“ESSAYS AND LETTERS FROM OCCUPIED POLAND 1942-1943”: CZESLAW MILOSZ BOOK

April 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Posted in Art, Books, Germany, History, Literary, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943  

Czeslaw Milosz (Author)

Madeline Levine (Translator)

Jaroslaw Anders (Introduction)

These essays, written in Warsaw in 1942-43 during the Nazi occupation, were his efforts to discover “Why …the European spirit succumb(ed) to such a devastating disaster”.

Book Description

Publication Date: September 22, 2005

Legends of Modernity, now available in English for the first time, brings together some of Czeslaw Milosz’s early essays and letters, composed in German-occupied Warsaw during the winter of 1942-43.

“Why did the European spirit succumb to such a devastating fiasco?” the young Milosz asks. Half a century later, when Legends of Modernity saw its first publication in Poland, Milosz said: “If everything inside you is agitation, hatred, and despair, write measured, perfectly calm sentences…” While the essays here reflect a “perfect calm,” the accompanying contemporaneous exchange of letters between Milosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski express the raw emotions of “agitation, hatred and despair” experienced by these two close friends struggling to understand the proximate causes of this debacle of western civilization, and the relevance, if any, of the teachings of the Catholic church.

Passionate, poignant, and compelling, Legends of Modernity is a deeply moving insight into the mind and emotions of one of the greatest writers of our time.

 In his landmark 1953 book, The Captive Mind, Nobel-winning poet and essayist Milosz discoursed on the havoc totalitarian rule plays on the mental processes of intellectuals. Here we see Milosz’s own mind at work in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, crafting essays of ideas, pursuing a fantastically high-minded correspondence with friend and fellow writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, and developing themes inspired by the works of Defoe, Balzac, Gide, Stendhal and Nietzsche. Call it “The Captive Mind in Action.” Curiously, the tension implied by Milosz’s situation is hardly evident in the essays: where one might expect his tone to be skittish, fearful, foreboding, the most remarkable aspect is his ability to ensconce his steady authorial voice so luxuriantly in the unpressing issues of, say, the imaginative projection required today to view Giotto’s medieval saints properly. The most interesting essay demonstrating this phlegmatic tone enlists Tolstoy’s War and Peace to help Milosz understand the global conflagration of his own time. But anger, bitterness and self-recrimination rage in some of the letters, where he says he thinks of writing a “confession… that would exceed in its violence and scream of pain, [the] Romantic era’s settling of accounts of the conscience.” For those who hanker for the high seriousness of continental thinkers like Camus, this volume is a welcome beacon from the past. (Oct. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Milosz’s essays adroitly reveal the historical contingency at the heart of modern culture’s most cherished values.” — Clare Cavanagh, Bookforum

“These early reflections by Milosz. . .form a remarkable testament to an uncaptive mind consecrated to living in truth.” — Jacob Heilbrunn, The New York Times Book Review

“[This is] Milosz’s attempt to reconcile everything he knows about literature and humanity with the total destruction he was witnessing.” — Anne Applebaum, The New York Sun

Product Details:

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • September 22, 2005
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374184992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374184995
What the greatest poet of the 20th Century was worried about under German occupation, July 14, 2006

This review is from: Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943 (Hardcover)

When Abbe Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes was asked what he did during the French revolution, he responded “J’ai vecu”–“I survived”. For many, that was exactly their ambition when they found themselves in Nazi-occupied Warsaw between 1939 and 1944 and it often involved daily heroism. But today we admire those that joined the armed resistance, the couriers that kept the links with the Government- in-Exile, the teachers that taught in underground schools, and the intellectuals who sought to protect the Polish culture that, in the Nazi scheme of things, had no business existing.

“Legends of Modernity” is a collection of eight essays by Milosz and an exchange of nine essay-length letters between Milosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski written in 1942-43. For a reader who would not pay attention to where and when these essays were written, but who was merely interested in the history of European ideas and wanted to observe a keen intelligence at work, there is plenty here to keep him fascinated.

“The basic theme, threaded through numerous digressions, is an attempt to clear the field of convictions about man’s natural impulses and also about the natural conditions of his life–not without the hope that by destroying the legends he creates about himself, it will be possible to locate the surest footing. The chapter about Daniel Dafoe is aimed against belief in natural goodness outside of civilization. The chapter about Balzac describes the evil spell cast by civilization conceived of as an automatic process subject to laws of natural evolution. The chapters about Stendhal and Andre Gide grapple with the position of an individual who identified the laws of nature with the laws of human society, and taking it further, arrived at a cult of power. The chapter about William James criticized the acceptance of fictions and legends as a normal condition that we cannot move beyond. The fragment from Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is used as an example of disillusionment with civilization and the miseries connected with this disillusionment. Marian Zdziechowski makes his appearance as a specimen of religion founded on the innate demands of the heart. The rather long sketch about Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz shines a light on metaphysical theories of art.” (From Milosz’s 1944 Preface)

While the essays are quite detached and calm, the letters to and from Andzejewski are less so. Their chief theme is the crisis of the Western Civilization and the role that the Catholic Church might have in rescuing it. The feeling of being affected by what was happening in the streets outside is somewhat easier to discern.

One can read this book to be dazzled by the display of critical wisdom by a 30-year old author. Or, one can remember that the writer was a simple laborer in 1942 when this book was written, and one could look at this book as an assertion of independence from the everyday reality, however horrible. In this sense, the book ought to be read alongside books such as Bartoszewski’s “1859 Dni Warszawy” or Szarota’s “Okupowanej Warszawy Dzien Powszedni”.

Josif Brodsky saw Milosz as a 20th century Job. Nothing less.

(Originally written for the Polish Library in Washington DC)

This review is from: Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943 (Hardcover)

Czeslaw Milosz, who won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, after becoming a professor at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960, lived in Warsaw when it was occupied by the Nazis during the winter of 1942-1943, and wrote the essays and letters now translated into English in LEGENDS OF MODERNITY during that winter. The book does not have an index, and the Contents on pages v-vi only includes the names of four Polish authors, one of whom (the Catholic writer Jerzy Andrzejewski 1909-1985) wrote four letters to Czeslaw Milosz which are included on pages 160-172, 187-201 (dated September 1, 1942), 213-225, and 239-244. Notes to the 1996 Polish Edition on pages 259-262 reveal that the letters were exchanged in a café in the center of Warsaw, a coffeehouse with two pianos where the bartender was film director Antoni Bohdziewicz. Though the Notes to the Essays on pages 263-266 include French, Dutch, and German writers, the only American cited in “The Boundaries of Art” might be Edgar Allan Poe (n.5, n. 6, and n. 7, p. 265). William James is mentioned in “Absolute Freedom” in connection with Nietzsche, André Gide, and breaking with “Platonism,” the traditional understanding of good and evil. (p. 54). The fascist movements were the first examples to come to mind of man-God themes. (p. 55).

As a poet, Czeslaw Milosz has a very intellectual approach to political difficulties in historical times. Rather than attempting to locate the themes which I found interesting in the essays, I would prefer to adopt a bad analogy for the history of the twentieth century and attempt to apply thoughts from Milosz to explain the aspects of the analogy which relate to the contents of this book. Having just done a little research on videos that are currently available about Evel Knievel, I would like to apply his assertion that he was like a Roman general who believed that what was considered impossible would eventually be done. One famous stunt involved a motorcycle jump over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. As I remember the video clip shown in the movie starring George Hamilton, Evel Knievel was flying prone over his motorcycle with his hands on the handlebars when the rear wheel of the cycle came down on the short side of the lip at the far edge of the fountain, bouncing the motorcycle up into the vulnerable underside of Evel Knievel’s body, busting bones and rendering Knievel unconscious for a month. The stunt had a certain appeal because many people had seen the fountain at Caesar’s Palace and were genuinely curious about what a motorcycle could do besides wheelies. Whatever terror Evel Knievel may have felt, he was clearly outnumbered by the crowd who wanted to see the stunt accomplished or the splatter that would result otherwise.

The first essay in Legends of Modernity, “The Legend of the Island,” on Robinson Crusoe’s island, is about being able to free “himself from the evil influences of the crowd,” (p. 8). “The Legend of the Monster City” examines Balzac’s celebration of “The observer, smiling benignly at the picture of mindless desires and mindless efforts, is like a child standing over an anthill. He inserts a stick and is delighted with the insects’ chaotic scurrying. The crazier the actions of his victims, the more they lead to total infatuation” (pp. 22-23). The third essay, “The Legend of the Will,” discusses THE RED AND THE BLACK by Stendhal. “Julien Sorel is totally consumed by ambition.” (p. 36). “And he gave tit for tat, with hatred and contempt.” (p. 44). As a fellow exile-to-be, Milosz shows great appreciation for “The matter of Stendhal’s national defection (he considered himself spiritually a Milanese, not a Frenchman) demonstrates how much effort he invested in extracting himself from the authority of others’ opinions, how painstakingly he selected his privileged position, a position on the sidelines.” (p. 44).

