Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Six-year-old’s brutal murder at hands of other children shocks Mexico

Authorities carry the body of six-year-old Christopher who was killed on the outskirts of Chihuahua. / EFE

Six-year-old’s brutal murder at hands 

of other children shocks Mexico

Torture and killing of young boy rallies Mexicans to demand end to rampant impunity

Mexico has been shaken by the violent death of a six-year-old boy who was reportedly tortured, stoned and stabbed to death by two cousins and three other friends, all aged between 11 and 15, in a small shantytown in the northern state of Chihuahua.
The body of Christopher Márquez Mora was found on Saturday in a shallow grave in Laderas de San Guillermo, located on the outskirts of the state capital, which is also named Chihuahua.
The five juvenile suspects reportedly took him by the hand “to play kidnappers,” according to authorities.

This is a problem concerning a breakdown of society – not a police matter”
“This is a problem concerning a breakdown of society – not a police matter, but instead a loss of values,” said a shocked investigating prosecutor.
In a country where random murders take place each day, the case has become a wake-up call for Mexican society to reflect on how runaway violence has even affected the way children play.
“As a society, how should we respond to something like this?” asked the editor of the influential Mexican daily Excelsior in a column. “What do kids see in their surroundings that pushes them to play kidnappers?”
According to investigators, the five children had brutally killed a stray dog before they took Christopher. One of the eldest in the group, who led the children on their rampage, reportedly ordered his friends to search for another victim after they attacked the dog, authorities said.
At 10am on May 14 Christopher was playing by himself on a street near his home, as he often did. The children asked him to help them find wood to burn and Christopher followed.

The children brutally killed a stray dog before they took Christopher
He knew the kids in the group: two of them were his cousins and the others were friends from the dusty and dilapidated poor neighborhood.
When they reached a stream, the group asked Christopher if he wanted to play kidnappers. They then tied his hands and feet and choked him with a stick until he fell unconscious. The barbarities then followed.
They allegedly beat him, stoned him, and then stabbed him with a knife, say investigators.
Afterwards they dragged the boy’s body and tried to bury it in a shallow grave, covering it with loose dirt, plants and the dead dog.
The following day, as the police began searching for Christopher, one of the boys’ mothers approached them after her son told her what had happened.
The two eldest boys, both 15, could face 10-year prison sentences if they are found guilty: two girls, both aged 13, and another 11-year-old boy cannot be charged but could face other penalties, according to prosecutors.

The only remedy to cure this madness is to hand down justice”
Meanwhile, Mexico searches for answers. “This is a reflection of an entire generation that has been raised on the idea that if you kill someone you won’t face any consequences,” said journalist Sandra Rodríguez, who is the author of Fábrica del crimen (Factory of crime), an account of a 2004 murder committed by juveniles in Chihuahua.
“What can we expect if they live in a state that champions impunity and where life doesn’t matter? This is what they have learned. The only remedy to cure this madness is to hand down justice. Mexican institutions must make it clear that murder in Mexico is not going to be tolerated,” she said.
At the funeral on Sunday, the outrage poured out. “My son wasn’t a dog,” cried the grief-stricken mother.
During the past decade, 10,876 minors were murdered in Mexico. Last Thursday, Christopher became another one of them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Marion Cotillard says feminism has no place in the film industry

Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard says feminism has no place 
in the film industry

Surprise comments follow Emily Watson’s claim at the San Sebastián film festival that equal pay was not her ‘personal quest’

Ben Child
The Guardian
Tuesday 29 September 2015

The Oscar-winning actor Marion Cotillard has said there is no place for feminism in Hollywood because the very term itself creates “separation” between the sexes.

Interviewed in Porter magazine, the French star of La Vie En Rose and Rust and Bone said she did not consider herself a feminist

Marion Cotillard

The Cannes film festival has been at the centre of claims that it fails to promote diversity since 2012, when all 22 films in the major competitions were directed by men. But, addressing the issue, Cotillard said she struggled to see a problem.

“Film-making is not about gender,” she said. “You cannot ask a president in a festival like Cannes to have, like, five movies directed by women and five by men.

“For me it doesn’t create equality, it creates separation. I mean, I don’t qualify myself as a feminist.

“We need to fight for women’s rights but I don’t want to separate women from men. We’re separated already because we’re not made the same and it’s the difference that creates this energy in creation and love. Sometimes in the word feminism there’s too much separation.”

Cotillard’s comments echo those made by British actor Emily Watson at a press conference at the San Sebastián film festival. “In terms of equal pay, there’s obviously a question to be answered about how it’s divided up, but I don’t think it’s my personal quest,” said the Oscar nominee. “I just feel so grateful that I do ajob that I love and someone pays me.”

