Showing posts from July, 2015

Juvenal: The Emptiness Of Power

Some are destroyed by their power, downed by profound envy, Some are sunk deep by their long and illustrious list of honours. Noosed by a rope, their statues are dragged to the ground, even The wheels of their chariots are smashed, and broken to pieces With axes, while the legs of their innocent horses are shattered. Now the flames roar, the bellows hiss, and that head idolised By the people glows in the furnace, flames crackle around huge Sejanus; the face of a man who was number two in the world Is converted to jugs and basins, turned to pots and frying pans. Deck your houses with laurel, lead a great bull whitened with Chalk up to the Capitol: come see Sejanus dragged along by A hook, everyone’s celebrating! ‘Look at the lips, look at the Face on that! You can take it from me, he was never a man That I liked’ ‘But what was the crime that brought him down?’ Who informed, what’s the evidence, where are the witnesses?’ ‘That’s all irrelevant; a lengthy and wordy letter arrived from Capri.’ ‘That’s fi…

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The above image of Emily Brontë – endlessly reproduced – is less a portrait, more an icon. Intense, fierce, inward, solitary, elusive and unknowable: the young author of Wuthering Heights in profile is of a piece with her first, and only, novel. Her elder sister's work – Jane Eyre (no 12 in this series) – hypnotises the reader through the calculated force of its tone, its "suspended revelations", and its hints of suppressed eroticism. It builds, slowly, to a poignant climax in which, finally, its protagonists are redeemed, though not in a way that's conventional. Wuthering Heights, by contrast, plunges impetuously into a wild and passionate exploration of love in all its destructive manifestations. Brontë's narrative – fragmented, discordant and tortuous – revolves obsessively around a single, explosive transgression, and the theme of jealousy in the lives of Heathcliff and Catherine, before making a calmer return to the theme in the often neglected second half. Whe…

Marlene Dietrich and Erich Maria Remarque

For years it was unfashionable in Germany to worship Marlene Dietrich, the Berlin diva who escaped Nazi territory for the US and during the war years did the unthinkable by entertaining US troops. For years afterwards she was accused of anti-patriotism and lived in self-imposed exile in her Paris apartment with little contact with her homeland. But in the past few years Germany has lovingly reclaimed her, and today she is one of the most potent symbols of Berlin. Nor has the tourist board failed to realise the potential she has to lure people to the capital. The wide range of events to commemorate her 100th birthday in December are barely over, but the city's cultural institutions are on a roll: the 10th anniversary of her death is looming, and so the party continues. Under the title Marlene and Berlin, the city's cultural office has put on a string of events for those wishing to follow in the steps of the diva for the May 6 anniversary. A walking tour takes in an array of places…

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – a trip into inner space

Conrad’s famous novella is based on a real journey the author took up the Congo in 1890, during King Leopold II of Belgium’s horrific rule. It is a fantastic, imaginative journey to find a man named Kurtz who has lost his mind in the African jungle. It is a journey into inner space; a metaphorical investigation into the turbid waters of the human soul. It is a political journey into the dark heart of European colonialism. It is a nightmare journey, into horror. It is a journey to nowhere, set on a boat lying motionless and at anchor on the river Thames, which also “has been one of the dark places on the earth”. There’s no shortage of journeys to talk about in relation to Heart of Darkness – but selfishly, I want to talk about my own. Few things have had such a profound effect on me as my passage towards understanding this book. When I began to realise how many possibilities the book contains, and how beautifully Conrad brings out their meanings, I felt enlightenment. A vague kind of en…

Eduardo Galeano: God’s Masterpiece or the Devil’s Bad Joke?

The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s history of humanity, Mirrors (Nation Books).

Origin of Freedom of Oppression

Opium was outlawed in China.

British merchants smuggled it in from India. Their diligent efforts led to a surge in the number of Chinese dependent on the mother of heroin and morphine, who charmed them with false happiness and ruined their lives.

The smugglers were fed up with the hindrances they faced at the hands of Chinese authorities. Developing the market required free trade, and free trade demanded war.

William Jardine, a generous sort, was the most powerful of the drug traffickers and vice president of the Medical Missionary Society, which offered treatment to the victims of the opium he sold.

In London, Jardine hired a few influential writers and journalists, including best-selling author Samuel Warren, to create a favorable environment for war. These communications professionals ran the cause of freedom high up the flagpole. Freedom of expression…

Dying art - Mario Vargas Llosa, John King

In his essay “Culture and Anarchy,” Matthew Arnold defines culture “as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection.” Those in pursuit of human perfection—those who aim to be enriched and ennobled by art, literature, science, and philosophy—incline naturally towards what Arnold famously called “sweetness and light.”

