Swords and Feathers

Metodi Feather Sword Pachev

(Un)popular opinions on the literatures of the 20th century: Arabic, German, Italian, post-colonial, post-capitalist, post-Earth a.k.a. Metodi Pachev.

Наблюдения върху романа „Нощем с белите коне“ (1975) на Павел Вежинов

Доволен съм, че на 24 май пиша ревю на книга от български автор.

Разбрах за съществуването на "Нощем с белите коне" преди много години, когато като дете четях "Войната на таралежите" на братя Мормареви (чел съм я близо десет пъти). Един от главните герои там - Пантата, преждевременно възмъжал спортяга, сваляше една Юлия, която му помагаше по математика като на посредствен свой съученик. Веднъж тя го попита дали е чел романа на Вежинов, а той не беше. Тогава ми стана интересно за какво ли става въпрос в него. Сега пък ми е интересно как едно момиче от гимназиалния етап би харесала този роман, или по-точно как би го харесала (или оценила) в неговата цялост.

Започвам от белите коне в нощта. Те често се появяват в текста - като далечен спомен от детството, като картина, т.е. част от интериора, като постоянно възвръщащ се образ, натоварен със символно значение. Белият кон съществува като митологема в много фолклорни традиции и се свързва с плодовитостта, силата, апокалиптичното или хтоничното спасение. Тук белите коне са точно два на фона на черната нощ, което препраща към културното значение на този образ в играта на шах. Едновременно с това количествената характеристика е вероятна алюзия към двамата централни герои - академик Урумов и племенникът му Сашо. През призмата на това осмисляне се отличава задачата им да водят битка срещу тъмнината, отъждествявана контекстуално със закостенялото незнание и идеологическия догматизъм.

Урумов и Сашо гравитират около ядрото на текстуалния замисъл, но академикът е в самата ядка на текста. За него Павел Вежинов споменава в статии и интервюта, че е човек, преминал "бариерата". Това е недвусмислена препратка към едноименната повест, където Вежинов представя концепцията си за наличието на предел, отвъд който лежи нелесно достижимата зона на прогресивното познание за света. Така една от основните идеи на "Нощем с белите коне" е да илюстрира авторовото схващане за крехкостта на преминаващите отвъд "бариерата" и податливостта им на външни влияния, често жестоки и пагубни. Едно разклонение на тази идея е мирогледът на автора за съвременните (естествени) науки и осъзнаването на значението им за бъдещето на човечеството.

Романът не е кратък, но се поглъща много бързо благодарение на интересния стил на писане на Вежинов. Отдавна не съм чел текст от български автор, в който няма нито един пасаж, от който читателското внимание неволно да се изплъзне. При Вежинов отсъства каквато и да е предсказуемост както в действието, така и в стила. Той е изненадващ, дори мистичен, и все пак обмислен, представен по естествен и спонтанен начин. Структурата на романа е доста стройна - действието се развива точно в една година, има паралелизми и секвениране на отделни наративни блокове.

"Нощем с белите коне" поставя и ред други въпроси: научни теми - за вирусния произход на рака и съжителството на човека с вирусите като цяло, социални теми за сексизма, непотизма, елитизма и класовото неравенство, въпросът за етиката в научния прогрес, политически теми за порядките в тоталитарната държава и други. Би било интересно да се изследва всяка една от тях поотделно, но като че ли интимно-индивидуалистическият характер на света в романа надделява и прави другите теми второстепенни.

Май си имам нова любима книга.


يوميّات بغدادية لنهى الراضي

نهاية الحرب المستمرّة : تأمّلات في رواية "يوميّات بغداديّة" (1999) للفنّانة العراقيّة نهى الراضي

