Sunday, 5 May 2019

The cool

...bathed his eyes and slowed the flight of timt-time, that had crept so insidiously through the lazy May* afternoons, seemed so intangible in the long spring twilights.

Notes: The month originally mentioned by FSF is April. // The painting is "A remembrance of the Villa Borghese" (Un recuerdo de la Villa Borghese, 1909) by the Philipino "master of genre" Fabián de la Rosa.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

The New Utopia Anew

Written in 1891, The New Utopia is one of the few short stories Jerome Klapka Jerome wrote and it is warm and witty, with acute political and psychological insight. It all starts after an extremely interesting, and rather luxurious, evening the narrator had with his friends at the "National Socialist Club". "We had had an excellent dinner: the pheasant, stuffed with truffles, was a poem; and when I say that the ’49 Chateau Lafitte was worth the price we had to pay for it, I do not see what more I can add in its favour. After dinner, and over the cigars (I must say they do know how to stock good cigars at the National Socialist Club), we had a very instructive discussion about the coming equality of man and the nationalisation of capital."
    The narrator, while at home, recalls this last conversation with his friends and their dream of deconstructing the present world of inequality and unfairness only to create a new bright world of equality and fairness for all.  Then, he sleeps on it.  

It is refreshing to read a story made up with so few and simple elements. For this simplicity, it reads rather simplistic. It is not. This short story is significant as it is one of the first (if not the very first) of its kind and, thus, considered early prophetic – it grasps the exact true nature of socialism and its totalitarian dimensions. Being a great influence to classical works of dystopian science fiction, as Yevyeni Zamyatin's We and possibly Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, The New Utopia is also significant for another reason - it comes from an underprivileged writer who knew all about the hardships of poverty firsthand.  

Jerome K. Jerome was born in a middle-class affluent family but he had no easy life ahead. He had to earn a living at the age of 14, after his father's colliery failed and shortly after, both of his parents died. First as a clerk, then as a touring actor who found himself sleeping rough on the streets in London, Jerome, later, tried to become a journalist, a school teacher, a packer and a solicitor's clerk. He had some success as a writer in 1885 and wide recognition in 1888 with his most famous novel Three Men in a Boat. Until then, and after that, he had to sustain himself through constant work and writing.  

Yet, Jerome did not support the power of the majority nor its demand for socialism. His penetrating satire aims with zest at the egalitarian fallacies of such a society. In his story, the narrator wakes up  in the 29th century and finds himself in display in the Museum of Curiosities. He has been there since 11 February 1900 when he was found [ from the account given by the landlady of the house, it would appear that he had already, when discovered, been asleep for over ten years (she having forgotten to call him) ] and taken to the Museum. The museum attendant offers to give him the grand tour of the town as The Great Social Revolution happened in 1899 and things have changed since then. 

While on tour, the narrator walks past plenty of juxtapositions of logic: there are no houses, only huge barracks-like buildings; no horses or carriages, only electric cars; no shops, bars, theatres or books – the State has decided that they are not necessary. All people are wearing the same grey clothes, they have the same haircut in black, they eat at the same time, the exact same food at the exact portions prepared by the State; marriage and family have been abolished. You can't even have a shower on your own convenience – a state servant washes you every day at the same time...  

But, all's well that ends well: the narrator finally realises that he had just only been dreaming; in his own bed, for a few hours, in the 19th century. And "through the open window I hear the rush and roar of old life’s battle. Men are fighting, striving, carving out each man his own life with the sword of strength and will. Men are laughing, grieving, loving, doing wrong deeds, doing great deeds, — falling, struggling, helping one another — living!"

Despite its comic sense, I didn't find it as such. There is much -alarmingly much- relevance to the present – the rise of populism, fascism and political correctness in the western world tends towards what Jerome K. Jerome depicts: a place, not yet so uniform but, unfree. After having experienced the actual effects of applied socialism in the former USSR and recently in Argentina and Venezuela, not to mention the case in China, this four-page story sets the issue anew and reads, after all, as a stark reminder, a warning if you wish, of reality. 

Note: You can read the short story here. //  The installation pictured above is Karma (2003) by south-korean artist Do-Ho Suh.. / The caricature of the writer was drawn randomly from the internet.   

