Sunday, September 27, 2015

राग दरबारी से एक प्रेम पत्र

ऐसा कहा जाता है कि हिंदी भाषा के प्रचार प्रसार के लिए जितना बॉलीवुड ने किया है उतना किसी और ने नहीं। श्रीलाल शुक्ल की राग दरबारी से इसी बात का एक प्रमाण:

ये एक प्रेम पत्र है जो एक लड़की अपने प्रेमी को लिखती है।

ओ सजना, बेदर्दी बालमा,

      तुमको मेरा मन याद करता है। पर… चाँद को क्या मालूम, चाहता उसको कोई चकोर। वह बेचारा दूर से देखे करे न कोई शोर। तुम्हें क्या पता कि तुम्हीं मेरे मंदिर, तुम्हीं मेरी पूजा, तुम्हीं देवता हो, तुम्हीं देवता हो। याद में तेरी जाग जाग के हम रात-भर करवटें बदलते हैं।
      अब तो मेरी यह हालत हो गई है कि सहा भी न जाए, रहा भी न जाए। देखो न मेरा दिल मचल गया, तुम्हें देखा और बदल गया। और तुम हो कि कभी उड़ जाए, कभी मुड़ जाए, भेद जिया का खोले ना। मुझको तुमसे यही शिकायत है कि तुमको प्यार छुपाने की बुरी आदत है। कहीं दीप जले कहीं दिल, जरा देख तो आकर परवाने।
       तुमसे मिलकर बहुत-सी बातें करनी हैं। ये सुलगते हुए जज़्बात किसे पेश करें। मुहब्बत लुटाने को जी चाहता है। पर मेरा नादान बालमा न जाने जी की बात। इसीलिए उस दिन मैं तुम से मिलने आई थी। पिया मिलन को जाना। अँधेरी रात। मेरी चाँदनी बिछुड़ गयी, मेरे घर में पड़ा अँधियारा था। मैं तुमसे यही कहना चाहती थी, मुझे तुमसे कुछ भी न चाहिए। बस, अहसान तेरा होगा मुझ पर मुझे पलकों की छाँव में रहने दो। पर जमाने का दस्तूर है ये पुराना, किसी को गिराना किसी को मिटाना। मैं तुम्हारी छत पर पहुँचती पर वहाँ तुम्हारे बिस्तर पर कोई दूसरा लेटा हुआ थ। मैं लाज के मारे मर गयी। बेबस लौट आयी। आँधियों मुझ पर हँसो, मेरी मुहब्बत पर हँसो।
        मेरी बदनामी हो रही है और तुम चुपचाप बैठे हो। तुम कब तक तडपाओगे? तडपाओगे? तड़पा लो, हम तड़प-तड़प कर भी तुम्हारे गीत गायेंगे। तुमसे जल्दी मिलना है। क्या तुम आज आओगे क्योंकि आज तेरे बिना मेरा मंदिर सूना है। अकेले हैं, चले आओ जहाँ हो तुम। लग जा गले से फिर ये हसीं रात हो ना हो। यही है तमन्ना तेरे दर के सामने मेरी जान जाए, हाय। हम आस लगाये बैठे हैं। देखो जी, मेरा दिल न तोडना।
                                                                                                 तुम्हारी याद में, 
कोई एक पागल।    

Sunday, September 6, 2015

an eternal Treblinka

This is the full context of the famous and controversial quote by Isaac Bashevis Singer. This is from his story The Letter Writer:

Despair took hold of Herman. He started to pray for the mouse’s soul. “Well, you’ve had your life. You’ve served your time in this forsaken world, the worst of all worlds, this bottomless abyss, where Satan, Asmodeus, Hitler, and Stalin prevail. You are no longer confined to your hole—hungry, thirsty, and sick, but at one with the God-filled cosmos, with God Himself … Who knows why you had to be a mouse?”

In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. “What do they know—all those scholars, all those philosophers, all the leaders of the world—about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka. And yet man demands compassion from heaven.” Herman clapped his hand to his mouth. “I mustn’t live, I mustn’t I can no longer be a part of it! God in heaven—take me away!”

