sábado, 28 de noviembre de 2015

In Praise of Shadows - Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

In Praise of Shadows

The preference of a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance.


My quiet, soothingly minimalistic room seems of no consequence when juxtaposed with the unearthly beauty that Jun'ichirō Tanizaki described in this splendid essay on aesthetics.

A shōji. Lightning. Electric fans. The right heating system. Food. Architecture.
Every detail to avoid the disruption of harmony in a Japanese room.
An almost imperceptible line between an extremely refine taste and the subtlety of irony.

We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament. (9)


Inside this book, there is a room that seems enraptured by the sobriety of the different shades of black.
So much space beholding the magnificence of a dim light on a particular spot, barely illuminating the serene twilight that those walls are made of.

Could this book be applied to people? It shouldn't. But that is subject to one's personality. You could be the reserved, darkened room. Except when writing. And that would be fine.

A book on beauty has its share of ugliness; people's skin and supposed degrees of purity.

Above all, an essay that exalts the enigmatic candlelight.
The particular beauty of a candle emanating a delicate brilliance that timidly embellish a silent room. A most idyllic view under its mystical light.

Nothing superfluous. Nothing pretentious. Nothing loud but the silence. A universe in your thoughts. The encounter with yourself under the tenuous radiance of a candle, evoking a somber night, the bright moon a world is gazing at.

Tanizaki observes. Tanizaki fights. Tanizaki misses. Tanizaki regrets.
The sound of the rain playing gently with the dusky light of a candle.


The mind wanders.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.
Japanese room / via bluebu.us
Tatami room / via Kyoto Contemplation
Candle / via Free images

jueves, 26 de noviembre de 2015

Howl and Other Poems - Allen Ginsberg


You will not like this. Like we use to say, vengan de a uno.

So, “Howl”. My rating is based mostly on my experience with that long poem.

I admire any work filled with sincerity and lyrically intense lines (when found). Powerful, raw images that expose an unknown world. I understand this book's historical context and what it represented at the time; storming in with a breath of fresh air, breaking the mold and dealing with some themes and views I also agree with. Well, except for the endless references to drug abuse and alcohol, regarded, through the years, as a source of creativity and a way to express yourself against reigning social conventions; a dangerously infantile waste of a life in some cases. Debauchery, consumption of drugs and alcohol as a statement, a sort of protest against materialism and conformity. Mindless attitudes that make you different, that keep you safely away from anything mainstream and doesn't lead you to an unbearable feeling of emptiness... Sexual liberation—being free of any dogma, any prejudice, being able to enjoy complete freedom to love—understood as sleeping with whoever crosses your street and then writing yourself an ode celebrating those actions; trying to be so different that you end up being as ordinary as any other mortal. It was their times, of course. And this is simply an opinion.

Anyway, whereas I do appreciate the honesty and the experiences and sentiments that Ginsberg brought to these pages, I feel like many significant matters get lost in a haze of pretentiousness, self-indulgence and not an extraordinary writing (I take away the political context and there's not much to hold onto), in this particular case and from my perspective. A perspective that, needless to say, doesn't epitomize the absolute truth nor tries to. I was not expecting a bunch of puritan euphemisms and songs on a prairie, but it was simply too much and I struggled to finish the whole thing. Even though I always say to myself that literature does not have to be a source of misery so if I am not enjoying a book, I can leave it behind, I did try to finish this one because, well, it had less than 100 pages... don't be so lazy, F.

A really short book that became too painful to finish. You can imagine. You can also say: "Two stars. Are you out of your mind? This is pure sentiment, pure poetry meant to stir your most hidden emotions." "Oh, grow up" with a Joan Rivers' kind of tone. And I will respect that. However, for me it was not and the only thing I stirred was some benevolent coffee that helped me throughout this arduous journey.

The rest of the poems were a little less painful; nothing more. I kind of liked “Transcription of Organ Music”. Some good lines, from time to time. “America” is a decent pearl containing the essence of the Beat generation. “Song” was a nice change of pace.

