Sunday, October 31, 2010

Literature + Illness = Illness

Roberto Bolano's The Insufferable Gaucho has a memorable essay called Literature + Illness = Illness, written whilst he was waiting for a liver transplant at a specialist hospital in Barcelona. The essay is dedicated to his hepatologist. The essay is essentially a contemplation on mortality, including the writer's own mortality. Thinking about such things in a huge elevator with his Japanese doctor, Bolano thinks of what goes through the minds of people who know are going to die, like himself. What do hey think of before dying? He then writes about the association between illness and things like height, with Dionysus, with Literature and poetry. Where does reading get us, he asks. Reading is like having sex says Bolano. Ultimately it is a finite activity in an infinite sea of books, in an infinite possibility of sex. Essentially he thinks that reading one book is equal to reading all, where does it lead us?

Bolano beautifully paraphrases Mallarme' Brise Marine and Baudelaire's The Traveller. The Mallarme' poem translation that Bolano has chosen is my own personal favourite. The flesh is sad and I have read every book, wrote Mallarme. Taking this further, Bolano says that reading and sex have gotten this reader nowhere. The real essence is in travel. Travelling can be the only saving grace against the ills of the modern world, traveling as a prescription for our neuroses. Not the traveling prescription of modern times but of yore, traveling for months together, for years. Bolano remembers traveling in his fathers truck in a landscape in Chile that he describes as post-nuclear and then in Mexico and later on in Spain, where he lies ill as he writes this essay.
Towards the end of this essay, Bolano is reflectively thinking about Kafka, Kafka having said that " nothing could come between me and my writing". Thinking about this, Bolano thinks that " travel, sex and books are paths that lead nowhere except to the loss of self, and yet, they must be followed and the self must be lost, in order to find it again, or to find something, whatever it may be - a book, an expression, a misplaced order Rodin anything at all, a method perhaps, and, with a bit of luck, the new, which has been there all along".

The concerns of this essay have plagued me since long. But read one must, even if ultimately it is a solitary pursuit unlike sex generally and travel though the latter is an exception. Bolano's concerns are expressed through the prism of reflections of a nearly dead man, a dying man, a terminally ill man and hence this essay reflects that mood. The style is unlike that of his novels which are faster and pacier , unlike this essay which has mellifluous music and the sadness of ennui, the ennui that the Mallarme poem spoke of, the oases of fear that Baudelaire wrote of, the malaise of modern life, the romance of reading, the hope to find something new.

Reading leads us nowhere eventually and gives us no answers. I have read one book means that I have read all the books. The flesh is sad, why did Mallarme write that asks Bolano. It at least may lead us to an abyss eventually even if that abyss too is unrevealing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Sound of the Mountain

I feel that if I had to read only one novel for a whole year and never hope of it ending, then I would choose The Sound of the Mountain by Kawabata Yasunari. I would just relish seeing Shingo busy in his routine, coming back home and chat to his daughter-in-law kikuko and think of his lingering love for his wife' dead sister. What better than see his growing affection for Kikuko, with whom his bond is unwritten and unsaid, Kikuko of the sad eyes and clear forehead, Kikuko of the bright Kimono and tight Obi, Kikuko of the graceful shoulders and melancholy eyes, the sad Kikuko, the unloved Kikuko, whose husband Shuichi prefers a geisha. Fusako, Shingo' daughter is estranged from her husband, she brings unrest to her parents house, she is unhappy, she too is sad, there is melancholy that drifts in and out of the Shingo household. At night, Shingo, now in his sixties, fears the ravages of memory, hears the sound of death, fears death, hears the sound of the mountain, hears too his own longing, the failed love for his dead sister-in-law, he sees her in dreams. Shingo's memory is failing, he thinks about the lives of his loved ones and at times blames himself for Shuichi' failings.

At night, Shingo feels the stirrings of desire for Kikuko, sees her and doesn't in dreams, sees the breasts of a faceless woman, feels and feels it, the Kikuko of the bright Kimono, of the tight Obi, cutting and trimming dwarf plants, cutting the yatsude at the bottom of the cherry trees, looking at Shingo with affection and who knows what, Kikuko the neglected wife, of faint early summer stirrings and nocturnal desires. The common occurrences in the Shingo household, the new electric razor that Kikuko has given Shingo, the new Kimonos she has bought for her sister-in-law, the newspaper stories that Shingo' wife likes to read, the morning sunflowers, the lingering gaze of Shingo as it falls on Kikuko's shoulders, on her tight Obi, on her melancholy eyes, her beautiful forehead, the downy hair on the nape of her neck.