Hollywood’s struggles with gender equality have been a hot issue recently to the point that a backlash now appears to be brewing. Women made up only 30.2% of all speaking or named characters in the 100 top-grossing films distributed in the US between 2007 and 2014, according to research conducted by the University of Southern California for the Geena Davis Institute, with a remarkably low 1.9% of those films directed by women.

Patricia Arquette raised the issue of the pay gap during her best supporting actress acceptance speech at February’s Oscars, and Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Carey Mulligan are among actors who have added their voices to calls for Hollywood to address it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bood Moon / 'Blood moon' brings prophecies of end times


 A supermoon earlier this month. Now the supermoon meets the solar eclipse. 
Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA


'Blood moon' brings prophecies of end times 
– but Nasa says not to worry

Overlapping lunar eclipse and supermoon have some religious leaders warning of a major turning point on Earth, though the details vary

On Sunday, millions of people around the world will enjoy the sight of a “blood moon”, as a lunar eclipse combined with a “supermoon” combines to make our natural satellite appear red in colour.

Observers might not enjoy themselves quite so much, however, if certain prophecies turn out to be true and the phenomenon heralds the beginning of the apocalypse.

Sunday will be the fourth appearance of a blood moon over the last two years, in what is known as a tetrad series. The last time was in 1982; the next will be in 2033.

If some religious leaders are to be believed, none of us will live to enjoy that next blood moon. Most such leaders are of groups on the fringes of organised belief, although this week leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints felt moved to reassure those among its followers who are worried.

Irvin Baxter runs Endtime Ministries in Plano, Texas. He posts regular YouTube videos speculating over whether this series of blood moons could signal the end of the world.

“Some prophecy teachers are declaring boldly that this tetrad just ahead signals that something is getting ready to happen, which will change the world forever,” Baxter said on his website.

God has often used “the heavens” for sending signs to mankind, Baxter says. He quotes Genesis, in which God says there should be lights in heaven and says of those lights: “Let them be for signs.”

Baxter also points out that three wise men were led to the birthplace of the baby Jesus by star – a sign in the sky. He adds: “There are several prophecies foretelling that the moon will be turned to blood in the endtime.”

“Joel 2:30-31 states: ‘And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.’”

Baxter warns that previous tetrads have had stark consequences for Jewish people. The Spanish inquisition took place before the tetrad of 1493-94. The tetrad of 1949-50 occurred just after the founding of Israel. The tetrad of 1967-1968 occurred as the Six-Day War was fought in Jerusalem.

The current tetrad, Baxter predicts, will precede the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. This, in turn, will “mark the beginning of the Final Seven Years to Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth”.

Mark Biltz, of El Shaddai Ministries, is in that second camp. He has been cited online as believing the end of the world is nigh, but refutes that and believes we have some time yet.

“I believe and have always taught these signs in the heavens do not mark the end of the world,” Biltz said recently.

“My interpretation is that we have at least another 1,000 years. But I do believe these signs portend major changes, including a possible major war involving Israel and an economic collapse.”

Biltz is locked in a row with Pastor John Hagee, who runs John Hagee Ministriesin San Antonio, Texas. Biltz claims to be the “discoverer of the blood moons phenomenon”. He is on record as far back as 2008 as saying the current tetrad could signal major change.

Hagee has risen to prominence by making similar claims, however, and published the book Four Blood Moons in 2014. It went on to be something of a bestseller in the US, spending 152 days among Amazon’s 100 top-selling books.

But Biltz says he was the first to predict the consequences of the blood moons. Joseph Farah, the publisher of Biltz’s own book on the subject – Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs – said in March this year that Biltz had “overlooked a grave slight by Hagee in the way he handled his book – not crediting Biltz as the man who discovered the blood moons phenomenon”.

While that row continues, Hagee will spend Sunday hosting a live programme as the blood moon appears.

“Pastor Hagee believes this exceptional celestial alignment is consistent with Biblical prophecy and with God’s unfolding message to humankind,” promotional material for the show said.

Hagee told the Guardian the blood moon means “an event of historical significance to the Jewish people is occurring or will occur”. Asked what the implications are for the end of the world, Hagee said there were “none”.

“None. Matthew 24:36 makes clear that only God knows the timing of such, anyone who makes such a prediction is acting contrary to the Word of God.”

For anyone concerned that the world may be coming to an end, the views of Nasashould provide calming relief. The organisation has used its website to quell fears of the planet being destroyed, or at least being destroyed soon.

“Nasa knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small,” the site says.

