The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 9 February 2020

Five Losses in the New Year

Hello Gentle Reader

It is now the second month into the New Year. Sadly, five writers of staggering intellect and literary powers have already died. These writers were experts in their crafts; be it: prose, poetry, or criticism. They were renowned in their languages, their fields, and by their readers; they could both endear, irritate, shock. Their deaths herald a slow end to a previous generation of writers; or their soon to be noticeable absence, will hard to fill if not impossible, as their work was strong in character and form.   

Hubert Mingarelli—

The French writer Hubert Mingarelli died January 26. During his writing career, Hubert Mingarelli had proven himself to being a prolific writer. His first debut as a writer came in the form of children’s literature. Children and the young are prevalent characters and protagonists of his work. His novel “Four Soliders,” (“A Winters Meal,”) has a young man as a character who has barely left adolescences. “Four Soldiers,” (“A Winters Meal,”) was the first novel of Hubert Mingarelli’s to be translated into English, and was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize last year. The novel takes place after the First World War, in Russia during the civil war. The novel was awarded the Prix Médicis. Another hallmark of Mingarelli’s work was its attention to history and war. His last novel “La Terre Invisible,” was nominated for the Prix Goncourt. His last novel recounted the journey of war photographer during the end of the Second World War, and his travels through the hellish landscape of what was Nazi Germany. Military, conflict, and the existential dilemmas lasting afterwards, also play an intricatle part in his work, which may be attributed to his time spent in the navy, and the fact that Hubert Mingarelli left school at an early age. Hubert Mingarelli’s literary language was also renowned for its refined sensibilities, and avoiding adjectives. Mingarelli employed a direct and matter of fact language, which described the world as it was seen and perceived, rather than one being idealized or suffering from characters judgement. Through an otherwise concise language, Hubert Mingarelli was able to create a literary measurement of time and space through passages remarking on the suns position or a clouds colour; but also provide inclinations towards the internal perceived through the external, such as the black water, or the scent of honeysuckle. Hubert Mingarelli was an extraordinary French language writer, who was just beginning to get his work exposed in the English language.

Rest in Peace, Hubert Mingarelli.

Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke—

Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke was an acclaimed Greek poet and translator; she died at the age of 81 in late January. Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke was a highly educated writer, studying in her native Greece, France and Switzerland; and of particular note studying at the school of Translation and Interpreting, where she learned to speak and translate from English, French and Russian into her native Greek. As a poet, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke was one of the contemporary Greek literatures finest. Anghelaki-Rooke was often herald as a living classic. Her literary career could be described with legendary finesse. When the poet was a year old, the then celebrated Greek writer and critic Nikos Kazantzakis, was present at her baptism as her godfather. At seventeen her first poem (“All Alone,”) was published to great acclaim; by the time she was in her early twenties she already established herself as a poet. During the military dictatorship which gripped Greece from the late sixties until the mid-seventies; Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke along with her fellow young poets, broke away from the self-imposed silence encouraged by Nobel Laureate Giorgos Seferis, and wrote poems about the censorship and confusion of the time. In the company of a few other poets, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke was able to release a small anthology of these new poets, would become a bridge between the postwar poets of: Eleni Vakalo and Kiki Dimoula; and the new generation: Maria Laina and Jenny Mastoraki. The poetry of Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke is consistently praised for its lyrical accessibility. Her poems ranged from the metaphysical and mythical in relation to the everyday and mundane; to poems of flesh, indiscretion, and sex. The human body is an intricate aspect of her poetry. The flesh and the soul are not separate or disconnected, but continually intertwined. The dependency on the body, the suffering, and the reactions it has to time, aging, illness, and crisis—are all examined under her lyricism. Any creative notion, lofty idealism, or idea is first interpreted and translated via the body’s experience. Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke has a modest output of poetry translated into the English language. Her work is regarded for its high lyricism and its earthly ruminations. In her native Greece, the government itself came forward to share in the grief of the people and the literary, at the passing of one of their greatest poets.

Rest in Peace, Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke.

George Steiner—

George Steiner was one of the greatest literary polymaths of the Twentieth Century. He is predecessor to such critics and theorists as: Harold Bloom, James Wood, and Michael Dirda. Steiner was a tireless advocate of the literary becoming a force to achieve the ideal; though he lamented the decline of literary values, and reading as an activity. George Steiner blamed the decline of literary importance on the democratization of high cultural values, diminishing and tarnishing the high pursuits of quality literature. George Steiner argued that these same academic institutions—the guardians of the highest pursuits of human achievement—were responsible for the sudden water down aspects of cultural ideals, in favour of the popular culture, which has since reigned with tenacious domination. In the sixties, the academic and classically minded literary critic, found nothing worth admiration. Instead he viewed the counter-culture of the time with contempt and enragement. He openly questioned the United States involvement in Vietnam, and the subsequent war. His tired frustration with the United States—culturally and politically—was openly expressed in an essay where he described American music as provincial; their philosophical exports as weightless. His elitist perspective on literature and high cultural values drew the disdain and criticism from others. Despite the criticism leveraged against him by fellow academics; universities never missed an opportunity to provide him a lectureship, or bestow an accolade on him. Beyond his academic achievements—by all accounts, George Steiner was an accomplished academically capable man—Steiner was a renowned critic, becoming the successor of Edmund Wilson as the senior book reviewer for The New Yorker, a post Steiner held from 1966 until 1977. Along with the late Harold Bloom, George Steiner fiercely defended the West Canon of art and literature, and was nauseated by the burgeoning literary criticism of the time: New Criticism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction critical analysis; which is ironic considering his otherwise quasi-religious perspective with regards to literature, to assist society obtain and retain higher ideals. His otherwise conservative and erudite essays riddled and peppered with obscure literary references created dissidence with his readers. On one hand he was admired by his readers for his defense of the literature as a high ideal. On the other hand Steiner was considered vaporous, pompous, and a pretentious curmudgeon who riddled his work with inaccuracies. Regardless of ones perspective on George Steiner as critic and writer, and his output and defense of literature as perhaps one of the greatest creative ventures an individual can undertake is admirable. Steiner perpetrated the idea that reading was a moral activity, one that should be viewed with serious concerns of societal matters, and not reduced to the frivolities of pleasures. Regardless of where one stands on their opinion of George Steiner or his work, he is arguably one of the most important literary critics and theorists of the Twentieth Century.  

Rest in Peace, George Steiner.

Kamau Brathwaite—

Kamau Brathwaite was one of the greatest poets coming from the Caribbean—hailing from Barbados. Throughout his literary output which included both poetry and essay, Kamau Brathwaite, celebrated the African roots of the Caribbean, and their people. These roots became intricate in their post-colonial identities. His poetry is noted for using a jazz like rhythm and timbre tone to exalt the distant roots, and ancient identities of Africa now transplanted into the Caribbean. His poetry recounted the forceful removal from the continent, the horrors of the Middle Passage, slavery, freedom, and the search for economic and psychological fulfillment throughout the world in a post-colonial world, and the reshaping of a new world without colonization. Brathwaite’s poetry refuted the iambic pentameter utilized by the classics of the English language. The form itself oozed with nostalgia of greater powers, celebrated colonization, and ignored travesties; while remaining celebratory of its own bloated pompous self. The iambic pentameter could never grasp or express the experiences of the hurricanes, slavery, or the distant and ancient identity of a forlorn continent. In his historical analysis of the English language of the disposed slaves and their descendants: “History of The Voice: The Development of Nation Language,”—Braithwaite examined the unique dialect of the Caribbean English linguistics, and deduced that the way words were annunciated, expressed, grammatically punctuated, and the unique idioms, harked back to their linguistic heritage of Africa. Kamau Brathwaite embraced these unique intricacies and cultural adaptions in his poetry, which was designed for performance and to be recited for people to consume verbally; rather than read in literary terms. In this regard Kamau Brathwiate was the antithesis of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, who embraced the English language and its poetic styles as a part of his heritage, while also touching on his African roots. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Kamau Brathwaite was recognized with many awards, including: Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1994), the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gold Musgrave Medal for Literature, and the Robert Frost Medal for poetry. Kamau Brathwaite is one of the most important poets of the Caribbean. His poetry is enriched by its weather, its history, its mythology. Kamau Brathwaite was also a poetic force of the region, working tirelessly to push Caribbean literature beyond post-colonial perspectives, and embrace its own unique identity, complete with its own linguistic idiosyncrasies, historical context, and heritage. Though Kamau Brathwaite did not receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, his work certainly fit qualifying criteria. Brathwaite pushed the Caribbean literature to new heights, and beyond its post-colonial perspective. Kamau Brathwaite celebrated a still uncertain identity, and in his historical and critical essays, and poetry was able to create an identity based on a shared heritage, use of language, culture, and mythology for the people of Barbados, and other Caribbean nations to have pride in.

Rest in Peace, Kamau Brathwaite.

Pierre Guyotat—

One of Frances most controversial writers, Pierre Guyotat has died. Often called a provocateur of the pornographic; Guyotat’s famously controversial work: “Eden, Eden, Eden,” was considered so morally outrageous for its depiction of graphic sex scenes, it was banned for eleven years for being openly displayed, marketed, or sold to a minor. His most famous novel, however, was: “Tomb for 500, 000 Soldiers.” The novel was considered one of the most important works recounting the Algerian War, which Guyotat was called to serve in; he was however found guilty of desertion, and for publishing forbidden material (other accounts state damaging morale). After his short imprisonment, Pierre Guyotat began to publish and work as a journalist, and embark on one of the most controversial French literary careers of the past century. Despite the controversy of his work, Pierre Guyotat was supported by other writers and French intellectuals. When “Eden, Eden, Eden,” was denied the Prix Médicis by a single vote; Claude Simon resigned from the jury; Jean-Paul Sartre, Italo Calvino, Maurice Blanchot, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Genet openly criticized the authorities blatant censorship; future president François Mitterrand and former president Georges Pompidou attempted to have the ban lifted; and Roland Barthes, Michel Leiris and Philippe Sollers wrote prefaces for it. As a writer, Pierre Guyotat wrote in the transgressive field, and was celebrated for it, while also criticized. Despite the explicit content of his work, which aims to shock and distress readers (and accomplished this task), his well-regarded for exploring the taboo world of society and the psychological state of the individual. His work is well regarded for its brutally honest account of the Algerian War, which is viewed with personal integrity, and historical accuracy. Despite his controversial works, Pierre Guyotat was one of Frances most important and renowned writers. His brutal acerbic accounts, narratives, and dissertations were applauded and appalled by the cultural community and the public; and yet his contributions could never be overlooked or dismissed as trivial, solipsistic, or self-indulgent.

Rest in Peace, Pierre Guyotat

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

M. Mary

No comments:

Post a Comment