Monday, December 29, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The year is rushing to an end, he thought

The year is rushing to an end, he thought as he sat at the same desk and looked out of the same window, where he sat last year looking out of the same window, near the same window sill. He had thought the same thoughts last year too, as it had rushed to who knows where, when he had looked out the same window, sitting at the same desk. It is not possible to think new thoughts, he thought as he tried to look back at the year rushing to a fresh debacle, there is nothing new that can enter his mind now, his prejudices so solid, his lack of a sense of adventure now so fixed. These thoughts are the same thoughts that he has thought in the past and have lead him nowhere, even as this year rushes to who knows where, he thought. I am incapable of cracking it, he thought and understanding how it all works, he realized. In the past this had lead to a quiet shame but now he seemed to be vaguely proud of it, in a wayward haphazard sort of way. All this seething and running, this seething against running, this running away from seething, this made him doubt everything that he had read and learnt from reading but he was incapable of stopping this seething and running, he thought. It had always been like this, this thought that the year was rushing to an end at the end of an year though basically everything stayed the same, only the month changed and a new numeral was added, the dates changed. Nothing in essence changed he thought, even if the year rushed to an end, even if he thought these thoughts as the year rushed to an end, at the same desk and looking out the same window.

He was so incapable of knowing what he knew or to communicate it or shout it loud and he realized, as he thought this thought, that he was not able to know his own feelings let alone the feelings of others, so how could he know what he thought he knew when he did not know what he actually wanted. A sad song occasionally made him cry and he resisted that, he thought that it should not be said aloud and a really melancholic moment was worth an entire year to him he thought so too. But this had not been learned this year, he knew it before the year started to rush to an end, before he began to think these thoughts sitting near the same window where he had sat the year before. Why does a song sadden him more than the sufferings of people, real people in Congo DR or Afghanistan, he asked himself. Should he also not have some real ambition, like accumulating money and buying and selling and shattering his heart and the hearts of others without one thought, one remorse, one pang, one shred of any doubt? He knew this was too loud and too shrill a thought anyway, how could he think of leaving anything and just run, just leave everything and rush as the year was rushing, rushing to who knows where, as he again reminded himself of what he should think, what he had actually decided to think. He always ended up in not thinking about the real things that he should think about and always ended up in thinking of why a sad song saddens him, not about Congo DR or Afghanistan.

The year is rushing to an end, he thought, looking out the same window as he had looked out last year and he thought of the books he had read in the months gone by, places visited, cached, monuments conquered, movies ticked off the movie list. Yet he had learned nothing, he did not even remember the books he had read this year, except The Devils, which he had re-read, and apart from a few great poems, he knew nothing new about the world. How could he know anything he thought when he did not know what is inside him, deep inside, what he actually wanted, what he really thought, what he really thinks of. Thoughts like these are tiring he thought, as he thought of the year rushing to an end, as he sat at the same desk and looked out the same window where he had thought the same thoughts last year, when last year had rushed to who knows where, as this year rushes to who knows where. He was not even sure how much he loved her or how badly he wanted to have his heart shattered out loud, how badly he wanted to spend an entire life listening to sad songs outside badly lit cheap cafes on badly lit cheap looking streets, how much did he want to be like The Idiot inside and behave like The Outsider outside. These are the same thoughts he had thought last year as the year had rushed to an end and these are the same thoughts as he sits near his window, the year rushing to who knows where.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If my thoughts had a life

If my thoughts had a life of their own,
outside my mind,
If they could exist on their own
outside myself,
then you could play or toy with them,
touch them and see them exist on their own.

You could feel their silent melancholy, even
hear them speak of a hundred things,
of what I think and feel and don't speak of.
You could take these thoughts and
discard them later, throw them away, be sick
of them if you felt that way.

You could maybe perceive their occasional music,
how wordy, how worthless, how very sad they are,
how unworldly, impractical, how tense.
Or you could sometimes fondle them and
lock them away from day, sunlight, years, age.

You could shine them, polish them or correct them
or maybe you could sometimes, just sometimes,
listen to them late at night, before break of day,
and hear them speak of the longing they have
for similar unrequited thoughts,
or even for unrequited love.

