Saturday, December 28, 2013

Marina Tsvetaeva: Eurydice to Orpheus

For those who have out-worn the last shreds
Of the body (no lips, no face!)
Oh, is it not exceeding the mandate –
Orpheus going to the dead?

For those who pushed away the last pieces
Of the earthly, put on the ultimate bed
The greatest and pompous lie of beholding,
Who look inside – the meeting is a knife.

Wasn’t it paid – with all roses of blood
For this loose gown
Of the immortality?
You who loved to the very fringes of the world –
I need peace

Of the forgetfulness… because in this ghost house
You, who exist, is a ghost, while I, who is dead,
A reality… What then I can tell you besides:
“Forget it and leave me alone!”

You cannot arouse me! I am not able to respond!
I don’t have hands! Or lips to touch your
Lips! – With snake bite of immortality
Woman’s passion ends forever.

It was paid – remember my screams! –
For this last expanse.
No need for Orpheus to go down to Eurydice
And for brothers to disturb sisters’ peace.

Marina Tsvetaeva

March 23, 1923

(Transl. by V. Enyutin)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

After a nightmare

"Why should I be like a veiled woman
beside the flocks of your friends?"
 Solomon, Song of Songs

After talking to you I was so exhausted
that I went to sleep. Your words are like
an intense fire, silently they keep burning
in the most obscure region of the soul,
there where clarity is out of reach. Are
you the treasured daughter of a terrifying
god, do you among the angelic hierarchies
raise above all human misery without
remorse and yet keep smiling as if
unaware of your ominous power?  With
an indifferent gaze you annihilate those
who dare to cherish you. In my sleep you
kept talking to me. I was unable to hear
you but I could see your lips moving. You
were given the power that belongs to the
gods: around your words meaning never
stops growing and what you say cannot  
be deciphered by our laughable human
understanding. And I awoke in fear and
wanted to cry and wished I were dead.

This you need to hear however:
you cannot destroy me, I will not
surrender to your angelic power.
Not your love or your indifference
will win me and leave me abandoned
on the borders of the Lethe, away from
truth and separated from your almost
divine presence. Nor will I ever succumb
to the temptation of believing in your evil
darkness, you whose radiance above the
other angels is undisputed and I want to
praise. For a brief moment you may have
baffled me and I was scared, I concede.
But soon I was able to return to the solid
ground of  being and from there I could
look at you without shame or fear. Learn
that the ancient gods have frequently been
at my side too. They never desert those who,
being humble, always respect their divine
wisdom. Be sure that you are not the only
one of their children that they magnanimously
protect from the chaos and from the nothingness
which threatens our frail human condition. Words’
meaning may be unstable and escape our power.
We may go through deep pain trying to escape
perplexity. Opening the gates to pleasant gardens
where almost unreal roses flourish and divine
dishes are offered, the devil will attempt to
weaken our need of truth. Or so it seems. From
a disturbing confusion truth may however
break out and he or she who was good enough
to wait will be enriched. You are not the devil’s
dark messenger, think again. The gods care at
keeping the meaning of words under their
attentive and yet intelligent and liberal power.
They do not offer or impose on us any truth,
They expect us to build up our own destiny.
Searching for the truth is part of the deal.
But when we think we finally succeeded
– how many times did we rejoice at the idea
of having been enlightened? - we are still
and again hallucinating. And the gods smile
with a fatherly and indulgent tenderness.
Go as far as you need and are able to. There
are no boundaries. Disrespecting and doubting
is not for the generous gods a sin. They
know about our pain: no truth is ever
granted to us, but could it be otherwise? We
would dwell in error. Walking at your side I
will not fear your gaze nor will I ever be
again terrorized by your almost invisible
beauty. Your painful thirst of truth is what
gives you the power to instill in the words
you utter the fire which keeps burning
in the unreachable regions of our being.
What Eurydice returning from the land
of the gods did not have the time to tell
Orpheus I want you to tell me. It may
sometimes hurt, it’s possible. But I will
not leave, I will listen to you with the
same passion as Oedipus to the Sphinx.

