Thursday, 30 August 2012

Maria Salgado - Adio Querido

Where Are the War Poets - Cecil Day Lewis, Appreciation

Cecil Day-Lewis photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue in 1951

By Bernard O’Donoghue

Cecil Day Lewis was one of the major figures in twentieth-century English poetry by any public measure. He was Poet Laureate; Oxford Professor of Poetry; a Companion of the Royal Society of Literature. He was universally recognized as one of the leading figures in English poetry across five decades, from the 1930s to the 1970s, as well as a ‘great translator’, to borrow Deschamps’s praise of Chaucer: certainly the one of the best translators into English poetry of his century.

So why on earth was he denied his place of honour in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey? I think I know the answer; but I will work round to it by degrees. To begin with, my title comes from one of Day Lewis’s most admired anthology-pieces (included for example by Philip Larkin in his Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse), the poem called ‘Where Are the War Poets?’

They who in folly or mere greed
Enslaved religion, market, laws,
Borrow our language now and bid
Us to speak up in freedom’s cause.

It is the logic of our times,
No subject for immortal verse –
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.

‘Where are the War Poets?’ from Word Over All (1943)

In this short poem, written at the height of the Second World War, Day Lewis takes his cue from a poet who often inspired him and provided his models, W.B.Yeats, who wrote at the height of the First World War I in 1915 ‘On Being Asked For A War Poem’:

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

In the event, of course, Yeats was to write a decidedly opinionated war poem in response to the Dublin rising of ‘Easter 1916’ the following year. But a comparison of the two poems I have quoted is instructive. Yeats says the poet is at liberty to confine himself to meddling with girls and old men if he wants; there is no obligation of public statement or involvement.

By contrast, although it is clear throughout his life that Day Lewis would have dearly liked to allow himself such poetic exemption, he never did. It was a constant theme of his that poetry had to dirty its hands, so to speak: ‘pure poetry’ was a tempting ideal, but it was an undeniable moral obligation to take public responsibility seriously. In the brilliantly Yeatsian line that clinches his poem – ‘defend the bad against the worse’ – Day Lewis expresses perfectly how unglamorous involvement in public events is likely to be. It is not, to borrow from Yeats on 1916, ‘a terrible beauty’ but a mundane resistance to ‘the worse’. The answer to the question in the poem’s title is: ‘the war poets are here, obliged to keep their nerve and their principle in the thankless cause of public duty’.

So who exactly was C Day Lewis (he dropped the Cecil and the hyphen from his writing name at the earliest opportunity), this successor of Yeats who took the moral duties of the poet so seriously and of whom T.E.Lawrence said to Winston Churchill in 1934 that he had ‘discovered one great man in these islands. His name is Cecil Day Lewis’? He was born in Ballintubbert, Co Laois 1904, son of Frank Day-Lewis (double-barrelled to register two family backgrounds, Lewis and Day), a Church of Ireland clergyman (as Anglican vicars in Ireland are still somewhat bizarrely called). His father moved to a parish at Malvern,Worcestershire in 1905, so the poet moved ‘From Ireland at the close of my second year’ (‘The Whispering Roots’ - incidentally this fine poem on the stresses of being Anglo-Irish invites comparison with masterpieces of that poetic world such as ‘The Colony’ by John Hewitt. This is high praise, drawing attention to one of the many categories in which Day Lewis has been under-examined - as an Anglo-Irish poet). Day Lewis’s father moved to a parish at Ealing, West London 1908, in the same year that his mother died, when the future poet was four.

More here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Ken Russell: Mahler

Director: Ken Russell
Writer: Ken Russell
Stars: Robert Powell, Georgina Hale, Lee Montague

Mahler is a 1974 biographical film based on the life of composer Gustav Mahler. It was written and directed by Ken Russell for Goodtimes Enterprises, and starred Robert Powell as Gustav Mahler and Georgina Hale as Alma Mahler. The film was entered into the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Technical Grand Prize.

Vincent van Gogh: Starry night over the Rhône

Starry Night Over the Rhone, a popular painting that was that was drawn in September 1888 by an expressionist artist, Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh’s art is amongst the finest, highly prized and sought-after today. The painting is set on the banks of Rhone River that passes near Place Lamartine, a place where the artist had rented an apartment. Vincent had sent a sketch of the painting to a friend named Eugene Boch on 2nd September 1888. This particular Arles at night painting is usually classified with other related paintings by Vincent van Gogh that constitutes a Starry Night Works montage. The painting was firstly exhibited in Paris in 1889 at an annual exhibition.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Hermann Hesse: In the Mists

Wondrous to wander through mists!
Parted are bush and stone:
None to the other exists,
Each stands alone.

Many my friends came calling
then, when I lived in the light;
Now that the fogs are falling,
None is in sight.

Truly, only the sages
Fathom the darkness to fall,
Which, as silent as cages,
Separates all.

Strange to walk in the mists!
Life has to solitude grown.
None for the other exists:
Each is alone.

Translation by Walter A. Aue

Hermann Hesse himself, reading his perhaps most beautiful poem „Im Nebel" - In the Mists

Gustav Klimt: Adele Bloch-Bauer's Portrait

Adele Bloch-Bauer (1882-1925), nee Bauer, came from a wealthy Austrian banking family. She married Ferdinand Bloch, a banker and industrialist, who was an important sponsor for Klimt and the Secession.

Adele had an affair with Klimt that started in 1899 and lasted for several years. As a result, she was the only society lady whom Klimt painted twice, and she also served as a model for his two depictions of Judith.

