We’ve never had it so good. “We,” as in all of humanity, and “good” as in just about every measure of life, liberty and happiness.
Here are a few of the many, many examples. Infant mortality, educational attainment, lifespan, reduction in violence, communication both locally and globally, justice, nutrition, wealth. You name it, we’re better than ever. You are blessed to live in the best time for human beings.
So…why do we feel like the world is falling apart? Why are we so afraid and discontented: with each other, for our future, for our well-being? Of immigrants, of suicide bombers, of the zika virus, of Russia and China flexing their muscles, of the refugee crisis, of the rise of nationalism in Europe and elsewhere, of Trump, Hillary and Congress’s tendency to put party and personal ambition well above the country’s interest, of income and other forms of inequality? Continue reading →
“Review a little history and you’ll see that creators seem to find inspiration in adversity.” – Gavin Chait, Lament for the Fallen
Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait (Image courtesy Goodreads)
On the surface Gavin Chait’s debut novel Lament for the Fallen seems to have a classic sci-fi plot: an alien comes to Earth, interacts with humans, reveals remarkable super human powers in helping his human hosts/friends, then returns to his home, humans having been taught an important lesson or two. If it seems that this plot line that has been used with remarkable success in the genre, it’s because it has. While it is well known among my friends and critics that I am not a fan of science fiction books (which I noted again very recently), I am a fan of sci-fi films. Besides the ubiquitous and just okay behemoth E.T.: the Extraterrestrial, other films that have explored the genre interestingly include The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Starman.
Having said all this, I suppose I should make a clarification. Lament for the Fallen is not about an alien visiting Earth. It is about a human who has lived his life in a “space city” (think colony – that’s important to the themes of this work) visiting Earth and doing some of those remarkable things mentioned above. To miss this might cause one to miss important themes and ideas that this book explores.
As I find I must say too often in my role as crusty old professor, read more closely, students. Harrumph…now to this excellent book… Continue reading →
“He would never wish to see his son as he himself had been once, living discontentedly amidst men at the beck and call of masters.” – Jorge Ferretis
Jorge Ferretis (image courtesy Enciclopedia de la Literatura en Mexico)
I’ve finally made my way through the lengthy collection of stories A World of GreatStories, I’ve found a number of the selections rather creaky (likely a fault of older translations) or by authors who are obscure outside their own countries. (I see this as a positive since it introduces American readers to talented authors they might not otherwise encounter.) There is a sincere effort by the various region editors to include representative work from most of the world – the U.S., British Isles, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. Africa is not represented, an omission one feels more keenly now than might have been felt when the collection first appeared in 1948. Still, it is a collection that has reminded me about – or introduced me to – writers such as Sherwood Anderson, Rudyard Kipling, Rhian Roberts, Lauro de Bosis, Karel Capek, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, writers who represent all the previously mentioned geographic regions except Latin America.
This essay on Jorge Ferretis, A Mexican author you may, like me, not be familiar with, completes the full tour of all the geographic regions covered by the story collection I’ve been blathering on about. He’s a good choice because he allows us to talk about Latin American literary history a bit. Continue reading →
“Of course, problems in practical morality are different from the production technique pointed out by Strindberg, But there was something in the hint he had received from the passage that was disturbing…. Bushido and its mannerism–” – Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Ryunosuke Akutagawa (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The short stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa are highly esteemed in Japan, and one of that country’s highest literary awards, the Akutagawa Prize, is named in his honor. Most American readers, however, likely know him through the adaptation of one of his stories, “In a Grove” by the master Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa into the cinema classic Rashomon.
A tormented soul, like so many short story masters, Akutagawa took his own life at 35. He left behind a body of work that is fascinating in its questioning of Japanese cultural and philosophical thought, particularly of philosophies such as the above mentioned Bushido. Highly influenced by his study of Western literature (as a student at Tokyo Imperial University he translated works by both William Butler Yeats and Anatole France), Akutagawa sought to reconcile Eastern and Western thought and culture in his works. The tension in his stories arises, almost always, between the truth that the individual perceives and the facts of any incident. Continue reading →
“Our houses and machines will be in ruins, our systems will collapse, and the names of our great will fall away like dry leaves. Only you, love, will blossom on this rubbish heap and commit the seed of life to the winds.” – Karel Capek
Karel Capek (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The Czech writer Karel Capek, in terms of being a writer of slender acquaintance, falls somewhere between Rudyard Kipling, a Nobelist remembered now only for children’s stories and Rhian Roberts, a Welsh writer of great promise who published a few short stories and then disappeared. While he is often (erroneously) credited with having coined the word for a creation that may haunt the 21st century, was nominated for the Nobel Prize numerous times, and even has literary awards named for him, Capek is not widely read now.
He should be. His central themes – the ability of technology to overwhelm and destroy humanity, the dangers of rampant consumerism, corporatism run amok, the evils of authoritarianism of both left and right political persuasions – will resonate powerfully with contemporary readers. Given that Capek died in 1938, his prescience about the power of these forces in our lives makes him a writer who should be widely read and discussed. Continue reading →
Award-winning Italian writer lost his life protesting the fascism of Benito Mussolini.