“In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

Steve Schapiro / Portraits

Woody Allen
Steve Schapiro

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro during the filming of 1976 movie Taxi Driver

Muhammad Ali with a Monopoly board

Barbara Streisand

Martin Scorsese with one of the guns used by Robert De Niro on the set of Taxi Driver

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Paul Auster by Joseph Mallia / Interview

Paul Auster. Photo © Susan Shacter, 1988

Paul Auster

by Joseph Mallia


BOMB 23 
Spring 1988

Auster has worked in a wide range of genres—a half-dozen volumes of dense, highly crafted lyric poems; numerous books of translation from the French, and the editorship of the Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry; The Art of Hunger, critical essays written when he was in his early twenties; a moving, deeply personal yet intellectually rigorous “experiment in autobiography,” The Invention of Solitude, The New York Trilogy, an acclaimed series of sparse, evocative mysteries; a one-act play, produced in New York (and which he refuses to talk about); pseudonymously, a conventional detective story; and, most recently, In The Country of Last Things, a post-apocalyptic story narrated from the point of view of a 19-year-old woman. What unites his work in such disparate genres? It “has to do with language,” Auster says. “It all goes toward exploring the limits of the sayable. It has to do with perception, the connection between seeing the world and speaking the world, what happens in that gap between the two. It is about trying to come to grips in language with things that elude understanding.”
Joseph Mallia In your book of essays The Art of Hunger you cite Samuel Beckett as saying, “There will be a new form.” Is your work an example of that new form?
Paul Auster It seems that everything comes out a little strangely and my books don’t quite resemble other books, but whether they’re “new” in any sense, I really can’t say. It’s not my ambition to think about it. So I suppose the answer is yes and no. At this point I’m not even thinking about anything beyond doing the books themselves. They impose themselves on me, so it’s not my choice. The only thing that really matters, it seems to me, is saying the thing that has to be said. If it really has to be said, it will create its own form.
JM All of your early work, from the ’70s, is poetry. What brought about this switch in genres, what made you want to write prose?
PA Starting from a very early age, writing novels was always my ambition. When I was a student in college, in fact, I spent a great deal more time writing prose than poetry. But the projects and ideas that I took on were too large for me, too ambitious, and I could never get a grip on them. By concentrating on a smaller form I felt that I was able to make more progress. Years went by, and writing poetry became such an obsession that I stopped thinking about anything else. I wrote very short, compact lyrical poems that usually took me months to complete. They were very dense, especially in the beginning—coiled in on themselves like fists—but over the years they gradually began to open up, until I finally felt that they were heading in the direction of narrative. I don’t think of myself as having made a break from poetry. All my work is of a piece, and the move into prose was the last step in a slow and natural evolution.
JM As a younger writer, who were the modern writers you were interested in?
PA Of prose writers, unquestionably Kafka and Beckett. They both had a tremendous hold over me. In the same sense, the influence of Beckett was so strong that I couldn’t see my way beyond it. Among poets, I was very attracted to contemporary French poetry and the American Objectivists, particularly George Oppen, who became a close friend. And the German poet Paul Celan, who in my opinion is the finest post-War poet in any language. Of older writers, there were Hölderlin and Leopardi, the essays of Montaigne, and Cervantes’sDon Quixote, which has remained a great source for me.
JM But in the ’70s you also wrote a great number of articles and essays about other writers.
PA Yes, that’s true. There was a period in the middle ’70s in particular when I found myself eager to test my own ideas about writers in print. It’s one thing to read and admire somebody’s work, but it’s quite another to marshal your thoughts about that writer into something coherent. The people I wrote about—Laura Riding, Edmond Jabès, Louis Wolfson, Knut Hamsen, and others—were writers I felt a need to respond to. I never considered myself a reviewer, but simply one writer trying to talk about others. Having to write prose for publication disciplined me, I think, and convinced me that ultimately I was able to write prose. So in some sense those little pieces of literary journalism were the training ground for the novels.
JM Your first prose book was The Invention of Solitude, which was an autobiographical book.
PA I don’t think of it as an autobiography so much as a meditation about certain questions, using myself as the central character. The book is divided into two sections, which were written separately, with a gap of about a year between the two. The first, "Portrait of an Invisible Man," was written in response to my father’s death. He simply dropped dead one day, unexpectedly, after being in perfect health, and the shock of it left me with so many unanswered questions about him that I felt I had no choice but to sit down and try to put something on paper. In the act of trying to write about him, I began to realize how problematical it is presume to know anything about anyone else. While that piece is filled with specific details, it still seems to me not so much an attempt at biography but an exploration of how one might begin to speak about another person, and whether or not it is even possible.
The second part grew out of the first and was a response to it. It gave me a great deal of trouble, especially in terms of organization. I began writing it in the first person, as the first part had been written, but couldn’t make any headway with it. This part was even more personal than the first, but the more deeply I descended into the material, the more distanced I became from it. In order to write about myself, I had to treat myself as though I were someone else. It was only when I started all over again in the third person that I began to see my way out of the impasse. The astonishing thing, I think, is that at the moment when you are most truly alone, when you truly enter a state of solitude, that is the moment when you are not alone anymore, when you start to feel your connection with others. I believe I even quote Rimbaud in that book, “Je est un autre”—I is another—and I take that sentence quite literally. In the process of writing or thinking about yourself, you actually become someone else.
JM Not only is the narrative voice of "The Book of Memory" different, but the structure is different as well.
