Sunday, November 1, 2009

Behind the Seen


این جا پشت پرده ی رندان

Anne Sexton (Nov. 9, 1928 - 1974), brilliant American poet, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967, troubled by a bipolar disorder…

From The Double Image, Pt. 1

I am thirty this November.
You are still small, in your fourth year.
We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer,
flapping in the winter rain.
falling flat and washed. And I remember
mostly the three autumns you did not live here.
They said I’d never get you back again.
I tell you what you’ll never really know:
all the medical hypothesis
that explained my brain will never be as true as these
struck leaves letting go.

I, who chose two times
to kill myself, had said your nickname
the mewling mouths when you first came;
until a fever rattled
in your throat and I moved like a pantomine
above your head. Ugly angels spoke to me. The blame,
I heard them say, was mine. They tattled
like green witches in my head, letting doom
leak like a broken faucet;
as if doom had flooded my belly and filled your bassinet,
an old debt I must assume.


The great heart behind a cynic’s discourse: Kurt Vonnegut having fun at the beach…

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007 - so it goes.

Photo: Jill Krementz, Vonnegut’s second wife and a very fine photographer - see her writer’s portrait portfolio here


Nonetheless, Ballard (Nov. 15, 1930 - 2009) remains a quintessential avant-garde author whose use of the tropes of war, demolition, accidents, mutilation, art and sex to create a literature of limits is second to none (with the possible exception of W.S. Burroughs…)

J.G. Ballard, 1991: “The novel is still largely a 19th-century form which has completely excluded … any consideration of the impact of science and technology on human beings from the main body of its work … most mainstream 20th-century novelists are still working with a 19th-century form that’s concerned not with dynamic societies but with static societies where social nuance is still important.”

Photo via Corbis


خوزه ساراماگو

Great literature continues apace: Portuguese author and Nobel Literature Laureate José Saramago was born Nov. 16, 1922…

Saramago is a self-declared pessimist who nonetheless describes the aspirations and attemps by people to lead tolerable lives even when hindered on all sides by bureaucratic or totalitarian regimes…

The Nobel Committee gave this motivation in 1998 for selecting Saramago as an author ”who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality…”

Literary births and deaths a plenty today:

André Gide (Nov. 22, 1869 - 1951), by Yale Joel, c. 1950 - LIFE

An excerpt from So Be It, or The Chips Are Down - Gide’s last work:

“It is certain that the man who wonders as he takes up his pen: what service can be performed by what I am about to write? is not a born writer, and would do better to give up producing at once. Verse or prose, one’s work is born of a sort of imperative one cannot elude. It results (I am now speaking only of the authentic writer) from an artesian gushing-forth, almost unintentional, on which reason, critical spirit, and art operate only as regulators. But once the page is written, he may wonder: what’s the use? … And when I turn to myself, I think that what above all urged me to write is an urgent need of understanding. This is the need that now prompts the ratiocinations with which I am filling this notebook and makes me banish all bombast from them. I hope the young man who may read me will feel on an equal footing with me. I don’t bring any doctrine; I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself. There is more light in Christ’s words than in any other human word. This is not enough, it seems, to be a Christian: in addition, one must believe. Well, I do not believe. Having said this, I am your brother.”


Aldous Huxley (26 July 1894 – 22 November 1963 (On his deathbed - cancer - unable to speak, Huxley made a written request to his wife for “LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular”)), visionary and dystopian author, tireless experimentor with new ways of thinking…

“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” - Aldous Huxley

Photo of Huxley (R) in conversation w. Christopher Isherwood, 1955 - LIFE, no photog. credit


C. S. Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963 (heart attack as a result of end stage renal failure), Irish-born Oxford don and author of fascinating children’s books (Narnia, etc.) as well as Christian apologies…

“Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable.” - C. S. Lewis

Media coverage of Lewis’s death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day, as did the death of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley (Kreeft 1982).

Photo: Scholar C.S. Lewis walking with cane at Magdalen College, Oxford University, November 1946

Photographer: Hans Wild- LIFE


Birthday of 20th C. great: Paul Celan (Nov. 23, 1920 - 1970, suicide), Bukovinian-Romanian-Jewish German-speaking poet who spent much of his post-WW II life in Paris…

Celan is the most vibrant and essential post-Holocaust poet in Europe. Read Celan if your life depends on it - because it just might…

Photo of Celan during his Bucharest sojourn in 1947 - the period when Todesfuge, his magnum opus, appeared in Romanian…

Most of Celan’s poetry was written in German, the language of his heart and of his mortal enemies, the Nazis: “Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland.”


Nov. 25, 1970 crazed japanese writer Yukio Mishima - often considered a leading candidate for the Nobel and the most popular Japanese writer abroad - together with three friends stormed the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Inside, they barricaded the office and tied the commandant to his chair. With a prepared manifesto and banner listing their demands, Mishima stepped onto the balcony to address the soldiers gathered below. His speech was intended to inspire a coup d’etat restoring the powers of the emperor. He succeeded only in irritating them, however, and was mocked and jeered. He finished his planned speech after a few minutes, returned to the commandant’s office and committed seppuku - ritual self-disembowelment…


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