Thursday, December 31, 2009

across the walls of separation

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What is a book?

What is a book? It is just a fable with faces! Novels are rubbish, too, written as rubbish, merely for idle people to read: believe me, little mother, trust my experience of many years. And if they come telling you about some Shakespeare or other, saying ' Look, there's Shakespeare- he's literature- then be aware that Shakespeare is rubbish, too, it's all the purest rubbish, and all made simply for the purpose of lampoonery!

from Poor Folk, Dostoyevsky

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Unspoken Word

the unspoken word will always remain unheard
it will simmer in my eyes
behind the trace of the last meeting
it will stay on my lips
behind the tremor of my tongue
it will hang with shadows
and get dragged by my feet
it will blight all my hours
and heave with the darkness of these nights
it will claw my skin
and draw circles on sheets of time

the unspoken word will not enter your world
it will stay in my eyes
behind the shades of your face
it will stay on my lips
beside the sound of your name
it will hang with shadows
and drag me with its weight
it will blight all my hours
and fan the fires of distance
it will claw my skin
as I write your name on sheets of time

Thursday, December 17, 2009

we, who had gathered

We, some friends and acquaintances had gathered to hear the saddest love songs at our favourite cafe bar at the corner of the main street in our part of town, to celebrate these short days and these long nights. The patron, our long time ally in such pursuits, had promised to play, what he described as soul drenching songs, songs about unwhispered and unrequited love, his favourite past time, his preferred pursuit. He started by playing songs in a mutually comprehensible language, in the language of common parlance, to some approval and to some groans. As the night progressed, with occasional flashes of some remembered songs, some half remembered refrains and as it started to approach the hour of midnight, which he said was his favourite hour, he started to play songs from his native heart, that is what he said; for those who could tell, we heard the most soul drenching voice, as he said, of Fairouz, as it drifted amongst us, among the spoons and cups and plates and forks, as it drifted slowly amongst us, for those who could discern, these songs of Fairouz, the best voice in the world he claimed it was and for some moments who could dare to doubt him. And we also heard some andulusian songs, which he said were songs from our al-andalus, that is what he said, these are beautiful songs and you will never hear such songs again, he claimed. The best songs are always about unrequited love, he observed, amid some claps and some noise, always about unwhispered love he went on. It is always unrequited love that gives some meaning to our otherwise useless lives, he said later, love must never be lived he declared, it must remain unrequited.

It had started to rain by now, you know, that light rain, soundless as it creeps on us unawares, and now only the most die-hard fans of these saddest love songs remained, huddled around the spoons and cups and plates and forks and the best log fire as our host claimed, in our part of town, he added. Most of those who remained started to hum the few words that we know, as Fairouz sang az karuni and fi kehwati al mafruq, her great songs he reminded us, we must never forget her cafe song, he said, the one written by Rabbani, it makes my heart beat very fast and my eyes wet, he added. The night had now reached that mournful point where all conversation is useless and words have no meaning and we realized it was time to make our way home, we all thought so. And therefore I decided not to address that one person, sitting with her head touching the wet window pane, across me, that person with long brown hair and brandy eyes, I decided not to translate the song about lovers sitting in a cafe, the song Fairouz had sung and we had heard, for all conversation at such an hour is useless and the translation would have been so tame anyway. And so we left our host and started to make our ways home, in the receding night, in the falling rain.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The She-Devil in the Mirror

"It seems to me that one of the most successful and effective forms of tackling the political is by the technique of the thriller or the detective novel, not only thanks to their virtues for creating suspense but also because with detective fiction it is possible to immerse oneself so deeply in the sewers of political power.” Horacio Castellanos Moya.

Firstly the style....the 190 page narrative is in the form of a clipped, short, crescendo wave like of a monologue, that as the time moves on becomes racy, fast, furious and manic. It matches in tone and pace the mental state of our narrator who we can feel getting breathless, getting more and more excited as things become thick and hot, to borrow the narrator's turn of phrase. It would not have been possible to write this novel in any other way and thus from the purely stylistic point of view, Horacio Castellanos Moya's The She-Devil is a success.

The narrator, Laura Rivera's close friend Olga Maria has been shot and killed in the presence of her two young daughters. Apparently it is a senseless murder, for Olga Maria has no enemies. And as Laura starts her monologue, delivered not to the reader but to another friend, who interjects and interrupts briefly, most of which interruptions are sometimes responded to and at times ignored, the narrator begins to talk about her friend and their friends, all of whom belong to the upper levels of San Salvadoran society, circle of power, politics, finance and sexual and political infidelity. Laura's tirade, initially directed against the incompetent criminal police shifts towards her murdered friend's husband, ex-lovers and against disbelief that Olga Maria could have had an affair with her husband too. There is no dearth of sexual liaisons here, all of them sleeping with the other person.

Laura Rivera, as the moments proceed, then launches into her own investigation of the murdered woman's death and its possible causes. As news spreads of possible financial ruin of her friend's husband and with it the possible ruin of many military officials involved in the civil war, her thoughts become more frenzied and by her own admission more paranoid. Anybody could have ordered Olga Maria's death, from her husband to her other lovers, one of them a possible candidate for the country's presidency. The alleged murderer, called RoboCop, escapes from prison, leading Laura to believe that he might want to kill her. Laura seeks refuge with her friend, recipient of this monologue, which ends in her finally being admitted to a psychiatric unit, treated for possible paranoid illness. Laura contemplates emigration to a safe haven, now that everything and everybody is involved in deceit, murder and a breakdown of law.

This novel, from the point of view of its narrator, relishes in a narration that seeks to explore an independent objectivity in a state of affairs where the outsider, not privy to any real knowledge of facts, spins theory after theory. She berates the police chief Handal and his side kick ( the same detectives from Dance with Snakes) of complicity as she does to the others including a maverick detective called Pepe Pindonga ( hired by the murdered persons sister). As we flick the pages, which we do with the same pace as her monologue acquires speed ( we have to, there is no choice), Laura descends into a furious paranoia, witnessing what she later calls her schizophrenic tendencies. Everything is split up, and some of her comments are not only honest but reflect a total lack of tact, confiding as she does her observations to her close friend, who belongs to the same social class. Not only does she come across as prejudiced and class obsessed, she is hostile towards what she calls the Arabs of San Salvador, the poor and the dark skinned people, who are responsible for the mess, as she calls it.

The nature of the economic and political conspiracy is never apparent to the reader and thus the whole monologue, disjointed and interrupted by her stream of consciousness style of observation ( she fears for her life, RoboCop is outside and she wants her friend to change her sofa as it is worn out), never frames or is able to come up with any realistic account of these happenings. Every conspiracy and political corruption, every act of chaos is outside the hands of visible authority, nobody knows anything, not even the President. Power that should allow a sense of sanity is so dissolved and so disjointed that any lead to the murder ends in the narrator's mind as an act of intrigue, with politicians and drug cartels and individuals complicit in perpetuating that sense of helplessness which the contemporary individual, outsider to the doors of power has to bear, live with and mostly invent.

As in Senselessness, which has the political angle attached to the story from the first moment, in The She- Devil, the political gets attached as any new angle catches the narrator's fancy; the aftermath of the civil war feeds and perpetuates the singular loneliness of the individual. Power or lack of it and paranoia are brothers in arms, every new clue must necessarily lead to more reflection to the discerning. The most realistic options then are emigration, the choice for the narrator of Senselessness ( whose monologue is poetic and sonorous and melancholic and long sentenced) as it is for Laura Rivera, whose monologue is short, clipped and filled with her own conceptions of how her society should be and of her own desires, sexual frustrations and that shallow objectivity that breeds on political privilege and corruption, of which she is a part of.

