Literary Doodle: The Flood

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This promises to make for an interesting read.

Eastward, southward, there are no more gardens. Every scrap of land has a building on it. Light shears between blackened towers in the east, scraping against the rain-washed sky. The towers are packed with rushing bodies, checking their pockets for pens, keys, looking for umbrellas, overalls, tool-kits. Parents scream and children wail; a young mother smiles as she hugs her baby, trying to get him to take the breast, but her milk hasn’t come, and he’s yellow with jaundice. It doesn’t matter; she has her baby, the single glorious irreplaceable thing, and the sun is shining, the sun is shining.
The first day for weeks without constant rain.[1]

I just read the prologue; the poor-rich dichotomy is perhaps laid on a bit thick, but that might tone down. It certainly has a nice set-up. It’s almost a bit unheimisch. Anyway, we’ll see if this book will meet expectations.


[1] Maggie Gee, The Flood (London, 2004), 16.

Historical Doodle: The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change

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“Charles II was the last, the most degenerate and the most pathetic victim of Habsburg inbreeding.”[1]
Juan_de_Miranda_Carreno_002This dude’s family tree was one big clusterfuck.

The man had constant health-problems, was psychologically disturbed – and he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer – but he was king anyway because hey, Habsburgs.

Yet Spanish government owed its weakness not to any one monarch or single event but to a long process of neglect during which absolute power and central authority had been allowed to wither and decay.[2]

See, now that’s nice.

I only bring this tidbit up because I rediscovered this book, The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change by John Lynch, a real classic. All I’m saying is that if you’re interested in the sixteenth/seventeenth centuries and the Spanish Empire, give this one a try – then again, if you’re interested in these things, you probably already have.


[1]John Lynch, The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, 1598-1700 (Cambridge, 1994), 348.
[2]Lynch, The Hispanic World, 348-9.

Literary Doodle: The Old Man and the Sea

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Is my preference for Ernest becoming obvious?

He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things about her but they always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen,those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.[1]

My girlfriend said the moral of this book is that life is meaningless and all the old man’s struggles were for nothing. I disagreed, and said that the struggle – even when faced with defeat – is the thing that gives meaning to the old man’s life.
I’m of course eager to hear other opinions.

P.S. for other life lessons in manliness from the Old Man and the Sea, I refer you to this post at the Art of Manliness. They already wrote about it so I don’t have to. How kind of them. Ciao.


[1]Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952; New Delhi, 2012), 19.

Literary Doodle: The Turn of the Screw

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Kickin’ it old-school with some Henry James re-reading.

I scarce know how to put my story into words that shall be a credible picture of my state of mind; but I was in these days literally able to find a joy in the extraordinary flight of heroism the occasion demanded of me. I now saw that I had been asked for a service admirable and difficult; and there would be a greatness in letting it be seen–oh, in the right quarter!–that I could succeed where many another girl might have failed. It was an immense hep to me–I confess I rather applaud myself as I look back!–that I saw my service so strongly and so simply. I was there to protect and defend the little creatures in the world the most bereaved and the most lovable, the appeal of whose helplessness had suddenly become only too explicit, a deep, constant ache of one’s own committed heart. We were cut off, really, together; we were united in our danger. […][1]

Hah. Silly governess. I only now realize she really was kinda crazy. Ghosts my ass. As of now, I am firmly in the camp of those who believe the governess to be bonkers. Those who still care to argue that there were ghosts: please, go ahead.


[1] Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898; Clayton, 2006), 44.

Literary Doodle: Leaves of Grass

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Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Out of the rolling ocean the crowd came a drop gently to me,
Whispering I love you, before long I die,
I have travel’d a long way merely to look on you to touch you,
For I could not die till I once look’d on you,
For I fear’d I might afterward lose you.

Now we have met, we have look’d, we are safe,
Return in peace to the ocean my love,
I too am part of that ocean my love, we are not so much separated,
Behold the great rondure, the cohesion of all, how perfect!
But as for me, for you, the irresistible sea is to separate us,
As for an hour carrying us diverse, yet cannot carry us diverse forever;
Be not impatient—a little space—know you I salute the air, the
ocean and the land,
Every day at sundown for your dear sake my love.[1]


[1]Walt Whitman, ‘Out of the Rolling Ocean the Crowd’, in: Leaves of Grass (1855), http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1322/1322-h/1322-h.htm#link2H_4_0034 (Visited on 30-10-2013).

