Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Monday, November 29, 2004

Marshall Berman: The Mire of the Macadam

Baudelaire: Perte d'auréole (2)

Parte de um capítulo do magnífico livro de Marshal Berman, All that is solid melts into air (existe tradução portuguesa):

"Loss of a Halo" (Paris Spleen #46, written in 1865 but rejected by the press and not published until after Baudelaire's death) develops as a dialogue between a poet and an "ordinary man" who bump into each other in un mauvais lieu, a disreputable or sinister place, probably a brothel, to the embar­rassment of both. The ordinary man, who has always cherished an exalted idea of the artist, is aghast to find one here:

"What! you here, my friend? you in a place like this? you, the eater of ambrosia, the drinker of quintessences! I'm amazed!"

The poet then proceeds to explain himself:

"My friend, you know how terrified I am of horses and vehicles? Well, just now as I was crossing the boulevard in a great hurry, splashing through the mud, in the midst of a moving chaos, with death galloping at me from every side, I made a sudden move [un mouvement brusque], and my halo slipped off my head and fell into the mire of the macadam. I was much too scared to pick it up. I thought it was less unpleasant to lose my insignia than to get my bones broken. Besides, I said to myself, every cloud has a silver lining. Now I can walk around incognito, do low things, throw myself into every kind of filth (me livrer à la crapule), just like ordinary mortals [simples mortels]. So here I am, just as you see me, just like yourself!"

The straight man plays along, a little uneasily.

"But aren't you going to advertise for your halo? or notify the police?"

No: the poet is triumphant in what we recognize as a new self-definition:

"God forbid! I like it here. You're the only one who's recognized me. Besides, dignity bores me. What's more, it's fun to think of some bad poet picking it up and brazenly putting it on. What a pleasure to make somebody happy! especially somebody you can laugh at. Think of X! Think of Z! Don't you see how funny it will be?"

It is a strange poem, and we are apt to feel like the straight man, knowing something's happening here but not knowing what it is.

One of the first mysteries here is that halo itself. What's it doing on a modern poet's head in the first place? It is there to satirize and to criticize one of Baudelaire's own most fervent beliefs: belief in the holiness of art. We can find a quasi-religious devotion to art throughout his poetry and prose. Thus, in 1855: "The artist stems only from himself.... He stands security only for himself.... He dies childless. He has been his own king, his own priest, his own God.""Loss of a Halo" is about how Baudelaire's own God fails. But we must understand that this God is worshipped not only by artists but equally by many "ordinary people" who believe that art and artists exist on a plane far above them. "Loss of a Halo" takes place at the point at which the world of art and the ordinary world converge. This is not only a spiritual point but a physical one, a point in the landscape of the modern city. It is the point where the history of modernization and the history of modernism fuse into one.

Walter Benjamin seems to have been the first to suggest the deep affinities between Baudelaire and Marx. Although Benjamin does not make this particular connection, readers familiar with Marx will notice the striking similarity of Baudelaire's central image here to one of the primary images of the Communist Mani­festo: "The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every activity hith­erto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has transformed the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-laborers." For both men, one of the crucial experiences endemic to modern life, and one of the central themes for modern art and thought, is desanctification. Marx's the­ory locates this experience in a world-historical context; Baude­laire's poetry shows how it feels from inside. But the two men respond to this experience with rather different emotions. In the Manifesto, the drama of desanctification is terrible and tragic: Marx looks back to, and his vision embraces, heroic figures like Oedipus at Colonnus, Lear on the heath, contending against the elements, stripped and scorned but not subdued, creating a new dignity out of desolation. (...) "Loss of a Halo" confronts us with a very different spirit: here the drama is essentially comic, the mode of expression is ironic, and the comic irony is so successful that it masks the seriousness of the unmasking that is going on. Baude­laire's denouement, in which the hero's halo slips off his head and rolls through the mud - rather than being torn off with a violent grand geste, as it was for Marx (and Burke and Blake and Shake­speare) - evokes vaudeville, slapstick, the metaphysical pratfalls of Chaplin and Keaton. It points forward to a century whose heroes will come dressed as anti-heroes, and whose most solemn moments of truth will be not only described but actually experienced as clown shows, music-hall or nightclub routines-shticks. The set­ting plays the same sort of decisive role in Baudelaire's black com­edy that it will play in Chaplin's and Keaton's later on.
One of the paradoxes of modernity, as Baudelaire sees it here, is that its poets will become more deeply and authentically poetic by becom­ing more like ordinary men. If he throws himself into the moving chaos of everyday life in the modern world - a life of which the new traffic is a primary symbol - he can appropriate this life for art. The "bad poet" in this world is the poet who hopes to keep his purity intact by keeping off the streets, free from the risks of traffic. Baudelaire wants works of art that will be born in the midst of the traffic, that will spring from its anarchic energy, from the incessant danger and terror of being there, from the precarious pride and exhilaration of the man who has survived so far. Thus "Loss of a Halo" turns out to be a declaration of something gained, a rededication of the poet's powers to a new kind of art. His mouvements brusques, those sudden leaps and swerves so crucial for every­day survival in the city streets, turn out to be sources of creative power as well. In the century to come, these moves will become paradigmatic gestures of modernist art and thought.

Ironies proliferate from this primal modern scene. They unfold in Baudelaire's nuances of language. Consider a phrase like la fange du macadam, "the mire of the macadam." La fange in French is not only a literal word for mud; it is also a figurative word for mire, filth, vileness, corruption, degradation, all that is foul and loathsome. In classical oratorical and poetic diction, it is a "high" way of describing something "low." As such, it entails a whole cosmic hierarchy, a structure of norms and values not only aesthetic but metaphysical, ethical, political. La fange might be the nadir of the moral universe whose summit is signified by l'auréole. The irony here is that, so long as the poet's halo falls into "la fange," it can never be wholly lost, because, so long as such an image still has meaning and power - as it clearly has for Baudelaire - the old hierarchical cosmos is still present on some plane of the modern world. But it is present precariously. The meaning of macadam is as radically destructive to la fange as to l'auréole: it paves over high and low alike.

We can go deeper into the macadam: we will notice that the word isn't French. In fact, the word is derived from John Mc Adam of Glasgow, the eighteenth-century inventor of modern paving surface. It may be the first word in that language that twentieth-century Frenchmen have satirically named Franglais: it paves the way for le parking, le shopping, le weekend, le drugstore, le mobile-home, and far more. This language is so vital and compelling because it is the international language of modernization. Its new words are powerful vehicles of new modes of life and motion. The words may sound dissonant and jarring, but it is as futile to resist them as to resist the momentum of modernization itself. It is true that many nations and ruling classes feel - and have reason to feel - threatened by the flow of new words and things from other shores.* There is a wonderful paranoid Soviet word that expresses fear: infiltrazya. We should notice, however, that what nations I have normally done, from Baudelaire's time to our own, is, after a wave (or at least a show) of resistance, not only to accept the new thing but to create their own word for it, in the hope of blotting out embarrassing memories of underdevelopment. (Thus the Académie Française, after refusing all through the 1960s to admit le parking meter to the French language, coined and quickly canonized le parcmetre in the 1970s.)

Baudelaire knew how to write in the purest and most elegant classical French. Here, however, with the "Loss of a Halo," he projects himself into the new, emerging language, to make art out of the dissonances and incongruities that pervade - and, paradox­ically, unite - the whole modern world.
There are further ironies that arise from this primal scene. The halo that falls into the mire of the macadam is endangered but not destroyed; instead, it is carried along and incorporated into the general flow of traffic. One salient feature of the commodity econ­omy, as Marx explains, is the endless metamorphosis of its market values. In this economy, anything goes if it pays, and no human possibility is ever wiped off the books; culture becomes an enor­mous warehouse in which everything is kept in stock on the chance that someday, somewhere, it might sell. Thus the halo that the modern poet lets go (or throws off) as obsolete may, by virtue of its very obsolescence, metamorphose into an icon, an object of nostalgic veneration for those who, like the "bad poets" X and Z, are trying to escape from modernity. But alas, the anti-modern artist - or thinker or politician - finds himself on the same streets, in the same mire, as the modernist one. This modern environment serves as both a physical and a spiritual lifeline - a primary source of material and energy - for both.
Ironies beget more ironies. Baudelaire's poet hurls himself into a confrontation with the "moving chaos" of the traffic, and strives not only to survive but to assert his dignity in its midst. But his mode of action seems self-defeating, because it adds yet another unpredictable variable to an already unstable totality. The horses and their riders, the vehicles and their drivers, are trying at once to outpace each other and to avoid crashing into each other. If, in the midst of all this, they are also forced to dodge pedestrians who may at any instant dart out into the road, their movements will become even more uncertain, and hence more dangerous than ever. Thus, by contending against the moving chaos, the individ­ual only aggravates the chaos.

But this very formulation suggests a way that might lead beyond Baudelaire's irony and out of the moving chaos itself. What if the multitudes of men and women who are terrorized by modern traffic could learn to confront it together? This will happen just six years after "Loss of a Halo" (and three years after Baudelaire's death), in the days of the Commune in Paris in 1871, and again in Petersburg in 1905 and 1917, in Berlin in 1918, in Barcelona in 1936, in Budapest in 1956, in Paris again in 1968, and in dozens of cities all over the world, from Baudelaire's time to our own— the boulevard will be abruptly transformed into the stage for a new primal modern scene. This will not be the sort of scene that Napoleon or Haussmann would like to see, but nonetheless one that their mode of urbanism will have helped to make.

(Marshall Berman, All that is solid melts into air,
The experience of modernity, Penguin Books, 1982)


** In the nineteenth century the main transmitter of modernization was England, in the twentieth century it has been the U.S.A. Power maps have changed, but the primacy of the English language - the least pure, the most elastic and adaptable of modern languages - is greater than ever. It might well survive the decline of the American empire.