Shingo's moral crisis forces him to have a meeting with Shuichi's geisha. Around the same time, Kikuko secretly has an abortion, refusing to have Shuichi' child whilst Shuichi' geisha , also pregnant from Shuichi decides to have the child. Shingo pays her money after she has separated from Shuichi, and the geisha Kino withdraws away. Kikuko returns home, Shuichi starts spending more time with her, though he does declare to Shingo that she is a free agent, on hearing which Kikuko cries, adamant that she won't leave, especially Shingo. Life resumes again, Fusako's husband has survived a suicide attempt, there is talk of Fusako opening a stall with Kikuko offering to help, there is a plan for a family holiday, the seasons have passed a full circle, we have seen the sunflowers and the cherry trees, the maples too, and heard the hissing of the mountain.

This is Kawabata territory, fierce in its ambiguity, in its passing and unpassing hours, its passing and unpassing time, its recreation of a lost romance in changing minds, its hints, its provocations, its subtle and not so subtle suggestions, the romanticism, the loneliness, the eroticism of everything he creates, the mood, the atmosphere, the longing the desire, the stirrings of memory. The tale ends in ambiguous melancholy, the relations between the characters are shaded by restraint and sadness. Shingo is not emotionally close to his wife, he finds in Kikuko the daughter he doesn't find in Fusako and yet he has a soft almost erotic affection for Kikuko though it is never described with distaste. The almost disdainful attitude which Shuichi has for his wife I find something difficult to accept but then I am not privy to the cultural elements of geisha life and the moral implications it might have for Japanese sensibilities. All geisha's are not mistresses and as Shingo lies in the arms of a geisha once, he finds a calmness in that embrance if not just plain physical arousal.

I do not know if the novel could have been written from multiple perspectives for while on the one hand Kikuko's sadness is described with both direct and indirect ways, yet her attitude towards Shuichi is not described at all because it is never discussed. In other ways, with geisha's in the background, all these women floating in and out are persistent acts to which any sensible woman should act against and yet, there are no signs of revolt. Kikuko does rebel, by having an abortion and yet settles in again but does she come back for Shingo instead? Does Kikuko know or feel that her downy hair on her neck appeals to her father-in-law, does she know that the shrug of her shoulders, her bright Kimono, her tight Obi arouses in Shingo memories of his previous love and current erotic desire?

Much and I feel everything is left in shade and doubt. The mood of this novel is mysterious, it is almost scary in its contemplation of moral crises, though it is softer in its eventual ending compared to Soseki's novels. I will linger outside the Shingo household veranda as Shingo will look at the distant mountain, thinking of death and Kikuko and I will linger to wait as Kikuko comes out to water the cherry trees, dressed in her bright Kimono, her tight Obi, Kikuko of the beautiful shoulders, the sad eyes with the downy hair on the nape of her neck.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

the loose gazing of our eyes which is endless

What follows below is a daydream, a rendering of 'the loose gazing of our eyes which is endless' from Apollinaire' The Mirabeau Bridge.

this is all a dream, we never met really, it is a fable, our touches had the fate of distance destined from the beginning, we lingered in the arc of our shadows, our shadows stretched from one to the other, under the shadow of the world, beneath the shadow of ourselves, under the hesitant union of our shadows we lingered a while didn't we, we sat together often, under the shade of crimson autumn leaves, looking often at the lines of our hands, looking for some meaning in the shadows that shaded us, shadows that stretched from me to you, and from you to me. we gazed loosely at each other, often lingering in the shadow of those gazes, we thought that this time would outlast the bitterness of lonely hours, hours that crept so often between us, hours of solitude and meeting, at the edge of those gazes, within the arc of those hours, at the periphery of your scent.

