Elena Cue

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Author: Maira Herrero, 
MA in Philosophy.

Maira

 

 

 

 

   Ingeborg Bachmann  

 

"The most intelligent and most important poet our country has produced this century has died, in hospital in Rome, as a result of the burns she suffered, apparently, at home in her bath according to the Italian authorities' investigations. I have travelled with her and during our travels, she shared many of her philosophical opinions as well as her concerns about the way the world was heading and about the course of history, both of which frightened her throughout her whole life." With these words, Thomas Bernhard summed up the death of his dear friend, Ingeborg Bachmann.

Bachmann died on the 5th May 1973 of burns sustained during a fire at her house in Rome. She had chosen to settle there definitively in 1969 for its Southern European warmth and sunlight. She was known to drink and use drugs and fire was a recurring metaphor in much of her writing. Her friends were not altogether surprised at this tragic ending to an eventful life full of successes, suffering and sadness. She was 47.

 

Philosophy, literature and language make up the poetic and narrative work  of this highly intelligent, academically accomplished, elegant and tremendously attractive Austrian, born in 1926 in Klagenfurt, in the Austrian state of Carinthia, near the Slovenian border. The Second World War forced her to abandon her home and embark on a kind of pilgrimage to escape the destruction and barbarity that was ravishing her country. Those events marked her life and her work and would always serve as a literary resource for her to speak of the identity of a world where borders simultaneously make divisions and blur them, leaving in limbo all that she had previously believed in.

 

Her heightened sensitivity to the world enabled her to mould images or reflections in very few words and to move from the grandest ideas to the tiniest of details. Always faithful to her intellectual convictions, she sought out the most authentic form of expression through language. As she herself said: Poetry comes with the words. I seek language in its purest form and reject "worn-out" words to pinpoint the truth. Once again, it is the language that scaffolds the text.

 

 Ingeborg Bachmann 1971 

 

Despite being one of the most important, cult authors of the second half of 20th century Europe, an icon of German literature and the "first lady" of the Group 47 movement, her work has yet to enjoy the renown it deserves in Spain. Three Paths To The Lake is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to get to know this exceptional author who excelled in all the literary genres including poetry, novel, essay. The story forms part of a 1972 book of five stories collectively titled Simultan.

 

It is one of those short stories that can be re-read with renewed pleasure time and time again and, on each occasion, previously unseen meanings are always to be found. In closed, topographic and autobiographical prose, Bachmann's story features the protagonist's annual visit to her elderly father's house. There, the successful photojournalist Elisabeth Matrei comes face to face with "yesterday's world", the routines of simple, small town life and the passing of time, all  within an atmosphere of claustrophobia in which Elisabeth's thoughts become gradually more and more entangled and only ever interrupted by her frustrated attempts to reach the lake by means of some long-since disapperared paths.  Bachmann uses the novel as a search through space and time of her own existence, like a map full of lost references that gradually return to the present. The "I" that used to be, and had disappeared long ago, is brought back and up-close in order to reflect on the role of women in current society as well as others' perceptions of this new status seeminglygranted to the female sex in their struggle for equality.  Love, lovers, family relationships and all that the surname Trotta suggests with regard to Austrian history and literature round off the story in an explicit reference to Josep Roth. 

 

 

 Ingeborg Bachmann y Kurt Saucke1962 

 

Ingeborg Bachmann was deeply committed to engagement with her times and the novel echoes the end of colonialism, referencing The Algerian and Vietnam Wars in an attempt to reach an understanding of the complexities of the world she and we live in. It is also worth mentioning the artist Anselm Kiefer who incorporated many passages from Bachmann's writing into his paintings as a means of drawing attention to the horror of conflict.

 

It is only by dint of having lived her life to the full and being a genius at language that Bachmann was able to condense into such a short novel so many questions about the constant contradictions inherent in our very existence and to perturb us enough not to remain impassive when faced with so much falsehood.

 

 

 Tres Senderos Hacia el Lago Ingeborg Bachmann 



(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- Three Paths To The Lake by Ingeborg Bachmann -                     - Alejandra de Argos -

Author: Maira Herrero, 
MA in Philosophy.

Maira

 

 

 

 

 Archive of Svetlana Alexievich

Photo from the archives of Svetlana Alexievich

 


Svetlana Alexievich (1948, The Ukraine) was last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature on one of the very few occasions it has been awarded for a work of non-fiction or in her native language, Russian. Only Theodor Mommsen, Winston Churchill and Solzhenitsyn have ever been likewise honoured for historical research in prose.

