Visiting Spain for a conference earlier this month, I impulsively decided to do something about my almost non-existent Spanish. I began by reading theVisiting Spain for a conference earlier this month, I impulsively decided to do something about my almost non-existent Spanish. I began by reading the Spanish edition of Le petit prince, which got me started nicely. Now I wanted to try something harder. I had in fact read Persepolis in French not long after it came out, but I remembered very little of it; this would be a proper test of whether I had actually learned anything. I was pleased to find that I could read it! I'm still having to guess a lot of words, and every now and then I found a sentence that made no sense at all, but I could follow the story without difficulties.
The thing which surprised me most was that I found I liked the book better in Spanish than I had in French. After a while, I figured out why: my very uncertain language skills forced me to look carefully at all the pictures, and I realized that I hadn't properly appreciated them first time round. I'd read the book pretty much in one sitting, which didn't do it justice. This time, I gave the graphical aspects the attention they deserved.
But dammit, forget the Spanish and the artwork: it's still the story that wins. Her horror and indignation over the dreadful Iranian republic are so powerfully expressed. There's one episode in particular that I can't get out of my head. She's been characteristically loudmouthed at school. The teachers call her parents, and they tell her very seriously that she must be more careful. Does she know what had happened to the teenage daughter of the man they knew who made false passports?
Marji looks at them.
Well, say her parents, they arrested her. And they sentenced her to death. But, according to Iranian law, one may not put a virgin to death. So she was forcibly married to one of the revolutionary guards, and he deflowered her. And then they could shoot her. But, again according to Iranian law, the groom must give the bride a dowry, and if she is dead he must give it to her parents. So the next day, a representative of the revolutionary guard called on them. And he gave them fifty tumanes - about five dollars. That was the price for her virginity and her life.
I'm sorry, says Marji, stunned. I didn't know.
The truly terrifying thing is that the tone, throughout most of the book, is one of amused irony. As she says in another very powerful passage, when she meets a friend who's been horribly mutilated after serving in the war with Iraq, you can only complain up to a certain point, when the pain is still bearable. After that it makes no sense any more. All you can do is laugh. ...more
I promise, after this no more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
Okay Are actors and opera singers somehow better than us? No? So why do you get dressed up whI promise, after this no more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
Okay Are actors and opera singers somehow better than us? No? So why do you get dressed up when you listen to them and just wear your usual crappy clothes for me? At the very least You can turn off your cellphone while you're reading my review Thank you
[On ashtray] SMOKING KILLS But that's no excuse for getting your fucking ashes everywhere
GREETING CARDS FOR EVERY OCCASION Pull yourself together! Crying won't bring him back
Look Isn't it better to be seriously ill than slightly dead?
If you absolutely insist on marrying that bitch then it's your problem dude
Wishing you a Happy Widowhood!
I hope I never see your dirty face again
Maybe you got fired because you were so fucking dumb
[Holding up architectural plan] The minister of education announces a new initiative for schools Classrooms will now be octagonal Twice as many corners to stand in
The last words of people who die in their sleep are usually "When should I set the alarm?"
A butterfly flaps its wings And you get a hurricane in Florida Hundreds dead Thousands injured Tens of thousands homeless Billions in damages [Butterfly goes past, cat stomps it] Got you, you little fucker!
What's wrong with me? I had this terrific idea and now I can't remember what it was. Well I guess it happened to Mozart and Einstein too.
[Waving goodbye] Thank you for your attention It has been a real pleasure to share this review with you You can turn on your cellphones now ...more
We have visited Spain twice in the last year, and this time I decided that I really had to get better acquainted with the Spanish language. I knew thaWe have visited Spain twice in the last year, and this time I decided that I really had to get better acquainted with the Spanish language. I knew that it was structurally very similar to French, but I had little vocabulary. I decided to try my usual first move: I went into a bookstore, bought a copy of Le Petit Prince, and opened it at page 1.
Not, who fails to share my passion for language, was skeptical. If I more or less know this book by heart, she asked logically, in what sense am I reading it? A perfectly good question; but what I'm doing, of course, is matching up the Spanish words and grammar to the text I can remember, and thereby increasing my command of Spanish. And it's worked quite well! In a couple of days, I have at least doubled my pitiful stock of words, and I'm starting to recognize the verb endings. Here's an example to show how far I've got. I give the Spanish original above and the sorta-French I am mentally filling in underneath:
—Señor —le dijo—, perdóneme si le pregunto... -Sire -lui dit-(il)- pardonnez-moi si (je) vous interroge..