your scent your smell, the iris of your eyes, lie I would if I didn't think that I saw in them my destiny, in the discreet shadow of your arms the destiny of my mouth, in the shadow of your arms the meaning of my shadow, between those gazes the unruffled warnings of my desire, the stirrings of my touch, the unsaid ruffling of your lips, the movement of your lips, the smell of your lips, the scent of your days, the meaning of your nights, my eyes never met your eyes I admit, your eyes never sought my eyes in open unrestraint, yet didn't our gazes linger endlessly on those moments between us that were shadowless, didn't I seek the water of your mouth didn't I seek the heaviness of my touch on you though I didn't tell you so?

my eyes will forever seek the fresh iris of your eyes, after you open your blinking eyes, after you have swept away with your wet fingers the loose strands of your hair that keep getting in the way of our gaze, after you open your eyes unhesitantly to my fresh questions to my fresh eyes, I will not let the old images that fall on your eyes come in the way of the new gaze, come near sit near me, it is autumn again, the streets of my memory are littered with your memory, come unhesitant come again come and seek in my eyes the loose gazing of our eyes which is endless even if it is only a dream.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Mirabeau Bridge

Under the Mirabeau Bridge the Seine
Flows and our love
Must I be reminded again
How joy came always after pain

Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain

Hands within hands we stand face to face
while underneath
The bridge of our arms passes
The loose wave of our gazing which is endless

Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain

Love slips away like this water flowing
love slips away
How slow life is in its going
And hope is so violent a thing

Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain

The days pass the weeks pass and are gone
Neither time that is gone
Nor love ever returns again
Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine

Night comes the hour is rung
The days go I remain

Translated by W.S. Merwin, G. Apollinaire

Monday, October 25, 2010

on certain evenings

certain evenings bring fierce pain
just after sunset, and a little before total darkness
comes a strange feeling. often in the past
I thought it was a longing for familiar habits
or pure sentiment or just missing those that I truly miss.
but this nameless ceaseless emptiness is more
than mere longing or nostalgia. sometimes it comes as soon as
I hear a sad song played in a language that I do not
know. sometimes the way the traffic lights change
and reflect and burn in a restaurant window, you know that feeling?
the beautiful girl dining inside sitting opposite
a man oblivious of her beauty, the missed heartbeat of that moment,
you know what i am talking about?
the way the high street feral cat hides his anguish behind anger,
on the main street, that gives me endless pain too.
sometimes there is no reason in all this you see, you have gone
your way, and soon everything will be forgotten, you and me
and the cat and the beautiful girl. even smoking cigarettes
does not help, even one after the other. the calm of burning candles
does not kill the anguish of real or imagined pain.

Akutagawa's Robbers

If reading fiction meant that some kind of illumination is expected, then that would be reading for the wrong reasons. If one reads sometimes to lessen one's misery, that too is an odd reason. Since I don't know the primary reason behind reading, may I say that if one wants to be enchanted and discomforted at the same time, if one wants to be hypnotized and saddened in one instance, then one must not look further away but pick up your Akutagawa. In Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Japanese Literature gives us many reasons to carry on reading. Reading Akutagawa is drinking of a chalice that while poisoned is also rich in that liquid which the gods might like too.

In a Grove, also made famous by the movie is the oft quoted text of Akutagawa's. His Kappa is not far behind. What however I find derisory is the way publishers bracket certain writers to sell books. For instance, the book of Akutagawa's that I am reading these days is called an The Beautiful and the Grotesque', for his fiction is usually seen as belonging to that particular kind of fantastic fiction genre. It is a certain attempt at orientalizing aspects of non-western fiction and here in is no exception. Even though the Kappa might seem outrageous and perhaps fantastic, to include all the stories under the title I just mentioned seems bizarre. The first story in this collection is called The Robbers and in no way is it grotesque. There is beauty in it, of a most melancholic kind, and beauty in the writing. That this first story is fierce in it's treatment of what it wants to say is a testimony to the greatness of the writer.

