Thursday, December 25, 2008
He was so incapable of knowing what he knew or to communicate it or shout it loud and he realized, as he thought this thought, that he was not able to know his own feelings let alone the feelings of others, so how could he know what he thought he knew when he did not know what he actually wanted. A sad song occasionally made him cry and he resisted that, he thought that it should not be said aloud and a really melancholic moment was worth an entire year to him he thought so too. But this had not been learned this year, he knew it before the year started to rush to an end, before he began to think these thoughts sitting near the same window where he had sat the year before. Why does a song sadden him more than the sufferings of people, real people in Congo DR or Afghanistan, he asked himself. Should he also not have some real ambition, like accumulating money and buying and selling and shattering his heart and the hearts of others without one thought, one remorse, one pang, one shred of any doubt? He knew this was too loud and too shrill a thought anyway, how could he think of leaving anything and just run, just leave everything and rush as the year was rushing, rushing to who knows where, as he again reminded himself of what he should think, what he had actually decided to think. He always ended up in not thinking about the real things that he should think about and always ended up in thinking of why a sad song saddens him, not about Congo DR or Afghanistan.
The year is rushing to an end, he thought, looking out the same window as he had looked out last year and he thought of the books he had read in the months gone by, places visited, cached, monuments conquered, movies ticked off the movie list. Yet he had learned nothing, he did not even remember the books he had read this year, except The Devils, which he had re-read, and apart from a few great poems, he knew nothing new about the world. How could he know anything he thought when he did not know what is inside him, deep inside, what he actually wanted, what he really thought, what he really thinks of. Thoughts like these are tiring he thought, as he thought of the year rushing to an end, as he sat at the same desk and looked out the same window where he had thought the same thoughts last year, when last year had rushed to who knows where, as this year rushes to who knows where. He was not even sure how much he loved her or how badly he wanted to have his heart shattered out loud, how badly he wanted to spend an entire life listening to sad songs outside badly lit cheap cafes on badly lit cheap looking streets, how much did he want to be like The Idiot inside and behave like The Outsider outside. These are the same thoughts he had thought last year as the year had rushed to an end and these are the same thoughts as he sits near his window, the year rushing to who knows where.
Monday, December 22, 2008
outside my mind,
If they could exist on their own
then you could play or toy with them,
touch them and see them exist on their own.
You could feel their silent melancholy, even
hear them speak of a hundred things,
of what I think and feel and don't speak of.
You could take these thoughts and
discard them later, throw them away, be sick
of them if you felt that way.
You could maybe perceive their occasional music,
how wordy, how worthless, how very sad they are,
how unworldly, impractical, how tense.
Or you could sometimes fondle them and
lock them away from day, sunlight, years, age.
You could shine them, polish them or correct them
or maybe you could sometimes, just sometimes,
listen to them late at night, before break of day,
and hear them speak of the longing they have
for similar unrequited thoughts,
or even for unrequited love.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I like the fact that I’m not mad for you,
And that the globe of planet earth is grounded
And will not drift away beneath our shoes.
I like the fact that I can laugh here loudly,
Not play with words, feel unashamed and loose
And never flush with stifling waves above me
When we brush sleeves, and not need an excuse.
I like the fact that you don’t feel ashamed
As you, before my eyes, embrace another,
I like the fact that I will not be damned
To hell for kissing someone else with ardor,
That you would never use my tender name
In vain, that in the silence of the Church towers
We’ll never get to hear the sweet refrain
Of hallelujahs sung somewhere above us.
With both, my heart and hand, I thank you proudly
For everything, - although you hardly knew
You loved me so: and for my sleeping soundly,
And for the lack of twilight rendezvous,
No moonlit walks with both your arms around me,
No sun above our heads or skies of blue,
For never feeling - sadly! - mad about me,
For me not feeling - sadly! - mad for you.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
how will she ever know
my doubts these thoughts ceaseless heartbeats
how will I tell
how will I ever tell her
what nights do how days are how afternoons linger
how can I show
how can I ever show her
my fingers these hands the dusk of my skin
longing in my marrow
how will she see
how will she ever see
her name etched endlessly on the white of my bare pages
white of my eyes
how will she know
how will she ever know
what I am actually thinking burning melancholy
a shadow on my skin
Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Thanks are only for Atenea for guiding me in this direction. The few lines below are from a poem of the great Argentine poet Olga Orozco's Far away from my hill, published in a collection called Engravings Torn from Insomnia.
........You appeared in my life as if in a distant music,
suspended from who knows what wall of tender homelessness,
listening to the leaves' still stifled murmur over my sleepy youth,
and you chose the sad, the hushed, all that is born beneath oblivion.
In what corner of yourself,
in what deserted corridor do the clamorous steps of a happy season
murmur of water in some meadow prolonging the sky,
hopeful song with which dawn ran to meet us,
and words, no doubt as distant from a special place,
in which the impossible was dying?
You don't respond at all, because any answer from you,
has already been given.
Lejos, desde mi colina
Translation Mary Crow
Friday, December 12, 2008
"Stand on the highest pavement of the stair --
Lean on a garden urn --
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair --
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise --
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair".
Why fugitive resentment.......why not simply resentment? The lady or I imagine a young woman( the hair is brown or light brown, long naturally, it must weave) turns away or is forced to turn away, with resentment in her eyes but the narrator implies that the resentment is hers, her natural choice. Resentment.....out of the blue, why, how, sudden, thus unjustified, quite uncalled for, for had she not just flung some flowers to the ground, which were the narrator's earlier or were presented to her, as a parting memento, as a parting consolation. The narrator actually sees her resentment, as she turns away, having just thrown the flowers to the ground, with a pained surprise, after having expressed a resentment, however fugitive. He is surprised or she is pained, but the resentment is hers alone, the fugitive resentment is hers alone. She is not clever enough to hide her resentment, she should have suffered after throwing the flowers to the ground, after the pained surprise. But she turned away with a resentment which turned to be a fugitive resentment, the only resentment should have been in just flinging the flowers to the ground, after the pained surprise.
"So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand".
I assume now that many years have passed by, the narrator is wishing for the lady with the brown hair to be in grieving still, after he had left her standing on the highest pavement of the stair, after she had turned away with a pained surprise, after she had revealed a fugitive resentment. He resents having left her as he did, but he is not resentful of having left her. He imagines of another faithless way, a simple and faithless way. ( notice the simile, it is so clever, he is so clever) Since she had turned away with a pained surprise and with a fugitive resentment in her eyes, he would have wanted her to understand and believe of a simple and faithless way. I do not know whether he has desired her physically, it might be so, he might be hating it now, but he wants to see her standing there, still grieving, not with pained surprise, certainly without a fugitive resentment.
"She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose".
It is autumn now, in reality, in his body and mind too. She still compels him, I am willing to believe it, he has thought of her, many days and many hours. Didn't she have long brown beautiful hair, and now he reveals that her arms too were covered with her hair. He should not have been so sure of himself as he was then, he should have run up the steps, to the highest pavement of the stairs too, as she had turned away with such fugitive resentment, with such pained surprise. He should have lost his pose, he should have flung something too, after she had flung the flowers to the ground, after she had turned away with a fugitive resentment, with a pained surprise. Does he not remain troubled now, at midnight and at noon?
La figlia che piange is one Eliot poem that I still admire, for I no longer read Eliot. It is a great poem. The distance between reality and imagination, between torturous reality and torturing imagination is narrowed by imagination alone; desire that is thwarted, desire that was thwarted or suppressed is brought forth by imagination alone. The lady might not actually have thrown the flowers away in disgust or pain but the fugitive fleeing resentment is only a moment's life, it passes away, it leaves, it flees, it is always running away. The narrator has reverted to an imagined movement, for these moments are all imagined, her resentment, her pained surprise, her weaving the sunlight, her resentment, her pained surprise. The pain is his, the cogitations are his, the disturbed repose his, the troubled midnight his alone.
He thinks of her, in his autumn, she stands on the stairs, oh if only she were still standing on the stairs, he would have rushed up the steps, after she had thrown away the flowers, after the fugitive resentment, after the pained surprise. His feelings, his rush and roar now, his troubled midnight results from narrowing the distance between the love that never was and the love that has always been in his mind, in his life. This world exists only in imagination, for these feelings are rehearsed in memory, these steps are taken in memory alone, what has never happened has always been happening, in his mind, many days and many hours, disturbing him, his noon, his midnight. The reversion is in his mind alone, the troubles, the turning too. This love has been perfected in his mind alone. She stands on the highest pavement but it is only because of him that she would have ever turned away. Everything that never happened has happened in his mind, perfected by desire, matured by memory.
I think he still thinks of her, fugitive girl, fugitive woman, fugitive brown hair, pained surprise, sunlight, sunlight, flowers, arms and flowers, all hers, but all in his mind. Her pained surprise and her fugitive resentment too.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Eyes that last I saw in tears
Here in death's dream kingdom
The golden vision reappears
I see the eyes but not the tears
This is my affliction
This is my affliction
Eyes I shall not see again
Eyes of decision
Eyes I shall not see unless
At the door of death's other kingdom
Where, as in this,
The eyes outlast a little while
A little while outlast the tears
And hold us in derision.
Thomas Stearns Eliot
was interrupted by the world,
I had meant to listen to all your songs
and read all your words
and sing your praises.
I had meant to sing along too, hum the songs
you give me, songs that I don't understand or know.
But the feeling of something warm, a warm breeze
was interrupted by the world,
I had meant to throng your world
with certain useless words of mine
like sadness or melancholy.
The feeling of something warm
was interrupted by the world,
I had thought of things that I dare not
think of now, even though the time is gone
and I have myself here alone with me.
Who gives us this right to hope of warm feelings
and singing sad tunes? And where are the warm breezes now
and warm feelings too?
But I still think of warm thoughts
even though the world interrupted
but this poem is just by the way too.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
in a sad dream, I heard a sad song last night
in a sad dream
and I kept the pieces during the day,
pieces of the sad song that I dreamt of.