Religion is the main topic considered from William James’s THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE in “Beyond Truth and Falsehood.” The same essay ventures into “a contradiction that was the driving force of Byron’s creative work.” (p. 68). Being able to identify the source of creative tension is like Evel Knievel’s ability to conceive of stunts that people would like to see, however dangerously the actual experience might turn out to fall short of the perfect expectation. “Is this the inevitable consequence of the collision of several value systems appearing in a simplified form between the hour of history and the hour of religion? I think not.” (p. 69). Dangerous myths include “the myth of labor or the myth of the dictatorship of the proletariat, propagated by the various branches of Marxism.” (p. 72).

An essay, “The Experience of War,” in which “we are condemned to self-examination” (p. 75), takes a stab at Pierre Bezukhov in Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE in which, “A vague imperative, incomprehensible even to him, crystallizes into a bizarre decision: Pierre decides to stab Napoleon, the author of all his fatherland’s woes.” (p. 77). Similarly, “To be sure, there is no truth, no beauty, no goodness–but there is German truth, German beauty, and German goodness; and thus the void was filled, and within the confines of the new canon there was room for heroism, dedication, friendship, and so forth.” (p. 82). The following essay, “Zdziechowski’s Religiosity,” considers flirtatiousness as adopting a particular mentalité totally lacking in the statement written in 1922 that, “We are a small part of Europe, we are linked with her fate, we are infected with the same diseases of communism and nationalism as she is, and together with her, biting at each other in a mad rage, we are rushing headlong into the abyss.” (p. 91). Key to understanding the identity of dogma is that it “is constantly acquiring new forms, is continually realized anew, and by the very necessity of struggle in a changing historical environment, it profits from new ways of understanding the world.” (p. 93).

This review is from:

Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943 (Hardcover)

There are several aspects to ‘Legends of Modernity’ that make it worth recommending – the immediacy of its subject matter, its relevance to today, the lively mind of the author – but above all, I’ll have to admit to developing a sense of hero worship for Czeslaw Milosz since I’ve read it.

These essays, written in Warsaw in 1942-43 during the Nazi occupation, were his efforts to discover “Why …the European spirit succumb(ed) to such a devastating disaster”.

Watching footage of smiling German crowds cheering Hitler as he stormed through his tirades, I have often wondered the same. Political theory and historical events do not give me satisfactory answers. Perhaps there are none, but Mr. Milosz’s inquest into the spirit of his times, written from amidst the rubble, is an amazing intellectual record – not only because of his insights, which are certainly interesting stepping stones for further thought, but for the man’s grit and tenacity and faith.

‘Legends of Modernity’ is not an account of Mr. Milosz’s experiences during the occupation – that is rarely commented on. Instead, it is an attempt to make sense of events, and its basic thrust is that the particular madness of both National Socialism and Stalinism did not arise circumstantially, but that they flourished because the cumulative effect of humanistic ideas over the centuries had slowly and almost imperceptibly prepared the modern mind to accept destructive ideologies as not only natural but desirable. The author’s contention is that this build-up of humanistic ideas, these ‘legends’, is the skeletal structure on which Modernity is constructed, which in turn set the stage for the various destructive isms of the early and mid twentieth century.

That specific observation is probably not groundbreaking, not now or then, though the usual bogeymen for this argument are Nietzche, Marx, and Darwin. Those three have a role to play, according to Mr. Milosz, but only at the end of a long chain – what I found surprising, and fascinating, was how the author connected his ‘modernity legends’ to people with which I would not normally have associated them. Daniel Defoe, Balzac, Stendhal, André Gide, and even William James all take center stage, and illustrate, through their literature, examples of the legends and myths that facilitated man’s rejection of a supernatural force as a limiting factor on his behavior. Though I understood some of these authors and their roles in the formation of modern thought, I’d never before considered them as Mr. Milosz does here – as a linked group reflecting the blow each generation gave in turn to the wedge that society was driving between God and man.

The first strike of the wedge’s tip is almost unnoticeable. Robinson Crusoe, somewhat of a prodigal before his shipwreck, discovers religion and a moral life away from ‘wicked’ society, and away from the communal aspects of the church. As Jaroslaw Anders sums up nicely in the introduction, “The human soul becomes its own government and its own church”. The succeeding essays follow this basic idea as it develops and changes through the years, leading up to the pragmatism of William James, which sweeps aside objective truth and only recognizes the ‘truth’ of action. The concluding essays, while still relevant, are not as linearly connected, dealing with the experience of war, and critiques of religious and artistic thought and individuals in the interwar decades of the twenties and thirties.

The author isn’t really in the business of drawing dogmatic conclusions, though it isn’t difficult to see where his sympathies lie, especially when you consider the wartime correspondence between Mr. Milosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski, also included in this volume. I have never been interested enough in the personal letters of any figure to read a volume dedicated to it, so I have no experience with which to compare this small selection. Their archival value seems evident, and they do give insight into both men and their thought processes during the occupation, but overall I thought this section weaker than the preceding essays. Much of the argument between the two concerns rationalism and irrationalism, and the role of Catholicism and faith between these two techniques, but their exchange sounds weighty and ponderous to me, almost affected.

It isn’t necessary to accept all of Mr. Milosz’s arguments to appreciate this collection – I didn’t, but I found that just by reading the way he framed them that I had a clearer picture of the various ideas and movements (and how they are connected) leading up to the twentieth century. Too often, with these sort of discussions, I find myself sinking into a pit of jargon from which I can’t break free. That doesn’t mean ‘Legends of Modernity’ was easy for me either, just that there didn’t seem to be an artificial barrier between author and reader.

Finally, as I read through these essays, I developed a distinctly favorable impression of Czeslaw Milosz, apart from his intellectual powers. This is harder for me to articulate, but I think of him as a role model for the thinking man – a man who didn’t lose himself to the madness that surrounded him.
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MOSES HESS: “ROME AND JERUSALEM” 1862 BOOK

July 15, 2011 at 7:40 am | Posted in History, Israel, Judaica, Literary, Philosophy, Zionism | Leave a comment

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Rome and Jerusalem The Last National Question (1862)

by Moses Hess

Rome and Jerusalem The Last National Question (1862), a book published in 1862 in Leipzig. It gave impetus to the Labor Zionism movement. In his magnum opus, Hess argued for the Jews to return to the Land of Israel, and proposed a socialist country in which the Jews would become agrarianised through a process of “redemption of the soil”.

Contents

First Letter

Second Letter

Third Letter

Fourth Letter

Fifth Letter 

Sixth Letter

Seventh Letter

Eighth Letter

Ninth Letter

Tenth Letter

Eleventh Letter

Twelfth Letter

Epilogue                    

Rome and Jerusalem

Rome and Jerusalem. The Last National Question (German: Rom und Jerusalem, die Letzte Nationalitätsfrage) is a book published by Moses Hess in 1862 in Leipzig. It gave impetus to the Labor Zionism movement. In his magnum opus, Hess argued for the Jews to return to the Land of Israel, and proposed a socialist country in which the Jews would become agrarianised through a process of “redemption of the soil”.

Importance

The book was the first Zionist writing to put the question of Jewish nationalism in the context of European nationalism.

Hess blended secular as well as religious philosophy, Hegelian dialectics, Spinoza‘s pantheism and Marxism.[1]

It was written against the background of German Jewish assimilationism, German antisemitism and German antipathy to nationalism arising in other countries. Hess used terminology of the day, such as the term “race”, but he was an egalitarian who believed in the principles of the French revolution, and wanted to apply the progressive concepts of his day to the Jewish people.[1]

Major themes

Written in the form of twelve letters addressed to a woman in her grief at the loss of a relative. In his work, Hess put forward the following ideas:[2]2.     The Jewish type is indestructible, and Jewish national feeling can not be uprooted, although the German Jews, for the sake of a wider and more general emancipation, persuade themselves and others to the contrary.

1.     The Jews will always remain strangers among the European peoples, who may emancipate them for reasons of humanity and justice, but will never respect them so long as the Jews place their own great national memories in the background and hold to the principle, “Ubi bene, ibi patria.” (Latin language: “where [it is] well, there [is] the fatherland”)

2.     The Jewish type is indestructible, and Jewish national feeling can not be uprooted, although the German Jews, for the sake of a wider and more general emancipation, persuade themselves and others to the contrary.

3.     If the emancipation of the Jews is irreconcilable with Jewish nationality, the Jews must sacrifice emancipation to nationality. Hess considers that the only solution of the Jewish question lies in the returning to the Land of Israel.

Reactions and legacy

At the time the book was met with a cold reception, and only in retrospect it became one of the basic works of Zionism.

References

  1.  a b Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem. 1862, Introduction by Ami Isserov
  2. “Rom und Jerusalem.” by Isidore Singer, Max Schloessinger in the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 Ed.