PA The central question in the second part was memory. So in some sense everything that happens in it is simultaneous. But writing is sequential, it unfolds over time. So my greatest problem was in trying to put things in the correct order.
The point was to be as honest as possible in every sentence. I wanted to write a work that was completely exposed. I didn’t want to hide anything, I wanted to break down for myself the boundary between living and writing as much as I could. That’s not to say that a lot of literary effort didn’t go into the book, but the impulses are all very immediate and pressing. With everything I do, it seems that I just get so inside it, I can’t think about anything else. And writing the book becomes real for me. I was talking about myself in "The Book of Memory," but by tracking specific instances of my own mental process, perhaps I was doing something that other people could understand as well.
JM Yes, that’s how it worked for me. "The Book of Memory" dwells on coincidences, strange intersections of events in the world. This is also true in the novels of The New York Trilogy.
PA Yes. I believe the world is filled with strange events. Reality is a great deal more mysterious than we ever give it credit for. In that sense, the Trilogy grows directly out of The Invention of Solitude. On the most personal level, I think of City of Glass as an homage to my wife. It’s a kind of fictitious subterranean autobiography, an attempt to imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t met her. That’s why I had to appear in the book as myself. but at the same time Auster is also Quinn, but in a different universe . . . .
The opening scene in the book is something that actually happened to me. I was living alone at the time, and one night the telephone rang and the person on the other end asked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I told him that he had the wrong number, of course, but the same person called back the next night with the same question. When I hung up the phone the second time, I asked myself what would have happened if I had said, “Yes.” That was the genesis of the book, and I went on from there.
JM Reviews of the book seem to emphasize the mystery elements of The New York Trilogy, making it out to be a gloss on the mystery genre. Did you feel that you were writing a mystery novel?
PA Not at all. Of course I used certain elements of detective fiction. Quinn, after all, writes detective novels, and takes on the identity of someone he thinks is a detective. But I felt I was using those elements for such different ends, for things that had so little to do with detective stories, that I was somewhat disappointed by the emphasis that was put on them. That’s not to say that I have anything against the genre. The mystery, after all, is one of the oldest and most compelling forms of storytelling, and any number of works can be placed in that category: Oedipus RexCrime and Punishment, a whole range of twentieth-century novels. In America, there’s no question that people like Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain are legitimate writers, writers who have contributed something important to the language. It’s a mistake to look down on popular forms. You have to be open to everything, to be willing to take inspiration from any and all sources. In the same way that Cervantes used chivalric romances as the starting point for Don Quixote, or the way that Beckett used the standard vaudeville routine as the framework for Waiting for Godot, I tried to use certain genre conventions to get to another place, another place altogether.
JM The problem of identity, right?
PA Exactly. The question of who is who and whether or not we are who we think we are. The whole process that Quinn undergoes in that book—and the characters in the other two, as well—is one of stripping away to some barer condition in which we have to face up to who we are. Or who we aren’t. It finally comes to the same thing.
JM And the detective is somebody who’s supposed to deal with the problems we have in maintaining a conventional identity. He deals with the messy edges of reality. Like, “My wife, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to—”
PA Right, exactly—or, “Somebody’s missing.” So the detective really is a very compelling figure, a figure we all understand. He’s the seeker after truth, the problem-solver, the one who tries to figure things out. But what if, in the course of trying to figure it out, you just unveil more mysteries? I suppose maybe that’s what happens in the books.
The books have to do with the idea of mystery in several ways. We’re surrounded by things we don’t understand, by mysteries, and in the books these are people who suddenly come face to face with them. It becomes more apparent that they’re surrounded by things they don’t know or understand. So in that sense there might be some psychological resonance. Even though the situations aren’t strictly realistic, they might follow some realistic psychology. These are things that we all feel—that confusion, that lack of knowing of what it is that surrounds us.
JM I saw the protagonists dropping into a kind of necessity, suddenly, and putting personal life aside, driven by some extraordinary hunger. It has almost religious undertones to it. I remember reading a review by Fanny Howe in the Boston Globe, and she said that the book is about a kind of gnosis—"grace among the fallen."
PA “Religious” might not be the word I would use, but I agree that these books are mostly concerned with spiritual questions, the search for spiritual grace. At some point or another, all three characters undergo a form of humiliation, of degradation, and perhaps that is a necessary stage in discovering who we are.
Each novel in the trilogy, I suppose, is about a kind of passionate excess. Quinn’s story in City of Glass alludes to Don Quixote, and the questions raised in the two books are very similar: what is the line between madness and creativity, what is the line between the real and the imaginary, is Quinn crazy to do what he does or not? For a time, I toyed with the idea of using an epigraph at the beginning of City of Glass. It comes from Wittgenstein: “And it also means something to talk of ‘living in the pages of a book.’”
In Ghosts, the spirit of Thoreau is dominant—another kind of passionate excess. The idea of living a solitary life, of living with a kind of monastic intensity—and all the dangers that entails. Walden Pond in the heart of the city. In his American Notebook, Hawthorne wrote an extraordinary and luminous sentence about Thoreau that has never left me. “I think he means to live like an Indian among us.” That sums up the project better than anything else I’ve read. The determination to reject everyday American life, to go against the grain, to discover a more solid foundation for oneself . . . In The Locked Room, by the way, the name Fanshawe is a direct reference to Hawthorne. Fanshawe was the title of Hawthorne’s first novel. He wrote it when he was very young, and not long after it was published, he turned against it in revulsion and tried to destroy every copy he could get his hands on. Fortunately, a few of them survived . . .
