It could’ve been funny.

I’m currently still in the process of formulating a routine for myself. Well, I suppose I already have a routine, but it seems necessary to reframe one in which I’m not dreading every waking and sleeping moment. There aren’t too many other moments, mind you. Working for 9.5 hours, returning home, sleeping, and then returning back to work all over again isn’t even something to give a vague name to.

Pushkin dreamed: “I want to live to think and suffer!”
To Live, To Think, And Suffer.
Living encompassed by a variety pack of suffering, leaving no opportunity for the mind to wander and think for just a moment, is not quite what I would call living. Not quite at all.

This spills over past working hours as well.
Last night after I stepped onto the F train at 63rd and Lexington, after it went approximately 400 feet, after I had been working for 9.5 hours, the train stopped. Not the most unusual experience, but it stayed stopped for an hour and forty minutes. The first hour wasn’t too bad, no one really seemed to notice how long it was taking until the conductor started mumbling on the intercom about “technical difficulties” with the train ahead of us.

During this time, a woman came up to me with the question “Do you speak Russian?”
At first glance, and even second, I wouldn’t have guessed that she was Russian. But upon third and forth considerations, it was possible that she came from the Eastern districts of Russia. But how she happened to be here now, in New York City, on the F train in Manhattan, speaking perhaps a graspful of words of English, trying to get to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, I have no idea.

I tried to explain to her that the train was stopped because of “technical difficulties” with the train ahead of us, but if I ever knew how to say train in Russian, that was not the moment in which I could have remembered. All my mind could focus on was getting off of my feet and getting home, after already spending an hour on a stopped train trying not to think about having to wake up in the morning, return to work, and make coffee all over again for people who clearly just want a cup of cream to sip on.

By the time the train started moving backwards, back to the station we were only four hundred feet away from the whole time, she had chosen me as the one who could help her. She only had five dollars so taking a cab to another train station wasn’t within the realms of possibility. Since the B wasn’t running, the Q was the only other train she could take. I tried to describe to her where the Q station was, but with every word I said she returned my eye contact only with the attempt (in vain) to understand the sounds coming out of my mouth.

Finally, I just said “I’ll walk you there. Don’t worry, I can show you where the train station is”. The train returned to 63rd and Lex after an hour and forty minutes of wasted life, and we emerged from the lower levels upon lower levels of escalators. I immediately lit a cigarette, pissed off at the time spent on the train, and vaguely frustrated that now I had this woman in tow. She borrowed my lighter to light her Marlboro Light. The Q station was only about six blocks away; we didn’t speak during our walk. Could we have? Even if there was the chance of being understood, what would either of us have said?

When we got to the station she hugged me tightly and repeated “spaseeba”. I wished and searched my memory but fell short at saying “you’re welcome” in anything but English.

It wasn’t until I was finally home, in bed minutes before I would fall asleep, that I realized that I didn’t even ask her name. That’s the kind of frustration and impatience and indifference that this job is awakening in me. In any other light, that entire situation would have been comic, playful, a colourful anecdote where I happened to have an interaction with someone who wasn’t an unwelcome male chatting me up in the street. But instead it was all refracted with the tragic light of what I was unable to do.

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the act of writing from notebook to macbook

When writing on a sheet of paper with a piece of pencil, it is close to impossible to see the image of one’s reflection on that sheet of paper. One may even be writing in an attempt to articulate said image.

On a type writer, the keys may shine enough to offer glimmers of a distorted mirror.

With a computer, it takes just the right angle to avoid seeing oneself. Sometimes regardless of the brightness one cannot avoid staring past the screen into this unwanted makeshift mirror.

Aiming the arrow–why write

The other morning I started filling in/out an application. It never occurred to me that both those directions would be appropriate. Regardless.

The application was for a writing mentorship. I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but I started filling it with the thought that, “Hey, if I finish it, I might as well turn it in”. I rattled off a few paragraphs for each question, but then I went back to the first question, which I had intentionally skipped to begin with because it put me on edge;

“What do you hope to achieve as a writer?”

First of all, the word achieve puts me on edge. The most in my head that I hope to achieve is to be a writer. If I were to set up goals for my writing to accomplish, then my writing would be steered towards that accomplishment. The track would be laid out and we all know how difficult it is (though not impossible) for trains to jump tracks.

However, this did bring up some thought and concern. Why do I want to write? I’ve wanted to write poetry ever since the second grade when I entered one of those scam poetry.com contests, but that’s probably/mostly because I enjoyed writing poetry. Since then my writing passes between poetry and literary criticism and philosophical sprinkling. My manuscript attempted to emphasize the relationship between text and the reader. But if the reader were to notice this relationship that I am pointing at, so what? If I go on and on about the different interpretations of a few lines in The Master and Margarita, so what? Will it be useful to anyone?

This notion of usefulness is something that I try not to think of in my writing. Because whatever I deem useful may be entirely overlooked, and the most useless words may be highlighted and examined for days on end. It betrays the idea of what a text is to try to emphasize what is useful, what should be noticed, what should be achieved through the reading.

George Steiner begins his text Tolstoy or Dostoevsky with the line, “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love” and the first page ends with “Through some primary instinct of communion we seek to convey to others the quality and force of our experience. We would persuade them to lay themselves open to it. In this attempt at persuasion originate the truest insights criticism can offer”.

“Debt of love” and “lay themselves open to it” I believe are two of the most important phrases in those lines. Because that is not only what a text is aiming to do, but that is what one’s own writing, whether it be creative or criticism, should aim for as well. The achievement should lie not in hitting the bullseye, but being able to aim the arrow at all, for yourself or for another.

Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writers

1. Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.

2. Style should be suited to the specific person with whom you wish to communicate. (The law of mutual relation.)

3. First, one must determine precisely “what-and-what do I wish to say and present,” before you may write. Writing must be mimicry.

4. Since the writer lacks many of the speaker’s means, he must in general have for his model a very expressive kind of presentation of necessity, the written copy will appear much paler.

5. The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments — like gestures.

6. Be careful with periods! Only those people who also have long duration of breath while speaking are entitled to periods. With most people, the period is a matter of affectation.

7. Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.

8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.

9. Strategy on the part of the good writer of prose consists of choosing his means for stepping close to poetry but never stepping into it.

10. It is not good manners or clever to deprive one’s reader of the most obvious objections. It is very good manners and very clever to leave it to one’s reader alone to pronounce the ultimate quintessence of our wisdom.

26-7-14

“Speech may be sublime but there’s something in the symbols.”

“Suppose someone said: every familiar word, in a book for example, actually carries an atmosphere with it in our minds, a ‘corona’ of faintly indicated uses. —Just as if each figure in a painting were surrounded by delicate shadowy drawings of scenes, as it were in another dimension, and in them we saw the figures in different contexts. —Let’s take this assumption very seriously!”
–Wittgenstein, PI Pt.II §35

They say you can find math in nature, that it’s already there. Similarly, you can find metaphor in understanding seamlessly.

Language is a shadow–and with it come shadows.
Shadows are created by three things; light, angle, perspective.

 

Timeline of the plague throughout history

The other day I was reading up on the plague, and I realized that there wasn’t a comprehensive timeline on any single website. So I compiled the information that I could find and well, here’s a timeline of the plague for anyone else who’s interested.

430 BCE – 2nd year of Peloponnesian War. Thucydides wrote of a disease that is believed to be the Plague. Some scholars debate that it was smallpox. Killed one-third of the population in Athens.

1st Century – Rufus of Ephesus, a Greek anatomist, refers to an outbreak of plague in Libya, Egypt, and Syria

160 – Plague contributes to the collapse of the Han empires

165-180 – “Antonine” plague kills five million people of the Roman empire. Emperors Lucius Verus (in 169) and Marcus Aurelius (in 180) also succumb to the plague.

262 – A plague in Rome kills about 5000 people a day

540 – An outbreak of the plague occurs at Pelusium, Egypt.

541 – “Justinian plague” kills a quarter of the population in the Mediterranean region. 25 million worldwide. Lasted till about 750

Continue reading “Timeline of the plague throughout history”

Translations of ‘The Master and Margarita’; The Many Lines to Read

“Afterward, when it was frankly too late, various persons collected their data and issued descriptions of this man. As to his teeth, he had platinum crowns on the left side and gold ones on the right. He wore an expensive gray suit and foreign shoes of the same color as his suit. His gray beret was stuck jauntily over one ear and under his arm he carried a walking stick with a knob in the shape of a poodle’s head. He looked slightly over forty. Crooked sort of mouth. Clean-shaven. Dark hair. Right eye black, left eye for some reason green. Eyebrows black, but one higher than the other. In short–a foreigner.”
-From Michael Glenny’s translation of The Master and Margarita

“Afterward, when–frankly speaking–it was already too late, various official institutions filed reports describing this man. A comparison of these reports can only cause astonishment. Thus, the first says that the man was short, had gold teeth, and limped on the right foot. The second, that the man was of enormous height, had platinum crowns, and limped on the left foot. The third states laconically that the man had no special distinguishing characteristics. We must discard all these reports as quite worthless.
To begin with, the man described did not limp on either foot, and was neither short nor enormous in height, but simply tall. As for his teeth, he had platinum crowns on the left side of his mouth, and gold ones on the right. He wore an expensive gray suit and foreign shoes of the same color. His gray beret was worn at a jaunty angle over his ear, and under his arm he carried a cane with a black handle in the form of a poodle’s head. He appeared to be in his forties. His mouth was somehow twisted. He was smooth shaven. A brunet. His right eye was black; the left, for some strange reason, green. Black eyebrows, but one higher than the other. In short, a foreigner.”
-From Mirra Ginsburg’s translation of The Master and Margarita

Alright. So if it isn’t apparent, these two quotations were taken from the same portion of The Master and Margarita. Obviously there are discrepancies to be expected from different translations, especially from a language such as Russian–sometimes there is more interpretation required. But what drew my interest to this section of text in particular are not the differences in text/translation, but what those differences, to me, draw attention to in the text. In my opinion, these differences lead to two completely different texts.

Let’s begin with the similarities. Wait, no, let’s begin with who this is describing, because that is terribly important as well. Professor Woland, whose name isn’t revealed until later, is a mysterious foreigner. Presumably German. Woland is a variation on Voland, a demon from Goethe’s Faust, and for a time Woland was used as a synonym for Satan in German. The homage to Goethe’s Faust is apparent from the quotation that opens Book One.

Hold on. I was going to touch upon how the Glenny and Ginsburg translated the Faust quote differently, but then after checking my Walter Kaufmann translation, I realized that Kaufmann’s translation is incredibly different!

Okay, so here’s Glenny’s version:

“Say at last–who art thou?

“That Power I serve
Which wills forever evil
Yet does forever good.”

Here’s Ginsburg’s:

“Who art thou, then?”
“Part of that Power which eternally wills
evil and eternally works good.”

And here’s Kaufmann’s

“Enough, who are you then?”

“Part of that force which would
Do evil evermore, and yet creates the good.”

Continue reading “Translations of ‘The Master and Margarita’; The Many Lines to Read”

last night i finished reading ‘the master and margarita’ for the first time

and  i’ve immediately come up with a project for myself. which is good and bad because it involves Crime and Punishment and Faust but in the way that it seems you cannot write about one book without writing about seven.

The list of texts I’ll have to discuss so far are: Goethe’s FaustCrime and PunishmentThus Spoke ZarathustraDoctor Faustus, and The Master and Margarita.

Although due to the fact that I was initially planning on writing about Crime and Punishment and War and Peace together means that I may have to include War and Peace in this, but perhaps will have to separate the project of the two specific novels into a different project. But at the end of the day, each of these texts is aimed at accomplishing a similar task (I would prefer not to use the word goal) and that is what I hope to focus on.

 

I guess this is now the…third book I have decided to write?

Paradoxical Dostoevsky by Gary Saul Morson

If Dostoevsky has ever flashed through your mind as an interest, I highly recommend giving the article Paradoxical Dostoevsky by Gary Saul Morson; one of the most eloquent and illustrative pieces I have read written about Dostoevsky. And for my own purposes, it creates a phenomenal stepping stone for comparing Dostoevsky and Nietzsche in a new and playful manner.

To any reader of Dostoevsky’s the presence of paradox is difficult to miss. As Morson notes, a great deal of the time Dostoevsky will narrate what happens by articulating what does not happen, or by listing all the potential possibilities because he himself had not planned how the story would end, so he set himself up for as many possibilities as he could.

It’s almost as though Dostoevsky was playing chess with language whenever he wrote. At the beginning of the text/game, there are many potential moves, and as good chess players know, it’s important to go through all of these potential moves in one’s mind in order to be prepared for whatever your opponent offers. And in this case, Dostoevsky is merely playing chess against himself.

The paradoxes in Dostoevsky are the diving board from which Nietzsche will dive into the abyss, only to find that Dostoevsky is already down there. (Morson even relates the notion of eternal recurrence to Dostoevsky) The humor in Dostoevsky is not as easily found as it is in Nietzsche (although the laughter and pity in Nietzsche have been overlooked until recently). Whether or not it has to do with translations and differing cultural humor is unclear, but if anything the paradoxes should be the first to send the reader into a chuckle.

Continue reading “Paradoxical Dostoevsky by Gary Saul Morson”

now what is the word for it?

comfort
the word rings like a summers bird
at 4:33 in
the morning
right before gulls will leave and bird may migrate

if they so choose.
sleep comes to those who know what to expect
what is just as it should be.
a shoulder is only a shoulder if it’s there.

a bed is a bed only if it’s comfy.
no. not if it’s comfy. that pays no matter, it’s
broke now
of course.
one is too
one is too
one is just right
said the locks
on the doors
broken
refurnished
remade