4 June 2015

The dinosaur

One of the most famous micro-stories written in Spanish comes from the pen of the writer Augusto Monterroso. It consists of seven words and reads:

"Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí"

It is not the shortest micro-story of the literature of the language of Cervantes, but it is the most famous. In fact, since its publication in 1959 in "Complete Works and other stories", it has been analyzed and used in different ways.

For example, this micro-story was widely used in Mexico due to the constant victories of the PRI
(Institutional Revolutionary Party), that managed to retain power for over seventy years. For its ability to stay in power for so many years, the party was often compared to a dinosaur that did not seem to understand that its time was over.

Many people have tried to explain the meaning of this micro-story in different ways. Some have given it a philosophical explanation, while other stick to the use of metaphors in order to reach an appropriate explanation of the seven words and the comma. Some are even engaged in trying to find out who awoke, why, where the dinosaur was, what kind of dinosaur was, or where "there" is. 

Certainly, literary critics have done their part in analyzing Monterroso's micro-story to great lenghts. Here I am including one that has caught my attention. 

But this is not all. When it comes to translating those seven words and the comma into English, there is something that strikes me.  In Spanish "despertó" may apply to any living creature as the subject is elicited. However, the translation that I have found on the Internet is this: "When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there ". Obviusly, this translation brings some problems as it does not conform to the original text. 

In any case, Monterroso's micro-story seems to fulfill one of the functions of literature: to entertain.

28 February 2015

The pleasure of reading

I spent last Christmas in Madrid and, apart from spending much time with my family, I went to some second-hand bookstores in the city centre in search of interesting books. I decided to buy one after reading its foreword. I simply fell in love with the foreword written by G.C. Rosser. The book was first published in 1957 and its title is "The Poet's Tale" - An Anthology of narrative Poetry. It is a compilation of poems that nowadays can easily be found on the Internet, but Rosser's words were worth taking the book home.

"There are many ways of reading literature. We can dip into a novel to pass the time away, we can give ourselves to a writer to escape from boredom or the monotony of films and television, we can read plays, short stories, and poems simply because we have developed a habit and would not be without our weekly instalment of reading. We can also read to make ourselves more mature by living through the emotional experience of other minds in this or another country. But whichever attitude we adopt, there is always one element which keeps us fascinated in literature. That element is pleasure. We read because, generallys peaking, we find it pleasurable to read and the more pleasure we find in reading the more the activity becomes part of our daily lives.

What many of us have realised, of course, is that pleasure and understanding go hand in hand. The more we possess a book, the more we come to grips with its essence, the more satisfaction it gives us. The experience becomes more relevant, more urgent."

15 February 2015

Warsaw by night

Yesterday I watched the Polish film "Warsaw by night". I liked it very much. The film is a clear example of good Polish movie making. The structure of the film is not new, as it reminds the viewer of American films, such as "Crush".

In "Warsaw by night",  a group of several characters' stories interweave during one night in Warsaw. The film is also a great opportunity  to see some parts of Warsaw at night, especially the city centre with its peculiar beauty.

Most of the characters meet by accident in the toilet of a bar, and although they do not know each other, as the film develops,  their lives seem to have plenty in common.

The Polish film deals with issues that are very much in vogue nowadays, and the viewer can easily recognise himself/herself in some of the characters of the movie.

Watch the movie! You will like it.

25 January 2015

Nil desperandum

The maxim "Nil desperandum" (OdesBook I, ode vii, line 27) seems to be in most cultures. "Never despair" is absolutely necessary to overcome problems we all encounter in life.

Horace (65-8 BCE) was a literary critic, a lyric poet, and a great satirist. He was the son of a freed slave and had the opportunity to study in Rome and at the Athens Academy. He met Cicero there. 

Horace may have had many reasons to despair as all his family's belongings were confiscated. Moreover,  most probably he must have had a very hard time after the murder of Julius Caesar, especially when he was exiled. However, his maxim probably helped him face the problems he had. "Nil desperandum" or "Never despair" appears in his famous Odes, where he also uses similar expressions such as "In adversity, remember to keep an even mind" (Book II, ode iii, line 1). 

