Teens writing

Since I am always reading from the Journals of Sylvia Plath I thought I could post something here. This was written when she was eighteen (!), and her journal entries are outstanding even when she was that young.

I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…

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Betina Gonzalez

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My friend Betina won some days ago a writing contest for her novel “Las Poseidas” (The Possessed) organized by a well-known Spanish editorial (Tusquets). It was the first time a woman wins that contest. Besides the money award, she gets her book published by an outstanding editorial, with the possibility of getting it translated into other languages. So basically and for some time now she has won an award every time she has submitted a novel or short story to a contest. It is good to know that literature of that quality is still praised, and in this case it is even better because it is a great life story: She had no contacts in the literary world, she did not care to put energy into networking, and by nothing else but the sheer force of her extraordinary talent she has won award after award. I also know how hard she has worked to perfect that natural talent, even when it was obvious from the start that she was simply outstanding.

What amazes me about her writing (besides the fact that her sentences are like small poems) is how layered her stories are: She usually writes a seemingly straightforward plot, but underneath that story she can be playing with literary genres, theorizing about how lies build up relationships, how memories distort our perception of people and ourselves, etc. Even if you miss that “underworld” you will still enjoy the main story, as she is first and foremost a narrator, but there is so much more waiting to be discovered. It is like finding a beautiful sculpture and thinking it is marvelous, until one day you realize it belonged to a huge temple. It is mind-blowing

This new prize was not well deserved, but rather inevitable.

un punto vidi che raggiava lume
acuto sì, che ‘l viso ch’elli affoca
chiuder conviensi per lo forte acume;

(Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, Paradiso, Canto XXVIII)

Freeky

People have wondered for a long time on what is beautiful and what isn’t. The Greeks certainly did, and even though they had set rules to define what the “right” proportions were for sculptures, buildings etc. they still had philosophers ready to challenge those ideals. Not sure if it was because they were dating someone ugly, but some of them decided that a bit of ugliness makes things prettier.
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On Being Desperate

1. The Self-portrait by Gustave Courbet (The Desperate man). I am not sure how desperate the young Courbet really was at the time he painted this though: not only was he on a much better financial position that his fellow painters (he inherited plenty of money), but he also knew very well how to create controversy to get noticed (this was his goal in life, and noticed he did get).

2. That line from stand-up comedian Steven Wright:

You know how it feels when you’re leaning back on a chair, and you lean too far back, and you almost fall over backwards, but then you catch yourself at the last second? I feel like that all the time

3. That line from Fran Lebowitz (a beautiful example of her dark humor):

There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness and death

4. The opening lines from the short story “Jim” by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño:

Many years ago I had a friend named Jim and since then I have not seen a sadder American. Desperate I have seen plenty. Sad, like Jim, none.

On a different topic and since I mentioned Ms. Lebowitz; this is from the Fran Lebowitz Reader:

From Children, pro or con?

Pro

Children do not sit next to one in restaurants and discuss their preposterous hopes for the future in loud tones of voice.

Children ask better questions than do adults. “May I have a cookie?” “Why is the sky blue?” and “What does a cow say?” are far more likely to elicit a cheerful response than“Where’s your manuscript?” “Why haven’t you called?” and “Who’s your lawyer?”

Children sleep either alone or with small toy animals. The wisdom of such behavior is unquestionable, as it frees them from the immeasurable tedium of being privy to the whispered confessions of others. I have yet to run across a teddybear who was harboring the secret desire to wear a maid’s uniform

Cons

Children respond inadequately to sardonic humor and veiled threats.
Notoriously insensitive to subtle shifts in mood, children will persist in discussing the color of a recently sighted cement mixer long after one’s own interest in the topic has waned.

Children are rarely in the position to lend one a truly interesting sum of money. There are, however, exceptions, and such children are an excellent addition to any party

All too often children are accompanied by adults.

I suppose I am on a Fran Lebowitz phase (maybe to be expected since I was rereading a lot of Oscar Wilde before) so I will also recommend the documentary “Public Speaking” by Martin Scorsese.  It is amazing to see how the way she writes is exactly like the way she talks.

Johannes Brahms

Brahms meets the already famous violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom he establishes a long life friendship. Brahms even lets Joaquim write the cadenza (the improvised part) of his Violin Concerto. Some composers were not too keen on letting others touch their work, certainly Beethoven was not a fan of letting people mess up with his music.

Brahms meets Liszt, the living legend, one of the icons of programmatic music (music that tries to narrate a story by blending with other art forms, something like the 19th century version of multimedia). Every composer at that time wanted to be under Liszt’s umbrella, except for Brahms, who could not care less for programmatic music (and has the nerve to let Liszt know this). Brahms is criticized and disliked by the “avant garde” of his time, like Wagner or Tchaikovsky, for being too conservative.

Brahms meets the Schumman’s, who try to help him. Robert Schumann praises Brahms as the successor of Beethoven – a strange compliment, as it puts him under a lot of pressure. Brahms falls in love with the beautiful and hyper talented Clara Schumann (14 years older than him) and even moves to her building after the death of Robert Schumann. Most likely (though nobody knows for sure) nothing happened between them, as Brahms was extremely good at falling in love, but had no idea as to what to do afterwards.

Brahms meets Death, the Destroyer of delights and the Divider of man’s days. Not too long before that, he decides to destroy a huge amount of his unpublished works.

Maybe I should mention that one of the few poems (if not the only one) that Jorge Luis Borges has ever dedicated to a musician was dedicated to Brahms:

To Johannes Brahms

A mere intruder in the lavish gardens
You planted in the plural memory
Of times to come, I tried to sing the bliss
Your violins erect into the blue.
But now I’ve given up. To honor you.
That misery which people give the empty
Name of art does not suffice.
Whomever would honor you must be bright and brave.
I am a coward. I am a sad man. Nothing.
Can justify this audacity
Of singing the magnificent happiness
–Fire and crystal–of your soul in love.
My servitude is in the impure word,
Offspring of a concept and a sound;
No symbol, not a mirror, not a moan,
Yours is the river that flows and endures.

(from Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems, Vol 2.)

Climax For A Ghost Story

Climax For A Ghost Story, by I.A. Ireland (*) (1919)

“How eerie!” said the girl, advancing cautiously. “–And what a heavy door!” She touched it as she spoke and it suddenly swung to with a click.
“Good Lord!” said the man. “I don’t believe there’s a handle inside. Why, you’ve locked us both in!”
“Not both of us. Only one of us,” said the girl, and before his eyes she passed straight through the door, and vanished.

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Dada

George Grosz’s Explosion. Image taken from the MoMa website

I have always had a soft spot for the Dadaist movement. I was a big fan of the Surrealists during High School, until I realized that the best artists had either left the movement, had been kicked out of it, or did not even acknowledge being a part of it (an exception can be made with the amazing Magritte, who stayed loyal).

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Jobs, part I (Kafka)

Kafka enjoying a day at the beach. Wait a minute, it is Kafka enjoying a day at the beach!!! (Max Brod at his side)

I think it was the 19th century that gave us the idea of the “artist” that still pervades our imagination, that is, a tortured genius misunderstood by society. There were certainly characters that fitted this stereotype before the aforementioned century, but examples abound in the late 18th century and especially during the 19th : Beethoven, Byron, Poe, the French decadent poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, etc.

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