Almost a hundred and fifty years on that sweetness has soured, that light has been crudely snuffed out for the Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. Anarchy, or at least philistinism, has triumphed over culture. Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society is a provocative essay collection on the fast decline of intellectual life, and one that manages the dual feat of shedding light while spreading gloom. As with the artful Freudian wink in the title of Mohsin Hamid’s recent collection Discontent and Its Civilizations, Vargas Llosa’s title is a sly reworking of another seminal title, namely T. S. Eliot’s 1948 essay Notes Towards th…

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching

IThe Way - cannot be told. The Name - cannot be named. The nameless is the Way of Heaven and Earth. The named is Matrix of the Myriad Creatures. Eliminate desire to find the Way. Embrace desire to know the Creature. The two are identical, But differ in name as they arise. Identical they are called mysterious, Mystery on mystery, The gate of many secrets.
Translated by A. S. Kline

Haruki Murakami: The Moment I Became A Novelist

The following is the introduction to Haruki Murakami’s Wind/Pinball: Two Novels, out August 4th from Knopf. 

The Birth of My Kitchen Table Fiction 
Most people—by which I mean most of us who are a part of Japanese society—graduate from school, then find work, then, after some time has passed, get married. Even I originally intended to follow that pattern. Or at least that was how I imagined things would turn out. Yet in reality I married, then started working, then (somehow) finally managed to graduate. In other words, the order I followed was the exact opposite of what was considered normal.

Since I hated the idea of working for a company, I decided to open my own establishment, a place where people could go to listen to jazz records, have a coffee, eat snacks, and drink. It was a simple, rather happy-go-lucky kind of idea: running a business like that, I figured, would let me relax listening to my favorite music from morning till night. The problem was, since we had married while sti…

John Dryden: You charm'd me not with that fair face

from An Evening's Love You charm'd me not with that fair face       Though it was all divine: To be another's is the grace,       That makes me wish you mine.
   The Gods and Fortune take their part       Who like young monarchs fight; And boldly dare invade that heart       Which is another's right.
   First mad with hope we undertake       To pull up every bar; But once possess'd, we faintly make       A dull defensive war.
   Now every friend is turn'd a foe       In hope to get our store: And passion makes us cowards grow,       Which made us brave before.

Ernst Bloch: The Principle of Hope

Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are we waiting for? What awaits us?

Many only feel confused. The ground shakes, they do not know why and with what. Theirs is a state of anxiety; if it becomes more definite, then it is fear.

Once a man travelled far and wide to learn fear. In the time that has just passed, it came easier and closer, the art was mastered in a terrible fashion. But now that the creators of fear have been dealt with, a feeling that suits us better is overdue. It is a question of learning hope. Its work does not renounce, it is in love with success rather than failure. Hope, superior to fear, is neither passive like the latter, nor locked into nothingness. The emotion of hope goes out of itself, makes people broad instead of confining them, cannot know nearly enough of what it is that makes them inwardly aimed, of what may be allied to them outwardly. The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to …

Tibullus: Faithlessness

Always you meet me with seductive looks, Love, to lead me on, but later you’re wretchedly sad and bitter. Cruel power, what have you to do with me? What glory is it for a god to set out snares for a man? For the net’s spread for me: now cunning Delia fondles someone secretly in the dead of night. Of course she denies it, swears it, but it’s hard to believe: she’s always denying me in that way to her husband. I myself, wretch, taught her, the means of eluding her guards: alas, now I’m crushed by my own art. Then she learnt how to make excuses for sleeping alone, then how to turn the door on its hinges silently: then I gave her juices and herbs to erase the bruises that mutual lovemaking makes out of teeth-marks. But you, deceived husband of a faithless wife, watching me too, that she might never sin, be careful she doesn’t sit talking much with young men or recline with loose dress and throat bared, or deceive you with nods, or wet her finger with wine and trace messages over the table’s surface. Fear, wh…

The Adventures of Doris Lessing

It is as if some gauze or screen has been dissolved away from life, that was dulling it, and like Miranda you want to say, What a brave new world! You don’t remember feeling like this, because, younger, habit or the press of necessity prevented. You are taken, shaken, by moments when the improbability of our lives comes over you like a fever. Everything is remarkable, people, living, events present themselves to you with the immediacy of players in some barbarous and splendid drama that it seems we are part of. You have been given new eyes. —Doris Lessing, Time Bites Doris Lessing, who turned eighty-seven in October, is telling us what “old” feels like. Not a believer in “the golden age of youth,” she “shudders” at the very idea of living through her teens again, even her twenties. Since she left Africa for England more than half a century ago, a single mother and a high school dropout with a wardrobe full of avatars—angry young woman, mother superior, bad-news bear, bodhisattva—she has…