April Reading:

Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

This collection of essays is in contrast to the novels and plays of Camus, a notable divergence between lightness and conflict. Though his two major themes are absurdity and rebellion, Camus also wrote poignantly of happiness:

“What is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”

It may not have come easy for him. His novels are more expressive of how he viewed the world, not how he wished it to be:

“A certain kind of optimism, of course, is not my strong point. With the rest of my generation I grew up to the drumbeats of the First World War, and our history since then has continued the tale of murder, injustice, or violence.”

Camus wrote truthfully from his experiences of growing up in a post WWI – pre WWII (the Interwar Period) world. We can take lessons from this. At present, it is not easy to find happiness in the despair of nowadays. We are living with the uncertainties of chaos and pandemic.

But it is the simple moments, each one as they pass, that are pieces to the bliss. This is from Love of Life, written of time spent in Spain:

“When we are aware of every gift, the contradictory intoxications we can enjoy (including that of lucidity) are indescribable. Never perhaps has any land but the Mediterranean carried me so far from myself and yet so near.

Camus continues:

“The emotion I felt at the cafe in Palma probably came from this. On the other hand, what struck me in the empty district near the cathedral, at noon, among the old palaces with their cool courtyards, in the streets with their scented shadows, was the idea of a certain ‘slowness.’ No one in the streets. Motionless old women in the miradors. And, walking along past the houses, stopping in courtyards full of green plants and round, gray pillars, I melted into this silence, losing my limits, becoming nothing more than the sound of my footsteps or the flight of birds whose shadows I could see on the still sunlit portion of the walls.”

Camus did conclude that ‘there is no love of life without despair about life’ and he did wish to be rid of the theme of ‘the extreme situation’ that he was irrevocably tied to. This volume is a respite to the turmoil he wrote about.

Lyrical and Critical Essays can be checked out online at the Internet Archive.

It’s National Poetry Month!

Patrick Stewart has been reciting a sonnet of Shakespeare’s each day on his twitter feed. Here is Sonnet 2:

 

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter’d weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

March Reading:

Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Ann Porter

“Look, don’t be afraid, it is nothing, it is only eternity.”

This short story is autobiographical in nature, Katherine Ann Porter having also survived the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. She is one of the few writers to write specifically of this time and also wrote the most dramatic narrative of what it was like to be ill with the flu.  Katherine’s illness was so severe that it permanently turned her hair white, a lasting souvenir of the Pandemic.

Main character Miranda quickly becomes ill, losing her grip on reality while ironically, sharpening her senses: 

“It’s as bad as anything can be,” said Adam, “all the theaters and nearly all the shops and restaurants are closed, and the streets have been full of funerals all day and ambulances all night —“

“But not one for me,” said Miranda, feeling hilarious and lightheaded.

Miranda walks around in an influenzal miasma, soon passing from waking nightmare into a whirling delirium of clarity:

Miranda sighed, and lay back on the pillow and thought, I must give up, I can’t hold out any longer. There was only that pain, only that room, and only Adam. There were no longer any multiple planes of living, no tough filaments of memory and hope pulling taut backwards and forwards holding her upright between them. There was only this moment and it was a dream of time, and Adam’s face, very near hers, eyes still and intent, was a shadow, and there was to be nothing more….”

The title quote comes from the Book of Revelation:

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Ironically, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic struck a quarter of the world’s population at the time, 500 million. It killed 50-100 million.

No need to go to the library to check this one out, stay home and stay healthy. Here’s a link to the text:

Pale Horse, Pale Rider at archive.org

February Reading:

Declaration of Independence: The List of Grievances:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

Vilma Grunwald wrote the following note to her husband before she was sent to the gas chamber with her disabled son, John. A guard got the note to her husband and he was later liberated, along with the little golden boy, Frank.

Frank did not read the letter until after his father’s death and he later donated it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz before liberation.

auschwitz.org

ushmm.org

January Reading:

Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme is generally viewed as the most under read and underrated author of the 20th century.
Postmodernist, deconstructionist, and absurdist: Barthelme parceled, cut, and altered language into literary collages. Influenced by modernist painting, he was director of the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum for a time.

I was wrong, Peterson thought, the world is absurd. The absurdity is punishing me for not believing in it. I affirm the absurdity. On the other hand, absurdity is itself absurd.

Barthelme was ‘overwhelmed’ by Samuel Beckett. He believed that the way for a writer to emulate another writer is to write in opposition to them. Thus, Barthelme writes in opposition to Beckett, who in turn writes in opposition to Joyce. Besides Beckett: Camus, Kafka, Faulkner, Stein, one can feel the ghostly touches in Barthelme’s writing.

Similarly Shotwell pretends to watch my .45 but he is really watching my hand resting idly atop my attache case, my hand resting idly atop my attache case, my hand. My hand resting idly atop my attache case.

Barthelme experiments with language, some stories descending (ascending?) into technobabble and jargon, juxtapositions, and repetitive listing. But it is not just a word salad. There is thoughtfulness for the craft here. Writer T.C. Boyle called it ‘postmodernist hijinks.’

The Achievements of Capitalism:
(a) The curtain wall
(b) Artificial rain
(c) Rockefeller Center
(d) Casals
(e) Mystification

“Capitalism sure is sunny!” cried the unemployed Laredo toolmaker, as I was out walking, in the streets of Laredo. “None of that noxious Central European miserabilism for us!”

Barthelme once said that painters “had to go out and reinvent painting because of the invention of photography and I think films have done something of the sort for us [i.e. writers].”

They can pick up a Baby Ruth wrapper on the street, glue it to the canvas (in the right place, of course, there’s that), and lo! people crowd about and cry, ‘A real Baby Ruth wrapper, by God, what could be realer than that!’ Fantastic metaphysical advantage.

Donald Barthelme died in 1989.