Tabula Rasa

let the poets cry themselves to sleep

Film Review: “Young Man at the Bar Masturbating With Rage and Nerve” by Julián Hernández

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In 21 minutes Mexican filmmaker Julian Hernández introduces Christian Rodríguez to the viewer. However, it’s the former who actually introduces himself from the very first frames: from his pseudonym, his skin color, his body type; but he also brings to the table his rate: $1,500 per hour. Therefore, if the title of the short film hadn’t already rung a bell, this little preface may tell us what this is going to be about: sex — at least partly.

Christian goes on with an overview of his life: his origin — a little town in the Mexican provinces; his childhood — describing himself as an extremely effeminate, obviously homosexual child. Thereupon he relates what growing up as a young gay man would be later; what it’s like to endure insults but at the same time having to cope with one’s sexual identity all by oneself in a close-minded and conservative society. Just picture it. If it’s a tough task in the big cities, how do you think it is in such small parts of the world? He relates this, however, with such fluency and, well, it’s not humorously, but he doesn’t play a victimized role either; he is rather the testimony of overcoming, something that didn’t occur to him just suddenly but by moving to other parts of Mexico, widening his experiences, following his passions, and, well… just living.

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So this short film is partly about sex and sexual identity but there’s still one very important remaining part which makes of this film, in my opinion, a beautiful movement in itself. I’m talking about dancing — dancing as entertainment, as art, as expression, as the means to earn a living. Thus, Christian states his fervent love for dancing, though not in a professional way, he says, until the time when he moved to Mazatlán to pursue his studies and heard on the radio about some dancing contest (which he wins, by the way). It’s then when one of the judges of the contest invites Christian to work as a dancer at the hotel where the event took place. “That’s when everything begins for me,” Christian says. While he narrates all of this we can see some kind of class he’s giving — and he certainly is such great dancer, if I’m asked! It happens in a plain, small and dimly lit room at a gym; but Julián Hernández’s vision renders vividness and colorfulness to the cinematographic experience through the music, the dancing shoes, the intermittent shots of the rapid movements of those cheerful bodies as if celebrating human anatomy.

This is when opportunities start coming from everywhere and Christian is invited to work as a professional dancer. ‘Professional’, what a word and how struck he was by it. Nonetheless he makes up his mind about attending an audition to which he was invited. Albeit concurred, he wins the contest and he’s given an opportunity to professionally begin his career, not as a dancing-man, but rather as a dancer. Like in the above paragraph, while this narration takes place, a reverie of sorts shows up, wherein our now professional dancer runs a captivating performance to some sort of Ligeti-like atmospheric piece of music.

Subsequently, Christian moves to Mexico city, being 22 years old and with a made-up mind about waisting no time and getting to build a great career. Intermittent reverie frames take place once more and Christian performs for his audience once more. Unfortunately for him (and many others) art is simply unprofitable, and that’s when dancing and prostitution blend. The bright side, I think, would be that Christian takes it pretty well, claiming to have no other vice than sex, just many people are weak for alcohol or cigarettes. His habits and procedures as an escort are depicted quite faithfully and we can even witness (fictionally) how a young man hires Christian for his birthday, for which the latter gives him a ‘nice present’ — that is a striptease that ends up in casual sex and a shower. Intertwined with this brief episode, we get to know more details about Christian’s secondary profession.

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Lastly the viewer is ushered into a gay bar in Mexico city where Christian performs live at a bar — a performance which seems to include some sensual movements, including that of a fictitious masturbation (fictitious, as far as we know). He finally expresses his love for it, for his two vices in an ideal mixture for him: dancing and sensuality.

There are many erotic scenes in the film, but I think it’s not that hard to watch for someone who isn’t used to it. It’s not more explicit than any other contemporary pop music video that many regard as normal these days. On the other hand, speaking of so-called normality, there are many films that are supposed to be made for a straight public to help them understand the kind of sexuality that resides outside the pale: either homosexuality or transsexuality or bisexuality; but my point is that such tags as “gay-themed films for straight people” would be unnecessary if more people gave a chance to films like this. Of course most of this kind of projects’ public are gay people: those who can relate to it, people who look for their spot in the history of art. But it’s not exclusive whatsoever to them. This film, for instance, is a magnificent way to get to know about something we’re not offered quite often; and instead of being prejudicial, we have the opportunity to realize what’s behind all of it. This film works as a lens to see life through someone else’s eyes while Hernández is only rendering the eyeglass. Because personally, albeit its shortness, few lengthy queer film have ever made me think of it as a proclamation of homosexuality, specially in Mexico, and of the struggle of making a living through art, regardless of the artist’s sexuality. Unlike Julian Hernandez’s previous work, this is not slow-paced, but it’s rather like a flashing daydream; unlike his previous films, this is not an event in someone’s life, but a whole life told in a picturesque play of colors and movements; it’s told in 21 short and worthy minutes.

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Review: “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

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“The horror! The horror!”
— Heart of Darkness

Have you ever tried any meditation technique? Well, just last year I began to make some research about it. What I found was truly compelling, so I decided to try some of the exercises I read about, which I still practice sometimes on my spare time. There’s a great gamma of those techniques and regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, all of them have one and only purpose: to help he who puts them to practice. Personally, they helped me cope with some issues, such as anxiety and insomnia; but, truth be told, there are some things — intrinsic, I’ve come to think — that seem to cling to the deepest regions of my being — dark things, perhaps. I’m no expert on the subject — in fact, I hesitated about  bringing it up — but from what I’ve learned, all these techniques basically help you with introspective issues by tracking their source. In this inner and spiritual journey you may find virtue but you may also find what Conrad chose as the title for this tale: a heart of darkness.

