miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

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


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.


jueves, 9 de febrero de 2017

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath


I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
— Franz Kafka; January 27, 1904

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor… and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was... (Chapter 7)

There is a lulling silence engulfing this entire book, and if it weren’t for the darkening clouds approaching, an infinite palette brimming with all the shades of creation, one may never guess that it is the calm before the storm. Amid the impending commotion, the ancient state of confusion hovering over this land, a tree has already started to sense the chaos. A fig tree is losing its branches, one by one, as the storm unleashes its fury and time passes us by. The house does no longer provides shelter; its white walls won’t stop the cold, we see the ceiling yet we’ll feel the rain. Crystals are besieging us. The captives in the world of glass feel it all.


My first encounter with Sylvia Plath’s work was Ariel. It was a good read but it didn’t leave me memorable impressions. Later I understood how excruciatingly personal her poetry was, thus missing a plethora of subtle vocals, strong undertones, harrowing melodies. After reading about her life and watching a biopic, the connection was absolutely different regarding, for instance, the same two poems I had read months ago. There may be a lack of lyrical substance, of the mellifluous quality in language worthy of all praises, but to me, the beauty of her verse lies on her honest display of emotions through complex and raw imagery. I find that openness refreshing. How unsafe it is to be on the brink of vulnerability, with a bunch of emotions for one person or a whole world to see. And yet, how brave; giving free expression to such feelings, turning them into creative energy. How invigorating. Even when no one is listening to anyone. Not even the ones who complain about how deaf the world is.

Under these circumstances, I decided to revisit her poetry someday. The thing that triggered this series of fortunate events was a review by a friend, which made me want to give Plath’s writing another try, because I had sensed many times that she was an author I would certainly love – inexplicable hunches. Therefore, I dived into her only novel, The Bell Jar, first published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” and under her name in 1967. It tells the story of Esther Greenwood, the young heiress of several of Plath’s life experiences.
The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.

I dreaded this review; I knew that from this novel would emerge a personal journal barely touching upon the merits of the book. I postponed the process many times since I didn’t want to deal with it, the easiest path evoking an infantile self-preservation, considering the world as an enormous rug where one can hide every unpleasant feeling, all the mirrors whose reflections we don’t dare to acknowledge.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.


In this novel, I found indecision under the apposite metaphor of a fig tree; undying portions of time where absence is a unilateral reality, and the inability to fit the standards to which a woman is supposed to belong – a perpetual rift between professional development and motherhood. The disparities between the world of a man and the encapsulated universe of a woman in mid-20th-century America. Or any place, any time.
I couldn’t stand the idea of a woman having to have a single pure life and a man being able to have a double life, one pure and one not.

Such differences constitute a theme that is deeply explored in this book, and from all perspectives, such as work and sexuality.
Whether she knew it or not, Philomena Guinea was buying my freedom. “What I hate is the thought of being under a man’s thumb,” I had told Doctor Nolan. “A man doesn’t have a worry in the world, while I’ve got a baby hanging over my head like a big stick, to keep me in line.”

While fighting against her demons, we find in Esther a powerful and perceptive character, full of conviction and harboring a strong yearning for independence, a situation that naturally didn’t involve the oppressive presence of a man absorbing her individuality like an unwavering sponge. However, the way her mind worked was much more profound than a trendy dislike composed of empty words. It was a search for identity in a society ruled by men and in which she felt inadequate most of the time. Through the character’s reflections, we witness her longing for liberation from the ties of the expected.
The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters.

It is certainly striking that this novel, which deals with complex themes under such a stifling atmosphere, could also make me smile. Esther has a unique sense of humor and some of her comments regarding a vast array of things were rather amusing. Under the night that never seemed to end, trying to illuminate the long corridors of her mind, accompanied by voices, electricity and despair, she made me her confident and brought me smiles to pass the time.

