Posting this here because it’s one of my rant-y pomes, and therefore not really the kind I’d submit anywhere!
(c) Nin Harris 2012-2013
I smooth warpaint on
my features as a mark of
war, not of seduction.
It is a reminder that the inner face
remains for the intrinsic me.
The warpaint is read as
an invitation for conquest.
There is no happy ending
for this tale; no rant
against being objectified
will be effective.
I have elected to be
a woman and by being a woman,
I mean painting my features
not hiding my curves
and letting my hair flow
like a war-general
rather than a seductress
Naturally this means
I cannot be a feminist
because I have not
decided to be gender-neutral
because I have not decided
to obliterate everything
that is womanly about me.
I have had a lifetime
of having a boy-cut hairstyle;
dressed in little girl clothes
chosen by an abuser
aimed at suffocating
any sign of sensuality
I choose beauty not so I
can be prey or victim.
I choose beauty as an
act of aggression.
I choose love,
not because I like being vulnerable
I choose love because there
is nothing more empowering
or as humbling
as true knowing
I choose love — and this is a
fine distinction. I choose it.
Poets have written about
love being an animal
that chases you down
but the truth is that in love
as in war, there is always choice,
There are many loves,
and one does not need to be
the recipient of a love given
grudgingly, against the
better nature and inclination
of its giver.
If love is not to be war then
love must be given freely
or not given at all.
If beauty is not to be war
then we should be allowed to wear
all of our colors boldly without
anyone insisting that
we remain weak and vulnerable
for them alone
Love is not the fetishising
of unnatural and imbalanced
Love is not of imposed
choices by those who do
not know the strength
of our individual hearts.
If Love is not to be war
then let us choose to
be powerful and glorious
in all of our unions.
by (c) LibraD 2013
I have been trying to read more classics lately. I still have a destiny (or doom) which is tightly tied up with Ulysses by James Joyce, which I have so far failed to read. As I can’t stand not being able to read something, I have placed this book on a most prominent spot in my house. There it sits glaring at me accusingly, obviously wondering when I shall pick it up and finally devour its pages. It is a battle that keeps me occupied, but I really will succeed in the end. I must!
Now in my previous post I mentioned a book that is probably one of the most important books I’ve ever read, at least it is that for me, and therefore I cannot leave it ‘unblogged’. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is a book that I re-read at least once a year. I’ve been told it is a very difficult book to read, but I have never had any problems with it. It basically is a love story between a man and a woman, however Kundera has put a little twist in it. He doesn’t just tell this story, but he also relates of the intimate feelings and the meaning of these feelings behind the scenes. It is almost like watching a play, while the director is sitting next to you explaining why the actors turn this way or that, what they giggled about in the last rehearsal, where the light comes from and who’s taking care of the food in the mid-break.
In his way Kundera turns this relatively simply, love-story into a psychological and philosophical masterpiece, in which the sounds of Tereza’s stomach are the start of a quest to find out what is more unbearable, lightness or heaviness. The actual exploration of this does not truly start after Tereza has left Thomas in Vienna and he suffers the extreme levity of his situation, Tereza having weighed him down for years with her jealousy and need for comfort and confirmation, and now, being freed of this, he finds that this is not the “easy-out” that he had been searching for.
Kundera seeks to prove with this story that lightness, the possibility to make your own choices, to design your own destiny, is much harder on the soul than heaviness, no choice, no own design would be. Simply put; when one can choose, then the choices weigh on the soul; when one has no choice, it’s a form of freedom as the responsibility has been taken away. When Tereza leaves Thomas in Vienna, he is suddenly free to pursue his romances and one-night stands without fear of discovery, without the knowledge that he hurts her and without her eyes on him when he returns to their house. But for the first time in his life, Thomas has no real longing for any woman, his soul is weighing him down as he wanders through the streets of Vienna and memories of Tereza haunt him.