Either the title means the core of an unknown region or a symbolism for a corrupted human’s soul and mind, it provides the reader with a general idea of what he’s about to encounter. For me, it seemed at first like a simple story about colonialism written in a plain narrative. The error! The error! Conrad is truly a master of prose and he’s often regarded as a venturer in the modernist wave. It may be true, if we think of such a literary movement as something related to Proust or Woolf or Joyce, who wrote their masterpieces based on a fluent stream of consciousness that emerges from a simple object or idea. Thus Conrad introduces the reader to Marlow who relates a story of his days of youth to his mates — a story which is basically the whole tale. Furthermore, just like the modernists aforementioned, Marlow’s descriptions of the scenarios, his thoughts and reactions to the events that shape the plot are very insightful; the author’s label, nevertheless, rests in the sombre yet alluring way in which all of this is written. The outcome: a skilful, contrasting blend of a portrayal of the exotic external and the shadowy internal. (And I’ve come to think the sun and the shadows play an important symbolism in this tale.)

“… No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life–sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence — that which makes its truth, its meaning — its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone… .”
— Heart of Darkness

Overall, Marlow’s anecdote is about him joining, out of his aunt’s influences, an ivory trading company in Africa and the dark affairs that occurred to him therein. So from the moment the whole process begins with Marlow being examined by a doctor and the latter asks him  ‘Ever any madness in your family?’, you get involved in an increasing tension and suspense that won’t decrease until the ambiguos climax of the story which is marked my the famous words ‘The horror! The horror!’ And even afterwards, in Marlow’s last meeting, there’s something melancholy yet gloomy and uneasy about it.

“Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets.”
— Heart of Darkness

Most of the psychological thrill in the story is aroused because of the second main character: a certain, enigmatic Kurtz. From the moment he arrives, Marlow’s told about this personage’s grandeur and his sound methods, to the extent that all the hubbub about him makes Marlow form an a priori image of him so that Kurtz goes from a name, to an image, to a place (that is the station where he dwelled), to an ideal, and lastly, to the personification of the man behind all of it.

Some may not be fond of Conrad’s way of portraying all of this, specially when Marlow’s, and actually all white characters’ ways are somewhat tinted with white supremacy. However, as the story moves forward, and specially when Kurtz finally enters the scene, the writer’s viewpoints become clearer. In my opinion, Kurtz fall is a fascinating depiction of what would happen — nay, what happens, for this did happen to Conrad himself — what happens when Man loses what he knows as civility, clearing the way for his most concealed passions and all those feelings he casts away out of social norms. For some, this timeout of sorts, this chance to be away from their routines and get to know a new culture, it could be a chance for introspection, to focus on one’s mind, like it is done while meditating. However, Kurtz reaches his blackest shade: his heart of darkness. Thus he begins to gain power amongst the natives, but as this happens his greed grows too, so he begins to abuse of his authority towards them, who now see him as some kind of deity.

“Better his cry—much better. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory!”
— Heart of Darkness.

Lastly, when Marlow returns to civilisation, everything seems to him so dull compared with the passion, the rage and perhaps the freedom he witnessed in Africa, which helped me understand Conrad’s stand towards colonialism, civilisation, and most importantly, humanity.

“I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew.”
— Heart of Darkness

The copy I read also includes three more tales: An Outpost of Progress, Karain: A Memory and Youth: A Narrative. They were a superb introduction but I don’t think any of them was as magnificent as Heart of Darkness, in spite of their own greatness. They have many points in common, specially Youth, and all of them are written flawlessly and the feeling of uneasiness and horror(!) is well preserved, but Heart of Darkness was certainly the grand finale for this book, and, hands down, one of the best tales I’ve ever read.

“A man may destroy everything within himself, love and hate an belief, and even doubt; but as long as he clings to life, he cannot destroy fear: the fear, subtle, indestructible, and terrible, that pervades his being; that tinges his thoughts; that lurks in his heart; that watches on his lips the struggle of his last breath.”
— An Outpost of Progress

Review: ‘Metamorphoses’ by Ovid

116503Metamorphoses is an epic poem written by Latin poet Publius Ovidius Naso, also known as merely Ovid. It’s compounded by fifteen books that narrates this author’s perspective of the world, from the Creation of it to his days in the Roman Empire through a recollection of fantastic myths about transformation, either out of prayer or punishment, but always by divine intervention. It is important, however, to take into account that often, when Ovid refers to these deities, throughout his epic verses, he’s actually making allegories about the Roman rulers. He depicted the deeds of those who had power over those who weren’t through a transference towards the pagan myths that were very well known in Rome. He basically conveyed how that great nation worked in former and current days, in which peace just began to flourish.

Personally, when I read Homer or Virgil, I’m astounded by their works, but I never felt as connected with them as I feel with Ovid’s magnum opus. I would say that this is due to the fact that I do not relate to metaphors on homecoming, war or pagan rites; but ultimately Ovid does the same: he used the art of literature to denounce and to enhance life. However, for me, Ovid’s subjects span several fields and issues that still concern us these days. Trust me when I say one will hardly ever read a better written poem that includes rape, abuse of power, injustice and stalking in perfectly constructed verses. But do not think Ovid’s only goal was to narrate deviousness and how to get away with it: he shows the sorrowful aftermath. See for instance how many occurrences of suicide happen in this collection of myths out of heartbreaks, the death of a beloved or after divine punishment.