The Bloch-Bauers purchased 6 of the painter's works, including both portraits of Adele and four of Klimt's mood landscapes. In 1925, when Adele died, she requested that the paintings be given to the Austrian State Gallery. However, this was never done.

In 1938, when the Nazis invaded Austria, Adele's widowed husband Ferdinand had to flee abroad because of his Jewish roots, abandoning all his property, much of which was subsequently confiscated. Adele Bloch-Bauer's request that the paintings be donated to the Austrian State Gallery were seen as justification for this action.

However, in his 1945 will, Ferdinand bequeathed his property to his nephews and nieces, having no children of his own, among them Maria Altmann. For a long time, long after the war had ended, attempts to get the paintings returned were futile. It was only in 2006 that an Austrian court finally agreed that the Maria Altmann and the other heirs were the rightful owners of the painting, after a decision to the same effect carried out by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Only a short time after the decision, the first Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was sold for a record-breaking sum.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Luchino Visconti: Ludwig (1972)

Director: Luchino Visconti
Writers: Luchino Visconti (story), Enrico Medioli (story),
Stars: Helmut Berger, Romy Schneider, Trevor Howard


You can watch the movie with English subtitles  here.

 Ludwig is a 1972 film directed by Italian director Luchino Visconti about the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Visconti's muse, Helmut Berger, stars as Ludwig, while Romy Schneider reprises her role as Empress Elisabeth of Austria in a very different portrayal compared to her role in the 1950s Sissi trilogy. Ludwig is a very languidly paced film, but with an impressive sense of tragic crescendo. The fully restored version, running over four hours, builds sympathy in the viewer for Ludwig's decadent, yet ultimately firmly constricted life. Visconti’s meticulous realism gives a bright picture of court life in the nineteenth-century Bavaria and shows with impressive dramatic pathos how a dreamy romantic idealist as Ludwig succumbs to the strenuous and urgent demands of his responsibilities as king. The political sphere of counselors, clergymen, princes and kings, as well as the intricate and often tense relations between the members of the royal family are treated in the film with an acute and refined sensibility to aristocratic decorum and way of living. However, in the 19th century the Bavarian king lacked real political power, causing Ludwig to indulge in his Wagnerian fantasies while more or less ignoring the political reality at the time.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Kandinsky: Bride. Russian Beauty (1903)

Wassily Wasilyevich Kandinsky was born on December, 16th (4), 1866 in Moscow, in a well-to-do family of a businessman in a good cultural environment. In 1871 the family moved to Odessa where his father ran his tea factory. There, alongside with attending a classical gymnasium (grammar school), the boy learned to play the piano and the cello and took to drawing with a coach. "I remember that drawing and a little bit later painting lifted me out of the reality", he wrote later. In Kandinsky's works of his childhood period we can find rather specific color combinations, which he explained by the fact that "each color lives by its mysterious life".

However, Wassily's parents saw him in the future as a lawyer. In the year of 1886 he went to Moscow and entered Law Faculty of Moscow University. Graduating with honors, six years later Wassily married his cousin, Anna Chimyakina. In 1893 he became Docent (Associate Professor) of Law Faculty and continued teaching. In 1896 the famous in Derpt University in Tartu, where at that time the process of russification was taking place, a thirty-year-old Kandinsky was appointed Professor to the Department of Law, but at this particular time he decided to give up a successful career to devote himself completely to painting. Later on Kandinsky recollected two events, which had affected this decision: his visiting an exhibition of the French impressionists in Moscow in 1895 and an emotional shock he experienced from K. Monet's, "Haystacks", and an impression of Rihard Wagner's "Lohengrin" at the Bolshoi Theatre. ...

Marina Tsvetaeva: To Akhmatova

Your stripe will be harvested
By which person's arms?
O the black magician you!
My black-plaited one!

Your tumultuous century,
And your midnight days...
All your little workers are
At once born away.

Where are your campaigner friends,
Your comrades in arms?
O the black magician you,
My one with white arms!

Not with glory, not with tears
Can one heal those graves.
One, as though he had been choked,
Walked around alive.

One more went into a wall
Himself to advance.
(He was proud - a falcon!) - They
Knocked him out at once.

High above your brothers are!
Can't exude a cry!
O the black magician you,
My one with clear eyes!

And from out the cloud (praise
Marvel from above!)
Arrow of a falcon falls,
Arrow of a dove...

To know, in two feathers at once
People to you write,
Know, that soon you will receive
A certificate,

O the boulders! They will shake
With their wings,
O the black magician you!
My one with black wings!

Translated by Ilya Shambat

An Interpretation of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View

by Rob Doll

At the beginning of A Room with a View, when he overhears Lucy Honeychurch and Miss Bartlett complaining that they did not get the rooms with views they had been promised in the Pension Bertolini, another guest interrupts, saying, "I have a view, I have a view. . . . This is my son . . . his name's George. He has a view , too." Mr. Emerson is speaking of their views of the river, but the Forsterian text has a double meaning. The Emersons' view has to do with more than the quality of their accommodations; they have what for Forster is a superior view of life. This philosophical view which the Emersons offer and which Lucy eventually accepts, is implied in the literal view that the Emersons relinquish with their room: It was pleasant .

 . . to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road. Over the river men were at work. . . . Platforms were overflowing with Italians. . . . Then soldiers appeared . . . Beside them walked officers . . . and before them went little boys. 