 

 La guerra no tiene rostro de mujer
 
  Front covers of the English and Spanish translations of Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize-winning book

 

It is throughout her book, War’s Unwomanly Face, that the characters’ transcribed voices denounce some of the worst crises of the twentieth century, as experienced by the then Soviet Union: the Second World War, the Afghan conflict, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. Alexievich has invented a new literary genre in which the reader inadvertently comes face to face with gritty truths spoken from the deepest wells of pain in the human soul.

The style of War’s Unwomanly Face is arguably and essentially that of a doctoral thesis documenting the behaviour of Soviet women on and off the battlefield during the Second World War. The book is made up of the not-so-fond reminiscences and short personal stories told to the author by women who risked their lives for their country but were never credited, or even remembered, by history until now. Alexievich remembers how, as a child, she would listen enthralled to the women in her village swap tales about the war. They and their stories had a huge impact on her young mind that only increased over time and led to her wanting to find out more. After moving to Belarus in the late 1960’s to study journalism and forging a highly successful career there, Alexievich embarked on a journey to interview hundreds upon hundreds of women who had served in the Red Army. Those monologues became the initial stages of what would turn out to be a rich and detailed tapestry of testimonials concerning the role and vision of women during this terrible period of time in modern-day history. Women who survived and lived to tell the tale of circumstances so extreme, tragic and painful that it is difficult for us to hear, let alone imagine, them in today’s world. All of these lived experiences, recounted from the most intimate memories of the female protagonists, make up a choral narrative with a unique perspective – what the war to combat a German invasion meant for Russian women at that time and what they understood by patriotism. The author, whilst remaining true to the serious revelations contained in every memory she records, does also grant the reader frequent respite from the severity of her subject matter by the inclusion of seemingly frivolous little anecdotes from the humdrum everyday lives, even during wartime, of otherwise unremarkable human beings. Her prose is concise and without artifice, thereby brilliantly resolving the difficulties inherent in dealing with feelings. It also transmits the author’s empathy with her interviewees who leave us in no doubt as to the veracity of their testimonies and who imbibe the entire book with their palpable strength of will.

 

 World War II Soviet female snipers unknown author
   
World War II female Soviet snipers. Photographer unknown.

 

The publication in 1985 of War’s Unwomanly Face, written two years earlier, coincided with the welcome arrival of the perestroika/glasnost era and was met with spectacular critical acclaim and commercial success. Its 2015 publication in Spain came in the same year it was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This is evidently not, therefore, just another book about war or the barbarity of war in our time. It is, rather, a reflexion on the hopes invested in and frustrated by the events that constitute our recent history. When, in 1979, Lyotard described a crisis facing longer novels versus the proliferation of shorter books whose infinite varieties are unforgiving of them, he could have been describing exactly what Alexievich does on a daily basis, namely: she maintains the individual identity of each of her speakers without compromising their credibility or that of the narrative.
For me to recommend that you read it smacks almost of a dare because, as Franz Kafka once said, this is a book that deserves your attention and one that will strike you down with the aim of an ice-pick, chipping away at the coldness in your heart, mind and very spirit itself.
 

 

 World War II sniper Roza Shanina with her rifle 1944. Photo by A. N. Fridlyanski
  
World War II sniper Roza Shanina with her rifle, 1944. Photo by A. N. Fridlyanski 

 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)      

 

 

- “War’s Unwomanly Face”. Svetlana Alexievich -                     - Alejandra de Argos -

Contributor: Dr. Diego Sánchez Meca,
Lecturer in History of Contemporary Philosophy,
Universidad de Madrid (UNED), Spain

Diego Sanchez Meca small 

 

 

 

 

   nietzsche06b40dcd

 

She got out of her car, knees together, showing off her elegant high-heel shoes, her skirt cut and her printed silk blouse with a cleavage that left the smooth skin of her neck in full view. This image of Isabelle merged with the other images that were still in my memory, jumping around and crashing into one another over and over again, obstructing the truth and pulling me towards that world of memories previously alive, idealized or simply made up. It was getting dark outside and I was about to reach Sils Maria, in the Swiss High Engadin, to take part in a congress on Nietzschean philosophy, together with a high-level international group of experts.

