"Insane people are angels who, unable to bear the realities around them, must somehow take refuge in another world." - Reinaldo Arenas
At the beginning...more"Insane people are angels who, unable to bear the realities around them, must somehow take refuge in another world." - Reinaldo Arenas
At the beginning of his autobiography about life under the Cuban dictatorship of Castro, Arenas states that, "if you cannot live the way you want, there is no point in living." This book however is a testament to the struggle to live, regardless of the costs (even and inevitably death), it is a scream before the fading light, an honest and impassioned plea for the ability to be free against all oppressive and dehumanizing systems. Reading it will make you want to run out into the street and kiss the first person you see, especially if you live in a place where doing so will land you in prison. Despite years of the most extreme intellectual and sexual oppression, watching all of his friends either be imprisoned, turn informer, or commit suicide, despite years spent in prison himself (which he compares, in most horrific detail, to the last circle of Dante's Hell), Arenas never abandoned his integrity, his need to see and write out of a love for liberty and love itself, even if it meant hiding in a culvert on the run scribbling before night falls.
If the insane are angels who cannot bear this reality, it is only the greatest of artists who can angelically bear it, and lift us all above the horrors of the world. In so doing, Arenas gives each of us permission, and in fact the imperative, to live every moment truthfully and passionately as possible, before, as may happen in any time or place ruled by power and money, even that basic freedom to live is stripped away.(less)
One point that Patricia Hampl raises in “I Could Tell You Stories,” which I think is essential to keep in mind when working with autobiographical mate...moreOne point that Patricia Hampl raises in “I Could Tell You Stories,” which I think is essential to keep in mind when working with autobiographical material, is that memory is not necessarily reliable or true. In the piece “Memory and Imagination,” Hampl recalls a memory of her first piano lesson, down to very specific sensory details, and then admits afterwards that what she had written was a lie. As she puts it: “no memoirist writes for long without experiencing an unsettling disbelief about the reliability of memory, a hunch that memory is not, after all, just, memory” (Hampl, 24). And yet at the same time it seems that there is very much an expectation that autobiographical writing should be factually true. I recently read of a WWII autobiography slated for movie adaptation that was discovered to be ‘not entirely factual,’ which resulted in a scandal and cancellation of the deal. The article suggested that this happens regularly, too regularly for the popularity of this kind of writing. Hampl suggests that “a reader has a right to expect a memoir to be as accurate as the writer’s memory can make it” (Hampl, 29), or at least that’s the assumption. Though why this is the case I’m not sure.
I instead agree that memory is unreliable and leads to invention. If you think about it, it’s not like memory is a faithful recording of past events, the way vinyl or film are. The mind is a malleable medium and works through the ambiguities of meaning. When we remember we can only approach the past from our present vantage point, which necessarily means the memory will be different from when it occurred, both in detail and meaning. Even though the details and importance of Hampl’s interaction with the woman in “Red Sky in the Morning” may have been such when the event first happened, they read now more as a story. The details and meaning may have changed in her mind over the years, becoming more focused on those elements worth retelling. When I read the sentence about this woman “drifting off with the secret heaviness of experience into the silence where stories live their real lives, crumbling into the loss we call remembrance” (Hampl, 20), I was immediately reminded of a favorite line from one of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” that I think succinctly captures this contradiction in the function of memory: “We had the experience but missed the meaning,/ And approach to the meaning restores the experience/ In a different form.” I suppose the challenge with memory is that meaning is not something we can ever posit beforehand, it always comes about after the facts. As Hampl puts it, returning to her lie about the importance of the nun in “Memory and Imagination:” “I don’t write about what I know, but in order to find out what I know” (Hampl, 27). Working with my own memories I’ve found a similar experience, I write what I thought was true, and then remember that it was different, and yet clearer, richer of detail and meaning. But it takes starting with what you think is true in order to get into that deeper reality of memory.
Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces reads like a collection of politically charged fairy tales. He does this by drawing on the form, style, and ton...moreEduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces reads like a collection of politically charged fairy tales. He does this by drawing on the form, style, and tone of Aesop’s Fables (which was essentially the first collection of short short prose fiction) and inserting in moments of magic or myth at pivotal moments in his short narratives, such as the line, “he scoured heaven and earth in vain” (16) in the section The Origin of the World, the title of which also partakes and sets up this mythic scope. But what really makes these fables is the use of historical peoples, times, places, and events as the backdrop for whatever magical event or effect Galeano is trying to get at. Often these historical events detail the terrible political realities of South America, but the horror is tempered through the magical moment, such as José Carrasco becoming a miracle worker after he is shot fourteen times in the head in Celebration of the Human Voice/ 3. These magic moments serve as indications of each vignette’s moral (as every fable has to have a moral), and for Galeano, the points that he is trying to make are about the intersection of language, art, reality, and politics. In short, Galeano’s lessons are about the power of language to create the world and keep it free. The story in The Function of the Reader/ 2, in which an army captain resigns after reading the oppressed poet César Vallejo, perhaps best highlights this theme of the power of language.
The use of historical events to ground the magical and moralizing elements allows these metaphors to become more real for us the reader (as is the function of magical realism), but there is also perhaps a reverse effect too which works against Galeano. By blending into an imaginative, magical sense of reality, these historical events also become less real, more figurative. Part of this might have to do with the 21st Century’s apathy towards images of violence, we are so attenuated to them in movies that the subtlety with which they are portrayed here looses a good deal of their intended horror. What we are left with, the most striking parts of the text, are the miraculous and whimsical non-real moments, though this might also be Galeano’s point, that the horrors of political reality are only real because they have been given power through language previously, power that can be likewise used to create beauty in the world.
Another reason however that I felt the vignettes were less powerful than they could be was that they were vignettes. Only in a few places, like the dream sequences, do we have larger narratives building from the separate and disparate historical events. But otherwise these events are isolated, and as such, can’t seem to add up to more than facets on Galeano’s ideas. They are too readily digested, where a longer narrative, or one with a more continuous structure might build up to a larger and more significant effect. If, as Galenao suggests, we can create reality through language, a fully crafted literary world, as one might find in a novel, might convey that idea on a much deeper level. Of course, if I had already written a trilogy of books on the history of the Americas, as Galeano did in Memory of Fire, I would probably want to move towards shorter disconnected forms as well! (less)
12.1.09 I couldn't sleep last night, as inspired as I was having begun to read Carl Jung's Liber Novus, his "Red Book." My first impression is that thi...more12.1.09 I couldn't sleep last night, as inspired as I was having begun to read Carl Jung's Liber Novus, his "Red Book." My first impression is that this is a massive tome; at 16x12x2'' it is easily the largest book I've ever laid hand on, and just turning the pages takes a substantial effort. But it's well worth it.
The Liber Novus is Jung's account of his decades long process of psychological and subconscious self experimentation, through a technique called "active imagination;" a process that he claimed was the seeds to all his work. Written first in a series of Black Books, this masterpiece was later painstakingly copied into a red leather-bound book, though never finished. And by copy I mean create an entire illuminated manuscript, complete with exquisite calligraphy and full color mandala and dream illustrations, that Jung worked on till his fascination with alchemy took hold, and then sat in a box until long after he died.
This first edition presents not just a translation of the text (by Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani), but a full facsimile of the original folio plates, which have been kept in a safe deposit box unlooked at for the last 80 years and so are in excellent condition. The edition also includes critical apparatuses; a historical essay to contextualize the significance of the Liber Novus in Jung's life and work (and was the main thrust to convince the Society for the Heirs of Jung to finally let the book be published), as well as paratextual citations to highlight the variety of references in the manuscript itself, which should make the read that much more insightful.
Flipping through the folio I was struck by the richness of the illustrations, some of which I would consider masterpieces in themselves, filled with fractals, swirling colors, archetypal situations, and a surreal dream-sense that was apparently under-appreciated by the Surrealists. The calligraphy is in German, which I unfortunately don't speak, and can only comment on the precise appearance of.
