...

domingo, 27 de diciembre de 2015

Historia de la Noche - Jorge Luis Borges

Rating: 
27/12/15
The aesthetic event is something as evident, as immediate, as indefinable as love, the taste of fruit, of water. We feel poetry as we feel the closeness of a woman, or as we feel a mountain or a bay. If we feel it immediately, why dilute it with other words, which no doubt will be weaker than our feelings?
JLB on poetry (1977)

All the knowledge of the world emerges from the intricate depths of his consciousness. He mastered
the art of language by nourishing his mind—since an early age—with all the works of men and women that evoke eternity. Because of the touch of ancient gods or the wish of a forgotten mirror, he became one of those men.
Yo temo ahora que el espejo encierre
El verdadero rostro de mi alma,
Lastimada de sombras y de culpas,
El que Dios ve y acaso ven los hombres.

Now I fear the mirror may disclose
The true visage of my soul,
Bruised by shadows and guilt,
The face God sees and perhaps men see too.
(from “El Espejo”, “The Mirror”)

Borges, the one that shattered his identity and left pieces of it inside the walls of the labyrinth, on the stairs of a library, hidden in the eyes of a tiger, within the heart of a woman that held him captive forever in the prison of rejection. The one that perfected the creative process of the short story, praising the transcendent melody of brevity over unnecessary length. The other Borges, the same, the one that beautifully crafted a poetry which encompasses all existence, every universe, all the seconds of infinity.
Sabía que el presente no es otra cosa
que una partícula fugaz del pasado
que estamos hechos de olvido

He knew the present is nothing but
a fleeting particle of the past
that we are made of oblivion
(from “G. A. Bürger”)

Poems that no one should fear. They are filled with the benign bruises of time, with mythological references that leads you to the search for truth, with magical symbols and music, longings and tigers, wistful love and forsaken dust, nostalgia that becomes a habit of the soul, dreams of the world that belong to us and to anyone, books and some night out of a thousand. Odes to Iceland, France, Japan, Alexandria, the sand.
Buenos Aires lies in an hourglass.
Caja de Música
Música del Japón. Avaramente
De la clepsidra se desprenden gotas
De lenta miel o de invisible oro
Que en el tiempo repiten una trama
Eterna y frágil, misteriosa y clara.
Temo que cada una sea la última.
Son un ayer que vuelve. ¿De qué templo,
De qué leve jardín en la montaña,
De qué vigilias ante un mar que ignoro,
De qué pudor de la melancolía,
De qué perdida y rescatada tarde,
Llegan a mí, su porvenir remoto?
No lo sabré. No importa. En esa música
Yo soy. Yo quiero ser. Yo me desangro.

Music Box
Music of Japan. Parsimoniously
from the water clock the drops unfold
in lazy honey or ethereal gold
that over time reiterates a weave
eternal, fragile, enigmatic, bright.
I fear that every one will be the last.
They are a yesterday come from the past.
But from what shrine, from what mountain’s slight
garden, what vigils by an unknown sea,
and from what modest melancholy, from
what lost and rediscovered afternoon
do they arrive at their far future: me?
Who knows? No matter. When I hear it play
I am. I want to be. I bleed away.

The book ends with a song to the night. Touching night. Dazzling night. Vindictive night that became the owner of his eyes. He was serene but I cannot forgive.
The night brings the sound of a distant bell. For whom the bell tolls? For Reality.
She pulls me away as I try to hold on to the poem I loved the most.
Las Causas
Los ponientes y las generaciones.
Los días y ninguno fue el primero.
La frescura del agua en la garganta
de Adán. El ordenado Paraíso.
El ojo descifrando la tiniebla.
El amor de los lobos en el alba.
La palabra. El hexámetro. El espejo.
La Torre de Babel y la soberbia.
Cada arabesco del calidoscopio.
Cada remordimiento y cada lágrima.
Se precisaron todas esas cosas
para que nuestras manos se encontraran.

The Causes
The sunsets and the generations
The days and none was first.
The freshness of water in Adam’s
Throat. Orderly paradise.
The eye deciphering the darkness.
The love of wolves at dawn.
The word. The hexameter. The mirror.
The Tower of Babel and pride.
Every arabesque in the kaleidoscope.
Each regret and each tear.
All those things were needed
So our hands could meet. *



* A much longer poem. It is still out there for you to find.










viernes, 25 de diciembre de 2015

The Land of Heart's Desire - W.B. Yeats


Rating: 
25/12/15

The wind blows over the lonely of heart,
And the lonely of heart is withered away.


A story told in the middle of the night.

On a faraway land, in a remote time, a couple of newlyweds shared a house with the young man's
parents.
On May Eve, a priest came to visit.
Dinner was served. Wine was poured. The woods were near.
Discussions begun. Discussions over the bride's detachment towards that piece of world they lived in.
The priest stood up. A tragic preaching was kindly given.
...I have seen some other girls
Restless and ill at ease, but years went by
And they grew like their neighbours and were glad
In minding children, working at the churn,
And gossiping of weddings and of wakes;
For life moves out of a red flare of dreams
Into a common light of common hours,
Until old age bring the red flare again.

There is no place for a bride that rejects Fate and Time and Change.
One word and the household's fury is unleashed.
She is not a fitting wife for any man.