Her weightless, ethereal hair in the wind and her big blue eyes were the hallmarks of this free and modern woman, someone who moves with independence and who knows how to get the most out of life. At the same time, though, she enjoyed an elevated philosophical and intellectual reputation which inspired admiration in students and teachers alike. It’s impossible to reach the levels of understanding of the difficult topics she has written about without some kind of rigorous asceticism, and her academic career was a testament to her courage and self-discipline. Nonetheless, and in contrast to this, she was also well-known for her desire for fun, for her girl-about-town attitude, and for her ability to mix smoothly with the shadows of the night where, together with all the luxury and glamour, one also finds touches of the banal, the frivolous and, yes, the obscure.

Although this wasn’t the first time she was visiting this incredible location in the Swiss Alps, the landscape of the valley and the sublime mountains made an impression on her once again, to the point where she was naming the peaks to me one by one. On the Northern side, Lagrev and Gravasalna, and to the South, Rosatsch, Corvatsch and Chapütschin. And then of course the lakes: the Campfer, Silvaplana and the Sils, its waters shifting between sapphire blue and turquoise. The colours varied between the light green of the meadows at the base, to the darker green of the great woody masses on the sides of the valley, to the grey of the peaks and the white at the very top, the colours morphing from one to another with magical fluidity: within an hour they would go from the joy of the sunny brightness to the severity of the greyish fog and mist. Among that deep silence, one had the impression of witnessing the birth of the world, since neither the grass nor the earth nor the water seemed to have grown old at all.

 

shoulderssswitzerland2

 

Isabelle remembered that during the summers that Nietzsche spent there, between 1881 and 1888, he lived in a rustic lodging that was part of a small group of houses on the valley-side, with balconies full of flowers. After some time, the original village had become a place of luxury for affluent holiday-makers. “Nietzsche”, she would tell me, “would come here to think and to write. He would work in the mornings, take a stroll during the day, and return in the evening with his notebooks full of notes, only to resume working after dinner until well into the night. According to his journals, the strolls he most enjoyed among the many that he took (through the woods, along the shores of the lakes, in the mountains, etc.) were the ones that took him up towards the lookout point, from where one can contemplate the solitary Surlej, lying among the meadows; or even when he went up until he reached the throat of the Fex from where, to the right of Platta, it is possible to view the entire amphitheatre of peaks. How about we go on these strolls ourselves today?”

The congress’ first talk was given by a veteran Italian professor who read out the content of a letter by Nietzsche to his friend Peter Gast from August 1881, in which he wrote, “Here in Sils Maria the most unexpected thoughts strike me. My dear friend! Sometimes I get this strange feeling that I’m one of these machines that explodes. The depth of my emotions makes me shiver and laugh. Sometimes I can’t leave my bedroom simply because my eyes are all red. Why are they so red? Because the previous day, while I was strolling, I had cried too much, not with sadness but with joy. I was singing, I was talking nonsense, I felt full of life again, a feeling I now treasure in myself as others seem to lack it”. It was obvious, the speaker was adding, that Nietzsche needed solitude. He would arrive here full of work projects, only to find his trunks full of books sent to him by his loyal friend Overbeck from Basilea. Here he read Spinoza,and was surprised by the proximity he felt towards him; he dabbled in mechanics, political economy, cosmology, biology and psychology. A great transformation was growing inside of him, and for it to bear fruits he vitally needed solitude. He was fond of saying that he came here to “disappear forever” (der auf ewig Abhandengekommene). But the most important reason was, in fact, that in Sils Maria he could take long strolls and seek out inspiration, because to him — and so he mentions explicitly on more than occasion — his best ideas would come to him when he was climbing the mountain.

 

 sils maria 1889 

 

Another speaker referred to the inspiration that Nietzsche confessed to have had in Sils Maria that led to his more decisive thought, his most enigmatic and difficult. While taking a walk near the huge monolithic block of the Surlej, a vision came to him, making him shiver and write in his journal: “This was written at 6,000 feet above the rest of men, and in the present time.” What had he seen in this ecstasy, and what was this note hiding?”, the speaker was wondering. From what he told us later, in Ecce Homo, in this vision that had divinely exalted his soul, he thought that he had suddenly grasped the law of the worlds, their eternal return, in a kind of Heraclitean or Pythagorean reminiscence. A very old thought, suddenly uncovered from its oldest most forgotten recesses, just glimpsed in a kind of trance far beyond our daily experiences and the limits of our senses. Some have been quick to point out, “This is proof of the beginning of his madness”. Nonetheless, ended the professor, Nietzsche converted this intuition into a liberating thought with the power to transform us all into superhuman beings.