There are several humorous episodes all along the book, but there are also others that are quite touching (at least for me). I remember Narcissus’ for example, whom I used to think of as a despotic and egotistic being, but who’s actually rather innocent and somewhat pure. There is also Hermaphroditus and how after Salmacis’ rejection, intend of rape and caprice lost his virility by union to the latter. Or Daphne, who to after being stalked by Apollo, prays for her beauty, cause of her sorrows, to go away, being thus transformed into a laurel tree. We find also Iphis who was born a girl but it’s treated as a boy, her sexuality concealed, just because her father threatened her mother to kill the newborn if it wasn’t a boy. Iphis then falls in love with a woman who intends to marry, but she suffers because secretly finds herself amidst a sorrowful trial due to the claims of lesbianism as something unnatural. However, after divine intervention, she’s finally turned into a man, happily married. And see Caenis too (another one of my personal favourite myths), who is raped by Poseidon and as a reward is granted a wish. So she wishes for her sex to change, being thus turned into Caeneus who would later be mocked at in fight against a centaur because of his change of sex: people believed his strength would be rather null because of his womanly origins. So my point is that Metamorphoses is filled with contemporary issues, specially those concerning gender identity. We often find news about women harassed by men, the latter claiming to be victims of the former’s ‘provocative’ beauty, like Daphne thought of herself. We find men or women coping with gender dysphoria who have to live through it out of fear of rejection or sometimes death, like Iphis. Little did the author of this book think about his work outliving people’s incomprehension about human nature being out of humanity’s hands.

However, the myths mentioned above are only a few: the diversity found in the book is really vast. Ovid made an outstanding job with his epic poem recounting human nature and how it can be transformed. According to him, we all change; we are like a river that never stays the same. He closes with a flourish in Metamorphoses’ final book that tells the teachings of Pythagoras as a treatise on the art of peace. As stated by him, there’s no reason why people should feast in the death of another being. He denounces the pagan practices that pointlessly take an innocent life for a sin that they didn’t commit. He, overall, teaches the reader how precious life — any life — is.

“Our bodies too, are always incessantly changing,
and what we were, or are, is not what we will be
tomorrow…”

Even before Book XV I knew this was, without question, one of my favourite books. But after the book in question, I think this is one of the books I’ll try to keep rereading for the rest of my days to remind mysel that change is normal, that life, regardless of its form, matters; and this will, hopefully, stick to my mind for a while.

Review: ‘The Waves’ by Virginia Woolf

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“Things have dropped from me. I have outlived certain desires; I have lost friends, some by death […] others through sheer inability to cross the street. I am not so gifted as at one time seemed likely. Certain things lie beyond my scope. I shall never understand the harder problems of philosophy.”

I opened the book, hoping to find a distracting and entertaining novel that could take me into oblivion and make me forget what I’ve been through lately. It began in a very particular prose — a literary experiment perhaps. It’s a day that begins with the sun and the birds and the trees and the waves — everything starting off. It’s a very long day that passes unaware of its way through time. It’s life what begins. So I want to keep reading and get lost, to blend into the pages whose sound as they turn is as the very waves’. But I’m rather found in so alluring a prose that my whole persona begins to unfold. Thus, my life, sown in the soil of memory and watered by Woolf’s lovely words, flowers.

“I do not know myself sometimes, or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me what I am.”

This is the kind of writer who knows how our minds, our hearts and our souls work: she knows what being a human is like. I feel it’s impossible to express what it made me feel, specially since I’m not good with words; so perhaps only through osmosis I could do so. It’s hard for me to describe something I don’t even have a name for. Not even in a phrase notepad like Bernard’s, filled with logs from a lifetime, I would find the exact term. But I remember it made me feel like the time I saw Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which I’ve been trying to recommend to almost everyone I’ve come across; unsuccessfully, for every time I try to articulate something concerning it, I fall mute. Then I try to recall some of its quotes. “The nuns thought us there were two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace.” Why, that’s pretty much like The Waves. Virginia, however, seems to make her own way in-between.

These, Bernard, Neville, Louis, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda, are true human beings: craving for a soulmate; loving, raging; feeling passionate, cast away, desperate, solitary, jealous. I’m them and they are me. They turn my insight towards my own self, whom I had long ago forgotten, since I, like Bernard, focused of changing and adapting my being according to whomsoever approached my interpersonal space, like a chameleon that needs to camouflage in order to survive. Percival, on the other hand, is the outward insight. He’s the fictional incarnation of all this year’s sorrows. He’s the friend I lost, for whom I grieved and wept and sobbed and ached. But he’s also the friends I lost to pride; who now won’t talk to me because I decided to dwell in isolation instead of reaching out for help. He’s S. whom I met and whom I fell in love with: a one-way toxic love — and yet he’s also the brightness kindling my soul when I see him. Percival is the beautiful memories of my dearest friend who passed away. He is, overall, the outward sensations that weaken me and make me feel vulnerable, anxious and desiring — and nonetheless,  sentient and somewhat enthusiastic — what, therefore, gives my consciousness the awareness of existence.