There is no way that I can possibly describe the melancholy of The Robbers. The depiction of mood, the evocation of scene, the dramatization of the elements, there is almost a mis-en-scene quality to the writing. The action that takes place in Kyoto, the concrete descriptions of the streets, the almost mesmerizingly haunting and almost provocative constructs of the visual elements of this story are just mind numbing. The description of the plague that is affecting Kyoto around the time the events are described is caught hauntingly in the passage below:

"The breathless sky, hung with humid summer heat, spread over the houses; it was a certain noon in July. At the crossroads where the man had paused there was a willow.....the leaves on its sparse branches so long and slender that one might think it suffered from the plague prevailing at that time; it cast its meager shadow over the ground; and at this place there was no wind to stir the leaves withering in the sun. And, on the highway scorched by the sunlight, where presumably because of the intense heat there had for some time been no passer-by, there wound in long sweeps the trail of an ox carriage that had passed some time before.......Everywhere fiery dust bathed the crossroads........there was not one drop of moisture........" And again........"Restless swallows flashing their white bellies, from time to time skimmed the sand of the street; over the shingled and cypress-bark roofs the crowding dry clouds of fused gold, silver, copper and iron showed no sign of movement. The houses built on either side were so hushed and still behind the wooden shutters and bulrush blinds that it might have been doubted that throughout the whole city any were still alive".

This collection comes with a very enthusiastic introduction titled 'A Sprig of Wild Orange' and shows the enthusiasm of the translator, who is clearly an Akutagawa lover. The book has wonderful stories, depictions of situations, but more than anything else, the evocation of mood and atmosphere.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

my lack of depth

Perhaps my most noteworthy characteristic is lack of depth. Whatever I say or do, the whole of me is contained in what I do or say, and I have nothing in reserve upon which to fall back in the event of my having to retreat. I am, in fact a man all vanguard, without any main body or rearguard. From this characteristic comes my proneness to enthusiasm. I get excited over any trifle......what I mean is that it is an enthusiasm that almost always lacks the support of the intimate, effective strength without which any kind of enthusiasm dwindles into mere foolish desire and rhetoric. And I am, in fact, inclined to rhetoric......that is, to the substitution of words for deeds. My rhetoric is of the sentimental kind; I want for instance, to be in love and often deceive myself into thinking that I am in love, when all that I have done is to talk about it.....with great feeling, no doubt, but simply to talk about it. At such moments, tears come easily, I stammer......But beneath these outward signs of fervour I often conceal a bitter, a positively mean, kind of subtlety which makes me deceitful and does not represent any real strength, being merely the expression of my egoism. I am what can still be called a dilettante.

from Conjugal Love, Alberto Moravia

The Skating Rink: Bolano

One of the striking features of Roberto Bolano's novels is the matter of style. It is essential, at least from my personal point, that I find that hard to ignore. In the Anglo phone world, with exceptions, style in literature has largely remained subservient to narration, or at least to a comprehension of narration, though there are abundant subversive examples that don't follow that norm. The fact that Bolano is a Latin American novelist must not be pointed as a point of difference alone. At another level, his novels, and I have read all that are available in English, do not just compel us to read because we are in search for a story but they prompt us to read them because of the immense matter of style.

As I have written here on numerous occasions about Bolano, I cannot find his novels any step away from a story that I can remember but largely closer to a stylistic insistence upon elegance. In other words, I would find it hard to read anything in this subversion of genres had it not been embellished by a pace and narrative style that is musical, very exhortatively dangerous, beautiful, seductive and hypnotically engaging. I find that in essence, the central concerns of his fiction are unchanging and yet each novel is a style away from another. It is interesting to note that this novel, The Skating Rink, was his first, and yet we are reading him from the last unto the first, following the massive successes of TSD and 2666.

The Bolano world is uniquely compelling. In this novel too, the characters have the same literary pretensions as elsewhere. One is an illegal migrant, a night watchman at a camping ground, a poet who could be Bolano himself , another a successful business man and the third a corrupt small time bureaucrat of the local socialist party in the town of Z, near Barcelona. The narrative unfolds in alternating monologues from these three, and involves the beautiful Nuria Marti, a figure skater who has been dropped from the Spanish national side. The middle-aged business man is clearly in love with her, and sensing her disappointment, decides to build a private skating rink for her, diverting state money and utilising government officials and resources. His main pleasure lies in watching her skate in this rink, hesitant as he is to declare his "love" for her. Nuria plays the game nicely, and is close to Moran, writer turned businessman, with whom she is having an affair. The whole thing reaches a crescendo in the end when an old woman, who has already been abused by the social welfare system, senses the idea behind the rink and decides to blackmail Nuria's lover. A dead body is discovered in the rink, the woman is murdered by another rookie writer, the night watchman decides to leave for Mexico, Nuria leaves for Barcelona and does nude photo shoots for a popular magazine, her lover, imprisoned but later released, tries to find Nuria but fails to do so.