Lauro De Bosis (image courtesy Wikimedia)
“Every regime in the world, even the Afghan and Turk, allows its citizens a certain amount of liberty. Fascism alone, in self-defense, is obliged to annihilate thought.” – Lauro De Bosis
This week’s writer of slender acquaintance is less a mysterious one like Rhian Roberts and more a tragic one like – well, like many artists who oppose and are destroyed by repressive regimes. As I mentioned last week, I am meandering through a massive collection of short stories called A World of Great Stories. As I made my way through the Italian section (and came across one of the worst edited “story” selections I have read so far in this volume – and that’s saying something – an excerpt called “The Travelers” from Ignazio Silone’sThe Seed Beneath the Snow), I encountered De Bosis and a piece (it’s not really a story, it’s a heartfelt autobiographical essay about and against Mussolini and Italian Fascism) he wrote before his last flight (De Bosis was an amateur aviator). Continue reading →
“It is therefore only right that we should all turn out to make our farewells.” – Rhian Roberts
A World of Great Stories, eds. Hiram Haydn and John Cournos (image courtesy Goodreads)
I haven’t mentioned my reading in the last couple of essays. That isn’t because I haven’t been reading (don’t be silly), but because I’m dividing my time between a couple of works. One of these is a crime fiction novel by an author I have reviewed before, William Mark (my review of his latest, Crossing the Blue Line, will appear sometime next week.
The other, whose cover is pictured at right, is called A World of Great Stories and contains 115 “stories” (more on why the quotation marks used shortly) by authors from around the world. So far I’ve finished the American/British section (which includes not just the U.S. and England but Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and am into the section on Europe which starts, quite naturally, with the French who are after all right across the Channel.
The Welsh representative is the Rhian of this essay’s title. Her name is Rhian Roberts and if there were ever a writer with whom one’s acquaintance is going to be slender, it would be she.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Another in the series I began last week about writers who have become neglected. This week’s choice is one whose literary reputation has been as high, as low, and as controversial as any writer in the history of literature. Rudyard Kipling has been revered – and reviled – by authors as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges, R.K. Narayan, and George Orwell – who noted that Kipling:
…sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.
For those who know Kipling – and that’s almost everyone – only for “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” or The Jungle Book or Kim – Kipling is a dimly remembered writer of exciting stories for young readers. But he was a complicated figure who produced a wide range of work with interesting themes. Continue reading →
Brexit will decrease the standard of living and increase the gap between rich and poor.
Okay, let’s dispense with all the “respect the decision of the people” nonsense. Brexit is stupid. It’s a stupid decision that will hurt Britain in both the short and long term. And the people who voted for it are stupid. Not only ignorant, not only frightened, not uninformed. Stupid. Continue reading →
‘Everything I know about the world has changed. Things are going to get very dark and very ugly. There will be fear and suspicion and it will not end.’
I remember where I was on 11 September 2001. I remember how it felt. I remember what I thought.
There were a group of us gathered in the boardroom at Deloitte in Cape Town. It was the first meeting of the newly-established board that would govern the non-profit organisation I ran, Business Beat.
I remember ANC member of parliament Ben Turok emphatically telling me that I shouldn’t ‘dabble’, but should take things seriously. It was an odd, and oddly uninformed, rebuke considering that even by that date, I’d spent eight years working in South Africa’s townships to help undo the economic damage caused by Apartheid.
A secretary interrupted and had a brief, nervous conversation with our chair. He immediately, softly, said, ‘An airplane has just flown into the World Trade Centre in New York. I think we should cancel today’s meeting.’ Continue reading →
First, remember that the non-binding referendum is non-binding. The United Kingdom, unequaled in terms of global power and influence, unparalleled in her commitment to justice, and unbound to this referendum, which diminishes her majesty in hideous fashion, remains loyal to the European Union. For all the bleach blond rhetoric, for all the false promises to fund the National Health with nonexistent dues paid to the European Union, a non-binding referendum REMAINS non-binding. Continue reading →
The world’s most prestigious football league might be unwilling to speculate, but I’m not. England’s vote to leave the European Union has many uncertain about what it means for the Prem, but nobody sees it as a good thing. Lots of uncertainty. Lots of breath-holding. And for some, probably a good bit of prayer.
From where I sit, Brexit looks to be an unmitigated disaster for the Premier League. Continue reading →
How strange and changeful is life! How small a thing is needed to make or ruin us! – Guy de Maupassant, “The Necklace”
There must have been something in the water.
Guy de Maupassant (image courtesy Wikimedia)
If one considers some of the great short story writers of the late 19th-early 20th century – Chekhov, O. Henry, H.H. Munro, better known by his pen name Saki, and Maupassant, one must note two things: they gave us some of the most remarkable short fiction ever written (Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” Saki’s “The Open Window,” O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf,” Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog“) and they all died in their forties. If one adds in the brilliant American Stephen Crane, who died at 29 and who gave us “The Open Boat,” the average lifespan for a master of short fiction in this era works out to be roughly 40. That’s the lifespan of a medieval knight.