The She- Devil in the Mirror is stylistically accomplished and its ferocious pace forces you to read it in not more than two sittings. It is a total triumph and is the least political novel of all. It shows the fragmentation in each society, the political correctness that one lets slip in front of one's friends, hairdresser or trusted colleague. All class and colour prejudices are shown here in full clarity. It is definitely a great novel, well, a really great novel.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Memed, My Hawk

Memed, My Hawk is the story after the first story, it belongs to the pantheon of first stories, and it also puts an end to all other stories, read or heard. This novel by Yashar Kemal, written several years ago, has the same sparseness and fierce ruggedness of texture and detail that the Taurus mountains have, and the economy of style, the tensions of narration elevate this novel to those heights that are usually reserved for epics. You have heard this before, you have seen it before, this is not new and yet most strikingly original, most brazenly fierce.

I read this novel earlier this year when I had stopped blogging but it had always been my intention to write a few lines in its praise, to share with a few the almost Homeric intensity and pathos of this tale, of a young boy and later man called Memed, those of the mountains, of snow and poverty and cold cruelty, of the widowed mother and the harsh thistles, of naked feet, and the poor villages, of the despotic landlord, the fierce Abdi Agha, at whose word ends the world, ends the law. Memed, wronged and humiliated, seized and tortured slaves himself to extinction. Yet rise he must, one day, and then seize and cut the hand that wields the formidable sword of that order that has gone on being unquestioned since the first story began after the first day.

Memed must also love against all his reason, for love is not his right, at least for the wrong person, the woman who is forcibly betrothed to the Agha's nephew. We have everyone and every thing against Ince Memed, the thin Memed. All seems to be lost in the end,the Agha has his powerful patrons in Ankara but Memed will not be defeated. We want Memed to do something, to restore to stone and thistle what stones and thistles have demanded since the beginning, to scale the mountains in summer and winter snow, to have some consolation, for them at least. The last image sees Memed riding into the mountains, alone and tortured, having lost his lover but having forced his knife into the Agha's breast.

We have heard these fables before and the darkening gloom of times has never faltered in covering these individulas up; but this is also a tale of those whose tales have not been told before. It is epic because it is so serenely magnificent, so unquestioningly accepting of those timeless inequalities that have lumbered man and beast and mountain.This story rises from the soil for it is of the soil, it has the Russsification of detail and melancholy of touch, it is an Eastern epic like only an Eastern epic can be. It is of the marginal but the prose is never so; Kemal gives it the edge of marching troops and sturdy hooves, the palpitations of time, the luxury of the last kiss in a cave high up when all is lost. Yashar Kemal's Memed must be read before all tales are read and after all tales have come to an end.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dance with Snakes


Horacio Castellanos Moya's Senselessness brought him to the attention of the English reading world last year. Senselessness was easily the best novel I read last year, and this year two more novels are available in English, namely, The She Devil in the Mirror and Dance with Snakes. Moya has tried to re frame the context of the political novel and has spoken of the need to revisit the current trend of misreading Bolano, to whom he is usually compared. In fact, he has spoken about and written about the so-called Bolano myth, with the current adulation for the latter narrated as another example of US cultural imperialism in Latin America.

Dance with Snakes reads like a taut thriller and demands that it be read in one sitting. It is a mix of the tragic, the comic, the macabre and the most farcical of situations. Moya once said in a fit of hyperbole that El Salvador did not exist; the events in this short novel take place over the course of three days in the El Salvadorean capital. The war has ended and an unemployed sociologist gets interested in the occupant of a beat-up Chevrolet parked across his sister's apartment where he lives. The sociologist, Eduardo Sosa, who only watches TV and smokes cigarettes, feels piqued by the car. He tries to befriend the occupant, a middle-aged dishevelled looking man, who initially resistant, takes him along his nocturnal travels. He reveals some details of his past life and after a night of drunken revelry, quite suddenly, Sosa slits his throat. Sosa then decides to occupy the dead man's car and assume the dead man's identity.

It turns out that Sosa is not the only occupant but has to share it with four poisonous snakes, who initially wary, accept him as their friend and master. He decides to name them: "The plump one with the cunning eyes would be Beti; the slender one who moved timidly, almost delicately, would be Loli; Valentina exuded sexuality with her iridescent skin; and Carmela had an air of mystery about her." Sosa thus becomes Don Bustillo, the previous occupant, now dead. Sosa then decides to move away from his neighbourhood and launches at first accidentally and later on a series of macabre, highly bizarre and random attacks on his fellow citizens that claims the lives of scores of people, lead to dread, fear and even the fear of an impending revolution in the city. The snakes seem to relish this, attacking their victims with ferocious impunity and deriving pleasure from this blood bath.

Without intent, one of the victims is a presidential candidate, another his niece, another the police commissioner's niece; this leads the government to believe that the president himself is at risk, which leads to them hastily evacuating the president, declaring a state of emergency, with the media involved in a frenzied state of speculations about these senseless crimes. The second and third parts of the novel focus on the police hunt for Bustillo ( the police think he is alive) and the newspaper frenzy for a write-up, with the police and the media trying to outmaneuver each other. The fourth part focuses again on the first person narrative of Sosa. He prepares for the final encounter with the authorities in a scrap yard, where, naked, he makes a concoction of marijuana, cocaine, one of his dead snakes, and after he and his ladies, as he calls them are high, he dances with them in what can be only be described as a macabre piece of writing. He has sex with his snakes and dances to the tune of Dear Prudence,Walking on the moon and ending with Riders on the storm.

Sosa, before this highly energized scene, calls the main newspaper journalist and tells her that, "There’s no plan and there’s no conspiracy, the way they’re saying on the radio. Only chance and logic have allowed me to complete my mutation. But you wouldn’t understand.” At the same time, the journalist is trying to, "Feverishly, almost furiously, to formulate the story she’d like to write … An intimate story, the one she’d like to tell herself in order to understand how, in twenty-four hours, life can suddenly take on a whole new meaning, and what you once thought was solid and secure can be exposed as incredibly vulnerable." The novel ends with the police firebombing the scrap yard, with Sosa escaping to his former existence but the snakes perishing in the scrap yard blaze.

The style of this novel is racy, taut, without any intention of any lyricism. It is unlike that of Senselessness; the novel conveys the anarchic intensity, the senseless ferocity of these random attacks with a prose that borders on the sparse, the anarchic itself. The prose is sometimes slangy and a matter of factness that conveys the mind state of Sosa himself. In fact, when he spaeks to the newspaper office in a few sentences, he tells us that this is the first time he has been able to convey himself clearly. The snakes, his dialogues with them, the intensely farcical sex scenes seem over the top. And yet, nothing can convey more the sense of paralyzing helplessness that pervades of and during violence, in that the most violated and the most depraved resume their senseless existences again.