— Te ordeno que me preguntes —se apresuró a decir el rey. -(je) t' ordonne que (tu) m' interroges -s'est pressé à dire le roi.
—Señor... ¿sobre qué ejerce su poder? -Sire ... sur quoi éxercisez-(vous) votre pouvoir?
—Sobre todo —contestó el rey con gran ingenuidad. -Sur tout -répondait le roi avec grand ingenuité
—¿Sobre todo? - Sur tout?
El rey, con un gesto sencillo, señaló su planeta, Le roi, avec une geste ? , signalait sa planète,
los otros planetas y las estrellas. les autres planètes et les étoiles.
So far, so good! I am now going to read the book a second time, and will then see how I do on something I'm not so familiar with... ...more
Clint Eastwood certainly presents the case very efficiently: if only we could kill all the people who hate America, the world wouldJust saw the movie.
Clint Eastwood certainly presents the case very efficiently: if only we could kill all the people who hate America, the world would be a better place. Though at times I did suspect him of reductio ad absurdum. ...more
And for those who want still more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
[In front of coffee cup] The future seems less stressful now that I read it in decaff. [FreAnd for those who want still more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
[In front of coffee cup] The future seems less stressful now that I read it in decaff. [French psychics use coffee grounds rather than tea leaves]
If you steal a fish for a man You will feed him for a day. If you teach him how to steal He will eat all his life.
[Holding tennis racket and talking to journalist] JOURNALIST: So do you prefer grass or astroturf? LE CHAT: Dunno... I've never smoked astroturf.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And I am in no way averse to the thought that images (irrespective of whether they are digital, printed, televisual or distributed in the service of advertising), in our civilization, whether one wishes it or not, undoubtedly have the property that the graphical representation of an idea can have a more determinate effect on the reader's sensibilities than a long piece of verbiage in which each term, however appropriate it may be in itself, simultaneously acts both against itself and, more seriously, against the discourse viewed as a whole.
If an optimist has a ladder, he's happy! And if one day someone steals the rungs He doesn't say Damn! Someone's stolen my rungs! He says Hey! It's fine. I've got a pair of stilts. And if, a bit later, someone steals one of the stilts He doesn't say Shit! Someone's stolen my stilt! He says Hey! It's not so bad. I wanted to learn how to pole-vault. And if, still later, someone breaks his pole He doesn't say Fuck! Some bastard has broken my pole! He says Hey! Perfect! I'll cut it up in rung-sized pieces and if I later find two stilts, you know what? I'll be able to make a ladder!
You know the guy who said that only crazy people never change their minds? Well he wasn't crazy So he changed his mind And said Only crazy people change their minds And so he didn't change his mind.
[Admiring himself in mirror] I wouldn't mind being the girl who's going to fall for me
God He created everything, you know He created racism And he also created campaigns against racism With all due respect I think God's a bit fucked up ...more
If someone wrote a series of twenty books based on the premise that African-looking women with small breasts were mentally deficient, they'd quite likIf someone wrote a series of twenty books based on the premise that African-looking women with small breasts were mentally deficient, they'd quite likely be prosecuted. But when we're talking about Nordic-looking women with large breasts, apparently it's quite okay.
I suppose the reasoning is that, if you're a Nordic-looking woman with large breasts, you have such staggering natural advantages that you should accept a little good-natured teasing. Yes, that must be it. I'm starting to find them funnier already.
Yet more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Take the third and sixth words of the first talk bubble from the Jan 8 strip. Add the fourth, eighYet more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Take the third and sixth words of the first talk bubble from the Jan 8 strip. Add the fourth, eighth, ninth and thirteenth words of the second talk bubble from the Feb 22 strip. And you get a really funny joke! (Only for hardcore fans)
[Lying in bed next to beautiful woman] LE CHAT: Was it good for you? WOMAN: Oh yes. Especially when it stopped.
[At steering wheel, bottle in one hand, glass in the other] Drinking and driving. It's a problem. When I turn left, no sweat. I just automatically pour myself one. But when I turn right, everything tips out.
Studies show that mobile phones can cause brain damage. People who talk to morons are particularly at risk.
[Beaming 50s-style housewife in front of washing machine] Mrs Turin says: "Since I started using Ariel, I no longer get Messiah stains in my shrouds!"
[Lying in bed next to inflatable sex doll] LE CHAT: Was it good for you? DOLL: Pfffff...
Extracts from the wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Sometimes I talk to myself. Then at least I know someone's listening.
Humor gives you wingExtracts from the wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Sometimes I talk to myself. Then at least I know someone's listening.
Humor gives you wings. [Jumps off cliff, falls like a rock. At bottom...] Hm. It must be love.
