sábado, 30 de septiembre de 2017

On liars - Michel de Montaigne


How much less companionable than silence is the language of falsehood.
– St Augustine, City of God, XIX, vii; Montaigne cites Pliny from J. L. Vives’ note.
An unpopular essay
We shall now proceed to discuss the nature of lying. Actually, this is a selfish act; it's a way to remind
myself that I need to read Montaigne’s works more often because his writing is extraordinary, folks. And I wanted to say it again. Besides, I haven’t written a non-review for quite some time.

This essay on liars derives from Quintilian’s notion that a liar should have a good memory. With that idea in mind, Montaigne starts pondering the opposite case – something I can relate to. He explains that his lack of memory is often perceived as ingratitude, since if he forgets about something, it must be because it is unimportant to him.
I certainly do forget things easily but I simply do not treat with indifference any charge laid on me by my friends. Let them be satisfied with my misfortune, without turning it into precisely the kind of malice which is the enemy of my natural humour.

As I mentioned on another review, Montaigne’s prose is clear and often humorous. When he starts explaining the drawbacks and benefits of having a bad memory, examples of the latter are: I remember less any insults received - a fortunate man - and Books and places which I look at again always welcome me with a fresh new smile - I’m lucky too. The author also resorts to historical events to illustrate his points of view, which is another treat for the reader since they are not only informative, but also rather amusing at times, considering the solemnity of his century. Complex philosophical meditations interspersed with anecdotes that show a witty sense of humor. That's gold, Jerry.

The concept of memory is the bridge Montaigne provides to start discussing the main theme. After giving an explanation of the distinction between "to tell an untruth" and "to lie", he focuses on the liar per se: the kind of person either makes up the whole story or else disguises and pollutes some source of truth. According to the author:
Lying is an accursed vice. It is only our words which bind us together and make us human. [...] It seems to me that the only faults which we should vigorously attack as soon as they arise and start to develop are lying and, a little below that, stubbornness. Those faults grow up with the children. Once let the tongue acquire the habit of lying and it is astonishing how impossible it is to make it give it up.

Montaigne doesn't delve deeper into the infamous art of deception so, among other things, the essay omits to mention the vast array of methods we are in possession of. A fib, a lie, disinformation, a noble lie, defamation, half-truth, a white lie. My favorite, the barefaced lie: one knows or sense the truth and - fluctuating between calm and eagerness - contemplates the other person's liking for invention.

Some people say it all depends on the context. Some lies are inevitable, since if we all say what goes through our minds, the world would be even more chaotic. In that sense, certain false statements have a diplomatic nature (I know). However, some pieces of fiction involve other feelings; those are the kinds of lies that are usually unnecessary, like expressing love or friendship when one doesn’t mean it. Montaigne doesn’t refer to those samples of wasted time.
My imagination has given me the most vivid memories that never existed. I have a tendency to long for things which never ever happened. Not trying to find a human being unable to lie might be the first attempt to break the habit.

Montaigne’s wit and wisdom are exceptional. There's one gorgeous line that I must reiterate: It is only our words which bind us together and make us human. Deconstructing that statement might offer an entire new panorama.
In any case, if falsehood is your only language, silence is ambiguous; perpetual absence will suffice.


domingo, 23 de julio de 2017

Poems and Prose: A Bilingual Edition - Georg Trakl


Georg Trakl was born in Austria in 1887. He started writing poetry at a very young age, however he later decided to study pharmacy. After that, he enlisted in the army but never stopped writing. During World War I, he worked as a medical official. He witnessed the harrowing consequences of the war (a battle in Grodek inspired one of his last poems). As he found himself surrounded by wounds and death, his depression – which he suffered all his life – worsened and eventually died of an overdose of cocaine at 27.

Many of these events and the emotions they prompted appear in his poetry, which is gracefully tinged with the colors of Expressionism.

Trakl’s poetry abounds with nostalgic reminiscences, the bleak colors of the evening, the reverberation of silence. But above all, with the images of death. A dark imagery which creates a sad and oppressive atmosphere.


His delectable language, which fluctuates between fragility and strength, brims over with allusions to death. It's definitely hard to explain, but despite the beauty of the language, the considerable amount of references to such theme started to get a little tiresome. After reading a bit about his life, I understand. Nonetheless, I felt like I was reading an obituary. A long, bluish lament that after a few pages became somewhat monotonous. It reminded me of my experience while reading Cioran and his overused concept of darkness.
In this sense, I wasn’t able to connect with Trakl’s verse – though I did enjoy his prose, and that explains the 3-star rating:


My levels of enthusiasm varied widely, regardless of my penchant for melancholic poetry (but this was beyond melancholic; I couldn't handle the lack of balance). After a while, the sense of expectancy was gone. I already knew that the next page was going to show me another shade of the recurring theme of this collection. Lethal predictability. 


sábado, 22 de julio de 2017

The Diary of a Madman - Guy de Maupassant

*Una "reseña" que me olvidé de subir/An old "review" I forgot to post.

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.


Bobok - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

*Una reseña que me olvidé de subir/An old review I forgot to post.

This review may have a little spoiler.