The Bell Jar is an ambitious work, as I read before, but it’s not a perfect novel. There are some fissures that should prevent me from giving it a 5-star rating. Nevertheless, I changed my first rating from four to five stars; it is on my “favorites” shelf, another favorite axe, and it has rekindled my feelings for Plath. I am grateful for the story she shared. And for the fate she forged for her character. I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. Despite the darkness in which this book is immersed, a sense of hope still lingers even after finishing this somber journey. Fig trees are on solid ground, awaiting for courage, a leap of faith, life-changing decisions – meaning, beauty, uniqueness. The silence, a limpid layer which allows to admire the now splendid azure sky, is no longer an ominous sign. As a small stone is thrown into a pond, causing violent ripples that soon vanish while the former serenity is restored, such silence is interrupted briefly by the sound of glass breaking. In the midst of too much consciousness, those small shivers are a vital part of the ritual for being born twice—patched, retreaded and approved for the road.



miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2017

The Madman - Kahlil Gibran

“Good morrow to thee, brother prisoner.”
— Kahlil Gibran, "The Two Cages"

Another stop during this more diverse literary journey I decided to embark on this year. I chose the highly acclaimed prose of Kahlil Gibran, a man to whose land I'm connected through blood - half Lebanese, half Italian; nothing to do with my innocuous obsession with Russian and Japanese literature, but well, who can control those things anyway?

Before I immerse myself in the depths of the universe Gibran created in The Prophet, I decided to get acquainted with his writing and views by reading another book not as widely known. I chose The Madman because I found it somewhat amusing that it wasn't the first time I read a madman's words:

Diary of a Madman (to read soon)

I won't expand on the cliché of a madman's words being more truthful and reasonable than the speech of any other human being considered sane by ordinary standards. I will just say that this collection includes a variety of profound and intriguing parables that constitute a faithful portrait of humanity. The following is one of my favorites.

The Seven Selves
In the stillest hour of the night, as I lay half asleep, my seven selves sat together and thus conversed in whisper:

First Self: Here, in this madman, I have dwelt all these years, with naught to do but renew his pain by day and recreate his sorrow by night. I can bear my fate no longer, and now I rebel.

Second Self: Yours is a better lot than mine, brother, for it is given to me to be this madman’s joyous self. I laugh his laughter and sing his happy hours, and with thrice winged feet I dance his brighter thoughts. It is I that would rebel against my weary existence.

Third Self: And what of me, the love-ridden self, the flaming brand of wild passion and fantastic desires? It is I the love-sick self who would rebel against this madman.

Fourth Self: I, amongst you all, am the most miserable, for naught was given me but odious hatred and destructive loathing. It is I, the tempest-like self, the one born in the black caves of Hell, who would protest against serving this madman.

Fifth Self: Nay, it is I, the thinking self, the fanciful self, the self of hunger and thirst, the one doomed to wander without rest in search of unknown things and things not yet created; it is I, not you, who would rebel.

Sixth Self: And I, the working self, the pitiful labourer, who, with patient hands, and longing eyes, fashion the days into images and give the formless elements new and eternal forms—it is I, the solitary one, who would rebel against this restless madman.

Seventh Self: How strange that you all would rebel against this man, because each and every one of you has a preordained fate to fulfil. Ah! could I but be like one of you, a self with a determined lot! But I have none, I am the do-nothing self, the one who sits in the dumb, empty nowhere and nowhen, while you are busy re-creating life. Is it you or I, neighbours, who should rebel?

When the seventh self thus spake the other six selves looked with pity upon him but said nothing more; and as the night grew deeper one after the other went to sleep enfolded with a new and happy submission.

But the seventh self remained watching and gazing at nothingness, which is behind all things. 


jueves, 26 de enero de 2017

The Luminous Landscape: Chinese Art and Poetry - Richard Lewis (Editor)

Autumn is beginning, the weather is turning chill.
Crickets move in to sing under my bed.
A thousand things surge into my mind
And grieve my heart.
A thousand tales search for words;
But to whom will they be told?
Ruan Ji (210–263)

Shen Quan, "Birds and Flowers - Dragonfly on Wisteria"

This is a short yet fine collection of Chinese art and poetry that, regardless of the period, gracefully conveys the profound bond between nature and the human perception of it; the relationship between the essence of every element that constitutes a landscape and human nature.

The mountain moon shines on a cloudless sky.
Deep in the night the wind rises among the pines.
I wish to weave my thoughts into a song for my jade lute,
But the pine wind never ceases blowing.
Zhu Yi-zun (1629–1709)

This book introduces us to the work of numerous Chinese poets who captured the spirit of every one of the elements mentioned above and transformed them into evocative poems capable of portraying the countless shades of our nature, which usually involves a sense of longing that only sees infinity.

I must endure the sorrow of leaving these
green mountains,
But can I forget their blue streams?
Wang Wei (701- 761)

Mu Xi, "Eight Views of Hsiao Hsiang."

The contemplation of an ethereal scenery as our own introspection evolves in complete harmony. The subtle and vehement nuances of our mood. The affection for solitude personified by the imposing mountains engulfed by diaphanous clouds. The need to hear another sound beyond the echo of our own voice that barely disrupts the splendor of a pond. Someone to tell how sublime the lake whitened by the moon is. Yes, all the essentials and principles that are part of us.

