Thursday, August 17, 2017

Anna Politkovskaya: 'A Small Corner of HELL: Dispatches from CHECHNYA' (2003)

Anna Politkovskaya, A Small Corner of HELL: Dispatches from CHECHNYA, translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky, with an introduction by Georgi Derluguian. (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Prerss, 2003).

I've carried this book around for more than a decade and finally took the plunge. I knew it was going to be grim, made grimmer by the fact that Anna Politkovskaya, the book's astute author who had borne persistent witness to the Chechnyan wars, was shot (four times) and killed in a Moscow elevator on Vladimir Putin's 54th birthday -- October 7, 2006.  

Because of Anna's work, and the work of others, the devastation wrought in Chechnya is known; as are its atrocities. In reading A Small Corner of Hell, in trying to promote it, I catch the glimpse of an understanding from Anna's words: "Our fate was to look for people who were similar to us in the world, who knew something about life that most people would never experience. Perhaps we would like to share this secret with them, but they didn't want to know and didn't care." (HELL, page 200).
The bottom line: A Small Corner of Hell looks at war mostly from the perspective of people trapped inside it, poor people, civilians, Chechnyans and Russians, ground down and pulverized in dire situations from which they cannot escape. 

This is journalism at its best, literature really, a mix of memoir, chronicle, dream and nightmare. Knowing now that the author of year 2003 will be gunned down in year 2006, too, adds another layer of immediacy and poignancy to each page. 

Putin treats journalists as "enemies of the people;" given this charge, it's not surprising that many have been killed inside Russia since he came to power in 2000. Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006) is one of more than thirty so eliminated. 

Hence also the chill from Donald Trump's adoration of Putin, and Trump's labeling of American journalists "the enemy of the people." See, for example, David Jackson, "Trump again calls media 'enemy of the people.'  USA Today, February 24, 2017. Link here.
Once you lose freedom of speech and the fair rule of law, you're in constant danger of death and destruction, without much recourse. 

Today's Rune: Harvest.  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Jordan Peele: 'Get Out' (2017)

Jordan Peele's Get Out (2017). Take Invasion of the Body Snatchers, mix with Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives and observe through the scrim of American racial identity and history. Voila! C'est Get Out

Among recent films, I like Dan Trachtenberg's 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) for its paranoia, and I really like Peele's Get Out for its sly, effective meditation on race relations: entertaining and consciousness raising, familiar yet original.
There's a lot to see in Get Out, starting with the eye of the camera, "the Sunken Place" and the TV Eye. More in a later post, I suspect. 

Today's Rune: Strength.     

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marie de France, "Lanval" (circa 1180+ A.D.)

The Lais of Marie de France, translated with an introduction by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. Second edition with two further lais in the original Old French. London: Penguin Books, 1999. Marie de France (circa 1150-1215), "Lanval," pages [73]-81.

"Lanval" is an otherworldly tale that reverses the usual details of encountering something strange away from home. All power to save Lanval the Knight resides with "the Maiden," opposed to Guinevere, Arthur's Queen.
Attended by two richly attired damsels, "the maiden" arrives from a faraway land (The Otherworld) to win over Lanval, a knight in the service of Arthur who has been somewhat neglected by the latter. Lanval is the son of a king from another land, but as soon as the maiden invites him into her pavilion -- in the woods between a meadow (where Lanval leaves his horse to graze) and a river -- he declares fealty to her above all else. 

"Inside this tent was the maiden who surpassed in beauty the lily and the new rose when it appears in summer. She lay on a beautiful bed . . . clad only in her shift. . . she had cast about her a costly mantle of white ermine covered with Alexandrian purple. Her side, though, was uncovered, as well as her face, neck and breast; she was whiter than the hawthorn blossom."   (Ibid., page 74).

The author wryly notes: "Now Lanval was on the right path!" (Ibid.)

Compare the above description of this scene with that via Eugene Mason's translation, published as "THE LAY OF SIR LAUNFAL" in 1911:

"Within this pavilion Launfal came upon the Maiden. Whiter she was than any altar lily, and more sweetly flushed than the new born rose in time of summer heat. She lay upon a bed with napery and coverlet of richer worth than could be furnished by a castle's spoil. Very fresh and slender showed the lady in her vesture of spotless linen. About her person she had drawn a mantle of ermine, edged with purple dye from the vats of Alexandria. By reason of the heat her raiment was unfastened for a little, and her throat and the rondure of her bosom showed whiter and more untouched than hawthorn in May. The knight came before the bed, and stood gazing on so sweet a sight. . ."
But not all will be fun and games for Lanval, for the Maiden tells him that he must never speak of her in front of the other people of the City/Town/Castle. Just that one little thing -- which, of course, proves to be much easier said than not done. And even though this tale is from more than 800 years ago, no more spoilers here!

Today's Rune: Partnership.  

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Lais of Marie de France (circa 1150-1215 A.D.)

The Lais of Marie de France, translated with an introduction by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. Second edition with two further lais in the original Old French. London: Penguin Books, 1999.