I love short stories and novellas. It's fascinating how a writer can say so much in a few pages. Bobok is another excellent example of this writer's talent to describe people's virtues and miseries. He wrote major works concerning the human condition, and they all seem to be written yesterday.
The wisest of all, in my opinion, is he who can, if only once a month, call himself a fool — a faculty unheard of nowadays. In old days, once a year at any rate a fool would recognize that he was a fool, but nowadays not a bit of it.

Timeless! And kind of funny.

So, this book is about Ivan Ivanovitch, a frustrated writer that went to a funeral of some distant relative. He complained about the cemetery, the smell, green water, the smiles of the dead that haunt his dreams. Well, It's a cemetery... not a place you'd go to have a picnic, I'm guessing.

Then, he sat on a tombstone and started to think about random stuff. Deep reflections about little details, I love that. Suddenly, he began to hear a conversation. He was all alone and he heard a conversation. In the cemetery. ALONE. I'd drop dead and end up under some tombstone in a heartbeat. (The last heartbeat, I guess.)

These dead people were not quite dead. They were aware of everything that surrounded them. They played cards, they discussed among each other, they even shared anecdotes. An active conscience after death is a theme I already saw in The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. It's an interesting yet disturbing theme. However, we can't help to ask ourselves, during several moments of our lives, if death really is the final step or not. Personally, I wish it was. I don't like some people here; I can't imagine what it would be like to be in some cemetery, stuck with annoying people for three or four months and not being able to go away!

Back to the book. Yes, their consciousness was active for about three, even six months until they decomposed. That's why these dead-not-so-dead people decided to spend those months as agreeable as possible. In order to do so, they were determined to cast aside all shame and be brutally honest. Because lying is needed on Earth, but when you're dead, why would you care, right? Anyway, their crazy conversations were a delight to read.

What this short story is trying to tell us—in my humble opinion—is that even dead, human beings are capable of depravity. These guys were willing to waste those months that were given to them, probably to think about their existence on Earth and find some sort of redemption. Instead, they wanted to keep partying. A party of shameless degradation they started while living! The lowness of human condition appears even after death. Or not... I mean, meditation would be the right thing to do. But these people were freaking dead. Actually, they were about to be completely dead. So, it's a tough call.


El banquero anarquista - Fernando Pessoa

*Una reseña que me olvidé de subir/An old review I forgot to post.

El banquero anarquistaEncontré a Pessoa por El libro del Desasosiego. Como todavía no llegó, quise empezar a conocer a este autor (sobre el cual he leído varias opiniones y me interesó mucho) y di con Un Banquero Anarquista, que trata sobre una conversación entre dos amigos; uno de ellos, como puede deducirse, es un banquero que se denomina anarquista. El otro muchacho no puede conciliar la idea de que este hombre sea anarquista; una persona que se enriquece mientras defiende un sistema libre que predica en contra de toda desigualdad. Durante varias, quizás demasiadas líneas, intenta entender cómo esta persona puede ser anarquista tanto en la teoría como en la práctica; mientras que aquel le refiere que no hay desacuerdo entre ambas, puesto que considera que “ellos, los de los sindicatos y las bombas (yo también estuve allí y salí de allí precisamente a causa de mi verdadero anarquismo), ellos son la basura del anarquismo, los hembras de la gran doctrina libertaria”. Divide su realidad entre anarquistas estúpidos y anarquistas inteligentes, algo que resulta presuntuosamente molesto. Pero eso es personal, nunca pude ocultar mi “molestia” ante personas que se creen más inteligentes que otras y lo hacen saber. Si sos inteligente, excelente, la gente lo podrá percibir sin que te pongas un cartel luminoso en la frente que lo diga. Quizás no es molestia molestia; no sé, no me dan ganas de tratarlos.

En fin, el banquero cuenta por qué se volvió anarquista, relatando algunos hechos con los que no es difícil estar de acuerdo. Creo que en algún momento, todos hemos sentido esa rebelión interna de la que se habla acá. No sé si como para llegar al punto de rebelarse contra toda convención y fórmula social (ficciones, como las llama este señor) hasta su abolición, pero bueno. Algunas de sus ideas son razonables, otras, son ridículamente contradictorias, por más argumento que le intente dar. Intencionales, por supuesto, ya que determinadas ironías son las que hacen que este cuento tenga mayor impacto y se pueda comparar con lo que realmente se vive. Un banquero, alguien en el sistema, en búsqueda y contacto permanente con el dinero, es anarquista. O sea... Sos un ban-que-ro.
1. “Para el anarquista, es claro, quien está en el lugar de enemigo es cualquier representante de las ficciones sociales y de su tiranía”.
2. “Soy banquero”.

Es muy gracioso. El tipo te envuelve con lo que parecen sólidos argumentos (igual, eso es un plus: no anda diciendo frases hechas de por ahí, intenta respaldarlas con el uso de su razón, aunque no sean más que sofismas, ¡pero al menos se toma el tiempo!). Sin embargo, todo vuelve a lo mismo de siempre, la libertad, el individualismo, que se logra relacionar íntimamente con el concepto de riqueza, alejándose de los ideales del anarquismo. Se plantea subyugar una feroz ficción social: el dinero. Solo se puede dejar de ser esclavo del dinero... teniendo mucho dinero. Fantástico.