By the time it was Isabelle’s turn to speak, there was already much anticipation in the room. She began somewhat abruptly, raising her head rhythmically throughout her talk, and smiling indifferently at the end of each small pause: “Totalitarianism,” she began, “is the most successful figure of the solemnity of our faith in being… We could say that it is the exacerbation of the profoundly human tendency to compensate for the wants of being with an overdose of being. We don’t just see this in totalitarianism, however. The fullness of being is affirmed and reaffirmed in all official debates on politics, art, culture, religion, etc., also in our democratic societies. We need an idealized, idealist world, perhaps deified and adorned by a native happiness. And for this reason, those who have ironically insisted in the system’s discordant aspects have been expelled from the circle that is being closed with the same lively enthusiasm with which one attempts to exorcize the devil’s laughter. Nietzsche, lover of these avenues, inspired by these heights, suffered this exclusion, and is still being excluded to this day.

She continued developing her argument, referring to an irrepressible fight between things and their meanings, between human beings and themselves, calling it the best definition of reality. “For this reason”, she concluded, “this fight is unleashed, and is always accompanied by the desire for lost, unrecoverable harmony, which is the desire that dominates in that construction of worlds in which the inessential takes on the appearance of the essential, and where a false harmony covers up a reality full of noise, dirt and cruelty. Only when it is transfigured in the beauty of an artistic illusion, wrapped in the dream of a myth and of Apollonian measure, can the absurd and terrible character of existence be contemplated, only then can it seduce one to live it.

The auditorium, now more full of people than in previous talks, showed its satisfaction at the end of the conference with a resounding applause, and the other speakers made complimentary remarks and thought up various questions that Isabelle answered with brilliance and elegance.

“Take me away from here”, she whispered to me, approaching me when the next talk was about to begin. “I need a drink. It’s a matter of life and death”.

We went to a pub and she asked for a large gin and tonic with Citadelle. I complimented her on her success, although I noted that she wasn’t really enjoying it. She seemed indifferent, quickly changed the subject and began pondering the virtues of the botrytis cinerea, a bitter-tasting fungus used to sweeten Santernes wines. Then she added that what she really fancied for dinner were crépinettes scented with Piedmont truffle and ox carpaccio washed down with a good Burgundy or Moselle. And to end the evening tasting a good Krug Millésimé in an ice-cold glass while we gazed at the stars’ reflections on the surface of the lake. “Oh darling!, there’s no place like Paris to live life to the full, there’s no place like Paris to dream of a full life”.

The waiter returned and served her another round, this time pouring blue Bombay Sapphire in a wide glass full of crushed ice, while I stood there looking at her, intrigued by her mystery, an oracle of the occult that I attempted to decipher to sense what it was that she was hiding behind her face, behind her words.

“In love with Nietzsche, perhaps?”, I asked her.

“It’s difficult to be in love and be productive at the same time”, she answered. Her gaze returned towards an undetermined place, she became quiet and after a pause she added:

“To stand out professionally is difficult. The best thing to do to get attention is to say or do extravagant things.”

The only thing separating us was the glass with ice, which was slowly melting and sticking to the slice of lemon. With a sweet, serene gesture and a look from within, she continued: “The best lovers, if they really are in love, are in a rush to end their torment, and they do everything they can to liberate themselves from it. In order for the relationship to last, one should never swear to be in love. What love does not end up telling itself the little totalitarian story of its harmony, rebuilding a past in line with its aspirations, from which are excluded all doubts, all emptiness, all disappointments and infidelities? I think that, because of this, love — and not knowledge — is where human beings sign their most solemn pact with being. A pact which must be inseparable from parody, because there are no loves in which there is no adaptation to being, in which the misunderstood is not the most important person (the illusion of a full alignment with the other, right there with incommunication, tension and discordance), in which the only existing link is not that of jealousy of compassion, and in which the very idea of love is not continually betrayed by its figures. What I like about Nietzsche’s criticism is that it is still as hurtful and intolerable for many because it unmasks the mystifiers who manipulate and decorate this “reality” with fictions and absolute and totalitarian masks. These impostors don’t care about the truth that all authentic faiths always go hand in hand with doubt, and that the important things in life, like love, are never protected from the erosion of expiration, mistreated because of what we do to them.

 

 postal-de-amor-rosa-roja 

 

On Saturday, at the end of the congress, we spent a day out to Surlej. The birds flew across the sky at the start of the day while we began our trek up the mountainside. The daylight had a delicate, imperious quality to it, while the lake reflected in its stillness the blue of the sky, a few grey butts that crossed it and the vegetation of its shores. The beauty of the place gave the morning a sort of false euphoria that imposed itself on my imagination, as I remembered the words and conversations with Isabelle. “What beauty!”, she exclaimed, placing the back of her hand on her eyes to cover herself from the sun. Suddenly the sky began to darken and the day started turning into a strange night, bathed in a livid light that seemed to grow from the surface of the lake. An inverted light that was being projected back onto the black butts.

“What inexplicable means is this, do you think”, she said to me, “that converts white into black, the interesting into boring, the risible into essential or the fascinating into fearful? It escapes us. Meaning occupies, and encroaches on, the space of the absurd, the anxious confirmation of nothingness is soon alleviated by the firm weight of what is. This is our most common experience. But then, doubt and skepticism must always remain like the hidden face of our faith and of our original assent to meaning. Nothingness is not the absence of being, but its double interior, its inseparable opposite.”

Once we arrived at the top, the air mixed the fresh outpours of rain with the smells of the woods and the breath of the grass, its humidity quickly evaporating under the sun. From that height, the torsos of the mountains, as if rising up from nothingness, formed delicate, fantastic, imaginary scenes. Small pockets of vegetation floated on the blue mirror of a lake, slightly pushed by the wind, while the trajectory of my butts, reflected on the surface, created the illusion of a world which seems to be endlessly sliding by, but which, in reality, always stays the same, motionless.

 

 

- The Spirit of Sils Maria -                                   - Alejandra de Argos - 

Contributor: Dr. Diego Sánchez Meca,
Lecturer in the History of Contemporary Philosophy,
University of Madrid (UNED), Spain

Diego Sanchez Meca small

 

 

 

 

Hesse

It was Hermann Hesse, together with a few other authors, who showed me from a very early age that literature is the refinement and perfectioning of life that is achieved through the kind of internalization often found in fine art. Internalizing does not mean reducing narratable external events to their minimum; rather, it means combining a series of events with a specific narrative message, within that apparent stopping of time that, again, we often encounter in fine art.

 

Hesse’s novels and short stories do not simply reconstruct events; they explore a wide range of existential and spiritual meanings through allegorical mediations and myths.

Many of his works show us entire new worlds and periods of time that seem to have never existed. His anti-heroes are symbols of misfortune, thrown out and left to rot in the ignominy of history from where they linger and stare back at us until our eyes hurt. It seems like Hesse wants to escape from the metaphysical-rhetorical optimism of classic European and Western humanism in order to defend the insoluble, inexorable union between pessimism and humanity. The way I see it, this is precisely what many of his allegories try to express — they are aimed at the source of a kind of happiness that is not quite of this world, but only because to achieve it requires a kind of inner transformation that intensifies the experience of the spirit. This is one way of extracting from Hesse’s books the spiritual richness within them, and of interpreting the self-reflexive, expressive mediations of his writings as new ways of understanding and practicing art.

 

Libros Hesse

 

It’s true that, today, many of Hesse’s novels feel rather distanced from our modern sensibilities: they almost feel like symbols whose role is to “represent”, at least in the Schopenhauerian sense of the word. The poetic distance of novels such as Demian, Beneath the Wheel, Narcissus and Goldmund, Rosshalde, Steppenwolf or Siddharta is, in fact, an ironic one, one which expresses a worthy critique of that unquestioned dogma: that there should be no pain in the world of representation.

In other words, the irony that is the anachronism of Hesse in our contemporary world is due to his positioning himself halfway between an allegorical short story about the soul of the modern European and a phenomenology of the disgraced conscience of the generic Human Being, who appeals to the highest, most seductive form of art as a parody secretly turned against itself. In this sense, detailing the exaggeration and the extremism so characteristic of Hesse’s spiritualism, this notion has a long history, because it reflects the intellectual disposition of those who grind their teeth in proud modesty while passionately seeking truth in beauty, as many philosophers and artists have done and will continue doing.