JM In Ghosts, Blue, in effect, loses his whole life in taking the case, and the narrator in The Locked Room goes through that terrible experience in Paris—
PA But in the end, he manages to resolve the question for himself—more or less. He finally comes to accept his own life, to understand that no matter how bewitched or haunted he is, he had to accept reality as it is, to tolerate the presence of ambiguities within himself. That’s what happens to him with relation to Fanshawe. He hasn’t slain the dragon, he’s let the dragon move into the house with him. That’s why he destroys the notebook in the last scene.
JM And the reader feels it. We’re inside him.
PA The one thing I try to do in all my books is to leave enough room in the prose for the reader to inhabit it. Because I finally believe that it’s the reader who writes the book and not the writer. In my own case as a reader (and I’ve certainly read more books than I’ve written!), I find that I almost invariably appropriate scenes and situations from a book and graft them onto my own experiences—or vice versa. In reading a book like Pride and Prejudice, for example, I realized at a certain point that all the events were set in the house I grew up in as a child. No matter how specific a writer’s description of a place might be, I always seem to twist it into something I’m familiar with. I’ve asked a number of my friends if this happens to them when they read fiction as well. For some yes, for others no. I think this probably has a lot to do with one’s relation to language, how one responds to words printed on a page. Whether the words are just symbols, or whether they are passageways into our unconscious.
There’s a way in which a writer can do too much, overwhelming the reader with so many details that he no longer has any air to breathe. Think of a typical passage in a novel. A character walks into a room. As a writer, how much of that room do you want to talk about? The possibilities are infinite. You can give the color of the curtains, the wallpaper pattern, the objects on the coffee table, the reflection of the light in the mirror. But how much of this is really necessary? Is the novelist’s job simply to reproduce physical sensations for their own sake? When I write, the story is always uppermost in my mind, and I feel that everything must be sacrificed to it. All the elegant passages, all the curious details, all the so-called beautiful writing—if they are not truly relevant to what I am trying to say, then they have to go. It’s all in the voice. You’re telling a story, after all, and your job is to make people want to go on listening to your tale. The slightest distraction or wandering leads to boredom, and if there’s one thing we all hate in books, it’s losing interest, feeling bored, not caring about the next sentence. In the end, you don’t only write the books you need to write, but you write the books you would like to read yourself.
JM Is there a method to it?
PA No. The deeper I get into my own work, the less engaging theoretical problems have become. When you look back on the works that have moved you, you find that they have always been written out of some kind of necessity. There’s something calling out to you, some human call, that makes you want to listen to the work. In the end, it probably has very little to do with literature.
Georges Bataille wrote about this in his preface to Le Bleu du Ciel. I refer to it in The Art of Hunger, in an essay on the schizophrenic Wolfson. He said that every real book comes from a moment of rage, and then he asked: “How can we read works that we don’t feel compelled to read?” I believe he’s absolutely correct: there’s always some indefinable something that makes you attend to a writer’s work—you can never put your finger on it, but that something is what makes all the difference.
JM In other words the writer has to be haunted by his story before he can write it.
PA In my own experience I’ve often lived for years with the ideas for books before I could manage to write them. In The Country of Last Things is a novel I started writing back in the days when I was a college student. The idea of a young woman writing letters from the edge of the world, from some unknowable place . . . it got under my skin and I couldn’t let go of it. I would pick up the manuscript, work on it for a while, and then put it down. The essential thing was to capture her voice, and when I couldn’t hear it anymore, I would have to stop. I must have started the book 30 times. Each time it was somewhat different than the time before, but the essential situation was always the same.
JM In the same way that some reviewers classified The New York Trilogy as a mystery, there were many articles about this book that classified it as apocalyptic science fiction.
PA That was the farthest thing from my mind while I was writing it. In fact, my private, working subtitle for the book was “Anna Blume Walks Through the 20th Century.” I feel that it’s very much a book about our own moment, our own era, and many of the incidents are things that have actually happened. For example, the pivotal scene in which Anna is lured into a human slaughterhouse is based on something I read about the seige of Leningrad during World War II. These things actually happened. And in many cases, reality is far more terrible than anything we can imagine. Even the garbage system that I describe at such length was inspired by an article I once read about the present-day garbage system in Cairo. Admittedly, the book takes on these things from a somewhat oblique angle, and the country Anna goes to might not be immediately recognizable, but I feel that this is where we live. It could be that we’ve become so accustomed to it that we no longer see it.
JM What are you working on now?
PA I’m coming close to the end of a novel called Moon Palace. It’s the longest book I’ve ever written and probably the one most rooted in a specific time and place. The action begins in 1969 and doesn’t get much beyond 1971. At bottom, I suppose it’s a story about families and generation, a kind of David Copperfield novel, and it’s something that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. As with the last book, it’s gone through many changes. The pages pile up, but God knows what it will look like when it’s finished . . . Whenever I complete a book, I’m filled with a feeling of immense disgust and disappointment. It’s almost a physical collapse. I’m so disappointed by my feeble efforts that I can’t believe I’ve actually spent so much time and accomplished so little. It takes years before I’m able to accept what I’ve done—to realize that this was the best I could do. But I never like to look at the things I’ve written. The past is the past, and there’s nothing I can do about it any more. The only thing that counts is the project I’m working on now.
JM Beckett once said in one of his stories. “No sooner is the ink dry than it revolts me.”
PA You can’t say it any better than that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Kafka / The Neighbour