Bitter Moon Prologue - Vangelis

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I like the fact that you're not mad about me

I like the fact that you’re not mad about me,
I like the fact that I’m not mad for you,
And that the globe of planet earth is grounded
And will not drift away beneath our shoes.
I like the fact that I can laugh here loudly,
Not play with words, feel unashamed and loose
And never flush with stifling waves above me
When we brush sleeves, and not need an excuse.

I like the fact that you don’t feel ashamed
As you, before my eyes, embrace another,
I like the fact that I will not be damned
To hell for kissing someone else with ardor,
That you would never use my tender name
In vain, that in the silence of the Church towers
We’ll never get to hear the sweet refrain
Of hallelujahs sung somewhere above us.

With both, my heart and hand, I thank you proudly
For everything, - although you hardly knew
You loved me so: and for my sleeping soundly,
And for the lack of twilight rendezvous,
No moonlit walks with both your arms around me,
No sun above our heads or skies of blue,
For never feeling - sadly! - mad about me,
For me not feeling - sadly! - mad for you.

Marina Tsvetaeva

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

how will she know

how will she know
how will she ever know
my doubts these thoughts ceaseless heartbeats
hopeless hope

how will I tell
how will I ever tell her
what nights do how days are how afternoons linger

how can I show
how can I ever show her
my fingers these hands the dusk of my skin
longing in my marrow

how will she see
how will she ever see
her name etched endlessly on the white of my bare pages
white of my eyes

how will she know
how will she ever know
what I am actually thinking burning melancholy
a shadow on my skin

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tolstoy's Resurrection

Compared to his more famous works, Tolstoy's Resurrection is not as well known or as long, a mere six hundred pages or so. However, written towards the end of his writing career, it allows an insight into the direction he had taken earlier, in his personal and spiritual life, and the manifestations of both are quite evident in this novel. Tolstoy had become prone to teaching, to discourse, and nowhere is it more self-consciously portrayed as it is here. The preacher, the seer, the pacifist, a man far away from the political and social norms and from the official church, these are quite clear here. The hero of this novel, Nekhlyudov, moves from the earlier characters that inhabit the Russian novel, from merely the superfluous man to someone who actually wants to make a difference, in his life and the lives of others around him.

Nekhlyudov is an aristocrat and has led the life of one. He might represent Tolstoy himself. He has debauched, gone into military service, and returned to resume the sort of life that a rich man of those times might lead. There are social occasions, parties, aristocratic waffle, high talk and so on. And Nekhlyudov, on duty for the local jury, discovers that he is trying for murder a woman, now a prostitute, a woman he has wronged in the past. Katusha Maslova has been charged for murder, the woman who as a young girl was seduced by Nekhlyudov at his Aunt's estate years ago. The sight of Maslova moves Nekhlyudov and he suddenly decides to atone, to punish himself, to amend for what he has done to Maslova. After Maslova has been found wrongly guilty of murder and sentenced to penal servitude to Siberia, Nekhlyudov decides to marry her, follow her to Siberia and disconnect himself from his past life, avarice, greed, hypocrisy, social life, land, money and all.

This might seem easier to do but what Nekhlyudov has not bargained for is Maslova's attitude, which has not only hardened but changed too. She rejects him, he accepts that but still follows her to Siberia, where she decides to marry a political prisoner. Nekhlyudov decides that the only course is to accept it and follow the Gospel in its true spirit and not one that is dictated by either the church or the prevailing norms.

Resurrection is a novel of many faces and parts. The writing is typically Tolstoyan but somehow, it falls towards the end. The characterisations are weak, most of the people depicted are ones that run true to imagination or too predictable. They are very selfish and greedy, this is a selfish and greedy world. Tolstoy's aim is to preach, to show the world of prisons, of injustice both social and political which assumes the shape of a pamphlet towards the end. The love story between Maslova and Nekhlyudov, of Nekhlyudov and the other women he courts is not brought to fruition. There is tenderness in Maslova still, but it is ignored.The sense of duty, of doing the right thing overweighs any thing else. Understandably, at this stage of Tolstoy, he considered sexual intimacy as a source of spiritual discord and this flaw in his reasoning ( if sexual intimacy can be the source of one's whole meaning, it generally isn't, not even for the most depraved) hinders the development of this story.