As for the text itself, that will be my next attempt. I will say that it begins with the title: "The way of what is to come," along with some prophetic quotations from Isaiah, and much of it is in dialogue form between Jung and his spirit guide (in the tradition of Mephistopheles), placing the work as a modern take of the tradition of revelatory literature, which isn't so far off considering the inclusion of Jung's dreams prophesying the World Wars.
On the whole, the book seems to be Jung's attempt to reconcile the scientific with the mythic and spiritual, the personal with collective, and as such could not be more timely than to finally see the light of people's eyes. As a writer interested in the use of dreams and personal narratives, as well as having taken this process to my own experimental, revelatory, self-mythology and understand the danger of attempting vs. the incredibly potent imagery that can come out of such a process, I suspect the Liber Novus may have far reaching cultural effects that we could only begin to imagine.
12.11.09 I finally started reading the text of Jung's Red Book last night, and it is as revelatory, revolutionary, and vitally important as I suspected it would be, not just in terms of Jung's psychological theories but in taking a stance for a broader spiritual approach to reality that is even more lacking now than when Jung was writing. Reading this is like reading Blake, I want to quote every passage (as they are almost all brilliant), but if my cat will get off the tome I'll look at some of the important symbols and themes that Jung was attempting to articulate.
The spirit of the times vs. the spirit of the depths - Jung makes a distinction between the spirit or stance of the time in which he lives vs. the spirit of a greater, ancient, and universal reality that is entirely overlooked by the present, and is striving to come forth through Jung. This is historical consciousness vs. the mythic subconsciousness, and Jung frames the Red Book as a way of getting past all the small-minded, violent, materialistic impulses of his age (including a harsh criticism of Christianity), while recognizing that this present world may entirely ignore his warning and call for an understanding of the subconscious.
The supreme meaning - Jung claims that God and gods are only images of an eternal supreme meaning oscillating between meaning and absurdity, and it is this supreme meaning that men must come to recognize as a solution to the spirit of the times. This is entirely consistent with my concept of ultimate significance, in that the supreme meaning is more truly real than the images we conceive of it through.
Dreams and epiphanic visions - Jung recounts a number of visions prophesying the world wars as well as his own future work. He claims an uncontrollable compulsion to record these dreams, though he never did before. Similarly, a number of the passages Jung claims are actually the spirit of the depths or his soul speaking through him as a medium.
The soul - Much of the early part of this book is Jung's attempt to reconnect with his soul. This is the formation of his archetype of the anima/animus, but it is not made explicit in his academic writings that the archetype is not just an image but one's actual, living soul, which encourages us to live and do everything we dream of living and doing. The soul is one's God and opposite, which perfects us in the supreme meaning. The soul is not part of us, we are only the expression and symbol of our soul in the world.
The desert - Though Jung's academic writings discuss the archetypes they do not discuss (as far as I've read) the importance of subconscious locations. In particular Jung discusses here the image of the desert, which is the conception of oneself and soul that one must journey into and rejuvenate in order to overcome the spirit of the times. Jung believes he saw a desert because his soul had been withered (and perhaps those in touch with their souls experience a garden). From my own explorations of the subconscious I also found this "desert of the soul" as the location for the deeper, mythic realities I had to contend with outside of the city (the symbol for the everyday world and times). As my own process continued, this desert was first flooded and became a garden before the entire inner world was set to flames so that a new internal reality could form. I am curious how these locations change through Jung's process in the remainder of the Red Book, as I find such psychogeographies an essential compliment to the character archetypes.
The descent into hell - Jung has a vision in which he realizes that he must descend to hell in order to individuate himself and find the supreme meaning. Such descensus avernum are common in mythic and revelatory literature and serve as another example of the importance of place as symbol for Jung's theories. Jung equates this descent with the possibility of going mad, and sees himself as a sacrificed hero who must overcome that potential madness for a more divine madness lacking in the spirit of the times. This section (and the titles of the other sections) suggest that Jung is on a hero's journey comparable to that described by Joseph Campbell. This hell is all the absurd meaninglessness of our times that we must go through in order to construct our own meaning of events, which is the supreme meaning. (less)