Sunday, April 23, 2017

N. Scott Momaday: on stories

Another quotation from N. Scott Momaday on storytellers and storytelling.  I think there are some ideas expressed in them that wouldn't be accepted favorably by modern critics, and, perhaps, by some not-so-modern critics and scholars. . 



  Stories are composed of words and of such implications as the storyteller places upon the words.  The choice of words, their arrangement, and their effect are by and large determined by the storyteller.  The storyteller exercises nearly complete control over the storytelling experience.

.  .  .  .  .

   Stories are true to our common experience; they are statements which concern the human condition.  To the extent that the human condition involves moral considerations, stories have moral implications.  Beyond that, stories are true in that they are established squarely upon belief.  In the oral tradition stories are told not merely to entertain or to instruct; they are told to be believed.  Stories are not subject to the imposition of such questions as true or false, act or fiction.  Stories are realities lived and believed.  They are true. 

-- N. Scott Momaday --
The Man Made of Words


Aside from John Gardner, I wonder how many critics, scholars, and readers will accept Momaday's statement that stories have moral implications.  

I'm not sure exactly what Momaday means by Stories are not subject to the imposition of such questions as true or false, act or fiction.  Stories are realities lived and believed.  They are true.   I think he suggests the stories somehow are not to be judged by our ordinary commonsense ways of thinking, but exist somehow in another place. 

Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Han Shan: solitude


One reason why I admire Han Shan (Cold Mountain) is his humanity.  He comes across as very human, and this is one that reveals him as being human, and not some mystic saint.


Sitting alone I keep slipping away
far off with the cares of my heart
clouds wander by the mountainside
wind rushes out the valley
gibbons swing from the trees
birds call through the forest
time slips past my temples
yearend finds me old with regrets

-- Han Shan (Cold Mountain) --
The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
Red Pine: trans and ed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: Justine, Pt. 3

Lawrence Durrell
Justine

As many have said before and many will repeat in the future, one of the joys and benefits of rereading some works is the discovery of the "new" or actually unnoticed elements in the work.  Sometimes the "new" brings out new themes or motifs in the work.  Sometimes it forces a re-thinking about of the work.  This is rare, but it does occur, and this is what has happened with this rereading. In spite of three? or four? readings, I never noticed this before or never realized the significance of it.

Justine is Darley's attempt to reconstruct the events of his life in Alexandria and make sense of it.  It is flashback, but with a very interrupted and convoluted narrative.  He does not go back and start with his arrival in Alexandria and move forward in a chronological straightforward  way to the present.  Instead, it is almost impossible to construct a chronology without considerable effort, and perhaps considerable guesswork by the reconstructor.  I had always taken this as an example of what many modern writers insist is the way that memories work--not in a chronological fashion, but somewhat randomly and those random memories bring up related memories. This is what it seemed was happening in Justine.   But, then I read this, seemingly for the first time.

(What I most need to do is to record experiences, not in the order in which they took place--for that is history--but in the order in which they first became significant for me.)

If this is so, then the events presented us are those which became significant in his reconstruction of his past life in Alexandria, and are not simply the random productions of memory.  I don't have time now, but I shall leave a note for my next rereading of Justine.  I wonder how this will affect my reading.  


Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Minute Meditation


The storyteller is the one who tells the story.  To say this is to say that the storyteller is preeminently entitled to tell the story.  He is original and creative.  He creates the storytelling experience and himself and his audience in the process.  He exists in the person of the storyteller for the sake of telling the story.  When he is otherwise occupied, he is someone other than the storyteller.  His telling of the story is a unique performance.  The storyteller creates himself in the sense that the mask he wears for the sake of telling the story is of his own making, and it is never the same.   He creates his listener in the sense that he determines the listener's existence within, and in relation to, the story, and it is never the same.  The storyteller says in effect: "On this occasion I am, for I imagine that I am; and on this occasion you are, for I imagine that you are.  And this imagining is the burden of the story, and indeed it is the story."  

