miércoles, 23 de marzo de 2016

The Captain's Daughter - Alexander Pushkin


I am familiar with Pushkin's writing. And whereas I prefer Pushkin the Poet, I can say with absolute certainty that, in fact, I enjoyed this novella but for other somewhat unexpected reasons. I found the plot so enthralling that I could not put this book down. Historical facts and pure fiction are interwoven as a single reality which eventually prompted me to read more about Russian history in order to comprehend the political and social background and Pushkin's points of view on them.

The context of this story revolves around the rebellion led by Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev, a man that claimed to be Tsar Peter III and consequently established an alternative government during 1773 and 1775 (actually, until late 1774, Pugachev was executed in January 1775; well, if you come up with the smart idea of impersonating an emperor, sparking off one of the largest peasant revolts in the history of your country, expect no colorful parade in your honor).
I will abstain from revealing much details (my Anna Karenina review is reaching astronomical proportions and I think that's going to be painful enough; I wouldn't want to put the entire world to sleep; that would be awkward, and terribly exhausting, but it may happen), so in the spirit of a quick review I must say that the characters have been decently developed. I felt some sort of ambivalence towards them; and some are, to put it mildly, despicable and exemplify the recurrent thought that almost nothing is done altruistically. The writing seems to be more focused on the description of events rather than the characters' psyche, something that gave me Iceberg City flashbacks. But the lyrical tone that defines Pushkin's style was still present.

The main character is Pyotr Andreyich Grinyov, a young man whose father sends into military service with his old servant because, according to him, it is time he starts acting like a man and hard work is the way to accomplish that.
A blizzard, a chance meeting, a woman, obviously; a duel, naturally, and a great opportunity to dive into Pushkin's writing and Russian history.

Diary of a Madman - Nikolai Gogol


A deluge of thoughts came down on him. Thoughts without sense of purpose or direction that caused
a little stir and numerous inquisitive looks.
Conversations with a dog. Delusions of grandeur; persecutions that might have never existed. Envy that mumbles incoherent things, day in day out: silence is a privilege reserved for others, an idyllic state he has been forbidden from finding again; illegible theory in a dusty old notebook. Words accumulate in the corners of a dim lighted room where guilty smiles are born and left behind, hastily.
His deepest desire was to have more – royalty calls. A rift between worlds leaves him on Spanish shores. One can hear the screams from here.
The sound of a steady drip silences all laughter. Drops of cold water floating in the air that turn into sleet upon touching the skin. Attempts to wrap them up in a deathly hush for it seems impossible to bring back an already elusive sanity.

He is talking again. His subjects will not be pleased. His face, ashen with fear.


So much rain under this blood red sky.

On Sleep and Sleeplessness - Aristotle


Philosophy Made Easy

I have always had trouble with sleep. Thoughts are unmanageable, always, but especially at night. I
don't like waking up early (of course, that is what the office expects of me). I hate it, actually. Pure, unadulterated hatred. But I'll definitely be up at 6 o'clock on a Saturday or while being on vacation. Our minds usually play by the rules of cruel irony.
Anyway, when I found this book, I thought it was going to be rather interesting. (“Rather” has left the building.) It was interesting, in some respects. As a lover of philosophy, history and other fields that made me so popular among my peers (?), I usually find this kind of text fascinating in some way or another.
But, enough. Without further ado, the following are some of the main ideas that can be found inside this charming little book.

Part 1

Waking and sleep are present in the same part of an animal and symbolize another of the countless dichotomies inherent in nature, for instance, health and sickness, sight and blindness, Trump and politics, Kardashian and elegance, Xipolitakis and airplanes, among other fine examples of the dual character humanity is in possession of.
In this case, they complement each other, since animals cannot be always sleeping or awake. Aristotle refers to animals that were obviously endued with sense-perception (and he was quite insistent on this matter so there is no way you will be able to forget about this concept, ever), thus plants were never part of the equation for they lack said faculty and therefore cannot wake nor sleep.

Sleep ✓
Sleeplessness ✕

Part 2
Aristotle then proceeds to explain the causes of sleep and waking. After giving a recapitulation of several of some of his widely known concepts (that might come back to you from the repressed corner of your mind dedicated to high school memorabilia), he states that sleep is perceived as rest, which is necessary and beneficial. In that sense, its end is the conservation of animals.