The literal view, then, is of monuments and scenery and of the Italian people who live amidst these things under the Italian sun. The average middle-class English person who looks out this window appreciates the scenery and disdains the people. Only the unconventional Mr. Emerson treats the Italians equally as human beings and sees that they possess the unencumbered emotion, the lack of which makes the English incomplete. In Chapter Five, "Possibilities of a Pleasant Outing," Mr. Eager, the resident English chaplain, praises a view that select Bertolini tourists could see from the hills on the way to Fiesole--a "view that Alessio Baldovinetti is fond of introducing into his pictures." Mr. Eager's connections with the English residential colony also allow the possibility of having tea at a Renaissance villa with one of those Englishmen who, "living in delicate seclusion, . . . read, wrote, studied, and exchanged ideas, thus attaining to that intimate knowledge, or rather perception, of Florence which is denied to all who carry in their pockets the coupons of Cook." Of course, these people do not have an "intimate" perception of Italy at all; for they, like the inferior tourists of the Bertolini, see only a part of what Italy is; their "delicate seclusion" keeps them from the hearty reality of the Italian people. Mr. Eager, commenting on the murder the previous day in the Piazza Signoria, reveals his affinity with these privileged ones:

This very square--so I am told--witnessed yesterday the most sordid of tragedies. To one who loves the Florence of Dante and Savonarola there is something portentous in such desecration--portentous and humiliating.

The irony is obvious. The Italy of Dante and Savonarola was full of passion and murder; the very spirit that engendered Renaissance high culture produced violence like that Mr. Eager deplores. In the novel Italy represents the proper balance between intellect and emotion, between culture and simple humanity. This balance was presented in Where Angels Fear to Tread in the scene at the opera. At one point in A Room with a View Mr. Emerson says that love is "not the body, but of the body." Equally, its culture is not Italy, but of Italy. This is the broader view that Mr. Emerson has and that Lucy eventually acquires. Both of them appreciate the art and the scenery of Italy, but they also love the people and share their emotional life.

In Chapter Six the tourists go on the drive they had planned the day before: "The Reverend Arthur Beebe, . . . [etc.], Drive out in Carriages to See a View: Italians Drive them." They do not, however, go for tea at a villa, because Mr. Eager would be mortified to introduce the improper Emersons to the Florentine elite. When the Italian driver brings his girl along for the ride, the English are confronted with the side of Italy they usually manage to ignore. The two lovers "were sporting disgracefully" behind the backs of Miss Bartlett and Mr. Eager, who is busy pointing out a villa in which some critics believe a scene from The Decameron was set. Of course many of the goings on in Boccaccio's work make the sporting of the driver and his girl friend seem pale. When the driver pays more attention to his girl than to his driving, the carriage lurches forward and Mr. Eager turns to find the Italians kissing. Although Mr. Emerson defends them, Mr. Eager makes the girl get down and declares, "Victory at last." Mr. Emerson, with his comprehensive vision, replies, "It is not victory. . . . It is defeat. You have parted two people who were happy." Lucy remains silent, but she envies the Italians their bliss, for the previous day she had had an experience that began to awaken her to the Emerson view.

The day before, on the way home from a shop where she had bought a photograph of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," Lucy entered the Piazza Signoria thinking, "Nothing ever happens to me." The Piazza is beautiful in the twilight of evening, but:

Lucy desired more. She fixed her eyes wistfully on the tower of the palace which rose out of the lower darkness like a pillar of roughened gold. It seemed no longer a tower, no longer supported by earth, but some unattainable treasure throbbing in the tranquil sky. Its brightness mesmerized her, still dancing before her eyes when she bent them to the ground and started towards home. Then something did happen.

Lucy wants sexual fulfilment. She has bought the photo of Venus in spite of Charlotte Bartlett's declaring the nakedness a "pity." And with that symbol of the exposed female she walks into the shadow of the male tower. Lucy faints at the sight of the blood splattered about in the stabbing and she awakes in the arms of George Emerson: an Italian dies and English people are born into love. In the course of the murder Lucy's photograph of the naked Venus has been stained with blood; symbolically, Lucy has lost her virginity. Her tourist souvenir--and her socially conditioned response to Italy--have come into contact with the real Italy. This "symbolic moment" does not result in immediate change in Lucy's life, but a seed has been planted. It takes the last three-quarters of the novel to work out in social terms the marriage that has been symbolically consummated here. ...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Pablo Picasso: Guernica, 1937

Probably Picasso's most famous work, Guernica is certainly the his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi's devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War.

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention.

This work is seen as an amalgmation of pastoral and epic styles. The discarding of clor intensifis the drama, producing a reportage quality as in a photographic record. Guernica is blue, black and white, 3.5 metre (11 ft) tall and 7.8 metre (25.6 ft) wide, a mural-size canvas painted in oil. This painting can be seen in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

Virginia Woolf: Street Haunting: A London Adventure

No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, an excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner. As the foxhunter hunts in order to preserve the breed of foxes, and the golfer plays in order that open spaces may be preserved from the builders, so when the desire comes upon us to go street rambling the pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter—rambling the streets of London.

The hour should be the evening and the season winter, for in winter the champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets are grateful. We are not then taunted as in the summer by the longing for shade and solitude and sweet airs from the hayfields. The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves. As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self our friends know us by and become part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers, whose society is so agreeable after the solitude of one’s own room. For there we sit surrounded by objects which perpetually express the oddity of our own temperaments and enforce the memories of our own experience. That bowl on the mantelpiece, for instance, was bought at Mantua on a windy day. We were leaving the shop when the sinister old woman plucked at our skirts and said she would find herself starving one of these days, but, “Take it!” she cried, and thrust the blue and white china bowl into our hands as if she never wanted to be reminded of her quixotic generosity. So, guiltily, but suspecting nevertheless how badly we had been fleeced, we carried it back to the little hotel where, in the middle of the night, the innkeeper quarreled so violently with his wife that we all leant out into the courtyard to look, and saw the vines laced about among the pillars and the stars white in the sky. The moment was stabilized, stamped like a coin indelibly among a million that slipped by imperceptibly. There, too, was the melancholy Englishman, who rose among the coffee cups and the little iron tables and revealed the secrets of his soul—as travelers do. All this--Italy, the windy morning, the vines laced about the pillars, the Englishman and the secrets of his soul—rise up in a cloud from the china bowl on the mantelpiece. And there, as our eyes fall to the floor, is that brown stain on the carpet. Mr. Lloyd George made that. “The man’s a devil!” said Mr. Cummings, putting the kettle down with which he was about to fill the teapot so that it burnt a brown ring on the carpet.