Maslova still loves Nekhlyudov, that is quite transparent and even he knows that but by marrying another man, Maslova is still sacrificing herself, sacrificing herself again for the man who abandoned her with child, a child who died, abandoned her with a hundred roubles, leading her to prostitution and social decline. Maslova is a superior character, far superior than Nekhlyudov, she saves him again from a life that could kill him, for even towards the end, he is not sure if he can live a life without the comfort that money provides. He accepts her decision because he reads the Gospel again and this time, he understands it. He accepts the flaws in his reasoning, he understands that only forgiveness can save people in the end. And yet, the other characterisations in the novel, ones that are started to be build up are left untouched, leaving the reader with nothing else than a superior personal and moral philosophy.

Resurrection could have been a great novel, if I daresay that, only if Tolstoy had twisted the love story further, made Nekhlyudov more interesting, made Maslova less forgiving. There is interesting preaching about prisons, the uses and abuses of prisons, social mores, the actual efficacy of punishment, the contribution of the state towards a person's forced intellectual and social decline and yet, there are no other added voices against such arguments and the voice becomes quite polemical. Steiner, in his book Tolstoy or Dostoevsky mentions this novel as a circle representing the great Russian novel from Dead Souls to Resurrection and I found the more confused, the more rhetorical and polyphonic and less restrained characters of Dostoevsky more acceptable than Nekhlyudov. However, he stands for Tolstoy himself, I guess, and thus the movements he makes, from giving his serfs more rights and selling his properties is a great step from the superfluous men of earlier Russian novels, those of Lermentov or Turgenev. In that regard, this novel is a significant achievement.

All in all, Resurrection is not War & Peace or Anna Karenina but is an important novel nonetheless, one that I had not read before. And for those interested in the great writer, it is an important read still.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Olga Orozco

Thanks are only for Atenea for guiding me in this direction. The few lines below are from a poem of the great Argentine poet Olga Orozco's Far away from my hill, published in a collection called Engravings Torn from Insomnia.

........You appeared in my life as if in a distant music,
forever enveloping,
suspended from who knows what wall of tender homelessness,
listening to the leaves' still stifled murmur over my sleepy youth,
and you chose the sad, the hushed, all that is born beneath oblivion.

In what corner of yourself,
in what deserted corridor do the clamorous steps of a happy season
murmur of water in some meadow prolonging the sky,
hopeful song with which dawn ran to meet us,
and words, no doubt as distant from a special place,
in which the impossible was dying?

You don't respond at all, because any answer from you,
has already been given.

Lejos, desde mi colina
Translation Mary Crow

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair

What follows is an idiosyncratic reading of Eliot's La figlia che piange, a poem that I first read many many years ago. I will imagine that this poem exists without an author, for I would want this poem to exist on its own, implying that it belongs to me as much as it does to its author. ( poetry and literature being entirely author contingent) My reading of this poem is skewed, for I am transposing it to my world and reading it near my window sill.

"Stand on the highest pavement of the stair --
Lean on a garden urn --
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair --
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise --
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair".

Why fugitive resentment.......why not simply resentment? The lady or I imagine a young woman( the hair is brown or light brown, long naturally, it must weave) turns away or is forced to turn away, with resentment in her eyes but the narrator implies that the resentment is hers, her natural choice. Resentment.....out of the blue, why, how, sudden, thus unjustified, quite uncalled for, for had she not just flung some flowers to the ground, which were the narrator's earlier or were presented to her, as a parting memento, as a parting consolation. The narrator actually sees her resentment, as she turns away, having just thrown the flowers to the ground, with a pained surprise, after having expressed a resentment, however fugitive. He is surprised or she is pained, but the resentment is hers alone, the fugitive resentment is hers alone. She is not clever enough to hide her resentment, she should have suffered after throwing the flowers to the ground, after the pained surprise. But she turned away with a resentment which turned to be a fugitive resentment, the only resentment should have been in just flinging the flowers to the ground, after the pained surprise.

"So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand".

I assume now that many years have passed by, the narrator is wishing for the lady with the brown hair to be in grieving still, after he had left her standing on the highest pavement of the stair, after she had turned away with a pained surprise, after she had revealed a fugitive resentment. He resents having left her as he did, but he is not resentful of having left her. He imagines of another faithless way, a simple and faithless way. ( notice the simile, it is so clever, he is so clever) Since she had turned away with a pained surprise and with a fugitive resentment in her eyes, he would have wanted her to understand and believe of a simple and faithless way. I do not know whether he has desired her physically, it might be so, he might be hating it now, but he wants to see her standing there, still grieving, not with pained surprise, certainly without a fugitive resentment.

"She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose".

It is autumn now, in reality, in his body and mind too. She still compels him, I am willing to believe it, he has thought of her, many days and many hours. Didn't she have long brown beautiful hair, and now he reveals that her arms too were covered with her hair. He should not have been so sure of himself as he was then, he should have run up the steps, to the highest pavement of the stairs too, as she had turned away with such fugitive resentment, with such pained surprise. He should have lost his pose, he should have flung something too, after she had flung the flowers to the ground, after she had turned away with a fugitive resentment, with a pained surprise. Does he not remain troubled now, at midnight and at noon?

La figlia che piange is one Eliot poem that I still admire, for I no longer read Eliot. It is a great poem. The distance between reality and imagination, between torturous reality and torturing imagination is narrowed by imagination alone; desire that is thwarted, desire that was thwarted or suppressed is brought forth by imagination alone. The lady might not actually have thrown the flowers away in disgust or pain but the fugitive fleeing resentment is only a moment's life, it passes away, it leaves, it flees, it is always running away. The narrator has reverted to an imagined movement, for these moments are all imagined, her resentment, her pained surprise, her weaving the sunlight, her resentment, her pained surprise. The pain is his, the cogitations are his, the disturbed repose his, the troubled midnight his alone.

He thinks of her, in his autumn, she stands on the stairs, oh if only she were still standing on the stairs, he would have rushed up the steps, after she had thrown away the flowers, after the fugitive resentment, after the pained surprise. His feelings, his rush and roar now, his troubled midnight results from narrowing the distance between the love that never was and the love that has always been in his mind, in his life. This world exists only in imagination, for these feelings are rehearsed in memory, these steps are taken in memory alone, what has never happened has always been happening, in his mind, many days and many hours, disturbing him, his noon, his midnight. The reversion is in his mind alone, the troubles, the turning too. This love has been perfected in his mind alone. She stands on the highest pavement but it is only because of him that she would have ever turned away. Everything that never happened has happened in his mind, perfected by desire, matured by memory.

I think he still thinks of her, fugitive girl, fugitive woman, fugitive brown hair, pained surprise, sunlight, sunlight, flowers, arms and flowers, all hers, but all in his mind. Her pained surprise and her fugitive resentment too.

Twin Peaks - TV Themes

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Eyes that last I saw in tears

Eyes that last I saw in tears
Through division
Here in death's dream kingdom
The golden vision reappears
I see the eyes but not the tears
This is my affliction

This is my affliction
Eyes I shall not see again
Eyes of decision
Eyes I shall not see unless
At the door of death's other kingdom
Where, as in this,
The eyes outlast a little while
A little while outlast the tears
And hold us in derision.

Thomas Stearns Eliot

Eyes that last I saw in tears

The feeling of something warm

The feeling of something warm
was interrupted by the world,
I had meant to listen to all your songs
and read all your words
and sing your praises.

I had meant to sing along too, hum the songs
you give me, songs that I don't understand or know.
But the feeling of something warm, a warm breeze
was interrupted by the world,
I had meant to throng your world
with certain useless words of mine
like sadness or melancholy.