هناك قول شهير نُسب خطأً إلى الثائر السوفياتيّ ليون تروتسكي: "وإنْ لم تولِ اهتمامًا بالحرب فإنّ الحرب مهتمّة بك". ولا شكّ أنّ الحروب، منتهيةً كانتْ أو مستمرّة، تلحق ضررًا يشمل كلّ جواب حياة الفرد وحياة المجتمع على المدى البعيد. وفي المساحة المُبهَمة الملامح ما بين المعطيات الإحصائيّة والتحليلات الموضوعيّة نجد قصصًا رُويتْ بأصوات الناس العاديّين الذين عاشوا الحروب وما عقبها من تداعيات. من هذا المنطلق تتبلور أهمّيّة دور الأدب النابعة عن قدرته على استعراض جوانب من الحروب لا تتجلّى إلّا في سرد خبرة الفرد الشخصيّة. في هذا السياق تشكّل رواية "يوميّات بغداديّة" للفنّانة العراقيّة نهى الراضي محاولةً لإيصال مثل هذه الخبرة إلى شريحة واسعة من القرّاء في وقت لم تكثر فيه أمثال كِتابها. تتكوّن الرواية من ثلاثة فصول تتناول فترات من حياة المؤلّفة: حرب الخليج (بغداد، 1991) والحصار (بغداد، 1994) والمنفى (الأردن ولبنان، 1995-1997). وبالرغم من ارتئائي أنّ الرواية من ناحية الأدبيّة عملٌ ركيك إلّا أنّه ينبغي الاعترافُ بأنّ الكاتبة لم تسْعَ وراء إنجاز نصّ أدبيّ يثير الإعجاب بلْ هدفتْ إلى توثيق خبرتها ولربّما قصدتْ نوعًا من العلاج الذاتيّ عن طريق سرْد ما عاشتْه. فأسلوبها قد لا يرقى إلى مستوى الأعمال الأدبيّة المعاصرة التي سرعان ما أصبح الاقتداء بها أمرًا ملحوظًا ولكنّه، وربّما هو الأهمّ، صريحٌ. فالقارئ يستطيع التأكّد من كون المؤلّفة لم تُخْفِ أيًّا من تفاصيل حياتها الاجتماعيّة والخاصّة في الفترات المذكورة أعلاه. تتطرّق نهى الراضي في خطابها إلى بضعة محاور منها تصوّراتها (أيْ تصوّرات الإنسان العاديّ) للحرب ومسبّباتها من منظور سياسيّ. فهي ترى أنّ العراق كان العامل السياسيّ الذي انطلعتْ منه الأحداث: "كنّا البادئين بالظلم" (ص 10)، ولكنّ تحليلها لما يجري يظلّ موضوعًا جانبيًّا في فضاء النصّ يختصّ بشرح سطحيّ للأسباب التي أدّت إلى اندلاع الحرب: "لماذا لا يصنعون أدوية وأشياء نافعة ويتركون العالم يرتاح قليلًا – كفى قتل" (ص 130). ولكنْ في بعض المواضع تطرح الكاتبة تساؤلات تدنو إلى جوهر مسألة دفع ثمن الحروب وتكشف عن عدم قدرة الإنسان العاديّ على استيعاب منطق الحرب سائلةً لماذا توظِّف الدول الديمقراطيّة آليّات دكتاتوريّة على دولٍ أخرى (ص 160). إنّ هذا الخطاب يزيح الستار عن علاقات القوّة والتراتبيّة القطبيّة والتبعيّة في النظام الدوليّ بعدسة مَنْ يقيمون في أسفل سلّم النظام الاجتماعيّ. ونكتشف أيضًا تجلّيات آثار الحرب وما تدمّره في كثيرٍ من نصوص الرواية. فالحرب على العراق وحصاره فيما بعد لهما تداعيات هدّامة على الاقتصاد والبنية التحتيّة والبيئة والموروث الثقافيّ. ولكنّ أغلب قصص الحرب في الرواية ترتكز على إضناء صحّة الإنسان الجسديّة والنفسيّة وهي آثار شديدة الوطء على الإنسان العراقيّ حتّى اليوم. وكثيرًا ما نرى كيف أنّ الإنسان يفقد حسّاسيّته إزاء ما يجري حوله من قصف وإتلاف: "حتّى الحرب تصبح شيئًا رتيبًا مألوفًا" (ص 37). تبرُز غرائب سلوك البشر من خلال سرد قصص حالات السرقة (ص 140) والخطف والاغتصاب (ص 93) كما أنّ القارئ يكتشف بعض عجائب النظام الاستبداديّ العراقيّ: التعريض للضرب لمن يتجاوز الضوء الأحمر (ص 117) أو قانون الالتزام بالوزن الخفيف المنطبق على موظّفي الدوائر الحكوميّة في البلاد. ولا تخفى أيضًا بواكر تقسيم العراق بسبب اشتعال النعرات الطائفيّة بسبب سياسته الداخليّة وتدخّل القوى العظمى: "في كردستان يسمّون الجنوب شيعستان والوسط جوعستان" (ص 122). إنّ الحرب مستمرّة حتّى اليوم بفعل تداعياتها الواسعة النطاق ولكنّها ربّما انتهتْ بالنسبة إلى الكاتبة في لحظة طباعة آخر كلمة من الرواية. وهي، على وجود بعض نقاط الضعف التي تحول دون إمكان النظر إليها على أنّها عمل أدبيّ رصين، قد قويتْ على إيصال معانٍ مهمّة إلى القرّاء لعلّ أجلّها أنّ الفرد هو من يدفع ثمن الحروب بل إنّه يُضحي مدينًا إذ إنّ الثمن يُدفع بانتظام وعلى مدى أجيال كاملة. وفي ظلّ النظام الدوليّ السائد الذي لا يخلو في أرجاء عديدة من طابعه ما بعد الاستعماريّ تنجلي لنا صورة الحرب كحدث مستمرّ حتّى ما بعد نهايته بكثير