Esta conversación se vuelve interesante a medida que avanza, y densa, difícil de imaginar con café y torta de por medio, llegando a verse más como un monólogo. Hasta que aparece algún “sí”, “entiendo” por parte de la otra persona, que quisiera saber si realmente está entendiendo. Ya en esa instancia, me imagino su cara... Y yo, en esa instancia, ya estaba medio saturada de tantos conceptos repetidos. Terminaron de cenar, pero ¿qué bebió para sentir la necesidad de decir y repetir lo mismo en cada comienzo de oración? Indudablemente, quien lea este libro, entenderá qué es el anarquismo. Lo entenderá varias veces. Lo entenderá una vez por página. Lo entenderá como yo entendí varios aspectos de Derechos Reales, donde cada vez que me la nombran recuerdo “anualidad purga el vicio”, “anualidad purga el vicio”, tras leerlo 23.456 veces.

Fuera de eso, me gustó mucho. Podría ser realmente tedioso, pero Pessoa tiene una particularidad en su escritura que evita llegar al aburrimiento, teniendo en cuenta que el tópico que trata no es particularmente Disneylandesco. De todos modos, el tema te tiene que interesar, sino esto lo largás en la segunda página.


sábado, 15 de julio de 2017

Luna de Enfrente: Cuaderno San Martín - Jorge Luis Borges



Luna de Enfrente: Cuaderno San Martin
Moon Across the Way (1925) and San Martín Copybook (1929) are the last two books that complete the poetic trilogy Borges had started with Fervor of Buenos Aires (1923).

There is a particular, tangible atmosphere that acts as a bond among those three collections, one that goes beyond the lyrical tone and elegance one may instantly perceive even after the first quick glance. Through the art of poetry (that Borges later on would keep cultivating, letting it become another part of his being, unfortunately not as renowned as his short stories), he combined everyday things with existential matters. Streets, the countryside, well-lighted patios, a city that is heard as if it were a verse; all elements that were used to deconstruct existence, allowing philosophical dilemmas to come to surface, thus merging a world of facts with a metaphysical realm.



After I read the last poem, my mind was plagued with certainties, half-truths and obstinate doubts. A timid hand closed the book as a sense of joy mixed with nostalgia welled up inside me.
Night has fallen and I await, with a wistful smile, I hope; I yearn for that melody to last until dawn.


Collected Poems - Dylan Thomas


A process in the weather of the heart

A process in the weather of the heart
Turns damp to dry; the golden shot
Storms in the freezing tomb.
A weather in the quarter of the veins
Collected Poems
Turns night to day; blood in their suns
Lights up the living worm.

A process in the eye forwarns
The bones of blindness; and the womb
Drives in a death as life leaks out.

A darkness in the weather of the eye
Is half its light; the fathomed sea
Breaks on unangled land.
The seed that makes a forest of the loin
Forks half its fruit; and half drops down,
Slow in a sleeping wind.

A weather in the flesh and bone
Is damp and dry; the quick and dead
Move like two ghosts before the eye.

A process in the weather of the world
Turns ghost to ghost; each mothered child
Sits in their double shade.
A process blows the moon into the sun,
Pulls down the shabby curtains of the skin;
And the heart gives up its dead.


sábado, 3 de junio de 2017

The Education of the Stoic - Fernando Pessoa, Richard Zenith (Editor, Translator)


Review found in a drawer

I’m all of these things, like it or not, in the confused depths of my fatal sensibility.

Sou todas essa coisas, embora o não queira, no fundo confuso da minha sensibilidade fatal.
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet/Livro do Desassossego

The Education of the Stoic is the only legacy of the Baron of Teive, a manuscript with which he took the mirror of abstractions and reflected himself to explain why he wasn’t able to produce superior art, to write the books he wanted to. Explanations to illustrate the unutterable. The commonplace vacuum that feels unique.
I had scruples where other men didn’t think twice, and after seeing what I didn’t do done by others, I wondered: Why did I think so much if it only made me suffer?

All the factors that lead to look at such tragedy in the eye and accept it unreservedly; dealing, with pride, with the rejection of life itself. Acknowledging the parcial defeat of reason in the sphere of emotions, as he, amid a plethora of contradictions, refuses to be like just anybody, while being like just anybody.
But powerful as thought is, it can do nothing to quell rebellious emotions. We can’t choose not to feel, as we can not to walk.

The aristocrat and the assistant bookkeeper. Bernardo Soares’ presence palpitates with silent vehemence all around this book. His thoughts intermingle with the Baron’s musings and disclose the similarities of two individuals of different backgrounds, equally unfit to live life. The ode to brevity. Or the impossibility of writing an elaborated chapter.

Sometimes it is only one sentence. And by the end of it, everything trembles.
Do with the brutality that doing entails; renounce with the absoluteness of renunciation.

Everyone is renouncing. And the reader sees them vanishing. A surge of innocuous unawareness leaving behind a wounded path. Things become real once lost. Things are lost unbeknownst to them. They have written on selfish air; the reader, on self-centered stone.