“I condemn you. Yet my heart yearns towards you. I would go with you through the fires of death. Yet am happiest alone.”

I’m all of them and they are me. We play along, just in different scenarios. Yet I feel I have a special connection with Neville. It pained me what pained him, and so many remembrances awake in my mind, suddenly, as a rush as I read his woes. It’s about Neville and Percival, then the person he compares to Percival after the latter’s gone. I try to shout out and explain how much attached I feel to this particular part of the story. I do so when I meet with a friend. “You are not S.”, I thought, as Neville would have said. “Even though both of your names ressemble, you are not S. Both are, however, miscreants towards me; specially as my love for you grows larger and larger. Your faces look alike each other with those feline eyes that captivated me and still turn my mouth to stone, like Medusa, every time I try to utter a caring word, perhaps a poem by T. S. Eliot. But you are not S. You are not as learned as him. You don’t understand what I talk about when I read aloud from The Waves and say that “the poem is only your voice speaking.” But you listen to me and will try to understand my twisted character anyway. And yet, in foolish tantrum I’ll still crave for S.” It was this name I try to hide — S. — what had been ringing in my mind all day in a solo. But now Virginia comes and accompanies it with a phrase — in both senses of the word: wordily and musically. She’s playing her own String Quartet.

“He will forget me. He will leave my letters lying about among guns and dogs unanswered. I shall send him poems and he will reply with a picture post card. But it is for that that I love him. I shall propose meeting—under a clock, by some Cross; and shall wait, and he will not come. It is for that that I love him. Oblivious, almost entirely ignorant, he will pass from my life. And I shall pass, incredible as it seems, into other lives; this is only an escapade perhaps, a prelude only.”

After the loss I experienced I prayed and cried, in an incessant effort to put myself to sleep, to forget and not to think. “Take me, Lord, somewhere nice. Blow me away like the wind in The birth of Venus.” Always looking for an answer to enlighten me. And even though I haven’t found it yet, The Waves by Virginia Woolf was for me an embrace in this questioning and this search for meaning. I felt its words lit a fire within me and warm my soul and my mind. I could swear I tasted them as I read every night and fell in a soothing somnolence — not the kind that makes one feel tired, but rather the one that acts as a motherly and sweet lullaby. For how long I’ve been trying to pour my heart out in conversations in which I’d let my mouth run like a fool, getting no more answer than a condescending empathy that only made me feel as remote as Rhoda or as full of hatred as Susan. Then I prayed again, but this time I thanked God for The Waves, for Virginia Woolf, for the share of sorrow, for literature.

 “Come, pain, feed on me. Bury your fangs in my flesh. Tear me asunder. I sob, I sob.”

Film Review: ‘Mil nubes de paz cercan el cielo. Amor, jamás acabarás de ser amor’

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“A thousand clouds of love fence the sky. Love, your being love will never end”, is a Mexican film directed by Julián Hernández that I have watched three times in my life. The first two times I did I was very young and I liked it very much indeed, but I couldn’t fully understand Julián’s perspective for his film. My mistake was, perhaps, that I thought it was merely about homosexual love, but it goes beyond that: it’s about the perils of it, regardless of any sexual orientation, and the despair it can drag you into.

We are introduced to Gerardo, a young gay man who lives in Mexico city, who spends his time wandering around his neighbourhood and cruising with some guys he meets, sometimes at the pool bar he works at, sometimes in the street. However, cruising, for must of the gay men he meets, it just means sexual interaction and nothing more; while for Gerardo, on the other hand, it seems to mean attachment: a chance to find someone who cares about him. Some of this men actually pay him for having sex, something that only enrages the young man even more. So one day he meets a guy whom he falls in love with, starts dating but suddenly this mysterious guy disappears, leaving only a letter in which he claims he’s afraid he might hurt Gerardo if their affair keeps going. Suffering a tremendous heartbreak after this, and having no address or any phone number where he can find his lover, he begins to wander more and more, looking for him until he gradually starts looking for ways to fill the void the man left — that usually means ways to slowly destroy one self.

In his wanderings, Gerardo meets several people — from family to total strangers. His mother reproaches him for leaving school and his family just to be an independent man who hasn’t settled yet. His sister supports him and feels compassionate towards him. She, being pregnant, talks to her brother about her plans for her baby and how she would like him to be learned and wealthy. For Gerardo, however, this doesn’t seem to matter. When his mother gives him money (as well as the men he has sex with do), he rejects it, telling her that’s not what he needs. He looks in men for love and they give him money; he looks for his mother for love and she does the same. It must be tiresome at some point.

Then he meets a woman whose lover also left (showing that not only homosexual relationships are base), and she describes her despair so heartrendingly, who says he will eventually forget his heartbreaker:

“Don’t worry. Nothing lasts: neither happiness nor sorrow. Nay, not even life lasts long. One day you’ll wake up and you won’t remember him… I don’t want to forget though: I want to remember everything; every minute, every second of it, forever.”

Nonetheless we’re shown afterwards how she hasn’t given up and, furthermore, begins to give herself up to hysteria. And there’s also a man Gerardo meets, who says the main point is not to be lost in hatred, that the main thing is to look above, up to Heaven, for we are nothing but God’s the King of kings.

So in his quests for his lover, Gerardo runs into people who hurt him, who reject him, who tell him to settle once and for all, who feel empathy for him, but after all, those kind of affairs end up destroying, or at least changing something within us. Like in the last photograms, we may keep walking, then stumble, then try to go on and finally fall.