Thomas chooses to follow Tereza back to Prague and when he stands in front of her in the door opening of their apartment he is suddenly so full of resentment against this relationship that he cannot speak. Tereza can’t speak either as she is weighed down with longing and, at the same time, fear of the future. The ‘heaviness’ of their relationship is of such a form that they stare at each other for minutes without being able to speak, both silenced by the heaviness of their souls and hearts.
Thomas’ need for physical release is what drives Tereza to search for a similar release. However she cannot separate physical need from emotional bonds and she finds it hard to cope with the act of it, feeling the need to cry out “Stop” before the act is through. The lightness of Thomas’ approach to the physical deed is what weighs most on her mind, and when she tries to copy this but fails, she feels lost and dreams of Thomas taking her on a trip to a mountain, where killers, hired by Thomas await her to finish her life. She is taken by them to choose the spot where she wants to be killed, however before the end, she breaks down in tears and tells them she wants to live.Once she has said this, the killers retreat, it is her choice to make. “We can only do it if you want it to be done” they say which has a strong opposite sound to Thomas’ “You know you want to” before she is ushered to climb the mountain by him.
The relationship between these two is of so many dimensions that I could keep going on writing about it. But it was not my intention to re-write this book, just to write about it. Kundera’s approach to the lightness of being, which to him is unbearable and much harder then heaviness is, for me, an ultimately lovely way of looking at life.
This is also exactly what drew my attention when first reading this book. I was seventeen and the world was still lying open for me, with so many choices to be made, so many possibilities out there for me to explore. The heaviness and (at the same time) joy that this brings is nearly impossible to bear, as you’re making the decisions for the rest of your life. Whatever you will become, whatever you will find yourself doing later in life, it all starts there… And that’s a heavy burden to carry, even if we’re not quite aware of it. There’s a reason why young adults have the urge to be unpredictable, grumpy and stand-offish. They might not realise it, but they are on the verge of the rest of their lives and all they do will change the future line of their possibilities.
Now I am 35 and although the world is still open, the amount of choices one can make is smaller and harder to achieve. When reading this book now I read it differently, I no longer have the levity of too many choices, I have moved towards the “Es soll sein” of Beethoven’s symphony, even if I’m not completely there yet. And this is normal; while we live our lives we slowly move from levity to heaviness. This is not a heaviness that weighs on the soul, it is a comfort, a blanket in which we curl up before we leave this life. Once one reaches the end of one’s life, one also reaches that ultimate “Es soll sein” as the choices become fewer and fewer. I’m sure that I will still read this book when I reach that age (be it with glasses or maybe even a magnifying glass), and again I will read it differently then.
The other reason why this book has claimed my utter devotion is the way Kundera mixes the storyline with his little philosophical debates. He relates of the story in simple, to-the-fact, sentences, which are then torn apart into bite-size bits and pieces, to be investigated from every angle. I absolutely loved his use of Beethoven, in which the phrase “Ja, es soll sein.” illustrates his explanation of the heaviness in life. And how lovely to be using Beethoven’s lighthearted joke, that turned into a heavy-set symphony, as an illustration to this story that so focusses on exactly those extremes.
Another loveliness, although this might just be my silly head, is that the story and the philosophical pieces are written down in small, easy to handle, chapters. Although normally I love to finish a book in the minimum required time (and usually less than that), with this book it is nice to be able to read a couple of short chapters and then mull it over. I usually read the book alongside another book, something simpler or something fantasy or science fiction. It is the only book I don’t finish in one night and for me that’s special!
So, as the title says, this should have been a piece about me and the classics. And although The Unbearable Lightness of Being seems to have taken over the piece, I do not want to leave it at that. There are so many books that have haunted my mind and my sleep, some of them have changed the way I look at things, some have altered how I see myself, and some were ‘just’ of such beauty and delicateness that I could probably go on forever talking about them. I will just have to save this for a next blog then!