(26) On the distinctively international quality of twentieth-century modernist language and literature, see Delmore Schwartz, “T. S. Eliot as international Hero,” in Howe, Literary Modernism, 277-285. This is also one of Edmund Wilson’s central themes in Axel’s Castle and To the Finland Station.

Baudelaire: Perte d'auréole

Vous avez dit «poesia sem qualidades?» C'est le dernier cri du «postmodernisme», la dernière avantgarde des avantgardes, celle qui n'en est plus une? Vraiment?! Et moi qui croyais....

« Eh ! quoi ! vous ici, mon cher? Vous, dans un mauvais lieu, vous, le buveur de quintessences ! vous, le mangeur d'ambroisie ! En vérité, il y a là de quoi me surprendre.
— Mon cher, vous connaissez ma terreur des che­vaux et des voitures. Tout à l'heure, comme je traversais le boulevard, en grande hâte, et que je sautillais dans la boue, à travers ce chaos mouvant où la mort arrive au galop de tous les côtés à la fois, mon au­réole, dans un mouvement brusque, a glissé de ma tête dans la fange du macadam. Je n'ai pas eu le cou­rage de la ramasser. J'ai jugé moins désagréable de perdre mes insignes que de me faire rompre les os. Et puis, me suis-je dit, à quelque chose malheur est bon. Je puis maintenant me promener incognito, faire des actions basses, et me livrer à la crapule, comme les simples mortels. Et me voici, tout semblable à vous, comme vous voyez!
— Vous devriez au moins faire afficher cette auréole, ou la faire réclamer par le commissaire.
— Ma foi ! non. Je me trouve bien ici. Vous seul vous m'avez reconnu. D'ailleurs la dignité m'ennuie. Ensuite je pense avec joie que quelque mauvais poète la ramassera et s'en coiffera impudemment. Faire un heureux, quelle jouissance ! et surtout un heureux qui me fera rire! Pensez à X, ou à Z ! Hein ! comme sera drôle ! »

(Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris, XLVI)

Ruy Belo: Em cima de meus dias

Ruy Belo é um dos melhores poetas portugueses do século XX. O quotidiano banal na sua poesia nunca é banal porque o atravessa sem descanso a emoção, o pensamento, a inquietação. Na paródia e eliminação da grandiloquência poética escuta-se o eco dos poetas de rima do passsado e da linguagem quotidiana («sem qualidades», nada heróica ou «literária» já nas suas ambições) de Cesário Verde, Nobre, Pessoa, Sá-Carneiro. Conheci-o a jogar futebol na equipa da Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa. Nunca me esqueci de uma observação que lhe ouvi: um verso não pode ser apenas o ponto de passagem para o verso seguinte.

Muita gente me tem falado a meu respeito
como quem me chamasse pelo nome e eu me voltasse
e nesse nome dito nessa boca fosse toda a minha vida
e eu morresse quando entre pinhais quem me chamara a fechasse

Muita gente me tem falado a meu respeito
mas eu cresço e decresço não reparo e anoitece
e já nem sei ao certo quantos dias meço
Regresso com o gado contra o sol rasante
Mas é de névoa ou fumo o algodão que cobre as casas
aonde regressamos atraídos pela luz que já nos campos se consome?

Os ciprestes os pássaros saúdam-me e eu passo
com um olho vasado transpareço o meu passado
e tudo esqueço e peço mesmo a Deus que esqueça quanto sou
além dessa medida simples onde me vasou
Sabermos nós que a face de algum mar ao pôr-do-sol pode mudar
e nenhum dia-a-dia consentir ao homem mais que a morna superfície
dos gestos por que troca a mais íntima morte que merece

Nada na minha poesia é meu
juro por Deus dizer toda a verdade
Ponho a mão na cabeça o dia é escuro e vago e eu respiro
Espero pela manhã como quem nasce
Ninguém sabe o meu nome porque
eu já perdi ao longe alguns dos olhos
e fui feliz em cafés de província onde me vi sentar

Digam que foi mentira, que não sou ninguém,
que atravesso apenas ruas da cidade abandonada
fechada como boca onde não encontro nada:
não encontro respostas para tudo o que pergunto nem
na verdade pergunto coisas por aí além
Eu não vivi ali em tempo algum

É de manhã caminho nem meus passos oiço
oitenta passos diz-se que darei
Vão-se fechando os dois alinhamentos das moradas
arredonda-se o largo, alguns problemas camarários
Duvido de mim próprio: quem serei?
O carro rega coisas tão profundas como esta
Meu Deus meu Deus, que mal eu fiz?
Eu estive em Dinard e vou talvez casar
Acordo e transistorizo os dois ouvidos numa música abundante

Muita gente me tem falado a meu respeito
mas eu cresço e minguo certas vezes anoitece
Sou coisa que se molha encolhe e envelhece
tudo me aquece e tudo me arrefece
Dois pés e duas mãos, algumas pás de terra
E sabem mesmo que o meu nome é Rá, por isso me conhecem
Sou a doença e sou onde me dói
sou sítio onde se nega que se morre
Tem graça haver quem fale a meu respeito

(Ruy Belo, Boca Bilingue, Ática, 1966)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Eu não gosto de blogs

Eu não gosto de blogs. Acho-os perigosos. Eles ameaçam a reputação dos escritores que publicam livros; põem em perigo o emprego dos jornalistas que nos dão abalizadamente todos os dias lições de moral, de política, de sociologia e de futebol; fazem cair no ridículo os políticos vaidosos e arrogantes que nos mentem e catequizam obsessiva e descaradamente na televisão e na rádio. Em resumo: são um factor de desestabilização permanente para a sociedade em que vivemos e que já nos deu tantas coisas boas.

Até ao surgir dos blogs reinava nas nossas existências uma impunidade quase exemplar e relativamente tranquilizadora. Hoje o risco de nos sentirmos vigiados, ultrapassados, acusados, fotografados, denunciados, desmascarados, injustamente vencidos e humilhados, é constante. Os escritores já foram donos absolutos da escrita, os jornalistas donos da verdade, os políticos donos do país e das instituições. Ainda é assim em grande parte, ao que parece. Mas as coisas estão a mudar. Perigosamente. Cumpre-se a profecia: a democratização da educação deu os seus frutos; e hoje somos todos artistas e escritores, comentadores políticos e desportivos
. Hoje qualquer pessoa pode escrever um poema, um romance, um conto, uma crónica de jornal usando de técnicas e um saber que antes só eram acessíveis a uma minoria. E o poder vai finalmente em breve estar ao alcance de todos nós. E não serão o Bush com os seus aviões de lata, o Blair sem vergonha na cara, o Santaninha com os seus olhinhos cansados de coruja que poderão alguma coisa contra a chegada da nova ordem.

Mas estaremos realmente a aceder enfim desta maneira, com muita blindness e pouco insight, à sociedade mais justa e perfeita a que aspiraram, com insuficiente sucesso, os revolucionários do passado? Podemos de facto começar a sonhar sem receio de desilusão com uma sociedade onde reinará a verdade e a justiça? Ou devemos, pelo contrário, temer os efeitos nefastos de uma nova e poderosíssima demagogia? Ou escondem-se a mesma ou outras ditaduras, a mesma ou outra miséria e exploração das classes oprimidas (física e intelectualmente) por detrás destas aparentes promessas de mudança? Eles resistem, os antigos senhores do mundo, os nossos abnegados protectores ancestrais. E pelo que vou vendo e lendo dir-se-ia que têm os dias contados. Mas nunca se sabe e a História e a experiência aconselham prudência.

(No meio destas inquietações perguntei-me: os novos senhores serão tão diferentes dos antigos? Alguma coisa mudou ou está a mudar realmente - ou só mudaram o estilo e a técnica da eterníssima, e no fundo desculpável porque humaníssima, luta pelo poder? Questão a investigar, sem dúvida.)

Qualquer bloguista tem hoje teoricamente tantas oportunidades de envenenar o ar à nossa volta, de lançar descrédito, de construir e destruir reputações, como os cronistas mais populares da imprensa e da rádio, como os comentadores menos escrupulosos e competentes da televisão, como os fabulosos maîtres-à-penser que orientaram e dominaram, do alto da sua condição intelectual (ou política ou económica ou artística) superior, durante tantos séculos, as nossas existências. A situação revela-se preocupante, alguma coisa mudou e está a mudar. As nossas vidas arriscam-se a sofrer modificações catastróficas. Desde o fim do Antigo Regime que não se assistia à possibilidade de tão profunda revolução dos nossos costumes e direitos e obrigações.

Jovens inteligentes das novas gerações entenderam a nova condição muito depressa e ocupam já no imaginário colectivo e na bolsa dos valores mediática lugares de prestígio que noutras circunstâncias lhes teriam levado muito mais tempo a conquistar. Aqueles que mais facilmente souberam beneficiar da nova ordem para se promoverem mutuamente e vir a ser escutados na rádio, lidos nos jornais, eventualmente temidos nas editoras e nos ministérios, não se distinguirão muito, bem feitos os balanços, daqueles que substituíram, ou com quem ainda convivem, nas redacções dos periódicos, das estações de rádio e de televisão, nos gabinetes ministeriais. Posso estar errado, mas é uma opinião que me permite pensar que estes novos «quadros» me parecem menos susceptíveis de pôr em perigo a nossa tranquilidade individual ou social, a calma rotina dos nossos dias, do que inicialmente se anunciava ou previa. É certo que eles usaram inteligentemente na luta por um lugar ao sol de novos métodos e novas técnicas para se promoverem. Mas lá no fundo, passados os primeiros momentos de fulgor, alcançada a fácil e rápida vitória, começaram logo a submeter-se, a ficar com barriga, a armar em vedetas, a falar da sua vida privada como se ela fosse interessante dois metros para além deles. Contentaram-se com o pouco que obtiveram, revelaram-se e vão-se revelando em cada dia que passa tão inofensivos e monótonos e insuportáveis como muitos outros que antes deles ocuparam os lugares cobiçados. E tão pouco capazes de nos surpreendeer ou seduzir ou irritar como esses antepassados a quem sucederam. Uma vez no poleiro, adoptaram os tiques, vaidades balofas e manias ridículas daqueles que venceram ou que ainda não eliminaram na sua subida vertiginosa até ao sucesso. E por isso a sociedade não tem a recear da parte deles, pelo menos por ora, inspiração ou alento para revoluções ou tremores de terra sangrentos. Mais tarde ou mais cedo hão-de ser reconhecidos pelo que são e já eram: poetas medianos, críticos literários sem formação séria, comentadores políticos ou desportivos boémios e superficiais, frequentadores dos bares, discotecas e cafés na moda, diletantes apesar de tão prematuramente terem dado sinais de ambição desmedida e projectos nervosos. Não são esses que eu receio, não é desses que temos a temer a ruína das instituições e dos costumes. Esses são apenas uma espécie de versão «mais culta» ou «mais chique» do Big Brother.

Não, os perigosos são os outros. Os que de facto não querem o poder, o prestígio ou o dinheiro, mas apenas o direito de criticar, denunciar, fazer cair no ridículo ou obrigar a explicar-se em público, pelas suas decisões ou palavras, os detentores tradicionais e modernos do poder e do prestígio. Aqueles a quem não envaidece, aparentemente, pensar e imaginar e escrever melhor do que os escritores publicados e conhecidos. Aqueles que repetidamente dão mostras de uma criatividade e imaginação que tornam pálidas as realizações de gente com nome, direito a citações permanentes na imprensa, bons salários. Aqueles a quem não repugna protestar e ridicularizar as decisões e comportamentos alheios. Toda essa alegre gente, mais ou menos anónima, demasiado atenta e excessivamente viva, parecer ter como única ambição desconstruir, desmontar até aos limites do pensável os mecanismos da ordem tão bem organizada que nos tem regido e nos vai regendo e nos tem permitido ser tão felizes. Sem pudor nem timidez, sem ambição política ou intelectual ou artística assumida, obrigam-nos a reflectir, incitam-nos a duvidar e a rever o que acreditávamos ou pensávamos que sabíamos. E nós interrogamo-nos, ficamos quase em pânico às vezes, pomos em causa bruscamente, à hora da cerveja ou do pequeno-almoço, muitas ideias e hábitos antigos, que até nos pareciam «naturais» e talvez inofensivos. E obrigam-nos a isso todos os dias. E por causa deles nunca sabemos realmente o que nos reserva o dia de amanhã, se o amor de facto existe, se os impostos serão um dia objecto de reforma a nosso favor, se o livro incensado por alguns eternos aspirantes a críticos literários de jornal vale alguma coisa. Não, não queremos deixar-nos enganar, não queremos que nos tomem por parvos. Quem sabe, nestas circunstâncias, e com tantos pontos de vista e opiniões a circular por aí, onde vamos acabar e que vida vai ser a dos nossos filhos e netos? A incerteza sobre o futuro instalou-se, por vezes temos a impressão de ter voltado à época gloriosa, excitante e terrível, das grandes ameaças de catástrofe (revolução francesa, revolução russa, revolução cubana, che guevara, maio de 68, revolução chilena, etc., etc.). Pode haver quem veja nestes sinais o anúncio claro de um futuro mais brilhante para a humanidade. Mas eu
acho tudo isto muito perigoso e comecei a prestar uma atenção preocupada aos cronistas e escribas sem estatuto claro dos mil blogs cujo projecto secreto parece ser introduzir nas nossas existências, com nítida, juvenil e subversiva intenção de as perturbar, informações, uma ciência e pontos de vista até aqui mais ou menos recalcados ou deixados cautelosamente na sombra. Johaan Gutenberg ao lado disto que fez? Nada.

Leitor, se me leres, não te peço que acredites em tudo o que te digo. Mas olha à tua volta, vê com os teus olhos, toma consciência do que se está a passar. Não desvalorizes levianamente as modificações que já anotaste no comportamento dos teus pais, ou fihos, ou parceiro/a amoroso/a. Se descobrires sinais, sintomas da mudança, reflecte duas vezes antes de ires para o emprego ou ao cinema. E não tentes contradizer-me pedindo-me para te explicar por que razão, se as coisas são como eu anuncio, os políticos continuam a mentir-nos impunemente, os primeiros ministros a governar abusiva e incompetentemente o que nos resta de país, os escritores banais a ser homenageados e premiados, os árbitros de futebol a prejudicar o Sporting, o senhor Presidente da República a manter à beira do abismo uma serenidade muito british e muito democrática. Tudo isso ou pelo menos uma parte disso há-de mudar um dia e os blogues, tenho a certeza, em vez de ameaçarem irresponsavelmente a nossa paz e a rotina dos nossos dias, hão-se vir a ser os grandes, os heróicos responsáveis por essa transformação dos costumes. Basta esperar um pouco, dar tempo ao tempo. Eu esperarei (até morrer, se necessário).

J. Nagel

P. S. O tópico dá e dará pano para mangas. Uma achega:

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Strindberg: «I have your soul in a Japanese box»

From an occult diary, 1908

Strindberg to Harriet Bosse, May 3rd.
I have your soul now in a little Japanese box on my desk. In this box lie all your letters, a ring with many smaller rings attached (one is lost), your bridal crown and veil, the gold pen, - Grant that I may write more lovely things with it! Beloved! - and two little lavender bags from Denmark (1901), one red and one green, joined by an inextricable knot.
The most beautiful letters are those of 1904 (when we got our divorce). I am reading one in which you respond to the news of my application for a divorce by a cry of anguish and of defeated love! It reads like a cry of woe to high heaven and I roar in pain!
My bride of seven years ago! And now another's, and yet not!
Can you loosen this bond ? Can you? I cannot!
At times I believe that you will have another child by me, though I do not know how. And it will be born in love and will become a power on the earth, not of great estate, but a power in word and deed. I have a fancy that a little soul is waiting to make parents of us again, and I believe I have seen her little face on a white sheet, at night, in the moon­light.
I want to take this opportunity to inform you of something, so that, if it should occur, you will not be alarmed. I have read in 'a book' that there is such a thing as false pregnancy, which has all the symptoms of real pregnancy, but is without any reality. I wonder if we may not expect something of the kind? I have also read, but still doubt its truth, that an actual immaculate conception can take place, that is to say telepathically! What should we believe then? What would the world say?
Whatever happens I shall learn of it through my own sensations for the soul of your body is in mine. [...]
I know of your every emotion. Know when you are happy, when someone is tormenting you (then a nail is struck into my heart), and when He is angry with me, I have shooting pains below my breast.

May 4rth .
Harriet had not answered my letter. It is a month now since she got engaged. In the forenoon she sought me, but angrily, hostilely. At 12.30 aggressively, not in love, only in desire. I sent off a letter at dinner-time. In the evening came her answer! See what follows! Auto-deception! W. is going to Gothenburg this evening. She says she is getting married in June. It is a lie! He will not have her!
She got my second letter while at the theatre, but cannot have read it before 10.30. - I fell asleep, was sought by Harriet at 3.30, but in her sleep, and she retreated when I respon­ded. She sought me again and at 6.30 we found each other in love. This after my sharply worded letter of yesterday! It might have been a whipping! She must love being whipped!

Strindberg to Harriet Basse, c. May 4rth.
You have not answered my direct question about Swanwhite. If you have outgrown her, or are tired of her, tell me. I do not like the idea of Ranft's having the play. It was only for your sake that I offered it to him. Herod's daughter is more in your line today, is she not? I shall regard your silence, if it continues, to mean you do not care, and shall request the return of the play. [...]
I think the time has now come for me to escape from your net. There is only one way, but it never fails! You have recently tried this method, but unsuccessfully. I shall be successful!

Harriet Bosse to Strindberg, May 4rth.
No, I did not answer you - I told you in my letter that all contact between us must cease –
I belong to another man, am going to marry him in June. Put yourself in his place. What would you not suffer -
You demand the return of Swanwhite. You should never take back what you have given -
However, here it is, to be performed, if you want, either at Dramaten or at the Intimate Theatre. I relinquish it with­out bitterness. I can only rejoice that such a lovely thing should have been written, whoever interprets these thoughts of yours from the stage in future -

May 5th.
Sent off another letter, equally sharp and ruthless, and which she must have read just now, at 10 o'clock. She is storming me so that I am almost suffocated, but she is seek­ing me too, erotically.
This morning I received a letter of which every word was untrue. I tore it to bits!
At 4 o'clock she stormed me with palpitations, so that I was almost suffocated. She must have read my last letter. I slept until 5 o'clock. Then she sought me erotically. Curious creature! And the whole of this evening while acting in Elga she has been with me.
Night: 11 o'clock. Could feel that she was seeking me, but was unable to reach me. I was, as it were, shielded from contact. Slept until 4 o'clock, when she came x x x, and again at six-thirty. But she was in a selfish mood and went away when she was satisfied, could not be bothered to wait for me. I suppose that her period must have come on to­wards morning.

May 6th.
My last letter, unopened, was returned by post. All the better, for it was cruel! Thereupon I burned the last 3 let­ters, which were evil. They swelled up, formed shapes and finally 2 hearts!
Now. at 11 a.m. she is with me erotically as I work.
A telegram from Ranft to say he will accept Swanwhite. I telegraphed the news to Harriet and reminded her that today is the anniversary of our wedding ... After doing so I slept and dreamed about W.... Then Falck arrived and told me Harriet's banns had been published on Sunday the 3rd. And I had not known of it! I! My mind is now at a standstill! Is she literally two persons ? And do I possess one? The better one? That would seem to be the case, for when we meet or write we hate each other. Is this possible? (She must be two independent persons who are unaware of each other for, when I talk or write to her of this life we live together unconsciously, she keeps silent, makes no response, knows nothing about it, or will not know.)

May 7th.
Harriet lived with me from morning till dinner time in love and eros. While under this influence I wrote to Falck and asked him to find out if she was expecting a child. I offered, if that is the case, to take her to Switzerland until the child is born, and then there would be no necessity for her to marry. - Now, at 5 p.m. she has tried to take me by storm, erotically. I was just about to yield when there came a sharp, purposeful bang from above, followed by the moving of furniture.
In the evening I sent her Huon de Bordeaux* with a dedi­cation.
Harriet fairly friendly during the evening. At night I was woken at 1 o'clock by an unusual sensation. She was mournful and submissive and kissed me but would not have me. Nevertheless at 5 o'clock she came and after I had kissed her x. Later she sought me, but without joy or ardour.

May 8th.
Overcast, gloomy, Harriet mournful, yet seeking me at times, erotically but submissively. Harriet with me all day in love and eros, storming me without pause. The same in the evening. Then I sent her a glorious rhododendron, in full bloom, like the one I gave her after Lilian's birth. I reckoned that she would see it when she got back from the theatre tonight.
I went to bed at 10 o'clock when Harriet stormed me with palpitations. I fell asleep, but was roused at 11.45, when Harriet gave me palpitations. On top of that I developed a pain in my abdomen (the spot corresponding to her 'Athanor').** After a while she sought me ardently and I respon­ded x. She came again at about 4 o'clock x x. What does all this mean? Are the two of them playing an insolent game with me? Have not the banns been published? Yet she is with me night and day. When does she have time to think of him?

(A. Strindberg, Inferno and From an occult diary, translated by Mary Sandbach, Penguin Books, 1965)

* A medieval French heroic poem about the Fairy King. Oberon. Strindberg sent a Swedish translation of this poem to Harriet Bosse with the following dedication: ‘Give me more beautiful things to write about, Swanwhite, gave (sic) me a new golden pen. Chrysaetos.’
** Really a digestive furnace used by alchemists, here womb. Writing about the womb in A Blue Book Strindberg says: ‘It resembles the alchemist's Athanor, in which were distilled the Philosopher's Stone, gold, the Elixir of Life, and the homunculus.’

Friday, November 26, 2004

Baudelaire : À une passante

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d'une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l'ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son œil, ciel livide où germe l'ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair... puis la nuit ! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m'a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l'éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d'ici ! trop tard! jamais peut-être !
Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j'eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais !

(Les Fleurs du mal)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

L'Utopie de Robert Burton

Na introdução a excertos de The Anatomy of Melancholy de R. Burton publicados na revista francesa Débat em 1984, Jean Starobinski sublinha que esta obra satírica e utópica propõe remédios contra a desordem, a violência, a usurpação geral do poder e da riqueza, as querelas e os processos que afligem os Estados, e sobretudo a Inglaterra. A Anatomia da Melancolia compara esse «desconcerto do mundo» a um «dérèglement mélancolique troublant le "tempérament" du corps social». Obra de actualidade? You bet!

«La douloureuse gestation du monde moderne à la Renaissance s'est projetée de manière élective en une figure spécifi­que de la mélancolie, dont deux grandes œuvres, à un siècle de distance, ont plus que toutes autres contribué à fixer les traits : Melencolia de Durer, dans l'ordre pictural (1514) et The Anatomy of Melancholy de Robert Burton, dans l'ordre lit­téraire (1621).» (Débat, p. 43)


«Je ne veux point de monopoles privés, qui font enrichir un seul hom­me et réduisent une multitude en mendicité : il y aura multiplicité d'offi­ces, de suppléances par députés; poids et mesures les mêmes partout, et iceux rectifiés par le primum mobile, et le mouvement du soleil; soixante milles pour un degré du méridien, selon l'observation ; 1 000 pas géomé­triques pour un mille, cinq pieds pour un pas, douze pouces pour un pied, &c. et, partant des mesures connues, c'est affaire aisée que de rectifier les poids, &c. faire compte et addition de tout par algèbre et jauger les corps solides par stéréométrie.
J'abomine les guerres, si ne sont faites pour le salut du peuple, en urgente circonstance,

Nous haïssons l'autour, qui tous jours vit en armes.

Les guerres offensives ne permettrai, excepté que la cause en soit très juste : car je magnifie hautement ce dit de Hannibal à Scipion, chez Tite-Live' : « C'eût été chose bénie pour vous et pour nous, si Dieu eût mis en l'esprit de nos prédécesseurs d'être contents, vous de l'Italie, nous de l'Afrique. Car ni la Sicile ni la Sardaigne ne valent tant de dépenses et tant de peines, tant de flottes et d'armées, ou tant de vies de fameux capitai­nes. » Tout doit être tenté paravant : que l'on essaie d'abord les moyens honnêtes.

Tranquille force accomplira
Que violente ne pourra.

Je veux que l'on procède en toute modération ; mais (entendez-moi bien !) mon général est Fabius, non pas Minutius ; en effet, qui s'appuie sur sagesse et conseil, il nuit plus aux ennemis qu'un autre qui, sans raisonnement d'in­telligence, se confie à la force: et en ces telles guerres se faut abstenir autant qu'est possible des dépeuplements, incendies de bourgs, massacres d'en­fants, &c..»
(Robert Burton, La République Poétique. Extrait de The Anatomy of Melancholy, Le Débat, numéro 29, Gallimard, mars 1984)

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur RIMBAUD: La maline

DANS la salle à manger brune, que parfumait
Une odeur de vernis et de fruits, à mon aise
Je ramassais un plat de je ne sais quel met
Belge, et je m'épatais dans mon immense chaise.

En mangeant, j'écoutais l'horloge, - heureux et coi.
La cuisine s'ouvrit avec une bouffée,
- Et la servante vint, je ne sais pas pourquoi,
Fichu moitié défait, malinement coiffée.

Et, tout en promenant son petit doigt tremblant
Sur sa joue, un velours de pêche rose et blanc,
En faisant, de sa lèvre enfantine, une moue,

Elle arrangeait les plats, près de moi, pour m'aiser.
Puis, comme ça, - bien sûr, pour avoir un baiser -
Tout bas : « Sens donc, j'ai pris une froid sur la joue... »

Charleroi, octobre 70.

Rimbaud (qui d'autre?)

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Paul Valéry : Les efforts de Mallarmé

«Lorsque j'ai commencé de fréquenter Mallarmé en personne, la littérature ne m'était presque plus de rien. Lire et écrire me pesaient, et je confesse qu'il me reste quelque chose de cet ennui. La conscience de moi-même pour elle-même, l'éclaircissement de cette attention, et le souci de me dessiner nettement mon exis­tence ne me quittaient guère. Ce mal secret éloigne des Lettres, desquelles il tient cependant son origine.
Mallarmé, toutefois, figurait dans mon système intime le personnage de l'art savant et le suprême état de l'ambition litté­raire la plus relevée. Je m'étais fait de son esprit une profonde compagnie, et j'espérais qu'en dépit de la différence de nos âges et de l'écart immense de nos mérites le jour viendrait que je ne craindrais pas de lui proposer mes difficultés et mes vues parti­culières. Ce n'était point qu'il m'intimidât, car personne ne fut plus doux ni plus délicieusement simple que lui; mais il me semblait alors qu'il existât une sorte de contraste entre l'exercice de la littérature et la poursuite d'une certaine rigueur et d'une entière sincérité de la pensée. La question est infiniment délicate. Devais-je en saisir Mallarmé? Je l'aimais et je le plaçais au-dessus de tous; mais j'avais renoncé à adorer ce qu'il avait adoré toute sa vie, et à quoi il l'avait toute offerte, et je ne me trouvais pas le cœur de le lui faire entendre.
Je ne voyais cependant d'hommage plus véritable à lui rendre que de lui confier ma pensée, et que de lui montrer combien ses recherches, et les analyses très fines et très précises dont elles procèdent, avaient transformé à mes yeux le problème littéraire et m'avaient conduit à abandonner la partie. C'est que les efforts de Mallarmé, très opposés aux doctrines et au souci de ses contem­porains, tendaient à ordonner tout le domaine des Lettres par la considération générale des formes. Il est extrêmement remarquable qu'il soit arrivé, par l'étude approfondie de son art, et sans con­naissances scientifiques, à une conception si abstraite et si proche des spéculations les plus élevées de certaines sciences. Il ne parlait jamais, d'ailleurs, de ses idées que par figures. L'enseignement expli­cite lui répugnait étrangement. Son métier, qu'il abhorrait, était pour quelque chose dans cette aversion. Mais moi, en essayant de me résumer ses tendances, je me permettais intérieurement de les dési­gner à ma façon. La littérature ordinaire me semblait comparable à une arithmétique, c'est-à-dire à la recherche de résultats particu­liers, dans lesquels on distingue mal le précepte de l'exemple; celle qu'il concevait me paraissait analogue à une algèbre, car elle supposait la volonté de mettre en évidence, de conserver à travers les pensées et de développer pour elles-mêmes, les formes du langage.
« Mais du moment qu'un principe a été reconnu et saisi par quelqu'un, il est bien inutile de perdre son temps dans ses appli­cations », me disais-je...
Le jour que j'attendais ne vint jamais...»

(Paul Valéry, Écrits Divers sur Stéphane Mallarmé, Éditions de la N. R. F. , 1950)

Umberto Saba: «Poeta è come il porco»


«Trieste ha una scontrosa grazia»
(Da Trieste e una donna)

A Trieste la Nora che sapeva
il Canzoniere a memoria, e ignorava
di scriverne gli ultimi versi, diceva:
«Poeta è come il porco
Si pesa dopo morto».


Nella sua lunga giovanezza l'uomo
su e giù cammina per la terra dove
Eros lo porta.

Ma lenta è la vecchiezza e, al fine, immobile.
Ed un rimpianto la divora, quello
dei volti amati e non baciati. Gli anni
a venire, al pensiero oggi impossibili,
non turbi il Troppo Tardi, o giovanetto.


Guardo un piccolo specchio incorniciato
di nero,
già quasi antico, semplice e severo
a un tempo.
Una fanciulla
- nude l'esili braccia - gli è seduta
di contro.
Ed un ricordo
d'altri tempi mi viene, mentre in quello
seguo le sue movenze e come al capo
porta le braccia, e come ai suoi capelli
rende la forma dovuta. E il ricordo
narro a mia figlia, per diletto:
«Un giorno
fu che tornavo di scuola. Il maestro
ci aveva fatta ad alta voce e come
allora usava, una lettura. Immagina
un bambino che va solo in America,
solo a trovare sua madre. E la trova
sì, ma morente. Che se appena un attimo
ritardava, era morta. Io non ti dico
come a casa giungessi. E quando, vinto
dai repressi singhiozzi, apro la porta
e volo incontro a mia madre, lei vedo
al tuo specchio seduta, nello specchio
il primo suo capello bianco.
- oggi lo so - forse non era solo
amore il forsennato, il doloroso
affetto che per lei sentivo. Forse
altra cosa era in me che sì alla vista
mi feriva di quel presagio mesto.
E piansi, stretto a lei piansi sì forte,
ch'ella dovette al fin sgridarmi.
Ed ecco
tu ridi adesso, e anch'io ne rido, o quasi,
ma non quel giorno, o quelli poi».
«Non rido,
babbo di te - mi risponde -; ma tanto
s'era a quei tempi, o eri tu solo tanto
E getta
le braccia intorno al mio collo e mi bacia,
e dallo specchio e da me s'allontana.
(Umberto Saba, Tutte le Poesie, Arnoldo Mondadori, 1998)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Cesare Pavese: Verrà la morte

Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi -
questa morte che ci accompagna
dal mattino alla sera, insonne,
sorda, come un vecchio rimorso
o un vizio assurdo. I tuoi occhi
saranno una vana parola,
un grido taciuto, un silenzio.
Cosí li vedi ogni mattina
quando su te sola ti pieghi
nello specchio. O cara speranza,
quel giorno sapremo anche noi
che sei la vita e sei il nulla.

Per tutti la morte ha uno sguardo.
Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi.
Sarà come smettere un vizio,
come vedere nello specchio
riemergere un viso morto,
come ascoltare un labbro chiuso.
Scenderemo nel gorgo muti.

22 marzo '50

Strindberg: Our highest achievement

September 3rd, 1904

«Life is so horribly ugly, we human beings so abysmally evil, that if a writer were to describe all that he had seen and heard no one could bear to read it. I can think of people I have known, good, respectable, popular people, who have said or done things that I have crossed out, things I can never bring myself to mention and that I refuse to remem­ber. Breeding and education seem to do no more than mask the beast in us, and virtue is a disguise. Our highest achieve­ment is the concealment of our vileness.
Life is so cynical that only a swine can be happy in it, and anyone who can see this hideous life as beautiful is a swine!
Sure enough, life is a punishment! A hell. For some a pur­gatory, for none a paradise.
We are absolutely forced to do evil and to torment our fellow men. It is all sham and delusion, lies, faithlessness, falsehood and self-deception. 'My dear friend' is my worst enemy. Instead of 'My beloved' one should write 'My hated'.»

(A. Strindberg, Inferno and From an occult diary, translated by Mary Sandbach, Penguin Books, 1965)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A esssência da poesia

Já não sei por que razão
escrevi o meu primeiro poema.
Os sentimentos «delicados» alguma vez me interessaram?
Nem eles nem a «beleza», verdadeiramente.
Foi por isso talvez que uma tarde me sentei num banco
e enchi a primeira página de palavras.
O sentimento poético no meu caso não é
exactamente o sentimento poético no caso dos outros.
Mas nesse tempo eu ainda não tinha aprendido
a respirar segundo o meu próprio ritmo.
Toda a gente viu o que fez um dos irmãos Marx
à roupa que ficou de fora da mala fechada:
pegou na tesoura e cortou-a.
Ou era o Charlie Chaplin e estou a confundir?
Todo o meu esforço tem consistido
em fazer entrar na mala o que lá não cabia.
Realidade, o máximo de realidade que for possível,
tem sido a ideia que me tem guiado.
E nada de comover-se com as palavras,
opor-se sem piedade aos desejos que elas têm
de ser aristocratas entre a plebe anónima da frase.
Tratei-as a todas segundo o princípio da igualdade,
em todo o caso esforcei-me por isso.
Não nego que tenho tido preferências e obsessões;
mas a privilegiada de um verso confunde-se
no seguinte com a sua sombra na parede.
A sociedade deve-me muita coisa e eu devia-lhe isto:
estar-me nas tintas para as suas estátuas,
para o oiro e a prata que ela distribui.
Não me ajoelharei diante de altar nenhum.
Quanto às palavras, trato-as como o domesticador
ao tigre e ao leão que depois do espectáculo
regressam humildemente às grades da jaula.
Escrever poesia é a minha maneira de participar
na luta das classes.
A tentação da beleza e os sentimentos delicados afogo-os
na velocidade do verso democraticamente longo.
E o «transporte» permite-me viajar de um verso
para o seguinte sem perder de vista a luz
ao fundo do túnel. Um subterfúgio ainda, evidentemente,
para meter dentro da mala pequena
o excesso de roupa que apesar de tudo possuo.
A César o que é de César e a cada palavra
o papel que é o seu. Se alguma
tem de brilhar, que brilhe; mas não contem
comigo para me prostrar aos seus pés embevecido.
De qualquer modo poucas ou nenhuma valem o bastante
para ocupar sozinhas o pedestal do verso inteiro.
Penso estas coisas e convenço-me
de que tenho vindo a abrir caminho com a proa
do barco da minha pouca ou nenhuma estima
pelos sentimentos dos que nos oprimem.
Há dias, porém, não li em Theodor Adorno
que o artista se confronta simultaneamente
aos materiais da sua arte e à sociedade?
Não escrevemos o que queremos escrever,
não cantamos o que nos apetece cantar;
escrevemos e cantamos as palavras e a música
que a sociedade, insidiosa, deixou ao nosso alcance.
Do estilo e da sintaxe é ela que decide.
E provável que eu não o ignorasse;
mas fiquei um pouco desiludido.
A liberdade que eu pensava que tinha conquistado
era apenas aquela que me tinham imposto.
Perdera tempo a reflectir e a lutar por ela,
exercitara-me em estratégias e manhas subtis;
mas em vez de alargar os limites da experiência,
tinha ficado no mesmo sítio a marcar passo.
Tudo estava previsto de antemão. Riam-se de mim:
não pus no papel o que senti, não disse o que pensava,
não me opus tanto como o imaginava
à ditadura de tudo o que não sou;
só falei daquilo de que podia falar.
E o censor não era eu? Queria que me lessem.
Devo ter esperado que me amassem pelo que escrevia.
E não tive asas, limitei-me
a andar de gatas à volta da mesa
a que tinha presa a perna com um cordel.
Se é verdade que lutei contra o desejo
que têm as palavras de se lhes dar importância,
não posso negar que me servi da tesoira salvadora:
borracha que apaga o que não cabia na página do caderno,
cortina que esconde o que não fazia parte do cenário.
Ter preferido o país democrático da frase
à monarquia absoluta da palavra
não pôde livrar-me dessa insuficiência.
Este poema, pelo menos, podia ser o início de outra era.
Mas calha mal. Já passa das duas da manhã
e arrefecem-me os ossos na sala onde entra o vento.
Além disso, antes de ser definitivamente mal-educado,
tenho de dar algumas provas mais de respeito e consideração.
É por isso que o poema vai terminar aqui:
o poeta, coitado, está cheio de sono,
tem a cabeça baralhada por causa do Theodor Adorno
e raciocinará mais tarde sobre a essência da poesia.

(João Camilo, A Mala dos Marx Brothers, Editorial Caminho, Caminho da Poesia, 1998)

Os poetas são seres doentes

Muitas vezes os poetas confundiram a poesia
com a arte de cantar. E outras vezes
procuraram dolorosamente um ritmo
digno das histórias da literatura, esses
monumentos ao tédio. A rapariga
que atravessava a rua à sombra dos plátanos
com a simplicidade inquietante da sua beleza
fê-los sofrer. Mas em vez de falar do segredo
eterno das suas pernas e do perfil pesado dos seus
seios nus debaixo da camisa aberta, os poetas
esforçaram-se por esconder a perturbação e o
pressentimento da morte no castelo de mármore
barroco dos símbolos e das metáforas. Para aquele
que não sabe olhar todas as tardes são a mesma
tarde; e para quem não sabe ouvir todos os sons
se assemelham ao ruído. As pessoas passavam.
Homens e mulheres que não iam a lado nenhum
e no entanto concentravam o espírito
cheio de perguntas nas pedras amarelas
do passeio. Rapazes e raparigas sentavam-se
nas esplanadas dos cafés. Tinham os olhos tão
limpos. Neles podia reflectir-se o universo
inteiro e observando-os de longe adivinhava-se
que as palavras com que tentamos orientar-nos
no nevoeiro da existência são todas excessivas
e até erradas. E no entanto eles ignoravam
as árvores e as casas, só sabiam olhar para
si mesmos. Como se um lume oculto os
subjugasse e faziam pensar na borboleta
que queima as asas na claridade brutal
da lâmpada eléctrica. A tarde avançava.
Os poetas são seres doentes e têm medo
da vida. Sem fim apagam as luzes
para que o quarto fique às escuras.
As coisas ferem-nos, pesam-lhes
excessivamente no espírito. E eles
preferem a espessura protectora
das sombras. É tão injusto ter de viver
para além da infância e da adolescência.
Mas pelas persianas de madeira o ar
e a música da rua não cessam de querer
entrar. E de longe as montanhas e os rios
enviam o cheiro de arbustos, de pinheiros.
Para resistir os poetas começam a cantar.
Ou enterram debaixo das palavras a
violência demasiado quotidiana,
excessivamente selvagem do mundo.

(João Camilo, A Mala dos Marx Brothers, Editorial Caminho, Caminho da Poesia, 1998)

Mistérios e parvoíces

Um artigo oportuno de José Pacheco Pereira no Abrupto sobre um dos mais patéticos personagens políticos da actualidade: http://www.veritasfiliatemporis.blogspot.com/
Mas se admiro o espirito crítico, combativo, e a persistência (ética, cívica) de Pacheco Pereira, há um mistério que não entendo: ele pertence a um dos partidos que está no governo e não teve antes nem tem agora nada a dizer «lá dentro», não pode nada contra a imoralidade boçal e a estupidez sem escrúpulos a que o país, impotente, vai assistindo quotidianamente desde há tanto tempo? Deputado com curriculo respeitável, homem honesto e intelectual inteligente, tudo o que resta a Pacheco Pereira é exprimir num Blog e em alguns jornais as suas preocupações com a deriva tragicómica que é imposta ao país pelo seu próprio partido? Mistérios da democracia actual...

Mistério também, mas certamente de outra natureza, é termos um Presidente da República que fala educadamente bem, que se dá ao trabalho missionário de alertar regularmente os cidadãos para os problemas do país, que nos vai dando a sua abalizada e preocupada opinião sobre o que se deve fazer e sobre a forma como devemos comportar-nos... Mas o país está irreconhecível, a nossa identidade de portugueses anda pelas ruas da amargura, os políticos de má telenovela que nos governam usurpam-nos tudo - e ele, Presidente, não usa do poder que nós imaginávamos que tinha para evitar o naufrágio... Há empregos para o correcto desempenho dos quais não basta saber filosofar nem saber representar bem o seu papel....

A parvoíce são aos comentários do poeta e deputado Graça Moura à vitória de Bush, as conclusões insensatas que daí tirou, nomeadamente ao reduzir a importância de uma decisão com tanta gravidade e tantas consequências para o mundo inteiro ao prazer que lhe deu, perante a vitória do «worst president ever» (como ontem vi escrito na traseira de um carro aqui nos EU)... ter irritado o Dr. Mário Soares. Podia esperar-se mais do tradutor de Dante e de Shakspeare e de quem está a viver em Strasbourg, representando-nos, pago pelo povo português. Mas um seu leitor de Mangualde já disse a Graça Moura no Público o que ele escusava de ouvir: http://jornal.publico.pt/publico/2004/11/22/EspacoPublico/OCRT01.html

Monday, November 22, 2004

Escadas em Lisboa

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O nosso Prémio Nobel

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Eça de Queirós com o filho

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Fernando Pessoa on love

218 [416]

«We never love anyone. We love only our idea of what someone is like. We love an idea of our own; in short, it is ourselves that we love.
This is true of every kind of love. In sexual love we seek our own pleasure through the intermediary of another's body. In non-sexual love, we seek our own pleasure through the intermediary of an idea we have. The onanist may be an abject creature but in truth he is the logical expression of the lover. He is the only one who neither disguises nor deludes himself.
Relations between one soul and another, expressed through such uncertain, divergent things as words exchanged and gestures made, are of a strange complexity. The very way in which we come to know each other is a form of unknowing. When two people say 'I love you' (or perhaps think or reciprocate the feeling), each one means by that something different, a different life, even, perhaps, a different colour and aroma in the abstract sum of impressions that constitute the activity of the soul.»

Bernardo Soares (Fernando Pessoa), The Book of Disquiet, Extraordinary Classics, Serpents Tail,
translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, 1991

Kierkegaard: Love believes all things (2)

«When deception and truth are then placed in the equilibrium of opposite possibilities, the decision is whether there is mistrust or love in you. See, someone says, "Even what appears to be the purest feeling could still be a deception." Well, yes, that is possible; it must be possible. "Ergo I chose mistrust or choose to believe nothing." That is, he discloses his mistrust. Let us reverse the conclusion: "Truth and falsity reach unconditionally just as far; therefore it is possible that even something that appears to be the vilest behavior could be pure love." Well, yes, it is possible, it must be possible. Ergo the one who loves chooses to believe all things - that is, he discloses his love. A confused person no doubt believes that existence is a rather muddied element - ah, the sea is not so transparent! If, then, someone can demonstrate on the basis of the possibility of deception that one should not believe anything at all, I can demonstrate that one should believe every­thing - on the basis of the possibility of deception. If someone thinks that one should not believe even the best of persons, because it is still possible that he is a deceiver, then the reverse also holds true, that you can credit even the worst person with the good, because it is still possible that his badness is an appearance.
Love is the very opposite of mistrust, and yet it is initiated into the same knowledge. In knowledge they are, if you please, indis­tinguishable (in the infinite sense, knowledge is indeed indiffer­ent); only in the conclusion and in the decision, in faith (to be­lieve all things and to believe nothing) are they the very opposite. In other words, when love believes everything, it is by no means in the same sense as light-mindedness, inexperience, and naiveté, which believe everything on the basis of ignorance and inexperi­ence. No, love is as knowledgeable as anyone, knows everything that mistrust knows, yet without being mistrustful, knows every­thing that experience knows, but also knows that what we call experience is actually that mixture of mistrust and love.
"How much that is hidden may still reside in a person, or how much may still reside hidden! How inventive is hidden inwardness in hiding itself and in deceiving or evading others, the hid­den inwardness that preferred that no one would suspect its existence. modestly afraid of being seen and mortally afraid of being entirely disclosed. It is not so that the one person never completely understands the other? But if he does not understand him completely, then of course it is always possible that the most indisputable thing could still have a completely different explanation that would, note well, be the true explanation, since an assumption can indeed explain a great number of instances very well and thereby confirm its truth and yet show itself to be untrue as soon as the instance comes along that it cannot explain - and it would indeed be possible that this instance or this somewhat more precise specification could come even at the last moment. Therefore all calm and, in the intellectual sense, dispas­sionate observers, who eminently know how to delve searchingly and penetratingly into the inner being, these very people judge with such infinite caution or refrain from it entirely be­cause, enriched by observation, they have a developed conception of the enigmatic world of the hidden, and because as observ­ers they have learned to rule over their passions. Impetuous, passionate people, who do not know themselves and for that reason naturally are unaware that they do not know others, judge precipitously. Those with insight, those who know, never do this.»

(Works of Love, Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong
and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, 1995)

What's next, Rumsf?

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Kierkegaard: Love believes all things (1)

«Love believes all thing. - Light mindedness, inexperience, naiveté believe everything that is said; vanity, conceit, complacency believe everything flattering that is said; envy, malice, corruption believe everything evil that is said; mistrust [Mistoiskhed] believes [tro] nothing at all; experience will teach that it is most sagacious not to believe everything - but love believes all things. >Therefore mistrust believes nothing at all; it does exactly the opposite of what love does. Ordinarily mistrust is not well re­garded by people, but from this it does not necessarily follow either that they are fully agreed to abhor all mistrust or that they are fully agreed to praise unconditionally the love that believes all things. Strangely enough, they perhaps prefer to make a compromise - that is, a contentious compromise between mistrust, which is only slightly loving and yet believes something, and love, which is only slightly mistrustful and yet has a misgiving or two. Indeed, if one wanted to render mistrust's shrewd secret properly, in supranatural magnitude to attire it in the dazzling appearance of sagacity, cunning, and ingenuity, it certainly would tempt many. Perhaps there would be someone who would sagaciously have us understand that this was exactly what he had discovered - and be proud of his discovery. In contrast to this, love, which believes all things, would certainly make a very poor showing, as happens very often with the good; then many a one would not even have the courage to admit that he could want to be simpleminded. What, specifically, is mistrust's shrewd secret? It is a misuse of knowledge, a misuse that summarily, in one breath, wants to attach its "ergo" to what as knowledge is entirely true and be­comes something entirely different only when, upside down, it is believed by virtue of that which is just as impossible as it is upside-down, since one does not believe by virtue of knowl­edge. What mistrust says or presents is really only knowledge; the secret and the falsity lie in this, that it summarily converts this knowledge into a belief and pretends that nothing has happened, pretends that it is something that does not even need to be noticed, "since everyone who has the same knowledge must necessarily come to the. same conclusion," as if it were eternally certain and entirely decided that when knowledge is given then how one concludes is also given. The deception is that from knowledge (the pretense and the falsity are that it is by virtue of knowledge) mistrust concludes, assumes, and believes what it concludes, assumes, and believe by virtue of the disbelief inherent in mistrust, whereas from the same knowledge, by virtue of belief one can conclude, assume, and believe the very opposite. Mistrust says, "Deception extends un­conditionally just as far as the truth, falsity unconditionally just as far as honesty; there is no unconditional mark of truth or of honesty and integrity. So it is also with love. In deceiving, hypocrisy and trickery and wiliness and seduction extend unconditionally just as far as love does, and they can resemble true love so deceptively that there is no unconditional mark, because along with every expression of the truth, or here of true love, there is also the possibility of a deception that corresponds to it exactly." So it is, and so it must be.»

Edited and translated by Howard and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Costa a Norte de Sesimbra

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Ela pensou.... mas não disse

Estava sentada numa esplanada da Baixa a fumar um cigarro com pesticida sem ter conhecimento disso. Em cima da mesa tinha um Jornal de Letras que trazia uma grande fotografia a cores do enorme romancista. E pensou:

Ler os romances deste chato que se toma por deus é como ir ao Jardim Zoológico. Ele aliás, o romancista, ia lá quando era puto, com o pai ou o tio, e já tinha encontrado uma visão do mundo, achava aquela bicharada muito divertida. Terá explicação no Freud ou no Lacan este deslize inicial do enorme escritor? As personagens dos romances dele são sempre animais meio imbecilizados do circo da vida. O que a gente não saberá nunca é o que esses animais de circo pensaram de alguém que ao atribuir-lhes com tanta imaginação e desenvoltura determinada personalidade parece ter-se esquecido de que também fazia parte do circo e estava a ser observado. Pois, pois, somos sempre ao mesmo tempo sujeito dum lado, objecto do outro. E nenhum romancista conseguiu ser grande tratando com desprezo os seus personagens. Se não queres que te interprete mal, começa por ter cuidado quando te pões a falar de mim com tanta sapiência. Ufa! Preciso de reler Dostoievski, Eça, Camilo e Júlio Dinis para confirmar.

Geoff Berner: três canções com concertina

Canadiano. Canta regularmente na Europa. Comprar os discos dele, provavelmente só pelo correio. O melhor é começar por ir fazer um download à página dele.

Volcano God http://www.geoffberner.com/volcano.mp3
Maginot Line http://www.geoffberner.com/maginot.mp3
Iron Grey http://www.geoffberner.com/grey.mp3


Jaroslav Seifert: Song from an intermezzo

If someone were to ask me
what a poem is
I'd be at a loss for a few seconds.
Yet I know so well.

I read and re-read the dead poets
and now and again
their verses light up my path
like a flame in the dark.

But life does not walk on tiptoe;
sometimes it shakes
and tramples us.

Often I groped about for love
like one who'd lost his sight
and on the boughs of apple trees
feels for the roundness of the fruit his hand
is longing for.

I know verses
powerful enough to exorcize all hell,
to lift the gates of paradise off their hinges.
I used to whisper them to astonished eyes.
Small wonder they raised their feeble arms
and clutched their fear
in love's embrace!
But if someone were to ask my wife
what love is
she'd probably start crying.

Jaroslav Seifert

(The poetry of Jaroslav Seifert, Catbird Press, «a garrigue book»,

translated from the Czech by Ewald Osers, p. 208)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Friday, November 19, 2004

Rilke: Not angels, not humans

………………… Ah, whom can we ever turn to
in our need? Not angels, not humans,
and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in
our interpreted world. Perhaps there remains for us
some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take
into our vision; there remains for us yesterday's street
and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
R. M. Rilke
(Duino Elegies, «the first elegy», translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Ted Hughes: The other

She had too much so with a smile you took some.
Of everything she had you had
Absolutely nothing, so you took some.
At first, just a little.

Still she had so much she made you feel
Your vacuum, which nature abhorred,
So you took your fill, for nature's sake.
Because her great luck made you feel unlucky
You had redressed the balance, which meant
Now you had some too, for yourself.
As seemed only fair. Still her ambition
Claimed the natural right to screw you up
Like a crossed-out page, tossed into a basket.
Somebody, on behalf of the gods,
Had to correct that hubris.
A little touch of hatred steadied the nerves.

Everything she had won, the happiness of it,
You collected
As your compensation
For having lost. Which left her absolutely
Nothing. Even her life was
Trapped in the heap you took. She had nothing.
Too late you saw what had happened.
It made no difference that she was dead.
Now that you had all she had ever had
You had much too much.
Only you
Saw her smile, as she took some.
At first, just a little.

Ted Hughes
(New Selected Poems, faber and faber, 1995)

Arrábida (5)

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Arrábida (3)

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Arrábida (1)

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Filme irreal da vida

Ela ficava tão silenciosa ao seu lado
quando tomavam café. Hoje ainda
ele recorda-se da intensidade da sua
atenção, daquilo (não sabe o que era)
que enchia os seus olhos de melancolia,
talvez de amor. Hoje ainda a revê, sentada
no café ao fim da tarde, a conversar com ele.
Outono, suave estação. Na rua caminharam.
Filme irreal da vida, sonho colorido. Agora,
recordando essa cena, é como se quisesse
descobrir nela os sinais de um futuro que os
havia de reunir. Que fazer do tempo de
espera? Antes de morrer, que fazer ainda? Ó
menina, mulher, sol da pátria perdida. Virás
ao meu encontro ou perdeu-se para sempre esse
dia em que, sem sabermos o que fazíamos, nos
aproximámos do fogo e do precipício do inferno?
Um grande silêncio reinava nos campos e na
cidade, por dentro ele sufocava. Mas estava
vivo. Aguardo uma resposta, balbucia ele,
inesperadamente. Bem sei, não é possível ter
certezas, os sentimentos são ambíguos. Mas
algumas palavras deviam ficar para assinalar o
percurso da dúvida. E poderíamos, no futuro
sempre incerto, sentir pelo menos a ferida da
memória. Talvez até os anos por viver aca-
bassem por adquirir uma coerência por
enquanto impossível de imaginar.

(João Camilo, A Ambição Sublime, Fenda, 2001)

Sonata do Fim do Dia

Às vezes, de manhã, acordo e penso ainda: onde está aquela que eu julguei amar? E apetece-me telefonar-lhe. O telefone está ao fundo da cama, à entrada, em dez segundos levanto-me e tenho-o na mão. Que horas são? Faço as contas, é possível ainda. Não é tarde, não. Mas fico na cama, a gozar o calor que protege do dia e da realidade. Muitas coisas em que pensar? Certamente. Obrigações profissionais? Algumas. Mas fico, inerte, a deixar a imaginação e a memória correr à volta da obsessão, das obsessões.
Chamam-me K. Não Joseph K., como o outro, mas apenas, mais modestamente, K. Nome próprio e nome de família ao mesmo tempo, suponho. Nunca pedi que me explicassem a brevidade do nome, a inicial seguida de um ponto final. Devo ter achado estranho, no início, mas acabei por habituar-me e por aceitar. Um nome é apenas uma etiqueta exterior de identificação. Para não ser confundido com outros, o K. deve ser suficiente. Não protesto, não ambiciono um nome maior, outras precisões. Não quero sequer saber de histórias. “Capa”. Já me tem surgido a questão inevitável: "capa" de quê? Capa de mim mesmo, respondo. Capa do corpo. Capa do ser. Capa, isto é, pele, superfície exterior, coberta, qualquer coisa que protege. Ou envolve, desenha os contornos, separa do que é exterior. Capa protectora. Capa de disfarce. Qualquer explicação serve. A maior parte das vezes nem sequer digo K. ou penso o nome. Limito-me a ver a inicial e o ponto final e esqueço-me, embora diga o meu nome, de que há um outro nome, idêntico na pronúncia, que se pode escrever de outra maneira e ser identificado como uma palavra a que o dicionário atribui um sentido.
Onde está, neste momento, às seis da tarde de domingo, aquela que eu julguei que ia amar-me? Não sei. Provavelmente dorme. Que importância é que tem? Nenhuma. A cada um, agora, a sua vida. Eu estou de fora. Não desejo continuar a interrogar-me sobre assuntos que já não me dizem respeito. E no entanto, distraidamente, nos momentos de tédio ou hesitação, vem-me ainda o desejo de ter notícias desse corpo de criança, desse rosto de adolescente transfigurada pelo amor, de certa paz que conheci ao seu lado. Parvoíces, concluo sempre. Quando é tempo de esquecer, esquece. Quando é tempo de terminar, termina. Quando é tempo de aceitar, aceita. Coincide com o andar do mundo, não te oponhas à vontade alheia, ao destino dos outros. Proibido interferir. E não penses em tudo o que poderia ter sido e não foi. De que adianta?

Ó cores virtuais que jazeis subterrâneas
no limbo onde esperais a luz que vos baptize
cessai de cogitar, o abismo não sondeis.

Recordei os versos do poema enquanto ouvia uma sonata patética, confundia-se o sentido das palavras com a misteriosa influência que os sons exerciam na minha alma. Chegavam-me os sons do piano de longe, como que envolvidos na bruma do tempo, no nevoeiro do fim do dia. Meditações apaixonadas. Silêncio, prudência, depois veemência e protesto, afirmação.
K., que fazes aqui sentado? Nada, respondia eu. Oiço uma sonata patética para comemorar o fim deste dia único e no entanto aparentemente igual a todos os outros. Vou escrever uma carta à amada, à imaginada, àquela que não existe. Uma longa carta. E o tempo passará e o meu destino não terá sido, aos meus olhos, totalmente inútil. Habitou-o a palavra, a memória que resgata e inquieta, o erro que se pode corrigir mais tarde, a felicidade de que se conserva a recordação como incentivo para a vida.
Um vulto atravessava o corredor, uma voz de criança pronunciava palavras que eu não conseguia identificar. Uma gaveta, uma porta, uma cortina fechavam-se. E eu, sentado, ouvia o patético da sonata.
(João Camilo, O Grande Frémito da Paixão, Fenda, 2002)

Camões aos doidos que nos governam


Por isso, ó vós que as famas estimais
Se quiserdes no mundo ser tamanhos,
Despertai já do sono do ócio ignavo,
Que o ânimo, de livre, faz escravo

E ponde na cobiça um freio duro,
E na ambição também, que indignamente
Tomais mil vezes, e no torpe e escuro
Vício da tirania infame e urgente;
Porque essas honras vãs, esse ouro puro,
Verdadeiro valor não dão à gente.
Melhor é merecê-los sem os ter,
Que possui-los sem os merecer.


(Os Lusíadas, Canto IX, 92-93)

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

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BM again
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Strindberg «deconstructs» Ibsen

Creio ter lido num jornal na internet há dias que Casa da Boneca, de Ibsen, vai estar num palco de Lisboa proximamente (ou já está). É interessante, por mil razões, dar uma vista de olhos ao que «o outro» grande dramaturgo escandinavo pensava da peça. Aqui fica um excerto elucidativo:


«Let us now take a look at how, for some unknown and incompre­hensible reason, Ibsen has caricatured the cultured man and woman in his play A Doll's House, which has become the gospel of all the zealots for the Woman Question.
A Doll's House is a play. Perhaps it was written for a great actress whose performance of a sphinx-like part could be guaranteed to be a success. The author has done the husband a great injustice. He has done nothing to help him by making excuses for him on the grounds of inherited characteristics, as he has for his wife, and the excuses he makes for her he presses home over and over again when he talks about her father. But let us carefully examine this Nora whom all our depraved, cultured women have adopted as their ideal.
In the first act she lies to her husband. She conceals her forgery, she smuggles away some cakes, she behaves shiftily over all kinds of simple matters, apparently because she has a taste for lying. Her husband, on the other hand, openly confides everything to her, even the affairs of his Bank, which shows that he treats her as his true wife. She, not he, is the one who never tells anything. It is consequently a lie to say that he treats her like a doll but true to say that she treats him like one. Surely no one believes that Nora did not know what she was doing when she committed forgery ? They may when they sit in the stalls and see an appealing actress in the footlights. I do not believe myself that she com­mitted forgery exclusively for her husband's sake, for she tells us herself how tremendously she enjoyed their journey Italy. No law, and no lawyer would accept that as an excuse. Thus we see that Nora is no saint; at best she is an accomplice who has also enjoyed the fruits of the theft. She incriminates herself. The author unintentionally gives her husband a further opportunity of showing how much he trusts and respects his wife when he lets him discuss with Nora the question of filling a vacancy at the Bank. But what a tyrant he is when he refuses to engage a forger as Head Clerk! What would Nora have said if Mr. Helmer had wanted to dismiss a maid? That would have been a very different story.
Then comes the scene in which she wants to borrow money from the syphilitic Dr Rank. Nora really is sweet in this scene. As a prelude to her negotiations about the money she shows him her flesh-coloured stockings. Nora: "Aren't they pretty? Of course it's dark in here now, but tomorrow. - No, no, no, you're only allowed to see the feet. Oh well, I'll let you see the upper part too !" Rank: "Hm!" Nora: "Why are you looking so disapproving? Don't you think they'll suit me?" Rank: "I'm not qualified to express an opinion on that subject." Nora: (looks at him for a moment) "Shame on you!" (strikes him lightly on the ear with the stockings.) "Take this then!" (Packs up the stockings.) Rank: "What are the other delights I'm to be allowed to see?" Nora: "You're so naughty I shan't let you see another thing" (she hums a little and looks for something in the box). – As far as I can see Nora is offering herself - in return for hard cash. That is realistic and charming, of course. All done out of love for her husband. To save him! But go to her husband and confess her dilemma, oh no, that would be too much for her pride! In Nora's language: she was not yet quite certain that he would respond by showing her the miracle of miracles.
Then comes the tarantella scene, which is introduced in order to throw a distorting light upon Helmer. The audience forgets that Nora is a hussy whom Helmer treats as a sensible woman, and is only allowed to see Helmer treating her merely as a doll. This is a dishonest scene, but it is very effective. In a word: it is good theatre.
That Helmer woos his wife that night simply shows that he is young, and that she is young. But the author makes it show that Helmer - who has not the least suspicion of the dirty game that Nora is playing - is nothing more than a sensual creature, sensual through and through, who has no appreciation whatever of his excellent wife's spiritual qualities, which she has not deigned to reveal, and this gives Nora a false halo of martyrdom. This is the most dishonest scene that Ibsen has ever written. After it comes the denouement, which is a line muddle, with a great deal of misrepresentation and man lies. Mr. Helmer wakes up, and finds that the wife to whom he is bound is a liar and a hypocrite. But the audience has been so impregnated with compassion for Nora that it thinks Helmer is wrong. If Helmer had witnessed the scene with the stockings he would not have begged Nora to stay, but of course he had not. Helmer learns that he, his wife, and his children have escaped social death and ruin. This makes him happy. Put your hand on your heart, you father of a family, and ask yourself if you would not be happy if you heard that your beloved wife, the mother of your children, was not going to be put into prison after all. But these feelings are too mundane. You must reach higher. Right up to the idealist's heaven of lies. Helmer must be chastised. He is the criminal. Yet all the same he speaks kindly to his deceitful wife. - "Oh," he says, "these must have been three dreadful days for you, Nora." But then the author regrets having been fair to the poor fellow, and puts some untrue words into his mouth. Of course it is clumsy of Helmer to tell Nora that he forgives her. And for her to accept forgiveness from one who has always trusted her, while she has lied to him would be far too simple-minded. No, Nora has grander ideas. She is so magnanimous about forgetting the past that she forgets everything that happened in the First Act. This is what she now says, and the stalls have forgotten the First Act too, for their handkerchiefsare out.
Nora: "Doesn't it occur to you that this is the first time that we two, husband and wife, have talked seriously to one another?" Helmer is so taken aback by this mendacious question that he (or the author!) answers: "Seriously - what do you mean by seriously?" - The author has achieved his object. Helmer has been made to look a fool. He should have answered: "No, my little pet, it doesn't occur to me at all. We talked very seriously together when our children were born, for we talked about their futur. We talked very seriously when you wanted to instal the forger, Krogstad, as head clerk in the Bank. We talked very seriously when my life was in danger, and about giving Mrs. Linde a job, and about running the house, and about your dead father, and our syphilitic friend Dr Rank. We have talked seriously for eight long years, but we have joked too, and we were right to do so, for life isn't only a serious business. We could indeed have had more serious talk if you'd been kind enough to tell me of your worries, but you were too proud, for you preferred to be my doll rather than my friend." But Mr Ibsen does not allow Helmer to say these sensible things, for he must be shown to be a fool, and Nora must be allowed her most brilliant answer which will be quoted for twenty-five years. This is her reply: Nora: "For eight (8!) long years - why longer - from the very first time we met, we have never exchanged a serious word on a serious matter." - But now, true to his unfortunate role of fool, Mr Helmer answers: "Would you have liked me to be for ever telling you of problems that you wouldn't have been able to help me with?" It is kind of Helmer to say this, but it is not honest, for he should have turned on her for not confiding in him. This scene is absurdly false. After it Nora has some very fine (French) replies, which consist of such hollow wisdom that they vanish when you blow at them.
Nora: "You have never loved me. You have only thought it amusing to be in love with me!” What is the difference? She also says: "You have never understood me!" Not an easy thing
for Helmer to do as she has always deceived him. Then poor Helmer is made to say some very stupid things like: ”I’m going to educate you.” That is surely the last thing a man should say to a woman. But Mr Helmer must be stupid, for the end is drawing near, and Nora is going to ‘turn the screw'. At that Helmer weakens. He begs for forgiveness; forgiveness because she has committed forgery, because she has lied, for all her faults.
Then Nora says a few sensible thing. She wants to give up her marriage in order to find herself. The question is whether she could not do that just as well in the same house as her children, in contact with the realities of life, and while struggling with her love for Helmer, for her love will not die instantaneously any more than any other love. But this is a question of taste. When she says that she is unfit to bring up her children she is lying, for not long before she had put herself on a pretty high pedestal when castigating the innocent Helmer. To be logical she ought to have stayed with her children if she really thought her husband was such a dolt that he would not be able to grasp the 'miracle'. For how could she leave the education of her children to such a poor specimen? All her babbling about the 'miracle' that would have happened if Helmer had taken the blame for her crime upon him-self is such romantic nonsense that it does not deserve discussion. That ‘hundreds of thousands of women' have sacrificed themselves for their husbands is a compliment to the ladies that Ibsen should be too old to pay. Nora rambles on pell-mell: she has loved him, he has loved her, and yet she can say that for eight years she has been a stranger to him, and borne three children to a man who has been a stranger to her. Helmer agrees that he has not been perfect, and promises to reform. This is handsome of him and there seems to be every guarantee that things will be better in future than they have been in the past. But of course this will not do in a play. The curtain must come down on a Bang. So Nora proves (?) that she has been a doll. Had it not been Helmer who decided where the furniture should stand? Maybe. But if only the mistress of the house had deigned to make her wishes known there would have been no doubt about who was the master.
Why did she not do so? Probably because she thought it did not matter, and she may have been right. If Nora was a doll, then upon my word it was not Helmer's fault, for he had always shown that he trusted her as a man should trust his wife. This was not what Ibsen wanted to prove, he wanted to prove the opposite, but he was not strong enough to do so, for he did not believe in his task, and his sense of justice broke through from time to time.
What its author himself really meant by A Doll's House we shall never know. The fact that it gave the impression of being, and was generally accepted as a manifesto for the oppressed woman immediately raised a storm in which the steadiest people lost their heads. For the play proves the direct opposite of what it is intended to prove. Or is it that the whole play is a proof of the danger of writing plays on serious subjects? Or, to take another point of view altogether: is it in fact not a defence of the oppressed woman, but simply an illustration of the effect of heredity upon character? If this is the case then the author should have been honourable enough to give Helmer's heredity as an excuse for his behaviour. Or is it Nora's bad upbringing? She herself places a lot of the blame on this. Why, then, cannot Helmer blame his bad upbringing? Or is it nothing more than play, pure and simple, an example of our modern courtship of the ladies? If so it should be put among the plays classed as ‘Public Entertainments', and not be regarded as a matter for serious discussion, still less have the honour of setting the two halves of humanity against each other.»


August Strindberg, Preface to Getting Married, translated from the Swedish by Mary Sandbach (Victor Gollancz, London 1972)