The young husband tried to calm what could never be calm.
Words were hastily chosen to soothe what could never...
Would that the world were mine to give it you,
And not its quiet hearths alone, but even
All that bewilderment of light and freedom.
If you would have it.

On May Eve, an immortal child in ethereal clothes came into the house with an enticing proposal.
A relentless melody about the burdens of life.
The ephemeral nature of our existence.
The land of heart's desire.
Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom, Time an endless song.
I kiss you and the world begins to fade.

Now, they are all wondering if the world will ever be enough.






miércoles, 23 de diciembre de 2015

On Being Ill - Virginia Woolf

Rating: 
23/12/15
We do not know our souls, let alone the souls of others.

An ode to illness. Another inspiration.
She asks for its presence in literature, as her wit silences desperate voices fighting for her attention.
...how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist's arm-chair...

Her passionate lyricism blends in perfectly with the subtle irony of her gifted mind.
Fragile, gifted mind.
...a novel devoted to influenza lacked plot; they would complain that there was no love in it—wrongly however, for illness often takes on the disguise of love, and plays the same odd tricks.

A break from illness. Shall we cover the silence with a party?
No.
It all starts again. The break is over. The burden of reality ceases and a moment of downright existence comes back. Virginia looks around. She looks up. She disconcerts the world while she looks at the sky.
So much consciousness is flooding the room.
The first impression of that extraordinary spectacle is strangely overcoming. Ordinarily to look at the sky for any length of time is impossible.

The last song to illness. We are gazing at the sky as she decides; enough.
A voice comes from a letter.
Over and over again.





lunes, 21 de diciembre de 2015

A Nasty Anecdote - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Rating: 
19/12/15
...nothing ventured, nothing gained. (45)

The deep-felt desire for spontaneity. The plague of inhibition.
Be natural; be reserved. Be demonstrative; be discreet.
An excess of vulnerability could turn you into the protagonist of an unpleasant anecdote. Speak but
not too much. Write but do not expose too much. Be honest but do not reveal too much. Nothing seems already too much.


Be at ease; control yourself. Because,

'What will people say? Where will it end? What will tomorrow bring, tomorrow, tomorrow!...' (35)

Have you ever imagined how a particular situation was exactly going to be? Of course. The ultimate rehearsal. Carefully chosen words begin to form a line in your mind. They have methodically decided the order of appearance, the tone, the rhythm. The dramatic pauses. The silences that allow the other person or group to come up with an answer. You have been imagining that conversation for hours, for days. Like a minor god of time, you feel in control of that little piece of future. You know how the events are going to develop. You want things a certain way, then you picture everything in your head. That should be enough.
And then, that fragment of future arrives.
He knew, he knew very well, that he should have left long ago, and not only so as to leave, but so as to save himself. That all this had suddenly become something else—well, had turned out totally unlike his dream on the planks that evening. (34)

The roles have been changed. Your mind needs a Plan B. Plan B... We do not have a Plan B. As your face begins to feel the warm color of anxiety, you freeze. Your muscles cannot move. Your heart feels the tension and behaves accordingly, with frantic palpitations that no one could ever count. You wish for a benevolent ground to swallow the entire room. Nothing happens and you are trying to think. While your thoughts are irrepressibly flashing through your head, you survey the area. The eyes of the world are all over you. You watch. That is all you can do. Watch as the walls of that piece of future you thought you could control, start to collapse. Silently, in slow motion. Total devastation during the minute that will never end.
Then moral fits began, concerned with his existence manquée. Then shame again flared up in his soul, taking possession of it all at once, burning and exacerbating everything. He shuddered, imagining various pictures to himself. What would they say... (47)

Have you ever felt that? Never, always? Frequently.
That also happens to our friend Ivan Ilyich Pralinsky. After a conversation with other civil servants, he decided to implement a philosophy of his by crashing the wedding celebration of Pseldonymov, one of his subordinates. A susceptible imagination led Pralinsky to believe that every action that he visualized could really happen. He would enlighten those less fortunate than himself; they would become better human beings by learning his philosophy based on kindness—a love of mankind he was willing to teach while pointing out the differences between them and keeping some distance.
This is a satirical short story that brings to mind the fact that there is a bit of comedy in some tragedies.
The plot is simple; what truly makes this story a delightful thing to read are the protagonist's impressions. Dostoyevsky's essential quality. However, in this case, it was a little difficult to follow the narrator as well as Pralinsky's reflections. It confused me at times. I assume it was meant to mystify, having in mind the main character's erratic train of thought. I would hesitate about the translation's fidelity if it wasn't one by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

I must admit, Pralinsky annoyed me at times. To be honest, I wanted to grab him by the arm and just ask him “what the hell are you doing?” But I understand him. And more than once I asked myself the same question. Nothing goes as we plan. Everything he dreamed one evening fell apart in a minute. Every word, every reaction, all the happy endings he envisioned. Reality crushed his thoughts several times, and opened the path for relentless shame and a touch of regret.