But when the door shuts on us, all that vanishes. The shell–like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye. How beautiful a street is in winter! It is at once revealed and obscured. Here vaguely one can trace symmetrical straight avenues of doors and windows; here under the lamps are floating islands of pale light through which pass quickly bright men and women, who, for all their poverty and shabbiness, wear a certain look of unreality, an air of triumph, as if they had given life the slip, so that life, deceived of her prey, blunders on without them. But, after all, we are only gliding smoothly on the surface. The eye is not a miner, not a diver, not a seeker after buried treasure. It floats us smoothly down a stream; resting, pausing, the brain sleeps perhaps as it looks.

How beautiful a London street is then, with its islands of light, and its long groves of darkness, and on one side of it perhaps some tree–sprinkled, grass–grown space where night is folding herself to sleep naturally and, as one passes the iron railing, one hears those little cracklings and stirrings of leaf and twig which seem to suppose the silence of fields all round them, an owl hooting, and far away the rattle of a train in the valley. But this is London, we are reminded; high among the bare trees are hung oblong frames of reddish yellow light—windows; there are points of brilliance burning steadily like low stars—lamps; this empty ground, which holds the country in it and its peace, is only a London square, set about by offices and houses where at this hour fierce lights burn over maps, over documents, over desks where clerks sit turning with wetted forefinger the files of endless correspondences; or more suffusedly the firelight wavers and the lamplight falls upon the privacy of some drawing–room, its easy chairs, its papers, its china, its inlaid table, and the figure of a woman, accurately measuring out the precise number of spoons of tea which——She looks at the door as if she heard a ring downstairs and somebody asking, is she in?

More here.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Boris Pasternak: In Memory of Marina Tsvetaeva

Dismal day, with the weather inclement.
Inconsolably rivulets run
Down the porch in front of the doorway;
Through my wide-open windows they come.

But behind the old fence on the roadside,
See, the public gardens are flooded.
Like wild beasts in a den, the rainclouds
Sprawl about in shaggy disorder.

In such weather, I dream of a volume
On the beauties of Earth in our age,
And I draw an imp of the forest
Just for you on the title-page.

Oh, Marina, I'd find it no burden,
And the time has been long overdue:
Your sad clay should be brought from Yelabuga
By a requiem written for you.

All the triumph of your homecoming
I considered last year in a place
Near a snow-covered bend in the river
Where boats winter, locked in the ice.

What can I do to be of service?
Convey somehow your own request,
For in the silence of your going
There's a reproach left unexpressed.

A loss is always enigmatic.
I hunt for clues to no avail,
And rack my brains in fruitless torment:
Death has no lineaments at all.

Words left half-spoken, self-deception,
Promises, shadows-all are vain,
And only faith in resurrection
Can give the semblance of a sign.

Step out into the open country:
Winter's a sumptuous funeral wake.
Add currants to the dusk, then wine,
And there you have your funeral cake.

The apple-tree stands in a snowdrift
Outside. All this year long, to me,
The snow-clad city's been a massive
Monument to your memory.

With your face turned to meet your Maker.
You yearn for Him from here on Earth,
As in the days when those upon it
Were yet to appreciate your worth.

Monday, 20 August 2012

George Sand's letter to Alfred de Musset

Venice, May 12th, 1834

No, my dear child, these three letters are not the last oath of the lover who leaves you; these are the hug of the brother who is still with you. That feeling is too beautiful, too pure and too gentle for me to ever need to cease feeling it. Let not my memory poison any pleasure of your life. But do not let these pleasures destroy and despise my memory. Be happy, be loved - how would you not? But keep me in secret corner of your heart and go down there when you are saddest to find solace or support.

Go on, love, my Alfred;
Love once and for all.
Love a young, beautiful woman
Who has never loved yet.

Spare her and do not hurt her.
The heart of a woman is such a delicate thing.

When it is a ice cube or a stone,
I believe that there is almost nothing in between.
And it is the same
With your way to love.

Your soul is bound to ardently love
Or to totally harden.
You said it numerous times
And tried but did not manage to retract.

Nothing, nothing did erase that sentence.
There is nothing in the world but love
Which does exist.
Perhaps you loved me with hatred
To love another woman with abandon.
Perhaps the next one
Will love you less than I did.
And perhaps she will be happier
And more loved.
Perhaps your final love
Will be the most fantasist and the freshest.
But please, please, do not kill your generous heart.
Let him completely go into your love life
So that one day you can look backward and say like me,
'I have often suffered, I have sometimes made mistakes,
But I have loved.'

