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lunes, 17 de abril de 2017

Miyazawa Kenji: Selections - Kenji Miyazawa

Rating: 
13/04/17

I said, “The evening sun the color of ancient gold,”
and your eyes reproach me:
Why seize on despicable gold
to compare to this solemn evening sun?

The family of Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) practiced Pure Land Buddhism, a prominent branch of Mahayana Buddhism. In 1915, the poet shook the foundations of their relative’s faith when he decided to convert to Nichiren Buddhism, another branch. Such conversion was prompted by the Lotus Sūtra – a deep influence on his poetry, which brims with Buddhist terms without actually delving into essential notions. I had to return to some texts since I had forgotten some concepts.

My rating is based on my inability to relate to most of Miyazawa’s poems. Perhaps their complexity exceeded my understanding and a clear image turned into labyrinthine symbolism. But I did find some enjoyment. Some of his poems are imbued with the serene expressions of nature, with the sense of a challenging yet reachable enlightenment. With the verifiable elements of science, the volatile human nature, and religion trying to build bridges between them.

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Other poems are infused with the monochromatic presence of death. Miyazawa's verse was deeply affected by the demise of his younger sister, Toshi, on November 27, 1922. That same day, he wrote three poems. With that loneliness you must make music. Always.

This collection of somewhat disjointed thoughts started with an excerpt of a poem called "Mr. Pamirs the Scholar Takes a Walk." I marveled at the juxtaposition of simple yet sophisticated visuals which express an ideal version of ourselves. A faithful portrait of the chasm between a sublime sight and a worldly kingdom, transient by definition. Someone subscribing to such values is a rare treasure. The rest is just noise.



* Picture: Kuon-ji, a temple founded by Nichiren, a Japanese Buddhist priest, in 1281.


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miércoles, 5 de abril de 2017

The Book of Images - Rainer Maria Rilke

Rating: 
28/04/17

I would like to step out of my heart’s door
and be under the great sky.

— Rilke, “Lament”

A myriad of shades, a plethora of images, the juxtaposition of sentiments which soothe and unsettle. Das Buch der Bilder.
A miscellany of visuals and existential hues. A mélange of nuances and distinctive sounds. A sense of clarity with the scent of perplexity. The mystical and the ordinary fluctuate in harmony. Chaotic perfection takes this collection by storm. A vision. A metaphor. A book. A thousand mirrors. The book of images.
The last of his line
I have no paternal house,
nor have I lost one;
my mother birthed me out
into the world.
Here I stand now in the world and go
even deeper into the world
and have my happiness and have my woe
and have each one alone.
...

This poetry collection was first published in 1902, when Rilke was twenty-six years old. The second edition, which appeared in 1906, is the one I read, translated by Edward Snow and published in 2014. A work which apparently knew how to circumvent the challenges of poetry and translation, for Rilke’s verses acquire a natural fluency by virtue of Snow’s mastery.
Requiem
Life is only a part… of what?
Life is only a note… in what?
Life has meaning only joined with many
receding circles of increasing space, –
life is only the dream of a dream,
but waking is elsewhere.

The variety of themes and the original approach chosen by Rilke have distinguished his writing until evanescent categories were completely gone, elevating poetry to sometimes unfathomable levels. Sacred symbols and mundane illustrations coalesce in the land of polarity. If the reader finds a way to connect with the poetic expressions Rilke used to deconstruct the world, then a memorable journey will soon begin. A journey in which the light of day emphasizes the color of a rose, and the silence of a room shape the nights that never end. The days that bring solace. The nights that beg for poetry. The days of pressure. The nights that dislike the sound of echo; the nights that long for it afterwards amidst confusion. The nights of indifference and quick replacements too despicable to confess. The nights when childhood is a distant memory, when guardian angels seem oblivious, when life is heavier than the weight of all things.*




* From the poem “The Neighbor”


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Carta abierta de un escritor a la Junta Militar - Rodolfo Walsh

Rating: A testimony that can't be rated.
24/03/17


March 24, 1976. A dictatorship started ruling Argentina; the era of kidnapping and torturing any enemy of the state had begun. Bodies vanishing into thin air. The following year, writer and journalist Rodolfo Walsh sent a letter (Open Letter From a Writer to the Military Junta) by post to the editorial departments of local newspapers and foreign press correspondents expressing his opinion. The next day, he was kidnapped and never seen again.