As the naive architects that we are, we design in our minds the course of events. What we are going to say. What we are going to write. But in further reflection, how presumptuous of us to think that we can predict what the other person is going to understand. Reactions, interpretations, sentiments.
Another inconceivable translation.
It is known that whole trains of thought sometimes pass instantly through our heads, in the form of certain feelings, without translation into human language, still less literary language... Because many of our feelings, when translated into ordinary language, will seem perfectly implausible. That is why they never come into the world, and yet everybody has them. (22)

Words are kept inside and the story never begins.




domingo, 13 de diciembre de 2015

The Gambler - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Rating: 
13/12/15

Can I possibly not understand myself that I’m a lost man? But—why can’t I resurrect? (188)

The Gambler
It is not just the extraordinary psychological depth of the characters nor the engaging story that masterfully manages the element of surprise. This novella had a great impact on me for the simple reason that whenever I read certain passages, I saw him. His obsessions, his fears, his passion for a distant woman, his despair. Dostoyevsky was there, trying to survive.


Alexei Ivanovich is a 25 year-old tutor that works for a Russian family. The General's family that includes Polina, the woman Alexei loves. They are all living in a suite at some German hotel. Besides them, there is a bunch of other manipulative, self-destructing, unstable characters. Flawed yet colorful, at times. As with life. People that were the inspiration for Dostoyevsky's most amusing remarks, filled with fine irony and a tinge of sarcasm. Just a tad...
Alexei is a complete character; lovable, obnoxious. Everything but indifference. Pride (that vanishes when facing his obsession), overly analytical thinking, madness, cynicism, wit, honesty, frankness.
It’s really nice when people don’t stand on ceremony, but act in an open and unbuttoned way with each other. And why should one deceive oneself? It’s the most futile and ill-calculated occupation! (17)

A frankness that gave me hope. He is not the timid character that keeps everything inside. I mean, I am in love with those characters since they are a mirror to me and let me focus on the many things I need to change. But it is nice to see an energetic, outspoken character developing the quality that one longs for.
...when I talk with you, I want to say everything, everything, everything. I lose all form... Since I have no hope and am a zero in your eyes, I say outright: I see only you everywhere, and the rest makes no difference to me. (34)

A frankness that combined with the particular situation of being madly in love with a woman, inspires one of the most unsettling passages of the novella. One that brought to mind all the disgusting justifications that one encounters in life.

This book screams reality. The description of the casino, the kinds of gamblers, the desire to win, the abstraction from the world, the eyes fixed on a number, an excuse for every act, the brief sense of reason after a lost bet and the subsequent hunch that the next one will be the one that saves the day.
I was as if in a fever and pushed this whole pile of money onto red—and suddenly came to my senses! And for the only time that whole evening, in all that playing, fear sent a chill over me and came back as a trembling in my hands and legs. With terror I sensed and instantly realized what it meant for me now to lose! My whole life was at stake! (111)

No, a day is not saved only by the profits so easily made. It is the impulse, the craving for risks. Despair that drives. Chance that sings. The feeling that one is in control of the roulette, of the next move; the elusive luck. Praises for the fearless gambler.
However, I don’t remember what I thought about on the way; there were no thoughts. My only sensation was of some terrible pleasure—luck, victory, power—I don’t know how to express it. (114)

Every chapter, every paragraph, everything is written with such detail. Vivid descriptions about the parallel universe that inevitably brings disgrace to its inhabitants. Citizens that worship daring ventures.
They can deny it. They can lie to themselves as they embrace victory, but deep down they are aware of their deteriorating state.
Nothing could be more absurd than moral lessons at such a moment! Oh, self-satisfied people: with what proud self-satisfaction such babblers are ready to utter their pronouncements! If they only knew to what degree I myself understand all the loathsomeness of my present condition, they wouldn’t have the heart to teach me. Well, what, what new thing can they say to me that I don’t know myself? And is that the point? ... What am I now? Zéro. What may I be tomorrow? Tomorrow I may rise from the dead and begin to live anew! I may find the man in me before he’s lost! (133)

An ill-fated relationship. Our doomed Russian friend.
By trying to defeat destiny through gambling, he ensured his servitude. A slave of everything he loved too much. Of everything he hated but still needed. The roulette. The urge. The impulse. A woman.
A brief existence perpetually waiting for fate to change. Waiting for another tomorrow.



sábado, 12 de diciembre de 2015

The Dancing Girl of Izu - Yasunari Kawabata

Rating: 
12/12/15
Naturally, I did not speak.

Love fades in most curious ways. Differences between characters, tastes, choices; monotony, the attraction that seems to dwindle through the years, in a minute. It evaporates when someone loves too much whereas the other party only exists, yearning for another opportunity. The tragedy of never been in love with somebody else's mind. Admiration slowly fading away. A growing indifference that cannot be concealed with a thousand cherry blossoms.
Possibilities that offer a myriad of colors and shapes.
A young student from Tokyo in a solitary journey through the Izu Peninsula. A walk of endless miles. The search for opportunities only to take a look at her face. To listen to the sound of her drum; evidence that she is still there.
I could not bear the silences when the drum stopped. I sank down into the depths of the sound of the rain. (13)

The universe conspires nothing; it is you deliberately looking for a fortunate stroke of serendipity. And then you achieve it. And then you stay silent. Because it is not your turn to speak and doubt floods your disquieted heart and you have to keep your sense of pride intact. The human way to go. The most common pretext to flee from the extraordinary.