It’s as if short fiction genius comes with the price of a short life. It’s a literary artist’s version of Achilles’ choice: faced with the prospect of a long but uneventful life and dying forgotten or doing work that would bring them immortality but a brief temporal existence, they all chose option B.
I have long been divided about whether I thought Chekhov or Crane the greatest of short fictioneers, to borrow a term from my friend the gifted short fiction writer Teresa Milbrodt. Having recently finished reading The Tales of Guy de Maupassant, I find myself needing to consider adding a third contender to my deliberations. Continue reading →
“Time gives every human being his true value.” – Ernest Meissonier
The Judgment of Paris by Ross King (image courtesy Goodreads)
Unless you are a student of art history, you have probably never heard of the author of the quote above, Ernest Meissonier. At the time of Ross King’s history of the rise of Impressionism, The Judgment of Paris, Meissonierwas the most famous painter in the world. Now, 150 years later, Meissonier is forgotten and his rival who spent the decade being ridiculed, Edouard Manet, is one of art history’s titans. King’s book explores one of the most famous and volatile periods of art history, Paris in the 1860’s, the decade that saw the peak of Meissonier’s career, the decline and fall of the 2nd Empire, and the rise of a group of artists, a group King calls the “generation of 1863”- Manet, Whistler, Henri Fantin-Latour – and their younger contemporaries – Renoir, Degas, Monet.
By comparing the far different struggles of Meissonier and Manet, King is able to illuminate one of history’s continuing problems: the resistance of the established power structure to new ideas. Continue reading →
Brexit could be a model for what nations should do if the political leadership was there. But it isn’t.
I imagine when British Prime Minister David Cameron secured an agreement with European political leaders last winter on immigration and other issues relating to continued UK membership in the European Union, he thought he had dealt with this. He seemed pretty confident at the time that this would persuade British voters with concerns about immigration and EU membership in general that their concerns had been addressed. Now, even though I dislike Cameron and his politics, I used to think that he had pretty good political instincts—he has led the Conservatives to two election victories, after all, the past one giving him a majority in Parliament. I was wrong—Cameron’s political instincts appear to be as muddled as the Republican leadership in the US who thought that Trump would fold after every outlandish statement. It turns out that this is the year of outlandish. This is not Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. Continue reading →
In January, 1987 I graduated from Lehigh University with a B.A. in journalism. By the first week of March I was in Tokyo, Japan to start my first real adult job and the rest of my life. I was 23 years and two months old, and had decided I wanted adventure instead of an entry-level stateside newspaper job. So through some business contacts of my father’s I secured an entry-level marketing position with an American information services company in Tokyo.
What I present to you here are poems and photographs I created while living and working in Tokyo in 1987 and 1988. All the images are of Tokyo drunks and homeless people because, at the time, I was naïve and couldn’t believe this aspect of Japanese society existed. I felt I had to document it.
Poverty and homelessness still persist in Japan, of course, and through some strange twists of fate I resumed documenting Tokyo street life four years ago. This has resulted in a book I’m trying to get published called “Tokyo Panic Stories.” You can see samples my recent Tokyo work here and here.
So please enjoy this 28 year-old folio of words and images. And keep in mind that while I make no apologies for the quality of the poetry (I am actually still pleased with some of it), the poems were written by a man less than half his current age of 52 years. Also note that each photo is paired with the text right beneath it, and click any image to see it full-size.
As much as I hate boxes and labels, I think I’ve finally figured out where my political inclinations actually lean. I’m labor, but we have no party that I’d currently be comfortable with.
Basically, I think the workers should benefit equally with capital, and I’ll work with my own loosey-goosey definitions so I don’t get bogged down by not speaking fluent socialist or capitalist, and trust that a better-read reader will get the gist of what I’m saying. I’m open to correction, but it’s the point, not how I say it that matters. Now, if my gist is wrong, I need to know that for sure. Otherwise, this is what I’m going with.
Without labor, nothing happens. Our labor has worth. Push that idea far enough so that labor takes predominance and one lands somewhere in socialism or communism or some such -ism. But I’m not so quick to condemn the management and financial classes as I believe my comrades on the far left are wont to do. Continue reading →
Don’t you think it’s magnificent? A kind of splendid behavior really. A trusting of the future, a daring kind of love. Isn’t it, in a way, splendid? – Catherine Heath
Behaving Badly by Catherine Heath (image courtesy Library Thing)
Catherine Heath is a novelist I stumbled upon through my wife Lea’s interest in and admiration for the actress Judi Dench. In looking around for a present for her (anniversary, Christmas, I forget), I came across a British miniseries called Behaving Badly starring the aformentioned Ms. Dench.
As we watched the miniseries I became interested in finding out more about the author, a British novelist of the 1970’s and 80’s who only developed her career as a novelist in early middle age and who died relatively young (66) of cancer. So I found and bought a copy of the novel Behaving Badly, the work upon which the television show was based.
Having read Heath’s novel, I can offer a couple of observations about which I will elaborate later. The first is that Heath, like most British writers, is deft, witty, and thoughtful. The second is that like any number of fine British writers she may be ignored for long periods. The second of these may actually be a hidden boon to her long term literary reputation. Continue reading →