-- N. Scott Momaday --
from The Man Made of Words


N. Scott Momaday obviously possesses a different philosophy regarding storytelling than do many of his contemporaries.   Some commentaries I had read a short time ago imply that there is no such thing as a good book or a bad book, that there is no such thing as a good storyteller or a bad storyteller, that there are only good readers and bad readers.

Sheer unadulterated twaddle.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Nikos Kazantzakis: Toda Raba

Nikos Kazantzakis
Toda Raba
Published 1928
English Translation, 1964
Amy Mims,  trans.

 


The focal point of this tale is the Soviet Union's celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution in 1928.  Nikos Kazantzakis received an invitation from the Soviet government to attend a general meeting being held at that time.  Although Kazantzakis never became a member of the Communist Party, he apparently saw them at that time as the best hope to improve the condition of   the mass of humanity and to fight the ever increasing threat of fascism.  Like many others during the 20s, he seemed, to me at least, to be more of an admirer of the Ideal Communism.   He attended the meeting and traveled once again extensively throughout the Soviet Union in 1928. Toda Raba was written and published in 1929.   According to what I have read, he later witnessed the rise of Stalin and became disillusioned by communism as practiced in Russia.

The narrative is split, for it follows the travels of six or seven people who were invited to attend that Tenth Anniversary meeting in Moscow.  The travelers are varied:  there is Rahel, a Polish-Jewish young woman who is a member of the Cheka (Soviet secret police): Azad, a ex-member of the Cheka and a murderer; Geranos, who, like Kazantzakis,  is from Crete; Sou-ki, a Chinese living in California; Amita, a Japanese writer;  Amanda, a monk from India; and Toda Raba, a black African.

The characters are forcefully drawn and come alive.  This is one of Kazantzakis' strengths--his ability to make his characters come off the page, even minor characters who only appear briefly for a page or two, and are never seen again.  For example:

Geranos turned around.  .  .  He saw a man dressed very soberly and elegantly, who moved with short, fiery movements.  His eyes were exalted and cold.  Only his smile, broad and controlled and showing beautiful carnivorous teeth, betrayed the hungry sensuality in this disciplined man. 

Some parts of the novel might be mistaken for a travelogue for Kazantzakis provides us with beautiful descriptions of the Russian countryside and the varied cities and towns and the many nationalities along with their native dress and customs as the travelers take different routes to reach Moscow.

But, above all, Kazantzakis gives us the varying political and ideological flavors of the travelers, from idealistic believers to those who see various problems arising within the system to those who see Communism as the wave of the future and wish to be part of it.  Azad, at one point, says:

"But are you blind?  Don't you see?  There's something not right in our Russia!  What it is I don't know . . . . There's a stream of mire . . . . of red mire . . . . Let's get together, we old fighters, we honest men, the ones with fire.  Let's create a different stream, even if we have to make it out of blood.  Let's climb the hill again.  Let's purge the earth once more! Can't this little band sign the death warrant any more . . ."

Azad sees what he considers flaws in the system.  He is not blinded by his faith in this way.  However, he believes that the flaws are the result of those in power and that the solution is to remove them and put in better people.  He doesn't realize that all human created systems are flawed, that there really is no such thing as the perfect system.   

As you can see, Kazantzakis' travelers are anything but a monolithic bloc of true believers as they debate and argue about the state of communism in the Soviet Union.  The flyleaf to the novel suggests that the characters all represent Kazantzakis' own deeply conflicting views of  the Revolution.  If so, it is easy to see why he never have joined the Communist Party.

I have read many of Kazantzakis' works over the years, but I had never heard of this work until last year, and  I was curious about it. I had to find out why it had been so neglected and ignored by the scholars and critics I had read over the years and I wanted, naturally to read it.  I haven't read much actually of the scholarship, to be honest, but I would have thought this one would have mentioned by at least one or two.  Perhaps it is Kazantzakis' communist leanings that scholars wished to ignore, to pretend it never happened.  But, to me anyway, the book shows Kazantzakis to be in no way a true believer, but a one who feels that communism, at least in 1929, is the best hope for humanity, even though very skeptical as to the direction it seemed to be taking.  And history has shown that his skepticism was justified. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain XC

This quatrain is linked to the previous quatrain  in which the narrator eavesdrops on the Potter's creations as they comment in the Potter's absence.  The Potter, to me, suggests the Creator.


Second Edition:  Quatrain XC

And once again there gathered a scarce heard
Whisper among them; as it were, the stirr'd
    Ashes of some all but extinguished Tongue,
Which mine ear kindled into living Word.   



According to another Rubaiyat collection that I have, the Fifth Edition version of this quatrain is LXXXIII.  However, I don't see the relationship between XC and LXXXIII.  It seems to me, therefore, that this is one of the quatrains that FitzGerald added in the Second Edition but had removed by the time the Fifth Edition was published.  I can see why, for this quatrain really doesn't say much.  Although one might expect the following quatrain to tell us what that living Word might be, the first line of the following quatrain, Said one among them--"Surely not in vain," strikes me as ambiguous or awkwardly expressed.  It really doesn't flow smoothly from the previous quatrain.

Among the Potter's creations, one is speaking so quietly that it sounds as if it were just some ashes being stirred.  The reference here is obvious: ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  Possibly some long deceased human's ashes were gathered up in the clay used to create this pot.  I wonder if this is a vague reference to reincarnation.  That voice, Which mine ear kindled into living Word, was so faint that I wonder if he really heard anything at all

I think this was supposed to be an introductory quatrain, leading to some idea expressed in the following quatrain.  However, this didn't happen, so FitzGerald decided to remove it. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

John Muir: Destruction or Creation?



No. 66

How lavish is Nature, building, pulling down, creating, destroying, chasing every material particle from form to form, ever changing, ever beautiful.   



181

.  .  . One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made.  That this is still the morning of creation.  That mountains, long conceived, are now being born, brought to light by the glaciers, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.  That moraine soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants .  .  . while the finest part of the grist, seen hastening far out to sea, is being stored away in the darkness, and builded, particle on particle, cementing, and crystallizing, to make the mountains and valleys and plains of other landscapes, which, like fluent pulsing water, rise and fall, and pass on through the ages in endless rhythm and beauty. 


All quotations are from John Muir: In His Own Words 


It certainly is a different way to view nature, especially when in a mountainous area.

Is there a difference between the acts of nature--earthquakes, landslides, storms, volcano eruptions, mountain building, etc.-- when what was there before is gone and replaced with something else on the one hand and taking down old buildings and fine old neighborhoods whose only sin is that they are old and replacing them with condos, apartment complexes, big box stores, and parking lots?

But, I guess I will be told that that is progress, and that one shouldn't stand in the way of progress,  should  one?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: Justine, Pt. 2

For some reason, the narrator neglected to introduce us to Balthazar, who will be a very important character, as suggested by his name given to the second book in the Quartet.

Balthazar's importance is considerable.  To be precise, Darley has sent the manuscript to Balthazar.  Balthazar then "corrects" or adds what he knows, from a different perspective,  about the events Darley has portrayed and returns the manuscript and the interlinear to Darley.  The second novel, Balthazar, Darley's attempt to rewrite Justine based on Balthazar's information. 


In Part II, the narrator recognizes this and quickly describes him and their strange meeting.

I see a tall man in a black hat with a narrow brimPombal christened him, "the botanical goat".  He is thin, stoops slightly, and has a deep croaking voice of great beauty, particularly when he quotes or recites.  . . It is a mystery how he can have, suspended from his trunk, hands of such monstrous ugliness.  I would long since have cut them off and thrown them into the sea.  Under his chin he has one dark spur of hair growing, such as one sometimes sees upon the hoof of a sculptured Pan.
                                                  .     .     .      .     .
.  .  .  .  .

I remember meeting him, too , one bleak winter evening, walking along the rain-swept  Corniche, dodging the sudden gushes of salt water from the conduits which lined it.  .  .  . We had met before, it is true, but glancingly:  and would have perhaps passed each other with a nod had not his agitation made him stop me and take my arm.  "Ah! you can help me!" he cried, taking me by the arm.  "Please help me."  His pale face with its gleaming goat-eyes lowered itself toward mine in the approaching dusk.


