Franz Kafka

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

'Temporale' (Thunderstorm), by Giovanni Pascoli; English translation

TEMPORALE                              THUNDERSTORM 

Un bubbolìo lontano...                  A distant rumble... 

Rosseggia l’orizzonte,                  The horizon reddens, 
come affocato, a mare:                as on fire, to the sea:
nero di pece, a monte,                 pitch-black, to the mountain,
stracci di nubi chiare:                   rags of light-colored clouds:
tra il nero un casolare:                 in the black a cottage: 
un’ala di gabbiano                        a wing of a seagull. 

da 'Myricae', 1891                        Translation by A. Baruffi, Literary Joint

Giovanni Pascoli, San Mauro di Romagna, Dec 31, 1855 – Bologna, April 6, 1912

Sunday, July 15, 2012

'Vidas Secas' (Barren Lives, a tale from the Brazilian Sertão) by Graciliano Ramos and Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath', a parallel

Published in 1938, a milestone in Brazilian 20th century literature, the novel 'Vida Secas', recounts the struggle of a vaqueiro's family facing extreme poverty in drought-stricken Sertão (the North-East back country). Written in minimal prose, short sentences, as sparse as the landscape it depicts, 'Vida secas' (literally 'dry lives') is contemporary to Steinbeck's migration tale, 'The Grapes of Wrath', which appeared one year later.
First edition cover
First edition cover

While 'The Grapes' stands as symbol of hope and redemption, no matter how far from grasp the mythical garden of California might be, the southerner's odyssey only amounts to an hopeless displacement, occasioned by recurring drought. Arguably, the former is a journey, on-the-road, the latter is more of a cycle, its initial chapter a continuation of the final one, like in a circular motion.

Steinbeck's magnificent and magniloquent style collides with Ramos' scanty and shrubby language, which adapts to a barren land and simpler personages. By the same token, 'The Grapes of Wrath'is a blunt, outspoken j'accuse, whereas 'Vidas Secas' describes reality as it is. The narrator takes a step back, refraining from openly expressed criticism. Yet, with a different angle and style, both utter the same social denunciation. Stemming from similar political views and outlook on social justice, they represent their times, the 30's, characterized by the Great Depression, the collapse of Wall Street, the "dust bowl" migration and mechanization of agriculture in the US, and the the dilapidated, archaic social structure, the military coup and the coffee crises in Brazil.
Poverty, rather than sparking a fight for survival and change, in the Brazilian Sertão is represented as a permanent condition, accepted as inescapable, a kharma. Unlike Tom Joads, who joins a broader battle for dignity and social justice, his counterpart from below the equator - Fabiano, and his family (his wife Sinhá Vitória,  his two sons, that have no name, other than 'older' and 'younger', and their dog called Baleia, anthropomorphically heightened to his owners' low life standards)- pursue a daily existence of privations, inevitable and unchangeable. The only hint of change is the mother's faint aspiration of a better life for their sons, and the older's glimpse of a town and his desire to learn.

The writer's choice of 'dry' words depicts the 'dry' life of the sertanejos and their lack of means to express themselves -- the highest form of poverty. Words that are unknown, for they define objects never to be possessed, and  conditions never to be achieved.

A dichotomy is evident between Reverend Casy's eloquence in 'The Grapes of Wrath' and Fabiano's lack of the tools of language and discernment in 'Vidas Secas'. Both suffer great injustice, Casy, dying fighting for the rights of migrant workers, and Fabiano, humiliated by a soldier and dragged to a prison, unable to speak out and defend himself. While Steinbeck's characters shine under the scorching sun, Ramos' personages - too frail their language, dried up their words, overwhelming their inability to communicate - weave an intricate web that it is yet to be deciphered.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Eugenio Montale, 'Spesso il male di vivere', 'The ill of living', English Translation

From "Ossi di seppia" (1925)
Original cover
Spesso il male di vivere...
Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato:
era il rivo strozzato che gorgoglia,
era l'incartocciarsi della foglia
riarsa, era il cavallo stramazzato.

Bene non seppi, fuori del prodigio
che schiude la divina Indifferenza:
era la statua nella sonnolenza
del meriggio, e la nuvola, e il falco alto levato. 
by Eugenio Montale (1896-1981)

From "Cuttlefish bones" (1925)
Often the ill of living...
Often have I met the ill of living:
it was the choked stream that gurgles,
it was the shriveling of a leaf,
parched, it was the horse, crashed.

Good I have not known, outside the miracle
which discloses divine's Indifference:
it was the statue in the somnolence
of noon, and the cloud, and the lofty hawk.

Translation by A. Baruffi, Literary Joint

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Relativism and moral relativism in modern society. What does it mean today?

rel·a·tiv·ism: In Philosophy, in a nutshell, the term refers to a theory (especially in ethics or aesthetics) by which the concept of truth and moral values are not universal or absolute, but are relative to the persons or groups holding them, thus may greatly differ amongst the community of men and between group of individuals or different cultures. (1)  The concept of Moral relativism has been exposed, analyzed and debated for thousands of years, as far back as from ancient Greece and the Indian civilization for instance, in the fields of philosophy, science, and religion.

But today, what does it mean? Throughout history (as we know it), and until the most recent industrial revolutions, the role of an elite of intellectuals and philosophers was to understand society and its driving forces; precognition of changes and pointing to some meaningful direction was their job description, so to speak. Today, it's all nonsense arguably, and public opinion is fragmented or non existent. To quote Brazilian writer Graciliano Ramos' novel Angustia:
"Não há opinião pública: há pedaços de opinião, contraditórios...No júri metade dos juízes de fato lançaria na urna a bola branca, metade lançaria a bola preta. Qualquer ato que eu praticasse agitaria esses retalhos de opinião. Inútil esperar unanimidade. Um crime, uma ação boa, dá tudo no mesmo. Afinal já nem sabemos o que é bom e o que é ruim, tão embotados vivemos".
In plain English, I would translate it as:
"There's not such a thing as a public opinion. There are only contradictory bits and pieces of opinion. The Jury's would be split; half of the judges throwing in the white ball ballot box, and half the black. Whatever act I do, it would trigger the exact same fragments of opinion. It's useless expecting unanimity. A crime, a good deed, it's all the same. In the end, already we do not know anymore what is right and what is wrong, such is the obtuse nature of our life."
Even more so, in our post-industrial, post-sexual, post-religious, post-feminist, post-whatever and so called "liberated" society, what does relativism actually mean? What if, -far worse than obtuse- our existence is presently run and astutely ruled upon by technology, regimented by the strings pulled by multifaceted, absolutist puppeteers? Bio-technology, nano-technology, artificial intelligence technology, to name but a few. What if, today a regular Joe absorbs far more information in a week than an average man of the 16th century in his own life span? Our species' brain is the same, it hasn't grown since! Thus, what is the role of an intellectual, a philosopher, a vate,  a guide, in modern society? Is there a direction at all that we can be pointed to, or all is there is nonsense and chaos? Is the ever intrusive and laughable concept of political correctness the mere by-product of all of this?

Not long ago, I was struck reading that a UK Navy vessel captain had agreed to Satanic rites on his ship. Britain's Armed Forces have enlisted their first Satanist, after a naval technician serving on a frigate was granted permission to practice his beliefs while at sea."Defending the decision to allow a Satanist among the Royal Navy's ranks, a ministry spokesman said on Sunday it was an "equal opportunities employer" and did not discriminate against specific religious beliefs". (2)

1 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language
2 Reuters