I had heard that song before, I remember
you used to hum it, as I would sit next to you
as you would hum it in the train to your apartment
outside town, I would see you off
to your doorstep, do you remember?
You loved the tune, you said you liked the words
too, words that were incredibly sad, like "you will
leave me, I know, There will be pain". The humming stuck to
me alright, you see, I dreamt of it last night.
And all day, I kept picking the pieces of that
sad song that I dreamt of last night. I saw you
off near your doorstep, I mean in my dream, as I heard
that sad song, and all day
I have kept on picking the pieces.
This is for atenea.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
about you tonight. I will not write of heaps
of dead bodies, of numberless graves, of snow and
rain together, the cold art of forgiveness,
the dying of the dying.
My city, my dark disease, I will not write
about you tonight. I will not write of nights
of vigil, the cold stare of longing, the dismal
evenings, frosty blood soaked afternoons, the fallacious
art of hope, the dust of pain.
My city, my tormentor, I want to forget you,
leave behind, alongside my books, the double ache
of love requited and unrequited, the mendacious
sellers of dreams, the false dawn, the vague art
of vermilion skies, fake art.
My city, my hundred thousand nights, the endless
litter of burnt candles mixed with the bones
of my ancestors, the canopy of those endless roofs,
that sage afternoon, that hopeless morning.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
of sword-strife that the Tartars entertained,
where are the massive ramparts that they flattened?
Where is the wood of the cross, the Tree of Adam?
The present is singular. It is memory
that sets up time. Both succession and error
come with the routine of the clock. A year
is no less vanity than is history.
Between dawn and nightfall is an abyss
of agonies, felicities and cares.
The face that looks back from the wasted mirrors,
the mirrors of night, is not the same face.
The fleeting day is frail and is eternal:
expect no other Heaven, no other Hell.
J.L. Borges, from The Self and the Other
Nekhlyudov in Tolstoy's Resurrection
Monday, December 01, 2008
or ever come near to describing
the melancholic grandeur of parting?
Who can dare say that poetry can express
the space that a death leaves?
All elegies are written in vain
and all poetry is vanity.
Even the greatest poets have only left behind
the scraping echoes of their words only,
words that hang occasionally resplendent,
only occasionally though, though mostly in shade.
Words barely touch the skin, the lived-in skin
of our lives,
futile, mostly clumsy, often vague,
they give the illusion of having approached the point
Voice betrays words and words betray the essence
of the moment, of living, of dying, of whatever makes us
dull, sensitive, selfish and human.
However, the moment of poetry is also the moment of existence,
to rise against the immense unknowing of silence,
the insensitivity of poetry itself
and the artless finality of separations.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
She looks bored, and also bored of the present. Her brown hair, which looks darker from a distance, is not in an unsightly mess. She is quite mindful of how she looks, for from all her experience, only looks matter. The world is distant, at a distance from her. Even her framed portrait, nailed to the near wall looks estranged from her. That face glows with affectation, with deft and light make believe. The joys of times past mean nothing to an estranged present. Only the present matters, present love, present joys.Her finely manicured nails, the expensive shawl that covers her knees, the careless bored look on her face, these merge together, and united in an unwholesome whole, they suggest the cultivated boredom of that hour. But these images are deceptive, for we know nothing. We pretend that our glib words have described a person. We only alter reality with words for the truth of the matter is, she is neither waiting for someone nor has someone left her. She is mortally bored, of life, of herself, of the dense rain outside.Since we never asked her, she never spoke of the night traced across her face, of the dense meanings of the unlived night, of the pain of fixity. She does not believe, she has lost faith in love. Her face, still somehow expectant, waits for a future hope. That is only a guess.
Everything is in the voice, the hesitant notes of the voice, in the waiting, in the expected prompting. He wants something that you cannot or do not want to give, both of you acknowledge the presence of that surmise, of that wall to admitting it. And yet you both speak of the weather, the frost that has settled in since yesterday, of the fog, the dense fog. But you return again to pursue the thread of this conversation, you are testing the water, he is testing you. And you know that it is you, you must acknowledge the presence of this tension, of this thing that cannot be mentioned, for it does not matter how much frost has settled outside, who cares about the fog so long as you come out of this conversation unharmed, so you think, and he tells you exactly without saying it, now exactly, the thing that you both cannot speak about or express in words. The catch is in the voice, in the words, the hardness is in the inflection and not in the frost. This conversation has failed you because you have failed him.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Such were his thoughts, like the unseen and unheard actor's, as he was making his way home, thinking of the actor, an actor rehearsing his lines, repeating them again and again many times in his head, such were his thoughts as he was walking home. For what is not said and not heard go unwitnessed and unheard and thus do not exist, like the actor who struts on the silent stage alone, to act his act silently with no audience to watch him act. As he makes his way home, he knows that the changes are taking place inside him but these are not seen or heard and thus go unwitnessed and unheard. So, as he walks alone, a walk that is walked alone, unseen and unwitnessed, a melancholy walk, he thinks of the actor on the silent stage, the actor who struts alone, on the silent stage alone, and there is no audience to watch the actor, as he struts alone on the silent stage. And so with him too, as he he makes his way home, alone.