The Baron’s collection of thoughts and rejections to theories that reduce truth to simplicity, of regrets and a proud denial of ever having regrets, of silent competitions and unachievable art, of voices unheard and impracticable faith - this is his testament. A manuscript on how the idea of perfection eclipsed the author’s life, on the indignity of weeping before the world and other similar banalities. An analysis on the fatal nature of lucidity. Inconclusive, unconnected fragments to justify “the profession of nonproducer.”
These pages are not my confession; they’re my definition.

Pessoa, Tabucci and Zenith constitute the Appendix. Among the texts, there is an act of giving voice to the regular human nature that literary work set aside at times. Conclusions about the days that belong only to the writer. To the greatest novelist without a novel.

The weight of life overpowers everything, and at the threshold of annihilation, the Baron of Teive admits he has been conquered, and makes himself a conqueror. A raw complaint to a stoic succession of nothingness in the midst of ephemeral hope, as identities juxtapose, merge, and evanesce.
Easy, kiddo, no one will notice the voiceless outburst.


domingo, 21 de mayo de 2017

Los Cínicos No Sirven Para Este Oficio - Ryszard Kapuściński


...our profession can't be practiced correctly by someone who is a cynic. It is important to
point out the difference: one thing is to be skeptical, realistic, prudent. That is absolutely necessary, otherwise, there wouldn't be journalism. Another thing is to be a cynic, an attitude which is incompatible with being a journalist. Cynicism is an inhuman attitude that automatically pushes us away from our profession - if we take it seriously. [...]

As you know, every year more than one hundred journalists are killed and many more are imprisoned or tortured. In different parts of the world, this is a dangerous profession. The person who is willing to do this job and to leave everything for it, considering the risks and suffering involved, cannot be a cynic. (53)

This book includes three interviews of Kapuściński, a Polish journalist, reporter and writer. Only the first one turned out to be interesting and enriching - concerning journalism, of course.


miércoles, 17 de mayo de 2017

Gitanjali or Song Offerings: Introduced by W. B. Yeats - Rabindranath Tagore

It is the pang of separation

It is the pang of separation that spreads throughout the world and gives birth to shapes innumerable in the infinite sky.

It is this sorrow of separation that gazes in silence all night from star to star and becomes lyric among rustling leaves in rainy darkness of July.

It is this overspreading pain that deepens into loves and desires, into sufferings and joys in human homes; and this it is that ever melts and flows in songs through my poet's heart.


lunes, 17 de abril de 2017

Miyazawa Kenji: Selections - Kenji Miyazawa


I said, “The evening sun the color of ancient gold,”
and your eyes reproach me:
Why seize on despicable gold
to compare to this solemn evening sun?

The family of Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) practiced Pure Land Buddhism, a prominent branch of Mahayana Buddhism. In 1915, the poet shook the foundations of their relative’s faith when he decided to convert to Nichiren Buddhism, another branch. Such conversion was prompted by the Lotus Sūtra – a deep influence on his poetry, which brims with Buddhist terms without actually delving into essential notions. I had to return to some texts since I had forgotten some concepts.

My rating is based on my inability to relate to most of Miyazawa’s poems. Perhaps their complexity exceeded my understanding and a clear image turned into labyrinthine symbolism. But I did find some enjoyment. Some of his poems are imbued with the serene expressions of nature, with the sense of a challenging yet reachable enlightenment. With the verifiable elements of science, the volatile human nature, and religion trying to build bridges between them.


Other poems are infused with the monochromatic presence of death. Miyazawa's verse was deeply affected by the demise of his younger sister, Toshi, on November 27, 1922. That same day, he wrote three poems. With that loneliness you must make music. Always.

This collection of somewhat disjointed thoughts started with an excerpt of a poem called "Mr. Pamirs the Scholar Takes a Walk." I marveled at the juxtaposition of simple yet sophisticated visuals which express an ideal version of ourselves. A faithful portrait of the chasm between a sublime sight and a worldly kingdom, transient by definition. Someone subscribing to such values is a rare treasure. The rest is just noise.

* Picture: Kuon-ji, a temple founded by Nichiren, a Japanese Buddhist priest, in 1281.


miércoles, 5 de abril de 2017

The Book of Images - Rainer Maria Rilke


I would like to step out of my heart’s door
and be under the great sky.

— Rilke, “Lament”

A myriad of shades, a plethora of images, the juxtaposition of sentiments which soothe and unsettle. Das Buch der Bilder.
A miscellany of visuals and existential hues. A mélange of nuances and distinctive sounds. A sense of clarity with the scent of perplexity. The mystical and the ordinary fluctuate in harmony. Chaotic perfection takes this collection by storm. A vision. A metaphor. A book. A thousand mirrors. The book of images.
The last of his line
I have no paternal house,
nor have I lost one;
my mother birthed me out
into the world.
Here I stand now in the world and go
even deeper into the world
and have my happiness and have my woe
and have each one alone.