People can say that this novel reflects urban paranoia, the marginalized and their relationships with each other and the other; personally I feel that while that may be true, it is the very act of the political that is called in question here. It is easy to blame everything on a so-called paranoia but it is important to understand the constant re framing and reshuffling of social orders once anarchic forces or mutations seem to jeopardize this artificial construct of order. Last year, on this blog, while reflecting on Senselessness, I wistfully questioned the act of reading after knowledge imparted from Senselessness. Dance With Snakes made me uneasy throughout and finishing it was an act of relief. That is the highest praise I have for this novel. It is my intention to read The She Devil in the Mirror and like last year, it is quite clear that one of the two will end up as the best novels of the year. That I read 2666 this year and think I will not include it in the same breath speaks of the pulverizing intensity and the mesmerizing menace of Moya's urban nightmarish, almost messianic vision of the tip of the iceberg of our lives.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On the Last Evening on This Earth

On the last evening on this earth, we cut off our days
From our shrubs, and we count the ribs that we will carry with us
And the ribs that we will leave behind, there.......on the last evening
We bid farewell to nothing, and we do not find the time for our end
Everything remains as it is, the place changes our dreams
And changes its visitors. Suddenly, we are no longer capable of irony
And the place is ready to host nothingness..........here on the last evening
We fill ourselves with mountains surrounded by the clouds: conquest
and reconquest
An ancient time grants to this new time the keys of our doors
Come on in, O conquerors, enter our homes, and drink the wine
Of our complacent muwassaha. For we are the night when it splits
in two,
No horse rider arriving from the last prayer call to deliver the dawn....
Our green hot tea....drink it! Our fresh pistachio nuts.....eat them!
These beds are green made of cedar wood.....surrender to drowsiness!
After this lengthy siege, sleep on the feathers of our dreams
The sheets are ready, the scents are at the door, and the mirrors are many
Enter them so that we can come out! Soon we will seek what
Has been our history around your history in the distant lands
And we will seek ourselves in the end: was al-Andalus
Here or there? On the earth......or in the poem?

Mahmoud Darwish, Translated by Gil Anidjar

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Herzog on Herzog

I must admit that I thoroughly liked reading Herzog on Herzog, a collection of interviews that chronologically traces the life and career of Werner Herzog. I was also amused at some of the things that Herzog is so passionate about and the way he articulates himself. The answers are long, some run over two pages but that has been modified by the editor to do away with the pauses, which to some extent feels as if Herzog has written his answers down.

Herzog talks about ecstatic truth in contradiction to facts or plain truth. In his funny The Minnesota Declaration, he speaks about cinema verite and how that leads to norms, not illumination. To those who have seen Herzog's movies,they will understand the importance of space, of landscapes in his oeuvre. However, to the director himself, these landscapes, this physicality is just a reflection of the more important internal landscape, a state of mind. The terrain is just a visible symptom, a screen metaphor so to say, of that inner agitation or turmoil that lead to the creation of ecstatic truth, that illumination.

Herzog is a great film maker and his fame rests as much on his movies as it does on his so called documentaries. But no mention of him will be complete without Kinski, his best fiend. The five movies with Kinski are more representative of that ecstatic truth or vision that Herzog reminds us on every page. Be it Fitzcarraldo and the ship moving over a mountain or be it the wrath of God himself, Aguirre, surrounded by demons and monkeys, his collaboration with Kinski is the sublimation of what Herzog calls the cinema of athletics over aesthetics. Herzog is at pains to remind us that this is no cinema of poetry or reality per se; this is the vision of a far deeper visualization of a deeper truth, a vision of ecstatic illumination. Herzog denies that any of his movies like Cobra Verde has a political message; far from it, he wants us to realize, if not understand the mechanism of a state of mind that can lead to bravery, desperation, a holocaust, slavery, ambition, suicidality and so on.

Most, if not all of the protagonists of Herzog are loners, desperate, raving, ambitious, emotionally unstable, bound for missions of a suicidal grandeur, leading others to such suicidal extremes that any association with such men is fraught with danger. Only men figure in Herzog's world, women are secondary in this vision of truth. The cinematic truth of Herzog is never internal; what I mean to say is that his characters inhabit the edges of an external landscape that is driven by an inner exigency. Contrast this with Fassbinder, where say in Petra Von kant, the entire two hours are spent in her boudoir; this is what Herzog perhaps means by his athletics over aesthetics. And the flavour we get is that of Herzog himself, a loner, desperate to scale a mountain, desperate to produce his movies, walking, walking, through forest and desert, in search of that inner landscape.

Some anecdotes that Herzog mentions are incredible, some humorous, some funny, some dark and yet all carry with them his own whiff of truth, his vision of ecstatic illumination. It is true, he says, that he was planning to fire bomb Kinski once, also true that he would have shot him with his Winchester rifle if Kinski had carried out his threat of leaving the sets in Peru. All this sounds a step too far but his cinema is really one step further from many. The examples are so many, like Kaspar Hauser, like the entire cast of Heart of Glass being hypnotized, his encounter with Reinhold Messner in the Himalayas and so on. Herzog comes across as too confident at times, too opinionated, too aware of everything. And yet, none of it sounds too dull, too over valued, for it sits nicely with his creations, his concept, his visually stunning landscapes, his charting of those frontiers that only a self-annihilating vision can lead to.

Travel on foot, says Herzog, it is a virtue. The movies he has carefully crafted are are as much flights of fancy and vision as much as of a certain kind of mental and physical travel, a mental and physical truth. And this book of interviews goes a step further in allowing us to have a glimpse of that vision, of that ecstatic truth, that illumination.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Landscape with impassable mountains

For a time, the high valley was shrouded in cloud, and for the length of an afternoon they gazed out of the huge panoramic windows, set on two sides of an equilateral triangle, looking out over a milky lake. Having determined to clarify their relationship, after eight hours of talk, their thoughts were already enormously preoccupied with getting through time, with such practical approaches as dining, putting on walking gear, taking an excursion, anything of a straightforward nature.

-Shall we order coffee?
-Yes, please, she replied.

She was grateful to him. The essential thing, he said, is to get back to simple things. If they were both single-celled creatures, say, or oysters, they would know what to do in the rhythm of ebb and flow, that is to say they would open up during high tide so that suspended particles could flow into them, and close up at low tide in order to dry out.She is not an oyster, though, and he is not the sea.

During the course of their afternoon conversation, in which they had planned to analyze their situation and the murky swamplands of their sexual habits, their emotions underwent a change. The mere fact that they were now hungry changed things; having being occupied with each other for eight hours, even in this imperfect manner, they felt that they would surely find a way out before long, some solution as uncomplicated as' let's have dinner now'. In the long run, this was a source of trust, even if matters between them went unresolved. They proposed to talk to each other in this way, a mountain retreat, every year. It may have no purpose, they said, but it's warming.

Everyone has his own magic words
They seem to have no meaning
Let them but flit through memory, though,
And the heart rejoices and weeps........

from The Devil's Blind Spot: Tales from the New Century, Alexander Kluge

Friday, November 20, 2009

Love is colder than death

Lessons of Darkness

3. Cinema verite confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbearable.
4. Fact creates norms and truth illumination.
5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and their is such a truth as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can only be reached through fabrication and imagination and stylization.
6. Filmmakers of cinema verite resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.
7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.
10. The moon is dull. Mother nature doesn't call, doesn't speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don't you listen to the song of life.
11. We ought to be grateful that the universe out there knows no smile.
12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species- including man- crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.

from Herzog on Herzog

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Artur Aristakisyan's Ladoni


Finally, a few words about Aristakisyan. I mean, I overcome my reserve, I give in to the blogging way, of talking about Artur Aristakisyan, about Ladoni, about Palms, about a certain hallucination, a certain dream, a kind of metaphor, of politics, of movie or film or dream or idea or everything alltogether, about Aristakisyan, of the fringes, about fringes, of certain mirrors shown to certain authorities, of confrontation, about confrontation.

