The Birdcage Archives

Monday 27 May 2019

What's Left To Say?

There is nothing that can be said. There is no consolation. There is no comfort. There is no winner. There is no looser. There is no solace. There is no joy. There is no relief.

Nothing is broken. Yet everyone is in disrepair.

All the: “I’m sorry(s).” All the hugs. All the thoughts. All the prayers. All the love. All the condolences. All the sympathies. All the pity. All the support. All the best wishes.

None of it returns the dignity.

We’ve become: those people. The talk of the town. The house surrounded in a miasma of scandal. Just there down the road—that’s the house. The one with the curtains closed. The one with the baritone dog, whose bark ricochets down alleys, echoes between homes and bounces down streets. The one with the bleeding hearts up front. The green grass. The sulking grey cat. If you can, peek around back. Do you see the garage? That’s where it happened.

They scuttle in the shadows; much like mice and rats eager to avoid the cat’s attention let alone its ire. Their voices hushed scurry in hither. They speculate with conjecture. Swap stories, news, fragments and gossip like magpies in trade. They badger. They fish. They sneak. They pursue. When the topic of their conversation approaches they skulk back. Yet there is no shame in their cowardice. Once its past they caw and cluck. They squirrel with delight.

Their curiosity. Our torture.

Robins greet the dawn. In the blue hour they whistle with melody.

All the while, we wake to an uncertain future.

Red splatters with drops of anger in seething heat, to the rhythm of a heart that beats.

Green churns with sickness, rising from a stomach which is vacant and empty.   

Blue is the face now breathless and gasping, with fevered hands grasping.

Pink flushes and burns a face now foreign with embarrassment.  

Purple is the end, unnatural and regal with stoic calm.

White rings within tin ears tone deaf and dumb. 

Grey is the day a somber witness.

Black absorbs and absolves, until night when shadows dance. Swinging and hanging, taunting all the same.

But what of yellow? That garish colour: extroverted and blare. It beams with false hope. It glows with deceitful warmth. It shines in its selfishness. It gossips and giggles. Each message passed on platted in gold. Tarnished by fools and in falsehoods. Slander is their tongue. May it fall out of their mouths'.

Where’s the boundaries? Where’s the borders? Where’s the end? When was the beginning? Or are the two interchangeable now.

Despite being coiled and curled we are poked, prodded, pricked. In this cobra retreat of reticence we request privacy. Yet the mongooses ever quick snip and snap. There can be no regality. No peace. You saw to that.

Phone Calls.
Text Messages.
Knocks on the door.

Here’s a sorry. Here’s a hug. Here’s all the love.

Each one thunders’ then rains down like clumsy punches. They pelt and batter. Each time leaving another bruise.  

Behind glass. Behind bars. Come one, come all. Come gawk. Come gaze. Come gape. Come stare. See the spectacle. Speculate with flare.

Normalcy: so commonplace and ubiquitous in shades of beige and brown. Suddenly the world has run out. Who knew it was such a finite resource. The door revolves. Strange feet step with caution. Shadows splay across walls and floors. Silhouettes of basic shape and form. Food is left behind, which will soon become rotten.

Strong is your Wife, a Mother of two—the only title to remain. She informed them. Explained as best as possible the situation. Only she knows the words she stated to you.

Ashamed is your Son, who seeks privacy from your shadow.

Pained is your Daughter, whose sadness and sense of guilt is testament to all. 

Lost is your Dog, attempting to understand your absence.  

Annoyed is your Cat, with all the fuss.   

You broke the cardinal rule. You’ve called attention to yourself. And in return we are infected and painted by association. There has been no preparation. What are we to say? After all the truth is overrated. Patricia Highsmith said it best:

“Honesty, for me, is usually the worst policy imaginable.”

There is no inclination of apprehension. All inhibitions have been thrown out the window. Reason has flown the coop. What remains is a cuckoo, chiming in clockwork precision on the hour every hour.

We can’t slam the door. We can’t clam up. You’ve made this an impossible affair. A torrent of messages has breached the flood gates. Fists pound on doors. Phones scream in a frantic frenzy. Everything has taken a new dimension. Yet everything remains much the same. The taps run. The grass grows. The unyielding sun pulses. Spring has burst forth in an array. Green is the grass and leaves. Blue is the sky forsaken and consuming. Purple, orange, white and yellow are the flowers in their respective vases. Black are the flies buzzing about. Scuttling are the spiders seeking solitude. Their webs silver and dust ridden. Some are intricate. Others scattered.

The sink has dishes ready to be washed. The floors are a mess—such are the consequences of animals. The lilacs have bloomed. There was once comfort. Now replaced with the sickening sweet. Ripeness reminiscent of rot.  The air is heavy with this ponderous poignant and pungent perfume. Spring is announced. Unabashed it grows, it greens, it buds and blossoms. It unfurls itself with the greatest intention to rejuvenate. The world is alive again. Beneath its green leaves and in its shortening shadows, we too must move forward.

These are unfamiliar woods. They are ashen. Dusks shawl is draped overhead. Violet and dim with an asphyxiating pinch. A few grey clouds remain in the sky. Swollen and smothered. The trees are gnarled, knotted, and twisted. Their branches point in all directions. A thicket riddled with accusations. Their bark black and silent. The floor riddled with scattered autumnal treasures. Paper leaves falling apart, frayed among the edges, crumbling and crunching underfoot. Dolls eyes don’t grow here. Still something is watching. Through the branches we peer. Yet in every nook and cranny, dusk light, violet, black and the faint image of browned leaves stared back. We are guests here. Unwelcome and unwanted. The sense is reciprocated. Mutual on all grounds. Above the sky is framed in unforgiving wooden limbs. Twigs wag without assistance, chiding us all the same. It’s just the three of us. Why would you be here? You’re the reason we are here. You’ve transplanted us here. Willingly or not. We’ll survive. We’ll surface. We’ll pull through. What choice do we have? After all, you’ve left us none. Here’s hoping you’re happy with yourself. But you’re not. In the end there’s regret. The late epiphany caught the evening train, which is always delayed. It is then you realized the solemn truth about unhappiness; sometimes what one thinks is unhappiness was really happiness all along.  

How then does one take the news? In this case standing up; just before dinner. Soup warmed ready for eating. Then the phone ringing with immediate urgency. The news is relayed the best it can be. From there it’s a mad dash. White noise ringing in the ears. A face now foreign pink with embarrassment. A stomach churning despite being empty. Eyes blinking and blinded by an indifferent grey day. Still the heart beats, though red with anger. Ice flows through blue cold veins. A mind muddled with violet rays.

What of the one who found you? A pillar of strength. Never weakened by time or age. Untouched by the curiosity. The anger subsided, and beneath it, lies the serene and understanding. There is work to be done. Pieces to pick up. Two to hold together. Strength to overcome. To persevere. Its spring, which requires cleaning.

It’s an uncertain future; for us but not for you. Your dog will never find you, but in time accept that as the reality of life. Your cat stalks on offended paws. Who is his ally in the house now? You’ll answer to his judgements and inquisitions someday. Your son will escape your shadow. His privacy recently regained. Your daughter no longer aches for you. She’s sorry about it all, but recognizes we all have to make decisions, and suffer the consequences. Yours just rippled beyond.

So this is it. There is nothing to be said. No explanation left and none given. C'est la vie, at least in our case.

Saturday 25 May 2019

The Man Booker International Prize Winner

Hello Gentle Reader

The winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize is the Omani writer: Jokha Alharthi, with her novel: “Celestial Bodies.”

“Celestial Bodies,” traces the independence and modernization of Oman, through the personal and domestic lives of three sisters. Despite its overtones of being a typical domestic novel, “Celestial Bodies,” has been described as a touching and powerful narrative that completely defies all conventional narrative tropes and perspectives with regards to discussing slavery, gender, politics, and independence. The judges called the novel a stellar surprise, which both pulls and packs a punch.

In winning the award, Jokha Alharthi becomes the first Arabic language author to receive the Man Booker International Prize. Throughout the prizes complete duration, there have only been six Arabic language authors nominated for the award. With regards to her novel, readers should know that the novel is not a road-map to the Arabic world—be it political or cultural. It is first and foremost a narrative imbued with the artistic measurement of the author and the world in which she wishes to display. The novel carries no answers or textbook connotations of how to navigate the world. The topics of love, loss, pain, hope—are all universal topics though, made unique by the narrative and the story.

Jokha Alharthi’s is in my mind a bit of a surprise. The winner for this year’s award appeared to be Annie Ernaux, who received a great deal of publicity and discussion amongst readers, writers, and journalists. Ernaux’s masterpiece: “The Years,” has been described as a timeless and plural narrative mixing a fragmented association of memory, events, advertisements, with a keen sociological perspective. “The Years,” eschews the typical and conventional notions of the memoirists personal and private recollection, displayed with introspective accuracy. Instead it moves to an objective perspective echoing with plural ‘we’s,’ and anchored with a sly ‘she.’ With “The Years,” finally published Annie Ernaux the fierce and objective sociological chronicler of French letters had found her foothold in the English language. Yet, despite this she did not receive the Man Booker International Prize.

This year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlist was noted for being dominated by women as well as independent publishers. It had been called one of the strongest shortlists in recent memory.

Congratulations to Jokha Alharthi! You’re a surprising win, but I am sure a well-deserved one. I look forward to reading “Celestial Bodies,” in due time.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 16 May 2019

Best Translated Book Award 2019, Shortlist

Hello Gentle Reader

The shortlist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award has been announced. Ten works of prose have shortlisted for the fiction aspect of the award, while five works of poetry have been shortlisted for the poetry aspect for the award.

Without further ado Gentle Reader here is the shortlist for this year’s Fiction Award [in no particular order]:

Ófeigur Sigurðsson – Iceland – “Öræfï: The Wasteland,”
Virginie Despentes – France – “Pretty Things,”
Clemens Meyer – German – “Bricks and Mortar,”
Dubravka Ugresic – Croatia – “Fox,”
Shahriar Mandanipour – Iran – “Moon Brow,”
Anne Serre – France – “The Governesses,”
Ahmed Bouanani – Morocco – “The Hospital,”
Sayaka Murata – Japan – “Convenience Store Woman,”
Patrick Chamoiseau – Martinique (French language – “Slave Old Man,”
In Koli Jean Bofane – Democratic Republic of Congo – “Congo Inc.: Bismarck's Testament,”

There are surprising omissions from this year’s shortlist for fiction. The obvious omission is “Flights,” Olga Tokarczuk. The fragmented novel, with numerous digressions on matters of anatomy, travel (physical and philosophical), anecdotes, and strange stories, all wrapped up in a patchwork of fragmented prose, is missing from this year’s shortlist. Though last year, Olga Tokarczuk had won the Man Booker International Prize with her novel “Flights,” and is once again shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize with her most recently translated novel: “Drive Your Plow over the Bones of The Dead.” These previous wins of course could have played a part in the judge’s deliberations of whether or not to include Olga Tokarczuk on the fiction shortlist. Award precedence and new found recognition aside, “Flights,” is a phenomenal novel.

Can Xue and her novel “Love in the New Millennium,” also found itself omitted from this years shortlisted authors. Can Xue had previously won the Best Translated Book Award in two-thousand and fifteen, and was also sadly not permitted access to this year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlist, though she was longlisted. Her surreal and visceral imaginative and Kafkaesque prose is notoriously difficult for readers to digest and this could explain why her novels have been denied from the shortlists.

Sjon is one of Iceland’s greatest literary exports. His novels have been well received both in the Nordic region as well as in the English language. His work carries both the high literary elements of postmodernism, with a keen interest to storytelling, narratives, and myths, which are noted as particular cornerstones in his longlisted novel “CoDex 1962: A Trilogy.”Yet Sjon also did not receive a position on the shortlist. Instead the other Icelandic author Ófeigur Sigurðsson received a coveted spot, with his novel: “Öræfï: The Wasteland,” a difficult postmodern romp, detailing a diverse conversation ranging from topography, myths, and death metal—it’s certainly a difficult novel that is not for faint of heart, but surely a worth contender.

It was surprising to see Guadalupe Nettel also not shortlisted for this year’s award. Nettel is considered one of Mexico’s most prominent young writers who have struck out in a fashion completely different from the previous Boom Generation. Despite this Nettel and her novel “After Winter,” did not secure a spot on this year’s shortlist.

It is interesting to see Sayaka Murata on this year’s shortlist. Of the three Japanese writers longlisted for this year’s award: Masatsugu Ono, Sayaka Murata, and Hideo Yokoyam—I had contemplated that Masatsugu Ono had the best chance of being inducted on this year’s shortlist. His novel “Lion’s Cross Point,” artfully dealt with tragedy via the perspective of a child in a remote fishing village in Japan. He has been considered the leading writer of the post-Murakami generation, and has been favorably compared to Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe. Despite this, Sayaka Murata has made it to the shortlist. In her native Japan, Sayaka Murata is considered one of the most unique and exciting female writers currently at work in Japan’s literary scene. She tackles social and societal topics in her frank and often experimental works, which rebel against the social demands and conventions of contemporary Japanese society. “Convenience Store Woman,” is of no exception, mirroring and distorting the demands of Japanese society through the myopic and strange world of a narrator who has no sexual desires or romantic inclinations, who finds comfort and purpose in a dead end entry-level job with its strict code of conduct, and manual of regulated behaviors, which protects her from the unwritten and surreal world of the demands of family and society. Sayaka Murata and her novel “Convenience Store Woman,” is a powerful contender for this year’s award.

Anne Serre and her short novel “The Governesses,” did not receive a quick overview or blurb when I initially had discussed the longlist. Mistakenly I overlooked and underestimated the novel as a contender for the award, judging it as a contemporary tribute to the works of those three strange sisters: the Brontë’s (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne). Much like the novels of the Brontë’s, the novel takes place is a large country house isolated from the rest of the world, houses a family and three governesses who are responsible for the education of the young masters of the home. Unlike the moral stalwart, responsible and stoic governesses Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—these three governesses are frivolous, ambitious, desire ridden, and suffer boredom. The entire novel is written with a unique dark enticing fairytale like narrative, presented via telescopic voyeuristic lens. Surprise inductions only do to my own misguided and underestimating inability to take into account and consideration, the novels appeal and subjugating power.

The shortlist is unique, with a few surprise omissions, underestimated inclusions, and others as expected. It is also a testament to the difficulty of judging and measuring the weight of literature for an award, and contrary opinions are sure to be abound.

The following Gentle Reader is the list of finalists for this year’s Poetry aspect for this years award [in no particular order]:

Tanella Boni – Ivory Coast/ Côte d'Ivoire – “The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn,”
Kim Hyesoon – (South) Korea – “Autobiography of Death,”
Jure Detela – Slovenia – “Moss and Silver,”
Luljeta Lleshanaku – Albania – “Negative Space,”
Hilda Hilst – Brazil – “Of Death. Minimal Odes,”

The poetry shortlist was a great surprise Gentle Reader. As mentioned before, I am not a poetry reader; not one bit. Yet I have some sense about it—if only to a minimal degree. The omissions of Francis Ponge and his collection: “Nioque of the Early-Spring,” and Friederike Mayrocker and her poetry collection “Scardanelli.” Francis Ponge is considered one of the most revolutionary poets of the twentieth century, renowned for his prose poems. The omission of his recently translated and published collection “Nioque of the Early-Spring,” which I thought for sure would reach it to the shortlist; I also thought the same of Friederike Mayrocker’s recent collection: “Scardanelli.” This being said, Friederike Mayrocker’s poetry is noted for being difficult, uncompromising and complicated—still I thought that is what poetry readers enjoyed.

Kim Hyesoon’s has made it on to the shortlist with her poetry collection: “Autobiography of Death.” The (South) Korean poet is noted for her extreme poetry, which utilizes surreal, visceral and experimental language, imagery, and metaphors to rebel and revolt against the conservative and at times oppressive conventions and expectations of Korean society. The body—specifically women bodies—is presented as a machine, doomed to failure, and often the first act of rebellion, where one can shut it up and close it off. “Autobiography of Death,” is once again no different, only this time the body is dead, via unjust and violent ends—the spirits wander and roam before being put back in the reincarnate cycle of life, violence and death again. It’s a powerful poetry collection recounting the national and violent tragedies and histories of the Korean peninsula, and has been received remarkably well.

Both Kim Hyesoon and Luljeta Lleshanaku have been shortlisted for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize in the international category.

On a final note for poetry the title of Tanella Boni’s collection of poetry is the most beautiful title on this list. A truly wonderful title! “The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn,” is an envious and marvelous title.

Congratulations are in order for this year’s shortlisted authors and the best of luck to them!

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Saturday 11 May 2019

The Swedish Academy Elects Final Member

Hello Gentle Reader

In March, Sara Danius the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy formally resigned from the Swedish Academy. A year prior, Sara Danius had stepped down as the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy and recused herself from seat, Chair No. 7, due to the Frostenson-Arnault Scandal. Over the course of the past few months, as other vacant seats were filled, Chair No. 7 had remained vacant. On Friday the Swedish Academy announced that it has elected a new member to fill Chair No. 7: the theoretical philosopher and professor: Åsa Wikforss.

With the election of Åsa Wikforss to Chair No. 7, the Swedish Academy will herald bring in the new decade with a full roster for the first time in thirty years.

As a philosopher and a professor, Åsa Wikforss main areas of study and research have been language, philosophy of consciousness, and knowledge theory including epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge). In two-thousand and seventeen, Professor Wikforss published a critical analysis titled: “Alternative Facts – On Knowledge and its Enemies,” where the author probes the strange and uncharted realms of ‘alternative facts,’ in the media and political usage, and how this notion that facts and information can be manipulated and interpreted to move facts and knowledge away from an objective certainty, to a more social subjective flotsam and jetsam notion. In it Åsa Wikforss discusses the philosophical theories and principles of knowledge, the philosophical perspective, as well as the biological components that make humans as a species unique in its ability to consume and disseminate information, facts, and knowledge from other species. It’s been praised as a relevant and striking analysis of the age of information, the rampant media saturation, and political manipulation of the notion of what information and knowledge is.