El primer aniversario de esta Junta Militar ha motivado un balance de la acción de gobierno en documentos y discursos oficiales, donde lo que ustedes llaman aciertos son errores, los que reconocen como errores son crímenes y lo que omiten son calamidades. [...]
Quince mil desaparecidos, diez mil presos, cuatro mil muertos, decenas de miles de desterrados son la cifra desnuda de ese terror.
Colmadas las cárceles ordinarias, crearon ustedes en las principales guarniciones del país virtuales campos de concentración donde no entra ningún juez, abogado, periodista, observador internacional. El secreto militar de los procedimientos, invocado como necesidad de la investigación, convierte a la mayoría de las detenciones en secuestros que permiten la tortura sin límite y el fusilamiento sin juicio. [...]
Estas son las reflexiones que en el primer aniversario de su infausto gobierno he querido hacer llegar a los miembros de esa Junta, sin esperanza de ser escuchado, con la certeza de ser perseguido, pero fiel al compromiso que asumí hace mucho tiempo de dar testimonio en momentos difíciles.
24 de marzo de 1977

*

The first anniversary of this Military Junta has brought about a year-end review of government operations in the form of official documents and speeches: what you call good decisions are mistakes, what you acknowledge as mistakes are crimes, and what you have left out entirely are disasters. [...]
Fifteen thousand missing, ten thousand prisoners, four thousand dead, tens of thousands in exile: these are the raw numbers of this terror.
Since the ordinary jails were filled to the brim, you created virtual concentration camps in the main garrisons of the country which judges, lawyers, journalists, and international observers, are all forbidden to enter. The military secrecy of what goes on inside, which you cite as a requirement for the purposes of investigation, means that the majority of the arrests turn into kidnappings that in turn allow for torture without limits and execution without trial. [...]
These are the thoughts I wanted to pass on to the members of this Junta on the first anniversary of your ill-fated government, with no hope of being heard, with the certainty of being persecuted, but faithful to the commitment I made a long time ago to bear witness during difficult times.
March 24, 1977


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sábado, 4 de marzo de 2017

Poemas y sonetos - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Rating: 
27/02/17

Women and books are not every man’s best friends

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Sister Joan Agnes of the
Cross. The Tenth Muse. The illegitimate child. The self-taught scholar. She was born in San Miguel Nepantla, near Mexico City, which was part of the Spanish Empire, in 1651. Having learned how to read and write at age 3, she devoured every book she found in her grandfather’s library. Books both appropriate and forbidden, according to the wisdom of a Church composed of fallible men. By virtue of her brilliant mind, she harvested admiration and envy. And the strength of the latter, naturally, resonated across her body, her spirit, her legacy. Much has been said, much has been hidden. A fascinating and controversial figure brimming with beauty and the rare charms of wit. I was instantly captivated by her life and poetry, which echoes the lyrical nature of a restless soul. Her verses disclose the desire for knowledge, the delights of a good argument, the sensuous beauty of the flesh, the chants to the divine, the impulse of a free spirit and a constrained body. Truths essentially secular, revelations intrinsically sacred. Breathtaking complexity. Confusion and longing.
The unbearable heaviness of being.

Este amoroso tormento
Este amoroso tormento
que en mi corazón se ve,
sé que lo siento, y no sé
la causa por qué lo siento.

Siento una grave agonía
por lograr un devaneo
que empieza como deseo
y para en melancolía.
Siento mal del mismo bien
con receloso temor,
y me obliga el mismo amor
tal vez a mostrar desdén.
*
This amorous torment
This amorous torment
which in my heart can be seen
I know I feel it yet don’t know
the reason of this feeling.

I feel a strong agony
at having a dalliance,
that begins as desire
and ends in melancholy.
...
I feel bad for good itself
with suspicious fear
and obliged by the same love
perhaps to show disdain.


The young Juana Inés couldn’t even touch the threshold of the university, not even while wearing men’s clothes, as she once naively contrived, so she decided to wear a religious habit in order to assuage her thirst for knowledge. An activity which wouldn’t interfere with her studies, and probably would save her from her condition of illegitimacy, as stated by some sources. A bold decision that not always lived up to her expectations, for being married to God meant prayers and penitence, cooking, needlework, cleaning, more penitence. Her spiritual marriage didn’t involve reading and writing about worldly matters. It didn’t involve philosophy, theology, logic nor passion. It didn’t involve thinking. Nonetheless, Juana Inés, now Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, had other plans which obeyed the talents that God, her creator, for some reason gave her.

Insinúa su aversión a los vicios
¿En perseguirme, mundo, qué interesas?
¿En qué te ofendo, cuando sólo intento
poner bellezas en mi entendimiento
y no mi entendimiento en las bellezas?
*
Suggesting her aversion to vice
O World, why do you wish to persecute me?
How do I offend you, when I intend
only to fix beauty in my intellect,
and never my intellect fix on beauty?