*Editor’s Note: The featured picture is from the film adaptation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
[literary salon]: Evolution, Humanity and the Capacity for Belief in China Mieville’s “The City and The City” and “Kraken”
by (c) LibraD 2013
I am a bookfreak, I read just about anything, anywhere. My take on reading is that it is similar to eating and breathing, that’s to say, an essential part of life. For me it is just as important to have read a book, even if it’s only a couple of pages, as it is to eat a sandwich every day. Books keep me sane, they (funnily enough) drag me back to reality and put me back on my feet. They keep me from getting lost in life, which, for me, is not an easy task. Now, as I said already I’ll read just about anything, my favourite books vary between the new Kingkiller series by Patrick Rothfuss, the ancient old Shakespeare, and the slightly less old The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera. However, most of my reading activities tend to remain within the mysterious; fantasy and science fiction. My blog, however shall not be limited to these genres. Now, a little warning; I have a very annoying habit to wander off into ramblings that I only at the moment of writing think of, so ifI sometimes seem to go way very off-topic, I’d like to extend my sincerest apologies for that now, in advance. Secondly, I shall be writing about books, therefore there might be spoilers on the way, I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and I’ll try naming the books in the first couple of phrases so you can decide whether to read on or not.
Portrait of Heinrich von Morungen from the Codex Manesse*
Heinrich von Morungen or Henry of Morungen was a German courtly poet or more accurately a Minnesinger. Minnesang was the tradition of writing lyrics and songs about themes of love, and was prevalent between 12th and14th century. Henry was a native of Thuringia, and belonged to the class of minor knights. These Knights originated from the castle of Morungen near Sangerhause and Henry in paticular spent much of his later life in the service of Duke Dietrich of Meissen. When he retired, he received from Duke Dietrich a pension for his ‘high personal merits’. In 1217 he retired at the Monastry of St. Thomas in Leipzig. According to 16th century sources he died here after a journey to India in 1222.
Henry writes in middle high German and 35 poems of his survive today. These contain about 115 verses and 104 of them are found in the great collection of the Codex Manesse. This was a medieval song book known in German as the Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift.It was written in Zurich for the Manesse family and thus derives its name. It is the single most comprehensive source of Middle High German Minnesang poetry and it was almost entirely written and illustrated in 1304 with a last bit added in 1340.
Scholars have called it ‘the most beautifully illumined German manuscript in centuries’. The Codex Manesse contains the works of about 135 Minnesingers of the 12th – 14th century. Each poet is represented by a beautifully drawn portrait followed by the text of their works. The entries are ordered according to the social standing of the poet starting with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Kinds Conradin and Wenceslaus II, followed by the Dukes, Counts, Knights and finally the Commoners.
It is hard to get a sense of how beautiful these lyrics are because firstly they are written in middle high German and that sounds very different from current German. Secondly they were never meant to be eye-read but sung with musical accompaniments. Henry composed melodies to all his texts and sung the songs himself accompanied by early type of violins. Unfortunately none of the melodies of these lyrical poems have been preserved.
Still we can get a sense of how beautiful his songs might have been from his lyrics which even on their own are hauntingly evocative; he seems to write in picture-words, conjuring enchanting images of the sun, moon, evening star, gold, jewels and mirrors which he often compares favourably with his lady love. But there is always an undercurrent of the the anguish and intensity of loving so deeply. In many cases love seems to have taken on a personification of demonic proportions, and has even become a chief tormentor. Love in Henry’s songs is then experienced as a magical and bewitching fatal power as and given the same depth of experience as would a mystical or religious experience.
His poems have been sung and re-interpreted by modern German musicians, and although it is not quite the same, you can still get some sense of how these poems were meant to be sung and some of the interpretations are quite beautifully in themselves. Helium Vola uses the lyrics from Henry’s song 4 in a stunning melodic rendition called ‘In so hoher swebender wunne’ The song describes how he feels in the presence of an exquisitely beautiful lady. He is so overwhelmed by her that he seems to have forgotten how to speak and express himself.
