Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category
Since the publication of her iconic diary, Anne Frank has become one of the most well-known Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Anne fortuitously spotted her treasured diary in a shop window in June 1942, and her father Otto subsequently gave it to her as a present for her thirteenth birthday. Only a month later, Anne’s older sister Margot received a dreaded call-up notice from the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) ordering her to report for relocation to a work camp. With the help of his most trusted employees, Anne’s father (who co-owned a company that sold wholesale herbs, pickling salts and mixed spices), arranged for his family to go into hiding in the small annex above his company’s premises.
The Frank family lived in these tight quarters for two years (with another family to boot), never once venturing outside until their arrest in August 1944. Deported first to and then to Bergen Belsen with her mother and older sister, Anne was the last of the three Frank women to die, succumbing to typhus in March 1945. Anne’s father was the family’s sole survivor.
Anne wrote movingly about the mundane aspects of her inner life (such as the trials and tribulations of adolescence), as well as the psychological toll she suffered as a result of her confinement and the Nazi’s invasion of Holland. Her diary has become one of the world’s most widely read books, and has been the basis for several plays and films. It has even been the inspiration for a 1994 concept album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, by the indie-rock group Neutral Milk Hotel, which some critics have hailed as one of the few truly great albums to come from a Generation X’er.
NMH’s lead singer, Jeff Magnum, who was so overwhelmed by sadness and grief after reading her diary that he was inspired to write an album about it. He has described some of the songs off the album as based on a haunting recurring dream he had of a Jewish family during World War II. Although it met with scant response from the general public when it was released, the recording has continued to gain momentum in indie music circles, selling well over 200,000 copies, according to Merge Records. However, the record (along with the year of constant touring that succeeded it) took its toll on Mangum. The band abruptly went on hiatus, turning down all requests for shows. Fans (such as myself) continue to wait with baited breath for a new album or comeback tour.
Come back to us Jeff!
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Joseph Conrad’s famous novella, Heart of Darkness (1902), explores the evil underbelly of the colonization and exploitation of the African Congo that occurred under Belgium’s wretched King Leopold II. Many literary critics have pointed out the uncanny parallels between Marlow’s (the protagonist) journey into the “unknown” as described by Conrad, and Freud’s division of the unconscious mind into the ego, superego and id.
Marlow recounts his tale in hindsight, beginning with his fateful decision to accept a job in Africa working as a ferry captain of a boat that is responsible for transporting ivory downriver. However, Marlow soon learns that his “real” assignment is far more daunting; bringing the AWOL Captain Kurtz back to civilization and the European authorities. Naturally, this task proves to be way more than Marlow bargained for…
In his work on dream analysis, Freud employed the use of the term “overdetermined” to refer to the process by which one central image takes on multiple meanings. It has been argued that Conrad’s description of the jungle acts as a dual symbol of something humans innately fear and feel compelled to destroy. This symbol acts as a siphon for Conrad’s scathing critique of the Europeans’ callous and exploitive policies towards the native population and his despair at the irrationality of human behavior.
The narrative structure of the novel has also elicited Freudian analysis, due in large part to Marlow’s persistent compulsion to retell, and thereby relive, his jarring encounters with Captain Kurtz. Some scholars have argued that Marlow retells his saga in an effort to process the chilling events he has experienced, which is analogous to Freudian psychoanalysis. By packaging his experience into a narrative form, Marlow is forced to contextualize and order his experiences into something that can be understood by his audience.
Moreover, Marlow feels the need to talk about his trauma in an effort to stave off the damage that has been wrought to his psyche. Thus, what Marlow ultimately yearns for is prophylactic cure against Kurtz’s horrifying fate- succumbing to the temptations of the darkness within and losing one’s essential self in the process.
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David Herbert Lawrence, better known as D.H. Lawrence, infamous novelist, short-story writer, poet and essayist, was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire on September 11, 1885. Eastwood was a coal mining town, and Lawrence’s interest in Literature earned him a reputation as an eccentric from his fellow townsfolk. After finishing grammar school, Lawrence was given a scholarship to Nottingham High School, but he found school uninteresting and dropped out soon thereafter.
Encouraged by his friend and tutor Jessie Chambers, Lawrence began writing and teaching in 1905. However, in 1911, he quit teaching and scandalously eloped with Frieda Weekley, the German wife of one of his professors at Nottingham. The couple fled to Europe, where they were officially married in 1914 after Frieda’s divorce was finalized.
Lawrence was a rebellious writer who openly explored the then-taboo issues of sexuality and class divisions. After he published his most famous novel in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his works became a continual source of controversy, due to his involvement in a number of widely-covered censorship cases. Sadly, Lawrence received little praise during his short lifetime, and he died of tuberculosis at the tender age of Forty-four.