Sleep ✓
Sleeplessness ✕

Part 3
This is the most delightfully confusing part of the treatise. A heads-up?


The expression “such persons” does not include infants. Otherwise, 15-year-old Becky who leaves your fridge empty and a phone bill of monumental proportions for next month while taking care of your kid sounds like a hell of a babysitter.

Sleep ✓
Sleeplessness ✕

It is a shame we can't sue the author for false advertising.

sábado, 12 de marzo de 2016

The Nose - Nikolai Gogol

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the longer and more carefully we look at a funny story, the sadder it becomes.

As expected, this is a hilarious story. After an intriguing introduction that I shall refrain myself from explaining, we are told that a man woke up, looked at his mirror but didn't find any labyrinths of time nor tigers that haunt dreams. He only noticed that his nose had disappeared. Was it during the night? Perhaps a second before he opened his eyes. We will never know. But, in an act that can only be described as a heinous betrayal and a challenge to every manifestation of reason, that part of his body escaped from the surface of his respectable-looking face and became a well-dressed entity, very pleased with himself and, oddly, with a better social rank than his. Ah, and he was so proud of that rank! You know, he is the kind of person to whom you might ask about the weather and after a minute, you would find yourself listening to a fine gentleman boasting about his important occupations and the comforting feeling that his significant social status gave to him. Nothing profound, certainly. That sort of weakness might be suitable for someone of lesser rank, not him. Following this line of thought, remember, you would have the good fortune of listening to his distinguished conversation only if you belong to a similar status as his, otherwise, I'm afraid he will not be able to answer to you. That would be beneath him. Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to hurt your feelings. I am merely imparting what I regard as relevant information, a dash of knowledge, a gram of wisdom, if you will: the rules of civilization, no less!

You should know by now that the person I am referring to, the one who inspired these ridiculous lines—such drivel that he would unquestionably enjoy nonetheless because, after all, we are all talking about him—is no other than our friend Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov (now, if you would be so kind as to call him 'Major', that would help him make it through the night; to gently caress the ego of these upstanding members of society always ensures them a good night's sleep). Oh, the man sans nose. He could still breathe so that was not an issue, obviously. Notwithstanding, there was a visible absence on his face that surely made him feel self-conscious about his appearance. Who wouldn't understand?


You might think that the source of his distress was also the fact that he could no longer smell the fragrance of fresh-ground coffee (although he would prefer tea, I suppose). Or the perfume of a woman with whom he might have dreamt of the other night but would not speak about, not to one soul, wishing that such memory would return to the bleak corner of his disobedient mind, where it should have stayed; those little nooks under the shadows of the world that hold unavowed dreams and nightmares that ruin normal sleep patterns. Or the aroma that comes from the snuff-box belonging to a thoughtful clerk who might not be aware of our friend's refined taste.
No, the superficial side of human nature would not allow such luxury. Not being able to show his face in public struck fear into his heart. We are in no position to judge here because every individual would feel the same way. Yes, sir. Who wouldn't understand?


Once the glimmer of satire has vanished completely and a state of reflection has emerged from the depths of the unconscious, you will discover that underneath this funny story lies the countenance of misery; timid, distant, determined. The anxiety caused by the look of another person. The condescending sneer from a superior. The mockery directed at an inferior. The need to have a respectable place in society and the urge to cling to it as if your life depended on it. Which, at some degree, unfortunately, it does. A natural consequence of people's priorities. You do understand.

Gogol, whose name is another universe so different from Dostoyevsky's and yet with countless similar facets, mastered the art of blending humor with tragedy, sheer absurdity with varying nuances of misfortune. Like a chameleon and its unusual ability, his language gradually varies from paragraph to paragraph—entertaining lines might take the form of serious statements filled with amusing nonsense that, by the end of the story, might resemble a set of words dripping the sort of lyricism that transports you to another place defying the laws of time, space and apprehensive dispositions.


From that moment on, the thoughts that were impatiently dwelling in some obscure corner that no one would wish to see, manage to free themselves, to leave their self-absorbed bubble. Engulfed in flames of wintry colors and whispering voices, threatened by their wild nature, what are we supposed to do?