The style is beautiful and insightful, close to what consciousness works; the acting is worth watching and the few pieces of music in it are quite memorable. Beyond the fact that I somehow saw myself in some of Gerardo’s scenes, I think this is an utterly underrated film that gives me hope for Mexican cinema.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through to get to be with you.”

Review: ‘Faust’ by Goethe

14706Faust by Goethe was the very first book (apart from textbooks, of course) I ever put my hands on. It was assigned to me when I was in middle school for my Spanish class. I know it’s a German play, but the teacher was encouraging us to read by asking the whole classroom to donate a book for the course, put it in a box with the others and then randomly pick up one of them each month — now that I think of it, the teacher should have payed more attention to the books we brought, since I don’t think Faust was appropriate for a twelve-year-old. I chose, however, this play by Goethe, having no idea what it was about. And, well, I remained so for twelve years more, since I never read more than ten pages perhaps, until four days ago that I finally got a copy of it. Unlike many readers I know, I didn’t acquire my taste for literature and reading from an early age; I didn’t grew up reading stories and I didn’t ever feel like I was immersed in a magic world of fantastic creatures and rainbows — what some people claim literature is about. Instead, I got interested in such delightful activities for two main reasons. One of them was that I was a Radiohead fan in high school and there’s this song based on Orwell’s 1984, but I was told that it was based on Animal Farm (false), so I thought it would be a good idea to read it. The other reason is that by this same time I took a philosophy course and I remember I was so amazed by Plato’s allegory of the cave that I finally decided I wanted to know more about life, and I thought books had the answers of the many questions I asked myself and everything I wanted to know; that within their pages I was going to find the answer. Now that I’ve read a little bit more, I’ve come to realize that literature is such a passionate and sublime art indeed, but it hardly provides answers and it actually makes you question more and more — which is great, don’t get me wrong, for it makes you try harder to think for yourself — but I’d say one answer makes two more questions. In this everlasting search for meaning I found myself in Dr. Heinrich Faust, the main character in this poetic play. Even though, unlike him, I haven’t studied philosophy, medicine and theology with ardent zeal, I do feel like a wretched fool. I think Goethe’s point was to make an emphasis in this lack of something in human understanding and that no matter how hard we try there’ll be always something greater than us that we won’t be able to understand with our minds designed for only three dimensions, like Ivan Karamazov said. It’s important to take into consideration the fact that Goethe did believe in God, that for him, God was this higher being that begot mankind; but he was not in favor of the way the Church was organized; and both, believes and disbelieves are brought up to discussion throughout the whole play. He believed, for instance, that God made the Universe perfect and so did the Angels believed; but that’s when Mephistopheles, the fallen angel, enters the scene, asking for permission to say a word. He says the Universe isn’t perfect since Man still feels miserable. Then he makes a wager with God upon Faust’s soul, with arguments based on the book of Job, that is, that if Faust’s life is changed by blow after blow of tragedy, he would stop being God’s faithful son, though unlike the Biblical character, who at the end realises about God’s highness, in this play Faust seems to be more and more miserable. Also, there’s the fact that in Job the fallen angel didn’t exactly hang out with him, like Mephisto did with Faust. Thus, when the man’s life comes to an end, he on whose side Faust is, will keep his soul. Therefore, there are many converging points in both books, but they differ from each other.

So Faust is a very learned man who has studied everything that ever existed, and yet he still feels he’s missing something about existence, something that isn’t written down in those books and that perhaps cannot be put to words. He even struggles while trying to translate the word logos in the Gospel of Luke: “In the beginning was the Word”. He wonders whether it was the deed instead of the word, because he feels that words, literacy, do not lit his soul the way perhaps a passionate deed would. He then expresses the words that have become famous because of their depth and their importance in this work: ‘Two souls, alas, dwell in my breast, each seeks to rule without the other.’ Thus, he begins to look beyond theories and tries something new: magic and alchemy. I don’t want to get into specific details about the plot,  but there’s a point when he summons the Earth Spirit, something that according to some sources, was Goethe’s own contribution to his supernatural play, being no former record of such a spirit either in Christianity or in pagan mythology — I think for Goethe, the Earth Spirit represented an instance of God, like when Moses saw the brush burned in fire. And it’s the Spirit who lowers this learned man to his human condition, making him aware of his delimited understanding. Faust, however, persists and trying to prove his godliness, he tries to commit suicide, when suddenly the the church bells ring and an angelic choir from above is heard, announcing Christ’s resurrection. Later in the play, Faust finds a lost poodle and takes it home, when suddenly the animal reshapes into Mephistopheles, who unlike the Earth Spirit, makes the doctor believe he can achieve anything if he stays with him and serves him when his soul leaves his body; to which Faust answers that little does he care for the afterlife when all he wants is to actually feel he’s living this life. The agreement is settled with blood.

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Faust and the Earth Spirit. Illustration by Goethe himself.

Gray, my friend, is every theory,
and green alone life’s golden tree.

Then at a witch’s place, Faust sees a beautiful woman in the mirror and he asks Mephisto to grant him the wish of possessing so beautiful a woman and after some mumbo-jumbo by the witch, he takes a potion of sorts to achieve his passionate goals. Then he meets Gretchen, also known as Margaret, and that’s what Faust’s misery gets worse — and even worse for Gretchen, who before meeting Faust and his horrid companion was such a pure creature that at first Mephisto does not think he can get her. Eventually Gretchen is persuaded by Faust enchantments — of course, gotten by such a supernatural aid — but as her passion towards Faust increases, misfortune falls upon her family, until the final disgrace comes, before which Faust is ushered by Mephisto to the  Walpurus Night: an exotic event hosted by witches and having paganism as entertainment — I guess it’s like the Super Bowl for witches. Later, we find out that during this exotic and frightful evening, Gretchen lost her mind after his brother, murder by Faust’s evil companion, called her a whore in his last adieu, so she drowns her baby, is taken to prison and given a death sentence. Faust blames Mephistopheles for distracting him at the Walpurus Night instead of taking him to save Gretchen. This is when I realised Goethe used Mephisto to point out the flaws of our minds, sometimes in earnest, sometimes in jest, like people’s tendency to blame external, sometimes supernatural causes for their mistakes. Gretchen’s given the chance to scape prison helped by her lover and his friend, but instead of going evil ways, she chooses what would seem as tragedy and condemnation to some, like Mephistopheles, but under the gaze of the Heavenly, she’s saved, leaving an open door for Faust to go the same way and make the right decision. I’m afraid Goethe wrote the second part until the last year of his life. The redirection of Margarete’s path was perhaps inevitable once she entered Faust’s toxic influence, but in the end she had the chance to choose either condemnation or salvation, and perhaps that’s Goethe’s main point: to remark virtue through iniquity. It works similarly, perhaps, as Milton did in his Paradise Lost. As a matter of fact, like the latter took the epic poems as notary influence, Shakespeare had the same kind of impact with the author of Faust — nonetheless, his gift and his technique stand on their own.

This is a must-read classic and it is one of those books I call a literary delight. But all the subjects I’ve tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to expose in this review are precisely the reasons why I don’t think Faust is a good choice for a twelve-year-old beginner. Not because of its difficulty, but I think as one grows older one has a better chance of appreciating Goethe’s perfectly constructed verses, of having a different perspective upon all the sorrowful, theological, obscure and erotic points by him exposed. It’s frightening yet beautiful; it’s heavenly yet humane; it’s a play and a poem. I’m not as learned as Doctor Faust, but I think I found in reading this book the kind of fervor he was looking for.

I awake with horror in the morning,
and bitter tears well up in me
when I must face each day that in its course
cannot fulfill a single wish, not one!

24

Today’s my birthday and I feel sad. Remembrances of past years come to my mind — like Goethe wrote in Faust: 

What I possess appears far in the distance,
and what is past has turned into reality.

As darkness’s veil falls, as noise grows dim, I perceive the reverberation of laughter, of noisy music of which I’m not fond anymore, of opening bottles of cheap booze and the click of the lighter as I lit a cigarette; of a joke — maybe two — by a friend of whom I haven’t heard in a while. It’s all here,  in the solitude of my room — in a familiarity that undoes the boundaries of remoteness — and if I close my eyes, I’d swear I can even see it all as a flash passing through my inner eye: clearer than photographs, faster than the fall of a tear, and even faster than the time it took for all of it to disappear in the gallows of time. Then, even in this illusion, I yearn once more for privacy and all of a sudden everything flushes leaving by trace a melancholy echo. Wish is granted and here I am, isolated; and the more I’m used to it, the more I want. Now satisfied I reflect upon memories and how they are only there either to nourish or to lacerate in an ever-spinning wheel of fortune.

I close my eyes once more, this time not to reminisce about what’s gone, but rather about what’s not done. I think of utter possibilities in different scenarios. I think of myself, hand in hand with S., in the beach — no, I hate the beach — in a wintry landscape, maybe Russia — S. likes Russia too. I lay my head in a warm chest and I feel the right side of my body rubbed against a long-forgotten fabric. What is it? For a moment I think my mind is so powerful as to create something that hasn’t touched its limits; then I remember it’s the kind of fabric in which my mother used to warm me up as a little child when I fell asleep with my clothes on. This is why I feel so sheltered with my head resting on S.’s head and my body covered in a motherly texture. Such is the human mind: dull to understand what has already been, yet bright enough to make up temporary daydream bunkers cemented on non-existent grounds; weak enough to inflict self-harm, yet tenacious as a maverick.

Years agonise and it feels like drowning in the sands of life’s hourglass. No more trying to convince myself I can be reborn, for this one date of the year will come and tell me otherwise. “It’s all about today”, they say. “Well, today’s my birthday and I feel sad.”

Review: ‘Against Sainte-Beuve’ by Marcel Proust

Contre Sainte-Beuve is an essayistic-narrative project by Marcel Proust, author of À la recherche tu temps perdu, written about one year before his magnum opus began to take shape. In fact, this is the key that took Marcel to the development of his famous work on many vanguardist topics such as memory, time and, well, the human mind in general, as well as other controversial topics such as homosexuality. The edition I read was a Spanish edition, in which it’s stated that there’s no final text for this project; it rather consists in the compilation of the sketches written by Proust, along with many of his correspondences. The work begins with Marcel speaking about the souvenirs d’une matinée (the subtitle often given to this work), about his sleeping habits, starting off with a paragraph that resembles so much the famous opening lines in Du côté de chez Swann. Then there’s an event that occurs at the second half of ISOLT, and it’s the publication of his article in Le Figaro. This leads Marcel to a conversation between him and his mother (remember she was the one who brought him the newspaper) in which they begin discussing our narrator’s talent for literature and after being praised by his mother, he tells her about some ideas he’s been sketching in his mind for a while: an essay against Sainte-Beuve’s method. Like the madeleine — the pastry of that french writer, whose pleasing taste brought joy into the world of literature — this article is what makes the whole stream of consciousness emerge. The importance given to the attachment of any object, as well as the one given to hearsay, remains constant throughout the book — I think he has made that clear in his whole literary legacy. For example, the author says how a renown connoisseur may feel attached to certain oeuvre that is not necessarily a masterpiece, but, for him, that work might have some affective meaning which is greater than any critic’s opinion.

For Proust, there’s only a secondary place for intelligence, being past impressions what has a greater weight in a writer’s work — maybe in anyone’s work, regardless of their vocation. Even though intelligence is the means to translate those evocations, it’s our memory the main carrier, the ambassadress between the world we perceive and the spectral world of our experiences, always waiting for their awakening to be restored in life. All these are theories posed by Proust, of course. So its whilst speaking of this when the author brings the madeleine up — not as significant as it would later be though, but not less beautifully described. Like this episode, already familiar for the reader who has already read (even partially) ISOLT, there are many others that are slightly different — even some inconsistencies like the ever-changing Françoise’s name — but it’s actually this what makes the book an enriching reading since one can appreciate how those magnificent ideas written in his masterpiece took shape. I would think of this as In search of lost time: Volume Zero. Maybe as the aperitif before the great dinner-party that closes with a flourish in Finding time again: the disclosure for all the subjects at some point embraced. For me, it was marvellous to read how Proust had everything perfectly planned and how he developed it all in such a memorable way.

According to Sainte-Beuve, however, in order to fully understand a writer’s work one would have to know in detail the author’s private life, the former being a reflection of the latter. Why, that’s what Proust is against. For him, acquaintance doesn’t mean comprehension: there’s a mask upon the writer while creating, such that not even their closest friends can unveil it. I absolutely agree with Proust here. I am no artist, and I never was — far from it, I’m pretty sure — but there was a time when I used to make music and when I did it, I felt like a different self: someone truer speaking from profound regions of my soul; and when my friends listened to the lyrics I wrote, they didn’t see me, the one they knew, which might have made them reflect on how little they knew me. So maybe Sainte-Beuve’s method works as a support, but what’s higher in a writer, nay, in any one, is their intimacy as individuals rather than the one we acquire as society; it’s the closeness with night and silence what releases our souls — something like Christ’s motion for prayer:

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
—Matthew 6:6 (KJV)

But enclosing a writer in a method is to reduce him to a soulless automaton.

Let’s remember Elstir and Bergotte in ISOLT and how the narrator’s impressions upon them changed the more he saw them interact in society. However, there was something within him that couldn’t believe it was them who created some of the great pieces he was fond of. Proust writes about Baudelaire and his relationship with Sainte-Beueve and I couldn’t believe the author of such somber and raging verses was so humble and meek, that he who was exhaled by his family rejection was so concerned about being part of the Académie; but that makes a great example out of how the way the writer behaves says so little about what he pours through his pen. Proust thinks of our souls as Heaven in Catholic Theology: composed by many regions and the higher one is the one whence the creative process comes from.

Books are the work of solitude and the offspring of silence.

Last but not least, I would like to say some words about something that comes almost to the end of the book and it’s a chapter called The damned race. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read; it’s an apology for homosexuality. We know Proust waited until Volume IV: Sodom and Gomorrah to expatiate on this subject and then keep going till the end of the series. Well, this chapter condensed the sorrows of his inverts, the place they take in the world. It is saddening that this was written many years ago and even though there have been several improvements, the same kind of rejection remains — by those who are not damned and even those who are but disrespect the “less masculine”. But Proust writes all this so beautifully that whenever someone wants to understand homosexuality I’d recommend this specific chapter for them to know that it’s not all about flamboyance and that it is definitely not a choice — who would like to be through the kind of sorrows described in it?

[A]ffectionate beings excluded from friendship, because their friends might suspect something more than friendship, when they only feel a pure friendship for them, and they would not understand if they confided them something else […] Homosexuality is never talked about more than before a homosexual, until the ineluctable day in which sooner or later he’ll be devoured […], forced to cover his feelings, to modify his words, to feminize his sentences, to excuse himself before his acquaintances, to justify his rages, more uncomfortable because of the interior need and the imperious order of his vice than because of the social need of not letting his likings betray him.

Balzac said he would like to achieve success either by La comédie humaine or by getting married. Maybe Proust did not success in a happy-ending-wedding (perhaps he didn’t even want it), being himself part of that lonely race, but he did gain success by writing such an outstanding marvel drafted in this project as an essay against Sainte-Bueve. And it’s funny that actually Proust spared us some effort in order to link his life and his work: he had already portrayed the former in the vast landscape of the latter.

But that night, while we were talking about some trifles, I told her that, contrary to what I hitherto believed, recent scientific discoveries and the most advanced philosophical researches cast materialism down, that they considered death was something merely ostensible, that souls were immortal and some day they reunited…

Names

I hear my name being called. I think of someone else; I wait for an outsider to answer back. Alfonso — that’s who I am, I think. A call, back from the dead; a part of me that I had already buried: a set of former ideas and experiences, gone by time, no longer existing, and now summoned by the gong of identity. A call that sets the lights out and which projects my memories before my very eyes. And even though I’m just a viewer, the rest of my senses regain life: odours, tastes, textures, sounds. The genie of things past is now released and laughs and laughs in a symphony that finally concludes in sorrow.

