27 February 2007

Ink and paper

I discovered this lovely Catalog Card Generator over at fade theory. Nice way to affix reading-notes-to-self or marginalia on blog posts.

Everything Gabo

The website of Cambio, a Colombian magazine, has 17 articles on Gabriel García Márquez, in celebration of his 80th birthday in March. Covering topics that range from film to Fidel, the site also showcases a short story originally published in Cambio, "En agosto nos vemos" ("We'll Meet in August").

26 February 2007

One point of time

Nearing the end of Nabokov's Speak, Memory I come across his beginnings in poetry as a teenager (remembering my own overly-earnest false starts) and listen his thoughts on the matter:
But then, in a sense, all poetry is positional: to try to express one's position in regard to the universe embraced by consciousness, is an immemorial urge. The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are the better. Tentacles, not wings, are Apollo's natural members. Vivian Bloodmark, a philosophical friend of mine, in later years, used to say that while the scientist sees everything that happens in one point of space, the poet feels everything that happens in one point of time. Lost in thought, he taps his knee with his wandlike pencil, and at the same instant a car (New York license plate) passes along the road, a child bangs the screen door of a neighboring porch, and old man yawns in a misty Turkestan orchard, a granule of cinder-gray sand is rolled by the wind on Venus, a Docteur Jacques Hirsch in Grenoble puts on his reading glasses, and trillions of other such trifles occur--all forming an instantaneous and transparent organism of events, of which the poet (sitting in a lawn chair, at Ithaca, N.Y.) is the nucleus.

That summer I was still far too young to evolve any wealth of "cosmic synchronization" (to quote my philosopher again). But I did discover, at least, that a person hoping to become a poet must have the capacity of thinking of several things at a time.

22 February 2007


There was a brief respite yesterday when we interrupted classes for an Ash Wednesday mass. It was as if someone poked holes in the crystal brick (see Cortázar) in which I live. Later, I wanted to sit in this room and write about Eliot's poem, but (of course) there was no time. Even now, there are only small scraps of it.
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And so in two seconds I tried and found something more to think about...
The first long poem after his conversion was "Ash Wednesday" (1930), a religious meditation in a style entirely different from that of any of the earlier poems. "Ash Wednesday" expresses the pangs and the strain involved in the acceptance of religious belief and religious discipline. This and subsequent poems were written in a more relaxed, musical, and meditative style than his earlier works, in which the dramatic element had been stronger than the lyrical. "Ash Wednesday" was not well received in an era that held that poetry, though autonomous, is strictly secular in its outlook; it was misinterpreted by some critics as an expression of personal disillusion.
I love this tension between the content of "strain" and the form of "a more relaxed [...] style". Both and. All at once. At the same time. Opposites only helping each other...

Oh to lock myself away with a stack of books for days on end! But for now there is this, and it will have to be enough.
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

13 February 2007

Of note

It's been virtually impossible to get much done around here without having the internet at home. I'm currently on a waiting list that may take another month (!), so posting will continue to be sporadic for awhile. Nevertheless, I still have the notes from my favorite session at Cartagena to post...and I'm enjoying Cortázar hugely. What saves my sanity during the workday are the brief times I can duck into this cool, quiet computer room and read what's going on at the blogs over on the left... Here are a few bits and pieces that caught my eye today.

~ Tori Amos talks to Alan Light about putting together A Piano: The Collection. (I've always loved the comparison of songs on an album to chapters in a book.)

~ I have to agree with the esteemed proprietor of The Literary Saloon--putting all world literature onto separate shelves isn't the way to go. (I'd even say that the existing shelves would be gutted too significantly--what's the point?) But I loved exploring the site he recommended as an alternative: Reading the World.

~ Bud Parr points to an excellent piece on The Slow Reading Movement. Waters writes,

I am convinced that most speed-reading is impaired reading, just like the sort you do when you have a fever or are tired or engaged in other tasks at the same time you are supposed to be reading. Unless you are very smart, speed-reading forces you to ignore all but one dimension of a literary work, the simplest information. What we lose is the enjoyment that made people turn to literature in the first place. [...]

There is something similar between a reading method that focuses primarily on the bottom-line meaning of a story in a novel and the economic emphasis on the bottom line that makes automobile manufacturers speed up assembly lines. If there is any truth to the analogy, it provides grounds for concern. [...]

The issue is more than just savoring literary experience. I am suggesting that there is more than meets the eye in reading, literally. If we attend to the time of reading, we might notice that our relationship to a literary work changes over time. One consequence is that we begin to be charitable to "bad" readers, whether they are our students, our acquaintances, or our former selves. Most important, though, we learn to drop the idea that we can neatly distinguish good from bad reading because we realize that, at some time in the past, we were not up to reading a particular work. Or perhaps we see that while we missed a great deal, we did respond strongly to parts of the work. It begins to make sense, then, to track our career with a certain work, in order to open it up as literature.
UPDATE: The Little Professor offers a sound critique of this piece, questioning the connection between speed reading and literary criticism. Although I agree with her points, I must confess that what really appealed to me about the article was his stance regarding certain academic approaches to literature (and the dearth of close reading): "Thematic approaches to literature have triumphed, emphasizing the moral of the story over formal and aesthetic analyses. At the college level, earnestly moral or political readings have pushed aside the pleasure of waywardness in plot and rhyme." I think the connection between the mentality behind "bottom-line" capitalism and these "thematic approaches" to literature is valid. Reducing works of art to culture, morals, or politics is similar to how erroneous readings surface in other camps (such as with certain right-wing fundamentalists). People ban books (in part) because of simplistic approaches to literature. Why not encourage the complexity of authentic reading experiences? (This is probably what I should've said in the first place!)

09 February 2007

Event #25: Wole Soyinka...

...in conversation with Colombian author Juan Manuel Roca.

We didn't think we'd be able to attend this one since the bookstore in Barranquilla where we bought event tickets said it was sold out. Unbeknownst to us, it was only "sold out" as far as the number of tickets sold at that particular bookstore. So a tip to future festival-goers: try to get tickets the day of, even if they tell you it's sold out. (It still hurts to think that I missed out on seeing Chimamanda Adichie speak due to a technicality, but I'll be much wiser next time.)

What follows is basically a neatened version of my notes. Since the events had simultaneous translation (both in English and in Spanish), it was interesting to watch the exchanges on stage. Both Soyinka and Roca wore headsets. This is the first interview I've witnessed where neither party could speak the other's language. They both did a remarkable job: Roca was very well-informed and perceptive as the interviewer and Soyinka was gracious and nuanced in his responses. (A. had a headset and I listened in on the Spanish translator a bit--she was excellent.)

Soyinka had visited a barrio of Cartagena earlier in the day, and when asked about his experience, he spoke of how much he loved being with the children--how natural it feels to him to enter into their world. He said that it is a big mistake on the part of the Western world to pretend that children are the same as adults. They should be respected for the worlds they create.

He spoke of growing up in a Christian family in Nigeria under colonial rule and how inspired he became by regionalism. He did not find much contradiction between the mix of religions. The religious traditions of Nigeria were seen as "cultural," and so there was not much conflict with the Christianity he was raised with. (This site gives good background.) The role of tribal historians was never questioned--certain individuals able to recite the names of all members of the tribe for up to two generations back. He or she was viewed as the voice of the tribe (and it was a musical one as well).

Roca asked him about the part played by women in the fight for liberation in Nigeria. He talked about how they led open rebellions...how the bearing of breasts was an act of resistance...and how many were shot by colonial officers. In spite of this, the women of his region drove the local monarch off his throne.

Roca then asked about his view of democratic monarchies. (I got the feeling he actually meant democracies that become monarchical in nature--perhaps alluding to the U.S. in Iraq.) Soyinka talked about constitutional monarchies--how in England, Spain, and Sweden, having a king or queen is ok, but that such situations in Africa are seen as examples of feudalism. He said that constitutional monarchy in Africa is actually a controlled system.

Every society has its poets (oral tradition, etc.)... UNESCO's current fight regarding immaterial intellectual property is particularly important for the preservation of oral tradition.

When asked about his connection to Caribbean writers, he launched into an interesting discussion about the terms "blackness" and "negritude" and how they were invented by expatriate intellectuals in Paris as an act of resistance against the cultural colonialism of a specific time and place. (At one point, the exam for citizenship to a French colony required a dinner invitation at the home of a colonial officer. The applicant's table manners were carefully studied and taken into account.) Although the terms helped combat the existing oversimplifications of cultural differences (e.g., "reason" is Greek, "emotion" is African), the term "negritude" came to substitute real ideologies.

A "radicalization of sensibilities" occurred in the U.S. and people were forced to choose sides on issues of "black" and "white." Much of it came down to the correct "look" or style. But exploitation exists on both sides, so Marxism came in. Writers like LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka helped the focus move from race to class. Soon after the advent of groups such as the Black Panthers in the '60s, white and black radicals found themselves on the same side. "Liberation" was defined in different ways by different movements, confusing the original issue.

Roca then asked Soyinka about his thoughts on the humor in African poetry. Soyinka admitted a personal theory that he thinks he'll one day be able to prove: that the humorous archetypes of commedia dell'arte began with the arrival of a certain African slave to Italy. (I wish I could remember more of his examples--it was obvious he's been thinking about this a long time, and there was much encouraging laughter from the audience.)

He observed that many liberation movements (which also included the feminist movement) had no sense of irony...and he loves the idea of the African figure Exu, whose role is to deflate pomposity (quietly laying down banana peels before the self-important).

Roca asked him about his love of film, and he confessed his penchant for the "frailty and tenderness" of Fellini's work.

Soyinka was then asked about his role in the International Parliament of Writers. He explained that during the time of the fatwa against Rushdie, many were finally made aware that his was not a unique situation. Many writers have always been living under these kinds of situations. While Rushdie had asylum in Strausburg, a group of writers worked together so that now, all over the world, there is a network of safe places for writers in exile or in hiding due to political persecution.

During the Q&A, he was asked about the place (or role) of writers in "Third World" countries. He said that more organic development must happen if the effects of colonialism are to be counteracted. Many countries are bedeviled by the East vs. West struggle and that this sort of focus only produces wasted energy. He says we're not looking inward to what we already have and so become surrogates of other blocs. After gaining independence, many African nations became dependencies because they relied on the economic power of others. Civil wars have drained away many countries' own resources--this is a direct result of the insecure foundations built during the original liberations. He declared that what's needed is leadership that is ready to completely break with the past. This is why current efforts are so important: the answers lie in the history of the liberations of these countries.

The last question was asked by a young boy in the balcony who asked, "What can children give to literature?" Soyinka gazed up at him and--without the least bit of hesitation--said, "Write."

He encouraged him to start now and never stop. The packed theatre errupted in hearty applause.

On a related note, this week over at The Litblog Co-op, they've been discussing an absolutely marvelous novel: Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. It was one of the few that I was able to read while up north, and I strongly recommend it to everyone. (I was reminded of it many times while listening to Wole Soyinka. It was the perfect book to have read just before hearing him speak.) Check out the book discussions and interviews with the author. It will be time well-spent.

05 February 2007


Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme--
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter's vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.

But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All's misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

~ Robert Lowell

Never thought writing could be such a battle. Time tears away every last pure motive and leaves the skid marks of desire in its wake. Black stains and empty space. But...

The boxes are back in the apartment. Will begin unpacking my books today. Hope to get connected to the internet later this week. Still have those notes to post. So many ideas, never enough energy or time. But this will change soon... It must if I'm to make it out of here alive.