Saturday, September 5, 2015

an alienated gorilla

“A zoologist who observed gorillas in their native habitat was amazed by the uniformity of their life and their vast idleness. Hours and hours without doing anything. Was boredom unknown to them? This is indeed a question raised by a human, a busy ape. Far from fleeing monotony, animals crave it, and what they most dread is to see it end. For it ends, only to be replaced by fear, the cause of all activity. Inaction is divine; yet it is against inaction that man has rebelled. Man alone, in nature, is incapable of enduring monotony, man alone wants something to happen at all costs—something, anything.... Thereby he shows himself unworthy of his ancestor: the need for novelty is the characteristic of an alienated gorilla.” - E M Cioran

Saturday, July 25, 2015

An extract from A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

An extract from the wonderful first pages of A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Still in the middle of it, very inconsistent overall but the following is really good...


For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day, this pounding action will cease of its own accord, and the blood will begin to run toward the body’s lowest point, where it will collect in a small pool, visible from outside as a dark, soft patch on ever whitening skin, as the temperature sinks, the limbs stiffen and the intestines drain. These changes in the first hours occur so slowly and take place with such inexorability that there is something almost ritualistic about them, as though life capitulates according to specific rules, a kind of gentleman’s agreement to which the representatives of death also adhere, inasmuch as they always wait until life has retreated before they launch their invasion of the new landscape. By which point, however, the invasion is irrevocable. The enormous hordes of bacteria that begin to infiltrate the body’s innards cannot be halted. Had they but tried a few hours earlier, they would have met with immediate resistance; however everything around them is quiet now, as they delve deeper and deeper into the moist darkness. They advance on the Havers Channels, the Crypts of Lieberkühn, the Isles of Langerhans. They proceed to Bowman’s Capsule in the Renes, Clark’s Column in the Spinalis, the black substance in the Mesencephalon. And they arrive at the heart. As yet, it is intact, but deprived of the activity to which end its whole construction has been designed, there is something strangely desolate about it, like a production plant that workers have been forced to flee in haste, or so it appears, the stationary vehicles shining yellow against the darkness of the forest, the huts deserted, a line of fully loaded cable-buckets stretching up the hillside.

The moment life departs the body, it belongs to death. At one with lamps, suitcases, carpets, door handles, windows. Fields, marshes, streams, mountains, clouds, the sky. None of these is alien to us. We are constantly surrounded by objects and phenomena from the realm of death. Nonetheless, there are few things that arouse in us greater distaste than to a see a human being caught up in it, at least if we are to judge by the efforts we make to keep corpses out of sight. In larger hospitals they are not only hidden away in discrete, inaccessible rooms, even the pathways there are concealed, with their own elevators and basement corridors, and should you stumble upon one of them, the dead bodies being wheeled by are always covered. When they have to be transported from the hospital it is through a dedicated exit, into vehicles with tinted glass; in the church grounds there is a separate, windowless room for them; during the funeral ceremony they lie in closed coffins until they are lowered into the earth or cremated in the oven. It is hard to imagine what practical purpose this procedure might serve. The uncovered bodies could be wheeled along the hospital corridors, for example, and thence be transported in an ordinary taxi without this posing a particular risk to anyone. The elderly man who dies during a cinema performance might just as well remain in his seat until the film is over, and during the next two for that matter. The teacher who has a heart attack in the school playground does not necessarily have to be driven away immediately; no damage is done by leaving him where he is until the caretaker has time to attend to him, even though that might not be until sometime in the late afternoon or evening. What difference would it make if a bird were to alight on him and take a peck? Would what awaits him in the grave be any better just because it is hidden? As long as the dead are not in the way there is no need for any rush, they cannot die a second time. Cold snaps in the winter should be particularly propitious in such circumstances. The homeless who freeze to death on benches and in doorways, the suicidal who jump off high buildings and bridges, elderly women who fall down staircases, traffic victims trapped in wrecked cars, the young man who, in a drunken stupor, falls into the lake after a night on the town, the small girl who ends up under the wheel of a bus, why all this haste to remove them from the public eye? Decency? What could be more decent than to allow the girl’s mother and father to see her an hour or two later, lying in the snow at the site of the accident, in full view, her crushed head and the rest of her body, her blood-spattered hair and the spotless padded jacket? Visible to the whole world, no secrets, the way she was. But even this one hour in the snow is unthinkable. A town that does not keep its dead out of sight, that leaves people where they died, on highways and byways, in parks and parking lots, is not a town but a hell. The fact that this hell reflects our life experience in a more realistic and essentially truer way is of no consequence. We know this is how it is, but we do not want to face it. Hence the collective act of repression symbolized by the concealment of our dead.