الكتاب: نهى الراضي، "يوميّات بغداديّة"، دار الساقي، بيروت، 1999

٢ ايار

When Being Yourself Is Not Enough: Thoughts on Ilija Trojanow’s 'The Collector of Worlds'

“When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has gained” (p. 405-6) – an Arabic proverb, according to one of The Collector of Worlds’ characters. Beyond the authenticity of this quote, this sentence expresses something that has a profound meaning for Trojanow’s work. When one desires something that one cannot have, this is saddening. However, one can also find something pleasing in this insight, because through it, they have found something to strive for in the future.

The object of having or desiring becomes an object of pursuit. Perhaps this insight is at least one of the reasons that made the British explorer and adventurer Richard Francis Burton (1821 - 1890) undertake travels to distant countries: India, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, West Africa.

It was, in my opinion, a brilliant decision of the Bulgarian-German writer Ilija Trojanow (1965) to document Burton’s experiences on these journeys through a magnificent novel. This is not a purely historical book, although the author remains true to history from start to finish. At the time the events were taking place, some of the countries Burton visited were colonies. Nonetheless, it is not entirely possible to gain insights into the life of the colonialist through this novel, as this has been represented in the text through a different focus. However, we can take a closer look at a modern person’s (the author’s) way of thinking about such historical facts – utterly romanticised.

But the book also tells the story of how a big part of today’s world came into being. In it, history is masterfully mixed with lexicology, art, ethnology, and geography.

Stylistically, Trojanow focuses on the details. He uses a very rich language that is potent to represent the colourful thoughts of the characters. The author also demonstrates a fairly good knowledge and understanding of local cultures and their languages from a historical perspective.

Different points of view are presented - those of the narrator, the participants, and others. In this text, the author plays with concepts such as birth, death, rebirth, transformation. Sidi Mubarak Bombay, Burton’s companion in West Africa, dies as a slave in order to be born a free person. Burton dies as a Briton in order to be born a local – that is how deep these transformations are. And when physical death happens, isn’t that just a transformation?

22 April 2020

Read in original German 'Der Weltensammler'

War, Longing and the Desert (No Sex)

War literature in the 20th century has a clear focus on World War I; the literary representation of World War II has not reached the same saturation.

Perhaps the overwhelming and far-reaching destructiveness of the latter conflict, as well as its occurrence as number two in a sequence of large-scale protracted global wars, has rendered its romanticising more difficult.

Works of art with more direct expressiveness like music (Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony and the Second Piano Sonata, Prokofiev’s three “war sonatas” – the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth) have been more successful in capturing the zeitgeist and thus have demonstrated a higher level of cultural endurance. Italian literary works treating the country’s experience between 1939 and 1945 are scarce, especially in comparison to the corpus of writings on World War I.

On the other hand, there are several writers who have dedicated almost all their production to the topic of World War II.

Mario Tobino’s Lost Love [Il perduto amore] (1979) is a fine example of this literary strand, at least formally. The text tells the story of physician lieutenant Alfredo and Red Cross nurse Romana Augusta Ludovisi a.k.a. Dedé who meet in a field hospital in the Libyan desert (Libya was an Italian colony at the time). Yearningly embracing the few sparks of the fresh relationship, they return to their native Italy, hoping to continue life together. Things do not turn out as expected and Alfredo eventually switches his focus from his feelings towards already extinguished Dedé to his true passion – poetry.