Balthazar had lost the key to his pocket-watch, which had belonged to his father.  While he could have had another key cut for it, it wouldn't be the same for that key--"It belonged to this watch.  It was part of it. They searched briefly, but it got too dark and they went to a cafe and got acquainted.
The key was found, but the circumstances surrounding it were strange and never fully explained, at least in Justine.  Perhaps we will learn more about the key and the mystery that enveloped it in the next volume, Balthazar.

 PS
We do find out later.

PPS
Balthazar has his counterpart in Durrell's "The Avignon Quintet,"  in Akkad, the leader of a cult of Gnostics who is also a very talented and convincing speaker/reader at the meetings.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Eagle

 


 
 Hokusai:  Eagle in Flight





The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson --



While the painting by Hokusai doesn't quite exactly match Tennyson's poem, I think it does portray the spirit of the poem.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Favorite SF novels or short works--2016

These are those SF/F works that I read and enjoyed during 2016, and many of which I might read again, sometime down the road.



NOVELS

First Reads:

Kim Stanley Robinson:      Aurora
--my favorite new SF novel read during 2016
--a grim, gritty, and discouraging tale of life aboard a generation ship.
--Robinson's theme seems to be that while travel in the solar system may be possible, travel to another star to set up a colony by humans is impossible with today's technology and what seems potentially possible in the future.  
--perhaps his Red, Green, and Blue Mars trilogy presents the most we can hope for,  but who knows what future research may bring--FTL anyone?
--for my longer commentary, see   http://tinyurl.com/mtl32dl


Gene Wolfe:      A Borrowed Man
--A very unique concept--writers are cloned after death and the clones are placed in libraries to be used as resource materials where they can be borrowed just like any other material in the library.
--see my longer post on this work at   http://tinyurl.com/kmda365



Sylvain Neuvel:      Sleeping Giants
--this is the first novel I've read by him.
--a young girl falls into a sinkhole and lands in the palm of a huge metallic hand, one obviously not made by humans.
--some decades later, she becomes involved in a research project devoted to answering questions about the giant robot:  who, what, where, why.  .  .  and where's the rest of it?
--the story is told through a series of interviews conducted by an unknown, unnamed, and mysterious questioner.
--the sequel Waking Gods is the second in the series, and I will definitely read it.


Kazuo Ishiguro The Buried Giant
--a fantasy set in England shortly after the death of King Arthur
--an elderly couple set out to find their son who left after a quarrel with the father.
--on their journey, they and the reader encounters dragons, evil monks,  Sir Gawain, and a mysterious disease that affects the memory.
--for a longer commentary, see my post at http://tinyurl.com/k2mzsqr

Iain M. Banks:    Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games
--two novels set in Banks' "Culture" Universe.
--diverse topics with little if any overlap between these two novels, and from what I've read this holds true for the other novels set in this universe.  Culture is not really an organized government, as such, but a union of like-minded planets and cultures.  It's purpose is to envelope all cultures but not through military means.  


Thea von Harbou:      Metropolis
--the basis for the classic SF film by the same name.
--the problem is the gap between the head (capitalists owners) and the hand (the workers).


Olaf Stapledon:          Odd John
--the life of a mutant superman, who is one of the most unpleasant "superman" I've ever read about.




Rereads
 
Stanislaw Lem:         Solaris
--the basis for the two films of the same name
--the best novel I've ever read that portrays aliens as really alien and not humans    
   dressed up in funny suits.


M. John Harrison:     The Pastel City
--a novel set in the far future on Earth, but an Earth that no longer resembles anything we know
   today.
--so much time has passed that several alien species are no longer considered aliens
--two rival queens vie for control of Viriconium, the strangest city I've ever visited in print.



Ursula LeGuin:          The Left Hand of Darkness
--this novel is a permanent fixture on that desert island list.
--it's one I always recommend when someone asks for a recommendation
--for more information, see my post at  http://tinyurl.com/km6nd6l


Wilson Tucker:          The Long Loud Silence

--this may not be the first post-holocaust novel I ever read, but it's the first one I remember.
--probably outdated today, but still it's a nostalgic favorite I go back to every once in a while.


Dan Simmons:          Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion
--two of his best works-complex plot and characters.
--it begins as the story of a war between a galactic empire and the barbarians who left the empire and
   have now returned to exact revenge.  It is much more than that, as we read on.
--for more information, see my posts at http://tinyurl.com/lgb6vpy,  http://tinyurl.com/n2h5ewz and  http://tinyurl.com/m3xlatq

John Brunner:           Stand on Zanzibar
--rather than struggle with trying give you an idea of what this complex novel is like, go to my post
  for a brief summary at  http://tinyurl.com/l9pflso


SHORT WORKS 
Roger Zelazny:     The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth
--a favorite short work by Zelazny.  A man earns his living by being hired to act as bait.


Kevin Anderson and Gregory Benford:    Mammoth Dawn
--a husband and wife encounter problems while trying to bring back extinct animals, especially the
   mammoth.
--for more information, see my post at    http://tinyurl.com/mooct8o




/

Friday, March 24, 2017

Li Po: "Drinking Alone in Moonlight"

I have already posted this poem, but it was a different translation.  I have heard the saying, "In vino veritas,"when means, I guess, in wine there is truth.  But enlightenment. . .?



Drinking Alone in Moonlight

If Heaven had no love for wine,
There would be no Wine Star in Heaven;
If earth had no love for wine,
There would be no city called Wine Springs..
Since Heaven and Earth love wine,
I can love wine without shaming Heaven.

They say that clear wine is a saint,
Thick wine follows the way of the sage.
I have drunk deep of saint and sage:
What need then to study the spirits and fairies?
With three cups I penetrate the Great Tao,
Take a whole jugful--I and the world are one.
Such things as I have dreamed in wine
Shall never be told to the sober.

-- Li Po --
from A Treasury of Asian Literature
John  B. Yohannan, editor


Sounds very modern to me.  Just substitute LSD or peyote or any other mind altering drug for wine.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Robert Frost: Spring Pools

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only recently.

--Robert Frost --


Another of Frost's enigmatic poems.  Those summer woods, celebrated by other poets and writers, are portrayed somewhat differently here for they "darken nature."  Even more ominous is Frost's warning to those trees with "their pent-up buds."
   
"Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only recently."


What is dangerous about that snow that melted only recently"?  Or, is it something other than that melted snow?

As usual, his poem is characterized by a straightforward, almost conversational sentence structure and simple, everyday words, and yet he manages to hint at something behind all this deceptive simplicity.   

Now that I've finished my brief ramblings, go back and read the poem again.  That's what's important--the poem..

Friday, March 17, 2017

Basho's frog

This is probably one of Basho's most famous haiku.   I have a book titled Basho's One Hundred Frogs,  a collection of 100 different translations of this one haiku.  Surely, that must be a record of some sort.



Old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water.
          


This is my favorite translation.  I can picture myself sitting near a pond or river, with a frog nearby.  I can't see the water directly below the frog because of the bank.  The frog jumps and disappears in the sound of water.  I never do see the frog enter the water; he just jumps into the sound.  Oh, I know very well what happened, or think I do anyway.  However, maybe that frog really did jump into the sound of water. Just why this grabs me, I have no idea.  Perhaps you may have some suggestions. 


 From:
Basho: The Complete Haiku
Jane Reichhold, ed. and trans.




Following is a much more mundane (to me anyway) translation:

The quiet pond
  A frog jumps in,
    The sound of the water.

The comma provides a pause between the frog jumping in (and not "into")  and the resulting sound of water.
 tran.  Edward G. Seidensticker
from  One Hundred Frogs.
ed.  Hiroaki Sato


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Minute Observation

Nothing very profound here--just an observation by Joseph Wood Krutch on the long northern winters and various ways that some animals have found to handle them.

