Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wisdom With A Twist

Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt

As Aristotle stares emptily into the chasm between material and spiritual wealth, represented by him and Homer respectively, he suddenly finds himself mentally estranged from his bourgeois existence and is ultimately guilt-stricken.

I can't help but think: only impotence has the power to place the average man in such a state of prolonged melancholy...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Twisted Logic From The Divine Gutter

When in Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard, the story of the great French philosopher who notoriously has an affair with one of his female students, the long-suffering and repentant Eloisa utters with an embittered, exclamatory tone - "But why should I on others' pray'rs depend?" - she is questioning the very nature of solidarity amongst people. Are those spiteful relatives and friends of hers the emanation of God's most truly heartfelt creation - slave morality? If they should so maliciously unite, and with such resentful passion I imagine against her person, aren't they the vanguard of slave morality? Behind their ostensibly holy disposition lies the innate desire to prolong her suffering as much as possible, so as to appease their egos and the egos of their base counterparts. As swift as a falcon, they would plunge down on her - the frail, little mouse - seizing the opportunity to convince her that through their "prayers", she will be saved from eternal damnation, when in fact this very act on their part so inevitably puts her on a leash, and with the cross of human betrayal, she heads for the underworld along with the other damned souls!
People best unite through vice than through virtue, and Eloisa, oh she knows this all too well!

Through the above line, Pope so magnificently and yet with such exquisite subtlety acknowledges that poor Eloisa is aware of this - indeed true nobility and greatness finds itself familiar to only a few, if not just to one, and Pope makes it clear that with this precise realisation, Eloisa is thus the ultimate victor in the eyes of the almighty Hindsight! She lost her earthly battles, only to win her divine war - this woman now ought to be venerated as a saint!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Life of the Author

Writers are there to write – their sole purpose. There is not a cause, nothing of tangible quality that would be a worthy substitute for writing when it comes to sincere devotion to one’s chosen path of existence. But what happens when the circumstances in which a writer is born require that bit extra devotion for him to be a writer of his time?

Something akin to melancholy struck me when I thought about the circumstances in which one of the greatest Bulgarian writers was born and bred – Ivan Vazov. His work is idiosyncratically Bulgarian, and it would hardly make an impression outside the national scope for thought, for it is literature that represents the perpetually fresh pine tree of Bulgarian folklore. Naturally, that makes it virtually indecipherable to Western readers – their blood type hardly matches that of the people for whom this literature was meant. I would imagine that were they to be translated into English for instance, Vazov’s works would suffer the same fate as a small child falsely accused of greedily devouring his friend’s porridge bowl – it would be dismissed as something so trivially childish, so naively puerile – a quixotic blunder the sole corollary of which would be the derisive back-stabbing remarks of bloodthirsty, intellectually disaffected critics. That would not be particularly surprising, considering the fact that what they’ll ultimately get would be hardly more than nationalist exaltation and a bitingly sharp, recalcitrant tone, purposefully crafted as to inspire within one’s heart the belligerent desire for freedom (from the Ottoman Empire in this case).

It would not be gravely dissimilar to a sort of Braveheart-type of patriotism, tinged slightly by the rays of the enlightening sun of folkloric poetic bravura. The virulent cries of the dirty, unshaven infantrymen would be replaced by the multitude of exclamation marks splashed with heavy ink across rolls of parchment.
In other words, writers such as Vazov exercised their literary talents solely for the cause of their country’s liberation; they wanted freedom above all else – some of them losing their lives in the process.

I am convinced that Vazov could have written literature that would have rivalled anything by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy or Zola. He had promises to keep though – he was one hundred per cent devoted to the cause of his country’s liberation both politically and spiritually, and thus he used his writing to inspire the otherwise lethargic patriotic spirit of your average Bulgarian person, so that his literature would have been just as well understood by the simple, uneducated peasant whose raw streak of rebellion would have cast too small a shadow over the general scheme of things.

Vazov’s writing exists by-itself, in unremarkable autonomy from the philosophical zeitgeist of the times (late 19th century). Multi-lingual as he was, he would have been well aware of Dostoevsky’s ground-breaking pundit misers, Baudelaire’s blossoming flowers of evil, or even Nietzsche’s ideas on literary lobotomy – he would have doubtlessly considered all of them in some form or another. Yet, nothing of this essentially transpires in his writing – it’s mostly all patriotic zeal, extolling the virtues of his motherland, and yes it’s all romantic and lyrically beautiful, but somewhat too idealistic and generally too intellectually meek for the times. It is culturally rich and exquisite but unlike rose oil, it would hardly ever be a good foreign export.
However disenchanted I feel for stating this, I think this man was a figure of immense literary potential, but it was sadly all somewhat ‘wasted’ for the sake of his country’s spiritual preservation. A genius squandered away? No, but rather a genius gone astray from the rest of the world, in order never to do the same with his own nation.

This was a man who was indeed swallowed by the sweeping tide of the circumstances in which he was born; he did not compromise even in the slightest, for the sake of sustaining the frail, fallible phantom of his country’s cultural heritage – a figure of great symbolic stature. Is this not the path which every writer ought to take? To adhere with uncompromising strength to one single ideal or principle, even if this would not be the most practical means to achieve recognition – that is exactly what he did even if it did not win him world-wide renown. I personally believe that a man of his ability would have been aware of this, and I do not doubt that such thoughts did indeed occasionally cross his mind. Yet, Bulgarians often tend to overlook this act of sacrifice on their literary father’s part, and it is not until one becomes aware of the bigger picture that such questions start to emerge.

Albert Camus’s detractors may disparage his philosophical merit, often severely criticising his lack of systematic thought or his tendency to approach issues at hand with naivety, especially from a political point of view. And yet, just like Vazov’s sole concern was for his crippled, little country, for Camus it was humanity - both very worthy ideals, by any means. They are symbolic and thus they function differently from any philosophy or any school of thought, rendering detractors’ criticisms valid but not final.

There is thus a definite discrepancy between a writer’s intellectual and symbolical merit, and since writers are after all people of flesh and blood, I often tend to find myself partial to the latter. Philosophies are ten-a-penny, but seizing the times, grabbing hold of the spirit of the age and becoming a figure of great symbolic eminence, of unity and moral strength, well that has the power to inspire things of equally transcendent character.
If only a bit naïve, I find this standpoint admirable at the very least.