This story is about one of the possible reasons as to why infatuation fades. Kawabata portrays with perfection the nature of first love. A love that merged with torment and later dissolved into thin air after a misunderstanding.
The burden disappeared. As to the extent of the burden, I think we all have a standard against which to measure it. We all have made its acquaintance.

The moment you realize you are free ends with a burst of laughter.




viernes, 11 de diciembre de 2015

Wondrous Moment: Selected Poetry - Alexander Pushkin, Andrey Kneller (translator)

Rating: 
10/12/15

I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the hunger of my heart; I am trying to bribe you with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.
JLB, "Two English Poems"

Perhaps, one day, I'll learn to let you go.
Alexander Pushkin (1824)

I left a world of labyrinths, mirrors and spirals of time to visit the lands of the ultimate romantic poet.
Turbulent waves of indomitable emotions reach this shore and leave me immersed in deep thought. A wandering shadow that carries the weight of praise. A benevolent will-o'-the-wisp that leads the reader to the safe path towards his art. Choose any poem and you will find him. Vocalize any verse and you will become a fortunate witness of his mind. The epitome of lyricism.

The essence of Russian poetry.
My days still linger, slow and rough,
Each moment multiplies the sadness
Within the heart of hapless love
And drives my yearning into madness...
(A Wish, 1816)

Love found, love lost. Unknown. A one-sided mourning, naturally. A profound sense of melancholy even in blissful times. So much yearning. So much existence. A fervent desire of holding on to a life that still leaves him submerged in gloom.
But, o my friends, I do not want to leave!
I want to be alive, to think and grieve.
And I predict that I will find some pleasure
Amidst anxiety, amidst the stress and pressure.
(Elegy)

Yet, the question that relentlessly lingers inside his mind when humanity becomes unbearable.
In sadness, lonesome, I await:
How far away is my demise?
(1821)

A most virtuous celebration to the poet's nature. Nostalgia emerges through the mist of lost years with an enchanting, rhythmic cadence that escapes any reasoning.
Time that will never return. Time wasted with unsaid words, hidden smiles, avoided glances; pride. On the contrary, Pushkin speaks. He reveals. There is a sincerity in his writing that leaves him on the verge of vulnerability. Inevitable. Humane. Regretful.
Don't ask me why, alone in dismal thought,
In times of mirth, I'm often filled with strife,
And why my wearied gaze is so distraught,
And why I don't enjoy the dream of life...
(To ***, 1817)

But people are fallible. And there was a time when fear brought silence.
That I am plagued with love:
Without you near – I'm feeling bored;
With you – I feel estranged now;
But I can't speak a single word.
(Confession)

Infinite Pushkin. His poetry. His stories. The works of a gifted mind.
Nothing compares to the wondrous moment when you find yourself in someone else's words.

Like I have said before, there is also an optimistic sunbeam illuminating some of his poems. Frail but present. He embodies a distressing dichotomy inherent to human nature. Existence and weariness. A hunger of living. An impatient wait.

These are not just poems about love (which, by the way, must have a certain language for me to actually be able to enjoy them), but about everything that constitutes a life. A life made of years, epochs, moments. Moments of joy, of grief, of doubt. Moments wanting to be. Those brief moments of ours in a place a little larger than an entire universe.


Note: This book also includes Pushkin's work in his original language. I spent some quality time not just reading, but looking for meanings, translations, comparisons. With such insufficient tools I tried to observe the remaining essence that deeply wants to prevail over the limits of the translating process but usually does not succeed. In this case, the translator gave shape to Pushkin's poetry maintaining rimes and forms but without taking too many liberties that would jeopardize this author's exquisite voice. The meaning was there, the poetic forms were there. A fine translation that flows more gracefully than the previous one I've read.



The Last Leaf - O. Henry

Rating: 
10/12/15

The Last Leaf"It is the last one," said Johnsy. "I thought it would surely fall during the night...

"Dear, dear!" said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow, "think of me, if you won't think of yourself. What would I do?"

But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.

A good story. Even though I prefer language with a little less sugar when dealing with certain matters. (Good grief, Hemingway, is that you?)




miércoles, 9 de diciembre de 2015

Ten Nights' Dreams - Natsume Sōseki


Rating: 
10/12/15

The First night

'The sun rises. And the sun sets. And the sun rises and sets... When the red sun rises in the east and sets in the west, then I will... Will you wait for me?'

The Second Night

'I cannot reach the state of nothingness.' Whenever I felt I was about to reach it, the pain seemed to become more intense, bringing me back. I felt anger. I felt regret. I felt deep chagrin at my failing attempt. Tears flowed from my eyes... But I remained sitting patiently. I had to endure this gut-rending sorrow.

The Third Night

I began to feel afraid of him even though he was my son.

The Fourth Night

The old man still made his way straight through the river, singing.
'The river will deepen.
The day will darken.
The world will straighten its path.'

The Fifth Night

The captain scrutinized my face in the firelight and asked me if I would live or die. It was the custom in those days to ask a captive that question. To answer that one would live meant submission; that one would die meant no surrender at any cost. I answered shortly.
The Sixth Night

At last I had to accept the fact that the Niō does not reside in the wood of the Meiji period. I also learned the reason why Ukei is alive today.