Song 5 has been interpreted by two German music artists, both very different explorations but equally enthralling. Entitled Von Den Elben by Qntal and Faun, this tells the story of a man bewitched by the faeries or in German Elves. In 32 lines Henry takes you on a journey, exploring the inner working of the mind of a man completely besotted by his mistress who does not return his intensity of passion.
Here is song V by Heinrich von Morungen in its original language- Middle High German
Von den elben wirt entsehen vil manic man,
sô bin ich von grôzer liebe entsên
von der besten, die ie dehein man ze vriunt
gewan. wil aber sî dar umbe mich vên
Und ze unstaten stên,
mac si danne rechen sich und tuo,
des ich si bite. sô vreut si sô sêre mich,
daz mîn lîp vor wunnen muoz zergên.
Sî gebiutet und ist in dem herzen mîn
vrowe und hêrer, danne ich selbe sî.
hei wan muoste ich ir alsô gewaltic sîn,
daz si mir mit triuwen waere bî
Ganzer tage drî unde eteslîche naht!
sô verlür ich niht den lîp und al die maht.
jâ ist sie leider vor mir alze vrî.
Mich enzündet ir vil liehter ougen schîn,
same daz viur den durren zunder tuot,
und ir vremeden krenket mir daz herze mîn
same daz wazzer die vil heize gluot.
Und ir hôher muot
und ir schoene und ir werdecheit
und daz wunder, daz man von ir tugenden seit,
daz wirt mir vil übel – oder lîhte guot?
Swenne ir liehten ougen sô verkêrent sich,
daz si mir aldur mîn herze sên,
swer dâ enzwischen danne gêt und irret mich,
dem muoze al sîn wunne gar zergên!
Ich muoz vor ir stên
unde warten der vröiden mîn
rehte alsô des tages diu kleinen vogellîn.
wenne sol mir iemer liep geschên? Resources
(c) 2012 TAB
it’s another Monday
it’s just another Monday
it won’t ever be this Monday again
(c) 2012 TAB
There’s a popular idiom among estadounidense which dates back some time, referring to ‘squares’- people who are relatively conservative in their social attitudes. Here is the entry for ‘square’ from etymonline.com, which uses several print works for its database of etymological derivations:
c.1300, “containing four equal sides and right angles,” from square (n.). Meaning “honest, fair,” is first attested 1560s; that of “straight, direct” is from 1804. Sense of “old-fashioned” is 1944, U.S. jazz slang, said to be from shape of a conductor’s hand gestures in a regular four-beat rhythm. (Square-toes meant nearly the same thing in 1771, from a style of shoes then fallen from fashion.) Squaresville is attested from 1956. Square one “the beginning” is first recorded 1960, probably from board games; square dance first attested 1870.
Many of us are familiar with the usage here listed as “”old-fashioned”", and considering it apparently goes back 78 years that’s not surprising. Of course, the positive and negative connotations of this word shifted among many during the Civil Rights Era and subsequent generations’ progressives have associated it further with a sort of obstinate refusal to come to terms with liberatory movements and their social impacts, and therefore with a (paleo)conservative outlook towards society. I’m not quite clear if neoconservatives are on board with being squares, considering that they espouse radical changes which many (including myself) feel are in fact negative. On the other hand, that is something for those who identify with conservatism to hash out amongst themselves. What is clear is that squares are a common staple of political identification for our times; whether you are a square or find it retrogressive, or simply don’t care, the squares have been among us and still are. Quite possibly, they have been among us since before anyone else was around to be an ‘us’ in opposition to the fact- though paleoanthropology may not support such claims.
