Volume Two, Speaking Om Apologia
The Flowers of Evil are well worth re-reading—both the poems and the manga; I needn’t explain why the former is worth re-reading, but the latter has not yet cemented its place in the pantheon of great works of modern art. Well, why should it? It is one of the very few truly subversive mangas (and the anime adaptation is one of the even fewer truly subversive animes): openly critical of Japanese society and its institutions, with no recourse to making the best out of a shit situation—even better, it does not stop at subversion, but allows rebellious acts to play out in a realistically disastrous manner [spoiler] without the protagonists dying the death of a martyr of liberty, but remaining in the shit show that is their lives [end spoiler] as they struggle with the state of [personal] anomie in which they live.
I also discovered one very good and one great artist (art books are as much books as any other sort): Meret Oppenheim and Louis Bourgeous. The latter is a true original and visionary—undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Everything she produces is a lucid fragment of a dream, whether it’s an elaborate installation, painting, sculpture, poetry and prose, or some very rudimentary assemblage of psychoanalytical tattletaling.
Incidentally, the surrealist’s place in the “Western canon” should be significantly higher: while their predecessors may have invented contemporary art, they were certainly the ones who pushed it in the direction of post-modernism. Sure, philosophically surrealism and post-modernism are diametrically opposed, but the post-modern aesthetic, language, and some techniques, are all from surrealism. Even some of its philosophical underpinnings are, such as its rejection of hierarchies—and just like surrealism, it is actually incredibly elitist in its operations in spite of its supposed rejection of hierarchies.
Speaking of surrealists, the Garcia Lorca poems I read were quite beautiful, though much of the music was lost in translation. Speaking of modernists, Wessex by Thomas Hardy was legit, like all of Thomas Hardy’s poetry—jagged and nutritious mouthfuls of sparkling squid ink; such sweet and savoury umami-y morsels—also caramelised mushrooms and stalactites of icing? A culinary kaleidoscope of colours shades of grey.
Speaking of poetry, I also dabbled in some Sufi stuff: maybe this makes me an “Islam apologist” but only Blake surpasses the Muslims in rejoicing in the sensuality of life (or maybe it makes me an infidel, for that matter).
Speaking of Blake, I also confirmed that the Romantics aren’t fit to inhabit his little toe, in spite of critics’ insistent labelling of poor Blake as one of them. I mean, they’d be truly great if they weren’t just watered down Blake singing in Greek and Latin instead of English (with the exception of Wordsworth who at least chants in his Northron English), and while they are essentially the progenitors of modernism and so much of Western thought (particularly in our concepts of personal freedom and childhood), they just can’t hold a candle to Blake’s brilliancy. A fairer moniker for Romanticism would be Blakianism—this is also a better description of our current mode of thought than the Enlightenment, but although so many of Blake’s ideas have been tepidly adopted, sadly it would be hard to argue they were because anyone got them from Blake himself.
Speaking of Blake’s foot, I read Paradise Lost for the first time, and it is definitely about as good as you’d expect Blake’s foot to be; but obviously Blake himself has much more body than one foot! (I know the English are short, and used to be even shorter, but I dare say he was at least four or five feet).
Speaking of nirvana nostalgia, there is, of course, another religion where some people just don’t give a shit about having to make themselves miserable all the time, and that is Buddhism. So it is with with Japanese Death Poems, a practice in co[s]mic arrogance for posterity—it’s always wonderful when a translator doesn’t miss the mirth inherent in so many strains of Buddhism. Obviously everyone knows Zen Buddhism is all one big joke—the monks its butt—but there’s a mischievous strain in much of Buddhism outside of Zen, too. A few of the poems were even somewhat moving.
Last absurd association: I also re-read (some of) The Upanishads, and not only are many of them beautifully musical prose even in translation (by Juan Mascaro), they’re also much more advanced than anything in the bible: this is theological philosophy, not what the theologians are using as the basis of their theological philosophy. No wonder so many Christian colonisers were blown away by the stuff. Om.
Self-proclaimed Queen of Europe, Björk described Oddný Eir as the writer she feels can best express the female psyche of now. Oddný also, apparently, bridged the gap between Iceland (Eastern) and Western philosophy. (Scandinavians are socialists and Russians are capitalists now, so our compasses finally conform to this colonial metaphor).
Now I’m not sure Björk is right, but Oddný does describe well the thought processes and lifestyle of a particular sort of liberal academic who spends their barren lives completely disconnected from the world they think so deeply about. That’s a bit unfair: Oddný is aware of many of the contradictions her political stances require of her. For example, it isn’t just Business Interests but poor proletarian saps capable of producing value only to imperialist Chinese property developers who are just as willing and eager to destroy the otherwise worthless land on which they live to save themselves from deficit, destitution and debt—if not for profit.
Perhaps the reason Björk thinks it’s so representative of the female psyche of today is because it’s a Virginia Woolf travel book—beautiful in its transitions between scenes and thoughts, but without the dancing composition and tremendous psychological insight. Gentlemen, is this not indeed the contemporary woman: Virginia Woolf the entitled upper class twit-cum-feminist essayist who only really cares about women being too physically weak to break skylights with their bare brains—pretty in a suit and skirt, but weening and superficial; not the statuesque Virginia Woolf who was one of the great geniuses of modern literature, and a giant upon whose shoulders our psychologists and neurologists are too stupid to realise they stand. Ladies, not that men are any better. Nor that I didn’t actually like this little book quite a bit. Parts of it really were genuinely beautiful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that like so many of her generation (male or female) all she really needed was a good hug and everything would be fine with the world.
If you couldn’t tell, I also read To the Lighthouse; which was what this whole spiel was really about.
*Not 100% certain it was by him, as the two books about his wartime hijinks featured a few cartoons by other artists. Either way, I’m still having flashbacks.