A film or documentary, a poetic mirage, an anarchic offering, a messianic message? To the roots of cinema, pure cinema or to another illusion? To make a statement of rhetorical intent ( all statements ending in a full stop are rhetorical and most are banal), to persuade through image and dream and memory, to innovate and to suffer through that innovation.

Ladoni is the movie to end all movies. That is a statement of extreme rhetoric. But are not all images and all odours in any movie constructs? Then we have beggars here, no actors and why should this seem like an invasion, as some think of Ladoni? For to portray those at the fringes, that needs a relaying of reality, and here we have the tortured bodies themselves, in all their muted isolation, their silence, their reticent terror. The beggars who populate this movie, the 'reality' that is shown is actually 'real', for these people lie outside the known networks of our social realities, outside the thin ice of our anarchic lives.

Ladoni says that everyone is blind, the blind boy begging in a blind world from blind people. That is confronatation? Aristakisyan addresses his unborn son. What can you see, achieve? Go into the world, outside the mechanisms of power, go beg. Don't say a word, words are meaningless. There is no escape, no saviour in the end. What you see is the beginning and the end, the terminal is forever. The bodies and the beggars, the litter and the waste are forever. There is no crisis. There are many stories within Ladoni, many terrors. "This is a dangerous film", says Aristakisyan.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Exile

Walser on ash

"Indeed", Walser writes about ash, "if one goes into this apparently uninteresting subject in any depth there is quite a lot to be said about it which is not at all uninteresting;if, for example, one blows on ash it displays not the least reluctance to fly off instantly in all directions. Ash is submissiveness, worthlessness, irrelevance itself, and best of all, it is itself pervaded by the belief that it is fit for nothing. Is it possible to be more helpless, more impotent, and more wretched than ash? Not very easily. Could anything be more compliant and more tolerant? Hardly. Ash has no notion of character and is further from any kind of wood than dejection is from exhiliration. Where there is ash there is actually nothing at all. Tread on ash, and you will barely notice that your foot has stepped on something."

from Selected Stories, Walser

Friday, November 13, 2009

Those words or that Time

The relentless alliance between sadness and the search for time lost is surely a recipe for disaster. For who knows where these dark ramblings may lead one to?
One starts from a familiar corner of a ....street and then, having lost control, finds oneself in lands so distinctly different, flowers so poisonous that the very search seems an affair of extravagance.

One remembers nights, when preparations are made for parting, when the heart refuses, stolidly , to beat slowly and when, insomnia is considered a gift. It is in these dark fields, before sunrise where sadness, now forever born, decides to spread a contagion of regrets.
When the moment to part comes, from homes and hearts , from those windows and doors where childhood has passed into a raging kind of shallow dilettantism, from these hedges and shrubs, whose green mosaic still perhaps holds the touch of fingers and shouts, when the time comes, to perpetrate these crimes, then the multitude of emotions suddenly ceases in selfish unease.

One looks at last for those words, letters, signs, sighs, tremors of the lips or mist in the eyes that have felt the mostly sad drama of life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Walser: The Tanners

We can say that the The Tanners does not have a plot; it does not follow the conventionalities of a novel, we meander through it, we read it, the main protagonist is dissatisfied throughout, so are we, the moment of revelation does not come but to expect it would be a mistake, that much is evident. And yet, Simon Tanner endears himself to us, we like him, he is a bit crazy, a likeable craziness, we love him for that, we like his prolixity, we who like prolixity. There is a hidden movement, one feels we move too as the seasons pass with their own regularity, and yet somehow, there is anxiety too, there is something left unfinished.

The Tanners is not really a saga of the Tanners family, for the three brothers and sisters exist in relation to the main character Simon, whose relationship, if at all, exists with the reader. Simon Tanner does not want to be fixed, he hates fixity, he flows like a stormy river, at times as placid as a pond in midsummer, like snow that melts he melts too and then his sudden bloom, in spring, he springs too. The Tanners does not explore the relationship that exists between the Tanners siblings but puts them in perspective, there is attachment and distance between the characters, that bond of childhood has somehow snapped. Simon moves on from one establishment to another, drifts from one job to another, without finding his metier. However, the crucial point is: he does not find a vocation because he does not want one.

Compare this to The Assistant or to Jakon Von Gunten who enrol into a job, into a decided course. Here Simon just drifts, he allows himself to drift. However, he does not actually hate money, for he knows its uses. Compare this to the concerns that Joseph Marti has in The Assistant where there is a very clear sense of dissatisfaction between bourgeoisie values and the actuality that those entail. Marti is aware of the gulf that exists between his employer and himself; Simon does not care, he simply resigns from the numerous positions he gets into because he has moved a step ahead. He drifts from country to city and is fully aware of the dichotomy that the two places bring. He lectures us about the religious dimensions of life in the country versus the city and his sympathies lie entirely with the countryside.

Simon Tanner does not express his love for the ladies he meets during the course of his life, which is alike with Marti in The Assistant. Marti and Von Gunten feel that they are worthless to be loved; Simon feels that he is worthy but must sacrifice himself for others' sake. Simon is cleverer than the other predecessors in that he knows to rebel, the first two are quieter and perhaps unsure. Simon suffers the melancholic pain of unexpressed love; but being a curious person, the lady who befriends him towards the end offers some hope. We do not know what happens eventually, but that is entirely in keeping with the nature of this novel. The creator Walser himself does not know.

The Tanners is a beautifully written novel and the translation I hope will have done justice to the original. Simon is not a philosopher yet, but he has moved from the reclusive thinker, or from the self meditating monk to an employment in the city. He philosophizes, he lectures on everything, he is aware of the politics and the social dynamics of his place, he does not favour immigration, he wants to live and die in his country. He settles to be on the side of the lost and the defeated but we do not know if he gets completely lost in the end.

The Tanners leaves you with many great aches; there are some fabulous passages and some great images. Walser predated Kafka and as I mentioned in my previous posts on Walser, I prefer Kafka but like Walser. Musil described Kafka as a curious case of the Walser type. There could be no more different writers than Musil and Walser. And as Sebald writes in the introductory essay, the sentences are so long, so dreamy that each preceding sentence seems to make us lose the thread of the one we are reading. I did not remember whether it was summer or winter. I wanted to just follow Simon Tanner and his banter, his sadness, his melancholy heart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You died young, you who died in autumn

You died young, you who died in autumn,
a silent sudden death, leaving a sudden silence.
I search for your face in my collection of
memories, I search for the last time we met,
when our eyes did not betray the finality
of fate and parting.

I see your clear face, the long nose,
the receding line of your hair,
your acrimonious wit, your smile above all
and the acceptance of fate and your
listless destiny.

I remember too the days of sunshine,
of snow and afternoon laziness,
in the playgrounds of our unbecoming,
of youth and what now is only death.

And now my friend, you lie buried,
covered with dew and rain and snow,
with damp, dead and fallen autumn leaves,
wet leaves and tears on your grave.
you left far too abruptly, too soon
and too suddenly.

The above lines are written in the memory of a dear friend who died recently in a road accident.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rosenzweig's War

An extract below from The Jew, the Arab: A History of the Enemy by Gil Anidjar, considered as one of the "101 most dangerous" professors in America by David Horowitz. A link to an interview with Anidjar.

