Sunday, October 29, 2017

Immortality, Revenge and a Ghost

"Hamlet" is, in my opinion, Shakespeare’s most complex play, with so many layers that can be tackled and even more interpretations of what the characters have done or are about to do, not to mention what Shakespeare might have implied and what the background and the cultural context actually were centuries ago.

"Hamlet" is, no doubt, a play about death and revenge. Killing Claudius seems easy once there is evidence of what he has done, but when evidence comes in the shape of a ghost, things turn to be more complicated than expected, especially in a time when the trend was to distance from superstitious imaginary and embrace humanism. In my opinion, there are many perspectives on death in the play, depending on our prior knowledge and the way we would like to understand and decompose it.

 If one is familiar with the Buddhist teachings, then the lines in Act 1, scene 2 (72-73) “all that lives must die, / passing through nature to eternity” is not at all strange. In the same scene, Hamlet wishes “that this too too solid flesh would melt,/ and resolve itself into a dew!”(129-130). In this respect, Buddhists are quite aware that we will return to nature when we end our time on Earth because we are one with it. Through karma and eventual enlightenment one can escape samsara and achieve the end of suffering, which is Nirvana. Isn’t Hamlet trying to escape his faith by not committing any murder and not avenging his father’s death, but the odds are against him? Doesn’t he wish for a more gentle task?  “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite/ that ever I was born to set it right!”(I.5 190-191)

In the final scene of the play, before Hamlet dies, he says “there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” (211). He seems to have resigned himself with what had happened mainly because he knows he would be taken care of by God or the supreme force governing all creatures. This return to the original, natural condition of the human mind, without any worry or struggle, letting it all be is defined as enlightenment or Satori in Buddhism and, unlike animals, which are always in this condition, we have lost this condition and made things and life more complicated. In order to regain this state, we need to reach true inner peace, “… the rest is silence.” (350) 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

7 reasons to watch "Will"

"Fight for what you believe in!"

1. "Will" is a 2017 show that no one with an interest in the life of the famous playwright William Shakespeare should miss.

2. The young (and hot) Will's life is presented before he became famous, after he arrives in London eager to make a name for himself.

3. If you loved the Oscar winning film "Shakespeare in Love" just imagine this is a better version of the movie, with better costumes, soundtrack and more intriguing facts.

4. The TV show adds more characters in Will's life and presents his artistic struggles better than any other show or movie about the Bard's life.

5. It is a fun, vivid show, full of punk rock music and irony, in which Will is no longer a dusty old man, but a cool yet naive young man struggling to become the one and only Shakespeare.

6. Marlowe, Shakespeare's supposed rival, is present as well, but not as a mere rival, he is Will's admirer, too and this adds to the main character's depth.

7. The show also tackles an unexpected idea: Will is a practicing Catholic, which was illegal in England at that time, and this fact increases the danger in which he may find himself while in London. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Vive la France!

It's the 14th of July and I cannot but celebrate, with a few French poems, Bastille Day. Yesterday I saw the common press conference of Macron and Trump on CNN and I can truly say I wish we also had such an intelligent president, "un vrai diplomate", unlike the joker next to him.

La poésie est mémoire, mémoire de l'intensité perdue.

Now, while the parade is taking place on the Champs Elysees, I would like to celebrate this day with some French poems by a writer that, up until last year, when he passed away at the age of 93, was considered "the greatest French living poet" and whose poems have been studied in the last decades by French high school students. His name is YVES BONNEFOY (1923 - 2016) and he was not only a poet but also an impressive essayist, a very good translator of Shakespeare's work, a professor at "College de France", an art historian and an exceptional critic.

Here is the first part of one of his beautiful poems, "Summer night":

Nuit d'été 

Il me semble, ce soir,
Que le ciel étoile, s'élargissant,
Se rapproche de nous ; et que la nuit,
Derrière tant de feux, est moins obscure.
Et le feuillage aussi brille sous le feuillage. Le vert, et l'orangé des fruits mûrs, s'est accru, Lampe d'un ange proche ; un battement De lumière cachée prend l'arbre universel.
Il me semble, ce soir.
Que nous sommes entrés dans le jardin, dont l'ange
A refermé les portes sans retour.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We Read to Become Happier

We read for different reasons. We read because we “must”, to find out information, out of curiosity, but I would like to believe that a lot of those who read do it for the wellness that reading offers.

A few months ago, while studying for the “Literature and Mental Health” course, run by Warwick Business School together with ReLit (The Bibliotherapy Foundation), I discovered an article on bibliotherapy, “Books do furnish the mind: the art and science of bibliotherapy”, written in 2016 by two medical consultants, Jonathan Bate and Andrew Schuman, both Oxford professors, that made me understand, once again, the importance of reading for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
The short article is extremely comprehensive and it presents the evolution of the term “bibliotherapy”. This term is more than 100 years old and it was first used in 1916 by the American essayist Samuel McChord Crothers. In his essay he takes an interview to his imaginary friend who is a bibliotherapist at the “Tired Businessmen Institute” and where he carefully prescribes his patients books that can help them get rid of depression or unemployment. This imaginary bibliotherapist analyses the therapeutic value of the books he prescribes for each and every case in order to notice their positive results. 

The miraculous power of books dates back a few millennia, even if at that time it was not named “bibliotherapy”. According to the Greek historian Siculus, above the entrance to the sacred library of pharaoh Ramses II it was written “the place where the soul is healed”, and the Renaissance man Michel de Montaigne stated that there are three ways to cure the most terrible mental illness – loneliness: to have a lover, to have friends, to read books, but out of the three options, the one that can last all life is the presence of books. The relation with the books that we know and adore creates a unique state, beneficial and repeatable with every reading. Have you ever wondered why we can sometimes go back to rereading certain books or why a certain poem touches and takes us to a world where everything seems easier, better? 

In the 19th century, the philosopher John Stuart Mill affirmed in his autobiography that William Wordsworth’s poetry cured him of depression; in 2017, his poetry is once again remembered in connection with a difficult loss and the way in which these poems can help you get over the pain you feel because Wordsworth himself suffered these terrible losses: two of his children died before having turned eight. In fact, poems are the “pills” to be administered most efficiently due to their short, yet memorable form. It is more practical to recommend a poem or an anthology of poems than a long novel which demands time and concentration, but what counts most is the impact that the literacy work, be it a poem or a Victorian novel has on our life.  Read to discover yourselves! 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June is for Japanese Reading Challenge

June is here, (and almost gone) school is over and what can be better than one of my favorite challenges...? The Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Bellezza here.  I have lost count of the years I joined the other readers who love (or are about to love) Japanese literature, but for this summer, I have planned to read two great books.
The first one is by my favorite Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami and his non-fiction book written in 2015 "Meseria de romancier" ("The Novelist as a profession", not yet translated into English), published in 2016 by Polirom in the collection dedicated to him. The book contains 12 essays on what it means to be a writer and I am so eager to discover his take on this job and the advice he gives in order to become a successful novelist.
The second one is a Japanese thriller, "Malice", by Keigo Higashino (called the Japanese Stieg Larsson), written in 1996 and translated into English in 2014. The book belongs to the Police Detective Kaga series, including 9 other novels. It is going to be my first book by Higashino, well -known in Japan for his mystery novels. "Malice" is supposed to be a book which exploits murderous feelings and the reasons why a murder is committed, rather than the killer who did it. This definitely sounds interesting for a summer read!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Art to See in Venice

All those who enter Damien Hirst's latest exhibition in Venice, you'd better believe it! 

Damien Hirst is one of the most famous and richest living artists, whose career began in the 90s and since then, he has never stopped baffling the world of contemporary art with his daring exhibitions and takes on life and death. Named "the bad boy" of British art, he has been quiet for the past decade but that was because he has been working on his newest presentation which opened in Venice on the 9th of April and will last until 3rd December. 

"Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" is so enormous that it actually occupies two locations: Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, buildings own by the billionaire, art collector and Christie's owner Francois Pinault. 

The bold exhibition presents a sea fantasy at a fantastical scale and it even comes with a back story: the objects presented, 189 of them, come from a ship that sank 2,000 years ago. They are made of different materials, ranging from marble to silver, "belonging" to Greek, Aztec, Roman, Japanese or contemporary culture. Hirst's team even filmed this discoveries to make everything believable but, the ambiguity is always there when you look at the objects: are they more than 2,000 years old, being covered with corals, or were they created just a few years ago? 

The most impressive piece of work is his 18 meter high black statue "Demon with Bowl" that has you wonder how anyone would manage to get it inside the building. 

Even if people seem to either love or hate his exhibitions, I can truly say it was a privilege to see this incredible presentation of a genius who makes you believe the unbelievable and who has spent millions of dollars from his own pocket to do just that... until his collection is auctioned next year :) 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

God's Silence

My God my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 

Why would a good God allow evil to exist in the world? The silence we encounter while reading the book is the silence we go through after we have tried in vain to avoid suffering and persecution.

 Endo’s novel, written in 1966, is based on real events and people. The story occurs in 1638 and revolves around a Jesuit priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, who discovers that his former mentor, Father Ferreira, now a missionary in Japan, has apostatized (he renounced his faith under torture). Rodrigues doubts this and wants to go to Japan to find for himself but also encourage the hidden and persecuted Christians there.While hiding, running from the Japanese authorities and finally being imprisoned, Rodrigues battles with his faith and questions why God is silent in all this suffering. 

I, too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. It was on the face of the man who has been ever in my thoughts, on the face that was before me on the mountains, in my wanderings, in prison, on the best and most beautiful face that any man can ever know, on the face of him whom I have always longed to love. Even now that face is looking at me with eyes of pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. 'Trample !' said those compassionate eyes. 'Trample ! Your foot suffers in pain ; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason that I am here.' ‚
'Lord, I resented your silence.'
 'I was not silent. I suffered beside you.'
 'But you told Judas to go away : What thou dost do quickly. What happened to Judas?'
 'I did not say that. Just as I told you to step on the plaque, so I told Judas to do what he was going to do. For Judas was in anguish as you are now.' (307) 

Endo, a Christian himself, suffered religious discrimination and this novel is his response to the near impossibility of the Eastern and Western cultures existing harmoniously.