The story is simplified and told rather sketchily; the chain of events is built well, but it also appears too simplistic. The first part of the novel lacks a clear focus – there are several axes that receive equal treatment: the love story; life in the Italian colony in Libya (presented only from the Italian perspective); war. In my view, situating the events in the Libyan desert offers large opportunities for descriptive passages. Instead, the style of writing is reportage-like, almost like a scenario. Separate scenes are surprisingly short, dialogues are bereft of depth, characters do not have an own speech identity (or, at times, any identity at all).

The treatment of the psychological aspect is flawed, too. As readers, we never really grasp what Alfredo and Dedé’s “love” is based on. Tobino consistently speaks of “love,” and yet something else seems to be at work. This opportunity has been missed, too – there is not a single scene of true intimacy in the novel.

This text of missed opportunities can be understood in a myriad of ways, for most of which it would be a waste of mental energy to take an attempt at, considering the shallow character of the piece.

I wish I could draw a conclusion on colonialism and war, perhaps compare it with the current state of emergency. But if I do, I might be going too far. Sometimes, reviews can be good in advising you what is not worth reading.

Mario Tobino, Il perduto amore, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan, 1979

13 April 2020

Read in Italian

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (1939)

If you have read any covers of books by Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942), you probably know that his writings were among the most admired literary works of the interwar period. The Austrian writer, mostly known through his numerous novellas, pioneered a way of making feelings and events influence each other in a dialectical interplay that brings to the surface the most intimate drives of the human mind. Strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s teachings, Zweig earned a fame of a psychological writer who managed to pose moral dilemmas and demonstrate the fragility of the human mind. In his only completed novel, Beware of Pity, the core topic is pity, as the standard English translation shows.

The original is named Ungeduld des Herzens or Impatience of the Heart, quoting a phrase that appears a few times in the text. Handicapped Hungarian Edith is doomed to not leave her luxurious estate, where she lives with her old father Mr. Kekesfalva, her cousin Ilona and their butler. One day, in her life appears lieutenant Anton Hofmiller, who, oblivious of her disability, invites her to dance with him. Following Edith’s impulsive outburst, Hofmiller finds himself caught in a net of pity. It is pity that drives him back to Kekesfalva’s home – soon he befriends the family and his visits become a routine to whose interruptions Edith shows utmost aversion. Soon, the net of pity becomes increasingly twisted and degenerates into a vicious circle from which Hofmiller cannot escape. Being the narrator, he explains in thorough detail his discovery of the fact that Edith is in love with him. At the same time, his feelings towards her are pity in its purest form; it is pity that drives him to suggest, reluctantly, that he will marry her if she heals. Being the sensitive and tempestuous young girl that she is, Edith shows him unambiguously that she will not hesitate to take her own life if he disappears from her life.

Another important figure in the work is Emmerich Condor, Edith’s doctor. Scientifically sophisticated and interpersonally experienced, he becomes Hofmiller’s psychological vent. Condor explains to the narrator that there are two forms of pity – a sentimental one, nothing more than “impatience of the heart” to escape from being involved in others’ misfortunes; and a productive one that is driven by enough patience to endure together with the object of pity until no more pity is required. The German title of the novel shows which form of pity the narrator chooses, or rather is uncapable of escaping from. This incapability leads to unfortunate events. Hofmiller enters World War II, switching the focus of his emotional energy from Edith’s suicide to Franz Ferdinand’s murder and lives long enough to tell his story to the narrator in shadow with whom actually the book begins. The text, notably brilliantly written, poses one clear question: how can one switch from sentimental to productive pity? In Zweig’s world view, as presented in the novel, pity is an integral function of the human mind and is therefore unavoidable; complete disengagement is impossible – which, in my view, is what makes Zweig’s characters so humane and amiable. It appears that the key to this dilemma is patience. Sentimental pity sooner or later disintegrates into fear and anger. However, if one has enough patience to walk the long way towards a state where pity becomes needless, the psychological equilibrium of all the involved can be restored. And yet, there is another question, external to the text. Is productive pity possible at all? In the light of this question, Zweig’s notion becomes almost naïve. Pity is often a byproduct of the unconscious, and as such, it can be brought under control only with difficulty and introspection. Equally naïve is the idea that one must beware of pity, as the English translation of the work suggests. The only cure that Zweig’s text offers is patience. Unfortunately, it does not come with instructions for use.

German original: Stefan Zweig – Ungeduld des Herzens, S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin, 1939

English translation: Stefan Zweig – Beware of Pity, Cassell, London, 1939

 20 March 2020