What exactly it is that is being repressed, however, is not so easy to say. It cannot be death itself, for its presence in society is much too prominent. The number of deaths reported in newspapers or shown on the TV news every day varies slightly according to circumstances, but the annual average will presumably tend to be constant, and since it is spread over so many channels virtually impossible to avoid. Yet that kind of death does not seem threatening. Quite the contrary, it is something we are drawn to and will happily pay to see. Add the enormously high body count in fiction and it becomes even harder to understand the system that keeps death out of sight. If the phenomenon of death does not frighten us, why then this distaste for dead bodies? It must mean either that there are two kinds of death or that there is a disparity between our conception of death and death as it actually turns out to be, which in effect boils down to the same thing. What is significant here is that our conception of death is so strongly rooted in our consciousness that we are not only shaken when we see that reality deviates from it, but we also try to conceal this with all the means at our disposal. Not as a result of some form of conscious deliberation, as has been the case with funeral rites, the form and meaning of which are negotiable nowadays, and thus have shifted from the sphere of the irrational to the rational, from the collective to the individual – no, the way we remove bodies has never been the subject of debate, it has always been just something we have done, out of a necessity for which no one can state a reason but everyone feels: if your father dies on the lawn one windswept Sunday in autumn, you carry him indoors if you can, and if you can’t, you at least cover him with a blanket. This impulse, however, is not the only one we have with regard to the dead. No less conspicuous than our hiding the corpses is the fact that we always lower them to ground level as fast as possible. A hospital that transports its bodies upward, that sites its cold chambers on the upper floors is practically inconceivable. The dead are stored as close to the ground as possible. And the same principle applies to the agencies that attend them; an insurance company may well have its offices on the eighth floor, but not a funeral parlor. All funeral parlors have their offices as close to street level as possible. Why this should be so is hard to say; one might be tempted to believe that it was based on some ancient convention that originally had a practical purpose, such as a cellar being cold and therefore best suited to storing corpses, and that this principle had been retained in our era of refrigerators and cold-storage rooms, had it not been for the notion that transporting bodies upward in buildings seemscontrary to the laws of nature, as though height and death are mutually incompatible. As though we possessed some kind of chthonic instinct, something deep within us that urges us to move death down to the earth whence we came.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Inside Out

I hadn't really planned to see this but when I came to know that the man behind this also made "Up", there was really nothing more to think. I don't usually cry watching a movie (though I do get sad, sometimes desperately so, more often than I would care to admit) but Up left me moist eyed and lump throated (is that a word? never mind!). I thought Inside Out was even better than "Up" in some respects; wildly imaginative, full of insights that made me go wow with recognition, funny with many blink-and-miss kind of throwaway gags (my favourite being "these facts and opinions look so similar", or "forget it jake, it's cloudtown") and best of all, full of important and vital life lessons. End of childhood is a tragic episode in life and this movie captures it beautifully. It also teaches the value of sadness in life. And most important of all it shows how transient the human selves are. I was almost in despair when one by one all of Riley's personality islands are destroyed (this is what happens when you experience a kind of nervous breakdown) but then in the end we see new islands crop up and take their place as she goes through new experiences. Though it did make me sad that the goofball island was lost for ever!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