For Three Days I Traveled Through Mountains;
When the Mountains Came to an End I Was Deeply Moved

Before my eyes, green mountains –
I have truly loved them.
Why not have their craggy heights before me every day?
But this morning, the curtain fell,
the mountains were swept away,
and I felt unhappy, as if I were saying goodbye
to a friend.
Yuan Zhongdao (1570–1624)

Those contrasting realities and other aspects of human life are also depicted through painting, and this collection includes several beauteous creations of Chinese artists that are exquisitely combined with the referred poems. As the editor states, art and poetry were often one entity, to the point of poems being inscribed on the paintings themselves. He summarizes that fact quite eloquently by quoting an old Chinese proverb: “A picture is a voiceless poem, a poem is a vocal picture.”

This collection wasn’t the one I intended to read, but since I still can’t find the book I wanted, I gave this one a try. And I’m glad I did. I found many voiceless poems interspersed with vocal pictures that transport the reader to the beautiful simplicity of nature, despite mountains made of concrete. A relaxing read to hold on to when one has to return to civilization.


...haze, mist, and the haunting spirits of the mountains are what human nature seeks, and yet can rarely find.
Guo Xi (1020–1090)

* The last painting is not from the book; artist unknown.
** Update Jan 26, 17: I found the book I was looking for.


sábado, 21 de enero de 2017

The Enemies - Dylan Thomas


This is a 1934 short story written by a multifaceted author named Dylan Thomas. I already got acquainted with his poetry, something that I thoroughly enjoyed. But I was curious about his side as a storyteller, especially after someone recommended me his prose. It is hard for me to leave the Russo-Japanese bubble, but I am determined to explore other cultures and their literature, if only a glimpse in the form of a short story. So I have been reading some and this one is a most memorable example that urges me to read The Collected Stories.

As it usually happens with my favorite kind of narrative, action is not the main factor. By all outward appearances, we merely have three characters who take part in a very simple story, but the author endowed them with a rich symbolism that continues to intensify as the atmosphere darkens with every glance. His writing combines a variety of elements whose final product is imbued with brilliant uniqueness. A piercing lyricism is hidden behind every metaphor, every simple description.

I can't help the comparison with another short story I recently read: Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer. Her stark style blended perfectly with the powerful themes she analyzed. In that case, the real element was action, through which her views on certain matters were effectively conveyed, but her more straightforward writing (at least in that short story; the first time I read something by her) didn't resonate with me as much as Dylan Thomas' so the connection was rather different. Different but real.

All in all, I enjoyed these few pages. Prose written by a poet. A delectable treat in the first month of the year, during this unforgiving summer - already longing for autumn.


lunes, 2 de enero de 2017

2016 on Goodreads - Various


It is never too late to be what you might have been.
— George Eliot

So, it’s that time of year. Well, my entire bookish journey can be seen by hitting that loud orange button you may notice without any effort. (Random fact, due to Goodreads’ choices, this year I had to resort to some technological magic to avoid being swallowed by giant book covers and superfluous information, but the huge orange box that leads to my reading challenge is still there. Blue is always the safest choice, humans.)

Since I don’t have many eloquent words to share, clearly, I believe it’s wise to let Adulthood Is a Myth speak for me; a magnificent book I reviewed recently, brimming with countless pearls of wisdom expressed through simple pictures that my goldfish could have drawn.
Reader, I told you we were going to come back. You have been warned.

Swann's Way, Anna Karenina, Snow Country, The Decameron, No Longer Human, The Bell Jar, Russian poetry, my first Calvino, my second and a half Sōseki, my third Mishima. This year has been quite enriching when it comes to books. Some were utterly captivating...


...while a few were a variety of words I could not follow even if they were holding enormous neon signs over their heads.


I perfected some well-known habits, though I gave up trying to read books while walking on the street, after some awkward experience involving coffee.


And my talent for enjoying a rainy day was never wasted, thanks to the satisfying combination of books and movies.


I should mention that, while I’m in another city now and starting all over again, other aspects of life haven’t changed that much during this strange year since regardless the place, wherever you go, you take yourself with you.¹ Therefore, some ways of thinking continued to knock some little door in the vicinity of my mind.


However, one of my goals for 2016 was to be less socially awkward; a brave attempt at challenging my DNA, thinking that might improve my communication skills and even make my life better, despite a myriad of other existential crises, both meaningful and absurd.