Marie de France (circa 1150-1215) accomplished two projects in one: she saved old tales from oblivion while putting her own stamp on their retelling. The results are terse, interesting and revealing. Wherein romance is the main game, human psychology remains the same. 

"Equitan" leaps out as a tale of amour fou, or crazy love. Equitan, the Lord of Nantes, is smitten by the wife of his seneschal (in today's parlance, his chief of staff or main lieutenant).

Poor Equitan! "Love admitted him into her service and let fly in his direction an arrow which left a very deep wound in him. It was launched at his heart and there it became firmly fixed. Wisdom and understanding were of no avail . . . Unable to withstand its power, he was forced to give Love his full attention . . ." (page 57).
Soon Equitan is "dying" from love, enough so that he proposes to "the lady" (who is never named) that she either "bring comfort to him or cause his death." (page 58).

She listens, and considers. She then counters with pragmatic musing. "Love is not honourable" she notes, "unless it is based on equality." And, as true today as it was 800 years ago: "If anyone places his [or her] love higher than is appropriate for his [or her] station in life, he [or she] must fear all manner of things." (page 58). 

Nonetheless, they take the plunge, to hell with the consequences. Amour fou!

It is for her insights into human psychology, both individual and social, that Marie de France resonates. Her cultural preservation of olden tales is like tasty icing on the cake.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

James Ward's 'Adventures in Stationary' (2015): Postcards

James Ward, Adventures in Stationary: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case (London: Profile Books, 2015; first published in Great Britain in 2014). If you dig office supplies, art supplies and the like, you would/will absolutely dig this jaunty romp through the ups and downs of office artifacts, competing designs, rivalries and everything from paper clips and liquid paper to staplers. 

For this post, we shall consider only one chapter of Adventures in Stationary: Chapter 7: "Wish you were here" -- the postcard (mostly). 

"As a child," Ward notes, "I'd often send myself a postcard when I went on family holidays . . . . " (knowing it would only arrive well after his return home.) "The postcard was like a time capsule, sent from myself to myself, but the version of myself who sent the postcard was irritatingly smug. 'I'm sitting by the pool,' I'd write. 'I might go for another swim after I finish writing this. Anything good on TV in England? How's the weather?' Back at home, reading this message, I'd reconcile the sense of jealousy I felt toward the version of myself who was still on holiday with the fact that I knew things that he didn't. I knew, for instance, that he'd leave his sunglasses behind in his hotel room and that his flight would be delayed on the way home." (Adventures in Stationary, page 148).

Ward is a witty one, and clever, too: "I think postcards are probably more fun to send than to receive." (Ibid., page 149).

He then takes his readers through the development of "saucy" postcards, a section that morphs into a consideration of "floaty pens" such as the "tip 'n' strip" and on to "things shaped like other things" and "stationary shaped like other stationary" (Ibid., pages 158-159). 

It's a wild world. You don't even need to live inside of Twin Peaks to sense it. 

Next is but another true statement: Adventures in Stationary can help you light your way back through the dark swirls of the digital world -- with a smile. 

Today's Rune: Initiation. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'The Canterbury Tales' (1972)

Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1972 cinematic sampling of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) forms the second part of Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life." You're not likely to see in many other 20th century directors anything quite like the way Pasolini mixes earthy and mystical, sacred and profane. 
Warning: if nudity offends you, if a scabrous image of the Gates of Hell might offend you, if the blending (true to Chaucer's original) of Catholicism and pre-Christian elements (such as Proserpina and Pluto) might blow your mind, you might consider seeing this in some kind of altered state, or not at all. Given that I'm open-minded about such visionary approaches, I know that many are more prudish in their preferences, so be fairly cautioned. 
I first saw Pasolini's version of The Canterbury Tales when I was in college (one of the subversive dangers of a liberal arts education is consciousness raising), and man, it really did have quite an impact. Still does -- wild stuff. 

Today's Rune: Flow. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Il Decameron / The Decameron (1971)

Pier Paolo Pasolini's Il Decameron / The Decameron (1971) presents a choice selection from the massive 100-story tome of the same title written by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) between 1348 and 1353. I came to The Decameron via Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), which appears to have been influenced by it in several tales. Not only are these not obscure texts, both are enduring world-class cultural treasures. 
Pasolini dives in, creating a vibrant movie version that combines the visuals of painters (as noted in an accompanying documentary in the Criterion Collection DVD set, especially Giotto and Bruegel), regional folk music and local actors. This is the first part of Pasolini's Trilogy of Life

Pasolini (1922-1975) is described in the same Criterion documentary as a "gay Catholic Marxist artist" with an interesting worldview, indeed. 

With his version of The Decameron, Pasolini selects a representative mix of Boccaccio's comical and tragic tales, some ribald and bawdy, a few scary and all both medieval and timeless. They range from grave-robbing, seduction, hypocrisy and ill intent to the most life affirming of activities, working within and around the social mores of the day. There's much to learn from this consciousness-raising film, and a lot more to write about. 

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.