After some years, and particularly since 1690 (the year when she dared to question the theological views of one celebrated Portuguese Jesuit preacher), a nun and her wondrous quill became an ecclesiastic insult. An inexcusable transgression. An unpardonable song of rebellion in a world where some women truly believed the small fate imposed by men, while others nodded in despairing acquiescence.

Finjamos que soy feliz
Finjamos que soy feliz,
triste pensamiento, un rato;
quizá prodréis persuadirme,
aunque yo sé lo contrario...
Si es mío mi entendimiento,
¿por qué siempre he de encontrarlo
tan torpe para el alivio,
tan agudo para el daño?
*
Let us pretend that I'm happy
Let us pretend that I'm happy,
sad thought, for a while;
you may actually persuade me
but I know otherwise
...
If it's mine my understanding,
Why always must it be
So dull and slow to pleasure,
So keen for injury?


After watching a biopic, a series on Netflix, and reading a brief biography, I thought it was time to get acquainted with this brilliant woman's work (otherwise, I confess, I wouldn't have paid her much attention). A person who defended women's right to gain knowledge like any other man, in a time when a woman was considered an inferior being and the source of all sin; a time when reading Copernicus was the safest path to the diverse punishments inflicted by the Inquisition.
It was an interesting social experiment to compare a protest I witnessed a couple of weeks ago, where women decided to protect her rights by going topless (watch out, Wollstonecraft) with a woman who, amid the ignorance and misogyny of a harsh 17th century, decided to defend those same rights with her mind. A religious woman whose quill didn’t shiver and once wrote to foolish men, who accuse/Women without good reason/You are the cause of what you blame/Yours the guilt you deny...

By 1693, Sor Juana Inés relegated her literary creativity. She, the worst of all women, was forced to repent by the pressure of the Church, embodied by Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas, Archbishop of Mexico, for being a vain spirit too attached to earthly matters, for neglecting her duties as a nun, for daring to think like a man. Her books, her musical instruments, her scientific tools – everything was sold or confiscated, depending on the source. Her intellectual force couldn’t resist the clerical opposition which not only would affect her, but her Sisters as well. In that context, her words were no longer published; she immersed herself in the activities of the convent. She died in 1695 during a plague, while taking care of other stricken nuns.
According to some documents, after Sor Juana Inés' death, several writings – sacred and profane – were found in her room. She never published a word in the eyes of the Church again, but she never stopped writing either.

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The heavens and the earth tried to conquer her beautiful mind.

Dime vencedor rapaz
En dos partes dividida
tengo el alma en confusión:
una, esclava a la pasión,
y otra, a la razón medida.
Guerra civil, encendida,
aflige el pecho importuna:
quiere vencer cada una,
y entre fortunas tan varias,
morirán ambas contrarias
pero vencerá ninguna.
pues podré decir, al verme
expirar sin entregarme,
que conseguiste matarme
mas no pudiste vencerme.
*
Ascendent raptor speak
My soul is cleft
confusedly in twain.
Half - a thrall to passion,
the other - reason's slave.
Civil war, inflamed, importunate
afflicts this breast:
each strives to overwhelm his counterpart;
but amidst such mutinous counterstorms,
both helmsmen must perish,
neither, return to port.
since it will be said - to see me fall
yet not surrender -
that you managed to kill
but failed to conquer.


The mind that saw no obstacle in gender or time. That put common citizens, sensible clergymen and viceroys under her intellectual spell. That gained her inveterate enemies but also kind-hearted friends who remained admiring her work during the worst of times, and after her death. That transcended the limits of her body. For being enamored with the mind of another human being is the most long-lasting connection to which anyone may aspire.






* 4.5 stars. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by this edition. I noticed that there were one or two incomplete versions of poems and no indication - vexing. If you know Spanish, you may want to look for another collection.


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domingo, 26 de febrero de 2017

Un Signo en tu Sombra - Alejandra Pizarnik

Rating: 
22/02/17

Buenos Aires, 1955.
The romanticism of youth? The sentimental noise, the affectionate supplication. A woman desperately, constantly asking for something, waiting.
One’s voice is not enough.

Buenos Aires, 2017.
A poem redolent of untamed ardor made my pride feel awkward. Words from which desperation emanates.
No, nothing will be begged.

Uncertainty over beseechment. Existential silence over the cloying response of rejection. A muffled scream over a visible earthquake.
No, nothing will be seen.

Yes, everything has been forgotten, except

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*

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* Translation by Yvette Siegert


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On the Heights of Despair - Emil Cioran

Rating: 
18/02/17

How does one become a pessimist?

By reading your book, pal. You made Schopenhauer look like one of the Teletubbies. It was a I still can’t rate it I think a 3-star rating is a good compromise. Many quotes that pulled on my heartstrings, and many chapters I already forgot, out of immunity to certain thoughts and dislike of overly melodramatic prose. Things that belong to the plane of ideas, naturally, since the kind of life that has been portrayed at times is literally impossible, and impracticable ideas which try to convey intellectual depth and are repeated by others, clinging to such pose as hard as they can because "happy people are all stupid and morality is a disgrace and I want to be consumed by fire and I long for the destruction of the world," too exhausting... And I can't shake off a sense of artificiality.
fortunate thing that I didn’t read this during my impressionable adolescence.
True, if you read this, you're not much of an optimistic, but still. I wholeheartedly agree with the third line of this review.
That being said, these few lines will be engulfed by the beauty of flames and will witness their own amoral destruction from which a proper review will absurdly blossom amid beautiful darkness echoing nothingness...! After restoring my soul with many reruns of Seinfeld.




* Pre-review. Or final review if I forget...
** I'll read The Trouble with Being Born anyway; a more mature work, surely.


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miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

Patriotism - Yukio Mishima, Geoffrey W. Sargent (Translator)

Rating: 
02/02/17

On -isms
It seems that I had some issues with this novella. And the reasons, as usual, are completely personal and thus, irrelevant to your reading experience.
Beyond tradition, beliefs, fear and indignation at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops, I can't find a story breathtakingly infused with romanticism. I can't relate to the concept of patriotism. To a sort of world citizen, the attachment to a portion of land is somewhat feeble. Why I came here, I know not; where I shall go it is useless to inquire, says Lord Byron in his Letters and Journals; something about this made me think of that quote. My connections (abstractions to which I aspire, at least) are with people, not with theories involving nationality, and I'm against any kind of generalization that such notion engenders. Certain values and beliefs, the religion I was raised in – the first origin, a matter of geography. I still can’t feel pride for the doings of chance or let's say even fate, juggling with the concept of a plan designed by someone else.
The degeneration of patriotism is a debate for another time, so I will refrain from expanding on nationalism and such, a reality that it is being forced on many of us, now more than ever.
In any case, patriotism might be foreign language. I dislike most terms which end in the suffix -ism that don't involve my favorite writers.


On licking blades and finding it remotely erotic
Another issue – the real theme in this novella – which prevented me from greatly enjoying this story was the excessive fascination for the concept of death, the morbid enchantment by the blade which was juxtaposed to a sense of beauty and sensuality; elements that when combined, I usually fail to identify with. The leitmotifs of this story, and of its creator’s life. I watched a part of a documentary a couple of days ago where the narrator explained how Mishima’s last actions in the form of a coup might have been, above all, an excuse to achieve the aesthetic death he always dreamed of. The last artistic manifestation of will.

It struck him as incredible that, amidst this terrible agony, things which could be seen could still be seen, and existing things existed still.

On writing
A brief yet tough read. Despite the lack of connection between the story and me, the beauty of Mishima's prose remained intact. I’m more and more impressed by the care with which he described the remarkable, the inconsequential, by means of his contemplative and delectable writing. The scenes of love between husband and wife were beautifully portrayed. Regardless of my thoughts on the subject, with the precision of a surgeon, the author associated the concepts of patriotism and death with a sense of eroticism, until they were one single reality. The beauty of skin. The brutality of blood. The rite of love and death.
I failed again.

Thus, so far from seeing any inconsistency or conflict between the urges of his flesh and the sincerity of his patriotism, the lieutenant was even able to regard the two as parts of the same thing.

On myths
The red string bringing these characters together.¹ At one point, one is honestly thinking how the sublimity of love actually feels, the act of giving oneself fully. Unreservedly. Sharing perspectives on life. Breathing somebody else’s air. Thinking about words to express feelings. Voicing those words. Not knowing what to do at the thought of the absence of such words. Following the fate of those words. And then, the fear. He who gives himself up like a prisoner of war must give up his weapons as well.² And deprived of any defense, not convinced by the fusion of words, voices and individuality, the fracture of self, the fear of loss, the constant feeling of being another one’s burden, one stops thinking about it, until the next day. I imagine it might be simpler to make decisions when people return their gaze and silence is no longer a wall.


On random thoughts
This novella became even more vivid once I watched Yūkoku, a 1966 short film “produced, directed, acted and written by Yukio Mishima.” I watched it at night. A sleepless night. The night the bell jar broke.³

With regard to Mishima’s works, nothing is ever certain. This is the third book I read by him – apart from two short stories. Fortunately, I don’t know what to expect, but I already look forward to the wonders of the second volume of his tetralogy. I long for another deep contemplation of my reactions to every one of his words.






1. Allusion to a review of Anna Karenina
2. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Part Three: Words Misunderstood
3. I wrote this the same night I wrote something about The Bell Jar
4. Oh, who's going to read this far.


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