J. E. Soice

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Elle est revenue


Eurydice est revenue car cette
fois-ci je me suis surveillé et je
n’ai pas regardé derrière moi. 
Que je ne pourrais jamais la
revoir était le prix à payer et
je le paie. Je ne me plains pas.
Elle a pu reprendre sa vie là 
où elle avait si brutalement 
été coupée. Elle pourra à
nouveau aimer et être aimée.
Elle pourra vivre et aimer la
vie. Je suis exclu de son
amour comme de ses jours,
de sa vue et de sa présence,
je le sais. Mais n’est-ce pas
le propre de l’amour que de
vouloir avant tout, au dessus
de tout, le bonheur de celle
que l’on aime ? Il n’y a plus
d’Orphée, Orphée est mort. Il
peut toujours chanter, mais
son chant ne sera que l’aveu
toujours voilé de son chagrin ;
car Eurydice sera toujours
celle à qui il parle, celle pour
qui il chante. Sans Eurydice
quelle peut être sa raison de
vivre? Elle le saura peut-être,
qu'elle est toujours aimée. On
lui parlera de la soif insensée
d’amour et du tourment qui
partout poursuit Orphée. Mais
lui, Orphée, n’a pas à se laisser
troubler par ce qu’on viendra lui
dire d’Eurydice : qu’on l’a vue
en ville dans sa belle robe bleu ;
qu’elle a parlé de lui et demandé
de ses nouvelles ; qu’elle l’aime
toujours et qu’elle en souffre;
qu’elle ne comprends pas son
absence ; qu’elle regrette, puisqu’
elle ne pourra plus le voir, d’être
revenue. De tout cela Orphée
préfère ne pas entendre parler.
Pour lui elle est l’absente qui
toujours sera présente, celle
qui à sa vie n’a jamais cessé
d’accorder du sens. Et loin de ses
yeux le mystère de sa personne
et de son existence jamais ne
cesseront de grandir. Car
l’amour est découverte et sans
amour l’arbre du corps et l’arbre
de l’esprit dépérissent. Eurydice
n’est pas morte dans son cœur,
ni dans sa mémoire, ni dans
son imagination. Car c’est elle qui
continue d'éveiller en lui le désir
insatiable des mots difficiles du
poème et de la mélodie de la
chanson. Il est mort pour l’amour
des autres femmes mais il a
accepté son destin et il ne
s’en plaint pas. Il s’est aveuglé
et enseveli pour qu’elle puisse
vivre. Mais parce qu’elle vit il
peut s’efforcer encore de vouloir
comprendre tout ce qui jamais
ne pourra être compris.

J. E. Soice

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some reflections on reliability and the making of meaning

1. In our lives as well in literary works we constantly evaluate someone’s opinions and behavior, other people’s words and actions. It seems that ascribing meaning to what we see around us is an inescapable part of our being in the world alive and active… In fact we cannot escape meaning. To be alive is to permanently be facing meaning everywhere. 

2. The way we come to conclusions - or at least to a more or less strong impression – regarding the person or the behavior being evaluated has to do not only with our skills but also with our own values or standards (as individuals but also as members of a community or society). That should be true when we deal with literature as well as when we deal with real life. 

3. I guess that those values and standards play a role in our own relationship with external reality even before they play a role in our interpretation or evaluation of other people and of behaviors in general. Indeed, why do we isolate, identify, separate in the chaotic amount of information that we are facing all the time only some aspects or elements of it that we consider (that our brain considers) relevant? When we identify and isolate something as relevant we are, without maybe being aware of it, already interpreting and attributing meaning to what we isolate or identify as relevant in reality’s vastness. What we isolated and identified we transformed into a meaningful element that will play a role in our interpretation of reality (or of a literary work).

4. Even so I think we can speak about two moments in the process of our relationship with reality: 1) We identify, we isolate, we see significant elements or aspects of that immense reality in a particular situation; 2) We then proceed to evaluating, we interpret those elements or aspects of reality subjectively influenced by our own values (how much our own personal values are the values of our society is also a question we have to ask ourselves).
And in this way we come to some conclusions regarding individuals and forms of behavior - or at least we get a more or less clear impression of what’s going on. 