The Seventh Night

One night when I was alone on deck watching he stars, a foreigner came up and asked me if I knew any astronomy. Here I was almost ready to kill myself as a non-entity. What did I need to know about astronomy? But I kept silent. The foreign man began to tell me about the seven stars over Taurus. He said that the stars and the sea were something God had created. Finally he asked me if I believed in God. I just kept silent, looking up at the sky.

The Eighth Night

As I crossed the threshold into a barber shop, I saw several people there, all dressed in white, who asked in chorus if they might help me.
I stood in the middle of the room, looking around. It was square. The windows on two sides were open and on the other two walls hung mirrors. I counted six mirrors.
The Ninth Night

The world has somehow become unsettled. A battle may break out at any moment. There is panic in the air...
The Tenth Night

Shōtarō, doffing his Panama hat, politely declined, again and again. The woman asked him whether he preferred to be licked by pigs, since he would not venture to jump off the precipice.

description

Tonight

This is the dream I dreamed.
I was sitting at a table for one. The room was covered in a timid, dim light. I began to notice a scent. One that lifted my spirits in ways I cannot explain. While I was trying to guess the origin of such irresistible scent, I saw a woman approaching me. She was wearing a white apron.
“Miss, where is this exquisite aroma coming from?,” I gently asked.
“Over there,” she answered, pointing at my right. I could not discern a thing.
“What is it?,” I asked, almost whispering.
“What do you think it is?”
“I believe it is the scent of hope,” I replied, as I felt my soul absorbing all the poetry of the room. All the history of my homeland.
The woman got closer to me, stared at me for a while and then said:
"It is the scent of lemon pie. You are at my coffee shop. You read two books, had three lattes and two pieces of lemon pie. I want to close my shop and go home. Are you ever going to leave?"




martes, 8 de diciembre de 2015

Elogio de La Sombra - Jorge Luis Borges

Rating: 
07/12/15
Nos buscamos los dos. Ojalá fuera
éste el último día de la espera.

We look for each other. I wish this were
the last day of waiting.

(El Laberinto)

I entered a labyrinth made of time and mirrors. I kept walking, without knowing where to go, what to look for. Blinded by the incommensurable amount of knowledge, delighted by a music that came from afar. A captivating music that I did not trust at first, like a mariner resisting the spellbinding voice of the enigmatic sea.
¿Me oyes, amigo no mirado, me oyes
A través de esas cosas insondables
Que son los mares y la muerte?

Do you hear me, unseen friend, do you hear me
Through those unfathomable things
that are the seas and death?
(A Cierta Sombra, 1940)



I have seen it all. I have absorbed it all. Again. Time, rhetoric, algebra, magic. A haunting past, the forgotten present, the despair of things to come. Dreams that become nightmares and then switch back in order to soothe the secret dreamer. The echoes of eternity.
Yo no hablo de venganzas ni perdones; el olvido es la única venganza y el único perdón.

I do not speak about vengeance and forgiveness; forgetting is the only revenge and the only forgiveness.
(Fragmentos de un Evangelio apócrifo)

Free verse, hardly any rhyme; all equally magnificent. An ode to gauchos, to their bravery, their hospitality, their values, their mate. A song to the books that have built his world. The mastered art of the written word; a gift from unknown gods, or mere humanity. Memories, death, heavens, punishment; redemption. Nostalgic Buenos Aires, the language of courage and sadness. The nightfall in his eyes. The genius I see; the apprentice he considered himself to be. A man standing in the growing dark trying to discern forms; reminiscing faces, friends, women, streets.
The guardian of books.

I see despair. He sees the sweetness of returning to what is essential.
...no hay letras en las páginas de los libros.

…there are no letters on the pages of books.
(El Elogio de la Sombra)

With a book on my hand and his profound meditations on the other, as the owner of my own uncertainties that I have become, I find the only way out of the labyrinth. Melancholic steps that evoke a conflicted Theseus unwilling to leave but forced to. The nature of time might be eternal, but my existence is certainly not.
So we parted ways. I look back and I see his reflection on a thousand mirrors.
I keep walking with his book on my hands.
I am nowhere. And I feel at home.






lunes, 7 de diciembre de 2015

The Master of Funerals - Yasunari Kawabata

Rating: 
07/12/15
Since I was a boy, I have had neither my own house nor home.

A gloomy mist is surrounding the entire room. A rush of silent reflections, nostalgic sighs and unheard questions join the inevitable melody that reality constantly plays.
Relatives, acquaintances, strangers. One. Two. Countless funerals.
Memories untold. Restrained emotions in black and white mourning clothes.
Life leaves a trace in his retina, one that inexorably blurs as time goes by.
One. Two. Countless lives. The feeling that I was all alone.
Naturally.
...funerals often inspired me to consider the lives and the deaths of people who were close to me. And, in the repose of contemplation, my heart grew still.
So it was that as a youth, my decorous behavior at the funerals of strangers was never feigned; rather, it was a manifestation of the capacity for sadness I had within me.

They made him the master of funerals.
And it all ends with a joke.

An eerie duality that pays tribute to the multiple dichotomies of existence. Frightening thoughts are depicted with the melancholic beauty of Kawabata's prose. It makes you wonder whether you are there, reading in your dimly lit room or in one of his visions.





domingo, 6 de diciembre de 2015

Too Loud a Solitude - Bohumil Hrabal


Rating: 
06/12/15
Not until we're totally crushed do we show what we are made of. (96)

This is a book which length can be quite deceiving. Nonetheless, this novella has the predictable ability of leading the path towards something rather extraordinary: a bibliophile's sanctuary.