Further reading

  • Shlomo Avineri, Moses Hess; Prophet of Communism and Zionism (New York, 1984).

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WORLD MARKET: WHEAT PRICES IN TROTSKY’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY “MY LIFE”

July 3, 2011 at 10:08 am | Posted in Books, Economics, Financial, Globalization, History, Literary, Russia | Leave a comment

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My Life, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 1

Yanovka

Sacks of wheat now fill the barns and the sheds, and are piled in heaps under tarpaulins in the courtyard. The master himself often stands at the sieve and shows the men how to turn the hoop, so as to blow away the chaff, and how, with one sharp push, to empty the clean grain into a pile without leaving any behind. In the sheds and barns, where there is shelter from the wind, the winnower and the tare-separators are working. The grain is cleaned there and made ready for the market.

And now merchants come with copper vessels and scales in neatly painted boxes. They test the grain and name a price, pressing earnest-money on my father. We treat them with respect and give them tea and cakes, but we do not sell them the grain. They are but small fry; the master has outgrown these channels of trade. He has his own commission merchant in Nikolayev. “Let it be awhile, grain doesn’t ask to be fed!” he says.

A week later a letter comes from Nikolayev, or sometimes a telegram, offering five kopecks a pood more. “So we have found a thousand roubles!” says the master. “And they don’t grow on every bush!”

But sometimes the reverse happens; sometimes the price falls. The secret power of the world market makes itself felt even in Yanovka. Then my father says gloomily, returning from Nikolayev: “It seems that — what is the name? — the Argentine, sent out too much wheat this year.”

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“ANTICIPATIONS”: H.G. WELLS 1901 AND BOLESLAW PRUS

June 27, 2011 at 8:06 am | Posted in Art, Books, History, Literary, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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H.G. Wells Discussed by Boleslaw Prus:

“Visions of the Future” (“Wizje przyszłości,” 1909—a discussion of H.G. Wells‘ 1901 futurological book, Anticipations, which predicted, among other things, the defeat of German imperialism, the ascendancy of the English language, and the existence, by the year 2000, of a “European Union” that would include the Slavic peoples of Central Europe)

Boleslaw Prus

Following is a chronological list of notable works by Bolesław Prus. Translated titles are given, followed by original titles and dates of publication.

Born August 20, 1847
Hrubieszów, Russian Empire

Died May 19, 1912 (aged 64)
Warsaw, Russian Empire

Pen name Bolesław Prus

Occupation Novelist, journalist, short-story writer

Nationality Polish

Period 1872–1912

Genres

Realist novel
Historical novel
Short story
Micro-story
Prose poetry

Literary movement Positivism

Spouse(s) Oktawia Głowacka, née Trembińska

Children An adopted son, Emil Trembiński

Bolesław Prus (pronounced: [bɔ’lεswaf ‘prus]; Hrubieszów, 20 August 1847 – 19 May 1912, Warsaw), born Aleksander Głowacki, was the leading figure in Polish literature of the late 19th century[1] and a distinctive voice in world literature.

As a 15-year-old, he had joined the Polish 1863 Uprising against Imperial Russia; shortly after his sixteenth birthday, in a battle against Russian forces, he suffered severe injuries. Five months later, he was imprisoned for his part in the Uprising. These early experiences may have precipitated the panic disorder and agoraphobia that would dog him through life, and shaped his opposition to attempts to regain Polish independence by force of arms.

In 1872 at age 25, in Warsaw, he settled into a 40-year journalistic career that highlighted science, technology, education, and economic and cultural development. These societal enterprises were essential to the endurance of a people that had in the 18th century been partitioned out of political existence by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Głowacki took his pen name Prus from the appellation of his family’s coat-of-arms.

As a sideline he wrote short stories. Achieving success with these, he went on to employ a larger canvas. Over the decade between 1884 and 1895, he completed four major novels: The Outpost, The Doll, The New Woman and Pharaoh.

The Doll depicts the romantic infatuation of a man of action who is frustrated by his country’s backwardness. Pharaoh, Prus’ only historical novel, is a study of political power and of the fates of nations, set in ancient Egypt at the fall of the 20th Dynasty and New Kingdom.

Bolesław Prus (pronounced: [bɔ’lεswaf ‘prus]; Hrubieszów, 20 August 1847 – 19 May 1912, Warsaw), born Aleksander Głowacki, was the leading figure in Polish literature of the late 19th century[1] and a distinctive voice in world literature.

As a 15-year-old, he had joined the Polish 1863 Uprising against Imperial Russia; shortly after his sixteenth birthday, in a battle against Russian forces, he suffered severe injuries. Five months later, he was imprisoned for his part in the Uprising. These early experiences may have precipitated the panic disorder and agoraphobia that would dog him through life, and shaped his opposition to attempts to regain Polish independence by force of arms.

In 1872 at age 25, in Warsaw, he settled into a 40-year journalistic career that highlighted science, technology, education, and economic and cultural development. These societal enterprises were essential to the endurance of a people that had in the 18th century been partitioned out of political existence by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Głowacki took his pen name Prus from the appellation of his family’s coat-of-arms.

As a sideline he wrote short stories. Achieving success with these, he went on to employ a larger canvas. Over the decade between 1884 and 1895, he completed four major novels: The Outpost, The Doll, The New Woman and Pharaoh.

The Doll depicts the romantic infatuation of a man of action who is frustrated by his country’s backwardness. Pharaoh, Prus’ only historical novel, is a study of political power and of the fates of nations, set in ancient Egypt at the fall of the 20th Dynasty and New Kingdom.

1. “Undoubtedly the most important novelist of the period was Bolesław Prus…” Czesław Miłosz, The History of Polish Literature, 2nd ed., Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983, ISBN 0-520-04477-0, p. 291.

Novels

  • Souls in Bondage (Dusze w niewoli, written 1876, serialized 1877)
  • Fame (Sława, begun 1885, never finished)
  • The Outpost (Placówka, 1885–86)
  • The Doll (Lalka, 1887–89)
  • The New Woman (Emancypantki, 1890–93)
  • Pharaoh (Faraon, written 1894–95; serialized 1895–96)
  • Children (Dzieci, 1908; approximately the first nine chapters had originally appeared, in a somewhat different form, in 1907 as Dawn [Świt])
  • Changes (Przemiany, begun 1911–12; unfinished)

Stories

  • “The Old Lady’s Troubles” (“Kłopoty babuni,” 1874)
  • “The Palace and the Hovel” (“Pałac i rudera,” 1875)
  • “The Ball Gown” (“Sukienka balowa,” 1876)
  • “An Orphan’s Lot” (“Sieroca dola,” 1876)
  • “Eddy’s Adventures” (“Przygody Edzia,” 1876)
  • “Damned Luck” (“Przeklęte szczęście,” 1876)
  • “The Old Lady’s Casket” (“Szkatułka babki,” 1878)
  • “Stan’s Adventure” (“Przygoda Stasia,” 1879)
  • “New Year” (“Nowy rok,” 1880)
  • “The Returning Wave” (“Powracająca fala,” 1880)
  • “Michałko” (1880)
  • “Antek” (1880)
  • “The Convert” (“Nawrócony,” 1880)
  • “The Barrel Organ” (“Katarynka,” 1880)
  • “One of Many” (“Jeden z wielu,” 1882)
  • “The Waistcoat” (“Kamizelka,” 1882)
  • “Him” (“On,” 1882)
  • Fading Voices” (“Milknące głosy,” 1883)
  • “Sins of Childhood” (“Grzechy dzieciństwa,” 1883)
  • Mold of the Earth” (“Pleśń świata,” 1884—a striking micro-story that portrays human history as an unending series of conflicts among mindless, blind colonies of molds)
  • The Living Telegraph” (“Żywy telegraf,” 1884)
  • Orestes and Pylades” (“Orestes i Pylades,” 1884)
  • “Loves—Loves Not?…” (“Kocha—nie kocha?…” 1884)
  • “The Mirror” (“Zwierciadło,” 1884)
  • “On Vacation” (“Na wakacjach,” 1884)
  • “An Old Tale” (“Stara bajka,” 1884)
  • “In the Light of the Moon” (“Przy księżycu,” 1884)
  • “The Mistake” (“Omyłka,” 1884)
  • “Mr. Dutkowski and His Farm” (“Pan Dutkowski i jego folwark,” 1884)
  • “Musical Echoes” (“Echa muzyczne,” 1884)
  • “In the Mountains” (“W górach,” 1885)
  • Shades” (“Ciene,” 1885—an evocative meditation on existential themes)
  • “Anielka” (1885)
  • “A Strange Story” (“Dziwna historia,” 1887)
  • A Legend of Old Egypt” (“Z legend dawnego Egiptu,” 1888—Prus’ first piece of historical fiction; a stunning debut, and a preliminary sketch for his only historical novel, Pharaoh, which would be written in 1894–95)
  • “The Dream” (“Sen,” 1890)
  • “Lives of Saints” (“Z żywotów świętych,” 1891–92)
  • “Reconciled” (“Pojednani,” 1892)
  • “A Composition by Little Frank: About Mercy” (“Z wypracowań małego Frania. O miłosierdziu,” 1898)
  • “The Doctor’s Story” (“Opowiadanie lekarza,” 1902)
  • “Memoirs of a Cyclist” (“Ze wspomnień cyklisty,” 1903)
  • “Revenge” (“Zemsta,” 1908)
  • “Phantoms” (“Widziadła,” 1911, first published 1936)