Historical Doodle: Zwarte Piet

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There’s been a discussion going on in the Netherlands for a while. It’s getting out of hand and now even the UN is throwing a hissy fit. I’m talking about Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, the helper of Sinterklaas – the ancient Dutch version of Santa. The question that everyone’s asking: is this racist?

3062617187_1888b8cb23_zOh, that’s not blackface, it’s Zwarte Piet! A common explanation for his skin color is that it’s blackened by soot from all those chimney’s they crawl down to deliver presents to children. While in the 19th century, Zwarte Piet was a scary figure who whipped you or kidnapped you by stuffing you in a jute sack, these days he’s evolved into Sinterklaas’ happy helper.

Anyway… Is this racist? Of course it is. Let’s leave out the argument that Sinterklaas is an old white man who’s surrounded by black men doing all of the work for him. As an employer, he might just prefer a certain “look.” You don’t see fat people working the door at Abercrombie & Fitch. Just sayin’. No, let’s just stick to Zwarte Piet’s “look”.
The current appearance of this funny little black dude was developed in the 19th century, hey-day of colonialist discourse. One curious explanation for his appearance cites none other than Sir Walter Scott as a source of inspiration.[1] Specifically, it cites the Saracen slaves of Front-de-Boeuf, who are depicted as black Muslims in a deft feat of orientalism.

Speaking of Orientalism, I think this perfectly explains the current appearance of Zwarte Piet. I don’t want to argue that there were/are political motivations, but the cultural tradition of portraying other-skinned individuals in an exotic, often feminine way, can be seen here as well. Piet is dressed in a page costume, explicitly placing him in the role of a child. Depicting black people as pages was a thing back in the day.

As I said, the UN has ordered a committee to investigate this whole Sinterklaas situation. We’re all looking for a solution. Some say that people should leave Piet be. Some people say they should have coloured Piet’s (which I think is an excessively PC solution that shouldn’t be pursued). Personally, I don’t really care about what this dude looks like. He changed throughout the years – he’s gradually losing the earrings and the afro, and I don’t hear him talking in an exagerrated black accent. He probably will change even more. Best thing to do is just let him change in his own pace.

What I do care about is that people are unwilling to acknowledge even the possibility that the depiction of Zwarte Piet is racist. As a people, the Dutch are very, very unwilling to “look in the mirror” and see their own flaws. As a majority population, white Dutch people often think they have a monopoly on the truth. This phenomenon is of course not limited to the Netherlands – everywhere, majority population groups have this tendency.

In short, while I don’t support forced alterations of this century-and-a-half-old tradition, come on people, at  least be honest about it. Don’t kid yourselves. Zwarte Piet will change eventually, but until that time, if a funny blackfaced dude in a page costume has to deliver the presents to children, so be it. As long as they get the presents, we cool, right?[2]


[1] John Helsloot, ‘Zwarte Piet is geen Afrikaanse slaaf maar een Saraceen: Henk van Benthems nieuwe verklaring van de zwarte knecht van Sinterklaas”, http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/cms/files/nieuwsbrief/Zwarte%20Piet.pdf (Visited 23-10-20130).
[2] Wow, this kinda turned into a messy rant. There I was, trying to make a sensible contribution to this discussion. Instead, y’all get this. Meh, whatevs. I’m thinking there will be another doodle on this, later.

Literary Doodle: Les Miserables

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Watched the film adaptation of the musical adaptation of the novel yesterday – note that I did not weep like a baby . What stuck with me was how awesome the Bishop is. I reread parts of the novel, and it describes him as follows:

He inclined towards all that groans and all that expiates. The universe appeared to him like an immense malady; everywhere he felt fever, everywhere he heard the sound of suffering, and, without seeking to solve the enigma, he strove to dress the wound. The terrible spectacle of created things developed tenderness in him; he was occupied only in finding for himself, and in inspiring others with the best way to compassionate and relieve. That which exists was for this good and rare priest a permanent subject of sadness which sought consolation.