 

 

Contributor: Dr. Diego Sánchez Meca,
Lecturer in History of Contemporary Philosophy,
Universidad de Madrid (UNED), Spain

Diego Sanchez Meca small 

 

 

 

 

placer2

 

"Pleasure is even deeper than the pain.
The pain says: Pass!
But all joy wants eternity.
It wants deep, profound eternity! "

Nietzsche, Said by Zaratustra


With his face resting on the window, Alessandro looked at the Starry Night who aroused in him an inexplicable craving for remote and beautiful things. The orange trees and magnolias, still blooming, gave off strong aromas at that time. In the background the dark masses of straight olive and acacia trees marked the limit of Beccarisi Villa, the luxurious Sicilian villa of his friend Giulio where they would also spend that summer. Alessandro recalled his previous visit and finding that secret hidden corner at the end of the garden near the greenhouse, where one night he heard hugs and kisses in the dark as the moonlight created the illusion of fantastic figures fluttering behind the glass between whispered sweet words, interspersed with sighs and sudden silence.

As the fermentation of the fertile and burning ground, there he also experienced the mysterious sound of the eternally creative and destructive life, the grandeur and beauty of the pleasure of life that continued even when the lovers parted, his shadow touched hers as in an embrace under the deep blue sky of dawn, which began to dim the stars. The memory of that summer full of light had continued in his soul, more alive than in his tumultuous present.

 

bnr-piemonte-villa-beccaris 

 

"The experience of transience and incessant short living", Giulio had said at one point in the conversation over dinner.  "To know that we lose ourselves as the wind does, and we flow like the water of a river. The perception of this continuous flow, when you think about it, does it not raise an inevitable resignation and anguish? Time is the instrument of death, the last structure of a lost experience. How many things there are that we will never see or know! "

It seemed he wanted add something else, but he stopped.

"What then is the continuity?” Alessandro had immediately replied, "Is there any point in the thought of eternity (Ewigkeit)? Do you think there is no place or experience where the agitation of change is calmed and we pick up what we have lost?  I think it is not a mere illusion of the poet who says:

"I know one thing there isn´t. It's forgetfulness.
I know that eternity endures and burns
the precious and all I have lost
tonight, this moon and this afternoon ".

 

"However, what place could be that of permanence, even more, of eternity?" Alessandro continued thinking later on. "The days tend to become equal in the memory, although not all the same. And the most common life among men is that of a relentless nightmare, a stubborn routine with a dispensable story, a set time and the wait for obscurity to offer us one last dream without memory. Was Giulio right? Life is nothing but the desire of a dreamt destination longing to become real, a tale told by an idiot in which the protagonist awaits his end at any moment when everything would be about to begin. How to understand time as a mysterious cross over, in each moment, of change and eternity?

The afternoon was burning strangely in the clouds, as if behind them an ocean stirred into flames, a divine fire. Shaken by his own words and thoughts, he left the garden despite the intense heat and walked along a stretch crop towards the city. The grass between the vineyards was dotted with small flowers where above them yellow and white butterflies fluttered. The harvest in the fields was tall. Each stem was bent over the earth bearing fruit. Under the trees, sitting on the grass, a group of peasants rested a moment from the hard work of mowing and greeted him taking off their hats, as he passed by. Further, in the pool, some children were bathing across the sparkling waters, reddened by the sunset colors. They slid along rocking to the rhythm of the gentle breeze, and above the waters the shadows of palm trees also rocked, while on the other side there was a murmur of young voices and laughter. The still air was only occasionally interrupted by the lure of a bird.

"There are many things we will never know", he said to himself.  "Maybe that's why it is desirable to even forget what we know, and be content with seeing the world in silence."

He continued his walk absorbed by the landscape, moving from image to image through a tenuous game of ideas and rethinking that which troubled him:

"The certainty of the end encourages seeking solace in the pure present, satisfying the intense enjoyment of the pleasures in life. Thus, the wait has been enriched by the remembrance of the idealised past, reconstructed to suit our most beautiful dreams. In its absence time goes by without thinking. The human soul does not reveal its mysteries. When you ask it, it remains silent."

Without being able to unleash this reflection, again a dull breath disturbed the peace of his rest. He had reached the shore and saw, buried in mournful resignation, the area in which daylight no longer shimmered. The sun had set and it darkened over the city. Everything became quiet and peaceful in that cramped and hot afternoon, where the first indoor lights shone while a big white moon lurked in the sky. He crossed the fishermen neighborhood and as he walked past a tavern, he heard music, songs and the sound of a big party. He entered and went to the bar while the musicians played a light rhythm and a young woman prepared to dance. Her hair glistened with perfumed oils; her body radiated party excitement and the smile of her mouth revealed sensuality of laughter and kisses.