Monday, November 24, 2008
How was it possible to live without acknowledging to himself, as he made his way through this driving rain, the insistent and unrepentant farce of these philosophical questions, of these philosophical concepts, of terms like ontology and existence and being and time when he had left unexplained to that person he had left behind, when he had not told the person he had left unaddressed the question of silence? How can a person, making his way through insistent rain explain to another person, the sullen silence of silence and the inability to express, to surmount with words the hermitage of sensitivity, the inability to acknowledge the distress and silence and pain and the distress and silence and pain of the person left behind? How can philosophy, with the coldness of its anarchy explain the distress and silence and pain of closing windows on a previous life and let us live and walk sometimes through the driving rain, as he was walking now, through the driving rain, with questions like ontology and existence and being and time? The most important things in life, like acknowledging the distress and silence and pain, the silence and failure of expressed and unexpressed words, witnessed and unwitnessed pain, and trying to surmount, with useless words the hermitage of sensitivity, these important things were being left behind and such were his thoughts as he made way home through the driving rain.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
So declares Pechorin at the end of Lermontov's small masterpiece A Hero of Our Time. Written much before Turgenev's superfluous men came on the Russian stage, this novel is a testimony to Lermontov's great talent, though it is his only completed novel. Lermontov's reputation as a poet was safe while he was alive and during his time he was considered next only to Pushkin. In fact, he wrote a great elegy on Pushkin, resulting in his being punished by demotion to a military detachment of lesser standing and transfer to the Caucasus. A hero of our time is based on the exploits of our so-called hero in the caucasus, in areas in Chechnya and Daghestan and in many ways, this novel is semi-autobiographical, containing details from the author's own life.
This novel appeared in a serialized form and as a novel during Lermontov's short life and brings to the fore a character quite complex and interesting. Even though Pechorin types started appearing in Turgenev's fiction later and also Tolstoy's much later, Pechorin is not simply a superfluous man and cannot be dismissed only as such. His character and personality are richer, his thoughts more complex than a regular superfluous man. He is given in to more introspection than usual and even though he remains a man of action, he still comes across as uncertain and indecisive, half interested in everything and loaded with contradictions. This personal tendency, this prey to contradictions forms an important aspect of the narrative of his life. He is prone to philosophizing but also dismisses it quickly. He demands to be respected and loved and is easily dismissive of others. He wants power, he tells us so, he knows that ambition leads only to power and yet, in one stroke, very near acquiring that, he throws any such opportunity to acquire power or status.
Pechorin looks rebellious but is not, he is argumentative yet mild in manner, he is lazy but willing to act. This is evidenced by the duel he is forced to accept and after the initial reluctance is over, he executes it according to a well made plan. He shows no pity for the man he ends harming and yet, he appears to be so kind before that. Pechorin however reveals an evil streak when it comes to winning and breaking hearts, throwing them asunder, toying with impressionable girls and young princesses with title and ambition against the sheer beauty of a Caucasian countryside. The Pechorin type is more poetic than appears on first evidence and yet more ruthless than evident. He scoffs at the concept of fate and pre-destination and yet is quite independent in mind and thoughts and action.
The novel is written in four parts, each seemingly unrelated to each other and yet part of a cohesive whole, with a style of narration and self deprecating wit that was far ahead of its time. The novel abounds in nature descriptions, adventurous and funny anecdotes and a psychological analysis at various human situations including places and people. The attempt by the Russians to subdue the native Caucasians forms the untold narrative of the text. Lermontov does not go into the details of the local political situation and it seems justifiable, as the story is not that of the murderous Asiatics, as one character says, but that of Pechorin. Pechorin is in these parts only because he is fated to and yet prepared to end up in a hostile place. Lermontov's considerations or sympathies are not Asian but Russian and in realizing this character, as he explains in his preface, he is attempting a certain critique of the social situation in Russia of those times. As Lermontov says, this book is not about one person but those of the vices of a generation.
In spite of its brevity, this novel raises aesthetic, political, psychological and realistic questions than do far heavier novels. It is essential to remember that the mood here is practical, post-romantic and fatalistic and superfluous.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Love has died, he knew and with each step away and each step towards this new reality, something was dying inside him as something hard, something cold and something fishy, something like death was taking hold of him, with each step towards this new reality, with each step away from that warm tavern, from that warm person that he had once known, towards that very cold person he had become.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
These curls that I stroke with my hand
Aren’t the first that I’ve stroked, and I
Knew lips that were darker than yours.
Stars rose in the sky and faded,
Where does such tenderness come from? –
And glowing eyes also rose and faded
Right next to my own two eyes.
And I used to listen to greater hymns
In complete darkness, at night,
Betrothed - Oh, tenderness! -
On the chest of the singer himself.
Where does such tenderness come from,
And what do I do with it, you, sly,
Adolescent, vagabond singer,
Whose eyelashes couldn’t be longer?