This poetry collection was first published in 1902, when Rilke was twenty-six years old. The second edition, which appeared in 1906, is the one I read, translated by Edward Snow and published in 2014. A work which apparently knew how to circumvent the challenges of poetry and translation, for Rilke’s verses acquire a natural fluency by virtue of Snow’s mastery.
Life is only a part… of what?
Life is only a note… in what?
Life has meaning only joined with many
receding circles of increasing space, –
life is only the dream of a dream,
but waking is elsewhere.

The variety of themes and the original approach chosen by Rilke have distinguished his writing until evanescent categories were completely gone, elevating poetry to sometimes unfathomable levels. Sacred symbols and mundane illustrations coalesce in the land of polarity. If the reader finds a way to connect with the poetic expressions Rilke used to deconstruct the world, then a memorable journey will soon begin. A journey in which the light of day emphasizes the color of a rose, and the silence of a room shape the nights that never end. The days that bring solace. The nights that beg for poetry. The days of pressure. The nights that dislike the sound of echo; the nights that long for it afterwards amidst confusion. The nights of indifference and quick replacements too despicable to confess. The nights when childhood is a distant memory, when guardian angels seem oblivious, when life is heavier than the weight of all things.*

* From the poem “The Neighbor”


Carta abierta de un escritor a la Junta Militar - Rodolfo Walsh

Rating: A testimony that can't be rated.

March 24, 1976. A dictatorship started ruling Argentina; the era of kidnapping and torturing any enemy of the state had begun. Bodies vanishing into thin air. The following year, writer and journalist Rodolfo Walsh sent a letter (Open Letter From a Writer to the Military Junta) by post to the editorial departments of local newspapers and foreign press correspondents expressing his opinion. The next day, he was kidnapped and never seen again.

El primer aniversario de esta Junta Militar ha motivado un balance de la acción de gobierno en documentos y discursos oficiales, donde lo que ustedes llaman aciertos son errores, los que reconocen como errores son crímenes y lo que omiten son calamidades. [...]
Quince mil desaparecidos, diez mil presos, cuatro mil muertos, decenas de miles de desterrados son la cifra desnuda de ese terror.
Colmadas las cárceles ordinarias, crearon ustedes en las principales guarniciones del país virtuales campos de concentración donde no entra ningún juez, abogado, periodista, observador internacional. El secreto militar de los procedimientos, invocado como necesidad de la investigación, convierte a la mayoría de las detenciones en secuestros que permiten la tortura sin límite y el fusilamiento sin juicio. [...]
Estas son las reflexiones que en el primer aniversario de su infausto gobierno he querido hacer llegar a los miembros de esa Junta, sin esperanza de ser escuchado, con la certeza de ser perseguido, pero fiel al compromiso que asumí hace mucho tiempo de dar testimonio en momentos difíciles.
24 de marzo de 1977


The first anniversary of this Military Junta has brought about a year-end review of government operations in the form of official documents and speeches: what you call good decisions are mistakes, what you acknowledge as mistakes are crimes, and what you have left out entirely are disasters. [...]
Fifteen thousand missing, ten thousand prisoners, four thousand dead, tens of thousands in exile: these are the raw numbers of this terror.
Since the ordinary jails were filled to the brim, you created virtual concentration camps in the main garrisons of the country which judges, lawyers, journalists, and international observers, are all forbidden to enter. The military secrecy of what goes on inside, which you cite as a requirement for the purposes of investigation, means that the majority of the arrests turn into kidnappings that in turn allow for torture without limits and execution without trial. [...]
These are the thoughts I wanted to pass on to the members of this Junta on the first anniversary of your ill-fated government, with no hope of being heard, with the certainty of being persecuted, but faithful to the commitment I made a long time ago to bear witness during difficult times.
March 24, 1977


sábado, 4 de marzo de 2017

Poemas y sonetos - Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


Women and books are not every man’s best friends

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Sister Joan Agnes of the
Cross. The Tenth Muse. The illegitimate child. The self-taught scholar. She was born in San Miguel Nepantla, near Mexico City, which was part of the Spanish Empire, in 1651. Having learned how to read and write at age 3, she devoured every book she found in her grandfather’s library. Books both appropriate and forbidden, according to the wisdom of a Church composed of fallible men. By virtue of her brilliant mind, she harvested admiration and envy. And the strength of the latter, naturally, resonated across her body, her spirit, her legacy. Much has been said, much has been hidden. A fascinating and controversial figure brimming with beauty and the rare charms of wit. I was instantly captivated by her life and poetry, which echoes the lyrical nature of a restless soul. Her verses disclose the desire for knowledge, the delights of a good argument, the sensuous beauty of the flesh, the chants to the divine, the impulse of a free spirit and a constrained body. Truths essentially secular, revelations intrinsically sacred. Breathtaking complexity. Confusion and longing.
The unbearable heaviness of being.

Este amoroso tormento
Este amoroso tormento
que en mi corazón se ve,
sé que lo siento, y no sé
la causa por qué lo siento.

Siento una grave agonía
por lograr un devaneo
que empieza como deseo
y para en melancolía.
Siento mal del mismo bien
con receloso temor,
y me obliga el mismo amor
tal vez a mostrar desdén.
This amorous torment
This amorous torment
which in my heart can be seen
I know I feel it yet don’t know
the reason of this feeling.