What has come up as a topic with scholars of political and social change is that there are unexamined aspects to power structures and their social implications are often hidden. This statement may seem to be made especially general in order to apply well, but it pops up in such a variety of places that it is difficult to phrase so easily in more particular terms. In formal academic discourse, it may often be the case that a person applying politically progressive ideals is doing so from within a critical position that attempts to universalize that which is not truly universal. In this way, assumptions about often-studied social oppressions such as those centered around sex/gender/orientation, class, and race are overlaid upon each other to the detriment of the theory. What seeks to be a positive prescription for humanistic purposes can therefore be rendered incapable of seeing past the originator’s perspective, or that of their close peers, and instead of shining light into the issues which prevent humanity’s progress they instead can therefore obscure them. This tendency has been increasingly pointed out and critically deconstructed in efforts to provide a fuller picture, and over the past two decades academics with critical perspectives have been able to better understand the nature of oppressive power structures without relying on the same methods of perception which those structures engender and enforce. Reading some wikipedia- a good starting point is the article Intersectionality- is probably of more use than an attempt to cover this topic comprehensively here.
The net result, or at least one of the results, of such ongoing debate is that there is a growing recognition of the lack of very many universals when it comes to human existence. While some things may readily apply to everyone (such as needing air, water, and food), nearly all cultural and social norms at some point can be found to apply differently by groups, whether this is an intentional effect of oppression or an unrecognized by-product of some other normativity which causes oppressions that are obscured in some way to those who are not experiencing them. Ultimately, those who are able to clearly take into account differences are able to see that there are too many to adequately refer to any universal pattern of oppression. There are too many social norms to consider more than the basic minimums needed for a civil existence (or perhaps a shared strife in more realistic terms) to be universal. There are therefore too many ways to analyze and model society to apply any of them universally. The tendency to do so anyway, in disregard of such realizations, can be called hyperuniversalizing or hyperuniversalism (depending on which part of the sentence you’d like to use it).
(c) Nin Harris 2012
When I was a some-teen, I dreamed
about a soulmate sitting on
a chair facing me in a room
filled with empty seats that
had no relevance.
There was only me and
the man who sat on the other chair.
It could have been a classroom, a conference,
a panel, a course, a strange cult meeting
in a sterile environment, or a room in
A chair has never been just a chair
for most of my life
And then, I started
disregarding and forgetting dreams;
a chair became just another chair.
It could have been a public lecture
in the 25th century on a space ship
as they recollected how humans first
settled on the moons of Saturn.
It could have been in a service hall
somewhere in Moscow in the 1960s.
Or, it could have been an asylum
all along, and I am still asleep
avoiding the moment
when I awaken to gaze
at white walls, to be brought
into the next room
where you await me
on the other chair
with a syringe and a kidney dish.
And then I started forgetting and
disregarding dreams; and every
chair lost its meaning and mystery.
My paranoias fed upon different sources,
and when they ran away,
so did my soulmates.
Instead I feed on soulmates that exist
on pages, in ASCII: words and numbers
that make mockery of meaning, defying it with multiplicity.
In this universe of consonants and vowels,
ambiguity between the signifier and the signified
a chair becomes whatever you say it is
and I become whoever you want me to be.
I am not Magritte’s Pipe
but you are not Magritte.
I am the Beloved, seated on the other chair
and you may paint me or smoke me or dream of me
because paranoia loves company.
(c) Nin Harris 2012
Do you know me so well
I have bared my neuroses
in symbolic colours
and contours like Plath.
My love is an open sore
that weeps copiously
like a troubadour’s
at the disappearance
of a mistress.
And will that be all
if you can judge me
lacking like Prufrock
or childishly diabolical
like the man who
had just consumed
his Last Duchess
on the mahogany dining table?
Do you know me yet
if I have symbolically bared my breasts
like an Amazon in the woods?
Do you know if I have
been naked at all
or if I have been fully
clothed the entire time?
(c) TAB 2012
spin, spin like cotton candy
blooming garish pink ephemeral from glass
among gleaming chrome machine parts
where windows encase the fusion chamber
of the only engine that runs better with sugar
and fuels syrupy-speedy dreams in small fast hearts