Monday, November 17, 2008
and this night the least clear
this being the saddest song
and this the least remembered
only this night has some existence.
tomorrow the day will reveal noiseless rain
and the same of the old
restive heart, sad fingers
the ceaseless unromance of existence
only this night has some existence.
the worst pain of night is the
most ludicrous of all things during day
it reveals only a profusion of sentiment
and the most vague logic and this
only this night has some existence.
the pile of books inside and the unstoppable
rain outside piles sadness upon sadness
but when it is day it reveals the stupidity
of this heart and the vague logic of the previous night but
only this night has some existence.
the saddest songs of the night
go to pieces during the day
as do my sad fingers and your romantic vows
and my sighs and your voice
but only this night has some existence.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I am referring first to his story called Asya, the idea of which was conceived whilst Turgenev was adrift in a boat on the Rhine. Asya has often been unfavourably compared to his masterpiece First Love but in no way is Asya inferior.
Asya lives on a hilltop with his brother Gagin in a small town on the Rhine. One day they meet the narrator of the story N, and being Russians they drift into small talk.This leads to further meetings and soon the narrator thinks that he is in love with Asya. But Asya is a free spirit, her own emotions and feelings are hidden from her, for she does not know what feelings really are, what love is. Strange is Asya but stranger still the heart that beats inside her, a heart that makes her restless, agitated, happy and sad, almost simultaneously. In Asya, a kind of dual nature alternates rapidly, making her seem passionate and unfriendly and unpredictable.
The hero is young, Asya younger and soon we know that she was conceived illegitimately, Gagin only sharing a father with her. The moment of truth, when Asya wants to hear the word Love from the narrator's mouth and the narrator's disbelief at his lack of understanding, of what he wants and what love means leads to unhappiness in the end. Everything could be linked to her birth, this matter is not far from her mind and as sometimes happens in these stories, the heroine must lose herself in a higher evocation, in a higher calling to redeem herself in her own eyes and lift her falling esteem. This is either in joining a monastic order or in marrying an older richer person. What the hero must decide in practical life is actually quite different from the idealistic dreams of love or any other higher lofty idealism and this is made evident crushingly, in spite of the beautiful and serene scenic surroundings.
Contrast this with First Love, which is a tale written with superb restraint and a wonderful recalling of all that is so reminiscent of love , be it first or second. The emotion of love, evoked in our young narrator on seeing Zenochka is brilliantly described. There is no other greater master than Turgenev when it comes to evoking a mood, a sketch, however ephemeral or transitory it might be, whether it is a lake, a meadow or an inconstant wisp of cloud. The ecstasy of going through the emotion itself, the blush of first love, the hesitant stuttering doubts, the yes and the no, the torment of meetings, the nights, the separations and the usual accompaniments of love are all described vividly by Turgenev. However, Zenochka too sacrifices herself for another ideal and our hero, an adolescent lover is left baffled and scarred by her nature and behaviour. Zenochka has died, the hero is older and everybody can seemingly get on with life.
The greatness of this story is that even though at its heart it is a love story, I have always ( having read this story a few times) reflected on its real theme. Zenochka's unhappiness is the direct result of her poverty and her exploitation at the hands of the hero's father is the culminating crescendo of this story. But in Turgenev's hands, it does not seem so, for his vision is so supreme and his generosity so large that even his social protest lacks the ordinariness of simple rebellion and rises towards an aesthetic of expression. That there is a insurmountable distance between the likes of Zenochka and the hero is made clearer more through the process of portrayal than through any rhetorical device and as for the hero, his love is the pure symptom of adolescence and thus untainted.
The best aspect of the story is in the cast that Turgenev has assembled, the suitors or "lovers" of Zenochka, who, irrespective of time or season, revel in gay abandon as their mistress, at her whim or fancy summons them and then kills them for their sport. The character of Zenochka and her sublime inner beauty, the freshness of spirit and the radiance of her spontaneous actions is in marked contrast to either the later Turgenev heroine who is more confident, bold, always poor but generally a revolutionary, but calm and staid. Zenochka is so different to Lisa ( House of the Gentry) and markedly so from the Dostoevskyian heroine, who is always epileptic, usually tubercular, poor, illegitimate and is either about to die or will die later, betrayed or betraying.
Turgenev's love stories are about the reality of being actually unhappy and the small amounts of happiness that we encounter sometimes in our lives, whatever the time, climate or period.
Friday, November 14, 2008
But is that all? No. Against this sparse "story", Robbe -Grillet weaves a web, a web in which the reader has to eventually fall, reluctantly at first and then, with a wilful abandon. The gaze of narration describes everything in detail and it seems, suspecting A's supposed infidelity and whilst waiting for her or having dinner with the two of them or while simply sitting, the narrator describes everything that he sees, everything that the surface of any object could possibly show in the most clinical manner. And to it are added the constant refrains, the going back, narrative shifts, repetitions, the addition of new details to previously described things, again, another time, yet again, once more, once more, till the reader, I at least, longed for more, more of the same, the same paragraph, the same object. Running through the novel is the returning back to a stain on the veranda wall, left by a centipede that Franck has crushed. This incident is described many times, over and over again till assumes a central motif.