I feel a strong agony
at having a dalliance,
that begins as desire
and ends in melancholy.
I feel bad for good itself
with suspicious fear
and obliged by the same love
perhaps to show disdain.

The young Juana Inés couldn’t even touch the threshold of the university, not even while wearing men’s clothes, as she once naively contrived, so she decided to wear a religious habit in order to assuage her thirst for knowledge. An activity which wouldn’t interfere with her studies, and probably would save her from her condition of illegitimacy, as stated by some sources. A bold decision that not always lived up to her expectations, for being married to God meant prayers and penitence, cooking, needlework, cleaning, more penitence. Her spiritual marriage didn’t involve reading and writing about worldly matters. It didn’t involve philosophy, theology, logic nor passion. It didn’t involve thinking. Nonetheless, Juana Inés, now Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, had other plans which obeyed the talents that God, her creator, for some reason gave her.

Insinúa su aversión a los vicios
¿En perseguirme, mundo, qué interesas?
¿En qué te ofendo, cuando sólo intento
poner bellezas en mi entendimiento
y no mi entendimiento en las bellezas?
Suggesting her aversion to vice
O World, why do you wish to persecute me?
How do I offend you, when I intend
only to fix beauty in my intellect,
and never my intellect fix on beauty?

After some years, and particularly since 1690 (the year when she dared to question the theological views of one celebrated Portuguese Jesuit preacher), a nun and her wondrous quill became an ecclesiastic insult. An inexcusable transgression. An unpardonable song of rebellion in a world where some women truly believed the small fate imposed by men, while others nodded in despairing acquiescence.

Finjamos que soy feliz
Finjamos que soy feliz,
triste pensamiento, un rato;
quizá prodréis persuadirme,
aunque yo sé lo contrario...
Si es mío mi entendimiento,
¿por qué siempre he de encontrarlo
tan torpe para el alivio,
tan agudo para el daño?
Let us pretend that I'm happy
Let us pretend that I'm happy,
sad thought, for a while;
you may actually persuade me
but I know otherwise
If it's mine my understanding,
Why always must it be
So dull and slow to pleasure,
So keen for injury?

After watching a biopic, a series on Netflix, and reading a brief biography, I thought it was time to get acquainted with this brilliant woman's work (otherwise, I confess, I wouldn't have paid her much attention). A person who defended women's right to gain knowledge like any other man, in a time when a woman was considered an inferior being and the source of all sin; a time when reading Copernicus was the safest path to the diverse punishments inflicted by the Inquisition.
It was an interesting social experiment to compare a protest I witnessed a couple of weeks ago, where women decided to protect her rights by going topless (watch out, Wollstonecraft) with a woman who, amid the ignorance and misogyny of a harsh 17th century, decided to defend those same rights with her mind. A religious woman whose quill didn’t shiver and once wrote to foolish men, who accuse/Women without good reason/You are the cause of what you blame/Yours the guilt you deny...

By 1693, Sor Juana Inés relegated her literary creativity. She, the worst of all women, was forced to repent by the pressure of the Church, embodied by Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas, Archbishop of Mexico, for being a vain spirit too attached to earthly matters, for neglecting her duties as a nun, for daring to think like a man. Her books, her musical instruments, her scientific tools – everything was sold or confiscated, depending on the source. Her intellectual force couldn’t resist the clerical opposition which not only would affect her, but her Sisters as well. In that context, her words were no longer published; she immersed herself in the activities of the convent. She died in 1695 during a plague, while taking care of other stricken nuns.
According to some documents, after Sor Juana Inés' death, several writings – sacred and profane – were found in her room. She never published a word in the eyes of the Church again, but she never stopped writing either.

Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The heavens and the earth tried to conquer her beautiful mind.

Dime vencedor rapaz
En dos partes dividida
tengo el alma en confusión:
una, esclava a la pasión,
y otra, a la razón medida.
Guerra civil, encendida,
aflige el pecho importuna:
quiere vencer cada una,
y entre fortunas tan varias,
morirán ambas contrarias
pero vencerá ninguna.
pues podré decir, al verme
expirar sin entregarme,
que conseguiste matarme
mas no pudiste vencerme.
Ascendent raptor speak
My soul is cleft
confusedly in twain.
Half - a thrall to passion,
the other - reason's slave.
Civil war, inflamed, importunate
afflicts this breast:
each strives to overwhelm his counterpart;
but amidst such mutinous counterstorms,
both helmsmen must perish,
neither, return to port.
since it will be said - to see me fall
yet not surrender -
that you managed to kill
but failed to conquer.

The mind that saw no obstacle in gender or time. That put common citizens, sensible clergymen and viceroys under her intellectual spell. That gained her inveterate enemies but also kind-hearted friends who remained admiring her work during the worst of times, and after her death. That transcended the limits of her body. For being enamored with the mind of another human being is the most long-lasting connection to which anyone may aspire.

* 4.5 stars. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by this edition. I noticed that there were one or two incomplete versions of poems and no indication - vexing. If you know Spanish, you may want to look for another collection.


domingo, 26 de febrero de 2017

Un Signo en tu Sombra - Alejandra Pizarnik


Buenos Aires, 1955.
The romanticism of youth? The sentimental noise, the affectionate supplication. A woman desperately, constantly asking for something, waiting.
One’s voice is not enough.