Look at the windows as you walk by. Better yet, do not go outside. Go to the bathroom where that wide mirror awaits for you every morning when you are most vulnerable, after walking aimlessly through the bedroom because of three or four hours of lousy sleep. Or reach into your handbag and pull out the small mirror you carefully hide from the world—a futile attempt to deny the existence of some vestige of vanity that might still reside in you.
In an act of moral courage, we could take a look at what that spotless piece of glass may reflect. We could stand in front of it, hold it before our eyes, struck by fear or overcome with joy, in deep, almost mystical contemplation, just to see ourselves through the perception of others, as we try to grab the nearest lifesaver for we might be sinking in a sea of inhibition; rough waters that may reveal a possible craving for social validation with fluctuating degrees of intensity, knowing all the time that any degree could dissolve all trace of reassurance, at the same speed an ice cube melts in hot water. To touch and recognize everything that visually defines us and emotionally affects us. More importantly, to find out, to bring to light. To actually discern what we might have lost yesterday, a while ago; during the minutes that have died and now belong to an uncertain space composed of unreliable memories and remnants of immortality. The things we are about to lose today. Things I would not want to lose tomorrow but that, as with anything in life, in fact, I may have never even had.

* Austen and Gogol have partaken in the creation of the first sentence. I share with you this classified piece of information before Collegiate Assessor Major Kovalyov takes the credit for it.

domingo, 6 de marzo de 2016

Fervor de Buenos Aires - Jorge Luis Borges

Habré de levantar la vasta vida
que aún ahora es tu espejo:
cada mañana habré de reconstruirla.

I shall raise the wide life
that is still your mirror:
each morning I shall rebuild it.
Borges published this book in 1923. It was his first collection of poems, one that would not only represent an ode to the capital's nostalgic beauty, but also his first attempt at dealing with philosophical issues in the land of the uncertain. Of the impossible and the extreme. Lights of different colors; shadows of different shapes. A silent passion and the lyrical tone you would not expect from him. But perhaps you should.
I could relate to those kinds of poems, of course. The rest of them convey a closeness to a place that I would never be able to recognize. A devotion driven by some irresistible force that made everything seem rather foreign to me. However, many poems resonate with different meanings and emotions and thus have become part of my memory.
Inscripción en cualquier Sepulcro
No arriesgue el mármol temerario
gárrulas transgresiones al todopoder del olvido,
enumerando con prolijidad
el nombre, la opinión, los acontecimientos, la patria.
Tanto abalorio bien adjudicado está a la tiniebla
y el mármol no hable lo que callan los hombres.
Lo esencial de la vida fenecida
—la trémula esperanza,
el milagro implacable del dolor y el asombro del goce—
siempre perdurará.
Ciegamente reclama duración el alma arbitraria
cuando la tiene asegurada en vidas ajenas,
cuando tú mismo eres el espejo y la réplica
de quienes no alcanzaron tu tiempo
y otros serán (y son) tu inmortalidad en la tierra.

Inscription on any Tomb
Let not the rash marble risk
garrulous breaches of oblivion’s omnipotence,
in many words recalling
name, renown, events, birthplace.
All those glass jewels are best left in the dark.
Let not the marble say what men do not.
The essentials of the dead man’s life—
the trembling hope,
the implacable miracle of pain, the wonder of sensual delight—
will abide forever.
Blindly the willful soul asks for length of days
when its survival is assured by the lives of others,
when you yourself are the embodied continuance
of those who did not live into your time
and others will be (and are) your immortality on earth.


Siempre es conmovedor el ocaso
por indigente o charro que sea,
pero más conmovedor todavía
es aquel brillo desesperado y final
que herrumbra la llanura
cuando el sol último se ha hundido.
Nos duele sostener esa luz tirante y distinta,
esa alucinación que impone al espacio
el unánime miedo de la sombra
y que cesa de golpe
cuando notamos su falsía,
como cesan los sueños
cuando sabemos que soñamos.

Sunset is always disturbing
whether theatrical or muted,
but still more disturbing
is that last desperate glow
that turns the plain to rust
when on the horizon nothing is left
of the pomp and clamor of the setting sun.
How hard holding on to that light, so tautly drawn
and different,
that hallucination which the human fear of the dark
imposes on space
and which ceases at once
the moment we realize its falsity,
the way a dream is broken
the moment the sleeper knows he is dreaming.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.