5. If we as individuals were not in permanence interpreting (not always in a very active way or being aware of it) what we see and hear… the world wouldn’t have meaning and our lives wouldn’t have meaning. 

6. We share with other people our particular way of isolating or identifying meaningful elements in the chaotic totality of the world. Differences in education, ethnicity, gender, age, etc., certainly play a role in our identification of what has meaning; but it is when we start to evaluate the meaning and importance of each of those elements that more differences in opinion may arise. 

7. As said before, the concept of reliability in the interpretation of the narrator and of the character’s words and behavior in literary works is crucial. Words and behavior only have a correct meaning when we can relate them to someone in particular in a particular situation. The same words and behavior may have very a different meaning and importance depending on who is talking and acting and depending on what was the particular event or situation where they took place. 

8. Some words have a strong ideological or political (and in consequence emotional) value in some societies – but not in others. Political here means just that: values were added by a particular community (or a group in a community) to a word independently of what we could say is the neutral meaning of that word. Not everybody will submit to that ideological transformation of the meaning of a word though. That “tainted” meaning of the word can be deliberately or unconsciously ignored by the others members of the speech community. It can even happen that a particularly “tainted” use of a word instead of being accepted as valid or justified by the community in general becomes a trait which characterizes the small community which “tainted” it with a particular ideological or political or emotional value.

Some remarks on narrative "reliability" and "illusion of reality"

1. For everything we learn, feel or think when we are reading a narrative we can and should find a reason in the language of the narrative itself. That’s why learning about narrative technique is learning about the way language works. The more you know about the way language works, the better you are able to explain what you feel and how you ended feeling it. Is that enough? No. You also need to understand how poetry, or narrative or drama, for example, are constructed observing some rhetorical formulas which differentiate them from each other as literary genres. That’s why you need to read works like Aristotle’s Poetics and Wayne C. Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction.

2. Reliability is always related to the author’s linguistic expertise and literary aptitude first of all.  If the work we are reading passes that preliminary test there are still many other tests ahead. As a rule we do not tend to question the reliability of the narrator in a third person narrative. If we question the reliability of the narrator in a third person narrative, reading the story he is telling becomes very problematic or impossible. The narrator of Machado de Assis’ "A woman’s arms" is not himself a character in the history he tells us. He is nobody. He is a voice, an “employee” of the author. He has a particular task to fulfill and beyond that he doesn’t exist. This particular existence and behavior of the narrator as the “voice” who tells the story do not surprise us because they are the consequence of a well-known convention that we accept without much questioning it (it’s a rhetorical device). Nothing of what the narrator says in "A woman’s arms" reveals him much as a real person, as a real character. For that reason we do not have particular reasons to question the truthfulness of what he says. He may have an opinion about the events and the characters in the story, he surely has his own way of interpreting what he sees, and he may let us know in a more or less clear way what he thinks about the character’s personality and behavior. But as a rule he does not go far enough on that direction to make us doubt the trustworthiness and consistency of what he says. Otherwise we would stop reading the story in disbelief.

3. It is true that we could submit everything the narrator says when he is telling a story without being a character to a thoroughly analysis and we could question the way he presents the events and the characters. That’s something we can do about any narrator, about any speaker. But as long as a perspective of common sense does not question the reliability of what is told we don’t stop reading, the illusion of reality is preserved.

4. In Machado de Assis’ "Midnight Mass" the narrator is himself one of the two main characters of the story. He is older now than when the events he is telling us took place (how much older exactly is not clear). The story is about something that happened to him when he was a young boy. He says that he didn’t understand the conversation he had that night with a lady when he was waiting for a friend to go to the mass of midnight. We are allowed to think however that he is not (anymore at least) so naive as he pretends to be and in consequence his reliability has to be questioned. But his diminished reliability is not the result of any defective ability of the author nor is it a weakness of the narrative. It is, on the contrary, an important element of the technique used by the author to build the story. We could go farther and say: everything he says seems to point to the attraction that the married woman and himself felt that night for each other. He never clearly utters it though. What he does is to give us a description of his behavior and of the behavior of the lady that allows us to come to such conclusion. Now we could say that he was the one who was disturbed and that’s why he is telling us the story. When he mentions at the end of the short story that after her husband died the lady married a man working for him the narrator may be in some disguised way insinuating that the lady was already ready to start an affair even before her husband died. But the only reason we may have to think that the lady herself behaved in a suspicious way - the only reason we may have to think that she was disturbed during the conversation – is given to us by the narrator himself and by the technique he uses to tell the story. Does this factor diminish the interest of the narrative and the reliability of the narrator to the point of making the story less interesting and believable? I think we all would answer: NO.