This was a difficult book to rate. At first, it was a solid four-star book. But I chose to overlook the few passages that did not captivate me entirely and made me feel somewhat lost at times (yes, the more I think about it, the more I write about it and absorb its content, the more I like it). I tend to blame myself, anyway. Haňťa, the narrator, would understand.

My education has been so unwitting I can't quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that's how I've stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. (6)

For thirty-five years, Haňťa has been working in a basement, compacting wastepaper and books proscribed by the current regime. Other than the company of some fighting mice and some gypsies, he is mostly alone in his sacred cellar. A place where he became a refined butcher, where he mastered the art of destruction, where he learnt the joy of devastation. However, he cannot destroy everything that arrives to his cellar. So he puts some books in his briefcase and takes them to his house, a place already filled with towers of books that may kill him at the slightest sneeze.

...when I start reading, I'm somewhere completely different, I'm in the text, it's amazing, I have to admit I've been dreaming, dreaming in a land of great beauty, I've been in the very heart of truth. Ten times a day, every day, I wonder at having wandered so far, and then, alienated from myself, a stranger to myself, I go home, walking the streets silently and in deep meditation, passing trams and cars and pedestrians in a cloud of books, the books I found that day and am carrying home in my briefcase. (11)

And that is all I can say about this book filled with symbolism flowing with different rhythms, like the unpredictable behavior of the sea. This sequence of thoughts of an old man that chose, all by himself, how his love story was going to end. Poignant thoughts that left an indelible imprint in me. Evocative lines that echo his past, his benevolent present, the desperate sense of resignation of his future. His childhood, his loved ones, his doubts, his humorous remarks that assist you when despair is too much to bear, his visions, his simple way of life, his celebration to the essence of ideas that prevail over time and defy any living soul, his impressions on a world which absurdity goes beyond imagination.
No, the heavens are not humane, nor is any man with a head on his shoulders. (35)

And his loss. The tragedy of being violently separated from everything that gave him joy. The sum and substance of his existence. After having the pleasure of tasting such elusive elixir, one cannot help but to immerse in profound meditations. Frozen. The contradiction between a motionless body and a restlessly working mind. But Haňťa knew. He always knew. Blinded—momentarily—by the sun of things to come, Haňťa, the rescuer of defenseless books, the one with a loud solitude far away from any lonely thought, the one with the pleasure of listening to the everlasting tune of thousands of books, always knew what to do. The blissful quietness of having no regrets.
'For we are like olives: only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us.' (18)

Hrabal, Haňťa. Anyone of us. Anyone in love with literature, with ideas in the form of a book.
Solitude brings to me these walls made of silence and dreams. And it is just us. This space is for us. The book and me. I hear my voice in my mind, repeating every word, processing every idea, savoring every sound. For most of Hrabal's lines are music, and I listened to it dazzled, bewildered like a child in front of a magic pipe. A melody that ignites imagination and creates an unforgettable sense of belonging. The melody of those books to which we hold onto so dearly.
The melody I will be always listening to, even when surrounded by, sometimes, too silent a solitude.

En una secuencia de pensamientos similar a la de esta obra, termino rememorando libros pasados, escritores que me aliviaron, personajes que me acompañaron. Líneas que, desde una inicial soledad nada ruidosa, me abrieron al mundo. Una soledad que terminó poblada con todas las voces de ese mundo. Voces que calman. Voces que perturban. Palabras que no me dejan y que las repito para que nunca me dejen. Así, saboreando cada término, como si fuera el último. Aferrándome a cada sonido, como si fuera mío. Deleitándome con la similitud del sentimiento sin tener en cuenta el tiempo.
Tiempo que pasa.
Tiempo que ahoga.
Tiempo que sana, de vez en cuando.

Termino con el libro sobre mí. Con la mente más inquieta que nunca, embarcada en una oda a esa literatura trascendental que llegó acá; desafiante, segura. Deseosa de miradas nuevas. Creadora de suspiros que evocan eternidad.

Mis disculpas a las personas de habla inglesa que a veces se dan una vuelta por este sur olvidado. Pero, después de leer esta conmovedora novela corta de Hrabal, ¿cómo no culminar esta marea de palabras sin sentido, abrazada a mi idioma?

Enamorados perpetuos del lenguaje. Sus palabras. Sus sonidos. Sus significados. Las historias que construyen. Las emociones que transmiten. El contenido sobre la forma. La escritura sobre la tapa. Coleccionistas de libros, de recuerdos, de vidas ajenas. Vidas ajenas, para entender la propia. Entender, en las cantidades que la existencia misma permite.
Todo aquello que provoca ruido y que hace de la soledad, algo menos envolvente.






viernes, 4 de diciembre de 2015

Two Friends - Guy de Maupassant


Rating: 
04/12/15

Some days they did not speak; at other times they chatted; but they understood each other perfectly without the aid of words, having similar tastes and feelings.

That must be a good memory.

Good times. The river was tinted with the delicate color of a soothing setting sun. Until a blood-red glow took over the whole land. For war had begun.
Two FriendsAnd the two began placidly discussing political problems with the sound common sense of peaceful, matter-of-fact citizens--agreeing on one point: that they would never be free.

An imminent ending. A brief moment to decide. Your country. Your life.
And during the brevity of that moment, the natural reaction of holding on to nice memories, I believe. Blissful minutes that make up a life. The sun. The river. The silence. Or maybe just the sound of the cannons.
And heroes cry.
The desperate sense of resignation while saying goodbye.




miércoles, 2 de diciembre de 2015

Useless Beauty - Guy de Maupassant

Rating: 
02/12/15

A claim. A refusal. A defiance. A woman facing her suffocating husband.
A repudiation to the idea of being a machine. A possession.
Her desires. His jealousy.
Her resistance.

Guy de Maupassant mastered the art of writing short stories; he did it with simple plots, evocative descriptions mixed with elaborated philosophical reflections about the world and unexpected twists that leave you thinking about this author's creativity and ability to retain anyone's interest.

...for God never foresaw gentleness and peaceable manners; He only foresaw the death of creatures which were bent on destroying and devouring each other...

As to ourselves, the more civilized, intellectual and refined we are, the more we ought to conquer and subdue that animal instinct, which represents the will of God in us. And so, in order to mitigate our lot as brutes, we have discovered and made everything, beginning with houses, then exquisite food, sauces, sweetmeats, pastry, drink, stuffs, clothes, ornaments, beds, mattresses, carriages, railways and innumerable machines, besides arts and sciences, writing and poetry. Every ideal comes from us as do all the amenities of life, in order to make our existence as simple reproducers, for which divine Providence solely intended us, less monotonous and less hard.

From the strained atmosphere of an unwanted marriage to a couple of friends and their general meditations about human beings and their place in a world. A world created by a god whose real intentions are the main topic of their enthralling conversations.

GdM and I had a rough start—I'm sensing an icy pattern here. But the stories I have recently found are echoing in my guilty conscious now. Such a talented writer to whom I haven't paid proper attention. My apologies.





sábado, 28 de noviembre de 2015

In Praise of Shadows - Jun'ichirō Tanizaki


Rating: 
21/11/15
In Praise of Shadows















The preference of a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance.

description

My quiet, soothingly minimalistic room seems of no consequence when juxtaposed with the unearthly beauty that Jun'ichirō Tanizaki described in this splendid essay on aesthetics.

A shōji. Lightning. Electric fans. The right heating system. Food. Architecture.
Every detail to avoid the disruption of harmony in a Japanese room.
An almost imperceptible line between an extremely refine taste and the subtlety of irony.

We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament. (9)


description

Inside this book, there is a room that seems enraptured by the sobriety of the different shades of black.
So much space beholding the magnificence of a dim light on a particular spot, barely illuminating the serene twilight that those walls are made of.

Could this book be applied to people? It shouldn't. But that is subject to one's personality. You could be the reserved, darkened room. Except when writing. And that would be fine.

A book on beauty has its share of ugliness; people's skin and supposed degrees of purity.

Above all, an essay that exalts the enigmatic candlelight.
The particular beauty of a candle emanating a delicate brilliance that timidly embellish a silent room. A most idyllic view under its mystical light.

Nothing superfluous. Nothing pretentious. Nothing loud but the silence. A universe in your thoughts. The encounter with yourself under the tenuous radiance of a candle, evoking a somber night, the bright moon a world is gazing at.

Tanizaki observes. Tanizaki fights. Tanizaki misses. Tanizaki regrets.
The sound of the rain playing gently with the dusky light of a candle.

description

The mind wanders.




jueves, 26 de noviembre de 2015

Howl and Other Poems - Allen Ginsberg

Rating: 
24/11/15

You will not like this. Like we use to say, vengan de a uno.

So, “Howl”. My rating is based mostly on my experience with that long poem.

I admire any work filled with sincerity and lyrically intense lines (when found). Powerful, raw images that expose an unknown world. I understand this book's historical context and what it represented at the time; storming in with a breath of fresh air, breaking the mold and dealing with some themes and views I also agree with. Well, except for the endless references to drug abuse and alcohol, regarded, through the years, as a source of creativity and a way to express yourself against reigning social conventions; a dangerously infantile waste of a life in some cases. Debauchery, consumption of drugs and alcohol as a statement, a sort of protest against materialism and conformity. Mindless attitudes that make you different, that keep you safely away from anything mainstream and doesn't lead you to an unbearable feeling of emptiness... Sexual liberation—being free of any dogma, any prejudice, being able to enjoy complete freedom to love—understood as sleeping with whoever crosses your street and then writing yourself an ode celebrating those actions; trying to be so different that you end up being as ordinary as any other mortal. It was their times, of course. And this is simply an opinion.


Anyway, whereas I do appreciate the honesty and the experiences and sentiments that Ginsberg brought to these pages, I feel like many significant matters get lost in a haze of pretentiousness, self-indulgence and not an extraordinary writing (I take away the political context and there's not much to hold onto), in this particular case and from my perspective. A perspective that, needless to say, doesn't epitomize the absolute truth nor tries to. I was not expecting a bunch of puritan euphemisms and songs on a prairie, but it was simply too much and I struggled to finish the whole thing. Even though I always say to myself that literature does not have to be a source of misery so if I am not enjoying a book, I can leave it behind, I did try to finish this one because, well, it had less than 100 pages... don't be so lazy, F.

A really short book that became too painful to finish. You can imagine. You can also say: "Two stars. Are you out of your mind? This is pure sentiment, pure poetry meant to stir your most hidden emotions." "Oh, grow up" with a Joan Rivers' kind of tone. And I will respect that. However, for me it was not and the only thing I stirred was some benevolent coffee that helped me throughout this arduous journey.

The rest of the poems were a little less painful; nothing more. I kind of liked “Transcription of Organ Music”. Some good lines, from time to time. “America” is a decent pearl containing the essence of the Beat generation. “Song” was a nice change of pace.

Beats and me just don't get along. I still have Naked Lunch to read. I wonder...





Two short stories by Guy de Maupassant

Rating: 
23/11/15

Then I turned the conversation on hunting, and he gave me the most curious details on hunting the hippopotamus, the tiger, the elephant and even the gorilla. 
I said: 'Are all these animals dangerous?' 
He smiled: 'Oh, no! Man is the worst.'



Rating: 
25/11/15

25th June. To think that a being is there who lives, who walks, who runs. A being? What is a being? That animated thing, that bears in it the principle of motion and a will ruling that motion. It is attached to nothing, this thing. Its feet do not belong to the ground. It is a grain of life that moves on the earth, and this grain of life, coming I know not whence, one can destroy at one's will. Then nothing—nothing more. It perishes, it is finished.

 ... 

10th August. Who would ever know? Who would ever suspect me, me, me, especially if I should choose a being I had no interest in doing away with?

A dangerous story for a troubled mind.






sábado, 21 de noviembre de 2015

Kubla Khan - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Rating: 
20/11/15

Words evoking vivid, faithful images. The perfection of metres, rhymes and the intellectual effort it all represents. A person in a verse. A life in a haiku. A world in a stanza. I love poetry as much as I love prose. And this poem by Coleridge, this fragment portrays the essence of Romanticism. I have already read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and found it awe-inspiring. So I had a vague idea of the artistic force I was going to encounter with.

Kubla Khan
The Preface of this poem explains the background of the creative process and publication, including a famous anecdote that would later become a concept by itself, a fair allusion to certain aspects of life that inevitably interrupts the writer's creativity. It all started with a dream. By 1797 the poem was “completed” and published in 1816. Coleridge states that, one night, after reading about Xanadu (the palace of Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler and Emperor of China) and giving himself over to the influence of opium, he had a dream. A wild, vivid dream. When he woke up, he started to write a poem until he was apparently interrupted by a person on business from Porlock. And then, he couldn't remember much of the dream and therefore couldn't finish what he has planned. There is no concluding evidence but it does teach us a remarkable lesson. If you feel inspired and begin to write in a frenzy, and all of the sudden someone knocks on your door, don't open it. Unless it is the fire department. Otherwise, do not open the door. Lock it. Close your window. And keep writing.

"Kubla Khan" starts with a depiction of Xanadu. An idea of perfection conveyed through the circular shapes that Coleridge describes. He does so using different tones relating to the idea of opposites. Light and darkness. Nature and human creativity. A lifeless ocean, a mighty fountain. Visions of contradictory images, mythological references, exquisite symbolism; the symphony of a woman. The taste of her song, a song with the power of building domes in the air.

Below, you will find a passage (in Spanish and English) of an essay by the erudite pen of Jorge Luis Borges, concerning Coleridge and his poem.

There was no other way. I had to end these rambling thoughts on Coleridge with Borges in my mind.

Un emperador mogol, en el siglo XIII, sueña un palacio y lo edifica conforme a la visión; en el siglo XVIII, un poeta inglés que no pudo saber que esa fábrica se derivó de un sueño, sueña un poema sobre el palacio.  (…)
En 1961, el P. Gerbillon, de la Compañía de Jesús, comprobó que del palacio de Kublai Khan sólo quedaban ruinas; del poema nos consta que apenas se rescataron cincuenta versos. Tales hechos permiten conjeturar que la serie de sueños y de trabajos no ha tocado a su fin. Al primer soñador fue deparada en la noche la visíon del palacio y lo construyó; al segundo, que no supo del sueño del anterior, el poema sobre el palacio. Si no marra el esquema, algún lector de Kubla Khan soñará, en una noche de la que nos separan los siglos, una mármol o una música. Ese hombre no sabrá que otro dos soñaron, quizá la serie de los sueños no tenga fin, quizá la clave esté en el último.

A thirteenth-century Mongolian emperor dreams a palace and then builds it according to his dream; an eighteenth-century English poet (who could not have known that the structure was derived from a dream) dreams a poem about the palace...
In 1691 Father Gerbillon of the Society of Jesus confirmed that ruins were all that was left of the palace of Kubla Khan; we know that scarcely fifty lines of the poem were salvaged. Those facts give rise to the conjecture that the series of dreams and labors has not yet ended. The first dreamer was given the vision of the palace and he built it; the second, who did not know of the other’s dream, was given the poem about the palace. If the plan does not fail, some reader of “Kubla Khan” will dream, on s night centuries removed from us, of marble or of music. This man will not know that two others also dreamed. Perhaps the series of dreams has no end, or perhaps the last one who dreams will have the key.
(JLB, Otras Inquisiciones/Other Inquisitions)