 Reading this beautiful novel I asked myself whether we, as human beings meant to err, do not emulate, at times, one by one, Father Ferreira, Father Rodrigues or Kichijiro, a Judas-like figure. Aren’t we the ones who do not give up hope no matter what, who question God’s existence and ask to be forgiven no matter how intolerable our sins may be? Or, as Father Ferreira, we change our views and give up our own beliefs because the circumstances demand we do so… Don’t we sacrifice ourselves for the ones we love thus changing forever our dreams and hopes?

Rodrigues apostatizes but this is not the end. It is in his heart that the love for Christ still lingers and the place where God will answer his prayers and questions.

 “He who has heard the word of God, can bear his Silence.” Saint Ignatius 

Read for my own pleasure and for Bellezza's Japanese Reading Challenge

P.S. Scorsese's movie, which appeared at the end of last year, is a wonderful rendition of the novel. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Another Gap of Time

I am (almost) speechless when my former students and current (best) friends get inspired and write about my favorite writers (after I nag them for a while :))

Here is Alle's review of Jeanette Winterson's "The Gap of Time", with a few annotations :)

If you give me a book, you give me a world. My fairy godmother knows that. She bought one for my birthday. Besides chocolate and some butterflies, thiiiiiiiis book had my name on it. She wrote some words on the first page. Those words became, by far, my favorite dedication written by this amazing woman! But... I keep it for myself until I become what she wrote there. Soon, I hope. So, dear, dear FG, I promise. I promise I'll do my best to become your favorite writer. Ooooops. I said it.

So, as I have already mentioned, this book, the present from my dearest fairy godmother was a challenge and something new. Jeanette Winterson is quite unique in style, point of view in matters of love and writing and existence, and her literature requires an open mind and acceptance, otherwise you will get bored. Maybe even annoyed. Her life and her past resulted in her writing style, so before judging an author, try to understand their lives.

I met Jeanette Winterson's literature pretty long time ago. I have this feeling because I cannot remember the things I did yesterday but years ago... Anyway. I remember something that she noticed and I agree with. She said that book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. True story. I know my own book-obsession-occupation-disease-addiction-fascination-absurdity-fate and I am glad that someone explained all these in a quote. She gave an answer to all those who judge us, the bookworms. Now I can defend my book-obsession-occupation-disease-addiction-fascination-absurdity-fate. Full stop and breathe.

Jeanette Winterson reinvented the Winter’s Tale. The characters are renamed and the action is placed in our modern world. King Leontes becomes Leo Kaiser in Jeanette's cover, a businessman who accuses his wife, MiMi (Hermione in Shakespeare's play) and his best friend, Polixene (who becomes Xeno) of adultery. The little girl, Perdita, is abandoned by Leo who blames his wife and his best friend for an untrue complicity. He is blinded by this idea and he abandons his own child.

The title tells us about the period which wasn't presented in Shakespeare's play. Jeanette Winterson manages to create new modern characters, people who live in their own controversial worlds and, at the same time, in a common world which unites their personal tragedies. The little girl opens and closes the gap. She is part of the destiny, the one who retrieves the characters' cobweb, settling down the chaos. The parable of the angel caught in the bonds of a building and the consequences of those only two choices he can make, demonstrates the difficulty of the matter, the choice which can destroy everything forever or can cause the beginning of something new, rebuilt.

Here are my favorite quotes:
Tears of rain. (Perfect!).
You were loved then and you are loved now. Isn’t that enough? (This might be the best. In my opinion).
There was a second, the kind that holds a whole world. 
Isn't there always a history to the story?
There's no shortage of heartbreak.
I have felt safe with you and that was unexpected.
She wanted to kiss the hesitation of his throat. (This is sooooooooo... makes me close my eyes and dream).
Leave it without a name but with something to begin the story.
The past is a grenade that explodes when thrown.
The whole day passed and then it was night and nothing had changed because everything had changed.
What is a memory anyway but a painful dispute with the past?
... sometimes you have to accept that your heart knows what to do. (But what if the heart is wrong?)
Moon’s gravitational pull means that earth doesn’t wobble too much. Scientists call it obliquity. The moon holds us fast.

You can pay Alle a visit here

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"White Feathers in the Snow"

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh; 
The worlds revolve like ancient women 
Gathering fuel in vacant lots. (Preludes)

I have heard the key 
Turn in the door once and turn once only 
We think of the key, each in his prison 
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison 
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours 
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus. (The Waste Land)

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still. (Ash Wednesday) 

What a better start of the New Year than with Jeremy Irons reading poetry on BBC Radio 4 and Jeanette Winterson introducing T.S. Eliot's work in the first three parts of the radio show? Such a fantastic insight into Eliot's work and a mesmerising rendition of his lines by Mr. Irons! I simply love it! 

T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1965) was a famous American born poet, essayist and playwright who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Back in 1927 he became a British citizen. "The Waste Land" (1922) is considered by many to be the most influential poetic work of the twentieth century. In-between 1930-1960 he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English speaking world. 

You can listen to the 5 parts for free this month here