...as usual it is the cats who are provided with the most perfect mechanism.  They are, to be sure, capable of a kind of short-range impatience--when, for example, food is being prepared.  They seem at time to suffer momentarily from boredom, as a wild animal perhaps never does.  But when the weather is too bad to go out, or when for any reason there is absolutely nothing to do, they can simply curl up and sleep almost endlessly, for days at a time if necessary, with perfect ease.  Even going to sleep seems to be a process entirely under their control, as voluntary as shutting the eyes is for us.  Cats are rather delicate creatures and they are subject to a good many different ailments, but I never heard of one who suffered from insomnia. 


Cats with insomnia:  sounds self-contradictory or mutually exclusive to me. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Eric Hoffer: totalitarianism in free societies


No. 28

There is a large measure of totalitarianism even in the freest of free societies.  But in a free society totalitarianism is not imposed from without but is implanted within the individual.  There is a totalitarian regime inside everyone of us.  We are ruled  by a ruthless politburo which sets our norms and drives us from one five-year plan to another.  The autonomous individual who has to justify his existence by his own efforts is in eternal bondage to himself.  

-- Eric Hoffer --
from  The Passionate State of Mind



If autonomous individuals are in bondage to themselves, then the non-autonomous individuals must be in bondage to outside forces.  Since there is no escape from bondage, according to Hoffer, then I would prefer to be in bondage to myself.

Aside from death, is there another option which could free us from this bondage?  Or, does this bondage really exist?   

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Favorite Fiction--2016

Some favorite works of fiction I read during 2016,




FIRST READS

Sarah Orne Jewett:
                  The Country of Pointed Firs
                   --my first reading of her masterpiece.  Why did I take so long to get to it?
                   --this is on my must reread list.

                   A Country Doctor
                   --this one is a bit weaker than the first, but still an excellent read. and better     
                      than 90% of the other works I've read this year.


Joseph Conrad:  Suspense
 --an unfinished novel set in the Napoleonic era.
 --a traveler gets involved with a plot of Napoleon's escape from Elba.



Ray Bradbury:         Farewell Summer
--the sequel to Dandelion Wine.  The tone is different in this one.  The boy resists growing up.


Graham Greene:    The Human Factor
--a spy novel.  The unmasking of a mole in the British secret service, told from the mole's point of view.

Nathaniel Hawthorne:: The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories
--a collection of some of Hawthorne's most well-known short works.
--decided to leave this in the First Reads grouping as there were several short stories that I hadn't read before.


Kazuo Ishiguro:   The Remains of the Day
--a great novel of repression and fear of commitment, set against the backdrop of WWII.   
--his master is a Nazi sympathizer and the butler refuses to go against his master for he  is the master.





REREADS:


Jane Austen:
                   Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon
                   Northanger Abbey
                   Mansfield Park
                   Emma
                   Sense and Sensibility
                   Persuasion
                   Pride and Prejudice

--as always, great reading.  This was my fifth? sixth? who knows how many readings I've had of her works over the years.  They are just as good, if not better, the fifth? time around as the first.


A. Solzhenitsyn:   One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
--the title says it all--one day in a Soviet Union era gulag in Siberia, based loosely on his time there.  I like to pair this one with Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead, his experiences in a Siberian prison camp during the reign of the Tsars.  Forced to make a choice, I would choose life there under the Tsars.  The treatment was cruel but  much more humane than under the commissars. 


Dostoyevsky:   "The Gambler"
--Dostoyevsky's great novella depicting the downfall of an gambling addict.
--great character study of numerous Russians traveling abroad. sometimes just for travel and sometimes to avoid debt collectors back home.  Comic figures trapped within a tragic story.


Evelyn Waugh:   Brideshead Revisited
--Flashback:  an English army officer finds his unit stationed  on one of the grand   
   estates and recognizes it as the one that had a great influence on him, beginning with
   his stay at Oxford.

--there's a great BBC TV adaptation of the book.  After watching it, I went out and 
   got the book.


Herman Melville:  “Benito Cereno”
--Melville's great novella regarding the slave trade and a very naive American ship captain.


Nikos Kazantzakis:   Freedom or Death

--his powerful novel set in Greece during the time of the Greek war for independence.
--as usual his characters come off the page at you.