She was dancing barefoot and entranced, as if embracing invisible bodies that no one saw, as if to kiss lips that were parted and bent over hers lustfully, as if caresses were to be spilt all over her body and she would enjoy those invisible bodies in unusual raptures of her dance. Maybe she lifted her mouth towards precious and sweet fruits, and sipped hot wine when throwing back her head and her eyes full of desire edging her head high. And so she continued moving alienated, surrendered to the irresistible power that dominated her.

 

 hombre

 

When the music ended the girl stopped and stood in front of everyone. It was the most vivid expression of pleasure, a beautiful single flower that had just opened while a multitude of eyes looked drunk with wine and sin. And while Alessandro watched, he had an inspiration: Dancing! The relationship of life, whose substance is time, why not knowing what is called eternity is only understandable from the ancestral and Heraclitean ring symbol. The succession of things and worlds is nothing but a dance, the perimeter of a circumference, a wheel that rotates on its axis, a cycle that repeats forever.

"Only art instructs us about this mysterious relationship", he began to reason, "Art simulates stopping time, bringing together the gerund of living and seducing with a look of beauty. If faces go as dances, art sets our face and gives back the image of our own face. This transformation simulates the time in "eternity", and allows man to follow the old Apollonian advice: 'to know oneself'.  Our face, being familiar but unknown at the same time, looks at us from the mirror and shows us all of the strangeness in ourselves. It is only prudent to go with what is shown in the mirror and its indefinite multiplication of things."

When he gleefully recounted his discovery to Giulio, he was pensive and after a moment he said:

"Do not be naive Alessandro. But what power does the art have versus the obsolescence of reality and its spectral reflection. It does not answer the philosophical question that leads irresistibly to the connection of time weaving and unravelling. The life of man is the fate of a caged lion repeating its monotonous circular paths without knowing that there are meadows and mountains outside of its path."

"Indeed, Giulio, that's how it is", I replied.  But because of knowledge of such a hard fate it would be unbearable. That is why the Gods, pitiful upon us, grant us the grace of oblivion, the consolation of not knowing. What it is an unknown destination?  The children´s games of freedom. The novelty fits unpredictability as well as the consequent openness and incompleteness.


The destination is frozen time, and time is a corrosion of that destination. This will, therefore be hereinafter the motto of my life: "Convert the outrage of the years in music, in a rumour, in a symbol ".

Alessandro finally felt rejoice in solitude and calm, and watched for hours and hours for the vibrant sky to clear as he was dominated by inexplicable thoughts. His eyes were intoxicated with the bright colors of the branches on which the rays of sunshine poured. Silence welcomed his dreams in the lonely twilight hours that followed then when the night slipped into his room and stood before the window lost in the shadows. The air was again filled with the intense perfume of orange blossoms and roses protruding from the garden fence, as well as mingled with the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle that climbed hugging the tree trunks.

 

- Pleasure is deeper than pain -                                   - Alejandra de Argos -

 Contributor: Maira Herrero, 
MA in Philosophy.

Maira

 

 

 

 

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German historian and journalist Florian Illies’ 300-page book is a humorous, fleeting look at the main cultural events in Europe just before the Great War.

Illies’ book is neither novel nor essay — it is simply an account of the key creative and cultural happenings in those twelve months of the year and their effects on society and culture, moments before the advent of the bloody massacre that would subsequently rock the very foundations of Western thought.

 0155-0103 der traum    GERTRUDE-STEIN- 

 

It’s an attractive read for anyone interested in the artistic avant-garde, the influence of psychoanalysis on later thinking — particularly at the Frankfurt School —, the great literary works and cultural milestones of the time and the shift in perspective that was spreading across Europe, coinciding with the gradual disappearance of the existing lifestyle. Western culture found itself launched to heady new heights thanks to technological, industrial and artistic progress, only to collapse tragically not long after.

 

 

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The book follows two parallel threads, on the one hand the epistolary relationship between Kafka and his beloved Felice Bauer, and on the other the turbulent relationship between Alma, Mahler’s widow, and Oskar Kokoshka, as told through his well-known painting Bride of the Wind (1913-4).