Beats and me just don't get along. I still have Naked Lunch to read. I wonder...

Two short stories by Guy de Maupassant


Then I turned the conversation on hunting, and he gave me the most curious details on hunting the hippopotamus, the tiger, the elephant and even the gorilla. 
I said: 'Are all these animals dangerous?' 
He smiled: 'Oh, no! Man is the worst.'


25th June. To think that a being is there who lives, who walks, who runs. A being? What is a being? That animated thing, that bears in it the principle of motion and a will ruling that motion. It is attached to nothing, this thing. Its feet do not belong to the ground. It is a grain of life that moves on the earth, and this grain of life, coming I know not whence, one can destroy at one's will. Then nothing—nothing more. It perishes, it is finished.


10th August. Who would ever know? Who would ever suspect me, me, me, especially if I should choose a being I had no interest in doing away with?

A dangerous story for a troubled mind.

sábado, 21 de noviembre de 2015

Kubla Khan - Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Words evoking vivid, faithful images. The perfection of metres, rhymes and the intellectual effort it all represents. A person in a verse. A life in a haiku. A world in a stanza. I love poetry as much as I love prose. And this poem by Coleridge, this fragment portrays the essence of Romanticism. I have already read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and found it awe-inspiring. So I had a vague idea of the artistic force I was going to encounter with.

Kubla Khan
The Preface of this poem explains the background of the creative process and publication, including a famous anecdote that would later become a concept by itself, a fair allusion to certain aspects of life that inevitably interrupts the writer's creativity. It all started with a dream. By 1797 the poem was “completed” and published in 1816. Coleridge states that, one night, after reading about Xanadu (the palace of Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler and Emperor of China) and giving himself over to the influence of opium, he had a dream. A wild, vivid dream. When he woke up, he started to write a poem until he was apparently interrupted by a person on business from Porlock. And then, he couldn't remember much of the dream and therefore couldn't finish what he has planned. There is no concluding evidence but it does teach us a remarkable lesson. If you feel inspired and begin to write in a frenzy, and all of the sudden someone knocks on your door, don't open it. Unless it is the fire department. Otherwise, do not open the door. Lock it. Close your window. And keep writing.

"Kubla Khan" starts with a depiction of Xanadu. An idea of perfection conveyed through the circular shapes that Coleridge describes. He does so using different tones relating to the idea of opposites. Light and darkness. Nature and human creativity. A lifeless ocean, a mighty fountain. Visions of contradictory images, mythological references, exquisite symbolism; the symphony of a woman. The taste of her song, a song with the power of building domes in the air.

Below, you will find a passage (in Spanish and English) of an essay by the erudite pen of Jorge Luis Borges, concerning Coleridge and his poem.

There was no other way. I had to end these rambling thoughts on Coleridge with Borges in my mind.

Un emperador mogol, en el siglo XIII, sueña un palacio y lo edifica conforme a la visión; en el siglo XVIII, un poeta inglés que no pudo saber que esa fábrica se derivó de un sueño, sueña un poema sobre el palacio.  (…)
En 1961, el P. Gerbillon, de la Compañía de Jesús, comprobó que del palacio de Kublai Khan sólo quedaban ruinas; del poema nos consta que apenas se rescataron cincuenta versos. Tales hechos permiten conjeturar que la serie de sueños y de trabajos no ha tocado a su fin. Al primer soñador fue deparada en la noche la visíon del palacio y lo construyó; al segundo, que no supo del sueño del anterior, el poema sobre el palacio. Si no marra el esquema, algún lector de Kubla Khan soñará, en una noche de la que nos separan los siglos, una mármol o una música. Ese hombre no sabrá que otro dos soñaron, quizá la serie de los sueños no tenga fin, quizá la clave esté en el último.

A thirteenth-century Mongolian emperor dreams a palace and then builds it according to his dream; an eighteenth-century English poet (who could not have known that the structure was derived from a dream) dreams a poem about the palace...
In 1691 Father Gerbillon of the Society of Jesus confirmed that ruins were all that was left of the palace of Kubla Khan; we know that scarcely fifty lines of the poem were salvaged. Those facts give rise to the conjecture that the series of dreams and labors has not yet ended. The first dreamer was given the vision of the palace and he built it; the second, who did not know of the other’s dream, was given the poem about the palace. If the plan does not fail, some reader of “Kubla Khan” will dream, on s night centuries removed from us, of marble or of music. This man will not know that two others also dreamed. Perhaps the series of dreams has no end, or perhaps the last one who dreams will have the key.
(JLB, Otras Inquisiciones/Other Inquisitions)

jueves, 19 de noviembre de 2015

The Guest - Albert Camus

Why? I have nothing to fear. (16)
I talked to a local priest, once. Actually, many times, since I was a catechist at my church. In one of our many complicated theological debates, I asked him about fate; its possibilities and limitations. If there is such a thing, how it could complement the idea of man's freedom? To me, rationally, the concept of free will did not seem to match the notion of fate. If everything has been seen by this omniscient God, is there something left for me to choose? Am I drinking tea or coffee because of him? Am I happy or miserable because of things that have been already decided? Why didn't I get a memo or something, just to check before? There was never going to be a memo because we are all sinners and we deserve nothing from him, so we cannot ask for anything. Bible says?

The priest answered me in a very articulated manner, I remember. He told me that we certainly are the ones who choose to drink coffee or tea, for we are not puppets amid the powers of good and evil. Thus, he moved away from fatalism. The decisions of life are surely subject to the foreknowledge of God—everything is part of his divine plan—and we must decide which influence is going to rule our lives and therefore, where we are being led to. Heaven or hell. The questions I made concerning that matter received a well-known reply: it is a mystery; it is beyond the small comprehension that man is capable of having, comparing to God's. Do not be so arrogant as to try to understand what you cannot even start to grasp, child.

Even though I could never completely accept the existence of fate, I honestly wanted to. I felt I could have a reassurance, a source of comfort, a lighter responsibility in this illogical world of ours. A less-than-biblical but inevitable fatalistic view of life. It wasn't my fault. I didn't have a choice. There was nothing I could do. Do you really wanted this for me? What in the world were you thinking?!
For all intents and purposes, we choose our destinies; but a supreme being already knows what we are going to choose. If we are going to be saved. In the mystery of God, predestination and free will are a coherent combo. What is the choice to make in order to deserve the heavenly kingdom of a merciful god that foreknows whether I am going to be saved or condemned to eternal punishment? The choice is God.

Algeria. A schoolmaster has to decide what to do with a prisoner. A gendarme has to decide whether to tell or not. The prisoner has to decide between freedom and jail.
...that the Arab might have fled and that he would be alone with no decision to make. But the prisoner was there. (21)

In the land of the absence of a god, there is nothing more than a person and the faculty of choosing. The core of existentialism. Death cannot be avoided, no matter the choices we make. To fully accept that fact leads to freedom. The curse of certain freedom. There are no stars. No previous knowledge. We are thrown to the world, alone. Facing its absurdity, alone. You, me, and the responsibility for our actions.
Too damn scary.

The act of imparting catholic knowledge to children in front of such a trembling faith of mine caused me a revolting sense of hypocrisy. After some time, I stopped teaching and left the church. I left it to be in this ambivalent universe of uncertainty; floating between reason and faith. Evidence and assumptions. Existence and nothingness. You and me.

martes, 17 de noviembre de 2015

The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology - Faubion Bowers (Editor)

Haiku should be just
small stones dropping down a well
with a small splash

- James Kirkup (8)

Haiku or the complexity of subtlety
As a big fan of etymology, I was captivated by this book's introduction. It is renga, a form of collaborative poetry. Poets, in groups or by themselves, improvised connecting stanzas in order to create long poems. To sum up, by the 16th century, haikai-no-renga, a sort of "comic linked verse", was hipper than black glasses and courier bags today, all in contrast to the formality of the "language of the gods" of the time.
a clear and detailed recount of the history of haiku. The present enthralling subject we are tediously discussing here—I suggest a considerable amount of coffee in your system or ignoring these couple of paragraphs—has its origin in 12th-century
According to this book, "haikai became a little more than a display of wit and scatology" (7). Not what you were expecting, I assume. Nonetheless, everything changed when Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) appeared on stage and elevated haikai to a dignified level; luckily, also keeping a subtle humor and the element of surprise intact. At that time, the opening 5-7-5 stanza of renga, called hokku, contained what is known as kigo, a seasonal word. Another requirement was that it had to be something complete, an entity on its own. (Modern Japanese haiku does not strictly follow this tradition; I wouldn't know, I haven't read anything yet.) Subsequently, hokku began to appear as an independent poem. However, it wasn't until the late 19th century that humanity became acquainted with the term "haiku", thanks to the arrival of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). "Hai in haikai means 'unusual' and ku denotes strophe, lines, stanza, verse" (8). The fact that you might know how to ask for directions to the nearest library or to order at a restaurant doesn't seem to be such a great deal, all of a sudden. Moving on.

After the enlightening introduction of this book, I found some explanations about syllables and sounds and other scholarly amusing details. I prefer focusing on another side of its beauty. Because in such a brief piece of writing exists an entire universe. A story, a picture, a truly evocative image, sheer wit and humor, dichotomies represented by diverse aspects of human nature, the act of giving voice to seemingly minor details of everyday life; all open to interpretation. I have read a couple of books about haiku before but it wasn't until this moment that I began to see a more complete panorama. For instance, a haiku poem includes specific words and images that assist the reader in order to understand the story: what, where and especially when, the most reminiscent part.

This anthology consists of several haiku written by poets from the 15th century until the beginning of the 20th century. Each translation is followed by the initials of the translator (they are listed at the beginning of the book). So, regarding structure and organization, this book is flawless. Bowers' footnotes are unbelievably helpful; lifesavers, dear reader. They include insightful remarks about the context in which some of the finest haiku were written. If you read something like...
kochira muke / ware mo sabishiki / aki no kure
Will you turn toward me?
I am lonely too,
this autumn evening.

...and then go to the note, you could find a less sentimental or existential origin for such poignant lines by Bashō. Even so, we have the liberty to assimilate them as we need them to be.

On another note, and as seen in the quote above, these haiku are written in English and also rōmaji (nope, there was nothing I could do to know more). Some of the most famous haiku have multiple translations below, so you can take pleasure in comparing a same idea and the different ways of expressing it. Different shades of unadulterated beauty.

The book opens with Iio Sōgi (1421-1502).
mono goto ni / oi wa kokoro no / ato mo nashi
everything that was
has vanished from my aged heart
leaving not a trace
A moving depiction of a man being led towards the end.

Then, Sōchō (1448-1532). Actually, a renga that began with Sōgi.
Sōgi: nao nani nare ya / hito no koishiki
Sōchō: kimi o okite / akazu mo tareo / omou ran
What could be the cause of it –
that I should feel such love again?
While I still have you,
why think of anyone else?
Why this discontent?
Two different translations were included about that one. All equally stunning.

When thinking about haiku poetry, one immediately remember the great four: Bashō, Buson, Issa and Shiki. However, this book pays also attention to women and their sometimes playful, sometimes heartbreaking verses. (One feels the need of praising a book that acknowledges the work of women writers. Alarming.)

Shōfū-ni (1669-1758), a lament for Basho's death.
haikai no / sode mo Bashō mo / kareno kana
Both the haikai sleeve and the plantain withered in the field

Takeda [Tome] Ukō-ni (1687-1743)
waga ko nara / tomo ni wa yaraji / yoru no yuki
If my child, I wouldn't let him go with you in tonight's snow.