Nonfiction

  • “Travel Notes (Wieliczka)” [“Kartki z podróży (Wieliczka),” 1878—Prus’ impressions of the Wieliczka Salt Mine; these would help inform the conception of the Egyptian Labyrinth in Prus’s 1895 novel, Pharaoh]
  • “A Word to the Public” (“Słówko do publiczności,” June 11, 1882—Prus’ inaugural address to readers as the new editor-in-chief of the daily, Nowiny [News], famously proposing to make it “an observatory of societal facts, just as there are observatories that study the movements of heavenly bodies, or—climatic changes.”)
  • “Sketch for a Program under the Conditions of the Present Development of Society” (“Szkic programu w warunkach obecnego rozwoju społeczeństwa,” March 23–30, 1883—swan song of Prus’ editorship of Nowiny)
  • With Sword and Fire—Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Novel of Olden Times” (Ogniem i mieczem—powieść z dawnych lat Henryka Sienkiewicza,” 1884—Prus’ review of Sienkiewicz‘s historical novel, and essay on historical novels)
  • “The Paris Tower” (“Wieża paryska,” 1887—whimsical divagations involving the Eiffel Tower, the world’s tallest structure, then yet to be constructed for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle)
  • “Travels on Earth and in Heaven” (“Wędrówka po ziemi i niebie,” 1887—Prus’ impressions of a solar eclipse that he observed at Mława; these would help inspire the solar-eclipse scenes in his 1895 novel, Pharaoh)
  • “A Word about Positive Criticism” (“Słówko o krytyce pozytywnej,” 1890—Prus’ part of a polemic with Positivist guru Aleksander Świętochowski)
  • “Eusapia Palladino” (1893—newspaper column about mediumistic séances held in Warsaw by the Italian Spiritualist, Eusapia Palladino; these would help inspire similar scenes in Prus’ 1895 novel, Pharaoh)
  • “From Nałęczów” (“Z Nałęczowa,” 1894—Prus’ paean to the salubrious waters and natural and social environment of his favorite vacation spot, Nałęczów)
  • The Most General Life Ideals (Najogólniejsze ideały życiowe, 1905—Prus’s system of pragmatic ethics)
  • “Ode to Youth” (“Oda do młodości,” 1905—Prus’ admission that, before the Russian Empire‘s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, he had held too cautious a view of the chances for an improvement in Poland’s political situation)
  • “Visions of the Future” (“Wizje przyszłości,” 1909—a discussion of H.G. Wells‘ 1901 futurological book, Anticipations, which predicted, among other things, the defeat of German imperialism, the ascendancy of the English language, and the existence, by the year 2000, of a “European Union” that would include the Slavic peoples of Central Europe)
  • “The Poet, Educator of the Nation” (“Poeta wychowawca narodu,” 1910—a discussion of the cultural and political principles imparted by the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz)
  • “What We… Never Learned from the History of Napoleon” (“Czego nas… nie nauczyły dzieje Napoleona”—Prus’s contribution to the December 16, 1911, issue of the Warsaw Illustrated Weekly, devoted entirely to Napoleon)

Translations

Prus‘ writings have been translated into many languages — his historical novel Pharaoh, into twenty; his contemporary novel The Doll

, into at least sixteen. Works by Prus have been rendered into Croatian by a member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Stjepan Musulin.

Film versions

  • 1966: Faraon (Pharaoh), adapted from the novel Pharaoh, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
  • 1968: Lalka (The Doll), adapted from the novel The Doll, directed by Wojciech Has
  • 1978: Lalka (The Doll), adapted from the novel The Doll, directed by Ryszard Ber
  • 1979: Placówka (The Outpost), adapted from the novel The Outpost, directed by Zygmunt Skonieczny
  • 1982: Pensja Pani Latter (Mrs. Latter’s Boarding School), adapted from the novel The New Woman

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TAGORE STORIES

May 24, 2011 at 9:26 am | Posted in Art, Asia, Books, India, Literary | Leave a comment

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The Hungry Stones

and Other Stories

By Rabindranath Tagore

Translated from the original Bengali by various writers

New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916

PREFACE

THE stories contained in this volume were translated by several hands. The version of The Victory is the author’s own work. The seven stories which follow it were translated by Mr. C. F. Andrews, with the author’s help. Assistance has also been given by the Rev. E. J. Thompson, Panna Lal Basu, Prabhat Kumar Mukerji, and the Sister Nivedita.

CONTENTS

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“HUNGRY STONES”: TAGORE GHOST STORY

May 24, 2011 at 1:49 am | Posted in Art, Film, India, Literary, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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The Hungry Stones

Rabindranath Tagore (Author)  
Title:     The Hungry Stones
Author: Rabindranath Tagore

“My kinsman and myself were returning to Calcutta from our Puja trip when we met the man in a train. From his dress and bearing we took him at first for an up-country Mahomedan, but we were puzzled as we heard him talk. He discoursed upon all subjects so confidently that you might think the Disposer of All Things consulted him at all times in all that He did. Hitherto we had been perfectly happy, as we did not know that secret and unheard-of forces were at work, that the Russians had advanced close to us, that the English had deep and secret policies, that confusion among the native chiefs had come to a head. But our newly-acquired friend said with a sly smile: “There happen more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are reported in your newspapers.” As we had never stirred out of our homes before, the demeanour of the man struck us dumb with wonder. Be the topic ever so trivial, he would quote science, or comment on the Vedas, or repeat quatrains from some Persian poet; and as we had no pretence to a knowledge of science or the Vedas or Persian, our admiration for him went on increasing, and my kinsman, a theosophist, was firmly convinced that our fellow-passenger must have been supernaturally inspired by some strange magnetism” or “occult power,” by an “astral body” or something of that kind. He listened to the tritest saying that fell from the lips of our extraordinary companion with devotional rapture, and secretly took down notes of his conversation. I fancy that the extraordinary man saw this, and was a little pleased with it.

When the train reached the junction, we assembled in the waiting room for the connection. It was then 10 P.M., and as the train, we heard, was likely to be very late, owing to something wrong in the lines, I spread my bed on the table and was about to lie down for a comfortable doze, when the extraordinary person deliberately set about spinning the following yarn. Of course, I could get no sleep that night.

When, owing to a disagreement about some questions of administrative policy, I threw up my post at Junagarh, and entered the service of the Nizam of Hydria, they appointed me at once, as a strong young man, collector of cotton duties at Barich.

Barich is a lovely place. The Susta “chatters over stony ways and babbles on the pebbles,” tripping, like a skilful dancing girl, in through the woods below the lonely hills. A flight of 150 steps rises from the river, and above that flight, on the river’s brim and at the foot of the hills, there stands a solitary marble palace. Around it there is no habitation of man–the village and the cotton mart of Barich being far off.

About 250 years ago the Emperor Mahmud Shah II. had built this lonely palace for his pleasure and luxury. In his days jets of rose-water spurted from its fountains, and on the cold marble floors of its spray- cooled rooms young Persian damsels would sit, their hair dishevelled before bathing, and, splashing their soft naked feet in the clear water of the reservoirs, would sing, to the tune of the guitar, the ghazals of their vineyards.

The fountains play no longer; the songs have ceased; no longer do snow-white feet step gracefully on the snowy marble. It is but the vast and solitary quarters of cess-collectors like us, men oppressed with solitude and deprived of the society of women. Now, Karim Khan, the old clerk of my office, warned me repeatedly not to take up my abode there. “Pass the day there, if you like,” said he, “but never stay the night.” I passed it off with a light laugh. The servants said that they would work till dark and go away at night. I gave my ready assent. The house had such a bad name that even thieves would not venture near it after dark.

At first the solitude of the deserted palace weighed upon me like a nightmare. I would stay out, and work hard as long as possible, then return home at night jaded and tired, go to bed and fall asleep.

Before a week had passed, the place began to exert a weird fascination upon me. It is difficult to describe or to induce people to believe; but I felt as if the whole house was like a living organism slowly and imperceptibly digesting me by the action of some stupefying gastric juice.

Perhaps the process had begun as soon as I set my foot in the house, but I distinctly remember the day on which I first was conscious of it.

It was the beginning of summer, and the market being dull I had no work to do. A little before sunset I was sitting in an arm-chair near the water’s edge below the steps. The Susta had shrunk and sunk low; a broad patch of sand on the other side glowed with the hues of evening; on this side the pebbles at the bottom of the clear shallow waters were glistening. There was not a breath of wind anywhere, and the still air was laden with an oppressive scent from the spicy shrubs growing on the hills close by.

As the sun sank behind the hill-tops a long dark curtain fell upon the stage of day, and the intervening hills cut short the time in which light and shade mingle at sunset. I thought of going out for a ride, and was about to get up when I heard a footfall on the steps behind. I looked back, but there was no one.

As I sat down again, thinking it to be an illusion, I heard many footfalls, as if a large number of persons were rushing down the steps. A strange thrill of delight, slightly tinged with fear, passed through my frame, and though there was not a figure before my eyes, methought I saw a bevy of joyous maidens coming down the steps to bathe in the Susta in that summer evening. Not a sound was in the valley, in the river, or in the palace, to break the silence, but I distinctly heard the maidens’ gay and mirthful laugh, like the gurgle of a spring gushing forth in a hundred cascades, as they ran past me, in quick playful pursuit of each other, towards the river, without noticing me at all. As they were invisible to me, so I was, as it were, invisible to them. The river was perfectly calm, but I felt that its still, shallow, and clear waters were stirred suddenly by the splash of many an arm jingling with bracelets, that the girls laughed and dashed and spattered water at one another, that the feet of the fair swimmers tossed the tiny waves up in showers of pearl.

I felt a thrill at my heart–I cannot say whether the excitement was due to fear or delight or curiosity. I had a strong desire to see them more clearly, but naught was visible before me; I thought I could catch all that they said if I only strained my ears; but however hard I strained them, I heard nothing but the chirping of the cicadas in the woods. It seemed as if a dark curtain of 250 years was hanging before me, and I would fain lift a corner of it tremblingly and peer through, though the assembly on the other side was completely enveloped in darkness.

The oppressive closeness of the evening was broken by a sudden gust of wind, and the still surface of the Suista rippled and curled like the hair of a nymph, and from the woods wrapt in the evening gloom there came forth a simultaneous murmur, as though they were awakening from a black dream. Call it reality or dream, the momentary glimpse of that invisible mirage reflected from a far-off world, 250 years old, vanished in a flash. The mystic forms that brushed past me with their quick unbodied steps, and loud, voiceless laughter, and threw themselves into the river, did not go back wringing their dripping robes as they went. Like fragrance wafted away by the wind they were dispersed by a single breath of the spring.

Then I was filled with a lively fear that it was the Muse that had taken advantage of my solitude and possessed me–the witch had evidently come to ruin a poor devil like myself making a living by collecting cotton duties. I decided to have a good dinner–it is the empty stomach that all sorts of incurable diseases find an easy prey. I sent for my cook and gave orders for a rich, sumptuous moghlai dinner, redolent of spices and ghi.

Next morning the whole affair appeared a queer fantasy. With a light heart I put on a sola hat like the sahebs, and drove out to my work. I was to have written my quarterly report that day, and expected to return late; but before it was dark I was strangely drawn to my house–by what I could not say–I felt they were all waiting, and that I should delay no longer. Leaving my report unfinished I rose, put on my sola hat, and startling the dark, shady, desolate path with the rattle of my carriage, I reached the vast silent palace standing on the gloomy skirts of the hills.

On the first floor the stairs led to a very spacious hall, its roof stretching wide over ornamental arches resting on three rows of massive pillars, and groaning day and night under the weight of its own intense solitude. The day had just closed, and the lamps had not yet been lighted. As I pushed the door open a great bustle seemed to follow within, as if a throng of people had broken up in confusion, and rushed out through the doors and windows and corridors and verandas and rooms, to make its hurried escape.

As I saw no one I stood bewildered, my hair on end in a kind of ecstatic delight, and a faint scent of attar and unguents almost effected by age lingered in my nostrils. Standing in the darkness of that vast desolate hall between the rows of those ancient pillars, I could hear the gurgle of fountains plashing on the marble floor, a strange tune on the guitar, the jingle of ornaments and the tinkle of anklets, the clang of bells tolling the hours, the distant note of nahabat, the din of the crystal pendants of chandeliers shaken by the breeze, the song of bulbuls from the cages in the corridors, the cackle of storks in the gardens, all creating round me a strange unearthly music.

Then I came under such a spell that this intangible, inaccessible, unearthly vision appeared to be the only reality in the world–and all else a mere dream. That I, that is to say, Srijut So-and-so, the eldest son of So-and-so of blessed memory, should be drawing a monthly salary of Rs. 450 by the discharge of my duties as collector of cotton duties, and driving in my dog-cart to my office every day in a short coat and soia hat, appeared to me to be such an astonishingly ludicrous illusion that I burst into a horse-laugh, as I stood in the gloom of that vast silent hall.

At that moment my servant entered with a lighted kerosene lamp in his hand. I do not know whether he thought me mad, but it came back to me at once that I was in very deed Srijut So-and-so, son of So-and-so of blessed memory, and that, while our poets, great and small, alone could say whether inside of or outside the earth there was a region where unseen fountains perpetually played and fairy guitars, struck by invisible fingers, sent forth an eternal harmony, this at any rate was certain, that I collected duties at the cotton market at Banch, and earned thereby Rs. 450 per mensem as my salary. I laughed in great glee at my curious illusion, as I sat over the newspaper at my camp-table, lighted by the kerosene lamp.

After I had finished my paper and eaten my moghlai dinner, I put out the lamp, and lay down on my bed in a small side-room. Through the open window a radiant star, high above the Avalli hills skirted by the darkness of their woods, was gazing intently from millions and millions of miles away in the sky at Mr. Collector lying on a humble camp- bedstead. I wondered and felt amused at the idea, and do not knew when I fell asleep or how long I slept; but I suddenly awoke with a start, though I heard no sound and saw no intruder–only the steady bright star on the hilltop had set, and the dim light of the new moon was stealthily entering the room through the open window, as if ashamed of its intrusion.

I saw nobody, but felt as if some one was gently pushing me. As I awoke she said not a word, but beckoned me with her five fingers bedecked with rings to follow her cautiously. I got up noiselessly, and, though not a soul save myself was there in the countless apartments of that deserted palace with its slumbering sounds and waiting echoes, I feared at every step lest any one should wake up. Most of the rooms of the palace were always kept closed, and I had never entered them.

I followed breathless and with silent steps my invisible guide–I cannot now say where. What endless dark and narrow passages, what long corridors, what silent and solemn audience-chambers and close secret cells I crossed!

Though I could not see my fair guide, her form was not invisible to my mind’s eye, –an Arab girl, her arms, hard and smooth as marble, visible through her loose sleeves, a thin veil falling on her face from the fringe of her cap, and a curved dagger at her waist! Methought that one of the thousand and one Arabian Nights had been wafted to me from the world of romance, and that at the dead of night I was wending my way through the dark narrow alleys of slumbering Bagdad to a trysting-place fraught with peril.

At last my fair guide stopped abruptly before a deep blue screen, and seemed to point to something below. There was nothing there, but a sudden dread froze the blood in my heart-methought I saw there on the floor at the foot of the screen a terrible negro eunuch dressed in rich brocade, sitting and dozing with outstretched legs, with a naked sword on his lap. My fair guide lightly tripped over his legs and held up a fringe of the screen. I could catch a glimpse of a part of the room spread with a Persian carpet–some one was sitting inside on a bed–I could not see her, but only caught a glimpse of two exquisite feet in gold-embroidered slippers, hanging out from loose saffron-coloured paijamas and placed idly on the orange-coloured velvet carpet. On one side there was a bluish crystal tray on which a few apples, pears, oranges, and bunches of grapes in plenty, two small cups and a gold- tinted decanter were evidently waiting the guest. A fragrant intoxicating vapour, issuing from a strange sort of incense that burned within, almost overpowered my senses.

As with trembling heart I made an attempt to step across the outstretched legs of the eunuch, he woke up suddenly with a start, and the sword fell from his lap with a sharp clang on the marble floor. A terrific scream made me jump, and I saw I was sitting on that camp- bedstead of mine sweating heavily; and the crescent moon looked pale in the morning light like a weary sleepless patient at dawn; and our crazy Meher Ali was crying out, as is his daily custom, “Stand back! Stand back!!” while he went along the lonely road.

Such was the abrupt close of one of my Arabian Nights; but there were yet a thousand nights left.

Then followed a great discord between my days and nights. During the day I would go to my work worn and tired, cursing the bewitching night and her empty dreams, but as night came my daily life with its bonds and shackles of work would appear a petty, false, ludicrous vanity.

After nightfall I was caught and overwhelmed in the snare of a strange intoxication, I would then be transformed into some unknown personage of a bygone age, playing my part in unwritten history; and my short English coat and tight breeches did not suit me in the least. With a red velvet cap on my head, loose paijamas, an embroidered vest, a long flowing silk gown, and coloured handkerchiefs scented with attar, I would complete my elaborate toilet, sit on a high-cushioned chair, and replace my cigarette with a many-coiled narghileh filled with rose-water, as if in eager expectation of a strange meeting with the beloved one.

I have no power to describe the marvellous incidents that unfolded themselves, as the gloom of the night deepened. I felt as if in the curious apartments of that vast edifice the fragments of a beautiful story, which I could follow for some distance, but of which I could never see the end, flew about in a sudden gust of the vernal breeze. And all the same I would wander from room to room in pursuit of them the whole night long.

Amid the eddy of these dream-fragments, amid the smell of henna and the twanging of the guitar, amid the waves of air charged with fragrant spray, I would catch like a flash of lightning the momentary glimpse of a fair damsel. She it was who had saffron-coloured paijamas, white ruddy soft feet in gold-embroidered slippers with curved toes, a close- fitting bodice wrought with gold, a red cap, from which a golden frill fell on her snowy brow and cheeks.

She had maddened me. In pursuit of her I wandered from room to room, from path to path among the bewildering maze of alleys in the enchanted dreamland of the nether world of sleep.

Sometimes in the evening, while arraying myself carefully as a prince of the blood-royal before a large mirror, with a candle burning on either side, I would see a sudden reflection of the Persian beauty by the side of my own. A swift turn of her neck, a quick eager glance of intense passion and pain glowing in her large dark eyes, just a suspicion of speech on her dainty red lips, her figure, fair and slim crowned with youth like a blossoming creeper, quickly uplifted in her graceful tilting gait, a dazzling flash of pain and craving and ecstasy, a smile and a glance and a blaze of jewels and silk, and she melted away. A wild glist of wind, laden with all the fragrance of hills and woods, would put out my light, and I would fling aside my dress and lie down on my bed, my eyes closed and my body thrilling with delight, and there around me in the breeze, amid all the perfume of the woods and hills, floated through the silent gloom many a caress and many a kiss and many a tender touch of hands, and gentle murmurs in my ears, and fragrant breaths on my brow; or a sweetly-perfumed kerchief was wafted again and again on my cheeks. Then slowly a mysterious serpent would twist her stupefying coils about me; and heaving a heavy sigh, I would lapse into insensibility, and then into a profound slumber.

One evening I decided to go out on my horse–I do not know who implored me to stay-but I would listen to no entreaties that day. My English hat and coat were resting on a rack, and I was about to take them down when a sudden whirlwind, crested with the sands of the Susta and the dead leaves of the Avalli hills, caught them up, and whirled them round and round, while a loud peal of merry laughter rose higher and higher, striking all the chords of mirth till it died away in the land of sunset.

I could not go out for my ride, and the next day I gave up my queer English coat and hat for good.

That day again at dead of night I heard the stifled heart-breaking sobs of some one–as if below the bed, below the floor, below the stony foundation of that gigantic palace, from the depths of a dark damp grave, a voice piteously cried and implored me: “Oh, rescue me! Break through these doors of hard illusion, deathlike slumber and fruitless dreams, place by your side on the saddle, press me to your heart, and, riding through hills and woods and across the river, take me to the warm radiance of your sunny rooms above!”

Who am I? Oh, how can I rescue thee? What drowning beauty, what incarnate passion shall I drag to the shore from this wild eddy of dreams? O lovely ethereal apparition! Where didst thou flourish and when?” By what cool spring, under the shade of what date-groves, wast thou born–in the lap of what homeless wanderer in the desert? What Bedouin snatched thee from thy mother’s arms, an opening bud plucked from a wild creeper, placed thee on a horse swift as lightning, crossed the burning sands, and took thee to the slave-market of what royal city? And there, what officer of the Badshah, seeing the glory of thy bashful blossoming youth, paid for thee in gold, placed thee in a golden palanquin, and offered thee as a present for the seraglio of his master? And O, the history of that place! The music of the sareng, the jingle of anklets, the occasional flash of daggers and the glowing wine of Shiraz poison, and the piercing flashing glance! What infinite grandeur, what endless servitude!

The slave-girls to thy right and left waved the chamar as diamonds flashed from their bracelets; the Badshah, the king of kings, fell on his knees at thy snowy feet in bejewelled shoes, and outside the terrible Abyssinian eunuch, looking like a messenger of death, but clothed like an angel, stood with a naked sword in his hand! Then, O, thou flower of the desert, swept away by the blood-stained dazzling ocean of grandeur, with its foam of jealousy, its rocks and shoals of intrigue, on what shore of cruel death wast thou cast, or in what other land more splendid and more cruel?

Suddenly at this moment that crazy Meher Ali screamed out: “Stand back! Stand back!! All is false! All is false!!” I opened my eyes and saw that it was already light. My chaprasi came and handed me my letters, and the cook waited with a salam for my orders.

I said; “No, I can stay here no longer.” That very day I packed up, and moved to my office. Old Karim Khan smiled a little as he saw me. I felt nettled, but said nothing, and fell to my work.

As evening approached I grew absent-minded; I felt as if I had an appointment to keep; and the work of examining the cotton accounts seemed wholly useless; even the Nizamat of the Nizam did not appear to be of much worth. Whatever belonged to the present, whatever was moving and acting and working for bread seemed trivial, meaningless, and contemptible.

I threw my pen down, closed my ledgers, got into my dog-cart, and drove away. I noticed that it stopped of itself at the gate of the marble palace just at the hour of twilight. With quick steps I climbed the stairs, and entered the room.

A heavy silence was reigning within. The dark rooms were looking sullen as if they had taken offense. My heart was full of contrition, but there was no one to whom I could lay it bare, or of whom I could ask forgiveness. I wandered about the dark rooms with a vacant mind. I wished I had a guitar to which I could sing to the unknown: “O fire, the poor moth that made a vain effort to fly away has come back to thee! Forgive it but this once, burn its wings and consume it in thy flame!”

Suddenly two tear-drops fell from overhead on my brow. Dark masses of clouds overcast the top of the Avalli hills that day. The gloomy woods and the sooty waters of the Susta were waiting in terrible suspense and in an ominous calm. Suddenly land, water, and sky shivered, and a wild tempest-blast rushed howling through the distant pathless woods, showing its lightning-teeth like a raving maniac who had broken his chains. The desolate halls of the palace banged their doors, and moaned in the bitterness of anguish.

The servants were all in the office, and there was no one to light the lamps. The night was cloudy and moonless. In the dense gloom within I could distinctly feel that a woman was lying on her face on the carpet below the bed–clasping and tearing her long dishevelled hair with desperate fingers. Blood was tricking down her fair brow, and she was now laughing a hard, harsh, mirthless laugh, now bursting into violent wringing sobs, now rending her bodice and striking at her bare bosom, as the wind roared in through the open window, and the rain poured in torrents and soaked her through and through.

All night there was no cessation of the storm or of the passionate cry. I wandered from room to room in the dark, with unavailing sorrow. Whom could I console when no one was by? Whose was this intense agony of sorrow? Whence arose this inconsolable grief?

And the mad man cried out: “Stand back! Stand back!! All is false! All is false!!”

I saw that the day had dawned, and Meher Ali was going round and round the palace with his usual cry in that dreadful weather. Suddenly it came to me that perhaps he also had once lived in that house, and that, though he had gone mad, he came there every day, and went round and round, fascinated by the weird spell cast by the marble demon.

Despite the storm and rain I ran to him and asked: “Ho, Meher Ali, what is false?”

The man answered nothing, but pushing me aside went round and round with his frantic cry, like a bird flying fascinated about the jaws of a snake, and made a desperate effort to warn himself by repeating: “Stand back! Stand back!! All is false! All is false!!”

I ran like a mad man through the pelting rain to my office, and asked Karim Khan: “Tell me the meaning of all this!”

What I gathered from that old man was this: That at one time countless unrequited passions and unsatisfied longings and lurid flames of wild blazing pleasure raged within that palace, and that the curse of all the heart-aches and blasted hopes had made its every stone thirsty and hungry, eager to swallow up like a famished ogress any living man who might chance to approach. Not one of those who lived there for three consecutive nights could escape these cruel jaws, save Meher Ali, who had escaped at the cost of his reason.

I asked: “Is there no means whatever of my release?” The old man said: “There is only one means, and that is very difficult. I will tell you what it is, but first you must hear the history of a young Persian girl who once lived in that pleasure-dome. A stranger or a more bitterly heart-rending tragedy was never enacted on this earth.”

Just at this moment the coolies announced that the train was coming. So soon? We hurriedly packed up our luggage, as the tram steamed in. An English gentleman, apparently just aroused from slumber, was looking out of a first-class carriage endeavouring to read the name of the station. As soon as he caught sight of our fellow-passenger, he cried, “Hallo,” and took him into his own compartment. As we got into a second-class carriage, we had no chance of finding out who the man was nor what was the end of his story.

I said; “The man evidently took us for fools and imposed upon us out of fun. The story is pure fabrication from start to finish.” The discussion that followed ended in a lifelong rupture between my theosophist kinsman and myself.”

-THE END-
Rabindranath Tagore’s short story: The Hungry Stones

Product Details:

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: 1st World Library – Literary Society
  • May 20, 2005
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421804816
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421804811

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CLANDESTINE HISTORY: “A MURKY BUSINESS” NOVEL BY BALZAC

May 22, 2011 at 1:27 am | Posted in Books, France, History, Literary | Leave a comment

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A Murky Business (Une Tenebreuse Affaire)

Honore de Balzac (Author)

Herbert J. Hunt (Translator, Introduction)

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

This novel covers the years 1803-6, when Napoleon was making himself first consul and then emperor.

It is also an early example of the detective story, in which the sinister, implacable police agent, Corentin, stalks his way towards vengeance on his aristocratic enemies.

Product Details:

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics
  • September 28, 1978
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442717

A Murky Business (Une Tenebreuse Affaire)  

Conspiracy theorists rejoice. Balzac weaves such a complex web. As Napoleon decides the fate of Europe, others are secretly deciding the fate of France.

From the streets of Paris, just beneath the Emperors nose, to the provincial farmers of Champaign; machinations with a flair not seen since the Borgias lead the reader along this rollercoaster.

A Murky Business (Une Tenebreuse Affaire)

A Murky Business is wonderful. The acute eye and superb writing of Balzac are put in service of a political mystery novel. Napoleon is trying to conquer Europe, and Fouche, his police chief (a fascinating historical character) is covering his back, doing all the dirty work. For Napoleon has powerful enemies who are conspiring to depose him. Malin is one of the conspirators, a man who buys a big house called Gondreville, in rural Champagne. Michú, his servant, helps her beautiful and rich neighbor, Lorence de Cynq-Cygne (one of Balzac’s strongest and smartest female characters) to get their cousins secretly into France. These guys, called Simeuse, are conspirators exiled by Napoleon. Fouche gets to know the Simeuses are back in France, and starts the search for them, kidnapping Malin.  It is a great novel with a very dark tone. There are spies, traitors, revenge and passion.  This novel should be much more famous, since it is magnificent entertainment and excellent literature.

A Murky Business (Une Tenebreuse Affaire)

Honore de Balzac (Author)

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“MAN IS WHAT HE HIDES”: MALRAUX NOVEL “THE WALNUT TREES OF ALTENBURG”

May 2, 2011 at 12:55 am | Posted in Books, France, History, Literary, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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“Fundamentally speaking, man is what he hides”

“Man is what he conceals”

(Howard Fertig edition, 1989, pages 67 and 95)

The Walnut Trees of Altenburg

Andre Malraux

Product Details:

  • Pub. Date: March 1992
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Format: Paperback , 224pp
  • Series: Phoenix Fiction Series
  • ISBN-13: 9780226502892
  • ISBN: 0226502899
  • Edition Description: 1

Synopsis

“One of the key texts of Malraux’s work . . . [its] pages must be counted among the most haunting in all of twentieth century literature.”—Victor Brombert

“The description of the gas attack on the Russian front in 1915 will never be forgotten by anyone who has read it. . . . [Malraux] writes with the precision, the certitude and the authority of an obsessed person who knows that he has found the essence of what he has been looking for.”—Conor Cruise O’Brien, from the Foreword

Malraux’s greatest novel, Man’s Fate, gave a grim, lurid picture of human suffering. [The Walnut Trees of Altenburg], written by a life-long observer of violent upheaval and within the shadows of World War II, gives a calm, thoughtful vision of humanistic endeavor that can transcend the absurdity of existence. Mature readers will find this a rewarding visit to one of the most accomplished writers of our time.”—Choice

Library Journal

This is an outstanding translation of Malraux’s last novel, written during the early years of World War II. (The 1948 Gallimard French edition, Les Noyers de l’Altenburg , is no longer in print.) The famous pages describing the German poison gas attack on the Russians at the Eastern front in 1915 are as haunting as ever;human life and nature are sickeningly destroyed, leaving Vincent Berger, who experiences the horror, with the overwhelming and desperate urge simply to be happy. Themes present in Malraux’s earlier works–particularly the alienation of modern man caught between action and intellect, political forces and human freedom, permanence and change–are powerfully conveyed again by the author. English-speaking readers already familiar with Malraux’s writings will welcome this first English version.– Anthony Caprio, American Univ., Washington, D.C.

Biography

André Malraux (1901-76) served as Minister of Culture in Charles de Gaulle’s cabinet. His many works include Man’s Fate, Anti-Memoirs, The Conquerors, and The Temptation of the West, the latter two published by the University of Chicago Press.

“Fundamentally speaking, man is what he hides”

“Man is what he conceals”

(Howard Fertig edition, 1989, pages 67 and 95)

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“TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE”: THEORY OF GOLD PRICES

April 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Art, Books, Economics, Film, Financial, Literary | Leave a comment

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“Treasure of the Sierra Madre”: Howard’s Theory of Gold prices

Howard: Say, answer me this one, will you? Why is gold worth some twenty bucks an ounce?

Flophouse Bum: I don’t know. Because it’s scarce.

Howard: A thousand men, say, go searchin’ for gold. After six months, one of them’s lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That’s six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin’ over a mountain, goin’ hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin’ and the gettin’ of it.

Flophouse Bum: I never thought of it just like that.

Howard: Well, there’s no other explanation, mister. Gold itself ain’t good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth.

Comment: This is the Labor Theory of Value in economics

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“THE LAST OF THE JUST”: ANDRE SCHWARZ-BART NOVEL FROM 1959

April 17, 2011 at 9:40 am | Posted in Art, Books, History, Judaica, Literary, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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“The Last of The Just”

Lamedvavniks and Tzadikim Nistarim

According to Jewish tradition, 36 “just men” are born in every generation to take the burden of the world’s suffering upon themselves.

The Tzadikim Nistarim (hidden righteous ones) or Lamed Vav Tzadikim (36 righteous ones), often abbreviated to Lamed Vav(niks)[a], refers to 36 Righteous people, a notion rooted within the more mystical dimensions of Judaism. The singular form is Tzadik Nistar.

Origins

The source is the Talmud itself, explained as follows:

As a mystical concept, the number 36 is even more intriguing. It is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end. The two Hebrew letters for 36 are the lamed, which is 30, and the vav, which is 6. Therefore, these 36 are referred to as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. This widely-held belief, this most unusual Jewish concept is based on a Talmudic statement to the effect that in every generation 36 righteous “greet the Shechinah,” the Divine Presence (Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b).[1]

Their purpose

Mystical Hasidic Judaism as well as other segments of Judaism believe that there is the Jewish tradition of 36 righteous people whose role in life is to justify the purpose of humankind in the eyes of God. Tradition holds that their identities are unknown to each other and that, if one of them comes to a realization of their true purpose then they may die and their role is immediately assumed by another person:

The Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim are also called the Nistarim (“concealed ones”). In our folk tales, they emerge from their self-imposed concealment and, by the mystic powers, which they possess, they succeed in averting the threatened disasters of a people persecuted by the enemies that surround them. They return to their anonymity as soon as their task is accomplished, ‘concealing’ themselves once again in a Jewish community wherein they are relatively unknown. The lamed-vavniks, scattered as they are throughout the Diaspora, have no acquaintance with one another. On very rare occasions, one of them is ‘discovered’ by accident, in which case the secret of their identity must not be disclosed. The lamed-vavniks do not themselves know that they are ones of the 36. In fact, tradition has it that should a person claim to be one of the 36, that is proof positive that they are certainly not one. Since the 36 are each exemplars of anavah, (“humility”), having such a virtue would preclude against one’s self-proclamation of being among the special righteous. The 36 are simply too humble to believe that they are one of the 36.[1]

Lamedvavniks

Lamedvavnik is the Yiddish term for one of the 36 humble righteous ones or Tzadikim mentioned in kabbalah or Jewish mysticism. According to this teaching, at any given time there are at least 36 holy Jews in the world who are Tzadikim. These holy people are hidden; i.e., nobody knows who they are. According to some versions of the story, they themselves may not know who they are. For the sake of these 36 hidden saints, God preserves the world even if the rest of humanity has degenerated to the level of total barbarism. This is similar to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Hebrew Bible, where God told Abraham that he would spare the city of Sodom if there was a quorum of at least 10 righteous men. Since nobody knows who the Lamedvavniks are, not even themselves, every Jew should act as if he or she might be one of them; i.e., lead a holy and humble life and pray for the sake of fellow human beings. It is also said that one of these 36 could potentially be the Jewish Messiah if the world is ready for them to reveal themselves. Otherwise, they live and die as an ordinary person. Whether the person knows they are the potential Messiah is debated.

The term lamedvavnik is derived from the Hebrew letters Lamed (L) and Vav (V), whose numerical value adds up to 36. The “nik” at the end is a Russian or Yiddish suffix indicating “a person who…” (As in “Beatnik“; in English, this would be something like calling them “The Thirty-Sixers”.) The number 36 is twice 18.

In gematria (a form of Jewish numerology), the number 18 stands for “life”, because the Hebrew letters that spell chai, meaning “living”, add up to 18. Because 36 = 2×18, it represents “two lives”.

In some Hassidic stories, disciples consider their Rebbes and other religious figures to be among the Lamedvavniks. It is also possible for a Lamedvavnik to reveal themselves as such, although that rarely happens—a Lamedvavnik’s status as an exemplar of humility would preclude it. More often, it is the disciples who speculate.

These beliefs are articulated in the works of Max Brod, and some (like Jorge Luis Borges) believe the concept to have originated in the Book of Genesis 18:26

And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.[2]

Notes

  • a In Hebrew numerals, 30 is lamed  and 6 is vav‎‎. Together they yield 36.

References in popular culture

  • The mystery thriller novel The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne deals with the murder of the righteous ones, one by one, and solving the murders.
  • In “Three Septembers and a January,” from Neil Gaiman‘s comic The Sandman, Death remarks: “they say that the world rests on the backs of 36 living saints – 36 unselfish men and women. Because of them the world continues to exist. They are the secret kings and queens of this world.”

References

  1. 1.                              a b Zwerin, Rabbi Raymond A. (September 15, 2002 / 5763). “THE 36 – WHO ARE THEY?”. Temple Sinai, Denver: americanet.com. Archived from the original on Jan 18, 2003. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  2. 2.                              “Genesis » Chapter 18”. bible.ort.org. Retrieved 3 August 2010.

The Last of the Just

Andre Schwarz-Bart (Author)

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Schwarz-Bart’s 1959 novel is a chronicle of Jewish persecution beginning in England in 1105 and ending with the Holocaust. This book was a huge hit when first released, eventually being translated into several languages. It is both a historical document and a compelling piece of fiction.

Product Description

According to Jewish tradition, 36 “just men” are born in every generation to take the burden of the world’s suffering upon themselves. This book tells the story of two Jews, divided by eight centuries, who are persecuted to death, becoming part of the catastrophic history of the Jewish people.

Product Details:

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook TP; First Edition
  • January 31, 2000
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781585670161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585670161
  • ASIN: 1585670162

In this classic of 1959 André Schwarz-Bart reworks the Jewish legend of the Lamed Vavs, the handful (36 in most versions of the story) of Just or Righteous Men who live among the Jews in every generation and who provide the merit on which the world depends. The tradition dates back to the 5th century Babylonian Talmud. It was elaborated by kabbalistic Jews in the 16th and 17th century and by Hassidic Jews in the 18th century: the Lamed Vavs are humble men and unnoticed as special by their fellow Jews. At times of great peril, so this version has it, “a Lamed Vavnik makes a dramatic appearance, using his hidden powers to defeat the enemies of Israel or mankind” (Encyclopedia Judaica).

Schwarz-Bart was born in France and lost most of the members of his family in the Holocaust.

Schwarz-Bart imagines the story of the Levys, one family in which the role of the Just Man was hereditary. They have suffered death down the ages, beginning with the massacre of the Jews of York in 1185. In later generations this wandering Jewish family suffers at the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions; they are expelled from one area after another; the Cossacks add their contribution; and when we come to the late 19th century, the family leaves its home in Zemyock in Russian Poland and settles in Germany. At this stage there are three generations: at the head of it is Mordecai, the venerable patriarch, who accepts that all suffering is part of God’s will and who tells his family that there is no point in putting up any resistance. His son Benjamin thinks there is an escape in trying to merge into German society; but the Patriarch tells the story of the Just Men to his frail and scholarly little grandson, Ernie. Ernie lives in his own intensely active and romantic imagination, and, with the arrival of the Nazis in 1933, he is convinced that he is to be the next Just Man.

The remaining two thirds of the book deal with Ernie’s life from that time onwards. There are terrible scenes of brutality – gangs of Nazis attacking Jews as they go to the synagogue, atrocious bullying of the Jewish children by a teacher and by their fellow-students. Ernie’s life is full of suffering and strengthens his conviction that the calling of being Just Man has indeed fallen upon him. The scenes of cruelty are interspersed with the vivid poetical and mystical nature of Ernie’s imagination. With one terrible exception when he is in utter despair – a touch of human nature which rescues the portrait of him from being just too accepting – he identifies with suffering everywhere, not just among the Jews; he is open to the beauties of the earth amid all the horrors that rage upon its surface. It is this lyrical element of the book which sets it apart from so many other accounts of what happened to the Jews under Nazi persecution.

Before the gates of the prison that was Nazi Germany finally slammed shut, the Levy family managed to emigrate to France, only to be trapped there when the war broke out. Ernie volunteers for the French army, though in a non-combatant role as a stretcher-bearer. The horrors of war are described, not with the excruciating detail with which the author had dealt with the brutality in Germany, but with Voltairian brevity and irony.

After the defeat of the French Army, Ernie manages to get into Vichy France. The instinct for survival overcomes for a while his mission to become a martyr: he converts, he attends Mass, he fornicates, he nearly begins to lose his Jewish appearance; but in his ever fertile fantasy he sees himself as a dog and sometimes literally behaves like one. Anyway, his disguise does not work: he is recognized as a Jew, and with that moment he recovers for himself his Jewish identity.

He makes his way back to the Jewish quarter of Paris where he finds four devout old men from Zemyock who have not yet been deported. Before his own deportation, old Mordecai had told them that he believed his grandson to be one of the Just Men. Ernie is now treated by them with the utmost reverence, and he becomes conscious again of his destiny.

But what will drive him to seek entry into the hell of Drancy and the extinction that awaits in Auschwitz is not the consciousness that he is one of the Just Men, but something altogether less mystical, more human. At one point in the heart-wrenching last pages, Ernie`s compassion makes him tell the terrified children in the cattle-truck that they will soon be in the Kingdom where “an eternal joy will crown your heads; cheerfulness and gaiety will come and greet you, and all the pains and all the moans will run away.” He is reproved by an old woman for not telling them the truth. He replies, “There is no room for truth here”. So will they find the truth in the next world? Will they find an answer to the question that, in his dreams, he heard a fiddler sing:

“Oh, can we rise as far as heaven
To ask God why things are as they are?”

The Last of the Just  

In 1959 The Last of the Just won the Prix Goncourt, the top literary award of France (the French Booker). A sweeping epic of a thousand years of Jewish life in Europe, the novel traces the fortunes and tragedies of one family with a special heritage. A member of each generation of the family is one of the 36 just men that Jewish tradition claims feel the suffering and pain of all the living, and without whom the world could not go on. Since the Jewish word for 36 is lamed vov, these men are often called Lamed Vovniks.

This strange and singular honor was attributed to the Levy family in 1085 following an attempt by the Bishop William of Nordhouse to massacre the Jewish citizens of York. To save his people, the Rabbi Yom Tov Levy leads them to an abandoned tower where they withhold a siege of six days by the local Christians. Rather than succumb to the indignities of their captors, the Jews decide to take their own lives. As was done in Massada a thousand years earlier, the Rabbi takes on the role of blessing and killing each of the members of his community and then taking his own life. Some of the children, including the rabbi’s son Solomon, survive. When Solomon becomes a man he has a vision from God where he is told that, because of his father’s noble act, beginning with him, each generation of his family will contain one of the Lamed-Vovniks.

The first 140 pages of this book presents a history of the Levy family, their lineage of Lamed-Vovniks, and their fame in the Jewish community. The last three hundred pages tells the story of Ernie Levy, who is born in the Twentieth Century, during the events leading up to and in the Holocaust.

Sweeping in scope and yet focused on the life of a single man, this book presents the joys of Jewish community life and the accomodations they make to survive being a European minority marked for extermination by the Christian majority. It presents European history from a Jewish perspective and provides a detailed background to the insanity that is the Holocaust.

The point of view is that of a family of holy men whose compassion and wisdom gives the story great depth and understanding. Sadly, the Levy Lamed-Vovniks are all male. While the women of the story are well portrayed and strong personalities, they are never the main characters so the book has a decidedly male perspective. 

There are in the world 36 `just men’ that take on the suffering of the world, that are the reasons God allows the world to continue. There are among these men, some number of `unknown just’ who see the world differently from most of us.

That when one of these `unknown just’ dies his soul is so cold that God must hold him in his fingers for a thousand years so that he can open to paradise.

Ernie Levy in The Last of the Just is one of those men. A thousand years of history, two thousand years of suffering are all concentrated in the story of one boy, the movement of a family from Poland, to Germany, to France, to extermination. The story of a people, the story of a family, the story of a man, the story of the twentieth century.

The Last of the Just

Since the Palestinians are today’s “Jews”, “The Last of the Just” should impel all Jews to support the Palestinians.

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