Beyond being a professor of theoretical philosophy and now a elected member of the Swedish Academy, Åsa Wikforss is also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of the Sciences (the large institution which awards the science prizes), where she is a member of the Humanistic Sciences (or the Humanities).

The induction of Åsa Wikforss is considered unique for the Swedish Academy, whose membership conventionally concerns distinguished professionals such as: literary critics/theorists, linguists/translators, historians, writers (poets, playwrights, novelists), and philologists. Few philosophers and theologians are counted among the ranks. The most recent one of memory was the short stint of Jayne Svenungsson, a theology professor who sat on the academy for barely a year. Åsa Wikforss is therefore the most recent scholarly type included in the academy, and one who has a perspective beyond the typical notion of literature.

The induction of Åsa Wikforss is being praised as a powerful and striking choice; as she is a critical and clinical philosopher and scholar, not a writer, and not someone preoccupied with the sole realm of literature or language, but an individual who takes a broader unique perspective which should help with the Swedish Academy’s deliberations in future.
Åsa Wikforss will be formally inducted in the Swedish Academy during its General Meeting on December 20th. The current roster for the Swedish Academy appears as the following:

Chair No. 1 – Justice Eric M. Runesson
Chair No. 2 – Bo Ralph
Chair No. 3 – Sture Allen
Chair No. 4 – Anders Olsson (pro-tempore Permanent Secretary, tenure complete June 1st)
Chair No. 5 – Göran Malmqvist
Chair No. 6 – Tomas Riad
Chair No. 7 – Åsa Wikforss (formal induction December 20th)
Chair No. 8 – Jesper Svenbro
Chair No. 9 – Ellen Mattson (formal induction December 20th)
Chair No. 10 – Peter England
Chair No. 11 – Mats Malm (Permanent Secretary, after June 1st)
Chair No. 12 – Per Wästberg
Chair No. 13 – Anne Swärd (formal induction December 20th)
Chair No. 14 – Kristina Lugn
Chair No. 15 – Jila Mossaed
Chair No. 16 – Kjell Espmark
Chair No. 17 – Horace Engdahl
Chair No. 18 – Tua Forsström (formal induction December 20th)

There you have it Gentle Reader, the Swedish Academy at its complete roster: twelve men and six women.

Congregations are in order for Åsa Wikforss. May she bring a unqiue perspective to the discussions and deliberations of the Swedish Academy.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For Further Reading—

Svenska Akademien: "Swedish Academy Elects New Member," 

Saarbruecker-Zeitung: "Swedish Academy is complete again,"

Thursday 9 May 2019

Annie Ernaux Wins The Formentor Prize

Hello Gentle Reader

It’s been quite a year for Annie Ernaux. The French intimate documenter, sociological curatorial stenographer, and candid memoirist, has finally gained her foothold on a global literary level. Long praised and applauded as a master of the French language and narrative, Annie Ernaux, has been a staple of the French literary canon. Her literary output has been established on works that have been defined as memoirs and autofiction—a unique narrative that blends autobiographical components, with fictionalized narrative elements, in essence, autofiction is an exaggerated or bashful lie with personalized recounts. Anne Ernaux though resents the term autofiction as an appropriate critical claim to her work. Autofiction as a whole is a rather ‘vogue,’ term by literary standards, and has many practitioners in France such as Marguerite Duras, Emmanuel Carrère, and Édouard Louis; as well as abroad including: Karl Ove Knausgaard. Ernaux sees herself as slightly detached from this movement. She recounts the personal only as an anchoring point of perspective reviewing the objective global events that take place externally, or social movements which are changing the times. The personal is merely a tour guide through the events, as they take place, complete with their own struggles, issues and dramatic intrigues.

Earlier this spring, Annie Ernaux was longlisted and then shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize, with her postmodern plural memoir: “The Years,” and has been marked a critic favourite to win the award. The publication and translation of “The Years,” has become a turning point in the author’s career and trajectory. The postmodern chorus narrative, pluralized in ‘we,’ and only salted with sporadic references of ‘she.’ “The Years,” have been called and defined as Annie Ernaux’s magnum opus, her testament to a generation in flux and aging from the end of the Second World War to the rapidly changing twenty-first century. Now widely translated, Annie Ernaux has finally found herself peaking from behind the curtains to a wider world ready to appreciate her work.

Recently, Annie Ernaux has snagged The Formentor Prize, also known as Premio Formentor de las Letras, Formentor Literature Priz, or the Prix Formentor. It’s an international literary award, which was first conceived in nineteen-sixty one and had a short duration lasting until 1967. It was re-established in two-thousand and eleven and has awarded such writers as:

2011 - Carlos Fuentes
2012 - Juan Goytisolo
2013 - Javier Marías
2014 - Enrique Vila-Matas
2015 - Ricardo Piglia
2016 - Roberto Calasso
2017 - Alberto Manguel
2018 - Mircea Cărtărescu

The award seeks to bestow great writes who write with remarkable taste and ingenuity. These authors have a unique aesthetic perspective, and are skilled sovereigns of the literary wordsmithing. In being awarded The Formentor Prize, Annie Ernaux becomes the first women since the fifty year hiatus to receive the accolade.

Congratulations to Annie Ernaux and her now solid foothold on the Global Stage.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For Further Reading: 

Diario de Mallorca: "The Formentor Prize recognizes the intimate work of Annie Ernaux,"

Human Acts

Hello Gentle Reader

Power is a coveted prize. It cannot be held, yet wielded. It can be bought, but it cannot be found in retail stores or on online commerce. Its price is exacting and is not guaranteed. Despite this, power is coveted and desired. Once obtained its viciously guarded, and righteously retained. Authoritarian governments in particular the most aggressive in retaining and maintain their power and safeguard the status quo—more precisely: their status quo. This involves violence on a repeated basis. People do not suffer tyranny for long periods of time. Fear is not an attribute passed on generation to generation. The conventions of fear are taught; adherence is another matter. Youth continually seeks to explore the possibilities and potentials beyond its present predicament and realities. There are always ideals beyond the immediate. The desire to improve; or at the very least: push the boundaries of tolerance. Then again, youth is a resentful stage in one’s life. From hormones to a more actualized sense of self-awareness, there is the realization that the current state is abruptly asinine in its own way. There is injustice, corruption, moral embezzlement, and in its wake lies relegation, disenfranchisement, and dispossession—a divide between institutions of importance or governance, and those who are governed. This can be displayed out in the micro (or domestic) to the macro. Generally, the first revolt is always against the parents, be it curfew or how one dresses, to getting a piercing or dying their hair. It’s the debut step in understanding and discovering ones place in the world; the initial revolt. Of course this is met with the same resistance all change is met with: abruptly and with swift discourse and discouragement. What ensures is nothing but the precedent set, conventional tango of the times. This is merely an example on the more interpersonal and private level. This same can be seen on grander societal levels, though they often take longer in order to reach the boiling point, and often have greater consequence.

History and literature is salt and peppered with such incidents. Such as, the Prague Spring of 1968. Whose unremarkable defeat and reaction is documented in the Estonian writer, Viivi Luik’s novel: “The Beauty of History,” where Europe is noted for its blatant apathy:

“A Czech boy pouring petrol over himself and then lighting a match does not really go well with the carpets in the living room of Europe, so the television is switched off.”

These same testaments are seen all over the globe; but are quickly overlooked or ignored. The Arab Spring, nine years ago blew the winds of change fed by disenchantment. They were not strong enough to sustain the sails, and ultimately it too sank. What followed was civil war throughout many countries. Saudi Arabia, as a recent example had just executed individuals it deemed provocateurs in the movement. Those convicted were of course in accordance with the draconian states laws, either hung or beheaded, and certainly afterwards their bodies crucified to as a reminder and warning of who holds the power and who does not. Just last week as well, May Day protests broke out throughout the world—mainly Europe. The crackdown was severe. In Turkey, protesters marching on Taksim Square were immediately taken down. One-hundred and thirty seven individuals were or have been detained. They were hauled off kicking and gagged by the officers, as they did their best to shout out against their predicament. France once again saw the rise of the yellow vest movement, which resulted in casual riots. Quebec witnessed similar storms of violence. While journalists in Jakarta, Indonesia donned masks with red tears of blood, to protest prosecution, persecution and remember their colleagues and brethren, as well as the principles of integrity and freedom of the profession. Every day, in some way, in some place there is a struggle. For (South) Korea, their democratic struggle came in the 1980’s student uprising and protests in Gwangju, which has often been called the May 18th Democratic Uprising or the Gwangju Uprising.

Hang Kang’s novel: “Human Acts,” traces the events of the Gwangju Uprising through the personal and the private. Kang provides an intimate peripheral driven portrait of one of the most severe atrocities of the later stages of the twentieth century, in the peninsula. The author discusses the atrocities with gentle candor, never shying away from describing the rotting flesh, the influx and surplus of the dead, their mangled, mutilated, and obliterated corpses ushered into places of makeshift morgues and refuges, where they were cleaned, documented, and recorded. As if, to provide an inventory of the event in the currency of death, to withstand the corrosive claws of time and the temporal temperament of political machinations, which will sponge and wash away facts to protect its own interests. Bayonets sliced open throats, revealing the uvula, dangling in decay and silence. Eyes closed as bullets riddled through their bodies. Heads smashed and obliterated by batons or the butts of guns. School uniforms drenched, clotted, and caked with blood. Organs barely held in place by the haphazard repair; caused by the vicious defacement which brought their life to an end.  It is all meticulously recorded, by a young fifteen year old, Dong-ho, who becomes the central figure of the novel; the soul and nucleus, whose death ripples long afterwards.

The dear Dong-ho begins the novel in the heat of the uprising. Just as the resistance has gained a foothold and commandeered government office, which now houses the dead, he inventories the causalities with as much detail as possible in order to help grieving families identify their lost ones. The tide turns. The army is dispatched and enters the city of Gwangju. He is encouraged to leave by colleagues, revolutionaries and his own family. He is too young; to naïve; too inexperienced, to understand the gravity of the situation which will soon engulf him. Despite the persistent orders and pleas he stays. Following suit the actions that take place in the provincial office and the city will reverberate throughout the citizens, residents, and families, as it echoes through the nation before being displayed to the world. It is here one gets a recount of the horrors of the crackdown. The dismembered. The mutilated. The wounded. The beaten. The bludgeoned. The shot. All lied out in a space growing smaller with the rate in which they arrive. Yet the time to relax or have reprieve in these few moments of regrouping, are always ended the same way they began. The scene is recounted, with great lyricism, maneuvering away from shock and protest, but slowly guiding one into the dignity of the work, the dignity of the people—living and dead—and the dignity of their principles.

Unceremoniously the bodies which were inventoried, cleaned and provided some dignity where quickly carted away by the military, after they continued with the rampage and massacre. It is here Dong-ho’s pondering of the soul is given a more brutal revelation, as he watches the disposal of their bodies. Piled up one after another, they lay in their brutal reticence, as gas is poured over their bodies, and scattered eyed soldiers light their matches and set the world alight. All an attempt at covering their crimes. An attempt at justifying their behaviours. They are just soldiers following orders; nothing more than a mere dog following the commands of a cruel master. Some, however, where more eager and rabid to fulfill those orders. Blood thirsty, depraved, and longing for another battle like Vietnam, they gladly returned to their guns, their tanks, their helicopters, and sought to reap destruction; plowing down civilian after civilian with sadistic glee. Up in embers, smoke, and ash the souls too find release from the world. They call out, they seek, they search, but no one can return their sorrowful goodbyes. No one can be found. This scene is recounted in the most wistful and surreal way. It never falls into melodramatics, but recounts with gentle lyricism the event as it unfolds, and doesn’t concern itself with the act of destruction, or the fate of the bodies, but the restless search and passing as it happens.

The following scenes move closer and closer to the present. Each chapter introduces yet another voice in the polyphonic chorus that harks back to the Gwangju Uprising. They recount with stoic severity their endurance in torture and interrogations; their desire to publish plays; their memories of the first inclinations of protest and uprising. One scene from another voice, recounts how she was merely sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch at university, when protestors marched through the hall, to hang a sign declaring Chun Doo-hwan a butcher, and calling for his end. Plainclothes policemen in pursuit, burst through the doors to end the protest. All in attendance—bystander or not—is equally guilty. The scene is recounted via Han Kang’s penetrating and poignant lyricism, the rush only described by its fixation in a singular object: a spoon, which sits suspended in surprise before falling after its holder is ripped from her seat. Finally the story ends with the poignant memories of a mother, remembering her child: Dong-ho; his death ever present in her life, her family, a topic of both resentment and dignity. Each scene, which grows further and further away, recounts even after thirty years, the uprising, the massacre, the protests, and the destruction, still resides in their shadows. It attempted to strip the dignity away from each individual. Instead it secured their dignity, their resolve, and their principles.

Han Kang’s novel: “Human Acts,” is not necessarily a novel about acquiring power and retaining it. Rather, it is a novel about the unbreakable, unbent, and resolute security of human dignity, even in the face of inhumane acts against it. It’s a lyrical and poignant novel, riddled with stoicism, as it discusses the interpersonal natures of national events, in their most private and personal moments, rather than the grand epics which shaped a nation. After all, it is only shaped by those who fought for it.  Han Kang expertly maneuvers around melodramatic, the cheap, the kitschy, and the pitfalls of dealing with such an event. She treats the matter seriously; but provides accountancy in its moments, in its experiences, in the objects; not in the graphics. It’s a beautiful novel that traces the vibrations and ripples through time. The massacre remains embedded in memories, embroidered in shadows, taking form in contemplations of now lost opportunities, in dreams destined to remain unfulfilled. A stunning and beautiful work, but also personal for author who for the first nine years of her life had lived in the city which would fall under siege. It’s a lyrical testament to dignity, to history, and to personal convictions which will always change the current. My personal resistance to read Han Kang was and is nothing but complete foolhardy on my part. Han Kang is an amazing writer, a well-deserved writer for her recognition and admiration. Her prose is welcoming, gentle, lyrical and piercing in a style all her own. “Human Acts,” is a beautiful novel as discusses dignity in the most undignified places, and its ability to resist corruption, and retain its own stance of being unbreakable and uncompromising. Despite the septic violence thrown it human dignity remains unspoiled. “Human Acts,” is a powerful novel for all those who are interested in reading Korean literature and take an interest in its contemporary history—tragic and otherwise.

