— from an illuminated manuscript of The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by Al Jazari (1136–1206)
— fresco transferred to canvas by Master of San Baudelio
“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
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.
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
— Agha Shahid Ali reading “Of It All”
— The Australian feature on Les Murray (October 17, 1938-April 29, 2019)
And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the
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
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,
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
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
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
— قصيدة “اللاجئ يحكي” بصوت سركون بولص
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
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.
— Miniature of Baghdad (Bağdat) by the Bosnian-Ottoman polymath Matrakçı Nasuh (1480-1564)
Having worked for years to prevent war, and seeing the folly of Italy and America being at war—! I certainly wasn’t telling the troops to revolt. I thought I was fighting an internal question of constitutional government. And if any man, any individual man, can say he has had a bad deal from me because of race, creed, or color, let him come out and state it with particulars. The Guide to Kulchur was dedicated to Basil Bunting and Louis Zukofsky, a Quaker and a Jew …
What I was right about was the conservation of individual rights. If, when the executive or any other branch exceeds its legitimate powers, no one protests, you will lose all your liberties. My method of opposing tyranny was wrong over a thirty-year period; it had nothing to do with the Second World War in particular. If the individual, or heretic, gets hold of some essential truth, or sees some error in the system being practiced, he commits so many marginal errors himself that he is worn out before he can establish his point.
The world in twenty years has piled up hysteria—anxiety over a third war, bureaucratic tyranny, and hysteria from paper forms. The immense and undeniable loss of freedoms, as they were in 1900, is undeniable. We have seen the acceleration in efficiency of the tyrannizing factors. It’s enough to keep a man worried. Wars are made to make debt. I suppose there’s a possible out in space satellites and other ways of making debt.
— from The Paris Review interview with Ezra Pound
That is, it was the fear that afflicts most citizens who, one fine (or dark) day, choose to make the practice of writing, and especially the practice of fiction writing, an integral part of their lives. Fear of being no good. Also fear of being overlooked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one’s efforts and striving will come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognized. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers.
— from 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer