better than my own kind
May 28, 2009, 12:55 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: ,

Animals, even wild ones, provide for children who have suffered human treachery.  Our own kind and all associated trappings or values,  or what have you – comfort, family, home, love – haven’t helped these children who escape it all, or are thrown out, to live alone or with beasts.   Some, as here, prefer it to home; the mutual interest worked out, the simplicity, the peace. 

“In all my travels, the only time I ever slept deeply was when I was with wolves… The days with my wolf family multiplied. I have no idea how many months I spent with them but I wanted it to last forever – it was far better than returning to the world of my own kind. Today, though most memories of my long journey are etched in tones of grey, the time spent with the wolves… is drenched in colour. Those were the most beautiful days I had ever experienced.”

Quote from Misha Defonseca, a Jewish orphan who, from the ages of seven to 11, wandered through occupied Europe in World War II, living on wild berries, raw meat and food stolen from farmhouses, and occasionally teaming up with wolves.

-Feral Children by jfrater on


believing is seeing
May 21, 2009, 11:04 pm
Filed under: unseen world | Tags:

believing is seeing

kyungwoo chun, believing is seeing # 7, 2006-2007
on never never land

sparse counted out coins
May 21, 2009, 5:05 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

Again, from Naples, the essay by Benjamin, here is a story of ephemerality:  a man drawing in chalk on a pavement, people passing and gathering, a picture of Christ, coins dropping, people leaving.  Too, you could see it as a story of mystery – of negotiation, transaction, perhaps even transubstantiation.

In their materials too, the street decorations are closely related to those of the theatre.  Paper plays the main part.  Red, blue and yellow fly-catchers, altars of colored glossy paper on the walls, paper rosettes on the raw chunks of meat.  Then the virtuosity of the variety show.  Someone kneels on the asphalt, a little box beside him, and it is one of the busiest streets.  With colored chalk he draws the figure of Christ on the stone, below it perhaps the head of the Madonna.  Meanwhile a circle has formed around him, the artist gets up, and while he waits beside his work for fifteen minutes or half an hour, sparse counted-out coins fall from the onlookers onto the limbs, head and trunk of his portrait.  Until he gathers them up, everyone disperses, and in a few moments the picture is erased by feet.

Naples, Walter Benjamin

discreet intoxication of hazard
May 21, 2009, 3:31 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , ,

This is from an essay on Naples by Walter Benjamin.  Lore, legend, history – many influences, I am sure – assign cities character.  The politically correct decry it, but generalizations are always at least partially true, and interesting, and useful.  Here, Naples gets called indolent.  Southern places always get this rap – I guess it’s sunny, life is slow, the siesta has been instutionalized.  And everything now is measured by domestic product, ridiculously.

I asked my Italian coworker about this list; he humoured me and we discussed an alternate version of it he had grown up with – Bologna was gluttony and Genoa greed.  But he didn’t linger with me and said people don’t like to talk about it; people are sensitive about their birthplaces.  I persisted with a last thought, that outsiders are interested in it.  Now as I am writing this, I think more specifically outsiders from no place of their own are interested in it.

Trade, deeply rooted in Naples, borders on a game of chance and adheres closely to the holiday.  The well known list of the seven deadly sins located pride in Genoa, avarice in Florence (the old Germans were of a different opinion and called what is known as Greek love Florinzen), voluptuousness in Venice, anger in Bologna, greed in Milan, envy in Rome and indolence in Naples.  Lotto, alluring and consuming as no where else in Italy, remains the archetype of business life.  Every Saturday at four o’clock, crowds form in front of the house where the numbers are drawn.  Naples is one of the few cities with its own draw.  With the pawn shop and lotto, the state holds the proletariat in a vise:  what it advances to them in one, it takes back in the other.  The more discreet and liberal intoxication of Hazard, in which the whole family takes part, replaces that of alcohol.

From the essay Naples by Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis in the book Reflections.

it needs you but it is not on your side
May 19, 2009, 12:20 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

A man brings a large burden to Salon’s Cary Tennis – a sick wife, advanced age and an unrealized childhood dream to write which has fallen short of the mark.  Tennis’s response – to go to the core motivation and to recognize and spurn superficials like awards or sales – is tonic for the compromised artist.

From I feel like quitting writing

But at the age of 55 I now believe that my adolescent insight was essentially correct: As creative people, we do exist in fundamental opposition to the dominant culture. Knowing this, we do not wait to be chosen. Rather, we fight to be heard.