Kaga no Chiyo (1703-1775)
tsuki mo mite / ware wa kono yo o / kashiku o kana
I've seen the moon
I sign my letter to the world
“Respectfully yours”
A deathbed verse conveying a sense of quietness and gratitude, surrounded by a slightly eerie mist of sorrow?

somekanete / kata yama momiji / kata omoi
No autumn colors tint that side of the mountain: a one-sided love
A haunting line.

After quoting a vast number of writers, the book ends with the reformer. The last haiku master.
yomei / ikubaku ka aru / yo mijikashi
how much longer
is my life?
a brief night . . .

The magnificence of simplicity
Centuries have gone by, a world that has changed too many times. And yet, certain things will never cease to be a cause of disquiet in ourselves. All things that I have seen inside the pages of this book. A book made of time and contemplation.
A tormented childhood, infinite existential doubts and voids that cannot be filled, worldly aspirations, death of the beloved, desirable solitude and overpowering isolation, the inexorable passing of time, the monotony of work, work that vainly tries to suppress the ordinary sense of emptiness; the comforting beauty of nature which eventually portrays a much needed haven for wandering souls. Nature. Out there, on the grass. Where the ravishing camellias bloom. There, on the land of the rising sun. On our land under the same sky.
A cherry blossom, a dewy chrysanthemum, a blue heron flying by, a hill whitened by the presence of the moon, a pond. A disconnection. Thoughts, crushing. The silence of the mundane, everywhere. As the person reaches a longed-for clarity to face the world again. Waiting for such a time. Waiting for that moment.
Nothing will disturb the silent tranquility of that moment.

jueves, 12 de noviembre de 2015

Now I Lay Me - Ernest Hemingway


The moonlight was not enough. The nights were made of darkness and fear. A palpable fear, so strong it could have paralyzed the most powerful of men. His nights were not made to rest, anymore. For they were covered with different shades of black. And that soldier knew that if he shut his eyes in the dark, his soul would go out of his body. He was certain of that. So, if there was not some light around, he was going to stay awake. Thinking. Nothing more dangerous than a human being immersed in terror and left alone, thinking. The past stepped in as a haze of blurred images, forgotten names and one regret or two. Prayers were said over and over. And when he could not remember them, he recited every form of living thing he knew. And then cities and streets.
...and when I could not remember anything at all any more I would just listen. And I do not remember a night on which you could not hear things. If I could have a light I was not afraid to sleep, because I knew my soul would only go out of me if it were dark.

Until he found himself in broad daylight, when it was safe to sleep. If the ground was also safe.

In this short story (my last one), Hemingway openly leads the path towards the character's mind, and we are restless witnesses of his struggle and the way he found to deal with his fear. A fear created by war and that was portrayed as the inability to sleep in the dark. The best way the soldier found to keep his soul within him.

As stated above, this is one of the most psychologically deep stories I have read during these past few days. There is not just one line that barely allows you to understand the characters, but... everything. So you can imagine my surprise. Sure, the story is written with Hemingway's renowned minimalistic style, but Iceberg City does not feel so silently cold anymore. In fact—and concerning most of his stories—emotions often disrupt this seemingly descriptive atmosphere with the strength of a loud storm. Through a word, a line, a paragraph. It takes time. The most precious thing we have. But it is there, beneath all triviality, all ordinary descriptions, actions. Beneath every detail that illustrates the surroundings, the contrast between man and nature. And the complement they represent to each other.
A sanctuary, when men and women cannot find their place in the land of humanity.

miércoles, 11 de noviembre de 2015

The Battler - Ernest Hemingway


A walk through a dark forest.
A dark forest that needed a little light.
A little light came from a fire, that way.
That way he chose and over there he walked.
He walked until he saw a man.
A man that gave him some conversation.
Some conversation led to a revelation.
A revelation about his past and his state of mind.
Mind if I talk to you about some tragedy?
Tragedy awaits when you face the world alone.
Alone because she left you.
You, me, can't decide who's talking.
Talking about the mind when reason has left me too.
Too much for this tough man.
Man, it's time for a walk.