Monday, 25 March 2019

“History is...

...that certainty produced at the point where 
the imperfections of memory 
meet the inadequacies of documentation.” 

Note: The artwork above is from the series Heroic Rising (2018) by Christos Bokoros  a detail from a four-fold dedicated to the Exodus in Missolonghi. 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Free time and a fish

Lately, I have noticed that many titles of children's books answer to the parents's needs for raising a child, eg: how to eat your lunch, how to wash your hands before lunch, how much mummy loves you, etc. I realise the need for these titles and the convenience they offer but I'm wondering how compatible they are with the development of the children's interests and curiosity. How effective are they, actually, for cultivating  a child's imagination, language and spirit? 

This is why I liked  "This is a poem that heals Fish"  so much – it is an introduction to something as useless as poetry might be considered. In it, we follow a little boy as he tries to heal his friend - a red fish that feels sad and very bored. When he asks his mother what to do, she advises him to tell his friend a poem. But little Arthur doesn't know what a poem is, nor where to find one. He imagines it as some kind of a tangible object and so, he starts searching for it inside home and outside, in the neighbourhood.

I really loved the way Jean-Pierre Siméon gives the definition  of a poem. Being both lyrical and succinct, the French poet –novelist and playwright, too–  brings together the thoughts, feelings and experiences of many different people: a romantic bicycle mechanic, a realist  baker, an aged immigrant who waters his rhododendrons with devotion; Arthur's modern grandmother and his amateur poet grandfather. He even gives voice to an expressive canary named Aristophanes. Their words –simple answers to the same one question– shape a poem which magically gives joy to the little fish. Arthur is happy, too. 

This story helps young readers understand the concept of poetry, its cultural power and the abstract process that precedes writing and reading a poem. The book is so beautifully composed that even adults will be charmed. It has a spectacular impressionistic illustration with vibrant colours by Olivier Tallec and, also, the reputation that it is the new "Little Prince" – that's quite an exaggeration. However, this tale emits an equally dreamlike sense of simplicity and wisdom as the classic one does. 

''This is a poem that heals fish" is one of those books that give space and time to the children to explore themselves; their thoughts, their senses, their abilities, their choices. And to express their being, i.e. to communicate – contemplate, for example, write their own poem and read it, afterwards, to their friends or parents. Full of inspiration, unpretentious childishness and the necessary potions of humor and thoughtful pondering, this book really sets the foundations for a truly free spirit, i.e. an unprejudiced human being.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

"In Berlin, 

...Schinkel fought to realise his vision, Kollwitz struggled to shape her fear, Isherwood –living on a tutor's stipend– reworked reality, and Bowie made his journey from addiction to indepedence, from celebrity paranoia to radical, unmasked messenger who told us, all the fat- skinny people, all the nobody people who had dreamt of a new world of equals, that we were beautiful, that we could be ourselves."

Note: The photograph was drawn in random from the internet and is possibly extracted from Hero: David Bowie by the English journalist Lesley-Ann Jones.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Christmas Wishes

Retain each charm that gladdens home, 
And dear friendships that can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!

Be Merry!

Note: This year's wishes are inspired by a poem Helen Maria Williams wrote "To Mrs. K___, On her sending me an English plum-cake at Paris". 

Monday, 22 October 2018

"A bad review... 

...may spoil your breakfast, but you shouldn't allow it to spoil your lunch." 

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1933, when he had already been residing in Paris for thirteen years. He was the first Russian to be presented with the highest of literary distinctions for "... the strict artistry with which he carried on the classical Russian traditions in the writing of prose and poetry." 

Russia's last classic author, who was born on this day in 1870, " ...made everybody uncomfortable. Having got this severe and sharp eye for real art, feeling acutely the power of a word, he was full of hatred towards every kind of artistic excess. In times when (quoting Andrey Bely) "throwing pineapples to the sky" was the order of the day, Bunin's very presence made words stick in people's throats," Boris Zaitsev, a fellow author and member of the Moscow literary group that Bunin used to attended, once said.   

This texture of his works is known as the "Bunin brocade" and is considered to be one of the richest in the language. You can listen to the author reading "Jericho", one of the poems he also wrote, here. Unfortunately it is in Russian but you can still get the sense of the language and his speech.