There is a passage from this novel which has become notorious and in an essay on Robbe-Grillet, Bruce Morrissette says that it was read and parodied on radio many decades ago. I might copy it on my blog soon but the passage below is really brilliant:
"The brush descends the length of the loose hair with a faint noise something between the sound of a breath and a crackle. No sooner has it reached the bottom than it quickly rises again toward the head, where the whole surface of its bristles sinks in before gliding over the black mass again. The brush is a bone coloured oval whose short handle disappears almost entirely in the hand firmly gripping it.
Half of the hair hangs down the back, the other hand pulls the other half over one shoulder. The head leans to the right, offering the hair more readily to the brush. Each time the latter lands at the top of its cycle behind the nape of the neck, the head leans farther to the right and then rises again with an effort, while the right hand, holding the brush, moves away in the opposite direction. The left hand, which loosely confines the hair within the wrist, the palm and the fingers, releases it for a second and then closes on it again, gathering the strands together with a firm, mechanical gesture, while the brush continues its course to the extreme tips of the hair. The sound, which gradually varies from one end to the other, is at this point nothing more than a dry, faint crackling, whose last sputters occur once the brush, leaving the longest hair, is already moving up the ascending part of the cycle, describing a swift curve in the air which brings it above the neck, where the hair lies flat on the back of the head and reveals the white streak of a part.
To the left of this part, the other half of the black hair hangs loosely to the waist in supple waves. Still further to the left the face shows only a faint profile. But beyond is the surface of the mirror, which reflects the image of the whole face from the front, the eyes......doubtless unnecessary for brushing......directed straight ahead, as is natural".
The whole art of Robbe-Grillet lies in inviting the reader, initially reluctant, hesitant and slightly unsure into this mathematical world of descriptions, mirrors, windows, blinds and doors, shadows, each exactly described and charted. But is that all. Robbe-Grillet would feel offended if any hidden meaning was ascribed to his fiction or in this case this narrative. The stain has been variously interpreted but I find it closed to myself and think of it as a device to draw us towards an unforgettable central motif of this novel.......this relentless obsession of the narrator or the hidden gaze in analyzing everything in detail. Various reviews suggest murder or impending murder but I am compelled in only seeing this maze of shadows, of the most acute and the most brooding of descriptions.
Robbe-Grillet's style is extremely addictive, enchanting and yes, hypnotic. The sentences, in one repetitive rhythm and strain after another leave you asking for more for, the more the repetitions, the more sinister the effect, the more desperate the narration and the more hideously invisible the gaze. Consider the below:
"The lustrous black curls fall free to the shoulders. The flood of heavy locks with reddish highlights trembles at the slightest movement the head makes. The head must be shaken by tiny movements, imperceptible in themselves, but amplified by the mass of hair, creating gleaming, quickly vanishing eddies whose sudden intensity is reawakened in un-looked for convulsions a little lower......lower still......and a last spasm much lower".
The mundane nature of the word "amplified" is instantly negated by the hypnotic trance of what follows, of spasms that are lower, much lower. One must learn to read this fiction, this art. We get lost in the eddies of Robbe-Grillet's words, each intense, a bit more intense......and towards the end, much more.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In his characteristic way, Barthes' essay on Robbe-Grillet called Objective Literature, Barthes talks about a place for Robbe-Grillet as a novelist, in spaces unoccupied since Balzac, Zola and Proust. He situates him in a place where the new novel as exemplified by Robbe-Grillet moves from the interior to the exterior. The thrust of his writing or its "whole purpose is upon an object, its being there and to keep it from being something". Like a photographer's image, the object in front of us is described but only from the surface without any intentionality, without it falling back to having a meaning, surface or hidden. The object exists on its own, for itself. As Barthes says, for Robbe-Grillet, "the object has no being beyond phenomenon, it has no allegory, not even opaque, for opacity somehow implies a corresponding transparency, a dualism in nature. His language does not explode but is a progression of names over a surface".
It is quite true that Robbe-Grillet's prose is not seemingly poetic, it is not prose poetry but it has a haunting aesthetic to it. The solidity and carefulness of description has a brooding air, the almost mathematical geometry of his character's movements have the unforgettable symptoms of melancholy about them. Anyone familiar with Last year in Marienbad can discern that. At the same time, Robbe-Grillet returns again and again to his objects, till he seemingly exhausts their surface or their surface meaning ( though meaning has no place in his order). This endless repetition works in a different way too for it ultimately serves a purpose in his fiction which is to convey the essence of circularity, that of time. For instance, in Marienbad, we end up where we began and so too in The Erasers. Under his gaze, the objects, as Barthes says, "undergo mutation".
"Visually", says Barthes,"it is impossible for a man to participate in the internal process of dilapidation.......no matter how fine you slice the units of decay......the visual dispensation of the object is the only one that can include within it a forgotten time, perceived by its effects rather than by its duration, and hence deprived of its pathos". The circularity of his time does not allow his objects to fade, they lie insistent for further gazes. Even though the lack of any metaphysic or allegory or inner meaning is repeatedly highlighted by Robbe-Grillet's critics, The Erasers is generally considered open to various meanings of form and allegory and the author seems to have planted clues for those who can unravel them. The geometric patterns of the place where this novel unfolds has the plan of Thebes and thus whether his fiction is entirely one of surfaces, of a surface metaphysic must be questioned too. From the phenomenon to the phenomenological, he can quickly traverse to the metaphysical. I also personally feel, and here I dare to disagree with Barthes, that the objects exemplified and described by the writer have lost something with the passage of time and some hints of that loss are not left entirely untouched by Robbe-Grillet.
