domingo, setembro 25, 2016

Enter the Ghost in his Nightgown: "Hamlet After Q1 - An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text" by Zachary Lesser





Published 2014.

“What appeared in Bunbury’s closet was a ghost in this sense, the trace of the forgotten or repressed memory of “Hamlet” before “Hamlet”, a sign that something was – is – missing from our understanding of the Shakespeare text. Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Q1 returns in such a questionable shape that we will speak to it.”

In “Hamlet After Q1 – An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text”

“Enter the Ghost in his nightgown”

In “Hamlet After Q1 – An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text”

Every Shakespearean worth his or her salt knows there’s no stage direction regarding the scene when the Ghost enters Gertrud’s closet (I’m talking about the Folio version). Despite Hamlet’s references to “the adulterous bed,” it’s simply not true that there was a bed onstage, as later became usual. A “closet” in Shakespeare’s time was not a bedroom. Indeed, Q1 never mentions the word “closet,” which is introduced in Q2 and repeated in the Folio. Lesser also approaches the differences between the “To be or Not to Be” versions. Previously I’d already read Q2 and the FF editions, but it’s the first I’ve read Q1 (see link below at the end of the post). Comparing them, I can find 'issues' in Q2 and FF that Q1 “solved”, such as Hamlet mentioning the murder of Hamlet, the father, to his mother, but their never discussing it again; in Q1 she clearly rebuffs being aware of it. Ah! I knew it! Also Horatio is the source of local awareness when the recent groundwork for war is discussed in Act 1, Scene 1 but he seems just arriving at court and ignorant in Act 1, Scene 2… Moreover Horatio observes Ophelia being nutty in Act 4, Scene 5 but seems not to have mentioned it to Hamlet when later they stumble upon her funeral. 

Regarding the “To or not to Be” soliloquy I’ll give here the 3 versions. Judge for yourself:

Q1: “To be, or not to be, I there's the point,
To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:
No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned, […]”

FF: “To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end […]”

Q1: “O, these are sins that are unpardonable. Why, say thy sins were blacker than is jet, Yet may contrition make them as white as snow. Ay, but still to persevere in a sin, It is an act ’gainst the universal power. Most wretched man, stoop, bend thee to thy prayer. Ask grace of heaven to keep thee from despair.”

FF: “Try what repentance can. What can it not? Yet what can it, when one can not repent? O wretched state! O bosom black as death! O limèd soul that, struggling to be free, art more engaged! Help, angels. Make assay. Bow, stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel, be soft as sinews of the newborn babe.”

Q1, written in 1603, brings a whole dramatization centralised on the dramatic action concentrating both into prose and verse. In Q1, I was able to see the Shakespeare as an actor and theatre director, because the text is full of information about the universe of theatre, and Hamlet looks at the throne with a stronger desire to access the higher echelons of power. Some aspects of the play, as the seven deaths, are all interlaced in succession of the King, and they are the results of Shakespeare’s theatre acumen, and they are not incidental questions of a "real" kingly succession.

Q1 is the earliest on record, and is almost never performed, giving up its place to the more well-known FF-version. I, for one, never watched it on stage. Some differences abound, some are minor, some not so minor, and some are plainly amusing: “Why, what a dunghill idiot slave am I!” Some differences are huge, throwing away huge parts of text or adding scenes. Since I’m so familiar with the FF-version text of Hamlet, I was keenly aware of those shifts on Hamlet Q1’s text. Instead of the infinite variety of memorable lines bringing about memories of all those famous performers who’ve said those famous lines, I was able to pour all of my attention into what was on this Q1-version.

If I didn’t know that this play was called Hamlet and if I didn’t know it had also some lines from the FF-version, I’d swear this play should be called Ophelia. I’ve always felt bad for Ophelia, overshadowed by men and driven to lethal dementia, but the character usually just rings a distant pitiful note in Hamlet’s tragedy, finally pushing him over the edge. In the Q1-version, through her simplicity and physical commitment, I witnessed an Ophelia with a depth I’d never seen before. It encapsulates Ophelia’s dementia and fills it with hair-rising emotion. There’s nothing superfluous here, nothing extraneous, nothing forced when it comes to Ophelia. Even though Ophelia feels like a star in this version, and as if that weren’t enough, Shakespeare shows us a fine Horatio as well.  I’d love to see this play performed, just to see Corambis (Polonius in the FF-version), Ophelia and Laertes’ father, giving Hamlet an ingenious gallant flavour, solidifying the world of the play and delivering well-timed humor. This version of Hamlet also gives Hamlet’s mother Gertrude some extra juicy bits…What Olivier could have done with this version instead of having used the FF-version with all that Freudian mambo-jumbo…

NB: I’ve used the Shakespeare Quartos Archive (best used with Firefox) while reading Zachary Lesser’s book.

sábado, setembro 24, 2016

The Portuguese Soul: "As Naus" by António Lobo Antunes



Published 1988.


Wenn ich dieses Buch in fünf Minuten zusammenfassen könnte, was könnte ich schreiben? Der Versuch den Inhalt des Romans auf weninge Sätze zu reduzieren, ist es sehr schwer.

Camões wander durch die Strassen von Lissabon und schleppt den Sarg mit dem Leichnam seines Vaters mit sich – für mich ein Symbol für das portugiesiche Weltreich. Ich könnte hinzufügen: stellen Sie sich einen Camões vor, der durch “Lixboa” streift und in einem Sarg seinen verwesenden Vater mitbringt, einen Pedro Álvaro Cabral, der nach seiner Verflucht aus “Loanda” nun von dem “Milizen der UNITA” verfolgt wird und sich von seiner Frau, einer dunkelhäutigen Prostituierten, aushalten lässt, einen Heiligen Francisco Xavier, der als Zuhälter arbeitet, einen Pater António Vieira, der in betrunkenem Zustand Predigten halt, einen pensionerten Vasco da Gama, der dem Kartenspiel verfallen ist und mit einem König D. Manuel, der eine Blechkronte trägt, in einem rostigen Ford Cabrio durch die Stadt fährt, der wahnsinnige D. Sebastião ist ein Drogenanhängiger, der in Tanger von Oskcar Wilde in seinem Streit um eine Beutel Gras niedergestochen wird und stirbt usw.

Die Handlung des Romans entwickelt sich auf zwei Ebenen: einer realer als Ausgangspunkt, welche die Geschichte der zahllosen Heimkehrer erzählt, deren Habseligkeiten am Ufer des Tejo verstreut herumliegen und einer fiktiv-historischen Ebene, die unablässig um die Symbole aus dem glorreichen Zeitalter der Entdeckungen kreist und ebenso wirkliche wie barocke Bilder aus fünfhundert Jahren portugiesischer Geschichte kreiert. Ein Aspekt der ersten Ebene, dem besondere Aufmerksamkeit gezollt wurde, ist die implizite Kritik an der überstürzten und chaotischen Art und Weise, in der sich der Rückzug aus den Kolonien nach der Nelkenrevolution abgespielt hat.

Es Geht in dem Roman umm eine Karnevalisierung der poretugiesichen Geschichte. Lobo Antunes verknüpft in seinem Roma Figuren, Orte und Gegenstätande aus verschiedenen zeitlichen Zusammenhängen und lässt einen fragmentarischen Diskurz entstehen, der von einem, nicht selten durch Alkohol bei den Erzählerfiguren ausgelösten, stream-of-consciousness gekennzeichnet ist. So erzeugt der Autor seine Halluzinatorischne Atmosphäre. Immer wieder wurde zudem auf Parallen zu Faulkner in Lobo Antunes’ Erzähltechnik hingewiesen. Ich hebe dioe besondere ästetische Qualität der Prosa von Antunes hervor, die aus dem “Chaos” in Grammatik, Erzählperspektive udn Chronologie entstehe.

Die Schlussszene. Mit der Lobo Antunes "As Naus" ausklingen lässt, ist von entscheidender Bedeutung für das Verständins der ideologischen Vorstellungen, die dem Roman zugrunde liegen. Faulkner hat die Weissheit mit Löffeln gefressen: “The past is never dead, it's not even past“(Die Vergangenheit ist nicht tot, sie ist nicht einmal vergangen”)

NB: Ich musste dieses Buch noch einmal lessen, diesmal auf Portugiesisch…Nächstes Mal vielleicht auf Deutsch…oder auf Englisch…
.
E tinha de escrever algo em Português: querem perceber o que significa ser português? Um livro intenso, poético e original. A alma portuguesa, embalada pela glória do passado, arreigada no presente inesperado, imerecido, esquivo. Uma nação, um povo, prisioneiro nos meandros da saudade, regressado a si mesmo, de si mesmo desconhecido, rejeitado. Soberbo.
(And I had also to write something in Portuguese: do you want to glimpse what it means to be Portuguese? An Intense, poetic, and original book. The Portuguese soul, lulled by the glory of the past, rooted in the unexpected, unmerited, and elusive present. A nation, a people, prisoner in the intricacies of nostalgia, left to its own devices, unknown even to itself, rejected. Superb.)
If anyone out there wishes to buy it, can find here a superb English translation by none other than the also superb Gregory Rabassa (one the greatest living translators of Portuguese literature into English).

In my view, António Lobo Antunes is the most German of the Portuguese authors. Every time I read him, I get the feeling I'm reading a translation from German into Portuguese...I think it was Harold Bloom who said Lobo Antunes is one of the living writers who will matter most in the long run. Now that we come again to that particular time of the year, it always surprises me why José Saramago won the Nobel Preis in Literature and Lobo Antunes didn't. Alas, the ways of the Nobel Prize committee are inescrutable...

domingo, setembro 18, 2016

Coding Languages vs. Natural Languages: “Story of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang



Published 2010.

"You're used to thinking of refraction in terms of cause and effect: reaching the water's surface is the cause, and the change in direction is the effect. But Fermat's Principle sounds weird because it describes light's behavior in goal-oriented terms. It sounds like a commandment to a light beam: 'Thou shalt minimize or maximize the time taken to reach thy destination.' ... It's an old question in the philosophy of physics. People have been talking about it since Fermat first formulated it in the 1600's; Planck wrote volumes about it. The thing is, while the common formulation of physical laws is causal, a variational principle like Fermat's is purposive, almost teleological... let's say the goal of a ray of light is to take the fastest path. How does the light go about doing that? ... the light has to examine the possible paths and compute how long each one would take... And to do that, ... the ray of light has to know just where its destination is. If the destination were somewhere else, the fastest path would be different... And computing how long a given path takes also requires information about what lies along that path, like where the water's surface is... And the light ray has to know all that ahead of time, before it starts moving ... The light can't start traveling in any old direction and make course corrections later on, because the path resulting from such behavior wouldn't be the fastest possible one. The light has to do all its computations at the very beginning."

“When humans thought about physical laws, they preferred to work with them in their causal formulation. I could understand that: the physical attributes that humans found intuitive, like kinetic energy or acceleration, were all properties of an object at a given moment in time. And these were conducive to a chronological, causal interpretation of events: one moment growing out of another, causes and effects created a chain reaction that grew from past to future.' 'In contrast, the physical attributes that the heptapods found intuitive, like "action" or those other things defined by integrals, were meaningful only over a period of time. And these were conducive to a teleological interpretation of events: by viewing events over a period of time, one recognized that there was a requirement that had to be satisfied, a goal of minimizing or maximizing. And one had to know the initial and final states to meet that goal; one needed knowledge of the effects before the causes could be initiated.”

In “Story of Your Life” short-story


Are you familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Back in the day when I was in college I remember writing a paper on applying this language paradigm to coding. It was so long ago I don’t really remember what I wrote, but I still remember agreeing with the fact that coding could also be a fitting subject to the Sapir-Whorf wisdom… Thinking it over once again, and being a “more mature human being” (meaning: “being advanced in years”), I still think we can draw some parallels between natural and programming languages. For starters, the way both types of languages are built allow coders to adapt and shift their ways of thinking more fluidly as they learn new programming languages than as they learn new spoken languages. It is that diversity that allowed me to both grow individually as a programmer and further advanced my own tastes when it came to choosing my favourite programming languages. I think Sapir-Whorf is much more readily applied to coding, because the “language” is the reality. Within the formal system of the language, the concepts and entities I use (variables, functions, classes, modules, whatever) aren’t depicting the “real stuff” somewhere else, they are the real stuff. As I said, I’m no longer professionally active when it comes to coding, but the mental constructs regarding coding are still there. When I was reading “Story of Your Life” short-story, my thoughts kept coming back to the possibility of having Language Relativity applied to coding. When I was actively coding, it was always interesting (in a Sapir-Whorf sort of way), how the language changed the way I did code. At the time I was coding in n-languages (C/C++, Java, VB, etc.), meaning I was always hopping from one language to another. I remember a particular time when I had to shift from C++ to Lisp (I think) and this fact alone made me notice something that I hadn’t really noticed.

In Lisp, when I pulled something out into a separate function, this made the current function more self-contained, more one idea. In C++, I only had to pull something out into a separate function if I needed the same functionality in multiple places. Actually, it’s even worse than that in C++. For stuff that is less than six or so lines, I was able to maintain it in several functions. Or, if I was using some Literate Programming tool a la Knuth, I’d just use the same chunk of code in multiple places. The notable exception in C++ is when I want to use something as a loop conditional, I may have bothered to break it out into its own function:

while (incrementCounter( cntr, min, max, dimensions ) ) {
    // body of loop here
}
In C++ I can do something like this:
unsigned int choice = random() % length;
void* currentChoice = options[ choice ];
    // yes, I know I can memcpy(), but that's not as obvious
for ( unsigned int ii=choice+1; ii < length; ++ii ) {
    options[ ii-1 ] = options[ ii ];
}
--length;

Any Lisp coder worth his or her salt, would never consider keeping that code inline. He or she’d put it in another function. This is one of the things I meant when I said coding changes the way one thinks about programming stuff. Lisp and C++ are very different. Because of those differences, when I was coding in Lisp, I didn’t have to worry too much over trivialities like I did with C++ (e.g., argument lists, pre-declaring stuff in the header file with the same signature as that implementation file, should I need a method or a function, how many compilation units will I need to compile the program, etc.).

Can we apply the same principle to human languages? Chiang has never been one of mine favourite authors. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I just need something to have a writer move up a rung or two. My previous iterations with Chiang were not all that successful, but this story, and the way he intertwined it with the characters’ personal history just made my day. This a good example of superior SF. I don’t remember it winning any prizes, but maybe it did, and I’m just being mean…I’ve been told his style his Borgesian. I’m not sure I agree with that. If by “Borgesian” one means that elusive quality of having a distinct voice, then maybe Chiang is Borgesian. His style is so distinct that his name has become an adjective, "Borgesian". I apply the term Borgesian to stuff that plays with my perceptions of the day-to-day reality. Borges usually did this by thwarting my notions of time and space, obscuring the boundaries of fact, fiction, and philosophy, or fusing artistic invention with make-believe judgments. Other elements of the Borgesian style are subtler, and include a parsimony of language, a wide range of interests, and a dry, very dry humor. Borges is superb and inimitable. Is Chiang also superb and inimitable? Not sure.  What I know is that collection of stories just made think about stuff. This my favourite kind of SF.

Next to the breathtaking complexity implied by the idea of the Heptapod languages (A, spoken and B, written) themselves is the razor sharp characterisation of the linguist Dr. Louise Banks, in whose existence her daughter’s life is slyly reflected (and amplified). Truly a wonderfully deft combination of mirrors. A 5-star short story. Another collection vying to be one of the prime candidates to be placed in my 2016 best-of-the-best list.


SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, setembro 17, 2016

Mindfuck Literature: “Beyond the Aquila Rift – The Best of Alastair Reynolds” by Alastair Reynolds



Published June 2016.

“’Tell me, Thorn. Are we out beyond the Rift?" I can hear the fear. I understand what she's going through. It's the nightmare that all ship crews live with, on every trip. That something will go wrong with the routing, something so severe that they 'II end up on the very edge of the network. That they'll end up so far from home that getting back will take years, not months. And that, of course, years will have already passed, even before they begin the return trip. That loved ones will be years older when they reach home. If they're still there.If they still remember you, or want to remember. If they 're still recognizable, or alive.”

In Beyond the Aquila Rift short-story, “Beyond the Aquila Rift – The Best of Alastair Reynold”

I've finally finished this 768-page-mammoth tome. Is it everything Reynolds has ever written in short form? Not by a long shot. It contains only eighteen stories of a total of sixty-something that Reynolds has written so far. But this sample of 18 stories confirms it (I read some of these stories previously in “Galactic North”). It's in the short form that Reynolds is at his best. I’ve read a ton of Reynolds in short form. Almost everything I’ve read, I’ve liked. Collections like this both excite and bother me. I’m a huge fan of the short mode of writing, and an equally big proponent of the less-is-more idea when it comes to the size of books. Massive magna opera simply turn me off. Even when I end up loving them, like I did with this one. What I don’t like is carrying some cumbersome volume around, and my preferred method remains print over digital. For this one I had to go for the electronic version. No way around it. If I’d had read the print version, I’d never have finished it. The big hefty tomes I end up reading them on my Kindle. Not my favourite venue, but I really wanted to read it.

Reading SF takes a bit of getting used to; it's not like other forms of fiction and has its own legacy-codes and ground-rules, just as mundane fiction does. The difference is that people who've put in the time and effort to learn mundane fiction’s values, proudly and loudly proclaim their superiority as readers, while anyone who's taken time and effort to learn how SF works and how to play that game is sneered at. Visual media, films, TV and games, can take elements from SF and re-use them imaginatively (or not) but that's not the same as what the prose-form does and expects readers to do. When a Brontë critic nit-picks about Austen, this is legitimate criticism and shows how diligent reading ought to function. When we talk about SF, a form of fiction built on close reading to invoke a world otherwise unverifiable, is analysed that way, it's because we're all neurotic and stupid. SF readership is reported on as weird folklore rather than as a side-effect of publishing economics or, heaven forbid, just like readers of anything else but with an extra string to their bow because they can read something most people won't touch. I read SF as a teenager (I still do). I spent the time to learn its "rules". I still read a lot of superhero comics, which also have their own "rules". A few years ago, I read “A Game Of Thrones”, and the first time I genuinely couldn't do it. It was so clichéd-riddled in conception, and its prose so tired (it's like every other fantasy book) that I was astounded by it and remain so. Well, 'Game of Thrones' is Fantasy and works by different rules. I had trouble too. The Fantasy aspect of SF, unless it's done very well and is entirely autonomous, isn't my thing. The mass-produced Tolkien-on-a-stick stuff appears to be written to be skim-read. “Game of Thrones” is set up that way, but once you get far enough you realise it's actually a refutation of those genre rules and clichés on a number of levels. That's why it's fun. I do wonder though how far Martin can smash those conventions and still deliver a satisfying ending - epic fantasy, like romance, having to fulfill certain expectations at the close. Without the conventional set-up, the shock of finding yourself in a different moral landscape from the vast majority of epic fantasy wouldn't be nearly so effective. For example, every character can be either right or wrong depending on their perspective. There are no good guys, and the guys who are set up to good guys don't sweep along heroically and win the day. The characters set up to be villains become human and understandable when we switch to their perspectives, which is a neat trick. It's really not at all like every other fantasy. I can understand finding the prose “difficult”, because it defies our own expectations.

For me, it is often style that separates the literary from the genre. For example, I felt I'd read the story in “The Road” many times before, even down to that last little glimpse of hope. I've seen in it books, I've seen it on TV. I've read better, more interesting, wide-ranging stories that take on similar material and have that very similar ending. But I've not read another quite so consistently and beautifully written. This is why I don't hold with the 'SF and Fantasy are the same thing' (they both belong to the SF line, but they’re quite different in mode and form). There's less in common between 'Game of Thrones' and 'The Book of the New Sun' (to cite an example publishers and lazy reviewers think is fantasy but doesn't work if read that way, as it's unimpeachably SF). I've read a lot of stylists, in a number of contexts. I suspect I've encountered more than most people have. Moorcock (also a fantasy specialist) isn't one of them. If these are the best examples you've read, I pity you... or maybe envy you for the authors you've yet to discover. But it does feel as if SF advocates seem to think that mundane fiction is synonymous with domestic realism, as opposed to Pynchon or Borges. Of course, to acknowledge that the modernist and postmodernist novel doesn't work that way would open up other pitfalls. When I hear someone taking a pop at Ballard for his lack of characterisation, I just go ballistic. When a significant proportion of literary writing is suspicious of traditional realism, Ballard fits a European postmodernist aesthetic pretty well.

SF (the Science fiction kind) is the genre that deals with ideas, their consequences and how they can exist. The latter meaning that there is a considerable amount of world building that goes into science fiction. A huge amount of effort goes into ensuring that the implications and extrapolations are consistent with each other - a kind of ensuring that the hidden implicit world makes sense. Believe me, as a veteran science fiction reader, the hidden world consistencies have to be worked out, or the work quickly falls apart.

Rule of thumb: anything in the Gollancz Masters series is worth a look, just to find out if you like it, anything from Baen should only be approached if recommended by someone who has had fluid bonding sex with you. Reynold’s sense of otherness and loss are firmly ensconced in the first category. “Beyond the Aquila Rift” is one the best collections that I've ever read and undoubtedly one of the best books of 2016. This is mindfuck SF. 4.5 as a minimum for the stories, rounding up to a 5 star read altogether. It’ll be on my list of favourites at the end of year. I’m repeating myself.

Table of Contents:

◦ Great Wall of Mars
◦ Weather
◦ Beyond the Aquila Rift
◦ Minla’s Flowers
◦ Zima Blue
◦ Fury
◦ The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice
◦ The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter
◦ Diamond Dogs
◦ Thousandth Night
◦ Troika
◦ Sleepover
◦ Vainglory
◦ Trauma Pod
◦ The Last Log of the Lachrymosa
◦ The Water Thief
◦ The Old Man and the Martian Sea
◦ In Babelsberg
◦ Story Notes

SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, setembro 10, 2016

Câmara Obscura Literature: "The Pigeon Tunnel - Stories from My Life" By John Le Carré


Published September 6th 2016.

“It strikes me now that everything that happened later in life was the consequence of that one impulsive adolescent decision to get out of England by the fastest available route and embrace the German muse as a substitute mother.”

Schiller’s “Die Deutsche Muse” epitomizes what I call the German Soul (taken from my own copy of the “Schiller Sämmtliche Werke” :

Kein Augustisch Alter blühte,
Keines Medicäers Güte
Lächelte der deutschen Kunst;
Sie ward nicht gepflegt vom Ruhme,
Sie entfaltete die Blume
Nicht am Strahl der Fürstengunst.
Von dem größten deutschen Sohne,
Von des großen Friedrich Throne
Ging sie schutzlos, ungeehrt.
Rühmend darf's der Deutsche sagen,
Höher darf das Herz ihm schlagen:
Selbst erschuf er sich den Werth.
Darum steigt in höherm Bogen,
Darum strömt in vollern Wogen
Deutscher Barden Hochgesang;
Und in eigner Fülle schwellend
Und aus Herzens Tiefe quellend,
Spottet er der Regeln Zwang

“More difficult to explain is my wholesale embrace of German literature at a time when for many people the word German was synonymous with unparalleled evil. Yet, […] that embrace has determined the whole later passage of my life.”

“The legacy of that early immersion in things German is now pretty clear to me. It gave me my own patch of eclectic territory; it instilled in me the notion that a man’s journey from cradle to grave was one of unending education – hardly an original concept and probably questionable. And when I came to study the dramas of Goethe, Lenz, Schiller, Kleist and Büchner, I discovered that I related equally to their classic austerity, and to their neurotic excesses. The trick, it seemed to me, was to disguise the one with the other.”

“To the creative writer, fact is raw material, not his taskmaster but his instrument, and his job is to make it sing. Real truth lies, if anywhere, not in facts, but in nuance.”

These three quotes caught my eye. I was already quite familiar with the connection between German Studies and Culture and Le Carré. Those connections populate his books throughout. Over the years I have also learnt other languages, yet none has fascinated me as much as German does. This is probably because of the clear grammar and easily understandable structures that are distinctive of the German language. Everything has its place in a German sentence, and what I particularly appreciate is that the moment one begins a sentence one must already have a clear notion of how it will end, i.e., before opening my mouth I have to know what I’m going to say... Over the years, the German language became my gate to German literature. It is my opinion that Germany has some of the best literature in the world. It’d be easy at this point to point out a long list of German writers whose literary oeuvre has had an important bearing on world literature. I won’t bother. Everyone knows who I’m talking about. What I also find particularly appealing are the motifs that are dealt with in German literature. The most important historical moments that have shaped not only Germany but also the world (and Europe in particular) are reflected in German literature.  

More than 30 years ago I also went into the world of spy fiction. It’s impossible to forget that. It happened in the worst day of my life; I was roaming my city, Lisbon, without rhyme or reason, when I found shelter in cinema Quarteto, one of my favourite movie theatres at the time. There was a spy movie cycle on. What did I watch? A lot of movies based on Le Carré’s movies. I was hooked for life. I went into the theatre and I was Alex Lamas, George Smiley, Karla, etc. for a while. I went into the obscure jungle of the Cold War with my eyes wide shut. It didn’t take long for them to open though. And they stayed open. Through their eyes I became those people. With them I lived the total experience, visual and auditory, going from sepia to grey, from the heavy breathing experiences to the ultimate music soundtracks. The atmosphere of the Cold War seeped into my own reality. That “reality” became my Weltanschauung. This take on reality explains nothing and everything, in a way that all things seemed too damn materialistic and metaphysical, all in one go. I was in front of the screen taking part in my own mental landscape, inhabiting another world, in a time so long and extended, changing my own perception of space and time, turning reality into a different thing altogether. That’s why when someone tells me: “I don’t read   fiction.” (You may change “spy” for any other kind of genre: SF, Crime, etc.), I always say "piss off!". That’s also why I always think genre is a red herring. A great writer is a great writer is a great writer. And some of le Carre's work belongs to the masterwork category. Another example is P. D. James - some of her work is outstanding, and the crime genre is irrelevant. She addresses universal truths. What bothers me the most about genre is that there are people who say they won't read certain genres. How can they say that? It's good (and sometimes exceptional) writing that makes good (and sometimes exceptional) books, not the genre they're supposedly in. Words can't be trapped. I can’t dismiss SF, Crime, or Spy fiction because they belong to a literary ghetto. I can only say, that in times of anguish, doubt, darkness and despair, the one book that I have turned to has always been “Smiley's People” with the incomparable Alec Guiness in my mind's eye (Le Carre´s biography contains a wonderful chapter dedicated to Alec). Perhaps it reflects my own view of life, that nothing is black and white and life is all shades of muted silver in colour. In one word: “shiftlessness”. But ultimately my câmera obscura is lighter than the other câmera obscura (before you ask, “câmera obscura” is Portuguese - forget Da Vinci, and I would like my own “colour” to win). Is Le Carre’s prose in his literary biography crafted in a way as to deny any kind of a narrative arc? I quite agree there are conventions for literary biographies, just as there are literary conventions for what we like to call spy fiction, but the thing with Le Carré, more than with many writers, is whether these conventions falsify or misrepresent reality as we see and feel it. Does Le Carré, with his literary biographer hat on, has more of an obligation to conform to genre conventions or to get at the truth of a subject’s life, and if the latter, what form would do the job? Even after reading Le Carrés "The Pigeon Tunnel", I still don’t any have good answers, but giving the definition of a genre normative force begs the question: "why is this the definition? Why are these the obligations?"


 “The Perfect Spy” is the greatest post-1945 British novel in my humble opinion. Amis, Faulkner, Barnes etc. are all revealed as the shallow, talentless nobodies they really are when compared to Le Carré at his peak.

sexta-feira, setembro 09, 2016

"Shakespeare and I - Mirroring All Façades of Reality" (Preface) by MySelfie



38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 4 poems ("A Lover's Complaint", "Venus and Adonis", "The Rape of Lucrece", "The Phoenix and the Turtle") in 2461 silky-paper pages (in my A. L. Rowse edition). After coming out of the black hole on the other side of the galaxy, what I've got to report? First and foremost, was it worth it? Definitely yes. To have steeped my mind in the words and the themes, to be elevated by Shakespeare’s Weltanschauung, his ability to put life on display in words, that's what made me undertake this so-called project. It's taken me three years of fun, but I've read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Borges, “Everything and Nothing”, said it much better:

“The story goes that shortly before or after his death, when he found himself in the presence of God, he said: ‘I who have been so many men in vain want to be one man only, myself.’ The voice of God answered him out of a whirlwind: ‘Neither am I what I am. I dreamed the world the way you dreamt your plays, dear Shakespeare. You are one of the shapes of my dreams: like me, you are everything and nothing.’”



Borges believed Shakespeare mirrored all the façades of reality. I couldn’t agree more. One of the biggest ways this has been a rewarding experience is that I kept a detailed notebook as I was reading, so now that I've finished, I can look back and truly appreciate all the stuff that went into it. The book you’re holding in your hands, clocking in at around 106 000 words and 531 pages, is the end result of those notes. This project made me come across a lot of surprises, ie., the things I didn't think would grab me, the things I might never have read on my own if it weren't part of this undertaking.


For me this was Titus Andronicus, Measure for Measure, and Coriolanus, and the histories which read like one close-knit tapestry when all read at once, and the sonnets, oh my God the sonnets. This finished product is not like something I’ve ever done previously. Knowing what the layout and finished product was supposed to look like in advance allowed me to work with less stress and improve upon the formula, as opposed to creating the formula from scratch and hoping it worked out.


Some of what you’ll read here is also in my third book: “Shapes, Scenes and Strokes - Book Reviews 2015”. But I just wanted to have all of my perambulations on Shakespeare in just one place. This book is that place. I've always thought of Shakespeare as a vehicle instead of a destination. It’s a vehicle because it allows me to understand all the complex texts that I may have to encounter in my contemporary world. To "me" Shakespeare and studying literature in general is akin to a "religious experience." If you practice in an organized faith you are expected to attend services in a "community setting" but to me, if you have any faith in anything, the true experience is strictly personal in nature.


I've long been a Shakespeare aficionado. I first experienced Shakespeare reading Hamlet at the British Council in Lisbon when I was very young. I’ve always loved his lush language and characters. My English teacher at the time (Vicki Hartnack), aware of my love for Shakespeare, encouraged me not to give up on the Bard, but to read more of his work. Eventually, I did, but not to my deepest satisfaction. Later on, after college, I took a Shakespeare class in English at the “Universidade de Letras” in Lisbon, as well as reading some of the sonnets on my own. Also almost at the same time, I also took another English Lit class, where I learned more about the life of the man, the stories behind the sonnets, and read a few of his lesser known plays. So when it comes to build up my list of his work, quite a few Shakespeare titles happen to be repeats. So much the better. In case there’s anyone out there that has been reading the things I’ve been writing on my blogs, probably noticed that one of my “projects” for 2014, 2015 (and now 2016) was to read through all of Shakespeare’s Works. Unfortunately, in 2014 I wasn’t able to start this project (I read some Shakespeare stuff, but no plays). 2015 was where things really started shaping up Shakespeare-wise. But things were looking even better for 2016. On top of that, 2016 commemorated 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare and this special anniversary year was a truly unique opportunity to complete my quest of reading the rest of his entire body of work.




Why a project like this, you wonder? For several reasons. First, I was ashamed that, as a lover of Shakespeare, there were at least a third of his plays which I’ve never read or seen performed. Secondly, I’d like to “translate” all of his work into current Portuguese, i.e., not the highfalutin kind but the one we speak every day. My aim is to allow the younger generations to enjoy “Shakespeare” in the 21st century and beyond that. Having the purpose of the first reason underway, I am now also working on a remedy for the second. At the very least, I am having so much fun discussing and nerding out with Shakespeare. More than that I though, I can’t wait to bring this idea of rendering Shakespeare's English into Portuguese to fruition. As used to say the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” ("walker, there is no path, the path is made by walking"), meaning "find your own Shakespeare".


All the chapters are presented here in the order they were written. No attempt was made to clean them up. 71 out of the 103 chapters were published on my blog. The last 32 were exclusively written for this book edition (from chapter 72 to chapter 103), and won’t be published anywhere else.


This book took me three years to write. It’s was a real labour of love.

NB: If “Shakespeare and I” was good enough for Shakespeare (“All debts are cleared between you and I” in “The Merchant of Venice”), it was also good enough for me.

Manuel Augusto Antão

Lisbon, September 2016