I think Horace's maxim is very much related to what other authors have written using other words. For example, last month I bought Rojas Marcos' newext book. I have always enjoyed listening to him, one of the most popular Spanish phychologists in the world. His book "All I have learnt, 303 ideas for a better life"  (my own translation of the original title) is full of interesting albeit brief ideas. His book is filled with positive ideas that aim at helping the reader in his/her life. One of the general ideas that comes up very frequently is that of being optimistic.

I suppose that Horace's maxim and Professor Rojas Marcos' thought are very much interelated. If we have problems and give up, how are we going to overcome them?, what is the point in throwing the towel in case of trouble? "Only in the boxing ring", my friend says. 

11 November 2014

Be content with what you have

It was Lao - tzu the person who said: "Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you".

Nowadays it is almost impossible to stay away from materialistic ideas. To have the newest mobile phone, another pair of trousers, a new car, a bigger house, a white table, or any other thing has become the main temporary goal in millions of people all over the world. Once they have obtained it, another one will stay in their minds until they get it, and so on.   Companies do their best to create on us a need that we did not have before, and once we have it, we think we cannot live without it.

Obviously, we live in the XXI century and lots of things have changed in the world since Tao-tzu lived. Nowadays, we can't imagine a world without international organizations collecting money, food, medicines and the like to help people all over the world. However, his words focus on the idea that we should look for simplicity in our lives in order to find truth and freedom.

He is also thought to have said: "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".The main idea is that humans can obtain respect by doing their best "to fish" rather that accepting "fish" as charity. Tao-tzu also points at the importance in understanding the laws of nature to develop intuition and build personal power in an attempt to live a live full of love and sense.

Tradition says that he was so sad by the things he saw around  that he left civilization and went to the desert on the back of a buffalo. As he approached the Great Wall gate, the gatekeeper urged him to stay and write his beliefs for future generations.

The 81 chapters of what we know now as the Tao-te--ching is one of the most translated texts after the Bible. Besides, some of his best quotations can be easily found in management textbooks.

2 October 2014

Two witty Johns

In “Of The Conduct Of The Understanding”, John Locke (1632-1704) writes not only about the importance of reading but about the importance of meditating after reading. He wrote: ”Those who have read of everything are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment. There are indeed in some writers visible instances of deep thoughts, close and acute reasoning, and ideas well pursued. The light these would give would be of great use if their readers would observe and imitate them; all the rest at best are but particulars fit to be turned into knowledge, but that can be done only by our own meditation, and examining the reach, force, and coherence of what is said; and then, as far as we apprehend and see the connection of ideas, so far it is ours; without that, it is but so much loose matter floating in our brain. The memory may be stored, but the judgment is little better, and the stock of knowledge not increased, by being able to repeat what others have said or produce the arguments we have found in them.” (italics mine).

In a word, reading is not enough for Locke. Reading good books from which we can learn is very important. However, dedicating some time to meditate on what we’ve read is even more important. Like some animals that ruminate their food, a good reader should be able to chew the reading over in an attempt to “observe and imitate” all the positive ideas learnt from their readings. Moreover, Locke highlights the importance of “see[ing] the connection of ideas” that we keep in our brain. 

In this respect, Locke’s ideas on reading remind me of what John Milton wrote about books in his Areopagitica (1644). He mentioned that “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

There is nothing like a good book full of good ideas from which we can learn. 

10 September 2014

John Donne and To his mistress going to bed

Reading John Donne is always a pleasure. I like most of his poems,especially those in which he develops his rhetorical technique to describe sex and sensual pleasure. Perhaps my favourite one is To his Mistress going to Bed. In this poem, he expresses freely his own sexual desire as he observes his lover undressed for bed.
His vivid description of a woman´s naked body points at Donne as someone who is crazy about women and the sexual desire he can obtain from them. He seems to crave for every single centimeter of his lover´s body. In this respect, the naked female body becomes his "America, [his] new found land", "[a] kingdom" that has to be discovered, investigated, searched in detail.

John DonneDonne, perhaps the most popular of the so-called metaphysical poets, was an expert at making metaphysical conceits, comparisons, unusual similes or metaphores which are more ingenious that either true or appropriate. The images of a naked female body and the discovery of a new continent are strong enough to stay in the minds of Donne´s readers. 

He seems to have lived his sexuality to the full. Just read the poem and enjoy it. After the poem, you will see quite a few comments related to Donne´s poem. I hope they are enlightening.

Come, madam, come, all rest my powers defy,1
Until I labour, I in labour lie.2
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,3
Is tired with standing though he never fight.4
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering,5
But a far fairer world encompassing.6
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,7
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.8
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime9
Tells me from you that now it is bed time.10
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,11
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.12
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,13
As when from flowery meads th’hills shadow steals.14
Off with your wiry coronet and show15
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow:16
Now off with those shoes: and then safely tread17
In this love’s hallowed temple, this soft bed.18
In such white robes heaven’s angels used to be19
Received by men; thou, Angel, bring’st with thee20
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though 21
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know 22
By this these Angels from an evil sprite:23
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.24
 License my roving hands, and let them go 25
Before, behind, between, above, below.26
O my America! my new-found-land,27
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,28
My mine of precious stones, my empery,29
How blest am I in this discovering thee!30
To enter in these bonds is to be free;31
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be. 32
 Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,33
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,34
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use 35
Are as Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,36
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a gem,37
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them:38
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made 39
For lay-men, are all women thus arrayed.40
Themselves are mystic books, which only we 41
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)42
Must see revealed. Then, since that I may know,43
As liberally as to a midwife, show 44
Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence, 45
There is no penance due to innocence: 46
To teach thee, I am naked first; why than,47
What need’st thou have more covering than a man? 48
(1) “my powers” points at his sexual desire or energy. He is ready to go to bed and does not think of resting.

(2) “I labour, I in labour lie”. He waits impatiently for his lover to go to bed with him, just as a woman in labour awaits the delivery of a baby.

(3) “the foe…the foe”. A beautiful image of male and female organs, together as if the were enemies in a battle.

(4) “standing”. Standing just like the male organ “stands” ready and erect.

(5) “heaven’s zone”. Once the “girdle” has been taken off, the “heavens´s zone” is the one part he can see from her.

(7). “spangled breastplate”. It is the front piece of a dress and it covers the breast and the pit of the belly.

(9) “harmonious chime”. The watch says that it is time for bed.

(11). “Off with that happy busk, which I envy”. Donne envies her corset, so close to her skin. He´d like to be the corset.

(13) “such beauteous state reveals”. Without clothes, his lover´s body is pure beauty.

(15) “wiry coronet”. He wants to observe her even without the “coronet”,  or metal band around her forehead.

(17) “off with those shoes” The shoes must be also taken off.
      (18-19) “this soft bed /…white robes heaven’s angels used to be”. His encounters with her require a soft  bed and clean white heavenly clothes.

      (21) “Mahomet’s Paradise”. Being with her is like being in heaven, in paradise.
     (23-24) “these Angels /…our flesh upright”. Donne here uses a great rhetorical device to explain that women, or “angels” make men have the “flesh upright”, or erections.
     (26) Before, behind, between, above, below”. Donne enjoys touching all over his lover´s naked body. Nothing must remained untouched.
 (27-29). “my America! my new-found-land,/My kingdom…/….My mine. Her body becomes Donne´s America. A new discovery, his own “kingdom”, his property, temporarily perhaps. For Donne, it is better when she belonges only to “one man”, (28), that is to say, to him.

(30) “How blest am I”. His happiness is indescribable.

(31-32). “bonds / seal” reminds the reader of a contract between the two of them., a contract of love.  

(34-35). 2 bodies unclothed must be/ To taste whole joys” expresses Donne´s ideas about how to enjoy sex to the full. Nakedness is vital.

(36). “Atlanta’s balls” refers to Ovid´s Atalanta. The story says that she would only marry the man who could beat her in a race. Hippomenes distracted her by throwing some balls in fron of her, and so he won the race. 

(37-41). “when a fool’s eye / may covet theirs / like books’ gay coverings made / mystic books” may refer to the impossibility of some men to see the true value of a woman, as they only pay attention to their appearance.Using a book, Donne indicates that some men look at the cover, but never inside it. 

(42) “imputed grace” may refer to Calvin´s idea by which men are unable to win salvation by personal merits. It is only because of God´s infinite love that people can be saved. Likewise, Donne aspires to have the “imputed grace” of his lover in an attempt to be with her.

(45-46) “cast …this white linen / There is no penance”.The white colour signifies virginity, cleanness and penitence, but there is no reason why she should be related to that colour because she is not a virgin.  

(47) “I am naked first”. He takes the iniciative and invites her to do the same.
                        Hippomenes distracts Atalanta with golden balls
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