The Neighbour
by Franz Kafka
Translated by Annika Eder

I am totally responsible for my own business. Two ladies with typewriters
and account books in the outer office, my room with desk, cash-box,
conference table, club chair and telephone, that is everything I work with.
So easy to survey, so easy to carry on. I am very young and business is
going well for me. I don't complain, I don't complain.

Since New Year's the small, empty flat, which I unfortunately hesitated to
rent for such a long time, has been rented by a young man right away. As
well a room with outer office, but besides that a kitchen. -Room and outer
office I could have used well - sometimes my ladies felt a bit overloaded -,
but how would I have used the kitchen? This little worry is to blame that I
didn't rent the flat myself. Now this young man is sitting there. Harras is
his name. What he is actually doing, I don't know. His door reads: "Harras,
bureau". I made inquiries, I've been notified that it is a business similar
to mine. You couldn't necessarily warn of guarantee for credit, since we are
dealing with a young, rising man, whose business may have a good future, but
you couldn't advice to credit either, since there doesn't seem to be any
fortune at the present. The common information you get, if you no one knows
a thing.

Sometimes I meet Harras in the staircase, he always must be in an
extraordinary hurry, he formally scurries past me. I haven't seen him
completely yet, the keys to his office are always sitting ready in his hand.
In the matter of an instant he has opened the door. Like the tail of a rat
he slid in and again I am standing in front of the sign "Harras, bureau",
which I have already read more often than it deserves.

These awfully thin walls, which betray the honest man, but cover the
dishonest! My telephone is attached to the wall that separates me from my
neighbour. But I only emphasise that as a special ironic fact. Even if it
was hung on the opposite wall, you could hear everything in the neighbouring
flat. I gave up saying the names of clients on the phone. But through
characteristic, but unavoidable expressions it doesn't need much cunning to
guess the names. - Sometimes I wriggle, having the receiver close to my ear,
full of restlessness, around the telephone on my tiptoes, but still can't
prevent to reveal secrets.

Through that, my business decisions certainly get unsure, my voice starts
shaking. What is Harras doing while I am on the telephone? If I really
wanted to exaggerate - but you often have to, to make things clear -, I
could say: Harras doesn't need a telephone, he uses mine, he shifted his
sofa near the wall and listens, but I have to - when it rings - run to the
telephone, receive clients' wishes, make difficult decisions, perform great
prepared speeches - but before all during the whole time involuntarily
report to Harras through the wall.

Maybe he doesn't even wait until the end of the call, but rises after the
bit of conversation, which informed him enough about the case, scurries
habitual through the city and before I even dropped the receiver he might
already be busy working against me.

(from the Octave Book D)

The Neighbour 
by Franz Kafka
Translated by Tanya Ellerbrock

from the Octave Book D

My business rests entirely on my shoulders. Two ladies with typewriters and account books in the front room, my room with a desk, a cash box, a conference table, a lounge chair, and a telephone, that is everything I work with. So easy to survey, so easy to guide. I am quite young and business is going well for me. I don't worry, I don't worry.