Alfonso — who is that again? It’s a name I’m attached to, no matter what. But that’s not me anymore; it’s no longer associated with me; it’s only linked to what I had lived under its disguising identity, to what it has been through. I only wish I could erase the grieving part in this canvas; but if I do, I would have to end up erasing everything. No ideas, just blank thoughts. No smiles nor tears, just a sigh. Not even resignation, just life — flowing. Sometimes life does not go on — and it doesn’t really have to: it’s about believing names are no more than white noise, and letting one’s inert body be dragged throughout the flux of life.

Koka: A Preamble.

Koka \ko ka\ (origin from Spanish Coca from Mispronounced English Kokis from English Cookies) is the name of one of the most fantastic dogs you’ll ever hear or read about: brown mongrel dog —I’m pretty sure of her unawareness of it, though more like a poodle—; an ever-wagging tail; honey-colored eyes, forever bright; slightly chubby, in a very endearing way; and a chocolate-like cold nose. She is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened to me. Well, the mere fact of being a dog is outstanding: being playful all the time, and eating without any loss of beauty; being around all the time: when needed and when she was not… no, wait, she was actually always needed. Yes: she was. Indeed, I am now denyingly forced to speak in past tense since she passed away this thursday: we, my parents and I had to put her to sleep. She had this heart condition, dilated cardiomyopathy, in which the heart grows, pumping more blood to the lungs; so this excess of blood turns into some watery liquid, not allowing the dog to breathe correctly. She was diagnosed with it about two months ago, and even though we and the vet were pretty optimistic about her, regardless of the fact that it was impossible for the heart to return to its normal size, that the condition could be controlled and give her a high-quality life, since the excess pf blood pumping and the watery lungs could be slowed down. For her, nevertheless, the whole process went utterly quickly and her lungs started to be filled with water so fast it was too late. On tuesday she seemed to be getting better, and she even wanted to eat more (she began to experience loss of appetite), so I gave her peanut butter and she seemed to be quite happy. She spent the evening with my parents and the night with me. At 2:00 a.m. she began to be quite restless and gasp. I gave her some water, but the restlessness didn’t cease. The coughing began. The fever began and got worse throughout the night. In the morning she got better, but then she went back to that terrifying state. The same thing happened the next night (wednesday’s): her fever didn’t go and it was harder for her to breathe so she didn’t sleep at all. On thursday, the horrid day, she was so weak because she hadn’t sleep and she hardly ate. Breathing was harder and harder to the point that it almost looked painful. The vet said her lungs were now filled with water and he didn’t want to make any risky procedures because of her weakness. We took the decision: the hardest one can ever make, if you ask me.

My father said we should take it as a voyage of hers to France (since she was a mongrel french poodle). We said goodbye. I kissed her nose and her head and said many things to her. I hold her; I hugged her. My mother took her to the vet for her last sleep. She said she even sighed, as if thanking her for giving her, at least, the chance to rest…

I’ve never been fond of going out, but ever since my bereaving I’ve been trying to stay away from home, for everything reminds me of her: every single corner, every single object in the house has a memory concerning my dearest friend. So I go out, and sometimes I try to stay busy, even doing the most simplistic things, in furious, rushing compulses, until others’ joy begins to seem idiotic and life doesn’t seem like life itself, but something obscure and false, like a devastating bubble in which time does not pass. Then I think I might be wrong, since life’s what brought into this world such a beautiful earthly angel, a reward that kept me sane for twelve years. What am I going to do now? The question remains. How am I supposed to get better now? The question’s out there, ever-looking, like a flying bird on a sunset. Why did this have to happen anyway? A tempting way to the answer disguises me as Orpheus and ushers me to the blissful Paradise in which she must be resting. Once there, she shall speak up for me so I can at least visit her sometimes.

My mother gave me a sleeping pill so I could stop crying so my life won’t go down. Too late for that, mother. Now I even think of my lifetime divided by what I did before Koka was gone and what I’ll do now that she is. And regardless of what people say, I’ve been crying since last thursday —sometimes aloud, sometimes silently. My aunt said once that tears are flowers we plant for our beloved angels in Heaven. Well, I’m pretty sure, my little Koka’s got a whole Eden up there. However, I wanted to do something here for her, something that could remain through time, something that immortalised her. Music was my first idea, but I was completely blocked and I recently lost the software I used to use. Literature was therefore my next thought. I do not think though, that I’m making literature: I’m destroying it; but I do not care: this is my journal for her, on which I intend to write now and then.

I hope her angel-form comes down from time to time and visit me while I’m alone in my room and spend some time with me, like she used to do. The spot where she used to eat looks so empty and desolate it resembles my own heart. A soft wind flows through the house, reminding me how empty it is. Mornings are so very sorrowful, since no one wakes me anymore with her wagging tail and her cold nose on my cheek. The house itself looks so shattering, starving, embracing us with memories that gain strength throughout the day just to release their power at night and catch us, me and my mother, weeping in the kitchen, while the echo of her barks still resound in the whole house, like in an empty stomach that might never be satisfied again.