaced, I concluded that the Hmong preoccupation with medical issues was nothing less than a preoccupation with life. (And death. And life after death.)