Long after his death, the first uncensored publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the United States and Britain, is considered an important moment in the “sexual revolution.” Famous British poet Philip Larkin’s poem “Annus Mirabilis” even begins with a reference to the trial:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And The Beatles’ first LP.
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Langston Hughes is perhaps the most famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance, whose masterpieces include “I, Too, Sing America” (the topic of today’s entry in the American History edition) and “Jazzonia” (which I wrote about last year).
Less well known is the fact that Hughes spent many years living in Mexico, and used his mastery of the language to write a translate a number of Spanish works. A personal favorite: his translation of Gabriel Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding. This was the first play in the trio of tragedies Lorca wrote (the others were “Yerma” and “The House of Bernarda Alba”) before he was murdered by Franco’s soldiers in 1936. (A topic for another post.) It’s the story of provincial Spanish wedding that begins happily and naturally enough, and ends with numerous deaths and a talking moon. It’s a brilliant play, and Hughes’ translation is the best. It was hard to come by for a number of years, but in 1994 it was finally released, along with the American poet W. S. Merwin’s translation of Yerma. Great reading for holiday travel.
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Milan Kundera’s masterpiece, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1984), chronicles the lives of three characters through the Prague Spring, the August 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and its aftermath. The novel grapples with the concept of “eternal return” (also known as “eternal recurrence”), which posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur ad infinitum, in a self-similar form. This concept is rooted in Indian and Egyptian philosophy, and was taken up by the Pythagoreans and Stoics. However, with fall of antiquity and the spread of Christianity, the concept of “eternal return” was gradually lost. However, “eternal return” was given a second life by Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed that it furnished man with a reason to affirm life in the face of a world without God.
From Nietzsche’s perspective, the embracing of “eternal recurrence” required amor fati “love of fate.”
“My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it–all idealism is mendaciousness before the necessary–but to love it.”
Kundera both builds on and challenges Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence by suggesting that each person has only one life to live, and that the occurrences in one’s life shall never occur again-thus the “lightness” of being, because individual human decision do not have universal significance. However, the insignificance of our decisions-the essence of our being- causes great human suffering every human being wants to believe that their lives have transcendent meaning. Thus, our insignificance is ultimately experienced as unbearable.
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The Buddhist conception of Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work) is the impetus behind Samsara, or the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Both good and bad actions produce “seeds” in the mind of the individual that will either come to fruition in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. In Theravada Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one’s Karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the make up of the universe. Thus, one must absorb suffering in order to ultimately transcend earthly agonies.
Famous poet Ted Hughes’ poem, Karma, is a melancholy meditation on the suffering and carnage wrought by “civilized” man. It is influenced by the Buddhist belief in the retracing of time and the inexorable karmic bondage to suffering. In the poem, the narrator feels profound sadness as he contemplates the suffering around him, and realizes that there exists no earthly rationale that renders human misery comprehensible. However, by embracing the fact that there is no solution or explanation for suffering, he is able to absorb it fully and transcend the bondage of blame.
When the world-quaking tears were dropped
At Dresden at Buchenwald
Earth spewed up the bones of the Irish.
Queen Victoria Refused the blame
For the Emperors of Chou herding their rubbish
Into battle roped together.
The seven lamented millions of Zion
Rose musically through the frozen mouths
Of Russia’s snowed-under millions.
They perch, as harps,
Over the slaves whose singing blood still flows
Through the Atlantic and up the Mississippi
And up the jugular
Skywriting across the cortex
That the heart, a gulping mask, demands, demands
For its bloody possessor.
And a hundred and fifty million years of hunger
Killing gratefully as breathing
Mouldered the heart and the mouth
That cry for milk
From the breast
Of the mother
Of the God
Of the world
Made of Blood.
They have gone into dumber service. They have gone down
To labour with God on the beaches. They fatten
Under the haddock’s thumb. They rejoice
Through the warped mouth of the flounder.
They have melted like my childhood under earth’s motherly curve
And are nowhere they are not here I know nothing
Cries the poulterer’s hare hanging
Upside down above the pavement
Staring into a bloody bag Not here
Cry the eyes from the depths
Of the mirrors seamless sand.
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A Not so Narrow Fellow in the Grass....
“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass” is one of the few poems by Emily Dickinson that was published during her lifetime. Without her permission, the poem was first published in The Springfield Daily Republican on February 14, 1866 as “The Snake,” which gave away the riddle that the poem posed to its readers. Now, published under its intended title, this poem is a mainstay of High School literature classes across the country.
A narrow fellow in the grass
You may have met him,–did you not,
His notice sudden is.
The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.
He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,
Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,–
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.
Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.
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