"You're all right," he said.
"No, I'm not. I'm crazy. Listen, you ever been crazy?"
"No," Nick said. "How does it get you?"
"I don't know," Ad said. "When you got it you don't know about it.

lunes, 9 de noviembre de 2015

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber - Ernest Hemingway


A lion, symbol of courage and a significant connection between a man and his wife. I was not too fond of any of the characters of this story but I have to admit something: I don't remember being so repelled by a female character since Cinderella's stepmother. Well, in the name of debatable maturity, I am pretty sure I felt that with other fictional people but I can't remember at the moment. And now I can't stop thinking about it. I need another female character that I really disliked. Great, this is going to bug me. This is taking a weird turn and now I am writing as my mind dictates. Yeah. This is how babbling is created. Ursula, Maleficent, Evil Queen, Cruella de Vil... I have been possessed by Walt Disney now, stop it. Wait. Disney. Ducks. Daisy. Daisy Buchanan. Done.

This short story started a bit slow and on top of it all, dealing with the barbaric activity of hunting; to kill for the sake of killing. However, as I kept reading, human nature and its inherent conflicts came to surface. Every piece started to fall into the right place—at least, from my humble point of view—and the twist I was warned about before, was a sudden shake that induced the collapse of this initially dull universe. It confirmed all suspicious. (Hemingway deserves patience; I am still trying to adjust.)

This is a story about many things, but it mostly involves the loss of cowardice and control. Hemingway described fear in the most evocative way possible. His minimal amount of words to portray emotions and such vividness between the lines gradually captivated me. What has started tiresome to me became a pulsating prose that revealed a story infused with fear, contempt and the desire of controlling everything. Everyone.
Until the last minute.
Accidentally, voluntarily. Will or chance. I wouldn't know.

A story about the act of breaking ties with manipulation and the rage that such happiness precipitates. All elements that, inevitably, pave the way to the core of tragedy.

domingo, 8 de noviembre de 2015

The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife - Ernest Hemingway


Three stars. An okay short story. A couple of interesting themes that are open to interpretation because, like we all know now, Hemingway reveals as little as possible. But still, I wish he would have developed them a bit more.
I am asking H. to write more, yes, I know how that sounds.
Oh, don't judge, we are not in Salem. But even if we were and some villagers had decided to parade me through town with a crowd recreating the possible last scene of The Stranger, I would be still shouting: three stars!

domingo, 1 de noviembre de 2015

A Clean Well Lighted Place - Ernest Hemingway


What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and man was a nothing too.

An old man drinking alone. A man that won't leave, a young waiter in a hurry to go home to his wife and another waiter. It is as simple as that. The complexity that left me stunned lies beneath that simple plot that unfolds with the help of Hemingway's characteristic style. And, once more, the economy of words cannot tame the torrent of emotions that can take over even the most distracted of readers.

Every mortal must face loneliness. They do it in their unique ways.

Some people try to divert their attention away from the loud silence of introspection, so they focus on work. Or they turn on the TV. Or run to their wives or husbands, pitying those less fortunate, thinking that they will never feel that kind of despair. Forgetting about the fleeting essence of youth.

Some people pour brandy into a shiny glass, feeling the silence of the night in a clean, well-lighted place. For neither money nor youth are enough to banish despair from a too sentimental soul.

Some people watch. They watch the rest of humanity facing their loneliness and try to provide a clean place with decent light to those in need. They face their loneliness helping other to face theirs, in the best way possible. It gets intense. It is an uncontrollable force that reduces the world to nothing. A man in the vastness of this universe; nothing. A god in the mind of the desperate who cannot feel his presence; nothing. The human being trying to find meaning in the context of human nature's absurdity; nothing.
My first five stars are dedicated to nothingness. To an eternal search. To Hemingway and his detached writing that left me amidst the chaotic silence of my room, contemplating nada.