Archives for category: Art


He is laughing on us

It would be 61 years in the future, not 53. And the people leaving Southern towns in a new Exodus would be Latino, not black. But otherwise, Ray Bradbury was eerily prophetic. Bradbury, who died June 5 in Los Angeles at the age of 91, was a writer of science
fiction only in the sense that some of his stories were set on other worlds or in alternate realities—there isn’t much science in them. What there is in abundance is a revelation of interior life and what he once described as an effort to prevent the future, which meant arresting the disturbing present. The threat of nuclear annihilation was part of that present, and so was the national nightmare of racial segregation and lynch-mob violence. In “The Million-Year Picnic,” a couple and their three sons land on Mars just as everything on Earth goes dark. The boys believe they are on a vacation trip, and when they ask to see the Martians, Dad shows them their reflection in the waters of a canal. Maybe humanity, as new Martians, can get it right this time.

When I first read last year about the hapless farmers of Alabama and Georgia, whose workforce of skilled but undocumented pickers had departed en masse ahead of the new laws that would have got most of them jailed and deported, something clicked. The farmers were complaining that legal locals just couldn’t hack it. Wayne Smith, a tomato grower in northeast Alabama for 25 years, told the AP he’d never been able to keep a crew of American workers for any length of time. “People in Alabama are not going to do this,” Smith said. “They’d work one day and just wouldn’t show up again.” Millions of dollars worth of crops were going to rot in the fields.

That news from Alabama brought me back to 1952 when I was 12, addicted to EC Comics, from Weird Science and Mad to The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. In the early 1950s, EC began publishing illustrated stories by classic writers of gothic fiction, such as Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allan Poe (safely dead and in the public domain), as well as the living, breathing, 30-ish and copyrighted Ray Bradbury. After the first of these appeared, Bradbury sent the publisher a pleasant note saying that his check must have gone astray. EC apologized for the misappropriation, sent him some money and a contract, and over the next few years published about a dozen illustrated Bradbury stories.

I’m pretty certain one of those stories was titled (in its comic book form) “The Day the Negroes Left the Earth.” In his short-story collection The Martian Chronicles, the title is “June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air,” which was first published with that title in the magazine Other Worlds in July 1950.

Like “The Million-Year Picnic,” “Way in the Middle of the Air” looks to a new beginning. Samuel Teece, proprietor of a hardware store somewhere in the South, is on the porch of his shop with Grandpa Quartermain and some neighbors, and one of them asks if he’s heard about it.

“About what?”
“The niggers, the niggers.”
“What about ’em?”
“Them leaving, pulling out, going away, did you hear? … Every single one here in the South.”

The women of the town come running to find their menfolk. Clara Teece implores her husband to come home because their maid, Lucinda, is leaving. But he’s got problems of his own, and we see them unfold as he tries to deal with two black men, sometime employees, from among the multitudes now tramping down the street past the hardware store, on their way to the rockets that will take them to Mars. The social conventions that have governed race relations in the Jim Crow South prove insufficient to allow Teece to exercise his normal command over them, and both go on their way. The last of them, a 17-year-old named Silly, turns as he leaves and calls to his tormenter, “Mr. Teece, Mr. Teece, what you goin’ to do nights from now on? What you goin’ to do nights, Mr. Teece?”

“What in hell did he mean?,” Teece wonders, and is enraged when it dawns on him that Silly knows of his participation in a gang of night riders. He recalls the “many nights of the wind rushing in the car, flopping their hair over their mean eyes, roaring, as they picked a tree, a good strong tree, and rapped on a shanty door!”

Later, after a failed attempt to chase down and shoot Silly, Teece and his friends are back on the porch as the rockets blast off into space. “Did you notice?” Teece says. “Right up to the very last, by God, he said ‘Mister’!”

Wounded white pride, if not on the order of Teece’s resentment, would seem to account for much of the animus that has propelled the anti-immigrant campaign. The illegal immigration of Polish janitors, Irish nannies and Greek busboys, among others, never seemed to be much of a problem, even when it was common in the ’70s and ’80s—but our nativist rabble has been angry that, in the words of a 1981 New York Times editorial, “We’ve Lost Control of Our Borders.” (And they weren’t referring to Canada.)

The Obama administration’s overzealous ICE raids and deportations, Arizona’s “papers please” law of 2010, and the even more aggressive anti-immigrant laws passed last year in Georgia and Alabama, all seem to have brought the system to the point of collapse. South Carolina, apparently gripped by Antebellum nostalgia, tried to escape a similar fate this year by carving out exemptions for faithful field laborers and household servants, which would seem to defeat the original purpose of the law requiring employers to verify the immigration status of all new hires.

Even in the Pacific Northwest, migrant workers are avoiding chance encounters with the authorities: In Washington state, third-generation grower Al Robison told CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy last fall that for all the unemployed people in the area, he still can’t get “American” workers—Tracy’s word—to pick the required 8,000 pounds of apples, per person per nine-hour day, for $150. (I wonder why?) The state’s apple crop, worth $1.4 billion a year, might not survive long term, said Bruce Grim, state ag-industry executive who wants an expanded official guest-worker program.

As Bradbury sensed in 1940s Dixie—the only change in his 2003 setting seems to be the availability of rocket travel—the old order is once again under tremendous strain. Voting citizens who get hassled on the highways and whose non-citizen friends, relatives, and co-workers have been deported or slammed into ICE detention, are mad as hell—not exactly fired up and ready to go for Obama. The businesses—agriculture, construction, landscaping and others—long dependent on cheap, reliable immigrant labor, will now have to fight their right-wing allies to reverse policy or somehow convince “American workers” to take on hard manual labor for Third World wages.

On their way out, the undocumented may say “Señor,” but it will carry the same sneer as Silly’s “Mr. Teece.”

This image of Earth (on the left) and the moon (on the right) was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on Aug. 26, 2011, when the spacecraft was about 6 million miles (9.66 million kilometers) away. It was taken by the spacecraft’s onboard camera, JunoCam. The solar-powered Juno spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Aug. 5 to begin a five-year journey to Jupiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

That’s what I seem to prize, the child or the ingénue, the less worldly characters. You can say that the world may not be getting worse—in a pinch you can say that. But it absolutely incontrovertibly is getting less innocent. You get the feeling that childhood does not last as long as it used to. Innocence gets harder to hold on to as the world gets older, as it accumulates more experience, more mileage and more blood on the tracks.

Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin [Amis is 62], but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating.

But Thomas Merton belonged to a generation that lived through real apocalypses brought about by political actors: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam. Mary Bryden, a specialist in modern literature, suggests that the recurrent apocalyptic motifs that surface in Merton’s writings reflect two somewhat contradictory notions of how the world might end: one emerging from religious expectation, and the other from a more plausible secular angst. In 1968, the year of his death (caused when an electric fan fell into his bathtub) he wrote in his diary that the news of the murder of Martin Luther King had pressed down upon him “like an animal, a beast of the apocalypse.”

But before this ends the article read:

This shift in doctrine clearly facilitates the cozy relationship between Mitt Romney, the first Mormon Saint ever to have a plausible shot at the US presidency, and his friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During his recent visit to Jerusalem Romney delighted his hosts by calling the disputed city Israel’s capital, although the US and most other countries refuse to do so. He also suggested that because of their own cultural background (rather than the Israeli occupation) the Palestinians were incapable of showing the same level of ”economic vitality” as Israelis. Netanyahu was equally warm, praising and hugging Romney, clearly indicating that he wants Romney to defeat Obama in November. As the Haaretzcommentator Uri Misgav somewhat mischievously put it, the US-educated Netanyahu “doesn’t speak English or even American; he speaks fluent Republicanese.”

More alarming than “Republicanese,” however, may be the apocalyptic mindset both men share.

read here (in Portuguese), this text from Domingos Lobo

Jorge Amado pertence a uma geração de autores brasileiros que produziu, a partir dos anos 1930, uma literatura que começava – depois do fulgor realista de Machado de Assis – a pensar o Brasil fora da herança arcádica do colonialismo, fugindo aos apelos do modernismoe, até, da Renascença Portuguesa em cuja revista Águia poetas como Ronald de Carvalho e Guilherme de Almeida haviam colaborado.

Essa nova geração de poetas e prosadores, de Carlos Drumond de Andrade a Vinícius de Moraes, de Guimarães Rosa a João Cabral de Melo Neto, visava criar uma literatura autónoma face ao legado do romantismo e do realismo portugueses, que fosse, a um tempo, consciente e interventiva, centrada na realidade brasileira e sul-americana, exprimindo uma sintaxe nova mas fugindo ao folclorismo romântico de José de Alencar, e investindo a sua capacidade discursiva na denúncia das escandalosas desigualdades sociais, as misérias e sevícias sofridas pelo povo miúdo, que a crise de 1929 e o avanço, na Europa, do nazi-fascismo tornavam evidentes mesmo num país que tentava, através do discurso hiperbólico de Getúlio Vargas, proclamado pelos seus seguidores como pai dos pobres, manter o Brasil neutral face ao vasto conflito que abalava o mundo. A neutralidade não o impediu, no entanto, de manter clara simpatia pelos países do eixo, de perseguir, com o patrocínio do clero reaccionário, os comunistas e seus companheiros de jornada e de luta.

Read the full article here

Com Gaibéus, de Alves Redol Esteiros, de Soeiro Pereira Gomes, estabelecem-se as coordenadas fundamentais do quadro iniciador de um movimento cultural que pretendia traduzir, no processo literário, a lutapela dignidade da pessoa humana, como Armando Bacelar não deixou de assinalar numa nota crítica publicada em 1947 na revistaVértice.


A obra que Alves Redol ergueu, poderosa na sua configuração estética, interventiva e cultural, iniciou-se como uma contra corrente que se impôs, como antítese, à «política do espírito» desse ideólogo do fascismo que foi António Ferro, mas, de igual modo, e não menos combativo, opondo-se ao conservadorismo estético da Presença, sendo ainda, num registo mais sóbrio, igualmente de ruptura com o ideário político-cultural que António Sérgio e Raul Brandão defendiam nas páginas da Seara Nova.

A escrita de Redol é de claro compromisso com o povo e a sua cultura, com um projecto de elevação social e cultural do povo, definido pelo grupo neo-realista de Vila Franca de Xira (1936/37) e do qual faziam parte Alves Redol, Dias Lourenço, Garcez da Silva, Bona da Silva, Mário Rodrigues Faria, Arquimedes da Silva Santos e Carlos Pato.

Daí a pesquisa incessante das fontes: no Douro, nas lezírias do Tejo, na Lisboa das docas e do operariado urbano; na Nazaré dos amores desesperados, da heroicidade dos homens frente ao mar bravio, revelada em Uma Fenda na Muralha, imaginário que o autor transporta para o guião a partir do qual Manuel Guimarães realizou o filme Nazaré; as conversas no Aljube com um mercenário a soldo do franquismo, ou as metamorfoses de um herói (A Barca dos Sete Lemes); a Lisboa da 2.ª Guerra, cidade povoada de judeus em busca de um passaporte que lhes permitisse serem livres em terras da América (o Cavalo Espantado), tema, sobre a diáspora dos judeus, igualmente presente no livro de contos Nasci com passaporte de turista. Uma busca permanente desse espaço telúrico essencial, a um tempo lírico, desassombrado e agreste, o corpo textual interdependente do corpo social, pelos caminhos em que as tarefas dos homens, dos descamisados, melhor se expressa e afirma. As paisagens humanas, esse conflituoso, esquivo território em que o homem se representa inteiro, se move, se expõe, consciencializa, luta e transfigura.

Alves Redol constrói com autenticidade, uma plêiade imagética única e poderosa na ficção portuguesa de grande parte do século XX, anunciando outro tempo, o tempo da afirmação e da dignidade do humano, da sociabilidade, da arte romanesca como espaço privilegiado de intervenção cultural e política que o neo-realismo veio fixar e, como nenhum outro movimento literário e artístico do século XX português, tornar perene.

Esse posicionamento face à literatura vamos encontrá-lo logo em Gaibéus, no ceifeiro-rebelde, no qual o pensamento do então jovem escritor se projectava. Ele simboliza, no seu esquematismo individual, a idealização da consciência colectiva que só nas obras posteriores o autor desenvolverá com mais clareza. Daí o ceifeiro rebelde, demiurgo do sonho colectivo, saber que «Falava pelos homens que ainda não se haviam encontrado».

Para nos encontrarmos, face às lutas deste nosso tempo, precisamos destas vozes, desse grito que ia para o futuro,destes autores, deste exemplo cívico, cultural e humano que a obra de Alves Redol lúcida e plenamente inscreve na imanência do corpo textual da literatura portuguesa contemporânea.

Repesco aqui um excerto de um texto de Mário Dionísio publicado na Seara Nova em 1942: «Quando mais tarde se estudar a literatura portuguesa do século XX, os seus períodos de apogeu e os seus períodos de decadência, o estudo de Alves Redol impor-se-á como o estudo do primeiro grito de reacção contra a enxurrada de abstenções e falsidades» sobre a realidade desses tempos. A verdade opondo-se à mistificação, eis o que Redol oferece,reclamando, em pleno, o direito de cidade, às letras portuguesas.

Neruda is celebrated by Chileans–as a poet—to a degree that is truly rare on this planet. We in the North are not used to poets being such celebrities. Our great poets are revered and respected, but really only a small fraction of our society have read their poems. In Chile, though, everybody knows Neruda, everybody has read Neruda: miners, housewives, bakers, maids, school children. To his beloved Chilean people, to so many Latin Americans, Neruda is still the source of tremendous pride, regardless of one’s political orientation.

And Neruda was such a Chilean, such a Latin American, in how much he cared for his country, continent and its people. They were his cause, his pride and the most important audience for his poetry. Though he constantly traveled, he would always return to Chile (only living abroad while serving diplomatic positions).

Neruda’s masterpiece, Canto General, is emblematic of his passion for his continent. The epic poem– Canto, as in song– is a class-based Marxist and humanistic interpretation of the history of the Americas, written as Neruda was developing his burgeoning pan-American consciousness and perspective.

“I live, I still live, and I think many of us live inside the world Neruda discovered,” Ariel Dorfman told me on a warm spring day on the Duke campus, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Literature, Latin American Studies and Theater. We had been discussing Canto General, in which, as Dorfman put it, “He basically named Latin America in a new way, and he claimed for Latin America the possibility of being lyrically and epically in a story of resistance. And what was very special about that for me was that he managed to understand that the struggle of the people for their liberation, for their full humanity, was parallel to the struggle of the nature of Latin America to be expressed, to be freed. . . to be shown.”

“From the political aesthetic point of view, Canto General has no equal,” Dorfman, who was exiled from Chile after Pinochet’s 1973 coup, continued, “There’s not one bad verse in Residencia en la tierra, but Canto General is full of verses I would sort of say, well hey, ‘they’re too propagandistic, bombastic.’ But when he hit the target in the Canto General, what he did was he redefined what America meant. América. Even North America, but particularly Latin America.”

Awesome in scope and simultaneously deeply probing, Canto General is considered by many to be one of the more important books in the whole cannon of the world’s poetry. And it extends well beyond the world of well-versed lovers of literature and academic scholars. In 2003, I went to a construction site on a new line of Santiago’s metro in order to interview workers about their thoughts on Neruda. There, José Corriel told me that Canto General was his favorite book by Neruda because it’s “la parte combativa de Neruda,” the combative side. “The importance of Canto General,” he said, “is that it shows us the Américas’ history from a different point of view.” Canto General, he explained, is told from “the point of view of the people themselves, not the history told by the conquerors. Yes, we could call it the ‘history told by the conquered.’”

He indeed drank deeply from that cup, as Latin America’s poetic essence flowed through the book’s two hundred and thirty more poems, in which he named so much of both America’s integrities and its external evils.

Canto General’s literary roots are the lyrics of his hero Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Mayan’s Popul Vuh and, as seen in “Amor América (1400),” the literature of the Bible. “Amor América (1400)” lays out Neruda’s idea of the American Genesis, a pre-Columbian Eden, before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores and the subsequent “imperialistic” foreign powers’ injustices. In this Eden, as Neruda described it, all was pure, so natural that “Man was earth, earthen vase.”

The Europeans extinguished the ancient “lamp on earth,” according to Neruda’s thinking. He portrays the Spanish Conquest as a tragic injustice forced on “his” people, despite his European heritage. The Europeans, to him, were barbarous and ruthless. “Like a wild rose, a red drop fell on the thickness”–so ended America’s Edenic first phase of history. (The poet doesn’t mention, though, the barberry that many pre-Columbian societies had ruthlessly enacted on others within the continent: the blood let by the Inca’s imperialism, the Aztec love of war, the Mayans` human sacrifices, the violence of Apache warriors. . . For he is not just invoking the peaceful indigenous of his land which would be called Chile, he is talking all of the Americas, “from the peace of the buffalo / to the beaten sands of the land’s end.”)

Neruda identifies himself with the indigenous people. “I searched for you, my father, young warrior of darkness and copper,” he writes in “Amor América (1400)”. In the poem, all indigenous people, peaceful and belligerent alike, are his “fathers”; he is their son. Pablo Neruda, though, was actually born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, with no native names in his lineage, but rather Spanish family names, with Neftalí, from his mother, suggesting some Semitic roots.

In Canto General, the “pastoral hermanos” are his brothers, presented as the land itself:

My Araucanian fathers had no

crests of luminous plumes,

they did not rest on nuptial flowers,

they did not spin gold for the priest:

they were stone and tree, roots

When the bestselling Chilean novelist Isabel Allende fled her country after Pinochet’s coup, she couldn’t take much with her, “some clothes, family pictures, a small bag with dirt from my garden, and two books: Eduardo Galleano’s seminal Open Veins of Latin America, and an old edition of Pablo Neruda’s poetry. Like the bag of earth, with Neruda’s words I was taking a part of Chile with me, for Neruda was such a part of my country, such a part of the political dreams destroyed that day.”

Neruda is one of history’s greatest examples of a soul rebel who used his pen as his sword in his constant fight for a better world. At his political core was a populism based on his fundamental belief that the common man, the worker, the poor, deserved a seat at the table as much as anybody else:

Neruda’s communism was not based on egalitarianism, but rather the equality of possibility.

Even as a teenager, witnessing the injustices against the indigenous and working class to which he was exposed, Neruda felt the poet’s calling– el deber del poeta: an obligation, a duty, a debt he owed to give voice to the people through his poetry. He promised a commitment to humanitarianism, using literature to enrich, empower and engage in the pursuit of progressive social change.

Domingos Lobo, a Portuguese writer, presents gives us an account of Victor Hugo‘s The Miserable. 

Para Victor Hugo o romantismo «é a liberdade na arte». A personalidade de Victor Hugo, a sua influência, o seu prestígio tornam-no na figura literária mais marcante do primeiro romantismo, tanto em França como no resto da Europa. Vejamos Óscar Lopes/António José Saraiva: «A sua lira enriquece-se de novos temas: a luta contra o absolutismo político (Châtiments, 1853); a evolução e o progresso da humanidade (Légende des Siècles – 1859/83); reivindicações humanitárias (Os Miseráveis, 1862). Este alargamento da temática poética de Hugo deve-se principalmente aos acontecimentos de 1848-50 em toda a Europa, às lutas populares e burguesas travadas em França, na Itália, nos Balcãs e na Polónia contra o império francês, contra o feudalismo do Centro e Oriente da Europa, lutas que vinham na sequência das de 1830, com o sensível aparecimento de um factor novo, a camada operária engrossada pela industrialização.» (1)


Publicado a 3 de Abril de 1862, Os Miseráveis, tornar-se-ia não apenas o romance mais importante de Victor Hugo, como aquele que, em definitivo, colocaria o autor na galeria dos mais respeitados escritores de toda a história da literatura. O livro, que na versão portuguesa a que recorro para este texto se apresenta em quatro grossos volumes (2), é um fresco impressionante da sociedade francesa da primeira metade do século XIX. Da Batalha de Waterloo (1815), às barricadas da Rue Saint-Denis, em Junho de 1832, a épica história de Jean Valjean, o homem que esteve preso 17 anos por roubar um pão, que sofreu o suplício das galés e que, em grande parte da vida, foi perseguido por Javert, um inspector da polícia que tinha um estranho sentido do dever, é descrita com uma precisão de pormenor que só a pena de um escritor de vastíssimos recursos e qualidades artísticas e humanas conseguiria, com tanto rigor de pormenor, traçar. A morte de Gavroche nas barricadas, o resgate de Marius pelos esgotos de Paris, são momentos ímpares em toda a história da literatura. Raramente o romance, o romance que os autores do século XIX construíram e do qual, ainda hoje, com episódicos pormenores de estilo e de circunstância, somos herdeiros, atingiu, como neste texto de Victor Hugo, tão vastos patamares de emoção, quer na forma de representação da vida colectiva da época, quer na denúncia das atrocidades do sistema em relação ao povo miúdo e deserdado da sorte e da fortuna, os problemas de um povo acossado, as suas lutas e misérias, a revolta, por fim, atingem neste fresco lapidar os momentos mais altos e sublimes de que a literatura, a que se empenha com o homem e o seu devir, foi capaz. O ideal romântico de confiança no homem e na sua capacidade de travar as injustiças, a fome e a opressão, capaz, por fim, de transformar a realidade, superando-a, está plenamente expressa neste romance exemplar. Victor Hugo encena em Os Miseráveis (apesar dos fortes componentes românticos que o estruturam, mormente no último capítulo) as experiências de amplas camadas humanas e do começo da tomada de consciência do operariado. Zola tornaria ainda mais evidente estes pressupostos, e ambos, Zola e Hugo, com o seu exemplo e o manancial humano e social, o romantismo como elemento de transformação do real que os seus textos imprimem e transportam, serviria, oito décadas depois, como esteio do nosso neo-realismo. Ou seja, 150 anos depois, Os Miseráveis ainda é, face às derivas deste nosso desgraçado tempo, um romance actual e pleno de sinais e ensinamentos. Os poderes de hoje ainda prendem e perseguem um homem que tenha fome e roube pão.