Should we laugh at the misfortunes of others? That depends on whether they're funny.
[Faces reader and waves] Hi George! How's it goin'? [Stops to explain] I'm imagining some guy called George is reading my strip. He must be so happy to think he's my friend. [Considers it further] Wait a minute. I'm crazy to be doing this with guys. I could pick up girls like THAT. [Tries again] Hi Simone! Lookin' good!
Everything I say makes you laugh. Just as well. Because what I don't say would make you cry.
[Empty strip, just talk bubbles] The guy who draws me is so fucking drunk this evening he didn't notice he was drawing me with an eraser.
[At the gym] If I lift weights I build up my biceps. But if I THINK I'm lifting them I build up my brain.
The word "long" is shorter than the word "short". Weird, huh?
[With cocktail glass] I've been trying to drown my sorrows. But the fuckers have learned how to swim.
I have a sexy little car. Is that what they call autoeroticism?
The future scares me. I turn my back on it... and it's still in front of me.
If the guy who draws me died one day I would kill myself. ...more
**spoiler alert** This book is invariably described as a love story - which is true as far as it goes, but it's an unusual example of the genre. The b**spoiler alert** This book is invariably described as a love story - which is true as far as it goes, but it's an unusual example of the genre. The bare bones of the plot are soon apparent. Arvid, a diffident young man who has just moved from his provincial Swedish town to 1890s Stockholm, is smitten with Lydia, the beautiful daughter of a well-known artist. His feelings are reciprocated; there is some passionate kissing in the arbor, and Lydia says she will wait for him always. But this makes Arvid nervous, since he has no idea how long it will take him to accumulate enough money for marriage to be a possibility. He discourages Lydia, which deeply wounds her feelings. Then her father dies, and she impulsively marries a rich, much older man. Arvid also marries. Ten years later, they meet again by chance and cannot resist the temptation to begin an illicit affair.
In most books of this kind, the focus will be on the the intrigue - can things somehow work out for the star-crossed lovers? Failing that, it will be on the morality of the situation or on the main characters' feelings. But here, it's clear pretty much from the start that things can't possibly work out, and there is little talk of morals either. There is more about feelings: Den allvarsamma leken came out in 1912, the year before Un amour de Swann, and in some ways reminds me of it. Though Söderberg's analysis is in some ways rather different from Proust's; he is much more explicit about sex - shockingly so by the standards of the time - and one of the obvious reasons why things go wrong is that Arvid fails to understand how women can be just as interested in sex as men are. Söderberg's deadpan way of presenting this is nicely done, and I believe got him into a fair amount of trouble.
But, as with Proust, feelings aren't the central thing either. What both authors are most interested in motivation, and here Söderberg comes up with a striking way of presenting his answer. Arvid is a journalist at a major newspaper, and his work is described in considerable detail. Over and over again, we see that no one really controls what the paper publishes. People make solemn promises that articles will not be published, and then they turn up in the next day's number anyway. Solecisms are carefully corrected in the proofs, but despite everyone's efforts they reappear. No one is surprised: this is how a newspaper operates, and it's taken for granted that the editor's ability to enforce his will is very limited. And, just in the same way, Arvid and Lydia have no real control over their destinies. Arvid gets involved with her again, knowing that it will lead to disaster; she takes a lover, treats him badly, then bitterly regrets it; he writes a cruel and wounding letter that can only make her hate him, reads it through, then posts it.
Throughout most of the book the philosophy is kept in the background, but once or twice it briefly moves center-stage. There is a striking scene where an older colleague, seeing that Arvid is becoming involved with the woman he later marries against his better judgement, attempts to dissuade him. Arvid asks him why he thinks it's any of his business; Herr Rissler replies that, if he was going down the street and saw a runaway horse, he would grab hold of the reins before it overturned the carriage. Arvid replies mockingly that this is surely a mixed metaphor: he can't be the horse and the driver, can he? Oh, but you can! says Herr Rissler. Let's talk Kant: as phenomenon, als Erscheinung, you are the horse, but in the noumenal world, als Ding an Sich, you are the driver. Beware.
What a clever man Hjalmar Söderberg was. In just the same way, I think his novel is two things at the same time: als Erscheinung, it is a love story, but als Ding an Sich it is a philosophical treatise. Most authors who try this manoeuvre come unstuck, but he does it so well that hardly anyone even bothers to look past the beautiful appearances; he's at least as skillful as Sartre or Camus. Chapeau, monsieur. It's comforting to see that you are not forgotten, and that your works finally seem to be reaching a wider audience.