The feeling of something warm
was interrupted by the world,
I had thought of things that I dare not
think of now, even though the time is gone
and I have myself here alone with me.

Who gives us this right to hope of warm feelings
and singing sad tunes? And where are the warm breezes now
and warm feelings too?
But I still think of warm thoughts
even though the world interrupted
but this poem is just by the way too.

Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti P - Joan Baez

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I dreamt of a sad song

I dreamt of a sad song last night
in a sad dream, I heard a sad song last night
in a sad dream
and I kept the pieces during the day,
pieces of the sad song that I dreamt of.

I had heard that song before, I remember
you used to hum it, as I would sit next to you
as you would hum it in the train to your apartment
outside town, I would see you off
to your doorstep, do you remember?

You loved the tune, you said you liked the words
too, words that were incredibly sad, like "you will
leave me, I know, There will be pain". The humming stuck to
me alright, you see, I dreamt of it last night.

And all day, I kept picking the pieces of that
sad song that I dreamt of last night. I saw you
off near your doorstep, I mean in my dream, as I heard
that sad song, and all day
I have kept on picking the pieces.

This is for atenea.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

2666, finally

I received my copy of 2666 today, after all the delay. Now, the joy of reading.

Friday, December 05, 2008

My city, my other Love

My city, my other love, I will not write
about you tonight. I will not write of heaps
of dead bodies, of numberless graves, of snow and
rain together, the cold art of forgiveness,
the dying of the dying.

My city, my dark disease, I will not write
about you tonight. I will not write of nights
of vigil, the cold stare of longing, the dismal
evenings, frosty blood soaked afternoons, the fallacious
art of hope, the dust of pain.

My city, my tormentor, I want to forget you,
leave behind, alongside my books, the double ache
of love requited and unrequited, the mendacious
sellers of dreams, the false dawn, the vague art
of vermilion skies, fake art.

My city, my hundred thousand nights, the endless
litter of burnt candles mixed with the bones
of my ancestors, the canopy of those endless roofs,
that sage afternoon, that hopeless morning.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Best Book Cover of the Year?

It is the same time of the year, one looks back. Copied from here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Instant

Where are the centuries, where is the dream
of sword-strife that the Tartars entertained,
where are the massive ramparts that they flattened?
Where is the wood of the cross, the Tree of Adam?

The present is singular. It is memory
that sets up time. Both succession and error
come with the routine of the clock. A year
is no less vanity than is history.

Between dawn and nightfall is an abyss
of agonies, felicities and cares.
The face that looks back from the wasted mirrors,
the mirrors of night, is not the same face.
The fleeting day is frail and is eternal:
expect no other Heaven, no other Hell.

J.L. Borges, from The Self and the Other
"No, No, he thought, the reason for what happens in our lives, all that we do, the meaning of it, is incomprehensible and must remain incomprehensible to me. Why did I have aunts? Why did Nikolenka Irtenyev die, while I am still alive? Why should there be a Katusha? What about my lunacy? Why that war? Why my reckless life afterwards? To understand all that, to understand the master's purpose is beyond me. But to do his will, inscribed in my conscience- is in my power, and this I know unquestioningly. And when I am obeying his will, there is no doubt that my soul is at peace."

Nekhlyudov in Tolstoy's Resurrection

Monday, December 01, 2008

Who says poetry can express?

Who says poetry can express pain or discontent
or ever come near to describing
the melancholic grandeur of parting?

Who can dare say that poetry can express
the space that a death leaves?

All elegies are written in vain
and all poetry is vanity.
Even the greatest poets have only left behind
the scraping echoes of their words only,
words that hang occasionally resplendent,
only occasionally though, though mostly in shade.

Words barely touch the skin, the lived-in skin
of our lives,
futile, mostly clumsy, often vague,
they give the illusion of having approached the point
of expression.

Voice betrays words and words betray the essence
of the moment, of living, of dying, of whatever makes us
dull, sensitive, selfish and human.

However, the moment of poetry is also the moment of existence,
to rise against the immense unknowing of silence,
the insensitivity of poetry itself
and the artless finality of separations.
Adelante - Sash