This post has been prompted by my reading Robbe-Grillet recently and at present. It also is clear that some of his books are badly titled in English, for example The Voyeur which may however have some commercial reasons. I am currently reading his novel Jealousy and plan to read his other works too and hopefully write in more detail soon. His death, at the beginning of this year is truly a great loss to the world of literature and cinema.
Monday, November 10, 2008
the cottages are seized by turmoil
the bell strikes me Lord
the doves are wild
the moon is on edge
its sickle pierces my flesh
Lord unrest is in the sty
and at the edge of these brooks
that do not flee from the snow
my God tree and fish too
are seized by restlessness.
Thomas Bernhard, from In Hora Mortis
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Gathering Evidence, Thomas Bernhard
Another review at the IHT considers that the "The Savage Detectives" looks positively hermetic beside it".(2666) This here is a good guide to 2666 and has some other interesting secondary links as well. And this is an interesting and amusing introduction to Bolano. 2666 seems to be the novel novel, as it is being called. Let us see.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
It is important to see how the professional or self declared serious literary blogger, the self anointed literary critic, the self declared messiah of blog land, the new conservative blog land hawk has spawned an entire new area of operation in blog land. Any blog search, even to a new literary dilettante novice will reveal a totalitarian control of what should be read and reviewed and how; you will find in various blogs the same drum being beaten again and again. As you scroll down such self consciously important blogs, pathetically declared as the best of literary coverages and so on, you will find the same blogs being read and promoted everywhere, the same names everywhere and those same comments which smack of self importance, egoistic milking and self declared literary benchmarks.
The literary novice is usually far well read these days than the professional blogger. He or she does not play to the gallery of literary critical establishment. The literary critic is now nothing more than a journalist, reporting rather than discoursing, and in the process adding nothing to the reality of debate. It is, as Daniel Bell calls it, a bourgeois addition to the whole debate, for the response of the new blogger is equal to what the middle-class reader evokes. This journalistic chatter, passed on as serious literary coverage and pasted on blog faces everywhere is cringing to see. On these self declared great literary blogs, where all the self important names are continually mentioned, this totalitarian control does not allow the possibility of an outsider to venture in; an outsider dilettante who might be not only a better writer but definitely more widely read.
Some of these so-called literary portals are devoted exclusively either to promoting each other and thus create a fraternity of literature-land ( and in the process stop judging each other and start judging others) and also to promote certain writers, who incidentally might be either good or bad; these main literary portals on the web today are the equals of those who killed a Keats in earlier times. The value and worth of what is written is exclusive to the reader alone. Each individual reader has the capacity to judge the value of what is read. In the same way, this almost totalitarian control of Internet spaces amounts to nothing less than a kind of imperialism of the net. The dilettante blogger has now got the means to speak about those texts that are either being declared holy or have been declared beyond criticism in the past; he or she also has the prerogative of challenging, even if naively, the current wisdom of our Journalistic seers.
Therein, lies the modern paradox. The space of the Internet cannot be justifiably colonized though it can be hogged continuously by the self appointed guardians of literary critical writers. Most of them unfortunately are either failed or failing writers who perhaps should take solace from Bolano's fiction and fictive heroes than create activities, hierarchies and ladders of bloggers and blogging. The dilettante blogger does not have recourse to hidden psychological motives that only the professional critic sees. The novice blogger must write if she/he wants to and in that process a certain meaning to a read text might be achieved. The meanings gleaned might be off the mark but will not be totally wrong for the real exigency is known to the writer of the primary text alone. The dilettante writers blog is one click from deletion but so is the professional self declared best blogger's too. That in itself might be the egalitarianism of the Internet. Everything good and ugly is just a click away from oblivion.
"The usages and values predominant in the consumer societies of the West today are the opposite to those in the imaginary community of the immediate. It is the secondary and the parasitic which overwhelm. Literate humanity is solicited daily by millions of words, printed, broadcast, screened, about books which it will never open, music it will not hear, works of art it will never set eyes on. A perpetual hum of aesthetic commentary, of on-the-minute judgements, of pre-packaged pontifications, crowds the air. Presumably, the greater part of art-talk or literary reportage, of music reviews or ballet criticisms, is skimmed rather than read, heard but not listened to. None the less, the effect is antithetical to that visceral, personal encounter and appropriation designated by Ben Johnson. There is little ingestion; it is the digest that prevails.
At the level of critical-academic interpretation and evaluation, the volume of secondary discourse defies inventory. Not even the computer and electronic data bank are able to cope. No bibliographies are up to date. The mass of books and critical essays, of scholarly articles, of acta and dissertations produced each day in Europe and the United States, has the blind weight of a tidal wave. In the humanities- a general rubric which I will take to encompass literature, music, the arts together with the totality of hermeneutic and normative argument which they occasion.....enumeration verges on the grotesque".