We are seldom close to Nuria as a character though the Bolano types are in evidence here. I do not think that this novel reads like a detective story, though it functions like one. The doomed types are here, the poet, the rookie, the murderer, the fat politician who writes a report on the prison system whilst in prison and wins a prize and the dangerously reckless attitude that pervades these characters. They are always in the midst or fringes of poetry. One can call them as anarchic, in that the anarchy is of a romantic kind. This novel is at a disadvantage in being the kind that we can only read after his major works. The seeds of TSD and 2666 are already contained here, as the latter novels like Amulet had seeds seen in TSD. I do not think it useful to compare this novel with the more famous ones. Personally, I did not find the characters engaging in the beginning though towards the end, my sympathies are with them. Nuria lapses into nudity, Rosquelles into prison, Gaspar flees to Mexico amd Moran I don't remember.

Style is a matter of preference, also of aesthetics. There is always, I maintain, a longing behind these characters. They reflect the unending greed of the modern world, the pain of exile and migrations, the ennui of failure, the plaintive cry of doomed poetry. We may not always find these poets as ones we can say we know intimately, but it is fair to say that we are in their midst. It is in the recognition of this painful tenderness that the chief charm of this fiction lies. And also its truth.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

when it rains these days

around this time of the year, when it rains, it brings with it the intensity of all the pain preserved in forgetting memories or at least in attempting to forget, and the wetness of the rain is matched by the remorselessness with which it falls. one thinks of times past, and one wishes that the past could return only if it gives us the whiff of those hours that then were seemingly as uncultured as times present. one no longer thinks of this falling rain with compassion or attaches to present hours any redeeming myth for that is the right of all previous nights. i think of poetry now only as a kind of nostalgia. poetry is only nostalgia, a remembrance. without memory there is no poetry and without poetry memory is as remorseless as this falling rain.

in other hours at other places on other nights, in summer outside cafe's along seafronts in cheap coastal towns, at dawn but usually at dusk, when it rains and it rains a soft mellifluous rain, a melancholic rain, a soft rain, a rain of memories, a dark dismal rain, unrepentant rain, that too is cause for poetry, it is of poetry, it causes poetry, in the glow of certain lamps, in the trailing light of certain footsteps, after the echoing fall of certain footsteps, in the gap between the echo and the step is also poetry, a heart rending abysmal poem.

our sorrows are no longer those that bring with them lasting memory of lasting aches but are born out of the cinder of instinctual pain, ready to delight the nostalgic taste of fabricated lovers. one thinks of a growing pressure in a beating heart, this rain that falls, that face that stood outside the bright arc of those lonely lights, the shimmering haze of blowing shadows, that plea for understanding, the immense speed of passing time, the known hollowness of tender emotions. and the rain that keeps falling, the rain that brings poetry.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

autumn dusks

Two blocks from our high street stands the casbah bar cafe,
where loiterers and some say illegal migrants puff at nargile in these cold autumn days.
Others, blinded by dusk and melancholy and other afflictions,
stand and smoke smuggled Russian cigarettes.
Some laze around on worn out chairs outside the cafe,
drinking coffee and listening to early Cohen.
At dusk all are equal so we think,
The resident poet, the illegal migrant or the affable conservative voter.
And yet each dusk is different and brings different pain.
We havent seen the well read girl
with long brown hair for weeks,
days are getting short and it will be winter soon.
I remember last winter,
when we met last and when you left.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Twilight in Barcelona

What can be said about the drowning Barcelona twilights.
The Rusinol painting Erik Satie en el seu estudi?
The magnetic Barcelona twilights are like that, like Satie's
eyes and
Long hair, like Satie's hands and like Rusinol's affection.
Twilights inhabited by supreme silhouettes, magnificence
Of the sun and the sea over these hanging or subterranean
Built for love. City of Sara Gilbert and Lola Paniagua,
City of Slipstreams and completely gratuitous secrets.
City of genuflections and cords.

Roberto Bolano, from The Romantic Dogs

Sunday, October 17, 2010


At midnight, when the moonlight spilled into the river reeds, and the willows, the waters, and the breeze were communing in whispers, the body of We Sheng was gently borne from beneath the bridge towards the sea. But Wei Sheng's spirit, in the lonely moonlight from heaven, would probably have reflected longing thoughts; and stealing away from the corpse, Wei Sheng's departing spirit, just like the smell of weeds and water rising from the spineless river, Rose towards the faintly glimmering sky.

Thousands of years thence, this spirit, having traversed in it's time countless transmigrations, has surely again been entrusted to life in human forms. This spirit is the spirit that dwells in me; and I - born in these modern times- cannot do work of any worth. Day and night, at random, I live a life that is apt to be desultory and dreamy, awaiting the coming of something inconceivable; and like the Wei Sheng beneath the bridge at dusk, I seem to live awaiting always a beloved who never comes......

From The Faith of Wei Sheng, Akutagawa Ryonosuke

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In a year with 13 moons

Snow Country

"The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky. The train pulled up at a signal stop".

This being the beginning of Kawabata Yasunari's Snow Country, I read the above lines quite a few times, the magic of these lines was quite overwhelming. This was snow country, everything was cold, the sensualist called Shimamura had arrived by train, we were hemmed in by mountains, romance would follow, followed by love, tragedy, death I thought. This was my sort of country, I thought. However, after reading the novel, a strange kind of emptiness seized me, as if I had just missed that train myself. I tried my best to be a party inside the desolate coldness of this country and yet this romance eluded me. Kawabata's celebrated novel, which the translator claims to be his masterpiece, has I am sure the excellent qualities that has made it famous and yet, surprisingly, it evoked in me neither mood nor misery. Shimamura and Komako's romance seemed quite watery to me. And of course, Shimamura is a sensualist, and Komako is the one who is in love and yet I could not bring myself in any sort of proximity to the characters.

The first part of the novel seemed to drag heavily for me, the second part had some qualities of mood. The descriptions of landscape in relation to the characters and the descriptions of the characters in relation to the landscape are beautifully done, as if the two are commingled in some kind of way. Yet, the understated subtleness still eluded me. Towards the end, I was blaming the translation or the translator, and yet I am sure the translator has done a fine job. There is something about Snow Country that I did not seem to let me affect. I cannot say that it is Kawabata's style for there are elements of it that appealed to me. The beginning was extremely Haiku style, each line a poem in itself. I did not warm to Shimamura and even Komako, who in spite of her tragic destiny seemed remote to me. It was Yoko, in life and on the last page, who realized a certain dramatic and tragic sensibility for me.

The problems of approaching Snow Country are mutliple. I am not that familiar with Japanese aesthetics, nor the foundational aspects of Zen Buddhist traditions, which form perhaps the core of Kawabata country. In essence, this kind of style evokes a dissonance from the unacquainted reader. Whether it be tea-ceremony or flower arrangements, the melancholy of autumn or maple leaves in a train of silence, it is the ability to get inside that aesthetic scenario and then, regardless of outcome, look at the world from that perspective. Therefore, were I aware to be aware of such an approach and am I ultimately responsible from the detachment of this prose? If Shimamura carries something of Kawabata, then I stand apart from that country and yet, in Yoko, there is someone I can understand. Shimamura is a fine man, I don't doubt it, he has a wife in Tokyo, a geisha in Snow country, likes Yoko too, that too I must accommodate but I don't warm to Shimamura.

In the first movement on the train, Shimamura does not look at Yoko but on her reflection in the train window, thus keeping himself at a distance from that face and arousing in himself an aesthetic distance. If the attempt is to resolve some kind of a spiritual crisis and pass on a certain Zen stage through his requited and unrequited passions, then, as I said earlier, a reader like me must visit many things before visiting snow country. It is my resolve to read Snow Country again, to draw from it the mystery and magic that the first three lines promised and the rest decided to conceal. The fault is however, entirely mine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

when you opened your palm

you opened your palm and the years fell away
like sand from your palm the hours fell down like sand
when you opened your palm time stopped something happened
like sand drifting away like the years fell away
and you didn't speak and I didn't say a word in all that silence
the hush of that silence you know it was strange it was so silent as you opened your palm
and the years fell away like sand from your palm
in all that silence all that time you didn't say a word and I didn't speak
in all that silence the hush of that silence your pale palm I saw your pale hands
as you opened your palm and the years fell away like sand in that silence
the loudness of that silence and you didn't speak and I didn't say a word
and the hours fell down and we each turned away towards our different ways
and how long were those moments as we walked away towards our different ways
and how loud everything else seemed how loud was that silence
as we turned towards different ways as you opened your palm as I turned away
as the years fell away like sand from your palm how everything drifted
like sand like those hours how everything fell away and how silent everything was
and how loud that silence