There are men who toil at extracting gold; he toiled at the extraction of pity. Universal misery was his mine. The sadness which reigned everywhere was but an excuse for unfailing kindness. Love each other; he declared this to be complete, desired nothing further, and that was the whole of his doctrine.[1]

It’s honestly a refreshing take on the clergy. Hell, I don’t know if Myriel is an exception to the rule, or represents the true face of Catholicism, but then again, I do not care. He’s just a good human being in a miserable world, and that’s what makes him awesome.


[1]Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (Volume 1) (1862; Madison, 2009), 44-45.

Literary Doodle: American Gods

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There was a girl, and her uncle sold her, wrote Mr Ibis in his perfect copper-plate handwriting.
That is the tale; the rest is detail.
There are stories that are true, in which each individual’s tale is unique and tragic, and the worst of the tragedy is that we have heard it before, and we cannot allow ourselves to feel it too deeply. We build a shell around it like an oyster dealing with a painful particle of grit, coating it with smooth pearl layers in order to cope. This is how we walk and talk and function, day in, day out, immune to others’ pain and loss. If it were to touch us it would cripple us or make saints of us; but, for the most part, it does not touch is. We cannot allow it to.[1]

Incidentally, is his new one worth a read? I love AG, but couldn’t really get into Anansi Boys for some reason. I also really wanted to love Good Omens, but for all its hilarious quotes (which actually makes it perfect for this blog, come to think of it…) in the end it fell short for me. I don’t know, maybe that one was on Pratchett ^_^
In other news, I just found out there might be an AG TV series heading our way. Wonderful or disastrous? It’s HBO, so I’m hopeful. Ah well, if that won’t work out, there’s always the sequel to look forward to (talk about high expectations!).


[1] Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001; London, 2005), 345. Note: it’s the long-ass, so-called “author’s preferred text”

Theoretical Doodle: Truth and Method (II)

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And now for the dramatic (ahem) conclusion of last time’s post. Just a quick refresh, I was ranting about Gadamer, Truth and Method[1], and you should read the previous post.

Carrying on…

Fore-meaning

I need to elaborate on the fore-meaning. Normally speaking, this is a mostly unconscious process. Gadamer wants us to bring this fore-meaning to consciousness, to hold it next to the text while reading it. Also he requires us to remain open to new insights, which allows the fore-meaning to change into something that will help you understand the text better.
The fore-meaning can be however odd, the interpretation of a text can not be random. For example you can think about France as a fairy-tale land full of unicorns, but a historical text of France does not permit the same conclusion. Meaning is fluid for Gadamer, but they are not random. The text tries to tell us something, and this limits the extent the reader can relativize things. Importantly, hermeneutics is the questioning of things, and as such is committed to question both text and fore-meaning. This makes for a solid base for interpretation.

Prejudice

Part of the fore-meaning is prejudice. Now, originally this word didn’t have the negative connotation it now has. It could be either positive or negative: Prejudice was a neutral term. It is derived from the Latin praejudicium, a verdict that was made before all the elements that determine a situation had been finally examined.
Under the influence of the Enlightenment, prejudice became bad, because, simply put, it wasn’t based on reason. Rationally, you would need to have all the evidence before coming to a conclusion.
A distinction was made between two prejudices: human authority, and over-hastiness. Let’s apply this to texts. A text written by a professor has more authority than one written by a village idiot, and the sloppy reading of texts leads to wrong conclusions. The Enlightened minds wish us to discard our own opinions and relate only the facts.
When Romanticism came along, it presented itself as Enlightenment-critique. This, according to Gadamer, resulted in the same problem. Romanticism bases itself on the Enlightened principles, but reverses them: it validates the old, because it is old. It is the other extreme.
We can’t trust the texts completely: according to Gadamer, texts have a sort of inherent authority that complicates the interpretation, because we must be aware of the possibility that the written word could be wrong.

Conclusion

What should we then do? We should integrate our prejudices in our method. We can’t escape our intellectual tradition, but we can become conscious of it, so that we can interpret a text as good as we can. Reason is also dependent on historical circumstances, that is why an interpretation can never be final. The integration of prejudice and history leads to an ever-changing meaning and understanding.
We arrive now at another problem concerning understanding, namely that the understanding of matters is not direct, but mediated via language.


[1]Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (1960; London & New York, 2004).

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