An Extract from HHhH by Laurent Binet

There were still fresh traces of drama that had occurred in this room more than sixty years before: a tunnel dug several yards deep; bullet marks in the walls and the vaulted ceiling. There were also photographs of the parachutists' faces, with a text written in Czech and in English. There was a traitor's name and a raincoat. There was a poster of a bag and a bicycle. There was a Sten submachine gun (which jammed at the worst possible moment). All of this was actually in the room. But there was something else here, conjured by the story I read, that existed only in the spirit. There were women, there were careless acts, there was London, there was France, there were legionnaires, there was a government in exile, there was a village by the name of Lidice, there was a young lookout named Valcik, there was a tram which went by (also at the worst possible moment), there was a death mask, there was a reward of ten million crowns for whoever denounced the gunmen, there were cyanide pills, there were grenades and people to throw them, there were radio transmitters and coded messages, there was a sprained ankle, there was Penicillin that could be procured only in England. there was an entire city under the thumb of the man they nicknamed 'the Hangman', there was swastika flags and death's-head insignias, there were German spies who worked for Britain, there was a black Mercedes with a blown tyre, there was a chauffeur and a butcher, there were dignitaries around a coffin, there were policement bent over corpses, there were terrible reprisals, there was greatness and madness, weakness and betrayal, courage and fear, hope and grief, there were all the human passions brought together in the few square yards, there was war and there was death, there were Jews deported, families massacred, soldiers sacrificed, there was vengeance and political calculation, there was a man who was (among other things) an accomplished fencer and violinist, there was a locksmith who never managed to do his job, there was the spirit of the Resistance engraved forever in these walls, there were traces of struggle between the forces of life and the forces of death, there was Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, there was all the history of the world contained in a few stones.
    There were seven hundred SS guards outside.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

“He supposed he was only one of several million persons of his generation who had grown up and, somewhere around thirty, made the upsetting discovery that life wasn't going to pan out the way you'd always expected it would; and why this realization should have thrown him and not them—or not too many of them—was something he couldn't fathom. Life offered none of those prizes you'd been looking forward to since adolescence (he less than others, but looking forward to them all the same, if only out of curiosity). Adulthood came through with none of the pledges you'd been led somehow to believe in; the future still remained the future-illusion; a non-existent period of constantly-receding promise, hinting fulfillment, yet forever withholding the rewards. All the things that had never happened yet were never going to happen after all. It was a mug's game and there ought to be a law. But there wasn't any law, there was no rhyme or reason; and with the sour-grapes attitude of “Why the hell should there be”—which is as near as you ever came to sophistication—you retired within yourself and compensated for the disappointment by drink, by subsisting on daydreams, by living in a private world of your own making (hell or heaven, what did it matter?), by accomplishing or becoming in fancy what you could never bring about in fact.”

 - Charles Jackson, The Lost Weekend

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Some thoughts on Renu's Mare Gaye Gulfam

First a brief summary of what happens in the story:

At the beginning of the story Hiraman, an ox-cart driver, picks up a mysterious lady passenger and starts to feel that something unusual is afoot because he hasn't ever had this experience before. We also come to know of his past experiences as the ox-cart driver, specially his two vows - never to transport smuggled goods or bamboo! As the story progresses we come to know that the lady passenger's name is Hirabai and she is the lead dancer of a nautanki company. She is actually headed to a local fair where she will perform in the show for the company. During the journey Hiraman tells her the tragic story of "mahua ghatwarin." The subtext of all this is that Hiraman slowly starts getting infatuated with her which actually results in some amusing and dramatic scenes when she actually reaches the fair and starts performing in the show as his infatuated sense of her image clashes with the reality of her image that other people have of her. Finally in the end, his heart is broken when she leaves by train for the next show. He swears the third vow never to take a dancer as a passenger.

Things I love about the story:

I absolutely love the initial section of the story where Renu brilliantly uses the technique of free indirect style to get inside the consciousness of Hiraman and shows what is going on inside him as he tries to make sense of his own emotional reactions to his passenger. The genius of Renu lies in showing that even though Hiraman is illiterate - he may not know any highfalutin metaphors; he may not know any standard romantic idioms, he may even lack a sense of self-awareness - but his inner life is still complex and interesting. He has his own metaphors, his own symbols (culled from the local folk traditions) with which he makes sense of his experiences and gives a shape to them. This may look different from a conventional love story but the underlying romantic sensibility is the same and it is so because this romantic sensibility is an essential characteristic of human life. An illiterate ox-cart driver working in some godforsaken isolated land can also have a heart which aches! He also has his own means to make sense of (if not express) this heartache. This is the true genius of the story.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Confession (1970)

Wow! After a long time saw something which stirred me deeply. Yves Montand is one of my favourite actors and he is just brilliant here. The concluding montage was specially very effective - almost spine chilling.