"No one, perhaps, has gone as explicitly far as Rosenzweig in extirpating, ultimately eradicating, Islam from the figure of humanity, that is to say, from the theologico-political, from the religious and historical world configuration that is constituted by Judaism and Christianity. " Before God, then, Jew and christian both labor at the same task. He cannot dispense with either. He has set enmity between the two for all times, and withal has known intimately bound to each".

This exclusion constitutes Rosenzweig's political theology, the theologico-political configuration that links three rather than two entities commonly referred to as 'religions.' This term 'religion' of course means very little to Rosenzweig, who recasts each element( God, world, and man) as privileged in its relation to one of the three religions. Judaism is with God, Christianity is man on its way to God, Islam is the war of the world. Judaism is theological, and it therefore experiences war as political. Christianity is the embodiment of the theologico-political, unable to know the difference when it comes to war. Islam, finally is detheologized and can therefore spread nothing but holy war. Rosenzweig casts Islam at once as the most obvious and the most hidden figure of the world as political. He casts Islam as the most extreme opposite, the most distant figure in its relation to Judaism, in relation to the theological space that Judaism occupies. Rosenzweig casts Islam as the political enemy.

Islam, one could say, cannot relate to the world because it is the world.......what Rosenzweig makes explicit is the structure of the theologico-political as constitutively Abrahamic. By enacting the exclusion of Islam, by making visible the becoming of the theologico-political as the Jude-Christian, Rosenzweig makes Islam into the invisible enemy. He also made Islam the political enemy. With the Star, with what can be seen as a certain culmination of its history, the enemy draws away, and with him, the Jew, the Arab."

from The Jew, the Arab: A History of the Enemy, Gil Anidjar

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For Myself I Would Like

Tears or willow on the ground
teeth of gold
teeth of pollen
like the mouth of a girl
from whose hair swells a river
in each drop a tiny fish
in each tiny fish a gold tooth
in each gold tooth a fifteen-year-old smile,
that dragonflies may reproduce

What can a maiden think about
when the wind discovers her thighs?

from An Unspeakable Betrayal, Luis Bunuel

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Le Promeneur Solitaire

In the characteristic style and prose for which Sebald has won many devotees in the English knowing world, there is another addition, an essay called Le Promeneur Solitaire on the writer Robert Walser. It is what Sebald says "a remembrance". The essay is also a part of the collection called A Place in the Country; I haven't read that yet but am reading Walser's The Tanners and the essay in question in an introduction to Walser. Sebald starts in his usual way and then meanders into melancholy and reflection. A brief introductory few life events, the writer's childhood and early life in Berne and then we find Sebald compare Walser to his own grandfather, both extremely fond of walking. In fact both died in the same year, part of that strange Sebaldian collection of facts and coincidences that seem outrightly too coincidental for comfort.

Interpersed as his writings are with photos, Sebald does his usual jumps in memory, reflecting from Benjamin and Carl Seelig, the man responsible for Walser's reputation as a writer at present. Sebald then frighteningly mentions another coincidence; he finds it really strange that he should come across the word Trauerlaufbahn, a word he says "I believed, when i wrote it down in one of my own works, to be an invention entirely my own". However, it had already been coined by Walser in his work The Robber. This incident, "has the persistent feeling of being beckoned to from the other side", meaning Walser. Sebald then writes about the comical dimension of Walserian fiction, the long sentences and the often done comparison with Gogol.

One of the strange methods that Walser had of writing secretly were his Bleistiftsgebeit, which some have viewed as a sign of his mental deterioration. To Sebald, these elusive texts are not a sign of a psychotic state but a reflection of absolute integrity, a work most daring, a self portrait and a self examination. This pencil system is the preparation of a life underground, these microscripts a sign of inner emigration. The subsequent events of Walser's life are described in the way that only Sebald could, with a repetitive sonorous pattern, allusions and reflections and yet never allowing his fondness for Walser overcome that objective appraisal that few are as capable of as Sebald.

The essay ends with a quote from Nabokov's Speak, Memory and while reading this essay and immediately afterwards, I felt that calm and glad acceptance, that unvoiced thankfulness towards those gods or demons that lead us to the books we read, for I am fond of Sebald and Walser and Nabokov and to find all the three merging in the same essay and on the same page seemed a Sebaldian kind of coincidence. I discovered Walser nearly two years ago and have read his longer works. I personally do not find Walser in the same tradition as Gogol for Gogol's style is outrageously cheeky and borders on the farcical while Walser's prose, generally described as august and dreamy, is quite honestly, simply not from this world.

Walser's prose has a hypnotic quality, that once it seizes you, a sense of calm dread prevails, the convoluted and complexity and sometimes Gogolian nature of the spoken sentences leaves the taste of burning sunsets on your skin, a feeling of having experienced the most unforgettable and yet the most fulfilling defeat and sadness; as if defeat in itself is so rewarding, so Walserian. Walser's prose makes one want to extinguish all lamps, turn out all lights and to love the very silence that one dreads. The sin of not reading Walser, the pain of reading Walser. And this essay, this very Sebaldian saturnine attempt, this gloriously poignant tribute to a great writer from a great writer.

In the reading room of Hell

In the reading room of Hell............ In the club
for science-fiction fans
On the frosted patios.................. In the bedrooms of passage
On the iced-over paths................. When everything finally seems clearer
and each instant is better and less important
With cigarette in mouth and with fear................ Sometimes
green eyes........... And 26 years................. Yours truly

from The Romantic Dogs, Roberto Bolano

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stigmata


Whatever her primary concerns may be, whether they be political or feminist, one can read Cixous for her lyricism alone. And nowhere is it better demonstrated than in her collection of essays called Stigmata. These collected essays deal with a variety of issues, from reading in painting, as evidenced in my previous incomplete post on Bathsheba to her cats, her real cats. Cixous' best essay, I think, in this collection is called My Algeriance: To depart not to arrive.The conception of our identities, the changing nature of our identities, the mosaic of our internal and external identities is called into question. Then the question of writing and the relationship an author has with the text, the celebration of such issues and the writing of the body: these threads run through her essays.

Cixous very clearly demarcates the forged nature of various identities, especially for those who identities have been constructed for them or those who seek to tear away from the conventional nature of such fictions. Cixous is quite aware of her dual identity in Algeria, her jewish identity which separates her from the French and the French-Jewish duality that estranges her from the Arabs. Cixous is at pains, from her previous reflections and experiences to identify with the subjugated identity and at the same time, on arrival in France to question the nature of arrival. Cixous is no stranger to inventing new words and her neologisms are quite clever and some very poetic. She sees herself as not having arrived but being in a state of arrivance; to depart a place would mean to arrive somewhere, but only after having departed? And then one can settle into a particular identity only after clearly going step by step through the rubric of such forced identities or arrivances.

She deals with these issues with a lyrical force that is astounding, but also with a certain degree of lyrical play which questions the nature of such narratives. The interplay is between philosophy and politics and fiction and how such threads weave into or away from each other. Thus what seems like a political question dissolves into a profound melancholy, and the reader, unprepared like me, sways between passionate lyricism and profound politics or both. However, it is actually in subverting all genres that Cixous aims at, whether it is reading Rembrandt or talking about Fatma, the Arab domestic who, it turns out after twenty years, is not Fatma but Messouda. The feminist concerns are woven into her anxieties about identities that are subjugated under colonialism but also about the reframing of such identities after post-colonialism.

Most of our reading, instead of doing away with our prejudices seems to augment them; Cixous' reading of Bathsheba for instance cleverly subverts the pre-conceived nature of such readings, which obviously not only depend on our mind states but the rungs that lead to such states. Our perceptions, which we think are our own, are in constant danger of being subverted. Conventional reading reinforces such perceptions. Texts like Stigmata allow us to re-evaluate our conceptions of not only our reading but the aftermath of our reading and in allowing us to perhaps reframe our absurd accommodations with ideas that we feel comfortable with. It is one thing to acknowledge in public what one holds on the smithy of our conscience and another to actually conform in a meaningful way. The rest is just chatter. Cixous does this all in the most poetic, most lyrical way. And as I said earlier, one can read her for the poetry alone, regardless of our other agendas.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bathsheba or The Interior Bible


Helene Cixous writes with the force of torrents, unleashed unstoppable rapids, like we imagine angels should if they could, with music, loud and deeply touching, fast, furious, like a poet. There, in the painting above by Rembrandt, she approaches it with twenty-four steps. She who is percieved from afar, the non-nude nudity. Without a man.

It would be the last thing I do, write about the painting above, but I write about this halting stuttering poetry of Cixous', this chant, this prose, music that fills, that leaves leaving us longing, a cadence, some steps, a bit more, less, again, again, the same want, then the considerable erudition, insights, darkness, insights, her wandering, her Jewish-wandering, a flash, then loneliness. However, I am interested in certain aspects of how she reads this painting; what follows is just a paraphrase of her reading, which I intend to complete in three posts.

The background she warns is black; blackness isn't black, it is the last degree of reds. The secret blood of reds. Then the expression on Bathsheba's face: the passivity, the despondency, the imminence, drooping. We don't know where we are, what time, what age? Our own country, a foreign land, our hearts, that foreign country? No, this is interior land, the interior Bible.

We see some light on her, we see her servant now. Asks Cixious: Of what secret lights are we made? What lives do we live, this light takes us inside, down the stairs we never take, to the interior land. The entire room is flesh. Sex. Then again:

She does not look at us. She is of those who do not look at us. I mean to say: Bathsheba, Mary, don't look at us, don't stop living, in order to look at us. And when we look at them, thoughts take leave.

What is she thinking about?

Then we see the older woman, at the bottom. Says Cixous: the older woman is Bathsheba's foreignness, her exoticism, Asia. And the woman's coif is oriental. The body is Bathsheba's, the coif is the older woman's.
The servant gazes towards the East, Bathsheba towards the occidental future. The two gazes don't see each other. They are on two parallel planes. And then we see the letter.

I daresay that this is only half the movement, half of her approach. What interests me is the Occidental gaze. The coiffured servant, at her feet stands no chance. Though she too has partaken something from her. But the gazes are different, even if they are day dreaming. They are not of this world, they are parallel to each other. I don't know why I feel a pang for Bathsheba's servant.

from Stigmata, Cixous

Monday, October 19, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

A kind of Frost

Thomas Bernhard's first novel, Frost, is a remarkable one, a novel that has the seeds of all his further works and perhaps one that is more complete, more whole than his other works. What follows below is an attempt to highlight certain aspects of this novel that I think are vital in his oeuvre and in the reader's attempts to surmount the difficulty of reading Bernhard.

In order to access the main character in his novels, the narrator and the reader must leave their usual habitat. He or sometimes she is always in the country side, in remote and desolate parts, besides torrents, having left some form of an easy life behind. The protagonist has usually been living there for some time or is considering living there, an action that is considered new for that person or exaggerated or strange. The protagonist must leave something or end something to begin anew or come to a standstill altogether. This refrain is not unusual in Bernhard and in Frost, our narrator, a medical intern, has been assigned to study the protagonist, who has been living in the Klamm valley for years without any external contact. This is indeed novel, for in his later novels, there is no specific contract for a case study, or it is not revealed so candidly. Thus the tone is set for an encounter between us and the painter, simply called Strauch.

The painter has been living in an inhospitable pub for years in this remote place and our narrator has been assigned by the painter's brother to observe him and prepare notes. It seems that there must be something wrong with the painter, a man who is isolated, who is isolating himself and is by all accounts strange.The narrator must not reveal his true identity for that will expose his brother in the city and will not lead to a true account, a true description of the painter, in his usual state, habitat. I do not propose to write a summary of this novel but to approach it from those perspectives which are so well known and liked by Bernhard's readers, an art that reached frenzied pitch in his later novels. But, I feel that in Frost, not only does Bernhard reveal the full force of his later menace but he does it with exquisite charm, sarcasm, wit and astounding lyricism, a factor not seen in his other works to this extent.

A case for paranoia

In my opinion, the painter Strauch suffers from paranoia, and it seems, a case for delusions and a more florid psychosis can be made.This must not be done hurriedly but I will quote the painter to illustrate the point. It is quite clear that the painter lives in isolation and is stressed. He has chosen to remain so. Right from the first moment, he launches into a tirade, an uncalled for aggressive rant against the villagers and yet, he does not ever substantiate his claims with facts, which could prove him right. His claims and thoughts are based on his perceptions alone, and these perceptions are internal, based again on opinions which he has elaborated over the years. He does not have a direct case against the village or villagers but his reflections are a consequence of his interaction with them, which to some extent, are one sided. The ideas are not just bloated and over valued, thay are clearly dominating his internal and external landscape. However, the cause of such methodology is also a process of communicating something, which is however, closed to us.

Exaggeration as a schema

To exaggerate, to repeat, to create from that exaggeration a suffocating pervading sense of restlessness, and then to build from that a picture of doom and gloom, Bernhard achieves that all in Frost. He build that dichotomy in this text, wherein everyone apart from tha narrator is a misfit, mentally unwell and so on. This exaggeration leads to the buildup of a flavour of an environment where everyone is either dead or dying. Whatever moral leverage left is lost and from that distance itself, the narrator's own exaggeration is evident too.Bernhard uses the same method in most of his novels and it serves his purpose admirably. This exaggeration makes another case for paranoid assumptions, only we can guess that Bernhard has created a distance from his characters and this paranoia in itself is a warning to the reader.

Degenerate nature

One of the consistent themes in Bernhard is of the vileness, the immorality of the landscape and the diseased state of the people, as if everyone is ill or malformed. This forth in the light of the things after the war. This valley is death to any tenderness of feeling. The whole region is sodden with disease. He goes on to enumerate the various congenital diseases that the villagers have, their festering ills and at one point says that everyone has tuberculosis. The impression that we get is not just of a physical dimension but that of a moral one, for with repetition, a device that he uses with sinister effect, we are scared into thinking of a more dangerous, more sinister and unnatural affliction, rather than a curable one. Since nothing can be cured, nothing can be saved. However, no one realizes that they are ill and this makes them more sinister and hence to be shunned. The painter is the only one who thinks so for neither the landlady nor the knacker ever talk of epidemics of hydrocephalus or tuberculosis or the inefficacy of streptomycin.

The very landscape, water, trees, snow and animals are degenerate and diseased. Is it because of the war or any political complicitness during the war? Is it because of Austrian silence during the second war? This theme is central for Bernhard, for in all his major works, he alludes to this.