La Notte

Thursday, October 14, 2010


For some strange reason, I kept off reading Contempt and have realized what a mistake I made. I do not want to outline a plot of this novel here, for that is easily done anyway. what strikes me most about this novel is the mood, the evocation of mood, the sense of doom, the breathless energy of that mood, the unending melancholy of the prose, the pace of narration, the sense of elegiac destiny of the characters, the almost detective pace in the end. Moravia is well known to belong to the group of writers who gave us the essay- novel, like Musil for instance. I perceive that Moravia or reading him is out of fashion, particularly in America these days. Some of his books sadly are out of print as I discovered recently, like The Lie for instance. I acquired a dusty copy of Conjugal Love recently, which in its introduction calls Moravia a master of relating the war of the sexes!

Contempt is not just the dissection of love between a married couple but a narration of states of mind. what the narrator wants to know is ' why doesn't my wife love me any more?'. the question of there being any validity in his belief or any substance in his belief while being the focus of his narration, there is also a sub plot namely in that Moravia introduces the story of Ulysses, and a neat little interpretation of whether Ulysses didn't return to Penelope for so long because she detested him, he knew that, he kept away because she had contempt for him? contempt, that is what the narrators wife tells him she has for him. we go through his attempts to try to ascertain what he might have done to attract this contempt, and he is convinced that while he might have made a few mistakes, he hasn't actually done much to earn her contempt.

While Moravia is generally regarded as an existentialist writer, what strikes me most is his psychological characterization, his eye for depiction of mental states, the ceaseless digging at situations. In essence, this is a plot-less novel and more of a situational essay-novel. His attempt to portray a marriage is secondary, the chief concern is portrayal of character. 'You are not a man', the narrator's wife tells him. He finds that hard not to bear but to understand. After all, what should a man be like, a question that puzzles me much. Within Contempt the novel is woven a systematic deconstruction of those states of mind that we don't admit we actually entertain, even if occasionally.

Godard's movie, is extremely faithful to the novel. The movie has some stunning panoramic vistas that just is a pleasure for the senses including a very melancholic soundtrack. Does the movie read like a suspense thriller: no, does the novel: yes. The movie is as good as the novel, though I think the novel is better. Reading Moravia is like getting into a pincer, two pages and you know this is getting really uncomfortable fast. You want to read more to get out of your misery, you want to read more and more and finish the damn thing in one sitting. I have no more praise than that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

in the stillness now

In his moments of extreme stillness now, and unchanging silence, and this destiny for solitude, he thought of days when he knew her, remembering times when he had spoken to her so many times, he thought, though he had never actually talked to her. His natural effusiveness in her presence, he remembered now, was clouded by an air of forced stillness and this lack of clarity into her thoughts gave her an advantage over him he thought, which to his surprise he had preferred then. He had taken her beauty for granted and had assured himself of her beauty so unquestioningly; he however was not sure of what she thought of the world or herself or him. Any resolve on his part to break this silence between them only increased the hush of forced silence between them, leading it to become more still, till this silence between them became a source of comfort to him in her presence, for this silence allowed him in whatever way he allowed it to, to make or a seal an invisible pact between them, he remembered now. In essence his reticence to express himself before her was matched equally by her equal resolve to hide behind her silence. Sometimes it seemed to him that perhaps these thoughts were only imagined by him in a state of heightened susceptibility, and that there was no reason now to think of her any differently from all the others, for actually what he recognized as a weakness in others occasionally he failed to recognize in himself and thus he did see into the possibility of him actually having fallen into anything resembling any proximity to her. This self examination now occasionally lead him into uncomfortable introspection, for to him admitting any idea of falling into love was an admission into defeat, even now. However, how could it be love if he had never even spoken to her and when they had never been at any sort of proximity? The romantic notion of love distilled into him from an early age, that almost keatsian insistence on unrequited passion had never moved him to any ecstatic vision of himself and yet in her presence, he let his heart beat ever so fast almost as if not doing so was an admission of guilt, a trespass against her inviolable beauty.