A relevant excerpt from Tony Judt's Postwar:

Why, after all, did the Soviet dictator need trials at all? Moscow was in a position to eliminate anyone it wished, anywhere in the Soviet bloc, through ‘administrative procedures’, Trials might seem counter-productive; the obviously false testimonies and confessions, the unembarrassed targeting of selected individuals and social categories, were hardly calculated to convince foreign observers of the bona fides of Soviet judicial procedures.

But the show trials in the Communist bloc were not about justice. They were, rather, a form of public pedagogy-by-example; a venerable Communist institution (the first such trials in the USSR dated to 1928) whose purpose was to illustrate and exemplify the structures of authority in the Soviet system. They told the public who was right, who wrong; they placed blame for policy failures; they assigned credit for loyalty and subservience; they even wrote a script, an approved vocabulary for use in discussion of public affairs. Following his arrest Rudolf Slánský was only ever referred to as ‘the spy Slánský’, this ritual naming serving as a form of political exorcism.

Show trials—or tribunals, in the language of Vyshinsky’s 1936 Soviet Manual of Criminal Investigation—were explicitly undertaken for the ‘mobilisation of proletarian public opinion’. As the Czechoslovak ‘Court Organisation Act’ of January 1953 baldly summed it up, the function of the courts was ‘to educate the citizens in devotionand loyalty toward the Czechoslovak Republic, etc.’ Robert Vogeler, a defendant at a Budapest trial in 1948, noted at the time: ‘To judge from the way our scripts were written, it was more important to establish our allegorical identities than it was to establish our “guilt”. Each of us, in his testimony, was obliged to “unmask” himself for the benefit of the Cominform Press and the radio.’

The accused were reduced from presumptive political critics or opponents to a gaggle of unprincipled conspirators, their purposes venal and traitorous. The clumsiness of Soviet imperial style sometimes masks this objective—what is one to make of a rhetoric designed to mobilize public opinion in metropolitan Budapest by reiterating the errors of those who opposed ‘the struggle against the kulaks’? But the ‘public’ were not being asked to believe what they heard; they were merely being trained to repeat it.

One use of the public trials was to identify scapegoats. If Communist economic policy was not producing its pre-announced successes, if Soviet foreign policy was blocked or forced to compromise, someone must take the blame. How else were the mis-steps of the infallible Leader to be explained? There were many candidates: Slánský was widely disliked inside and outside the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Rajk had been a harsh Stalinist interior minister. And precisely because they had carried out unpopular policies now seen to have failed, any and all Communist leaders and ministers were potential victims in waiting. Just as defeated political critics or opponents to a gaggle of unprincipled conspirators, their purposes venal and traitorous. The clumsiness of Soviet imperial style sometimes masks this objective—what is one to make of a rhetoric designed to mobilize public opinion in metropolitan Budapest by reiterating the errors of those who opposed ‘the struggle against the kulaks’? But the ‘public’ were not being asked to believe what they heard; they were merely being trained to repeat it.

One use of the public trials was to identify scapegoats. If Communist economic policy was not producing its pre-announced successes, if Soviet foreign policy was blocked or forced to compromise, someone must take the blame. How else were the mis-steps of the infallible Leader to be explained? There were many candidates: Slánský was widely disliked inside and outside the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Rajk had been a harsh Stalinist interior minister. And precisely because they had carried out unpopular policies now seen to have failed, any and all Communist leaders and ministers were potential victims in waiting. Just as defeated generals in the French Revolutionary wars were frequently charged with treason, so Communist ministers confessed to sabotage when the policies they had implemented failed—often literally—to deliver the goods.
The advantage of the confession, in addition to its symbolic use as an exercise in guilt-transferal, was that it confirmed Communist doctrine. There were no disagreements in Stalin’s universe, only heresies; no critics, only enemies; no errors, only crimes. The trials served both to illustrate Stalin’s virtues and identify his enemies’ crimes. They also illuminate the extent of Stalin’s paranoia and the culture of suspicion that surrounded him. One part of this was a deep-rooted anxiety about Russian, and more generally ‘Eastern’ inferiority, a fear of Western influence and the seduction of Western affluence. In a 1950 trial in Sofia of ‘The American Spies in Bulgaria’, the accused were charged with propagating the view ‘that the chosen races live only in the West, in spite of the fact that geographically they have all started from the East’. The indictment went on to describe the accused as exhibiting ‘a feeling for servile under-valuation’ that Western spies had successfully exploited. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The sad fame of Auschwitz

