𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 All revolutionaries are stupid

It pains my intelligence that someone should think they can alter anything through political agitation. I’ve always considered violence, of any type, a particularly cock-eyed example of human stupidity. All revolutionaries are stupid as are all reformers, albeit to a lesser degree, because less discomfiting. Revolutionaries and reformers all make the same mistake. Lacking the power to master and reform their own attitude towards life, which is everything, or their own being, which is almost everything, they escape into wanting to change others and the external world. Every revolutionary, every reformer, is an escapee. To fight is proof of one’s inability to do battle with oneself. To reform is proof that one is oneself beyond all help. If a man of real sensitivity and correct reasoning feels concerned about the evil and injustice of the world, he naturally seeks to correct it first where it manifests itself closest to home, and that, he will find, is in his own being. The task will take him his whole lifetime. For us everything lies in our concept of the world; changing our concept of the world means changing our world, that is, the world itself, since it will never be anything other than how we perceive it. The inner sense of justice that allows us to write one beautifully fluent page, the true reformation by which we bring to life our dead sensibilities – these are the truth, our truth, the only truth. All the rest is landscape, picture frames for our feelings, bindings for our thoughts.

— from The Book of Disquiet: The Complete Edition by Fernando Pessoa, edited by Jerónimo Pizarro, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

1929 (2017)

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Pilgrimage or Funeral

As far as I can see, in the prolix confusion of uncertain fate all gods and all men are equal. In the obscure fourth-floor room where I live, they file past me in a succession of dreams, and they are no more to me than they were to those who believed in them. The fetishes of Negroes with frightened, bewildered eyes, the animal gods of savages from tangled wildernesses, the figures the Egyptians made into symbols, the bright divinities of the Greeks, the upright gods of the Romans, Mithras, lord of the Sun and of all emotion, Jesus lord of consistency and charity, various interpretations of that same Christ, new saints, the gods of the new towns, all file past to the slow march (is it a pilgrimage or a funeral?) of error and illusion. On they all march, and behind them come the empty shadows, the dreams that the more inept dreamers believe must have come down to live on earth, simply because they cast shadows. Pathetic concepts with neither soul nor face – Freedom, Humanity, Happiness, a Better Future, Social Science – they trail through the solitude of the dark like leaves dragged along beneath the train of a regal cloak, in the eternal exile of kings, a cloak stolen by the beggars who occupied the gardens of the house of defeat.

— from The Book of Disquiet: The Complete Edition by Fernando Pessoa, edited by Jerónimo Pizarro, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

1929 (2017)

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 a young woman with child and a young man in love with her

I’d rather think about a young woman with child and a young man in love with her even though he’s not the father of her child, the two of them are the only ones in the world, and he, the young man, is thinking that the young woman makes him so happy that even though he isn’t the father of the child she’s carrying he has to help her, they have to find a place where she can give birth, the young man thinks, and then the two of them, the man and the woman, go off to find a place somewhere and someone who can help, but as they’re walking it starts to rip and tear inside the young woman’s body and then they’re at a farm, they go up and knock on the door but no one opens up, so either there’s no one home or else no one wants to open the door for them, but the house is dark so probably there’s no one there, so they go into the hay barn, there are some cows in the stalls, some sheep walking around in the main part of the barn, and it’s probably the heat that the animals are giving off that makes it less cold in the barn than it is outside, so the girl lies down in the straw and there she gives birth to a baby and she says that an angel has told her she would give birth to a baby boy so it must be a boy, she says, and she says that the angel told her not to be scared because God was with her and the young man sees that a light is coming from the child, an incomprehensibly beautiful light, and then the young woman takes her breast and she gives it to the baby and the boy falls silent, and he sucks, he sucks, the young man thinks, and everything about it is unbelievable because there’s such a strange light shining from the baby lying there at the young woman’s breast, then she looks up at the young man and she smiles at him and the young man thinks that this, this light, no, he can’t understand it, because this light from the child in the darkness

— from The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls

1995-99 (2019)

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 أسألهم متى كانت آخر نهاية للعالم