And I am pleased to announce that on many occasions, it wasn’t that bad, even though there were times when sociability totally backfired.


Someone who is reminiscent of everything one shouldn’t do in a friendship once implied that I give common sense platitudes. Perhaps that’s what I do and am doing right now. Another person once wrote that I give myself fully; perhaps that’s what I shouldn’t do since most of the time people don’t value such attention—sorry, I’m not blindly generous; I do expect some reciprocation. Personal things aside, this charming place named Goodreads has brought me much joy and some moments of sadness, the ineluctable dichotomy of life, but this is where I choose to express myself for the time being and naturally, I’d rather lose sight of anything that doesn’t bring me joy (Gilmore reference minus Marie Kondo) than to be divested of my humble sanctuary.
I have to thank all the wonderful people who enrich my life with their reviews. And I'm also grateful for every kind comment I receive, regardless of the level of nonsense of what I write.

This was a good literary year and I hope the next one will be just as rewarding and exciting. And that’s what I wish you all: wonderful books, great music, exceptional movie marathons, knowledge, mystery, excitement, new places, new perspectives and loving, honest, amazing people around you who never (or almost never) take your love and friendship for granted, who have the remarkable ability to make you want to be a better person, changing the things you wish to change, reaffirming the virtues you possess. There are always people worth having around, and it takes courage to say and do the things so as to not losing them. Solitude has its charms but they never last forever, so unless you are an Aristotelian beast or god, you will need people, so let’s hope they bring color to your life, simplicity to your world, and a special place for you in theirs; otherwise, adiós. Their loss. And time is finite.
I read an interesting and unusual book recently, and as I write these wandering, disconnected thoughts, I remember a particular passage.
I can say more or less the same thing as the Pretorian Prefect who was disgraced under Vespasian and went to end his days in the country: ‘I have spent seventy years on earth and I have lived for seven of them.’
Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 154

If well lived, perhaps seven years are more than enough but, human beings I knew, I know, I thought I knew or will never know, I hope those words never describe your entire life.

Happy New Year. Now, if you’ll excuse me.


¹ Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book


sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2016

Adulthood Is a Myth (Sarah's Scribbles, #1) - Sarah Andersen


Is adulthood an exciting new challenge for which you feel fully prepared? 

Ugh. Please go away.

I was writing down some thoughts for two reviews, one of a Mishima book and the other of The Bell Jar, but at the moment, I don’t feel like dedicating so much time to that kind of introspection, since in my case, reviewing a book is almost never writing a simple summary. So I will deal with all those books next year, while focusing on other works which are also existentially complex but from a different perspective.


A very different perspective.

In the spirit of the preceding paragraph, I have a shocking revelation to share. I can never participate in the GR Awards. Scandalous, right? I mean, after the Best Poetry debacle, it’s still nice to be able to cast some votes considering that, in general, the most recently published book I have read might have been in the bookshop for twenty years.

Another delightful fact I can find in this little adventure regarding the Best Books of 2016 that I Adulthood is a Myth. The irony makes me chuckle. In any case, and in my opinion since not everyone shares my peculiar sense of humor, it was a fun read. The most hilarious, ridiculous, absurd and to some extent, pathetic aspects of life are depicted through comedy and simple, adorable drawings. Andersen's keen ability to perceive different feelings and situations pertaining to the issue of being human and to portray them with such humorous simplicity… it is certainly remarkable. I’m completely enamored with her work and Allie Brosh and her Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened now share the podium with lovely Andersen.
almost never pay special attention to: the only book to which I could give my precious and humble vote was

Classics, poetry, extremely dark and heart-rending books that may or may not have a happy ending are not enough. Books brimful of humor, wit, ludicrous yet common situations and reactions and with silly covers that I don't dare to show in public are also a part of me. They mend what other things have broken. They make reality taste like fiction for a while. This year I spent time on situations that, in the end, didn’t deserve my attention and a million chances. I can search for my lost time but will never get it back. Still, despite giving too much and receiving über-nothing at times, I would like to end this year with a smile. Perhaps, what I consider a flaw is precisely why I should be smiling.

This charming book won Best Graphic Novels & Comics. I thought of giving a little speech but, you know.


Besides, giving speeches usually precedes a simple meal or large quantities of food and...


...let’s just not tempt fate. So I wrote this nonsense instead, as I also tell you this: Sarah and I will be back in a few days. For now, I’ll keep reading my books and enjoying one of my valid hobbies.