"It is impossible to write about Auschwitz impersonally. The first duty of Auschwitzers is to make clear just what a camp is. . . . But let them not forget that the reader will unfailingly ask: how did it happen that you survived? . . . Explain, then, how you bought places in the hospital, easy posts; how you shoved the “Muselmänner” into the oven; how you bought women, men; what you did in the barracks, unloading the transports, at the gypsy camp; tell about the daily life of the camp, about the hierarchy of fear, about the loneliness of every man. But write that you, you were the ones who did this. That a portion of the sad fame of Auschwitz belongs to you as well."
—from Tadeusz Borowski’s review of a Holocaust testimony

Quoted in Ruth Franklin's A Thousand Darknesses

Portrait of a director - Bimal Roy

I remember watching this program on Doordarshan as a kid. What a nice surprise to come across it again on youtube! I specially remembered the scene where Nutan talks about the famous scene from Bandini. This was my first lesson in auteurism! Doordarshan has uploaded other episodes as well, featuring Raj Kapoor, Shyam Benegal, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Manmohan Desai (!).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Amusing censorship

This is one instance of  censorship which actually made me chuckle. I recently caught hold of a pirated pdf copy of Primo Levi's If This is a Man (which is one of my favourite books) and found this. Someone it seems was offended by the phrase "bloodless female friendships." I can't count the number of ironies here!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

World on a Wire

Finally found some time to watch Fassbinder's World on a Wire. It is deliriously shot and designed. So many mirrors everywhere! As the dialogue on the image grab above shows, all of them do serve a purpose in making a point. What I found most interesting was that although it lacks the force and the emotional punch of his melodramas, the themes and ideas which animate this film are the same.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vasily Grossman - Spanish Book Covers

Two powerful covers from the Spanish edition of books by Vasily Grossman - the most recent entrant to the list of my all-time favourite authors. In English the books are known as Life and Fate and Everything Flows

The First Sherlock Holmes

"A 1916 silent movie featuring Sherlock Holmes - long presumed lost - is due to have its premiere in Paris. It stars a man who changed the way we see Conan Doyle's famous sleuth forever."

BBC magazine has details on how.

Also found another article there in which John Gray tries to explain the long-standing appeal of Sherlock Holmes -

"Aside from a few relics of Victorian rationalism who find a curious comfort in Darwinism, most of us now accept that reason can't give meaning or purpose to life. If we're not content with the process of living itself, we need myths and myths very often contain contradictions.

Holmes is one such myth. Seeming to find order in the chaos of events by using purely rational methods, he actually demonstrates the enduring power of magic."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Olive Kitteridge

I was very, very impressed with the new HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge (just four episodes actually, around an hour each). This is really one of the most intelligent films I have seen about depression. Although to call it "about" depression or about travails of aging, or about anything else for that matter, will be doing an injustice to everybody involved in making it. This is really much more than just its subject -- one of those rare films that makes you feel wiser about the complexities of life. "There is nothing like a simple life" - as the tagline of the show says and it shows why that is true. I am short of superlatives to describe what Frances McDormand has done with her character here. It makes you feel angry and depressed just thinking why we don't get to see her more often on screen. Now off to find the original novel by Elizabeth Strout on which the series is based.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Melanchholy of Resistance cover

I was always intrigued by the painting featured on the cover of Laszlo Krasznahorkai's The Melancholy of Resistance (one of my favourite novels, if that is not obvious) but didn't know anything about the painting.

Some googling showed me that it is a detail from a painting called "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889" by Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949)

I found two articles which have more background on the painting - here and here. Very clever and interesting choice for the cover I must say.