I think that frost is Bernhard's most lyrical novel, as close to poetry that he allows himself to get to in his prose.
The poetry of repetition, of a sonorous lyricism, of a melancholic intonation is quite evident here. In his poems, Bernhard achieves a pilgrim mystic, prayer like litany and though Frost is prose, there is evidence of such melancholy here. Some of the passages are beautiful but the beauty is blighted by the sense of a desperate doom, not only clinging to the skins inside but also hanging from the icicles, in the gorges, near the torrents that pervade this resolutely impervious landscape.This poetry is both open and closed to us. The beauty of this poetry is a warning, a disease, a death, a dying.

Frost is a brilliant novel and like all Bernhard fiction, the terror is not just in the reading but in the atmosphere that pervades that terror. One returns to Frost again and again and that is its lasting triumph.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The waters of poetry

The waters of poetry will rise tonight
as your skin will blaze with my touch,
as the fever in your eyes will rise
step by feverish step.
The fast darts of your passion.

The waters of poetry will rise
as I will recite aloud the poems
that you like
and leave the best till the end,
leave it on the tip of my tongue
to leave it on the tip of your tongue.

The waters of poetry will mount
and the fever in your eyes will rage
like an angry beast against the chains
of this beastly fire.
The fires will burn and won't die out.

Night itself will stoke the beast of this poem,
stir the waters of this poem
as the madness of our skins will
unremember the reason of our reserve.
This blaze and fever will restore
the forgotten lyric of our skin and stones.

Dreamscape

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

when you came to me

rain fell
when you came finally,
when you came at last to me.

i had waited days and months
past silences, past hope
and had lost faith in mediums and magic.

and then you came
and rain fell, as you walked out of the crowd
towards me, my eyes wide,
my arms stronger, restored in faith.

i know you are mine now,
as i watch you sit and sleep, as
your voice covers me with its ripples,
as i waste myself from a distance.

but you give me new memories,
and i feel taut and stretched and tired,
since you will leave soon,
leaving me to my sullen hours, my restless repose.

i know the face of the hour when you will leave,
when i will hate mirrors and destiny,
mute with walls and stones and silences.
i wish you had not come at all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can you say, " I love you?"

"Can you say I love you?"

Fassbinder : I can for instance. There comes a moment when I can't do anything but say it. I've even got myself to the point where I don't tell myself how dumb it sounds. In the beginning I would say, I love you, but make it ironic. In the meantime I have taught myself not to,and when the moment comes, I simply say it, which doesn't mean that I'm not standing back and watching myself at the same time.But this business of always checking to see if my experiences can be used as material is another question.

I allow my film characters much more leeway than I give myself. For instance, I reached the point much earlier with the characters in my films Where I could give them a chance to express their feelings directly.

from The Anarchy of the Imagination, Fassbinder

Monday, October 12, 2009

Understanding Fassbinder



For the Fassbinder struck, any addition to the canon is valuable. This may be interviews on DVD or a newly published biography. Wallace Steadman Watson's Understanding Fassbinder: Film as public and private art is one such work. I know it is a mistake but I make it here: I compared this work to Elsaesser's work on Fassbinder which I must admit, I like more. Perhaps, Elsaesser's work has a more in depth sociological perspective into the environment of post war Germany which sets the tone for a lot of his work. There is a more versatile analysis of the movies which is lacking to some extent in this book. That however, should in no way detract from the merits of this book.

Watson charts the course of well, what was a stormy affair of a life, Fassbinder's birth, the early events of his childhood and the influence of Sirk on the Fassbinder way of making movies. That Sirkean melodrama was an influential factor on Fassbinder in now too well recognized; that melodrama was not unknown as such to Fassbinder is not well known. Watson devotes a well written chapter to the Women's pictures, including a documented analysis of Effi Briest, Petra von Kant and Martha. Fassbinder's troubled relationship with his mother is discussed too but not in a detailed manner, much is left for us to imagine. And his relationship with his stepdad, the liberal journalist Wolff Eder is discussed too. This person was to play a crucial part in Fassbinder's understanding of the problem of history in modern Germany, including the ideology of repression which gained ground after the second war. The women's pictures discussed here include Veronica Voss, Lola and Maria Braun. I have in my previous posts written about Fassbinder's anger-love hate relationship with Hanna Schygulla, which is briefly mentioned.

For me personally, the few pages devoted to In a Year of 13 Moons is the highlight of this book, for it narrates the development of what is Fassbinder's bleakest, most compelling, most powerful and the most polyphonic narrative within the movie genre. There are sections devoted to Berlin Alexanderplatz of course, and his scripts, and his hates and friendships and loves and wars and so on. Altogether, it is a decidedly good read and a good introduction to the Fassbinderless.

Much of what Fassbinder did was political, I think and some of it seems pure melancholic left wing despair. In his case, art comes out of crisis and defiance. Thus, Fassbinder wants to stay out of power and fight against authority. His self imposed exile must be seen in this light. He liked melodrama, Hollywood and its vanities. He also liked to show how it is. It is the recognition of aggression that was his genius, even very low aggression. Thus, all he does in one way or another is show how aggressive we generally are. And violent.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

After the calm

I have felt like waves washing over me,
releasing me, from doubt, from the tidal
pain of moon
I have felt washed at shore, left unconcerned
from the hum of doubt, never before has
loneliness looked like reward.

I lie limp but awake, these ripples in my mind
no longer seethe.
All my questions have been answered, my loves
rewarded, the pain of each separation erased
from memory.
what was it that hung on me, carried me to this shore
so dark?

What stung the moon ? what drove those waves?
why this repose? what night is this without a search for meaning?
This listless repose, these no thoughts of you,
my dreamless moments, my acheless painless night.
Sink me back and drown me, take me to my ledge
where doubts hang dark, where the tides fall back
and recede and rise again.

Give me that night that lives me or give me sleep,
give me love that loves me or drive me deep
into that deep rictus, which the moon prepares
from its dark haunting ground.
I prefer the loneliness of doubt than the
aftertaste of certain calm.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mumu

I do not know why I am writing a seperate post on Mumu, a Turgenev short story that is not as famous as his First Love or the Sketches. I am however not alone in thinking, as I have realized of late, that Mumu is nothing short of a masterpiece. As I have written on this blog before, Turgenev found so much space within the constraints of the longish short story that his results are astounding and the width of his vision, his compassion and the stirring characterizations of his stories are more than another ordinary writer can only dream of.

Mumu is not simply a story of social protest. The deafening cruelty of serfdom is made obvious but without the polemical pressure of showing; the story ends in a kind of helpless stalemate with Gerasim restored to the solitude of a hut, without desire for woman or dog. The protest against injustice, in the form of the prevailing serfdom of the times is as clear as day and yet the end, the end is quite disturbing for Turgenev, in a masterstroke restores to silence and solitude all that was so disquieting, and in letting it simmer and show its ugly face, against the face of stolid acceptance, the plight of 19th century Russia is made obvious.

The greatness of Mumu lies in the dignified hush of the end, the calmness restored to beast and man, the cruel acceptance of desperate fate. Mumu is also a love story, a desperate love story and because it is desperate, because it will lead to nowhere, because it is doomed to failure, because man and might have conspired against Gerasim before the acts of creation were unrolled, the emotional aspects of this story are forces of release, sublime acts.

Who can forget the image of Gerasim walking towards his village in darkness, deaf and dumb amongst shadows, a sack on his shoulders, an indelible image in all literature?