So remember that as a writer you must find your motivation internally, not in external rewards, and you work in opposition to the system, not as a supplicant to the system. Whatever contingent truces you have maintained with the system in order to participate in its orderly orgies of consumption and distribution, good for you. But you are not a part of the system. You are a free creative worker. You do not need the system to do your creating. You only need it as a utility to reach your audience, and increasingly not even for that.

On the other hand, the system cannot create anything on its own. It can only manage and distribute. So it needs you.

It needs you but it is not on your side. Remember that.

tintin and america
May 8, 2009, 1:30 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is an article that asks why Tintin is such a popular comic in Europe but relatively unknown in America.   It misses the mark by a wide margin, but it’s still interesting to read.  It never really answers the question and it spends a lot of time making the case for the author Herge having extreme views – racist, fascist.

Tintin was my favorite reading at a certain phase growing up in India.  I have always thought that Tintin worked as a hero in Europe but not in America; and that it had a lot to do with the basic make up of the two minds.  There are so many crass observations that can be made – liberal Europe, provincial America, old Europe, modern America etc –

However, there are general comments that can be made about the difference between the two attitudes.  I can think of two, one relating to a body/mind dichotomy and the second to morality.

That the small, smart Tintin is a European hero implies Europe values thought over force, mind over body.  Tintin thinks:  his body is small and unimportant, he muses and plots, he outwits.  In contrast, an American superhero acts:  his body and costume are critically large and lurid; he makes declarative statements; he achieves his goal through brute force.

Another clear difference between a European and an American comicbook hero – and ostensibly a difference between their two minds – is their respective attitudes toward clarity/ambiguity.  For instance, the American hero John Wayne was morally unambiguous – he knew the guys in the white hats were good and the guys in the black hats were bad.  It was a code; he didn’t question it; why question that the other, the outsider is evil?  Sergio Leone loved the western genre but knew the moral clarity of the American hero could never work with the European mind.  So, the Italian western hero – embodied by Clint Eastwood – was decidedly morally ambiguous, and much more interesting.  Men could be bad and good at the same time, like in real life.  The reason Tintin is not an American hero is his moral ambiguity, or as it’s simplistically described in this article, his ‘neutrality.’

From the article, Tintin: A Very European Hero

All societies reveal themselves through their children’s books. Europe’s love affair with Tintin is more revealing than most.


There is a link between Hergé, this disappointing man, and his creation Tintin, who fights against despots so bravely. It lies in the rationalisation of impotence: a very European preoccupation.

The key to Tintin is that he has the mindset of “someone born in a small country”, says Charles Dierick, in-house historian at the Hergé Studios. He is “the clever little guy who outsmarts big bullies”. And as a little guy, even a clever one, Tintin’s bravery works within limits: he rescues friends, and foils plots. But when he finds himself in Japanese-controlled Shanghai, in “The Blue Lotus”, he can do nothing to end the broader problem of foreign occupation.


Interviewed late in life, Hergé acknowledged the links between his wartime experiences and his moral outlook. The second world war lies behind a great deal in Tintin, just as it lies deep beneath the political instincts of many on the European continent. It matters a lot that the Anglo-Saxon world has a different memory of that same war: it is a tragic event, but not a cause for shame, nor a reminder of impotence.

Tintin has never fallen foul of the 1949 French law on children’s literature. He is not a coward, and the albums do not make that vice appear in a favourable light. But he is a pragmatist, albeit a principled one. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon audiences want something more from their fictional heroes: they want them imbued with the power to change events, and inflict total defeat on the wicked. Tintin cannot offer something so unrealistic. In that, he is a very European hero.

Tintin A Very European Hero The Economist

no siestas for me
May 5, 2009, 8:45 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Here’s another quotation from Carlos Fuentes’ article How I Started to Write.  What a strange beast the mexican-calvinist!

Calvin has had enough influence, don’t you think, like Milton Freedman and Ayn Rand.  Time to just say thanks but we’re not interested anymore; to try out some better theories and try to salvage some balance in our early century lives.

From M. Fuentes article:

I also became the original Mexican Calvinist:  an invisible taskmaster called Puritanical Duty shadows my every footstep:  I shall not deserve anyting unless I work relentlessly for it, with iron discipline, day after day.  Sloth is sin, and if I do not sit at my typewriter every day at 8 am for a working day of seven to eight hours, I will surely go to hell.  No siestas for me, alas and alack and helas and ay-ay-ay:  how I came to envy my Latin bretheren, unburdened by the Protestant work ethic, and why must I, to this very day, read the complete works of Hermann Broch and scribble in my black notebook on a sunny Mexican beach instead of lolling the day away and waiting for the coconuts to fall?

May 4, 2009, 11:45 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: ,


Pilgrims in India from SwiatoSlaw WojTkowiak on flickr.