Buenos Aires, 2017.
A poem redolent of untamed ardor made my pride feel awkward. Words from which desperation emanates.
No, nothing will be begged.

Uncertainty over beseechment. Existential silence over the cloying response of rejection. A muffled scream over a visible earthquake.
No, nothing will be seen.

Yes, everything has been forgotten, except



* Translation by Yvette Siegert


On the Heights of Despair - Emil Cioran


How does one become a pessimist?

By reading your book, pal. You made Schopenhauer look like one of the Teletubbies. It was a I still can’t rate it I think a 3-star rating is a good compromise. Many quotes that pulled on my heartstrings, and many chapters I already forgot, out of immunity to certain thoughts and dislike of overly melodramatic prose. Things that belong to the plane of ideas, naturally, since the kind of life that has been portrayed at times is literally impossible, and impracticable ideas which try to convey intellectual depth and are repeated by others, clinging to such pose as hard as they can because "happy people are all stupid and morality is a disgrace and I want to be consumed by fire and I long for the destruction of the world," too exhausting... And I can't shake off a sense of artificiality.
fortunate thing that I didn’t read this during my impressionable adolescence.
True, if you read this, you're not much of an optimistic, but still. I wholeheartedly agree with the third line of this review.
That being said, these few lines will be engulfed by the beauty of flames and will witness their own amoral destruction from which a proper review will absurdly blossom amid beautiful darkness echoing nothingness...! After restoring my soul with many reruns of Seinfeld.

* Pre-review. Or final review if I forget...
** I'll read The Trouble with Being Born anyway; a more mature work, surely.


miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

Patriotism - Yukio Mishima, Geoffrey W. Sargent (Translator)


On -isms
It seems that I had some issues with this novella. And the reasons, as usual, are completely personal and thus, irrelevant to your reading experience.
Beyond tradition, beliefs, fear and indignation at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops, I can't find a story breathtakingly infused with romanticism. I can't relate to the concept of patriotism. To a sort of world citizen, the attachment to a portion of land is somewhat feeble. Why I came here, I know not; where I shall go it is useless to inquire, says Lord Byron in his Letters and Journals; something about this made me think of that quote. My connections (abstractions to which I aspire, at least) are with people, not with theories involving nationality, and I'm against any kind of generalization that such notion engenders. Certain values and beliefs, the religion I was raised in – the first origin, a matter of geography. I still can’t feel pride for the doings of chance or let's say even fate, juggling with the concept of a plan designed by someone else.
The degeneration of patriotism is a debate for another time, so I will refrain from expanding on nationalism and such, a reality that it is being forced on many of us, now more than ever.
In any case, patriotism might be foreign language. I dislike most terms which end in the suffix -ism that don't involve my favorite writers.

On licking blades and finding it remotely erotic
Another issue – the real theme in this novella – which prevented me from greatly enjoying this story was the excessive fascination for the concept of death, the morbid enchantment by the blade which was juxtaposed to a sense of beauty and sensuality; elements that when combined, I usually fail to identify with. The leitmotifs of this story, and of its creator’s life. I watched a part of a documentary a couple of days ago where the narrator explained how Mishima’s last actions in the form of a coup might have been, above all, an excuse to achieve the aesthetic death he always dreamed of. The last artistic manifestation of will.

It struck him as incredible that, amidst this terrible agony, things which could be seen could still be seen, and existing things existed still.

On writing
A brief yet tough read. Despite the lack of connection between the story and me, the beauty of Mishima's prose remained intact. I’m more and more impressed by the care with which he described the remarkable, the inconsequential, by means of his contemplative and delectable writing. The scenes of love between husband and wife were beautifully portrayed. Regardless of my thoughts on the subject, with the precision of a surgeon, the author associated the concepts of patriotism and death with a sense of eroticism, until they were one single reality. The beauty of skin. The brutality of blood. The rite of love and death.
I failed again.

Thus, so far from seeing any inconsistency or conflict between the urges of his flesh and the sincerity of his patriotism, the lieutenant was even able to regard the two as parts of the same thing.

On myths
The red string bringing these characters together.¹ At one point, one is honestly thinking how the sublimity of love actually feels, the act of giving oneself fully. Unreservedly. Sharing perspectives on life. Breathing somebody else’s air. Thinking about words to express feelings. Voicing those words. Not knowing what to do at the thought of the absence of such words. Following the fate of those words. And then, the fear. He who gives himself up like a prisoner of war must give up his weapons as well.² And deprived of any defense, not convinced by the fusion of words, voices and individuality, the fracture of self, the fear of loss, the constant feeling of being another one’s burden, one stops thinking about it, until the next day. I imagine it might be simpler to make decisions when people return their gaze and silence is no longer a wall.

On random thoughts
This novella became even more vivid once I watched Yūkoku, a 1966 short film “produced, directed, acted and written by Yukio Mishima.” I watched it at night. A sleepless night. The night the bell jar broke.³

With regard to Mishima’s works, nothing is ever certain. This is the third book I read by him – apart from two short stories. Fortunately, I don’t know what to expect, but I already look forward to the wonders of the second volume of his tetralogy. I long for another deep contemplation of my reactions to every one of his words.