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the firm foundation of unyielding despair

"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Prisoner of Zenda

Not terribly entertaining although the introduction in the Oxford World Classics edition makes some very interesting points about it being a commentary on the idea of "English Gentleman" which made a  lot of sense to me.

Some interesting tidbits.

Zenda was probably an inspiration for Nabokov's Zembla, which makes a lot of sense actually.

Also love this acrostic dedication (to his son Zafar) in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Zembla, Zenda, Xanadu:
All our dream-worlds may come true. 
Fairy lands are fearsome too. 
As I wander far from view 
Read, and bring me home to you.

True Detective

Judging by the comments and articles on the Internet, it looks like I am not alone in being disappointed by the ending of the first season of Twin Detective.

First a list of what I liked:

- It is beautifully shot and I am not just talking of the famous tracking shot at the end of 4th episode. Whether it is the aerial shots of the swampy landscapes of Louisiana or despair inducing scenes of rural desolation or the shots of the two leads having a conversation in the car, it is all breathtaking. I could actually watch it with sound on mute. It is that good. Adam Arkapaw, the cinematographer, also shot Top of the Lake (other great find for me from last year) which should propel him among the top ranks in the list of contemporary cinematographers, that is if he is not there already. I should also mention the director - Cary Joji Fukunanga for the great attention he paid on the visual elements of the drama, which is actually one of the things that keeps me away from TV dramas (specially sitcoms) because if it is not visually appealing or distinctive it gets boring after a while.

- Brilliant lead performances by both Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughney. The show lacked interesting secondary characters (unlike, say, Breaking Bad) but it more than makes up for the attention it pays on the leads.

Now things I didn't like:

- inconsistent writing. In the first few episodes I was actually enthralled by Rust Cohle's monologues about human consciousness and other horrors of human existence. I couldn't believe I was hearing those words on a tv show. I am not familiar with the genre of Weird or American horror fiction but I could easily trace the influence of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Cioran and other purveyors of hard and pessimistic existentialism. But everything comes to a nought towards the end of the show with a truly conventional denouement, which will not be out of place in a standard serial killer hollywood movie. If that was not enough we also get a monologue about how "the light is winning against the dark", that too from the mouth of Rust Cohle. May be one should feel grateful that the writers didn't make him beg for mercy to God or turn him into a born again christian. In hindsight all that talk about consciousness, evil and existence became what it was - the kind of talk guys have in their hostel rooms when they are half-drunk.

- comparison with Twin Peaks. At many times while watching the show my thoughts kept going back to Twin Peaks, constantly comparing these two detectives with agent Cooper and sheriff Truman. I was thinking that "the Yellow King" would be someone like "Bob" from Twin Peaks and "Carcosa" like the mysterious woods that surround the town of Twin Peaks both stand-in for some kind of immanent evil in the world at large. Twin Peaks showed that you can catch the murderer but the spirit of evil will always be free, always looking for victims, feeding on the "garmonbozia" of pain and suffering. In this sense it profoundly subverted the genre of detective fiction which is built on the premise that the detective with his power of ratiocination restores the order to the world which was disturbed by some evil act. Thinking like this True Detective felt even more conventional than it really is.

Overall I still feel it is worth watching. It is certainly far more intelligent and interesting than the movies Hollywood continues to make.


“If, as Moses Mendelssohn maintains, Judaism is not a religion but a revealed legislation, it seems strange that such a God should be its author and symbol. He who has, precisely, nothing of the legislator about Him. Incapable of the slightest effort of objectivity, He dispenses justice according to His whim, without any code to limit His divagations and His impulses. He is a despot as jittery as He is aggressive, saturated with complexes, an ideal subject for psychoanalysis. He disarms metaphysics, which detects in Him no trace of a substantial, self-sufficient Being superior to the world and content with the interval that separates Him from it. A clown who has inherited heaven and who there perpetuates the wost traditions of earth, he employes means, astounded by His own power and proud of having made its effects felt. Yet His vehemence, His shifts of mood, His spasmodic outbursts finally attract, if they do not convince us. Not at all resigned to His eternity, He intervenes in the affairs of earth, makes a mess of them, sowing confusion and clutter. He disconcerts, irritates, seduces.”

Emil Cioran, The Temptation to Exist