كنا نصطاد القصائد الجيدة بصنارة أوشكت على الخرس
كلما قرر أحدنا الانتحار نظر إليه الآخر
أقول لصديقي بصيغة من صيغ المبالغة
الحياة صعبانة عليّ
بالرئة ما يكفي من الغرق
وبالعين ما يكفي من العمى
وبنا ما يكفي من كل ما لا نحب
توقفت عن الغناء حين اختفى الهواء
الصوت لا ينتقل في الفراغ يا ندى
لهذا أيضا لم أعد أتصل بأصدقائي
نمشي في الطرقات
ونذبح كل المرايا التي لا نستطيع التكلم أمامها على راحتنا
نشرخ حناجرنا بالصراخ ونداء الله والموتى
ثم نجلس كي نحكي الحواديت بصوت مبحوح
وحولنا ما تبقى من المرايا
أتذكر اقتباساتي المفضلة كتدريب يومي على التنفس
أحدُهم مَرّ من هنا،
أحدهم شاف هذا المُرّ
أسألهم متى كانت آخر نهاية للعالم؟
فينظرون إلى ساعاتهم المتوقفة
ويقولون لي: غدًا،
أو كمان شوية
— قصدية لمجهول يعرف نفسه z

2015

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 The new hope is despair

“The hope of reason lies in the emancipation from our own fear of despair.” … It is not despair that is the agent of imprisonment, not despair that keeps us, (or reason), in a state of unfreedom in need of emancipation; but rather fear. The problem is not despair, but our being afraid to feel despair. In other words, it is not pessimism that is a challenge to the liberating effects of rational hope, but our fearful dismissal of it. It is optimism itself that keeps us from achieving what optimism hopes for. Optimism is its own worst enemy; it is self-destructive … Kierkegaard suggests [we] give in to despair … Any life that isn’t fundamentally lived in submission to God is a life lived in despair anyway, whether it is lived in pursuit of aesthetic enjoyment, or in pursuit of fundamental ethical commitments. The problem is that both sorts of life unavoidably must involve various kinds of mechanisms for covering over despair, of distracting us from it. But such mechanisms cannot succeed forever, and in fact the mechanisms usually only serve to make things worse. So the advice is just to cut to the chase, to choose hopelessness. Despair is the necessary step to God, so being openly in despair is better than trying to fool yourself that you’re actually not; and in this sense despair takes you closer to God and to genuine hope.

— from “Hope & Despair: Philosophical considerations for uncertain times” by Michael Stevenson

2018

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 رسالة من إسلام حنيش

مر عامٌ ونيف منذ كتابي الأخير. وهذا خطأ. الأمور على ما يرام نسبيًا. نظارة الثلاثينات تختلف تمامًا عما قبلها. الحياة من هنا ليست بالبساطة التي كنا نتخيلها من قبل، الزوجية بالأخص. أصبحت بعد الثلاثين أحلم أحلامًا غريبة، وحية بشكل عجيب. أوسخ تلك الأحلام على سبيل المثال – وأكثرها تكرارًا – أن أحلم بانحباس صوتي. أنادي مستنجدًا، فأشعر بصوتي كعجينة مرخية، تتمدد في كسل، فلا يصل. ثم أستيقظ فزِعًا، وأتشبث بأقرب قطعة أثاث تقابلني. أتعلم أني بلت في فراشي مثل الأطفال منذ يومين؟ اعتقدت في بداية الأمر أنني احتلمت مثلًا. ولكن سرعان ما تبينت أنه بول. بول يا يوسف! كنت أحلم أني أفرغ ضغطًا شديدًا على المثانة، واستيقظت شاخخ على روحي… أي والله! طيب. نهايته. أخبرك أني لم ألحق موعد التقديم في منحة النشر. ولكني قدمت قبلها بشهر أو اثنين في منحة لإنتاج البودكاست، من قبل المورد الثقافي بالتعاون مع بي.بي.سي. ولم يختاروني بالطبع. أفكر حاليًا في نشر الديوان جديًا، ولكن العلوقية، كما تعلم، أعيت من يداويها، وتمنعني من العمل جديًا كما أفكر. مرفق طيه صورة لأول أحجية (بازل) ركبناها سويًا أنا وذو النون. لقد وضع فيها الكثير من الجهد (رغم حركته المفرطة)، ليحاول اتباع تعليماتي، والتركيز في كل قطعة. لعنة الله على الجينات. والسلام ختام.

2019

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Blissfully Metricized

Academia is not alone in dealing with the pernicious effects of this new system. With Facebook now one of the world’s largest corporations, it is not a loose analogy to say that clicks, likes, follows, page views, and so on are at the foundation of a new global economy. Clicks have radically transformed journalism, for instance, which explains in part why so many New York Times opinion pieces now have all the tone and nuance of a tweet. Increasingly, it is as tweets that they are conceived.

The same click-swipe-and-rate economy has left everyone involved in cultural production dazed and stumbling. Journalism, art, literature, and entertainment have been engulfed by a tsunami of metrics. And dare we mention love, friendship, and political community? These, too, have been absorbed by the mania of metrics coupled with so-called gamification — a treacherous imitation of play. A flood of neurochemicals saturates our dried-out brains when a heart or a thumbs-up pops up in response to a text, or when our dating profiles get a match, or when our hasty yet emphatic political opinions or our pseudo-humble tales of small daily failures are praised and echoed back to us. The more we swipe in the right direction, or achieve whatever minor virality we can get, the more we are rewarded, and the more we hone our future swipes and tweets and posts. The first flood triggers another, and we float along blissfully metricized, trading our subjectivity for an algorithm.

— from “How Social Media Imperils Scholarship” by Justin E. H. Smith

2019

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 And All This Comes to an End

And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the

castle,

To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as blue jade,

With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and drums,

With ripples like dragon-scales, going grass green on the water,

Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming without

hindrance,

With the willow flakes falling like snow,

And the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,

And the water a hundred feet deep reflecting green eyebrows

—Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young moonlight,

Gracefully painted—

And the girls singing back at each other,

Dancing in transparent brocade,

And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,

Tossing it up under the clouds.

And all this comes to an end.

And is not again to be met with.

— from “Exiles Letter” in Ezra Pound’s Cathay

1915

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 On Plagiarism

The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral caliber and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

— from “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem

2007

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 A literary version of the Sony Walkman and the Honda Civic

Murakami’s pronouncements matter because he’s Murakami, “one of the world’s foremost novelists,” as AFP put it. But if this is why the English language press latched onto Murakami’s comments while overlooking Levy’s interview, then we’ve arrived at the sad intersection of literary authorship and Oprah-ism, wherein the media’s limited attention span necessitates the selection of a single, self-perpetuating fame figure for whom publicly-disseminated thoughtfulness is reserved.

Credit The New Yorker and other well-moneyed American publishing interests. Murakami – as English readers (including the Swedish Academy) know him – is their fabrication. Translator Stephen Snyder’s work traces the shaping of Murakami’s brand by Robert Gottlieb and examines how Gottlieb’s successor, Deborah Treisman, has fixated on conjuring “the next Murakami.” To the credulous, this is an effort to keep Japanese literature in The New Yorker’s tent; to the observant, it’s an attempt to construct an exotic, saleable façade for American fiction’s tired idioms (the lack of a viable American Nobel candidate is an exhausted topic). As Snyder has noted, Murakami’s American investors set out to turn him into a “literary version of the Sony Walkman and the Honda Civic.”

This would be fine if it resulted in the publication of more Japanese literature. But Gottlieb and Treisman haven’t given us Japanese literature. They have given us Treisman and Gottlieb. Their fingerprints are omnipresent in the New Yorker versions. Alterations are not necessarily wrongful; both previous Nobel laureates from Japan were rendered by activist translators (Edward Seidensticker and John Nathan). But Nathan translated Oe with autonomy and was published by the insurgent Barney Rosset. Now comes the age of pander, where authors provide the raw cultural and biographical materials necessary to make the publishing industry’s pet aesthetics marketable. Treisman – who “made” Yoko Ogawa – withdrew The New Yorker’s interest in one of Ogawa’s stories after the author declined to rewrite the ending.

— Dreux Richard in Japan Today

2012

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Wet-thighed

In the yellow time of pollen, in the blue time of lilacs,

in the green that would balance on the wide green world,

air filled with flux, world-in-a-belly

in the blue lilac weather, she had written a letter:

You came into my life really fast and I liked it.

 

When we let go the basket of the good-luck birds

the sky erupted open in the hail of its libation;

there was a gap and we entered it gladly. Indeed the birds

may have broken the sky and we, soaked, squelched

in the mud of our joy, braided with wet-thighed surrender.

 

In the yellow time of pollen near the blue time of lilacs

there was a gap in things. And here we are.

The sparrows flew away so fast a camera could not catch them.

The monkey swung between our arms and said I am, hooray,

the monkey of all events, the great gibbon of convergences.

 

— from “Totem Poem” by Luke Davies

2004

𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 Leaving

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—

A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

 

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—

All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

 

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;

Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

 

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities

multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

 

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.

He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

 

— from “Tonight” by Agha Shahid Ali

 

2003

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