Lyrics Translate

Daily Disaffirmation - Witold Gombrowicz's Diary

When Witold Gombrowicz departed Poland on the liner Chrobry in 1939, he was a minor literary figure unknown beyond his native country, the author of a collection of short stories, a play that virtually no one reviewed, and the novel Ferdydurke, his absurdist provocation that offered him a toehold among the more progressive critics and intellectuals in Warsaw. That July, Gombrowicz set sail for Argentina on the maiden voyage of the newly christened Chrobry as part of a cultural tour for the Polish government. The ship reached Buenos Aires a month later, just as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany was announced. A week later, when Germany invaded Poland and the ship was given the order to return at once, Gombrowicz made an apparently last-minute and fateful decision to stay in Argentina, which spared him the terrors of wartime Poland but left him in a country where he was cut off from his livelihood, not to mention the culture and language of his native country. Like any number of those displaced by the war, he faced a future of extreme penury.

Gombrowicz’s displacement in Argentina is one of the mythical tales of European writers in exile, a rival and counterpart to Stefan Zweig’s suicidal dead end in Brazil, or to the Germans who amassed in California, some, like Brecht, to return after 1945, others to make an uneasy peace in their new, New World homes. Yet the tale of Gombrowicz’s exilic life in South America has a more quixotic cast than any of these. His hasty decision was––as critics such as John Bayley have noted—almost an impulse to maroon himself, like Conrad’s Lord Jim.

The place Gombrowicz set down in across the ocean—a country “distant from all that, exotic and forgiving, indifferent and given up to its own everydayness,” he writes in his three-volume Diary—provided him with a geographic correlate to imagine the earthy embrace of “immaturity” he had put into antic, fictional form in Ferdydurke.

From the first, I fell in love with the catastrophe that I hated, that, after all, also ruined me. My nature told me to greet it as an opportunity to join with inferiority in darkness. . . . What happened? Yes. I have to confess this: under the influence of the war, the strengthening of the “inferior” and regressive powers, an eruption of some sort of belated youth took place in me. I fled to youth in the face of defeat and slammed the door.

Gombrowicz’s love affair with his “catastrophe” would not be a fling. For another eighteen years after the cessation of the war, he opted to remain in Argentina, where he struggled to feed himself, far from Warsaw, far from Paris, where much of the Polish intelligentsia had gathered, where the émigré review Kultura published his novel Trans-Atlantic and his play The Marriage in the early ’50s, and where the French translation of Ferdydurke in 1958 brought him international acclaim. As for Poland, he never stepped foot in it again, though seemingly every aspect of its literary, artistic, and political culture fired his thought and the pages that fill the Diary up to his death in 1969.

More here.

William Butler Yeats: When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Mezquita Cathedral, Córdoba, Spain

Mezquita Cathedral, Córdoba, Spain  – Mosquée Cathédrale, Cordoue, Espagne

The Mezquita (Spanish for "Mosque") of Cordoba, Spain is a beautiful and fascinating building that symbolizes the many religious changes Cordoba has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the cathedral of Cordoba (officially the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption), but the vast majority of its art and architecture owes its origin to the Islamic architects who built it as a mosque in the 8th century.

  Mezquita Cathedral, Córdoba, Spain  – Mosquée Cathédrale, Cordoue, Espagne

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Lao Tzu: The supreme good is like water

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Kahlil Gibran: Love

The "love" painting by Kahlil Gibran (1923) 

Then said Almitra, "Speak to us of Love."

And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them.

And with a great voice he said:

When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;

For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, I am in the heart of God." And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

From The Prophet

Friday, 17 August 2012

Franz Kafka and Milena Jesenska

Milena Jesenská (pronounced Mee-leh-nah Yeh-sen-skah) was born August 10, 1896 in Prague to Dr. Jan Jesenský, a dentist and professor of medicine at Charles University in Prague, and Milena (Hejzlarová) Jesenská (in Czech and other Slavic languages, women's last names have a feminine ending). Her family was a conservative Catholic one, and although she got along well with her mother, she feared and later rebelled against her severe, strict father, with whom she had major problems throughout her life, much like Franz Kafka's problems with his own father. When Milena was about three, a son was born to her parents but soon died. Her mother died when she was 16, leaving her alone with her father, whose fathering abilities were nonexistent, and after that she pretty much did what she liked. She was sent to the Minerva Girls' Academy in Prague, which turned out to be a hotbed of new ideas, such as feminism. She had a very dear friend, Staša Procházková, and they were so close in their teens that they were rumored to be lovers. Milena did her own thing, taking pills she stole from her father's office and trying cocaine, as well as going through her father's money like water.

She met Ernst Pollak when she was about 20, and soon fell head over heels in love with him, even though he was ten years older than she was. He worked as a translator in a bank, but his real occupation was sitting in the cafés of Prague and discussing art, literature, politics and other subjects with the other café habitués, some of them being Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, and many others of their circle, although Kafka didn't take much notice of her at first. She would do things like decorate Ernst's apartment with basketfuls of flowers, leaving him a bit overwhelmed. According to her daughter, Jana Černá, after they had been going out for awhile, she became pregnant by him and had an abortion. Her father was a rabid anti-Semite and disapproved of her affair with the German-speaking Jew Pollak, and eventually had her locked her up in a mental hospital for nine months, from June to March 1918. After her release, she married Ernst and the couple moved to Vienna to live with him. She was pretty unhappy there, to say the least. Her knowledge of German was still not very good, she knew nobody in Vienna, but most importantly Ernst began to cheat on her almost immediately with practically any woman he could find—she would later say to Kafka that he cheated on her "a hundred times a year." She worked as a Czech tutor and porter in the railway station before she started writing and beginning to make a name for herself as a journalist, becoming the Viennese fashion correspondent for a Prague newspaper. But her life in Vienna was worse than ever. She became so miserable she began to take cocaine. But she wouldn't leave Ernst, at least not until she had become smitten by a strange and unearthly man.