Filling spaces

With exceptions, all varieties of writing acts are acts of filling spaces, filling silence, filling with words the un-understandable involuntary passage of acts, of time. A melancholic tune makes me want to write, somebody's sorrow too, somebody's silence makes me feel that even against the harsh impenetrability that words have around them, an attempt must be made, a passage created that could lead to what may eventually only be isolation or incomprehension. The act of a certain way of writing or certain kinds of writing can only thus be described as acts of resistance, of rebellion. The savaged persona or body is eventually the self for the supposed comprehension of an other experience or person is based only on one's own sensory or un-nameable experiences, to which one is sometimes privy to but in a blind unknowing way. Some call that an other experience and those who are more confident call it mystical. Whatever it is, the rite of passage is through words, even if they lead to more emptiness or another attempt.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Come

When nights come, nights like this one,
huge, unending, black with doubt.
when nights come, nights like this,
with parallel pains of many kind,
different strands within the same
kind of unease, with new difference, as each act
passes into new discomfort.

The beginning and the end are known
as the issue is not forced,
thinking is not stretched to the point
of meaning or revelation,
and each act of meaningful pain remains
unresolved, an act of subterfuge,
just a jostled attempt with words.

These nights are no more than rhetorical questions
with unresolved knots and depth less depths.
No metaphysical notes, no existential lines
streak the sky of my nights.
I only ask for a favour, one favour.
Come.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

As he draws away

The enemy who drinks tea in our shack has
a mare in smoke, a daughter with
thick eyebrows, brown eyes, long
hair like a night of songs over her shoulders. Her image
doesn't leave him when he comes over to ask for tea. But he
doesn't speak to us about her evening chores, or about
a mare abandoned by songs at the top of a hill...

...In our shack the enemy takes a rest from his gun,
leaving it on my grandfather's chair. He eats our bread
like a guest, dozes on
the wicker chair, caresses our cat's
fur. He always says to us:
Don't blame the victim!
Who is the victim? We ask him
He answers: Blood that the night will never dry...

...The buttons on his uniform sparkles as he draws away.
Good evening to you! Say hello to our well
and to our fig trees. Tread gently on
our shadow in the barley fields. Say hello, higher up, to
our pines. Don't forget to lock the gate
at night. Don't forget the horse's
fear of airplanes
And greet us, there, if time allows...

These words that we'd wished
to say at the door... he hears them,
hears them well, but hides them in a quick cough
and tosses them aside
So why does he visit the victim every evening?
And memorize our proverbs, like us?
And repeat our songs of
our own appointments in the holy place?
Were it not for the gun
the flute would pass into the flute...

...The war will last as long as the earth
in us revolves around itself!
Let's be good then. He used to ask us
to be good. He'd read the verses
of Yeat's Airman: Those that I fight
I do not hate, those that I guard
I do not love...
Then he'd leave our wooden shack
and walk eighty meters to
our stone house, there, at the edge of the plain...

Say hello to our house, stranger
Our coffee cups
are still as they were. Can you smell
our fingers on them? Will you tell your daughter with
her long hair and two thick eyebrows that she has
an absent friend
who would like to visit her? For nothing...
but to enter her mirror and see his secret:
How she follows, after him, the course of his life
in his place? Say hello to her
if time allows...

These words that we'd wished
to say, he hears them,
hears them well
but hides them in a quick cough
and tosses them aside. The buttons
of his uniform sparkle as he draws away...

Mahmoud Darwish

I am burning, I am burning

Monday, October 05, 2009

One cannot always sustain

One cannot always sustain one mood, that is well known and clear to all. Politics, the deafening roar of death that must take on others........the death that kills others......we have been there, in the vicinity of such nights. Before, at a younger point in the day, we were filled up with ourselves, the world was generally bright, we were not silly to be idealistic but occasionally reckless enough to dream. Then came the long night of a merciless siege and we were marooned.

That is a lot of politics for one post, and besides what is the use of visiting this kind of politics anyway. One is left with the distaste of dusty mirrors in long forgotten halls and attics in houses where no one visits anymore and no one lives. Old melancholic songs, little ditties that are difficult to hum, poems forgotten, loves hushed up, the distinct memory of a distinct memory, the probability of having written these lines before, the night outside, the same same.

It is quite certain now that old friends will never meet again, how is it possible anyway and who will take such trouble? The last time that friends met, if only the tremors of time could have warned people, given them a hint that now is the last time, after this no more, regret if you want, think of a smile, a parting glance for after this there is only misery, only parting, only tragedy. Where is politics, unless there is a politics in parting too, the politics of parting and fading away forever?

One must be a realist they taught, idealism gets you nowhere, yes read but be sure, sure of yourself, for when nights end, when nights reach an end suddenly, then the next day is too bright anyway, besides the merchants have gone, the small shops have shut down, the old neighbourhoods have changed, people migrate, some have left their countries altogether, there is noise, it is deafening, there is so much clamor, there is no space for poetry anymore.

New writers were discovered, war & peace happened ages ago, this is not even solar pessimism, that too was abandoned, now is the time for lyricism, of a new kind, of a new song, for evenings come abruptly bringing fatal nights, nights of revision, of hushed lips, of those nights that are unending, those that end later, leaving a mirage, a litter of thoughts, only for them to lose sight of themselves among these new books, new monsters. And then these thoughts too are difficult to sustain, to reach a certain end, for beginning demands a certain closure, a break. And then everything ends suddenly, like certain meetings and even the viability of these paragraphs seem dubious, so utterly utterly unnecessary.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What about you sir?

"They didn't know how to take a walk. They walked through the heavy rain and stopped in front of a hardware store where the window display featured piping, tin cans, large bolts and nails. And Macabea, afraid that the silence might already mean separation, said to her new boyfriend:
'I just love bolts and nails, what about you sir?' "

Lispector, The Hour of the Star

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Batuba Jantiram Lecoli

"If I could describe the inner life of a dog I would have reached a summit", wrote Lispector once. However she also wrote to tear language away from all restraint, to the extent possible and thus describe those states of mind which language usually fails to do. Talking to her dog Ulisses in a language that Lispector invented which she claimed only her dog could understand. Quoting her biographer Moser "She explicitly makes the link between nonsensical language and precisely those realms of life that are impossible to define and describe". And Lispector herself "I enjoy speaking this way: it is a language that resembles an orgasm. Since I don't understand, I hand myself over: tilibica samvico esfolerico mazuba! I am the water of a lovely cistern".

Discovering the holy name is not permissible for the Jewish mystic, for it can belong to no human tongue. Her biographer claims that this senseless babble that she created was the culmination of her 'search', for true words. She said once, " I restrain myself, as if holding the reins of a horse that could gallop off and take me God knows where."

Lispector is I guess not the only one who invented a personal language to talk or communicate. Myself included, I know some who would speak at those hours where intimacy and knowing melt into a state of knowing and recognition or awareness. At those instances only a personal language can bridge enormous chasms. When I read these words, everything seemed familiar. This language or intimate words do not interest me from any mystical dimension of hers which I doubt but from a personal aspect as it is not entirely an idiosyncratic expression. To import any transcedental angle would be to give it a dimension that it lacks.

Below, an extract of Lispectorish, from her biography.

Angela....Batuba jantiram lecoli? adapiu quereba salutria kalusia. dacoleba, titban, ziticoba, letuban. joju leba, leba jan? Tutiban leba, lebajan. Atotoquina, zefiram. jetobabe? jetoban.