Since the New Year a young man has just rented the small, vacant neighboring apartment, which I blunderingly hesitated too long to rent. It is also a room with a front room, and furthermore a kitchen. - I could have used the room and front room - my two ladies feel a bit overwhelmed sometimes -, but what would I have used the kitchen for? This petty misgiving was my debt, I let myself allow the apartment to be taken. Now this young man is sitting there. He is named Harras. What he actually does there I don't know. On the door it says "Harras, Office." I have made inquiries, I have been told it is a business similar to mine. I couldn't be alerted to credit loans, for it involves a young, up-coming man, whose business may have a future, so advice can't be given on credit, for at the moment no fortune appears to exist. The usual information which is given when nothing is known.

Sometimes I meet Harras on the steps, he must always be in an extraordinary hurry, he scurries carefully past me. I have never exactly seen him, he always has the office keys ready in his hand. In the blink of an eye he has opened the door. Like the tail of a rat, he has slipped in and I am standing again in front of the board "Harras, Office," which I have already read more often, that it deserves.

The woefully thin walls, which betray the honest, active man, cover the dishonest, however. My telephone is on the appropriate wall of the room, which separates me from my neighbor. But I emphasize that merely as an especially ironic fact.

Even if it were hung on the opposite wall, you could hear everything in the neighboring apartment. I have given up mentioning the names of clients on the phone. But of course it doesn't pertain much to shrewdness, guessing the names from characteristics, through unavoidable turns of the tongue. - sometimes I dance around, the receiver to my ear, spurred on by anxiety, on my tip toes, and still can not prevent that secrets are given away.

Certainly my business decisions will become insecure through that, my voice shaky. What is Harras doing while I am on the telephone? I would like to really exaggerate - but you must do that often, to make it clear -, so I could say Harras doesn't need a telephone, he uses mine, he moved his sofa against the wall and listens, I must run to the telephone when it rings, to accept clients' wishes, to handle difficult decisions, to perform large-scale persuasions - but above all involuntarily making a report to Harras through the wall of the room during the whole thing.

Maybe he doesn't even wait until the end of the conversation, but rather arises after the point of the conversation, which has cleared up the case enough for him, scurries through the city as is his habit and before I have hung up the receiver, he is might already be on it, counteracting me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Joan Didion / Morality

by Joan Didion

As it happens I am in Death Valley, in a room at the Enterprise Motel and Trailer Park, and it is July, and it is hot. In fact it is 119°. I cannot seem to make the air conditioner work, but there is a small refrigerator, and I can wrap ice cubes in a towel and hold them against the small of my back. With the help of the ice cubes I have been trying to think, because The American Scholar asked me to, in some abstract way about “morality,” a word I distrust more every day, but my mind veers inflexibly toward the particular.
Here are some particulars. At midnight last night, on the road in from Las Vegas to Death Valley Junction, a car hit a shoulder and turned over. The driver, very young and apparently drunk, was killed instantly. His girl was found alive but bleeding internally, deep in shock. I talked this afternoon to the nurse who had driven the girl to the nearest doctor, 185 miles across the floor of the Valley and three ranges of lethal mountain road. The nurse explained that her husband, a talc miner, had stayed on the highway with the boy’s body until the coroner could get over the mountains from Bishop, at dawn today. “You can’t just leave a body on the highway,” she said. “It’s immoral.”
It was one instance in which I did not distrust the word, because she meant something quite specific. She meant that if a body is left alone for even a few minutes on the desert, the coyotes close in and eat the flesh. Whether or not a corpse is torn apart by coyotes may seem only a sentimental consideration, but of course it is more: one of the promises we make to one another is that we will try to retrieve our casualties, try not to abandon our dead to the coyotes. If we have been taught to keep our promises—if, in the simplest terms, our upbringing is good enough—we stay with the body, or have bad dreams.
I am talking, of course, about the kind of social code that is sometimes called, usually pejoratively, “wagon‑train morality.” In fact that is precisely what it is. For better or worse, we are what we learned as children: my own childhood was illuminated by graphic litanies of the grief awaiting those who failed in their loyalties to each other. The Donner‑Reed Party, starving in the Sierra snows, all the ephemera of civilization gone save that one vestigial taboo, the provision that no one should eat his own blood kin. The Jayhawkers, who quarreled and separated not far from where I am tonight. Some of them died in the Funerals and some of them died down near Badwater and most of the rest of them died in the Panamints. A woman who got through gave the Valley its name. Some might say that the Jayhawkers were killed by the desert summer, and the Donner Party by the mountain winter, by circumstances beyond control; we were taught instead that they had somewhere abdicated their responsibilities, somehow breached their primary loyalties, or they would not have found themselves helpless in the mountain winter or the desert summer, would not have given way to acrimony, would not have deserted one another, would not have failed. In brief, we heard such stories as cautionary tales, and they still suggest the only kind of “morality” that seems to me to have any but the most potentially mendacious meaning.