In late 1919, she took notice of an interesting little story, Der Heizer (The Stoker), by a little-known Prague writer named Franz Kafka, and wrote to him, asking him for permission to translate it into Czech. This was the beginning of their correspondence, which would continue until early 1923. This relationship was conducted mostly through the mail, the only times they met being four days in Vienna and later a day in a town on the Czech/Austrian border, Gmünd. This turned out unhappily, though. Milena was still not strong enough to leave Ernst, and so Franz finally broke off the relationship. Milena saw very clearly that Frank, as she called him, was not going to live much longer. There was no real future for them together, Franz's morbid fears, especially of sex, his extreme sensitivity, and his worsening tuberculosis coming in between them. However, he trusted her completely, giving her all of his diaries in 1922. After he died Milena wrote a moving obituary for him, saying that "He was clear-sighted, too wise to live and too weak to fight," and that he was "condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death.".

After the final break with Kafka, she managed to leave her husband and moved to Dresden and then back to Prague with her new lover, Count Xavier Schaffgotsch. Milena became the editor of the "Woman and Home" page of an important Prague newspaper, Národní listy, writing about fashion and interior decoration, and also editing a series of children's books. However, she and Schaffgotsch soon broke up, and in 1927 Milena met and married a Bauhaus architecht, Jaromír Krejcar. She was happier than she had ever been before, and when she became pregnant it was the fulfilment of her dreams. Unfortunately, she became very ill, and the birth of her daughter, Jana, on August 14, 1928 didn't add much to her happiness, Milena being so ill that it was thought that she would die. She recovered, having suffered damage to her right knee and was lamed for life, and she had also become addicted to morphine, and many years of hardship and failed attempts to quit followed until she finally managed to "kick the habit" in 1938..

Meanwhile Milena, who had never been very political before, became active in the Communist Party, writing for the party magazine Svít práce and believed fervently in the cause. However, she was unable to silence her doubts about the methods used for achieving this "revolution," and finally after the notorious "show trials" in the Soviet Union in 1936, she left the party, or rather, was expelled—she always marched to her own drummer..

Her marriage was long since over, Jaromír having moved to the Soviet Union in a burst of idealism, only to be disappointed with the reality, and when he came back he had a new lover. Milena herself was rumored to have many lovers, both male and female. She was now writing articles for the Prítomnost newspaper, exploring issues important to her. The threat of Nazism was in the air, and the Sudeten Germans on the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany were agitating for autonomy, and after the Munich Conference in 1938, where the Czechs were left out in the cold as their country was essentially handed over to the Nazis all became the subjects of passionately argued articles by Milena, who knew that the country had to resist with all its might. Even as Germans entered Prague in March 1939, she was still writing her articles. She also became involved in the underground movement to get prominent Czechs, both Jews and gentiles, out of the country, even enlisting little Honza (Jana's pet name) to carry messages and underground newspapers and wearing the yellow Jewish star..

Unfortunately, she was too friendly and chatty about her activities, and was soon arrested. In 1940 she was sent to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück in Germany, where she managed, despite her poor health, to become an inspiration to the other prisoners, who admired and even loved her (all except the Communists, who saw her as a traitor). She met Margarete Buber-Neumann, who was also a journalist and former Communist, and they became best friends. They promised to write a book together when they got out, and if only one lived, she would bear witness to the other. But Milena's health was failing. She had one of her kidneys removed after it became infected, but the other one soon failed as well, and she died on May 17, 1944 at the age of 47. Margarete kept her promise, writing Milenas Freundin Milena about her. And in 1995 she was honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" for her efforts in saving Jews from the Nazis. Some Quotes by MilenaAbout Franz Kafka: "He wrote the most significant works of modern German literature, which reflect the irony and prophetic vision of a man condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death.".

"He sees life very differently from other people. . .To him any job—even his own—is as mysterious, as marvelous, as a locomotive is to a small child. The simplest things in the world are beyond him. . .Yes, this whole world is and remains a puzzle to him, a mystery. Something utterly beyond him, but which with his touchingly pure naiveté he admires for its efficiency. . . Franz can't live. He is incapable of living. Franz will never get well. Franz will die soon." "His books are amazing. He himself is infinitely more amazing. . .".

Milena's Obituary for Kafka: "An Obituary for Frank Kafka"Dr. Franz Kafka, a German writer who lived in Prague, died the day before yesterday in a sanatorium in Kierling at Klosterneuburg, near Vienna. Few people here knew him, for he was a solitary, wise person terrified by life. He suffered for years from lung disease. Although he did treat his illness medically, he also consciously encouraged it, and supported it with his thinking..

Once he wrote in a letter, "When the soul and the heart can no longer bear the burden, the lungs take over one half of it, so that the weight will at least be evenly distributed." That is how it was with his illness. It gave him an almost miraculous delicacy and a frighteningly uncompromising intellectual refinement. As a human being, however, he pushed all his fear of life onto his illness. He was shy, timid, gentle, and kind, but he wrote gruesome and painful books. He saw the world as full of invisible demons, who tear apart and destroy defenseless people. He was too clear-sighted and too wise to be able to live; he was too weak to fight, he had that weakness of noble, beautiful people who are not able to do battle against the fear of misunderstandings, unkindness, or intellectual lies. Such persons know beforehand that they are powerless and go down in defeat in such a way that they shame the victor. He knew people as only people of great sensitivity are able to know them, as somebody who is alone and sees people almost prophetically, from one flash of a face. He knew the world in a deep and extraordinary manner. He was himself a deep and extraordinary world..

He wrote books that belong to the most outstanding works of German literature. They express the struggles of today's generation, but without any tendentious words. They are truthful, naked, and painful, so that even where they speak symbolically, they are almost naturalistic. They are full of dry mockery and the sensitive gaze of a person who has seen the world so clearly that he could not bear it and had to die; he did not want to retreat and save himself, as others do, even by the noblest intellectual subconscious errors..

Dr. Franz Kafka wrote the fragment "The Stoker" (published in Czech in Neumann's [magazine] Červen (June), [actually in Kmen (The Stem)] which is the first chapter of a beautiful novel of which the rest has not yet been published; The Judgment, about the conflict between Twogenerations; The Metamorphosis, the most powerful book of modern German literature; The Penal Colony, and the sketches Reflections and A Country Doctor. His last novel, The Trial, exists in manuscript; it has been ready for the press for years. It is one of those books that give one the sense of a totally encompassed world, so that after we have finished reading them, we feel not a single word needs to be added. All his books depict the horrors of mysterious misunderstandings and of undeserved human guilt. He was a man and a writer with such a fearful conscience that he heard things where others were deaf and felt safe..

6 June 1924, Národní listy.

letter from Milená Jesenská.

In 1919 the Jewish Czech writer Franz Kafka, recuperating from tuberculosis in a sanatorium, received a letter from a 24 year old journalist from Vienna, Milená Jesenská. She wanted to translate his enigmatic stories into Czech. Early in 1920 she sent him her first translations, and they bean a tormented Twoyear passion that was conducted almost entirely by correspondence. for Kafka, Milená'a letters were.

"...the most beautiful thing that ever happened in my life.".

Those letters have been lost. Kafka's own undated letters, preserved by Milená and hidden in Prague during World War II, tell a story with few fixed points. The letter printed here is from near the end of their relationship. The paranoia and uncertainty it expresses--about Milená's husband finding out, and about the potential sexuality of the relationship--typify Kafka's state of mind throughout the affair..

Initially they wrote in German, Kafka's native language. He later insisted that Milená write in Czech, since he could only capture her whole personality through her native tongue. After the first Czech letter, Kafka wrote:.

"I see you more clearly, the movements of your body, your hands, so quick, so determined, it's almost a meeting, although when I try to raise my eyes to your face, what breaks into the flow of the fire and I see nothing but fire.".

Kafka found her intensity intriguing, but felt that the fire in her personality burned mainly for her husband, Ernst Polak. In fact, Milená's relationship with her husband was disintegrating at the time. He excluded her from his social and intellectual life, and made no attempt to hide his affairs with other women. In the face of Ernst's infidelities she reached completely to the sensitive personality that came across in her prose:.

"One leans right back and drinks the letters, oblivious of everything except that one doesn't want to stop drinking.".

She was not the first woman in Kafka's life, and he tried to be objective about their future together:.

"I've been engaged twice (three times, if you wish, that's to say twice to the same girl), so I've been separated three times from marriage by only a few days. The first one is completely over...the second is without any prospect of marriage...".

He wanted to marry, he explained, but feared it would affect his writing. For Kafka, marriage was not a way out of loneliness but a vision of security, a vocation in itself:.

"Marrying, founding a family, accepting all the children that come, supporting them in this insecure world and perhaps even guiding them a little, is I am convinced, the utmost a human being can succeed in doing at all.".

Such ordinary happiness was beyond Kafka. He was well liked, thoughtful, and generous, but his real life was a surreal fabric of the mind, beset by anxieties. He analyzed every move until no move was possible. In one of his stories he wrote about a man who is fascinated by a spinning top and wants to know how it works. Yet every time he grabs it, it goes dead in his hands. So too, it turned out, with his and Milená's relationship; it was beautiful in the abstract, but failed to work once it involved physical realities.

More here.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Anna Akhmatova: Memoir on Modigliani

When you're drunk it's so much fun --
Your stories don't make sense.
An early fall has strung
The elms with yellow flags.
We've strayed into the land of deceit
And we're repenting bitterly,
Why then are we smiling these
Strange and frozen smiles?
We wanted piercing anguish
Instead of placid happiness. . .
I won't abandon my friend,
So dissolute and mild.

1911 (Paris) -- translated by Judith Hemschemeyer Originally published (in Russian) in the book Evening, 1912

‘In 1910, I saw him very rarely, just a few times. But he wrote to me during the whole winter. I remember some sentences from his letters. One was: Vous êtes en moi comme une hantise (You are obsessively part of me). He did not tell me that he was writing poems.

I know now that what most fascinated him about me was my ability to read other people’s thoughts, to dream other people’s dreams and a few other things of which everyone who knew me had long since been aware. He repeatedly said to me: On communique.. (We understand each other). And often: Il n’y a que vous pour réaliser cela. (Only you can make that happen).

We both probably failed to realise a crucial point: everything that was happening was for both of us but the prehistory of our lives – of his very short life, of my long life. Art had not yet ignited our passions, its all-consuming fire had not yet transformed us; it must have been the light and airy hour of dawn. But the future, which announces its coming long before it arrives, was knocking at the window. It lurked behind the lanterns, invaded our dreams and took on the frightening form of Baudelaire’s Paris which lay in wait somewhere in the vicinity. And Modigliani’s divine attributes were still veiled. He had the head of Antinoos, and in his eyes was a golden gleam – he was unlike anyone in the world. I shall never forget his voice. He lived in dire poverty, and I don’t know how he lived. He enjoyed no recognition whatsoever as a painter.

At that time (1911) he lived in the Impasse Falguière. He was so poor that in the Jardin du Luxembourg we sat on a bench and not, as was usual, on chairs since you had to pay for them. He complained neither about his poverty nor about the lack of recognition, both of which were clearly apparent. Just once in 1911 he said that the previous winter had been so tough for him that he had been unable to think even of that which was dearest to him.