Oscar Wilde:   The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray
--This is the first and censored version of Gray's novel.  To be honest, I can not see anything that
   would be more offensive than anything in the published version.  A classic example of changing
    tastes, I will includ this among the rereads for I have read this several times.


There were a number of enjoyable works that I read during the past year, but these are the ones that stand out.  While there  appears to be a large number of first reads, equal to the rereads, one should note that Bradbury, Greene, Hawthorne, and Conrad are all favorites of mine from way back when.  These are works by them that I've never read before.

Only two of the authors in the First Reads Section are new to me:  Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Orne Jewett and are now on my reread list.  Coincidentally, I read two books by both.  The other book by by Ishiguro will appear on my Favorite SF novels of 2016 list.


P.S.
Forgot to mention, but if you have questions about any of the authors or books, please ask.  I may not know the answer, but it's worth trying anyway.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXXVI

A confusing quatrain:  the syntax is not clear to me.


SECOND EDITION:  QUATRAIN LXXXVI

Nay, but for the terror of his wrathful Face,
I swear I will not call Injustice Grace;
    Not one Good Fellow of the Tavern but
Would kick so poor a Coward from this place. 


Perhaps FitzGerald felt there were problems with this quatrain, for it had disappeared by the time the Fifth Edition was published.

I think the meaning is that the  "terror of his wrathful Face," what is what would prevent him from calling  "Injustice Grace."  This refers back to the theme of those pleasures that God set before us and then forbade us from tasting them under pain if eternal punishment. 

I think he refers to himself as so poor a Coward  for being afraid to stand up and say what he thinks.  Those in the Tavern understand his fear and therefore would not reject him. If this is an adequate reading, then the quatrain is a very strange one: one that suggests that it is fear of God that keeps him from speaking the truth.  Perhaps FitzGerald had similar problems with it, for it was removed by the fifth edition, if not earlier.

Any other meanings possible?  Am I missing something?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Minute Meditation

I realized then the truth about all love:  that it is an absolute which takes all or forfeits all.  The other feelings, compassion, tenderness and so on, exist only on the periphery and belong to the constructions of society and habit.  But she herself--austere and merciless Aphrodite--is a pagan.  It is not our brains or instincts which she picks--but our very bones.

-- Lawrence Durrell --
from Justine, Part II

I think that there are a number of examples of this in the novel:  Darley, Melissa, Justine, Nessim, Mountolive, Leila, although it is not clear just whom these characters are in love with. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Robert Hayden: Those Winter Sundays

Sometimes while reading a poem, a stanza or even a line may resurrect memories long forgotten or at least not recalled in many years.  This is what happened yesterday when I read Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays."   According to the brief bio note with the poem, Hayden was born in Detroit.  I was born and raised in Chicago, so my winter mornings were much like Hayden's in Detroit. 


Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze.  No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?


I remember my dad getting up in those cold, dark winter mornings and going down into the basement to remove the cinders and shovel coal into the furnace.  I too never said anything about it for I just took it as a part of living and never considered what it meant, until I read this poem.  Hayden says so little, yet suggests so much in this brief poem.

"No one ever thanked him."

"fearing the chronic angers of that house."

"Speaking indifferently to him,"


And of course, the last two lines:

"What did I know, what did I know
  of love's austere and lonely offices?"


How much regret, how much regret is contained  within those fourteen words?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ryokan: the ultimate enlightenment?

Is he enlightened or just lazy?


Without a jot of ambition left
I let my nature flow where it will.
There are ten days of rice in my bag
And, by the hearth, a bundle of firewood.
Who prattles of illusion or nirvana?
Forgetting the equal dusts of name and fortune,
Listening to the night rain on the roof of my hut,
I sit at ease, both legs stretched out.  
                           -- Ryokan --
from  Zen Poetry
edited and translated by Takashi Ikemoto and Lucien Stryk





What I find most intriguing is that he rejects both the spiritual world (illusion and nirvana) and the material world (name and fortune).  Is this the ultimate enlightenment?