 

 

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During the twelve months of 1913 we see the 20th century’s greatest creators come and go: Arnold Schönberg and Igor Stravinsky and radical new musical forms; Freud and C.G. Jung’s civil struggles; the break-up of the Der Blaue Reiter (Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Albert Bloch, Robert Delaunay) and the Die Brücke groups (E. Ludwing Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, etc.); the rawness of George Grosz’s paintings, an example of art as weapon against authority; the innovative architectural styles of Peter Behrens (who just a few years earlier was responible for the turbine hall at the AEG factory), Walter Gropius, Adolf Loos and many others who placed light and symmetry at the centre of their work.

 

 

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“It was as if the current art exhibition coming from Europe had fallen on us like a bomb”, reported the publication Camera Work on the exhibition running at New York’s Armory Show at the beginning of 1913. American visitors found themselves completely stunned by Marcel Duchamp’s Woman Descending Staircase (1912). In Berlin, a few months later, the legendary art gallery Sturm would host Germany’s First Autumn Salon, a collection of avant-garde works (with the notable exception of the Die Brücke painters). Gertrud Stein was the epicentre of Parisian art, her home a meeting place for established artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Braque. The collector Eduard Arnhold regularly would host regular meetings with Emil Nolde, the great Berlinese patron together with James Simon. Writers, thinkers, editors, merchants were everywhere to be seen.

 

Paris, Berlin, Zurich, Venice, Vienna, Munich were some of the regular haunts of the progressive class of the time. Cities were gradually transforming into large metropolises; fashion was becoming an integral part of a new kind of lifestyle.

 

  

The book thankfully includes numerous comical anecdotes and stories which, although they don’t strictly belong to the year the book focuses on, appropriately adorn the tale. One could almost call 1913: The Year Before the Storm a guide to the fascinating world of exuberant creativity, finally ending with the Suprematist manifiesto and Malevich’s Black Square (1915).

 

 

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Florian Illies. 1913: The Year Before the Storm. Salamandra, 2013.

 

Author: Marina Valcárcel.
Art Historian
Marina 

 

 

 

 

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Chekhov and his wife, actress Olga Knípper.

 

"Give me a wife who, like the moon, will not appear every day in my sky." (Chekhov)

Throughout 2013, after Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was impossible not to hear someone saying that Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is "the father of modern literature". So a few weeks ago I decided to sit down and re-read "The Steppe", and I found myself once again with a strange, uneasy feeling inside me, as if something had remained there, deep down, undigested.

 

The 150-page novel is about the journey of a child over the Ukrainian steppe set around 1880. For Chekhov, the Russian soul was something dependent on the unparalleled solitude of the steppe landscape, something he wanted to describe slowly, gradually, as if through canvases, page by page, revealing themselves - a creative process one could describe as written painting.

 

How many painters, illustrators or film directors have been able to convey a storm as convincingly as Chekhov?

 

The true protagonists in the book are not people but the vivid descriptions and the landscape. Apart from these standout elements, though, it's a generally slow read with very little action.

 

So if nothing much happens, how do we explain the impact it has on the contemporary reader?

 

It's a pertinent question, particularly in an age of immediacy, information overload and expectations of complex, highly elaborate content. In the midst of recent Oscar-winning films about relationships between a man and an operating system, or the full-on anxiety of a space mission gone wrong, what can we hope to get out of a book whose opening lines describe the flight of a bustard? Why are we so impressed by the description of time passing one morning in the countryside, as if it "stretched endlessly, as if it had stopped altogether"? The author makes us excited to see how he unravels the decline of Russian society at the end of the 19th century through the actions of an old priest. "Father Jristofor had never experienced a concern so strong as to tighten his soul like a boa."

 

Further answers to these questions can be found by making parallels with the world of painting.

 

When we study Jan Van Eyck's "Man with Red Turban", for instance, we start looking at each and every strand of mink hair on the neck, we study the eye closely, and we even discover a tiny drop of blood in it - it's a similar mental slap to the one we experience when scrutinizing Freud's "Portrait of the Young Painter".

 

 

 

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Looking more broadly, it's also similar to the "tornado effect" caused by, say, Chekhov's (or even Thoreau's) letters, or David Forster Wallace's novels.

 

Perhaps it's merely the fact that all these works of art come from a place of genius. They have all left us with some sort of sting in a corner of our hypothalamus, an intense, uneasy feeling that's difficult to shake off. We're predators of emotions and we recognize our catch.

 

 

 

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