He seemed to me to be encircled by a girdle of loneliness. I cannot recall him ever greeting anyone in the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Latin Quarter even though everyone knew everyone else there. I never heard him mention the name of an acquaintance, a friend or a fellow painter, and I never heard him joke. I never once saw him drunk, and he never reeked of wine. He evidently did not begin drinking until later, although hashish had already cropped up in his stories. He did not appear to have a steady girlfriend as yet. He never recounted amorous episodes from the past (which everyone else did). He never discussed mundane matters with me. He was communicative, not on account of his domestic upbringing but rather because he was at his creative peak…..

He used to rave about Egypt. At the Louvre he showed me the Egyptian collection and told me there was no point I see anything else, ‘tout le reste’. He drew my head bedecked with the jewellery of Egyptian queens and dancers, and seemed totally overawed by the majesty of Egyptian art.’
From Happiness is an Angel with a Grave Face

Song of the Last Meeting 

My heart froze helplessly.
But my step was light.
Absent-mindedly I put a left glove
On my right hand.

It seemed that there were so many steps,
Though I knew – there are only three!
The autumnal whisper of maples Pleaded,
“Die with me!

I’m deceived by my cheerless
Changeable, wicked fate.”
I answered, “Dear, dear!

Me too. I’ll die with you…”
I looked at the dark house.
Only the bedroom was lit by Indifferent yellow candlelight.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Canetti, Man of Mystery

As a literary type after World War Two, the German-speaking International Man of Mystery found Britain a more comfortable land of exile than America, where he was always under pressure to explain himself in public, thereby dissipating the mystery. The chief mystery was about his reason for not going back to German-speaking Europe. Before the mysterious W.G. Sebald there was the even more mysterious Elias Canetti. While the Nazis were in power, Canetti had excellent reasons to be in London. But now that the Nazis were gone, why was he still there?

Like Sebald later on, Canetti might have found Britain a suitable context for pulling off the trick of becoming a famous name without very many people knowing precisely who he was. Canetti even got the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, and people still didn’t know who he was. He was a Viennese Swiss Bulgarian refugee with an impressively virile moustache; he was Iris Murdoch’s lover; he was a mystery. Apart from a sociological treatise called Crowds and Power which advanced a thesis no more gripping than its title, his solitary pre-war novel Die Blendung, known in English as Auto da Fé, was the only book by Canetti that anybody had ever heard of. Hardly anybody had read it, but everybody meant to. Those who had read it said it was about a mysterious man in a house full of books, and that the house, in a symbolic enactment of the collapse of a civilization, fell down, or almost did, or creaked a lot, or something.

While living in Britain, Canetti wrote three books of memoirs about his life in pre-war Europe. He wrote them in German. (All three volumes are now available in English, although readers are warned that the translations lose some of the effortless pomposity of the original.) They were full of literary gossip: hard material to make dull, even for a writer with Canetti’s knack for colourless reportage. He proved, however, that he had a long memory for the frailties of his colleagues. He had a good story about Robert Musil, author of The Man Without Qualities. In the circumscribed world of the Vienna cafes, Musil reigned unapproachably as the resident genius. But Musil was eaten up by resentment of the public recognition accorded to Thomas Mann. When, in 1935, Canetti published Die Blendung to some acclaim in the press, he entered the café to find Musil, who had previously barely noticed his existence, rising to meet him with a congratulatory speech. Canetti was able to say that he had a letter in his pocket from Thomas Mann, praising him in exactly the same terms. Musil sank back into his chair and never acknowledged Canetti again.

The story shows how Canetti could recognize self-obsession in others. But there is no account of his ever recognizing the same failing in himself. His memoirs not only take him to be the centre of events — a standard strategy in autobiographical writing, and often an entertaining one — they proceed on the assumption that no events matter except those centred on him. Hitler scarcely gets a mention. The story is all about Canetti, a man with good reason, we are led to assume, for holding himself in high esteem.

Canetti spent the last part of his life in Zurich. In his last year he was at work on his memoir about London. (Now, in Elysium, he is probably working on his memoir about Zurich.) The unfinished book, Party in the Blitz, is the story of his years in and around Hampstead during the war and just after. We are fortunate that there is no more of it, lest we start wondering whether Canetti should not have received another Nobel Prize, for being the biggest twerp of the twentieth century. But a twerp must be at least partly stupid, and Canetti wasn’t even a little bit that. Instead, he was a particularly bright egomaniac, and this book, written when his governing mechanisms were falling to bits, simply shows the limitless reserves of envy and recrimination that had always powered his aloofness. The mystery blows apart, and spatters the reader with scraps and tatters of an artificial superiority. Witnessing, from Hampstead Heath, the Battle of Britain taking place above him — the completeness with which he fails to evoke the scene is breathtaking — Canetti, unlike many another German-speaking refugee, managed to take no part whatever in the war against Hitler. He had his own war to fight, against, among others, T.S. Eliot. Canetti’s loathing of Eliot is practically the book’s leitmotiv: you have to imagine a version of Die Meistersinger in which Beckmesser keeps coming back on stage a few minutes after he goes off. “I was living in England as its intellect decayed,” Canetti recalls. “I was a witness to the fame of T.S. Eliot... a libertine of the void, a foothill of Hegel, a desecrator of Dante... thin lipped, cold hearted, prematurely old... armed with critical points instead of teeth, tormented by a nymphomaniac of a wife... tormented to such a degree that my Auto da Fé would have shrivelled up if he had gone near it...”

More here.