Monday, November 03, 2008
In brief, Lavretsky, our protagonist has returned to his country seat to resume his duties of the landed gentry. However, since he is the quintessential superfluous man, he has decided to plough the land. Herein, Lavretsky is not too dissimilar to us, for in deciding to return to his roots, he follows the well known arc of most of Turgenev's heroes. The difference is in age, in aspect and attire alone and not much in action itself. The main difference from a Bazarov or a Nezhdanov is that Lavretsky has moved away totally from action, from thoughts of any nihilistic nature and has decided to devote himself to solitude. He has somewhat recovered from a painful marriage only to find himself falling in love again with a relative of extreme sensitivity.
Lavretsky decides once again to find happiness only to realize after failing again that it is not possible either to find it or remain happy. In the meanwhile, we have the country seat wherein Lavretsky has a verbal duel with an old friend. This kind of scene is the essence of the Russian literary novel and we have the forerunners of all kinds of storms that were to fall on the Russian scene enacted in Lavretsky's country abode. The difference again is in the manner and convictions of Lavretsky, who in his ploughing of the land maxim, has moved towards the later theories of Bazarov and Nezhdanov, towards the Russianness of Russia, towards Rus, towards some kind of slavophilia and away from Europe. However, Turgenev is no Dostoevsky and his opinions are never extreme or morbid. In his finality, Lavretsky is trying to achieve within his personal space a kind of meaning, to his life and the lives of others around him.
Home of the gentry is not Turgenev's best novel but to understand his entire oeuvre, it is still an essential read. We have all of his usual stylistics, the great descriptions of the countryside, the almost peaceful and sombre paintings of home and hearth and the surrounding anarchy, the passion and the flux of the peasantry. It has his usual motifs without the elan of his later works but the signs are there for further greatness to come. The ideal superfluous man finds full expression here with all his mental passions, his verbal gimmickry, his play and pain and solitude, idealism and love, failure and inaction. We have to look no further to see how Turgenev finds the roots of this superfluous man deep in native soil and find all his rolling angst within.
Alok at Dispatches has in the past devoted a few posts to the concept of the superfluous man and I attach the links. Suffice it to say that with Turgenev, the Russian novel becomes truly great and without his warm passion and steady outlook, it would amount to mere Literature.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
But are they not truly emblematic of what literature should actually encompass and stand for? I w'd rather see a writer who struggles with his contradictions than see an established literary seer churn one tome after another and in the spiralling doom of the times, become an establishment figure, looked up to for more valueless lines or disjointed thoughts. An effervescent writer must not spark always but show us the full essence of the whimpering pathos of his art for only in failure does true creativity reach fever pitch. However, with their lecture tours and printed editions, with endless reviews and critical acclaim, the fault lines expand and widen the gulf between the source and the receiver, till with the passage of time, their accumulated works assume the finality of myth.
Bolano's heroes are not to be searched for in an opium den in a Latin American banana republic alone. His heroes are not mythical but made of real flesh and blood for their very caprices and selfish loves and needless hates and bad writing and literary loves are our own too. They belong not to some pantheon of exalted Sisyphean or Ulyssean club but to the crumbling literature of our modern cities and towns, crumbling because their voices are not actually captured in their true colours. The death of the hero is not the objective nor his salvation through his passing through a painful purgatory. His or her passage is through the crumbling edifice of life itself and his or her literary passions and occasionally deluded love of writing or writers passes through the self aware passage of his own literary mortality, build up on the countless ghosts of self aware seers of the present age.
The Savage Detectives of Bolano are the true literary inheritors of the present times for they have come to terms with the reality of literary failure, the inability, in its true essence to have true literature at present. Literature is not only about writing a few great lines or churn metaphysical melancholy nor is it just to highlight a few political inequalities. It must ultimately re-establish with the average reader and the potential reader the ferment of the air, which is only possible if the main tragedians are not true tragedians but unwilling sacrificial tools. For the unharmonious exit of most Bolano heroes from our pages and their unwelcome entries are as dull and spectacularly brief as the average life around us is. For the hero who dumps the blond girl nearing her pregnancy with an odd few lines or the travelling poets who search for some savage utopia in some savage desert or another modern wasteland are the symbols of our post-capitalist literary times.
Since love is an impossibility and poetry is all together impossible and a great novel is not possible too, the reader must make sense of his or her world through these half crazed literary lunatics, who in previously lived half lives in poor quarters of various cities, where they had written elegies and odes and ditties and ballads and love songs have in the final climactic crazed moments of their lives only succeeded in making an elegy of their own lives. Their success is only in their failure, failure because in these times literature is just a paltry tool to express nothing and success because their lives have culminated at the edges of faraway towns, in isolated beaches where bloated bodies have washed ashore, in city morgues where unidentified bodies lie unclaimed, in certain universities where some, who got lucky have survived and are reconciled to a post love post literary existence.