You are quite possibly impatient with me by now; I am talking, you want to say, about a “morality” so primitive that it scarcely deserves the name, a code that has as its point only survival, not the attainment of the ideal good. Exactly. Particularly out here tonight, in this country so ominous and terrible that to live in it is to live with antimatter, it is difficult to believe that “the good” is a knowable quantity. Let me tell you what it is like out here tonight. Stories travel at night on the desert. Someone gets in his pickup and drives a couple of hundred miles for a beer, and he carries news of what is happening, back wherever he came from. Then he drives another hundred miles for another beer, and passes along stories from the last place as well as from the one before; it is a network kept alive by people whose instincts tell them that if they do not keep moving at night on the desert they will lose all reason. Here is a story that is going around the desert tonight: over across the Nevada line, sheriff’s deputies are diving in some underground pools, trying to retrieve a couple of bodies known to be in the hole. The widow of one of the drowned boys is over there; she is eighteen, and pregnant, and is said not to leave the hole. The divers go down and come up, and she just stands there and stares into the water. They have been diving for ten days but have found no bottom to the caves, no bodies and no trace of them, only the black 90° water going down and down and down, and a single translucent fish, not classified. The story tonight is that one of the divers has been hauled up incoherent, out of his head, shouting—until they got him out of there so that the widow could not hear—about water that got hotter instead of cooler as he went down, about light flickering through the water, about magma, about underground nuclear testing.
That is the tone stories take out here, and there are quite a few of them tonight. And it is more than the stories alone. Across the road at the Faith Community Church a couple of dozen old people, come here to live in trailers and die in the sun, are holding a prayer sing. I cannot hear them and do not want to. What I can hear are occasional coyotes and a constant chorus of “Baby the Rain Must Fall” from the jukebox in the Snake Room next door, and if I were also to hear those dying voices, those Midwestern voices drawn to this lunar country for some unimaginable atavistic rites, rock of ages cleft for me, I think I would lose my own reason. Every now and then I imagine I hear a rattlesnake, but my husband says that it is a faucet, a paper rustling, the wind. Then he stands by a window, and plays a flashlight over the dry wash outside.
What does it mean? It means nothing manageable. There is some sinister hysteria in the air out here tonight, some hint of the monstrous perversion to which any human idea can come. “I followed my own conscience.” “I did what I thought was right.” How many madmen have said it and meant it? How many murderers? Klaus Fuchs said it, and the men who committed the Mountain Meadows Massacre said it, and Alfred Rosenberg said it. And, as we are rotely and rather presumptuously reminded by those who would say it now, Jesus said it. Maybe we have all said it, and maybe we have been wrong. Except on that most primitive level—our loyalties to those we love—what could be more  arrogant than to claim the primacy of personal conscience? (“Tell me,” a rabbi‑asked Daniel Bell when he said, as a child, that he did not believe in God. “Do you think God cares?”) At least some of the time, the world appears to me as a painting by Hieronymous Bosch; were I to follow my conscience then, it would lead me out onto the desert with Marion Faye, out to where he stood in The Deer Park looking east to Los Alamos and praying, as if for rain, that it would happen: “. . . let it come and clear the rot and the stench and the stink, let it come for all of everywhere, just so it comes and the world stands clear in the white dead dawn.”

Of course you will say that I do not have the right, even if I had the power, to inflict that unreasonable conscience upon you; nor do I want you to inflict your conscience, however reasonable, however enlightened, upon me. (“We must be aware of the dangers which lie in our most generous wishes,” Lionel Trilling once wrote. “Some paradox of our nature leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.”) That the ethic of conscience is intrinsically insidious seems scarcely a revelatory point, but it is one raised with increasing infrequency; even those who do raise it tend to segue with troubling readiness into the quite contradictory position that the ethic of conscience is dangerous when it is “wrong,” and admirable when it is “right.”
You see I want to be quite obstinate about insisting that we have no way of knowing—beyond that fundamental loyalty to the social code—what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “good” and what “evil.” I dwell so upon this because the most disturbing aspect of “morality” seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation. Questions of straightforward power (or survival) politics, questions of quite indifferent public policy, questions of almost anything: they are all assigned these factitious moral burdens. There is something facile going on, some self‑indulgence at work. Of course we would all like to “believe” in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done. But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing and why. It is all right only so long as we remember that all the ad hoc committees, all the picket lines, all the brave signatures in The New York Times, all the tools of agitprop straight across the spectrum, do not confer upon anyone any ipso facto virtue. It is all right only so long as we recognize that the end may or may not be expedient, may or may not be a good idea, but in any case has nothing to do with “morality.” Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperativethat we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble, And I suspect we are already there.