5. You should be able to understand from now on how much the reliability in a narrative is closely related to the illusion of reality (verisimilitude). In "The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant we may question the mental health of the narrator. But in doing so we are just reading the story as the author and the narrator want us to read it: it is the narrator himself that is questioning his own mental health first of all and in understanding it we are not behaving in contradiction with the way the author expects us to behave. The narrator’s insanity - and our disbelief in what regards the narrator’s report of the events disturbing him – is an important factor, the most important one, of the meaning of the story. Reading the story is to learn little by little that the narrator is falling into madness. His unreliability in what concerns the amazing events he describes becomes progressively indisputable for us. It may seem for a moment that he could understand himself that he is falling into madness. But it doesn’t happen. We cannot fail to see however that he is the one who, being a candid first person narrator, gives us the reasons to understand that what he is saying doesn't make sense. I guess that that is the reason why we go on reading the narrative until the end, interested in the development of the mental state of the narrator, in the incoherent plot that he is methodically developing, and in what may happen in consequence of that. His madness and his behavior as a man whose relation to reality is seriously disturbed became the main subject of the narrative, the one we are interested in witnessing.  The "illusion of reality" and our interest are preserved because the story is about the madness of the narrator as told by himself. “Reliability” is not a concept related to truth exactly or in the first place; it is a concept closely related to the “illusion of reality”, that something that makes a narrative believable, readable and interesting.

6. The question of reliability is one of the most complex ones in narrative. The author constantly manipulates reliability because what we think or believe about what the narrator or the characters do or say or see plays an important role in the construction of the story - and it all depending on how much we trust the narrator or the characters.

Reliability is not fixed forever either, we may find in any narrative reasons to rely or not to rely, to rely more or less in what is being shown or said. As the narrative progresses the characters acquire a more precise and complex dimension, they may also change, and since the meaning of the plot is intimately dependent on what we think of the characters we are in need of constantly proceeding to small or important adjustments and readjustments.

Reliability in narrative is not an ethical question - at least in the first place. It has only to do with what we are supposed to really think of what we see or hear. Manipulation in this case is not first of all an ethical question either: it is just a tool in the construction of the meaning of the story. A narrative may become more interesting when  the narrator is good at playing with reliability in an intelligent and complex manner.

In "Le H´orla" by Guy de Maupassant the narrator shows interest in what other persons may think of what is happening. But despite his interest in confronting his conclusions with other people's perspective he is unable to escape his hallucination, what for him is reality and not fiction. Maupassant however takes advantage of this amazing behavior of the narrator to include reflections, comments and interrogations which show his own interest in more or less scientific debates going on at that time about the role of the unconscious.

You should read Wayne C. Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction. Booth deals with the problem at different occasions and from different perspectives. Booth says that " a fact, when it has been given to us by the author or his unequivocal spokesman is a very different thing from the same fact when given to us by a fallible character in the story. When a character speaks realistically within the drama, the convention of absolute reliability has been destroyed, and while the gain for some fictional purposes are undeniable, the costs are undeniable too. " In part III, Chapter XII, Booth writes extensively about Henry James and the unreliable narrator"

7. Going back to our discussion about the reliability of the narrator in "Le Horla"  - apparently some of you and me disagreed on the issue of increasing reliability due to the fact that he shows some serious concern at some point in what other people may think, or know, about the events that are disturbing his mind, and mentions it in his journal - I think we need to look at that detail from two different but complementary perspectives that would respect and combine both my comments and yours:

7a. Quoting another person's perspective points to his doubts about the reliability of his own senses in the evaluation of his perception of reality. If he didn't doubt he would not feel any need of taking in consideration another person's perception of reality or what science is saying about these amazing phenomena. It seems to me that he becomes more reliable in his effort to come to an honest understanding of what's going on.

N. B. We may feel here the author's interest in irrational phenomena and trying to make the case for his story - and I don't think we are wrong in doing that. But it's another aspect of the story that does not diminish the interest of what we are discussing.

7b. You are not wrong when you feel that he does not become more reliable just because he seems interested in knowing what another person may think of what is happening to him. His reliability may have increased in some way because he doubts and listens to a second opinion. But reliability does not increase to the point of making us believe that what he sees is what is happening. In other words: his progression into madness ends by revealing itself strongly even in the way he deals with other person's (and science's) version of what happens. For reasons not explained but which have to do with his mental health he cannot escape his hallucination.

7c. I guess that this is what characterizes what we identify and describe as madness: any new element, instead of opening the door to normal or objective reality, ends up by being used by the person who is going nuts as another element corroborating his obsession. This story is also about how we give meaning to reality: you (I) put
together all the elements (invested of a particular meaning) that in your (my) opinion are relevant in every situation and then you (I) see/establish between those elements full of meaning relationships that in the case of madness contradict causality as understood by a person considered "normal".

The topic is complex. We may see "The Horla" as showing a particular and modern awareness of the complexity of inner or mental life and of human experience in general. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

About language and reality

“338. One cannot make experiments if there are not some things that one does not doubt. (...) When I write a letter and post it, I take for granted that it will arrive – I expect this. (…) ”

“339. Imagine someone who is supposed to fetch a friend from the railway station and doesn’t simply look the train up in the time table and go to the station at the right time, but says: ‘I have NO belief that the train will really arrive, but I will go to the station all the same.’ He does everything that the normal person does, but accompanies it with doubts or with self-annoyance, etc.”
“341. That is to say, the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some prepositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.”
“342. That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted.”

Wittgenstein, On Certainty, translated by Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe, Harper Torchbokks, 1969

This makes me imagine some quite funny situations. I go to the university one morning to teach and when I start talking about the most easy to understand subject nobody seems to understand the language I am talking. I pause and ask them: 'why are you looking at me as if you didn’t know me and didn’t understand what I m saying’. They seem puzzled and one of them first and then others talk to me in a language that I totally ignore. I think: this is a joke! But it is not a joke. It is reality, things as they are. I am confused. I go to my department, search for a colleague, find one and explain to him the most strange thing that just happened to me. He doesn’t understand me either and talks to me in a language that I do not understand and that resembles the language the students were talking a moment ago.

I leave it to you to think about what is a language and what it means speaking it. You may also imagine a situation where suddenly one day everybody is driving on the left side of the road except you and where the traffic signs, some sort of bizarre objects with unkown figures, are not the ones you learned and are used to. You do not believe that you moved to another country during the night (it just doesn't make sense...) and you don’t believe either that you suddenly lost your memory and went crazy. To make it short: what does it mean to live in society, to speak a language or simply to be a person here and now?

Also: can someone who spends most of his time reading and writing - dealing with organized and meaningful signs - lose partial or total contact with what we call reality and with people, with that to which the signs point? The question seems absurd but maybe it is not.

Also: If language speaks about reality, as it seems it does, how much can language say about reality, how well can it represent it or refer to it?

If I am a music composer does it make sense to ask this question: how well  can I, playing my piano, "say" what I want or need to "say"? I need to know a lot about each note and about the syntax that allows me to put them together (in relation) in order to achieve my goal. Is that useful to understand what happens with language? Is the relation of music with what the feelings it provokes similar to the relation between language and reality? Is the degree of relation of a system of signs with the reality they supposedlly try to represent (and also, but that's another topic, with feelings) scientifically, or at list rationally, measurable?  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Knut Hamsun: ... his passion ran away with him...

Knut Hamsun: Mysteries

She started walking again and he kept pace with her. He didn't answer but went on, his head bowed. His shoulders twitched a few times, and to her surprise she saw one or two big tears trickling down his face. He turned away and whistled to a songbird to hide them.

They walked for a couple of minutes without speaking! Touched, she bitterly regretted her harsh words. Maybe he was even right in what he said, what did she know? She couldn't help wondering whether this person hadn't seen more in a few weeks than she had in years.

They still didn't talk. He was again quite composed and toyed nonchalantly with his handkerchief. In a few minutes they would be in sight of the parsonage.

Then she said, "Is your hand very sore? May I see it?"

Whether she wanted to please him or really gave in to him for a moment, she said this in a sincere, almost emotional voice, meanwhile stopping.

Then his passion ran away with him. At this moment, when she was standing so close, her head leaning over his hand so that he could take in the fragrance of her hair and the nape of her neck, and without a word being said, his love reached the point of frenzy, of madness. He drew her close, first with one arm and then, when she resisted, with his other arm as well, pressing her long and fervently to his breast and almost lifting her off her feet. He felt her back yield, she was giving in. Heavy and delicious, she rested in his embrace, her eyes half veiled as she looked up at his. Then he spoke to her, telling her she was enchanting, and that she would be his one and only love till his dying day. One man had already given his life for her, and he would do the same, at the slightest hint, a word. Oh, how he loved her! And he repeated time and again, as he pressed her more and more tenderly to his breast, “I love you, I love you!"

She no longer made any resistance. Her head resting lightly on his left arm, he kissed her fervently, interrupted only, at brief in­tervals, by the most tender words. He had a distinct feeling that she clung to him of herself, and when he kissed her she closed her eyes even more.

"Meet me tomorrow by the tree, you remember the tree, the aspen. Meet me, I love you, Dagny! Will you meet me? Come whenever you like, come at seven."

She didn't make any reply to this but merely said. "Let me go now!"          

And slowly she extricated herself from his arms.

She looked about her for a moment, her face assuming a more and more bewildered expression; finally a helpless spasm trembled at the corners of her mouth, and she went over to a stone by the roadside and sat down. She was crying.

He bent over her and spoke softly. This went on for a minute or two. Suddenly she jumps up, her fists clenched and her face white with rage, and, pressing her hands against her breast, she says furiously, "You're a mean person, God, how mean you are! Though you aren't likely to agree.   Oh, how could you, how could you do it!"

And she started crying again.

He tried once more to calm her down, but to no avail; they stood at that stone by the roadside for half an hour, unable to tear themselves away.

"You even want me to see you again," she said. "But I won't see vou. I will never lay eyes on you again, you're a villain!"

He pleaded with her, threw himself down before her and kissed her dress; but she kept repeating that he was a villain and that he had behaved wretchedly. What had he done to her? Go away, go! He couldn't walk her any farther, not one step!

And she headed for home.

He still tried to go after her, but she waved her hand deprecatingly and said, "Stay away!".

He kept following her with his eyes until she had gone ten or twenty paces; then he, too, clenches his fists and runs after her— he defies her prohibition and runs after her, forcing her to stop.

"I don't want to hurt you," he said, "and do have some pity! I'm willing to kill myself here and now, just to rid you of me; it will cost you only a word. And I would repeat this tomorrow if I should meet you. Grant me the mercy of doing me justice, at least. You see, I'm in thrall to your power, and I have no control over that. And it isn't all my fault that you came into my life. I wish to God you may never suffer as I do now!"

Then he turned around and left.

Once again, those broad shoulders on the short body kept twitching as he walked down the road. He saw none of the peo­ple he met, didn't recognize a single face, and he came to his senses only after he had crossed the whole town and found him­self at the steps of the hotel.

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, Penguin Books, 2001, translated by Sverre Lyngstad

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Elogio do poeta triste

O que eu apreciava nos
poemas do Bruno Béu era
que eles eram tão verdadeiros
como a falta de cor dos dias
quando nós estamos tristes
ou como a alegria de um sorriso
de criança quando ela está feliz.
Os poemas do Bruno constatam
mas não deformam aquilo de que
falam. Dizem, mas não solicitam
amor nem admiração. Amor talvez,
visto que todos nós necessitamos
de um olhar e de mãos que nos
redimam da falta de sentido das
coisas que, na nossa solidão sem
remédio, nos acontecem; mas êxtase
não, nem divagações pretensamente
infantis ou cheias de ingénuas sugestões
metafísicas. Os poemas do Bruno não
esperam por uma recompensa nem a
pedem. Mesmo Alberto Caeiro nunca
foi tão longe na sua ambição de repor
a verdade acima da retórica cheia de
trejeitos ridículos dos literatos que
merecem a adulação dos vaidosos
escrevinhadores dos jornais. Acerca
da existência todos nós podemos dizer
o que nos apetece e imaginar que o
mistério da vida alheia e da nossa
se elucida proferindo palavras sem
muito sentido para além do brilho
aparente do som das vogais e do
disfarce de uma sintaxe retorcida.
Mas haja bom senso, haja modéstia,
haja prudência: não nos mintam, digam
a verdade como ela é se tiverem palavras
e sabedoria para isso. E se não podem,
calem-se, deixem a vida ser o que ela
é sem explicações fantasiosas; até para
a loucura é preciso ter talento. Vá,
comam chocolate, por exemplo, ou
vão para a beira do rio ver passar os
barcos no horizonte. Deixem as crianças
crescer para a vida longe das vossas
idiotices e embustes. A poesia é outra
coisa. Cá de longe, Bruno, mando-te
um abraço e um sorriso cheio de melancolia
e de cumplicidade. Tu não és um poeta
conhecido nem celebrado (ser
celebrado e conhecido seria uma
ofensa à tua lucidez sem ilusões);
mas tudo o que tu dizes cai sobre nós
como a chuva miudinha e despretensiosa
dos dias de Inverno em que, longe do sol,
sem heroísmo, sem nos queixarmos, nós
fixamos o nosso olhar na simplicidade sem
metafísica de tudo o que apenas existe.

(SB, Dec. 7, 2013)


J’avais aperçu son visage derrière
les vitres de la fenêtre. C’était une
grande maison au bord de la route,
bordée par une forêt. J’ai voulu entrer
mais je n’ai pas trouvé la porte. De la
fenêtre ouverte elle m’a crié : il n’y a
pas de porte, je suis désolée. Et elle
m’a salué de sa main blanche. Elle
souriait. Jamais je n’avais vu un aussi
beau visage. Elle n’appartenait pas
à ce monde. La maison où elle habitait
n’existait pas non plus. C’est ce que je
me suis dit pour me consoler de l’avoir
perdue, celle qui ne m’avait jamais
appartenue. Parfois, la nuit, je crois
encore entrevoir son beau visage
blanc, elle est dehors et me regarde
par la fenêtre. Ses yeux, sa bouche
se dessinent dans l’ombre. Je l’aurais
aimée. Mais elle n’appartenait pas à
ce monde, elle est née de la fièvre de
mon hallucination. C’est ce que je me
dis pour me consoler de l’avoir perdue,
celle que jamais ne m’a appartenue,
celle que jamais je n'ai pu oublier.

J. E. Soice

Friday, December 06, 2013

The meaning of words

Let me say it again: I never saw the meaning of any word; that's why I sometimes, going against my own rules, experience, beliefs and expectations, ask for an explanation. Forgive me for indulging in vulgarity.

I can see you and I don't need, in order to love or not like you, to have clearly defined the obscure, hidden - apparently visible? why not? - meaning of your being (that your being has a meaning is what will keep me interested in you in the future - my insatiable thirst for meaning). But can I apply this rule to words without incurring in some calamitous mistake and being by myself forever cursed?

P. S. Can this explain why I am feeling right now more comfortable with photography than with words? The "meaning" of a photography is forever open to interpretation and no interpretation will ever disclose it. The same with music.

J. E. Soice


words if they do not come to me
wrapped in the paper of your eyes
tainted by the pigments under your
brow caressed by the blurred hesitation
of your hands helped in their way 
to my heart by the gentleness or 
uncertainty of your smile are like 
stones skeletons of a frozen meaning 

j. e. soice

About words and games

Words are some sort of money and that’s why Derrida wrote about counterfeit money. When you talk to me do you have enough credit in the bank of language to be taken seriously? We never know but we don’t ask people who talk to us for their driver license in order to protect ourselves from a fraudulent word. 

She wrote to me and I did not understand or preferred not to understand what she was saying. This is what she said:

“When I am talking to you and you are listening to me I sometimes have the impression that we are both the unreal characters of a story told longtime ago by someone else. Are we fake? Do we really exist? Did you invent me because you needed me? Am I inventing you because I need you?”

Having read Wittgenstein a bit, I know that the meaning of words comes from the way people use them. No need to make things more difficult than they are. But what was she trying to say exactly or, in other words, what did she want me, when she wrote what she wrote, to understand about her, about myself, about life, about everything? I asked her.

She sent me a detailed, clinical, bright and funny explanation about the meaning of each one of the words she had used: when, I, talk, you, listen, etc. And she did not say anything else, she left it to me to take all decisions regarding the interpretation of all the words as they had been put together by her.

Well, she complained too: Why are you forcing me to explain? You should know that to explain makes us indulge in vulgarity.

I felt bad as a student who failed in an exam and wrote back to her immediately in order to avoid further suffering. I said thank you and apologized for the inconvenience and for having been vulgar.

Later on though I could not escape getting back to her text and I tried to understand better her refusal of satisfying my curiosity. I recognize that she was right in some way: any explanation of words is a way of limiting their sense and it’s a personal decision. It therefore makes us accountable. Do we want to assume that responsibility? Well, the fact is that, right and wrongly, we are assuming that responsibility all the time in our everyday life. Why, then, did she refuse to give me a personal interpretation of her probable intentions when she wrote what she wrote? Mystery? Maybe not.

For a while I felt that I was furious. I didn’t know that we would play that language game of hers. Innocently, naively, spontaneously, I have started to play another language game, my own language game. Innocently, naively? Hmmm. It’s open to discussion.

Good, but she has the right to refuse to play my language game and she is free to live her life and use language as she needs and wants. It’s her decision.

Because I liked her, I stopped being furious. I should be furious with myself and unhappy with my behavior, not with her. Why did I believe that she would accept to abide by my rules? Why the hell did I believe that words and phrases are so superficially and easily traded and understood? She is much clever, much smarter than I had imagined, she is a genius. Indeed. It was a good conclusion. Shame on me. I failed to see it.

These thoughts kept me uncomfortably busy for some hours. I forgot to eat and I could not sleep. I know why. She is living in a big house with many spacious rooms, she looks at me from the window but she refuses to give me the key that would allow me to join her. When I asked she said: there is no door and in consequence there is no key; if you really want to join me you have to find another way of getting here; use your brain.

I was tired and my brain didn’t show interest in cooperating with me.

Two weeks ago I had no particular problem to solve, I was in some way happy. All the difficulties in my life had been identified longtime ago and there was no need of immediate action of any kind. That was before I met her.

I sighed in perplexity. I had no solution for the problem. Should I panic? I heard me say: no, don’t be stupid; just stop thinking, words are just words and games are just games. Relax, everything will be OK soon.

I went to bed. I wanted to sleep.

J. E. Soice

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Strindberg: Life is a punishment!

September 3rd. 1904

Life is so horribly ugly, we human beings so abysmally evil, that if a writer were to describe all that he had seen and heard no one could bear to read it. I can think of people I have known, good, respectable, popular people, who have said or done things that I have crossed out, things I can never bring myself to mention and that I refuse to remem­ber. Breeding and education seem to do no more than mask the beast in us, and virtue is a disguise. Our highest achieve­ment is the concealment of our vileness.
life is so cynical that only a swine can be happy in it, and anyone who can see this hideous life as beautiful is a swine!

Sure enough, life is a punishment! A hell. For some a pur­gatory, for none a paradise.

We are absolutely forced to do evil and to torment our fellow men. It is all sham and delusion, lies, faithlessness, falsehood and self-deception. 'My dear friend' is my worst enemy. Instead of 'My beloved' one should write 'My hated'.

August Strindberg, From an Occult Diary, Penguin Books, 1979, translated from the French by Mary Sandbach