Han Kang is a master of lyrical language, which is engaging and penetrating. She discusses events in the peripherals, fixating on objects and experiences. She eschews melodramatic and shock value matter, to ensure the material is never written off as being exaltingly political or revolutionary in tone. It does not concern itself with the political, but rather the personal, the convictions exemplified by the principled youth and people who sought for change and rebelled. Those individuals now lost in fires or mass graves are fondly remembered, their sacrifices and principles changed the direction of a nation. Their loss though was a tragedy to their beloved. The lyricism, the second person narrative scheme, and the impersonal narration are a gentle embrace, which invites readers in with little to no pretext or context offered; whereby they are guided through the events with dignified candor, which never slips into the acerbic or critical. The ghosts of the past sit on the backs of those who have survived like skeletons, embracing them, but not shackling them. Their haunted memories are troubled, but the realities of the present rational to their struggles. A piercing read which celebrates the dignity of the human soul, spirit, and shadow in the face of the mocking macabre face of violence. It’s a power quiet and understated book, which does not concern itself with the predilections of politics, the notions of justice, or the proclivities and philosophies of retribution and revenge. “Human Acts,” is a stoic celebration of dignity, through emotional intensity and power, which is never forced or contrite; but genuine and graceful. Han Kang is a writer who superbly understands the notion of grace, and artfully imbeds this into her language.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 2 May 2019

Les Murray, Dies Aged 80

Hello Gentle Reader

Les Murray was one of the most renowned and powerful voices of poetry bellowing and blowing from Australia, has died aged 80. Considered a living national treasure, Les Murray, had pushed Australia beyond its penal colony past, into one of the most powerful voices of English poetry, over the latter half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century. The poetry of Les Murray was founded in the rural landscape of his childhood, on a dairy farm in New South Wales. His poetry is known for its frank and blunt discussions, as the poet despised elitism which demoted and demanded relegation. His poetry often bristled with anger and resentment, as the culturally established ensured its pointed perspective retained its exclusive place, while alienating others to the fringe circles or outcasts. His famous essays denote the modernists such as T.S. Eliot and Erza Pound as practitioners of windbaggery. His poems also carry anti-establishment principles, which maybe formed from his troubled and unfortunate days at school, where he was taunted for his weight and mocked for his social class and poverty. Yet the biggest event that changed the poet’s life was the death of his mother when he was twelve, due to complications of a miscarriage. His father fell into a state of grief, and Les Murray remained the chain to reality from there on out. His mother’s death was due to the doctor failing to call an ambulance soon enough to get her to the hospital, is said to be the spark of his outrage against the establishment and the urban elite, as it cost others gravely in the long run. The themes of dispossession, relegation, and a demand for independence became the cornerstones of his poetry; despite being a admired, renowned, acclaimed, and decorated poet and writer. This perspective would be made towards the idea of colonialism as well, though he praised the pioneers of their time, he refuted the notion that Australia should remain shackled to the common wealth and its colonial progenitors, and instead strike out on its own as a republic worthy of its own name and merit. His poetry often carried a nationalistic trajectory, praising the landscape and the aboriginals who inhabit the land long before hand. His work often incorporates Australian dialect or vernacular terms, in them to give them their added national linguistic enjoyment, portraying the country as independent in spirit and language, severing the apron strings in metaphor if not in reality. His poetry was physical in form, rooted in Australia, its landscape, its people, and his own childhood which had provided him the necessary material to publish thirty collections of poems, two verse novels, and countless essays and anthologies.

A favourite to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Les Murray often stated he was not interested in the award. Despite this, he was often seen as a perennial candidate for the award, for his open, honest and direct works of poetry, which eschewed the pomp and pretense of the modernists, in favour of a style that was inclusive for all to enjoy. In this regard, Les Murray had a liberal idea of the concept of poetry, he believed, everywhere in all forms people performed poetry, as it was not designated exclusively to language; which included in his opinion everything from dance to chopping wood. Yet, thankfully in the case of Les Murray it was designated in the form of language.

Rest in Peace Les Murray.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary