Posts Tagged ‘european literature’

From Memoirs of Hadrianby Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Grace Frick. Penguin, 1951.

‘I have supposed, and in my better moments think so still, that it would be possible… to participate in the existence of everyone; such sympathy would be one of the least revocable kinds of immortality. There have been moments when that comprehension tried to go beyond human experience, passing from the swimmer to the wave. But in such a realm, since there is nothing exact left to guide me, I verge upon the world of dream and metamorphosis.’

Marie de France and the Poetics of Memory, by Logan E Whelan.

Catholic University of America Press, 2008.

We usually come to the memory arts through Frances Yates’s pioneering book The Art of Memory, 1966. (Bodley Head, ISBN 1847922929.)

What she presents us with there are the fully developed Renaissance systems, great visual wonders of concept. Was the Renaissance theatre of memory a working model, or the ultimate aim?

It is the tracing back of these arts that is most fascinating. 
We come to Cicero’s writings on rhetoric as one main source. The Ad Herenniumanother important source, has not yet been decisively tied to Cicero as author. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetorica_ad_Herennium

The Hispanic author Quintilian, first century AD, has also ben included in sources for development of the rhetorical arts that include memory techniques. He was a devotee of Cicero’s work, and yet his legal writings focus on the use of figurative language, as memory figures.
And here we see two possibly distinct paths: Cicero’s use of visual elements: the classic positioning of objects in space to deliberately trigger recognition and selected memorized content, and the use of figurative images in language. It is tempting to say that one is designed for the speaker to navigate his/her argument, and the other for the hearer to remember an oration.
The Latin writers call back to Aristotle’s Poetics, also.

That is all very well, for Renaissance scholars. But when we come to eleventh and twelfth centuries in Europe (yes, I include Britain here) then these classical sources were not yet available.
What then?

I, like many, have presumed that there was a well-defined path of transmission of these rhetorical arts from the Latin writers onwards, to the Renaissance.

Logan E Whelan throws all my confident presumptions to the wind. And what falls with certainty, is… well, let’s see.

Logan E Whalen makes very convincing arguments that writers of these periods did use memory arts. It was a time of a flowering of the arts, illustrative as well as textual.

Chretien de Troyes works, as we have them, show many instances of memory techniques. As do the works of his near contemporary Marie de France. 

Throughout her Prologues and Epilogues to The Lais, Marie de France constantly calls on the need for memory and remembering. This is even more explicit in her more popular, that is, more plenteously recopied, Fables.

And so, what are their sources for memory arts, and what systems do they employ?

Logan E Whelan draws our attention to the wide a well-developed use of pictorial language of the period. Look at, he says at one point, the Bayeaux tapestry.
The skills and level of skill development tell of a long practice; and those skills and arts would continue in use for a great many generations to come. We find, then, also a well-developed knowledge of picture-reading. 
Similarly, with the recently burgeoning use of illustrative missals and psalm books. Earlier than these were monastic carvings and stained-glass windows. For the unlettered these were pictorial sermons writ large.

So much remains unknown about the person of Marie de France. Was she an abbess, as many suggest? And if so, at what part of her life? That is, before, during, or after producing her writing.
Nevertheless, this wide use of visual imagery to be read by congregations was a well-established practice. 

‘Throughout the Lais,’ writes Logan E Whelan, ‘Marie de France makes frequent use of vocabulary that supports a narrative program designed to call attention to certain textual elements.’ He gives an example of De Deus Enfanz where the introductory remarks constantly refer to the lai’s setting in Normandy.
It is clear…’ he continues after further investigation, ‘that Marie wanted her immediate audience to remember her story…’ He cites here the use of repetition. This is especially apparent in the lai, Lanval .
She also employs, he states, use of verbal, nonverbal, and quasi-verbal objects.  
These objects are more often than not the key to retention of the themes of the lai that contains them…. In other words, to memorise and remember the object and its attributes is to memorise and recall the lai as a whole.’ (page 77) 

I wrote an examination of two of the Lais of Marie de France in my Gifts of Gold and Ringsebook. 
Equitain, I found, is a very tightly structured work, based on ring-structure, and structural chiasmus.
But where did they learn such techniques?

Mary  Douglas, in her seminal book on ring-structure texts, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition (The Terry Lectures), suggested that the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, has been a rich source for such structuraltechniques. That is not something I have looked at; I cannot say more.

The pointed arch of window or door of the period is a lesson in itself of interdependence of relationships. The lock that holds the arch in place is the central keystone, on the pinnacle of the arch. Each arm of the arch is held by the side pillar and the keystone.
In the ring text the central event is the key to the whole piece. The build up of the tale to that point is mirrored in the second half, mirrored but changed by what occurs in the central part. Each arch/story arch ends where it began, but all has changed.
This is most clearly explicit in the structure of the lai of Equitain.

Her laisexalt chivalry and the role of honour. We can read here a valuing of balance, idealised relationships, behaviour. This relates back to the idealising of the Arthurian values that she explores in some lais, and that French writers were to work up into great webs of tales of traditional honour and chivalry. 
This all attempts to lift contemporary times out of its cold, hard, greed-and-grab practicality.
You could almost say the real and the idealised mirrored each other, in their antipathies.
And the keystone? 
The text.

This explains why the Chronicles of later writers became so valued: Froissart, Chastellain et al. They gave the gloss to petty, sordid, dealings.

They gave it memory. Value.

There is far more to this book than I have indicated here. His reasoning is admirable, sources varied, research deep as well as wide. It is altogether a book of admirable scholarship, and goes a long way to re-evaluating the wonderful work of Marie de France.

The title phrase ‘Cid’ is from an Arabic word sidi/sayyid, ‘Sir.
Nor are the Moors in the tale portrayed as badly as in ‘The Song of Roland’. There are many examples of the Cid taking and being received by Moors as friends. There is a lot of in-fighting amongst the Muslim inhabitants in the tale: towns held by the Cid earlier on are grateful to him for his releasing them with property and lives intact as he moved out to take on the bigger rulers, the ones who also had laid burdens on the smaller towns.

We see in the history of the Alhambra in Granada how the delightful gardens witnessed much slaughter and bloodshed by rival Muslim rulers. It is important here to distinguish between the Umayyad Arabic rule, based at Cordoba, and the new incursions of warlike Berbers from North Africa. The Berbers overthrew the settled Muslim rule and threw Muslim Spain into chaos as they vied for power and control amongst themselves (Introduction, Night and Horses and the Desert – An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, by R Irwin).

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One source states, that the entire work was divided into three parts in 1910. This has significance; although the text itself does divide into sections by explicitly stating ends and beginnings in the places the cantares are introduced. The only ambiguous one is the last one: the cantare begins with the humiliation of the Infantes in the ‘lion episode’, whilst the Penguin Classics edition begins it on the marriage betrothal of the Cid’s daughters, prior to this, and where the Infantes come into the story fully.

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In the first cantare we meet the Cid, his devoted friends, his family – he had just been banished from Castile. We don’t know why, because the first page of the ms is missing, and no copy has yet turned up.

He left his family at the monastery, had a dream of greatness, and then had to go out from Castile. None were allowed, on pain of death, to sell him food, or allow him a bed for the night.
He had to plan a ruse to raise money to fund his foray, and support his followers.
Once outside of Castile he first of all planned and executed raids on Muslim townships along a river course. Each was successful, through the Cid’s use of tactics. He was able to send back his first gift to King Alfonzo. Following this he planned a much more difficult raid among a bigger series of towns. This raid involved planning, trickery and subterfuge; he gained great prestige and booty from this.

We see the cantare begin with the Cid’s banishment from Castile, and it end with the restoration of the Count of Barcelona to his freedom and region. The high point of the cantare must surely be the presentation of the first gift to King Alfonzo. It followed from this act that the Cid’s’ followers were pardoned for their part in helping him, and allowed home.
Home is the hidden theme here, that informs beginning, middle and end of the cantare.

The second cantare has three main raids: one in the Levantine, the second in the towns surrounding Valencia, including the lengthy siege of the city. Then he settled the city as a reconquered Christian city.
The emir of Seville was defeated in battle, and much booty gained.
The Cid set up a Christian bishopric, and was henceforth allowed restitution of his family. They all settled in Valencia.
The last battle was with King Yusuf of Morocco.
This was by far the greatest. The spoils were magnificent. He sent back his greatest gift to King Alfonzo, and won his own pardon.
His renown as a great and wealthy warrior was settled.

The two main battles book-end the seizure of Valencia, whose capture depicted a very prolonged siege as a battle of wills between Spain and Moor. The battle with the emir of Seville ran concurrently with the winning of Valencia.

This is surely the centre of the poem. All changes from here; from now on the whole tone of the poem is different. The latter part of the poem is concerned with justice under Spanish law, whereas the first parts were concerned winning prestige – is there a hint of injustice in his exile? – wealth and a reputation for loyalty and honesty. That is, of winning back his place in the Spanish sphere of civility and legality.

Throughout, the poem set out to prove the Cid’s loyalty and honourable character.
One under-theme image is the beard of the Cid; he vowed never to cut it (or have it travestied) until he won restitution. All through the poem are references to his beard: well, the poem does take years to run the story’s course: even the King was outclassed by the Cid’s beard! Ok, but the point being the beard is a mark of the Cid’s commitment to the cause, and an emblem of his prestige.

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The first cantare saw the Cid banished, cut off from family and legal recourse. He fought three campaigns against the Moors of Henares, the Jalon River, and the Jiloca River. At each he won bounty and wealth.

In the last cantare of the poem we saw three legal challenges to the treachery of the Infantes whereby the Cid reclaimed his generously given wealth; and also three duels – one duel per campaign. He won back, by recourse to Spanish law, his position and prestige.

We began (despite the lost first page) with the Cid realising his banishment from Castile (a metonym for Christian Spain), and end with the Cid helping unite Spain through marriage. The central event also echoed in this, where we saw the Cid settle Valencia and environs for Christian Spain, but also establish a Christian bishopric there under battling Bishop Jeronimo.

The reverse order of events is encapsulated in the court case: the lawsuit, the duels, the marriages (laisses 135-52).

So, yes, it does work. We have a ring of the whole poem, and as in true classical style, the three smaller rings of the cantares.

But where did Per Abbad learn of the structure? So little has come down from pre-Moorish Spain. But what of Mozarabic Spain? I may have to hunt out Arabic sources, but also perhaps Sephardic as well.

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We see in the Penguin edition of ‘The Cid’ what has been called the prosification of the poem. The term is relatively self-explanatory; the implications, however, are not. With prosification goes the break-down of the line; epithets and formulas are lost, as their function in the line is lost.
As we know from chiasmic and particularly ring construction, these play an important structural role, indicating a parallelism, point of special notice or as rhythmic notifier.
Benjamin Smith notes the symmetry that chiasmus gives to a work is important to its message. He examples the interior chiasmic form in the lines 2402-3, ‘Los de mio Çid a los de Búcar de las tiendas los sacan,/ sácanlos de las tiendas, cáenlos en alcazas’, as the form  A B C C B A. This is a particularly interesting chiasmus because it is the only instance where we bridge two stanzas, 117 and 118.
The translation has it: ‘The Cid’s men drove Bucor’s men out of their tents.// When they had driven them out they fell to the pursuit.’
What we see here, what we can say the chiasmus is drawing out attention to, is how the poem is skillfully structured to emphasise an ongoing action that changes as the fortunes of the two parties change. The Cid here encounters Muslim King Bucor outside Valencia, and the battle turns in the Cid’s favour.

 We begin to see here how richly textured the text is in the original Spanish. This written text also appears to be richly structured, with many inner treasures and smaller rings. Perhaps this implies the poem was also a part of a national treasury, for which read a cultural heirloom of sorts.

Of all The Lais of Marie de France, Bisclavret has aroused much controversy.

Bisclavret, an early werewolf story, has gained comments as a misogynistic tale.
In Bisclavret the married king Bisclavret regularly absents himself several days a week from his castle. Eventually his wife gets him to unveil his secret, in a time honoured fashion that goes at least back the Bible. He reveals that he turns into a wolf; that as long as his clothes remain he can change back. His wife then steals his clothes so he cannot change back, and once the king is declared missing, marries her new suitor.
The deception is unmasked, king restored, and wife and new suitor/king suitably done away with. 

How are we to read Bisclavret?
This is deception of the worst kind: the loving embrace that then reveals one’s vulnerabilities to the world, as it were.
Is this tale a prime example of the misogyny of the time, and especially of Church attitudes? We cannot read well the signs of older cultural models.
As Dutch historian Johan Huizinga asserts in an excellent essay in Men and Ideas, the marriage of convenience was very much the model for nobles and people of rank. Woman were commodities, because vehicles for succession through child-bearing; in the case of lack of issue, as we see in other tales, the man would be advised Put your wife aside, choose another to ensure an heir – because, of course, it was always the woman who could not conceive.
I do suspect it was well-known that it was as much the man’s inability; this would never be stated in public, or the public place of text. The flip-side to this is, if a woman is so positioned with a man with doubtful proclivities, as in Bisclavret, the woman could be just as likely to ‘Put the man aside’ and find a mate better suited. And with all the elements of supplanting that goes with this. 

One of the key writers on these topics, Johan Huizinga, also commented: It is manifest that the political and military history of the last centuries of the Middle Ages as described by Froissart, Monstrelet, Chastellain… reveals very little chivalry and a great deal of covetousness, cruelty, cold calculation, well-understood self-interest, and diplomatic subtlety. The reality of history seems constantly to disavow the fanciful ideal of chivalry (Chivalric Ideals in the Middle Ages). In Equitan the relationship of the seneschal and his wife perhaps fell under these last designations. That she is described in the text by Equitan, as a lady who needs love: the marriage, as most of the period was one of convenience and arrangement 

We cannot, I suspect, judge Bisclavret’s wife by any standards than what we know of those of the time. It probably was not actually accepted practice for the wife to do this, and hence its appearance in this tale: we glimpse something perhaps of Marie de France’s originality in her choice of content here. In this tale could we say then that the dynamic is in the discord between the reality of the mores of the time, and those of the chivalric mores some attempted to re-introduce? Is this the source of the dynamic of the Lais as a whole: discord and the search for harmony? We see the novelty and great success of Marie de France in writing about amour courtois against this background. This new perspective does seem to be the gestalt behind Marie de France writing-up, and presenting these Lais. 

If we apply Huizinga’s assertion we can perhaps see a more contemporaneous interpretation that gives an alternative reading.
We dabble here with intentionality: how can we gauge Marie de France’s intentionality in this tale? When we look again at Equitan we see how the writer valued romantic love above the mores of her time, we see in the central part of the tale, the ‘heart’ of the tale where the story was leading, and from where the consequences derive, how the constancy of the affair between Equitan and the seneschal’s wife was lauded: in all that time he neither took another lover nor neglected her, that he was willing to kill for her so they could take up an honourable relationship in marriage. But is there anything in here that shows her ‘bucking the trend’, rather than producing a romantic fantasy? In the tale of Equitan we hear the wife’s fears and doubts, and they are indeed given full expression: they match the king’s for intensity and responsible awareness. She is no member of the ‘lower orders’ struck dumb, abashed or overawed by being feted by the king; she is her own woman, and well aware of the responsibilities of her and, later we see, his position. So, yes, I think we do see here cause for reading intentionality in the Tales. 

Full title: Kanteletar taikka Suomen Kansan Wanhoja Lauluja ja Wirsia

(The Kanteletar, Being Some Old Songs and Ballads of the Finnish People)

Published in 1840/1, the Kanteletar is considered the sister book to the Finnish national epic Kalevela. The name Kanteletar is paraphrased to mean ‘zither-daughter’, from the name of the zither, kantele, and feminine participle ‘tar’.

Both works were the collection and selection of scholar-physician Elias Lonnrot. And both were collected from the eastern Finnish Karelia region of lakes and forest.

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The Kanteletar comprises three books of songs, ballads and lyrics.
Their subject matter can be startling.

The Kantelatar is published in English in the World’s Classics series, translated and Introduced by Keith Bosley. He also provides very useful Notes, and indicates all parallels between several ballads and episodes in The Kalevala.

The first book of the collection is concerned with lyrics sung by both sexes;
– the second book is in four sections and covers Girl’s Songs, Women’s Songs, Boy’s Songs and Men’s Songs.
– the last book contains a small selection of ballads, some of which are quite long. The oldest recorded, Bishop Henry, is dated by inclusion in the oldest collected manuscript of 1671, and deals with the (attempted) introduction of Christianity into the region.  Amusingly Bishop Henry was a missionary from ‘Cabbage-land’; you may think this is Germany with its traditional sauerkrauts, but no, it is England!

The songs are, the Introduction states, ‘alliterative, astrophic trochaic tetramemeter‘, sung to simple tunes ‘built… on five basic notes, corresponding to the five strings of the earliest kantele‘, a ‘five-beat bar of six short and two long notes’. This is the rhythm Sibelius copied in the last section of his Rakastava, Op 14 based on several of the songs.

There is an extraordinary song called Paying For The Milk. There are both girl’s and boy’s versions of this. The girl’s version begins:

How to pay for mamma’s milk
make up for mamma’s torment
for the pains of my parent?

Then follows a series of possible payments, none of which are found anywhere near suitable or sufficient. The last verse gives us:

Jesus, pay for mamma’s milk
make up for mamma’s torments
Lord, pay for mamma’s pains
all the cares of her who carried me!

Which is as much as saying no price on earth can pay.

The boy’s version is much longer, five verses of which the first and last are long, and the central one is where the mother replies to his questions of ‘what will pay?’.
It begins:

Lauri, an excellent lad
fair husband-to-be
thought this in his mind
put this into words:
‘The happy, the lucky pay
for their mother’s milk
for their mother’s blood with cloth
for her labour with velvet
.…………………………………………….

Keith Bosley notes that the boy’s version has a happier ending, ‘but is less convincing’. How happier is it? He has to look after and tend for her up till and after her death, on top of all the feats he has already done for her.
A mother’s labour is literally her ‘sauna-path’, a kenning: the sauna was amongst other uses the place for giving birth.
The girl’s song convinces more because it deals with the ‘debt’ without deflection; the Notes state the singer, the girl, is leaving her mother for her husband’s household. This then, is one of the marriage songs which feature strongly in the book.

.The marriage songs are all paralleled in the Kalevala text. The Kalevala is particularly memorable for its unstintingly dour attitude to marriage: the girl is to live in the husband’s house-hold, to be the lowest in status until she has proven herself – by having children probably. But in this between-time she must work twice as hard as the others to prove her worthiness.

The girl’s songs have a poignancy all of their own:

The Birch and the Bird Cherry

I was a bough on a tree
fostered by a lowly birch
in a naked glade
on land with no strawberries.

Next door  a fair bird cherry
grew, a proud tree rose
on turf as thick as honey
on land the hue of liver.

   With its bushy boughs
and its spreading foliage
it blocked the sun from shining
it hid the moon from gleaming.

In short, everyone admired the bird cherries and no one noticed the other. The bird cherry, however, succumbed to rot, and

The bird cherry felt a pain
and filled it with care:
I remained standing
with my small future.

Note that ‘fostered’ in line two: what a wonderfully economical way of positioning status, vulnerability and demeanor! The descriptions are glorious: ‘turf as thick as honey’ etc, and then the ending, ‘small future’ so full of implication.

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There is a group of poems in the girl’s section under the heading of The Victim. These deal head-on with a rape and its consequences. The girl falls asleep whilst tending sheep and ‘a stranger/ from the birches a bounder/ came and took what was my own….
Another form of this is ‘… a dog came from the army/ a frog from Savo’s border/ a bastard from Kuopio/ some war-scum from Helsinki…
And the result?
no refuge in the cabin/ no mercy under the roofs…. I’ll find refuge in the wind/ mercy among the billows…’. The temptation is to drown herself, to be a sister to the whitefish; then, though, her mother would have to carefully check the water she put in her dough for her daughter’s tresses.

There an interesting ballad that replies to this, the man getting away free whilst the maid suffered the consequences of his actions: The Thoughtful Dragon. The imagery here is also quite wonderful:

Let us go to the vale, young ones
us grasshoppers to the cliff

They strip the bast from a lime tree to make ropes to tie up a young man, and leave him where the king walks by. The king asks Why have they done this to him?
The response is:

This is why he is bound
the woman’s son held:
he laid a young maid –
a young maid, a bride.
The poor maid was doomed
to the dragon’s (literally ‘salmon-serpent’) jaws;
but the dragon sighed –
it sighed and it gasped:
“I’ll sooner swallow a young
man, a young man with a sword….’.

And then there is the shocking Instructions to a Bridegroom:

Bridegroom, dear youngster
fair husband-to-be
don’t hurt our maiden
don’t you ill-treat her
with lashes don’t make her squeal
with leather whips make her mew!
…………………………………………………….

And goes on to say if you must do then do where no one will hear; and do it where it will not show when she goes out.
This song is meant as a marriage jest, a wedding night tongue-in-cheek ribaldry, to scare the girl.

How I Was, a woman’s song, plays with change, deception and age:

I was once as barley-land –
as barley-land, as oat-land
as fair cabbage-land
as the best bean-field; but I’ve
ended up as mixed-crop land
……………………………………………
I’ve become grassland
turned to a mossy hummock.

……………………………………………….

But the ending is depressing: old age is a curse because, as we saw implied in the boy’s version of Mother’s Milk, there is no one to look after the old – other than the unmarried daughter, and all the pejoratives that go with that.
In the Lyrics by Both Sexes there a similar bleak song on ageing, A Plank of Flesh:

Whoever created me
whoever fashioned this wretch
………………………………………………………..

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One remarkable work is the six-part  Ballad of the Virgin Mary.
This would require quite a feat of memory to recite.
Mary is introduced as a farm girl dressed in her finery, a:

She looks out into the farmyard/ listened out at the lane’s end./ A berry called from the ground/ a cowberry from the heath:/ ‘Come, maid, and pluck me/ red-cheek, and pick me…. Ere the slug eats me/ the black worm scoffs me!

The berry became the means of conception. Of course, when her mother noticed her pregnancy at last she spurned her; and a serving maid ran to tell Herod.
The whole piece tells the Christ story to the end. It is a remarkable feat of song writing. The imagery as in all the songs is rich and wonderful.

We cannot end without obeisance to Sibelius, his Karelia Suite and Tapiola.
the lyrics he used are here reproduced. The Herding Songs are set in the First Movement of  Rakastava. Some of his Nine Part-Songs are also in this collection .
In a number of the ballads and songs we encounter pagan forest god Tapio. The Christian God is usually ‘Old Man’. The two co-existed in relative peace – in the songs.

This a book to savour and enjoy: bitter-sweet, surprising, and very life enhancing.

Sur(rendering), by Mario Martin Gijon. Published by Shearsman Books, 2020. Translated from the Spanish by Terence Dooley.
ISBN 978 1 84861 704 9.

Every writer will know the difficulties of their craft, finding the right word, the one with the nuances, cadences, sound, and syntactical relatedness to the whole.
How do you express many variations of an experience in, say, one word? 
The Spanish poet Mario Martin Gijon, in this new dual-language book, Sur(rendering) (originally published in Spanish in 2013), gives an example:

compusimos 

And so, how does a translator then convey just what the writer means? Translation theory attempts the conclusion that there can only ever be a rendering of the work, if you like, a work based on the original. Look at that ‘rendering’ word, with its breakdown into rend, render….

Terence Dooley, renders the Spanish term ‘compusimos’, with its roots similar to English ‘compose’, as in write, as

(w)ri(gh)ting

And so, look at that term, with its wright, write, and also the contextual sense of right-ness of two people together. And that is the ‘write’ of the author’s presence in the work.

The whole poem in Spanish is seven short lines, and this degree of concentration/consideration could only work in short pieces:

Contra viento y marea (recuerdo comun)

siempre unidos

di

   vertidos

del mun

                do

                     loor

compusimos

The translation:
into the wind, against the tide (shared memory)

always one

two

a(muse)d

in(fuse)d

in the hurt

            earth

             we t(w/o)o

(p)raise

            (w)ri(gh)ting

The book, Sur(rendering), consists of four sections of such concentrated poems that respond to the breakdown, loss, rediscovery, celebration and re-establishment of a relationship. The form and meaning-concentration portray the switch-back emotions, momentary doubts, self-doubts, feelings of unworthiness, of regressive anger, in a phrase the whole gamut of the whirlwind emotions that can occur in such an experience.
The form and meaning are one.
This is the aim, and rare success, of poetry to attain this level of reciprocity.

padecir la espera is rendered as hearing the w(a/e)i(gh)t, and it is surprising how the mind tunes into the usages, reads their equivocations and shuttling meanings. They do not encumber but enhance.
Another short poem: five lines –

enardecerme
para enardecirte
en al ard(ol)or
que me (re)ce
tu aus(es)encia

is Englished as:

(h)ard(ou/e)r
to (ki/ca)ndle
in you the cand(i/e)d
fire fanned
by your incandescent
(ab/es)sence

We get a sense of the music of the piece in the Spanish original, the careful rhythm, the silence and space in and around the piece that is full to brimming with potential expression.

So, how does this use of words differ from, say, punning on a word? There is a more elaborate system in use, for one. For two, the intent in use of words yoking together/bringing forward meanings, has far greater semantic range.

The last section poems incorporate lines, phrases from the poems of Paul Celan, in the original German. The translator has kept that, but added A short note on quotes at the end of the book, citing sources.
I had first thought he had used these refererals to Paul Celan because of that author’s technique and skill in ‘coining’ (Terence Dooley’s phrase) new words. In Paul Celan’s case he was purportedly making a usable German language, that is, remaking an oppressor’s and destroyer’s vocabulary into one laden with conscience and responsibility.

One excerpt is from Paul Celan’s early poem Corona, translated as ‘It is time’; it is used because it illustrates his referral-use, though. Corona is from the period of Paul Celan’s full relationship with Ingeborg Bachmann, and the line comes at the end of the poem, that is, the defining emotive stance that the development of Corona achieves: a statement of readiness, stating the need for grounded fulfillment i.e. commitment.
It is apposite and entirely appropriate to the usage by Mario Martin Gijon.

Recent translations by Terence Dooley:
10 Contemporary Spanish Women Poets, translated by Terence Dooley, Shearsman

Malina, by Ingeborg Bachmann. Published by Penguin Modern Classics, 2019.
ISBN 978 0 241 36624 0.

The novel, Malina, published in German in 1971, is considered by many to be a seminal work in the oeuvre of Austrian writer, Ingeborg Bachmann.
She is mostly now known for three volumes of post-War poetry. She has also written radio works, essays, short stories, two operas, a ballet. She was also very close to Paul Celan, and associated with major German post-War writers.

The novel is part one of a projected three-part trilogy, temporarily entitled Ways of Dying. The other two parts were incomplete on her death, but have since been published from notebooks and papers.

Oh yes, she is also known for her death. 
Since 1951 she had mostly listed her residence as Rome. It was here in 1973 that she died, alone, due to an apartment fire. The official cause was given as being due to smoking in bed. 
Readers atuned to her works have long wondered about that given cause.

Malina is not a comfortable read.
It is a novel in three sections – well four, if we accept the Cast prefix. They are:
Happy with Ivan; The Third Man; Last Things.

It is uncomfortable because as the book opens we meet the narrator, who incidentally shares many attributes with the author, in a period of withdrawal, leading to crisis. She refuses all invitations out to address talks, ceremonies, awards. Even the letters she dictates or attempts to write herself are unravellings rather than explanations.

Is the narrator happy with Ivan? It is a toxic relationship, and yet she is fixated on him; her every action and thought is centred on him. And yet he abuses her verbally, is dismissive of her personality, abilities. And she seems quite accepting of this, and dotes on this.
This is a deep exploration of toxic relations.

And it gets worse in Section Two, The Third Man. Here, Malina the character, is cool, objective, says little. The whole section is a deep exploration of the character’s relationship with her father. It is given in a wide and varied series of abusive vignettes. The narrator approaches the term ‘Incest’ early on. Yes, she writes, There was incest
And there was also the game of jealousy, of gaming for affection, playing off each other. With Ivan. With Malina. With the sister Melanie, whose father flaunts as his new source of affection. And there are the violent outbursts, breaking furniture, throwing of household objects to hurt by the act, rather than contact.
And yet, as the section works through its nightmare scenarios, we see the narrator gain self mobility again, the strength to fight back. To leave.

But what of Malina?
Published in 1971, we see here the period’s reliance on therapy as cure-all, the psychiatrist as psychopomp walking the therapee through traumas.
Malina has that about him: cool, rational, reasonable; not dismissive but gently easing the narrator back to the centre of the problems. Walking through the battlefields together.

Ivan, in turn, in retrospect, comes to assume something of the mantle of the abusive father: that relationship being played out again. And the narrator is the willing, indeed, even eager, participant.

Did Ivan want that? Did he fall into a toxic hole? Was he also incapable of climbing out? We do not know.
Was it, possibly, a post-war psychic turmoil that wrapped them all in its coils? Was this the fall-out , the further play-out, of the War?

Or is that serpent with all in its coils the Nazism of past experience, or Western post-War capitalism, or, further, patriarchy itself?

There are no discernible big Politics in the novel. The father-figure as authoritarian, and, by extension, as leader, is written out clearly.
And Ivan, the name? The character is married, with children. He is Hungarian. Is he suggestive of Soviet-model authoritarianism? 
As the novel was being written Leonid Brezhnev was Soviet leader. The Hungarian Uprising had been bloodily crushed (as had the Prague Spring).

This Soviet period is what is now known as the Era of Stagnation.

How does this help? Other than as re-emphasising the intial A in authoritarianism?
The Cold War was dropping down further degrees on the thermometer, and any youthful hopes of a glorious turn to the red – in Germany in particular – were becoming ossified. After 1968’s disintegration of hopes and revolutionary fervour, all was played out.
Later, of course, the extreme groups emerged out of the frustrated hopes: The Red Brigade etc.

A static situation, under authoritarian power; loss of hopes of change; and the unresolved foment of psychic horrors from the war. Ingeborg Bachmann’s own father had been an early and willing Nazi Party member.

Why is the second section called ‘The Third Man’? Is there a connection with the Carol Reed film of 1949?
Both book and film are set in Vienna. Ok.
Both have one of the central characters – Harry Lime, The Father – as betrayers, morally repugnant, and who degrade all who they come into contact. And yet, they also have devoted friends/relations who seek them out. The outcome, in each case, is disillusion and broken relationships.

It may be that the setting of Vienna has a meaning I cannot as yet ascertain. The narrator is insistent on this setting; Ungargasse in particular acquires an importance. It maybe the importance of groundedness, that is, of a specific that she clings to for safety, security.

There are two forms of conversation exchanges in the book. One consists of fulsome and developed sentences, and is the ME:, (other): form. The other form is of truncated conversations, fragmented and half said things the reader must fill out.
In light of Ingeborg Bachmann’s great interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s works, I was wondering whether this latter form was an approach to the ‘private language’ that Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested was an impossibility.

If a language was private to oneself, then communication would be impossible. In the novel we see innumerable attempts to communicate inner turmoil, to move from private language/world experiences, to common speech communication with others. Ivan’s responses tend to be evasive, colluding. Malina remains objective, he companions the narrator through her difficulties, but does not judge, control, nor direct her.

Is he the ideal therapist, or philospher? For Ludwig Wittgenstein the philosopher must become a therapist in order to untangle the knots of reasoning that hamper philosophical discourse.
The Ungargasse in Vienna is in part very close to the Wittgenstein family home, between Parkgasse and Kundmanngasse, on the Geusaugasse corner.

The book opens with letters that cannot be written, and ends, in Last Things, with a postman who cannot deliver letters. He stores them up, unread, unopened. Communication, with one self, and with others, as social glue, as life-saving, is paramount here.
The book opens with the narrator fully taken up with Ivan, and by Last Things has turned against men altogether, finding their limited range of romantic and sexual responses ridiculous, a symptom of men’s ‘sickness’. She admits an interest in men, oh yes, and cites examples, but in the telling it becomes a matter of observation, as of another species.

We find in her telling of post-War Vienna Sigmund Freud’s case-studies incorporated into the text; we find direct reference to Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Is there Robert Musil here as well? Does the desultory interest in chess reference Stefan Zweig’s short story? Interestingly Stefan Zweig’s Post Office Girl novel’s title has a different meaning in the German: The Intoxication of Transformation. Is this intoxication what we find played out in Last Things?
Does the change in the narrator, then, play with bildungsroman formats?
It is also possible that the general tone of the book, of enervated and denigrating references the works of Thomas Bernhard.

The narrator’s character has developed in Last Things, she is more outward-looking, out-going, extrovert, even. And so has that of Malina; he is no longer the objective, cool character, but rather limited in response, outlook.
At one point in this last section the narrator makes some rather strong comments.
Ooo-kay.
So she’s provoking, challenging, confronting. But to what purpose?
This is part of the piece where she takes on Freudian case-study.
Shortly after this section Malina slapped her face. Was she furious? No. Was she distressed? No. Was he? No.
Both carried on as normal – she looked for a suitable blusher to hide the marks so she could go to a meeting; he suggested a shade.

The toxic-relationship is still being played out, on another level.

Does Ivan appreciate how difficult to is for a woman to have integrity, autonomy? Does Malina? Each time the answer is No.
How can a woman exist as a whole person in that world? The narrator approaches the dilemma of the options available: to be a ‘part-ner’, or to try to be a whole person. There seems little to possibility of the two being one.

The crack in the plaster – is it an indication of demise/complete collapse? Or a way out of an enclosed space?

*

One other thing struck me – the father-vignettes in Section Two of Malina remind me of the extensive father-vignettes that make up a huge section of Hungarian writer, Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies, published in 2000. Here the novel fictionally negotiates the true-life Esterhazy patriarchal family line. In particular, and colouring the vignettes, is the discovery of the author’s own father’s role as secret police agent: betrayer and smiling State accomplice. Or entrapped, caught in the coils of State security machinations?

Why do I find the book so difficult to read? The subject matter, obviously. But there is also that, as readers, we unable to help with the distress. We are held as helpless witnesses to partially seen scenarios, and experience some degrees of the suffering of the narrator.
The writer also had periods of hospitalization due to psychological states.

We become party to degrees of that, and those states of distress. We are unable to help or assist, and so the narrator’s inability to cope becomes ours, by our empathetic reading.

This is part of the power, and responsibility, of a work of fiction.

Publishers Weekly, noted, on the book’s publication:
Part of the problem derives from the veiled yet critical references to Austrian history, which are satisfactorily explained only in the excellent afterword.

We no longer have that ‘excellent afterword.’ A pity.

See also Darkness Spoken: the Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann:
https://wordpress.com/post/michael9murray.wordpress.com/363

Alfred Giraud’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’, translated by Gregory C Richter. Published by Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri, 2001.
ISBN  1931112029

This is the first full translation into English of this seminal book of poems, originally published in France, in 1884.
The translation, ‘renderings’ he terms them, is by Gregory C Richter, professor of linguistics at Truman state University, Missouri.
He presents here a bilingual, at times trilingual publication of the complete book, Pierrot Lunaire.
He gives the original French text with English ‘render’ per poem per page. As a selection of the poems were early-on translated into German, he also publishes the German version of the poems selected. The German translator Otto Erich Hartleben, he points out, did not stick to straight translation but gave ‘versions’ that at times vary from the the originals.
For those readers with German, this is a special for you. There are translations of several poems by other German writers here also.

1

Alfred Giraud was a Belgian writer. Alfred Giraud was the pen name of Alfred Kayenbergh, from Louvain, Belgium. He was born in 1860, and died in 1929.

Originally a law student, literature was his obsession, and he happily embraced the role of Decadent writer, after Baudelaire, and owned influences by contemporary Symbolists such as Paul Verlaine, Stephen Mallarme, Leconte de Lisle.

Pierrot Lunaire was, surprisingly, his first major publication, in 1884, when he was aged 24. It was a success, and continued to attract attention and influence the European art scene for decades.
He continued to write poetry, plays and critical articles throughout his life.

The German writer Otto Erich Hartleben translated a selection from the work not long after publication, in 1893. He translated the whole book eventually, but it was the selection that became the main source for other artists.

And, yes, I am thinking of Arnold Schoenberg, here. He used Otto Hartleben’s translation of twenty one selected verses for his magnificent sprechstimme Pierrot Lunaire Op21, in 1912. 

Alfred Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire is based on characters from the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte. As well as Pierrot himself, we find here also arch-rival Harlequin. Columbine, though, plays a minor role. We find another, unfamiliar character, the elderly Cassander.

The commedia was experiencing one of its periodic returns to popularity: witness Pablo Picasso’s use of the troupe in his Rose period (1904-6) paintings. Of course, connected with this is Rainer Maria Rilke basing one of his Duino Elegies on the painting, circa 1912-22.
Paul Verlaine’s Claire de Lune, after Theodore de Banville (1842), captures some of the essence of the period, and, of course, Claude Debussy made the essence more concrete, so to speak with his Pierrot song (1881) and the Suite bergamesque.

The commedia was a key cultural element throughout the period.

2
The poems were written in a very strict rhyme pattern, adapting the French syllabic basis of a strict syllabic line of seven syllables.
The rhyme scheme with one or two variations only, is as follows:

A
B
b
a

a
b
A
B

a
b
b
a
A

A thirteen-line poem.

Within this scheme, though, there are other disciplines: the first line is repeated in line seven, and line thirteen. Lines one and two of the poem are repeated in lines seven and eight.

The structure is like that of a Rondel. In poem 50, Bohemian Crystal, the poem’s narrator speaks of rhyming in roundelays/rondels.

Le serenade de Pierrot (poem 6)

D’un grotesque archet dissonant
Agacant sa viole plate,
A la heron, sur une patte.
Il pince un air inconvenant.

Soudain Cassandre, intervevant,
Blame ce nocturne acrobate,
D’un grotesque archet dissonant
Agacant sa viole platte.

Pierrot la rejette, et presenant
D’un poigne tres delicate
Le vieux par sa roide cravate.
Zebre le bedon du genant
D’un grotesque archet dissonant.

(I give the repeating lines in bold.)

Gregory C Richter’s ‘rendering’ is as follows:

Tormenting his viol
With grotesque, discordant bow –
Like a heron standing on one claw –
He pinches out a painful air.

Suddenly Cassander intervenes
And scolds the nightly acrobat
Tormenting his viol
With grotesque, discordant bow.

Throwing aside the viol,
With ultradelicate grace
Pierrot now takes him by his tie
And zebra-stripes the oldster’s paunch
With grotesque, discordant bow.

Rhyme scheme nor syllabic count could be saved, but sense and intent have been. Whatever you think of these translations/renderings they do convey theme and line-sense throughout.
It is also interesting to see this Pierrot not averse to taking the upper hand.

The Introduction notes how the book divides into three parts. The opening poems and last poems are more peaceful in mood, whilst the central section, poems 17-30, veer into the grotesque. Think of Belioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Here we find poems on Absinthe, Suicide, Decapitation.
Poem 23, Begging for Heads has some wonderfully grotesque imagery:

A bucket, red and full of sawdust
Lies within your clenched embrace,
O Guillotine, mad escapee,
Wandering before the prison!

Could we say of the form, that the first stanza establishes the scene, the second one examines the scene, and the third one explores it further?

3

I was so looking forward to this book; it has been prohibitively expensive.

You could say the tone, rather than the characters, capture that period when Romanticism blended into Aestheticism. There is also the influence of more classical attitudes here, the Parnassian writing the younger Alfred Girauld admired.
Pierrot, himself, although quite a ‘dandy’, does not have the effete quality that later works delimit for him.

How would you characterise the work?
It is not a psychodrama, except in the most basic sense: the author plays lightly with personal themes, but more robustly with cultural elements and atmospheres of his place and period.
There is no main narrative, or through-line as such; each poem encapsulates the ‘mood’ of the theme. Some veer off into different directions: there are several boat-based poems.
The Ménage à trois of the commedia story: Pierrot-Columbine-Harlequin, is alluded to (poem 11) but not central to the book.
In its way it is a very Roman Catholic book: Pierrot’s suicide, whether real or emotional appears in poem 18, but this is followed by the increasingly diabolical poems of the central section.
Poem 31 returns to images – decor – of the opening poems, and the chance to begin anew, but not necessarily changed by the experience: we still have Cruel Pierrot, poem 45, a mocking moon, poem 43. In poem 50, Bohemian Crystal the author has done with the character Pierrot, and steps forward; or another narrator does.
The image of the Bohemian crystal – symbol, he calls it – is an interesting re-take on the crystal flagons of poem 3’s Dandy from Bergamo.

There is a suggested circling of structure, but it is unproductive to look for paralleling as in chiasmic structures. Although poem 6, Pierrot’s Serenade (above) where Pierrot thrashes Cassender, does hold a close position in the structure of the book to poem 45, Cruel Pierrot, where once again Cassender is pummelled.

Tacitly acknowledging the classic commedia storylines, Alfred Giraud here produces an original work.

I place the book with Federico Garcia Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads, in that they both create their own landscapes out of the known world, and fictionally explore characters and events occurring there. These landscapes are part based on known, ‘real’ times and places, just as, say, Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, was a created place based on a number of Border Ballads, and his real environment, including his time’s current themes and attitudes.

And yet, I find myself disappointed by the book.
I expected, that is, wanted, something harder, something more realised and concrete, like in the Gypsy Ballads, the moon glinting like tin, perhaps.
Pierrot’s moon is of another kind: Moonstruck is translated

The wine we drink with our eyes
Flows from the Moon in green waves…

an absinthe moon perhaps – but there is not the passion of Green, how I want you green of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Somnabular Ballad.

Pierrot The Dandy, poem 3, begins:
A fantastic Moonbeam
Lights up the crystal flagons

Of the sandalwood washstand
Of the pale dandy from Bergamo.

And I have to admit, I love the detail.


But perhaps it is the cumulative effect of the verse form, that it is limiting the emotional and imaginative ranges possible.

There are very welcome footnotes throughout – many references are no longer current. The opening poems refer to Breughel, but it is Jan, Breughel The Younger, known as Paradise Breughel, more famed for his flower and landscape pantings.

Alfred Giraud’s images are literary, whereas Federico Garcia Lorca’s are more tactile, drawn from oral sources and then transposed through surrealist techniques married to his own idiosyncratic responses.

There are many gems to be found in Pierrot Lunaire, make no mistake. It is a book to keep going back to again and again.

4

And now here’s my challenge to readers: have a go at the verse form, see how it works for you.

Here’s mine, one for the present times:

A Man From Wuhan

A man stands at his window
I wave, he does not wave back.
We chatted a day back;
He stands at his window.

The street is quiet down below
only TVs answer back.
The man is at his window,
I wave. He does not wave back.

That lull after they all go;
They cleared our block an hour back.
My wife, he‘d said… bad attack.
None come, one by one they go.
A man stands at his window.

There is a lot to be learned through imitation: compare the effects of my use of static verb-structures and tenses, and Alfred Giraud’s active, moving ones, for example.
Try it.

Keep well, my friends, and stay safe.

Combray

Posted: February 8, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

On the church steeple of Saint-Hilare, Combray:
And in the evening, when I was coming home from a walk…it was… so soft, in the close of day, that it looked as if it had been set down and crushed like a cushion of brown velvet against the pale sky which had yielded under its pressure, hollowing slightly to give it room and flowing back over its edges; and the cries of the birds that wheeled around it seemed to increase its silence, lift its spire to a greater height and endow it with something ineffable.

And later:

A little tap against the window-pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a copious light spill, as of grains of sand dropping from a window above, then the spill extending, growing, regular, finding a rhythm, turning fluid, resonant, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain.

Yes, I’m spending my late evenings in Combray.
At last I’ve got around to reading Proust., In Search of Lost Time, rather than the older Remembrance of Things Past.
This is a newish translation: Lydia Davis, for Penguin Modern Classics. And instead of the evocative Swann’s Way, she translates Volume 1 as The Way by Swann’s.

Different weightings of a phrase tell so much of a time period, the dynamics of the time. This, I was tempted to write conjugating of the phrase, denotes our moment in time as one of reappraisal, sitting back and looking around at what is, what we have carried with us, as opposed to a time of movement. That itself is revealing; we may think this is a moment of change, and yet what we actually do suggests one of reappraisal.

The contrasts of image in that second passage: sand – fluid; close-by – far away; immediate moments – immeasurable, universal.
And the similar images, developed from one another: window pane – window above; rhythm – musical; copious (light) spill – extending (sound); a little tap – resonant.

There are also the uses of polysyllabic set within monosyllabic structures, skilfully deployed.

What fine writing, though. It is solace for these testing times.

But then the writer followed that up with a ludicrously stretched joke on the difference of the Saturday routine at Combray.
Then Francois chased around and messily slaughtered a chicken for their meal.
Ok, time to skip-read, perhaps.

OAMENI ŞI MARIONETE/ MEN & PUPPETS by DANIEL DRAGOMIRESCU. Orizant Literar Contemporan, Bibliotheca Universalis, 2017

 This is a dual-language publication, produced by the excellent and indefatiguable Contemporary and Literary Horizon, of Romania. For their background, see:

https://revistamulticulturala.wordpress.com/

http://contemporaryhorizon.blogspot.co.uk/

Every so often a book comes along that makes you feel good to be alive. This is one of those.

The best books broaden and deepen our sense and understanding of the world. I was going to go on and write ‘and add destinations to our bucket list.’ But no, these best books have already taken us there; we feel we know the places, the people, with our hearts. The place? North-eastern and central Romania.

I feel privileged to have a copy of Men and Puppets, by Daniel Dragomirescu. The book is a collection of reminiscences, autobiographical snippets, and is well worth the time and effort in getting hold of. Elegantly presented, and on the whole, well translated, this is part of a series of books by Orizant Contemporan Literar. All are dual-language, and by writers from many countries.

Daniel Dragomirescu grew up in the north-eastern Vaslui region of Romania, in the 1950s and 60s. He writes of life from the inside; the autobiographical angle gives a necessarily limited view of the times, limited to one’s interests, activities, and to the villages and small towns of the time.

Big Politics, the State, the Eastern Bloc, are not words or concepts of everyday life. He does come up against them (A Meeting with Cerebrus); they are also, on another level, a basic part of that life. Yet they are everywhere, especially for the generations from before the War, his parents’ and grandparent’s generations. It is they who have to watch what they say.
We see the unquestioned fate of pre-War bourgeois families, in their disgrace (Sandals). All is accepted as a part of life. The State restrictions have their circumnavigations, but they can be suddenly enforced due to the arbitrariness and fickleness of officials (At the Nadovari Camp). But they are not ‘officials’, they are people one’s father might know from school, from ‘before’ – their fickleness is the fickleness of everybody, everywhere.
We read also a first-hand account of a devastating earthquake hitting Bucharest. People at their most vulnerable; we read also the hidden threats by people.

One of my favourite stories, Marilena, has its own ways of handling the hopes, passions and lost opportunities that are always with us. And this is one of the heartening aspects of the stories: how love, hope of love, arranged love that could grow into itself, are always a part of our lives, our world. These things are instantly recognisable, and they go to the core of who we are.

In the new Romania religion once again plays a major role.
This may surprise us, and yet, as Fish Borscht makes clear (to my mind the only story that doesn’t gel), religion never really went away. Even this story is full of the riches of the lived life, the times, the mind-set of the period.
The role of religion is a curious one; there are many expostulations to God, in the stories. These are post-Communist.
I wonder do they read as a little self-consciously apparent?
Are the stories part of the new movement to re-establish a continuous Romanian identity, that had just been interrupted for a time?

What becomes clear through the reading is the seamless identity we all wear and are part of: here we all are, with all our hopes, woes and lapses of understanding. The details may differ, but the responses are so very recognisable. And because we can identify, our hearts are also in these stories, as we respond to the same things they did.

The last chapter, Typewriter, brings the whole book into focus. I had begun to wonder at the book’s title, Men and Puppets. Well, here it was, spelled out.
I wrote, above, how the fickleness of officials is the fickleness of man; there is the fickleness of officials themselves, though. I also wrote of the State being just the background to people’s lives. So it was, but as they took on more responsibility, became adults, the State became a major interference in their lives. Take Ceausescu’s decree that all typewriters should be officially registered.
It smacks of a Nazi-era dictat, and it is little surprise we find a militia chief admiring Nazi-era tactics.
After the Fall of Ceausescu, the militia excuse themselves as puppets of the regime. Officials, militia, puppets, anything rather than just ordinary people.

Daniel Dragomirescu has a masterful technique. The use of the motif of his meeting with a stray dog in a cemetery, in A Meeting with Cerebrus, becomes the key for opening up the whole part of his life at that period. It is this mastery that is the secret, it works behind the scenes to bring the chapters to life.

A most enjoyable book, full of the fears, hopes, loves and doubts of lives.