Or, at least, that was my reaction on first reading the book. But after considering it for another couple of days, I decided it was nonsense. You only have to think a little more about Kant's picture to see why it makes no sense: we can never know anything about the Ding an Sich, so it's not reasonable to say that the philosophy is the "real" book and the love story is the appearance. As Kant points out, we only ever have appearances: here, we have a book which sometimes appears as a love story, and sometimes as a work of philosophy.
I think this way of looking at it is rather closer to the truth. The author has divided himself between the two characters of Arvid and Herr Rissler, who respectively stand for the emotional and the philosophical ways of seeing what is happening. Arvid is interested in happenings and feelings; but Rissler, like Proust, is interested in why people do things, and, even more, how they write about them to turn experience into art. Proust seems to view art as an end in itself; Marcel's dream is to become an author, and life is mostly viewed as raw material for this process. But Söderberg reverses the process and views art as therapy for the pain of life. Goethe, says Rissler at one point, wrote Die Leiden des Jungen Werther to get over his own heartbreak and inflict it on his readers instead; Strindberg (very topical in early 20th century Sweden) put all his misery into his plays and novels, and was in private life a very happy person. Similarly, Söderberg himself is writing this book to avoid shooting himself after he has been abandoned by his beloved Gertrud. So it's not necessarily a work of philosophy masquerading as a love story; it's at least as plausible that it's a love story masquerading as a work of philosophy.
We do not perceive the true reality, as Chuang Tzu said in his celebrated parable of the butterfly and the Emperor...
This is a remarkable book, and it's quite likely the main reason why its illustrator, Charb, was killed on January 7 2015 along with most of the CharlThis is a remarkable book, and it's quite likely the main reason why its illustrator, Charb, was killed on January 7 2015 along with most of the Charlie Hebdo staff. First point to note for any members of Al-Quaeda who happen to be reading this: if the Kouachi brothers hadn't murdered Charb and his colleagues, I wouldn't be posting this review, I wouldn't have read the book, and, indeed, I wouldn't even have heard of it. I presume jihadists are all familiar with the concept of martyrdom. Well, it works both ways. Je suis Charlie.
Anyway, enough of that and let's talk about the book itself. It is, indeed, very blasphemous and also very funny. But why is it so blasphemous and so funny? It's easy to give a straightforward answer to these questions: it's very blasphemous, not merely to do a cartoon Life of the Prophet, but to depict him naked, having sex with his numerous women, going to the bathroom, etc; and, if you have a sufficiently warped mind, it's very funny to see how Charb's adroit pencil treats these subjects using his trademark deadpan humor. I completely understand that the preceding sentences will make any believing Muslim's blood boil with fury, but please don't martyr me until we get to the end of the review. You'll only have to wait a couple of minutes.
I submit that there is a more interesting reason why La vie de Mahomet is both blasphemous and funny, and that is that the book, at least according to what I've seen so far, presents a fairly standard biography of the Prophet; the text has been written by "Zineb", an Arabic-speaking scholar who's very familiar with Islamic traditions, and contains numerous direct quotes from the surahs and hadiths. I hope one of my Muslim friends will suggest a mainstream book that I can read and compare with this one, so that I can be surer of my facts; but, at least as far as I am aware right now, Charb has done no more than supply the illustrations.
I think that Charb is making a worthwhile point here that isn't frivolous at all. The Muslim prohibition against depicting the Prophet doesn't strike me as irrational or wrong, but on the contrary entirely sensible. Religions have a well-known tendency towards idolatry, worshiping humanly created symbols (statues, paintings, cathedrals) rather than the thought behind them; the Catholic Church has historically been one of the most egregious sufferers from this syndrome. Clearly idolatry is wrong, and a simple way to limit its spread is to be brutal about controlling the production of idols. But, unfortunately, people have a deep-rooted love of idols, and if they aren't allowed to worship a statue they'll find the next best thing available. Charb is just pointing out in his satirical way that Muslims, even though they aren't allowed to idolize painted depictions of the Prophet, are idolizing the story of his life; when you add pictures, you can see at once that a lot of it is evidently just another ridiculous human construct. The core message of monotheism, which comes across clearly in this book, is that we should worship the intangible and immaterial One, not earthly symbols that stand for Him. This in particular includes people. People are weak and fallible. They are greedy for food and sex, they are full of petty anger and jealousy, they lie when it suits them and they think they can get away with it, and they should not be confused with God. But, somehow, we want to do it, even though we know it's wrong.
That, in my humble opinion, is the contrast which makes Charb's book so funny. Okay, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. You can shoot me now. ...more