Had he not felt morose when autumn days without her had seemed bereft of any meaning and hadn't he on so many occasions felt intensely melancholic at the mention of her name, for any other person acknowledging knowing her was a proof to him of his own distance from her. However, thinking of those days now, he reminded himself that he had felt content on many occasions of at least knowing her, for not to know her seemed to him to be the admission of the first guilt if not the first sin. On azure days and on cold autumn afternoons, had her eyes not seemed to have called him? Had she not appeared to have wanted to talk to him and was he not convinced that the melancholy touch of her fingers was destined for him alone? Had he not written countless poems for her, scores of which he had discarded? Had he not imagined the silk of her hair , the inescapable water of her mouth, the rising tide of her moons? Had he not felt excruciatingly tortured when he could not remember at times the exact shape of her mouth? How many countless times had he imagined the two of them together, walking the streets that he had wanted them to walk together? Had he not visited these thoughts on infinite occasions and had he not felt the most melancholic pain in his heart whenever he tried to remember the exact end of all their meetings, after having failed to remember each? These thoughts gave him no comfort now for she had left all times including the silence between them far behind when she had left.

Monday, October 11, 2010

what use are words

what use are my words now
when you called I did not turn
I let the world lead me into colours
that I always detest

what use are my words
I hate how they fall on your ears
how hollow they sound
as I live my life as if it is somebody else's

what use are my words whether I write them or
speak into the hollow of your eyes you will never
trust me to turn if you call again
and I no longer believe what I say to myself

what use are my words now
to whom do I say out loud that I do not
trust what I said to the flaming sky when
you called and I did not turn

what use are my words
the words that I inscribe are shallow as they leave
my fingers sad as they leave my lips
I shudder at my words I should have turned

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Friday, October 08, 2010

Last Kiss

The taste of your last kiss is like rust in my mouth
as I survey all the time that has passed since
then. Your heavy eyebrows weigh on my heart now as
I spend all my time thinking about you in metaphors.

I lost equilibrium after you left and I coveted the musk
of your last touch. Each day after that is like a chain
around my neck.
Nothing has mellowed.

Some hours bring back the luxury of your skin as
I count all the times we swam in each other. Some moments
stand out like jagged peaks of pain and yet
everything smells of rust.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Lying Poets

Adorno once famously said that poetry was impossible after Auschwitz. In a letter, Celan lamented on neo-Nazism in Germany after the war and wrote: "some of them even write poems. These men, they write poems! What all don't they write, the liars."
Reading this, very naively I think of all that these sensitive souls had to endure in a supposedly fascism purged society and yet face anti-semitism daily, in all it's obvious and less obvious forms.

Today, one thinks about the cultural racism that Muslims face in Euro-America, almost on a daily basis, in all it's obvious and less obvious forms and yet the perpetrators as Celan would have noted, are liars, they write poems. It seems inevitable that almost all nations and people have their blind spots which are quite noticeable to the those on the outside. In the aftermath of the foundation of the Zionist state of Israel and it's subsequent atrocities against the Palestinians and it's Arab neighbours, including atrocities of a political, human and military nature, these atrocities are almost lost on all Jewish writers, academics and Philosophers except a handful, so much so that the Palestinian catastrophe, properly called nakba, is lost on what Celan should have perhaps noticed as well. We must say that all those who don't recognise these criminal acts against the Palestinians are liars and they write poetry!

In it's present manifestation, the racism and the anti-Islamic stance adopted by those write the narratives of Euro-America are liable to be declared as liars too, and as Celan wrote, only true hands write true poems. It is to be seen that the blatant rejection of the Palestinian nakba can be seen as something that was ignored by all Jewish writers with exception and something which Celan like sufferers could not even point out. Nowadays in Europe on the whole, the politics of the day that revels in banning articles of clothing like the burqa are engaging in a kind of feminist politics that uses this feminist diatribe and perpetuates and reinforces this Muslim-phobic and cultural racism that raises wall after wall against immigrant Muslims on Euro-America and is pushing, day after day, these immigrants into a state, where after the next fifty years perhaps, the new holocausts could begin all over again.

While outwardly these immigrant populations seemingly have certain modicums of freedom and access to instruments of equality which languish in stolid disrepair in their original countries, yet, alas yet, there are clearly as Celan said:
Whichever stone you lift-/ you lay bare/ those who need the protection of stones.