1. Allusion to a review of Anna Karenina
2. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Part Three: Words Misunderstood
3. I wrote this the same night I wrote something about The Bell Jar
4. Oh, who's going to read this far.


jueves, 9 de febrero de 2017

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath


I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
— Franz Kafka; January 27, 1904

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor… and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was... (Chapter 7)

There is a lulling silence engulfing this entire book, and if it weren’t for the darkening clouds approaching, an infinite palette brimming with all the shades of creation, one may never guess that it is the calm before the storm. Amid the impending commotion, the ancient state of confusion hovering over this land, a tree has already started to sense the chaos. A fig tree is losing its branches, one by one, as the storm unleashes its fury and time passes us by. The house does no longer provides shelter; its white walls won’t stop the cold, we see the ceiling yet we’ll feel the rain. Crystals are besieging us. The captives in the world of glass feel it all.


My first encounter with Sylvia Plath’s work was Ariel. It was a good read but it didn’t leave me memorable impressions. Later I understood how excruciatingly personal her poetry was, thus missing a plethora of subtle vocals, strong undertones, harrowing melodies. After reading about her life and watching a biopic, the connection was absolutely different regarding, for instance, the same two poems I had read months ago. There may be a lack of lyrical substance, of the mellifluous quality in language worthy of all praises, but to me, the beauty of her verse lies on her honest display of emotions through complex and raw imagery. I find that openness refreshing. How unsafe it is to be on the brink of vulnerability, with a bunch of emotions for one person or a whole world to see. And yet, how brave; giving free expression to such feelings, turning them into creative energy. How invigorating. Even when no one is listening to anyone. Not even the ones who complain about how deaf the world is.

Under these circumstances, I decided to revisit her poetry someday. The thing that triggered this series of fortunate events was a review by a friend, which made me want to give Plath’s writing another try, because I had sensed many times that she was an author I would certainly love – inexplicable hunches. Therefore, I dived into her only novel, The Bell Jar, first published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” and under her name in 1967. It tells the story of Esther Greenwood, the young heiress of several of Plath’s life experiences.
The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.

I dreaded this review; I knew that from this novel would emerge a personal journal barely touching upon the merits of the book. I postponed the process many times since I didn’t want to deal with it, the easiest path evoking an infantile self-preservation, considering the world as an enormous rug where one can hide every unpleasant feeling, all the mirrors whose reflections we don’t dare to acknowledge.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.


In this novel, I found indecision under the apposite metaphor of a fig tree; undying portions of time where absence is a unilateral reality, and the inability to fit the standards to which a woman is supposed to belong – a perpetual rift between professional development and motherhood. The disparities between the world of a man and the encapsulated universe of a woman in mid-20th-century America. Or any place, any time.
I couldn’t stand the idea of a woman having to have a single pure life and a man being able to have a double life, one pure and one not.

Such differences constitute a theme that is deeply explored in this book, and from all perspectives, such as work and sexuality.
Whether she knew it or not, Philomena Guinea was buying my freedom. “What I hate is the thought of being under a man’s thumb,” I had told Doctor Nolan. “A man doesn’t have a worry in the world, while I’ve got a baby hanging over my head like a big stick, to keep me in line.”

While fighting against her demons, we find in Esther a powerful and perceptive character, full of conviction and harboring a strong yearning for independence, a situation that naturally didn’t involve the oppressive presence of a man absorbing her individuality like an unwavering sponge. However, the way her mind worked was much more profound than a trendy dislike composed of empty words. It was a search for identity in a society ruled by men and in which she felt inadequate most of the time. Through the character’s reflections, we witness her longing for liberation from the ties of the expected.
The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters.

It is certainly striking that this novel, which deals with complex themes under such a stifling atmosphere, could also make me smile. Esther has a unique sense of humor and some of her comments regarding a vast array of things were rather amusing. Under the night that never seemed to end, trying to illuminate the long corridors of her mind, accompanied by voices, electricity and despair, she made me her confident and brought me smiles to pass the time.

The Bell Jar is an ambitious work, as I read before, but it’s not a perfect novel. There are some fissures that should prevent me from giving it a 5-star rating. Nevertheless, I changed my first rating from four to five stars; it is on my “favorites” shelf, another favorite axe, and it has rekindled my feelings for Plath. I am grateful for the story she shared. And for the fate she forged for her character. I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. Despite the darkness in which this book is immersed, a sense of hope still lingers even after finishing this somber journey. Fig trees are on solid ground, awaiting for courage, a leap of faith, life-changing decisions – meaning, beauty, uniqueness. The silence, a limpid layer which allows to admire the now splendid azure sky, is no longer an ominous sign. As a small stone is thrown into a pond, causing violent ripples that soon vanish while the former serenity is restored, such silence is interrupted briefly by the sound of glass breaking. In the midst of too much consciousness, those small shivers are a vital part of the ritual for being born twice—patched, retreaded and approved for the road.