From Feuntes’ “Myself with Others”

I went back to my notes from Feuntes’ Myself with Others, after I heard the news of his death.  They are as alive as they were some twenty-five years ago, when I wrote them down in a notebook whose pages have turned yellow and whose ink is a paler black.

Not his great work, and Feuntes’ literature not as monumental as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s.  Still, a book of intimacies, to which one can return time and time again.

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~~”One afternoon, on the beach at Lota in Southern Chile, I saw the miners as they came out, mole-like, from their work many feet under the sea, extracting the coal of the Pacific Ocean. They sat around a bonfire and sang, to guitar music, a poem from Neruda’s “Canto General.” I told them that the author would be thrilled to know that his poem had been set to music.

What author? they asked in surprise.  For them, Neruda’s poetry had no author, it came from afar, it had always been sung, like Homer’s.  It was, as Croce said of The Illiad “d’un popolo intero poetante,” of an entire poeitizing people.  It was the document of the original identity of poetry and history.”

~~”Nothing is shared in the abstract. Like bread and love, language and ideas are shared with human beings.”

~~”You start by writing to live. You end by writing so as not to die. Love is the marriage of this desire and this fear.  The women I have loved I had desired for themselves, but also because I feared myself.”

~~”Ancient peoples know that there are no words that do not descend from other words and that imagination only resembles power because neither can reign over Nada, Nothing, Niente…”

~~”No desire is innocent–because we not only desire, we also desire to change what we desire once we obtain it.”

~~On Maria Callas: “This woman I now saw, thinned down not by her will but by her sickness and her time,nearer every minute to her hone, every second more transparent and tenuously allied to life, possessed a hypnotic secret that revealed itself as attention.”

~~On Mexico: “Mexico is the sacred zone of a secret hope: the gods shall return.”

~~The language of the Mexicans springs from abysmal extremes of power and impotence, domination and resentment.”

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Carlos Fuentes has died…

~~In his gem of a book, Myself With Others, Carlos Fuentes has a chapter titled “How I Wrote One of My Books.”  The novel in question is Aura.  The chapter is a curious mix of evocation, meditation, memoir, and theory. Its opening sections are set in Paris:

But Paris is a double city; whatever happens there possesses a mirage which seems to reproduce the space of actuality.  We soon learn that this is a form of deceit.  The abundant mirrors of Parisian interiors do more than simply reproduce a certain space.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez says that with their army of mirrors the Parisians create the illusion that their narrow apartments are double the real size.  The true mystery–Gabriel and I know this–is that what we see reflected in those mirrors is always another time: time past, time yet to be.  And that, sometimes, if you are lucky, a person who is another person floats across these quicksilver lakes.

I believe that the mirrors of Paris contain something more than their own illusion.  They are, at the same time, the reflection of something less tangible:the light of the city, a light I have attempted to describe many times, in political chronicles of the events of May 1968 and May 1981 and in novels such as Distant Relations, where I say that the light of Paris is identical to “the expectation that every afternoon…for one miraculous moment, the phenomena of the day–rain or fog, scorching heat of snow–[will] disperse and reveal, as in a Corot landscape, the luminous essence of the Ile de France.

A second space: a second person–the other person–in the mirror is not born in the mirror: she comes from the light.  The girl who wandered in from her living room into her bedroom that hot afternoon in early September more than twenty years ago was another because six years had gone by since I first met her, in the budding grove of her puberty, in Mexico.

But she was also another because the light that afternoon, as if it had been expecting her, defeated a stubborn reef of clouds. That light–I remember it–first stepped through timidly, as if stealing by the menace of a summer’s storm; then it transformed itself into a luminous pearl encased in a shell of clouds: finally it spilled over for a few seconds with a plenitude that was also an agony.

In this almost instantaneous succession, the girl I remembered when she was fourteen years old and who was not twenty suffered the same changes as the light coming through the windowpanes:that threshold between the parlor and the bedroom became the lintel between between all the ages of this girl:the light that had been struggling against the clouds also fought against her flesh, took it, sketched it, granted her a shadow of year, sculpted a death in her eyes, tore the smile from her lips, wanted through her hair with the floating melancholy of madness.

She was another, she had been another, not she who was going to be but she who, always, was being.

The light possessed the girl, the light made love to the girl before I could, and I was only, that afternoon, “a strange guest in the kingdom of love” (“en el reino amor huésped extraño”), and knew that the eyes of love can also see us with–once more I quote Quevedo–“a beautiful Death.”

The next morning I started writing Aura in a café near my hotel on the rue de Berri. I remember the day…~~

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May 15: The Nakba at 67

May 15 is the day Palestinians and supporters of Palestinian rights to self-determination commemorate the Nakba, or Catastrophe, which forced hundreds of thousands of the native population out of Mandatory Palestine.  Today, the Nakba is 67 years old.  On this occasion, I’m re-posting an entry from two years ago: parts of Mahmoud Darwish’s 2004 Amsterdam Speech, and the half a dozen lines from Darwish’s Under Siege, “If You Were Not the Rain, My Love.”  The art work is by Vera Tamari, extraordinary artist, and friend.  In ceramic, wood, acrylic and paint, these two images are part of a series on ancestral memory and loss. ~~

images-4~~~

A person can only be born in one place; however, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare. Poetry is perhaps what teaches us to nurture the charming illusion: how to be re-born out of ourselves over and over again, and use words to construct a better world, a fictitious world that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace… with life.

You know, of course, that I am from Palestine. What an exciting name; ambiguous, open to every possible interpretation, it evokes a certain longing and counter-longing, and triggers emotions of pity or anger. But the imaginary ancient Palestine, called “the land of love and peace”, mother of the prophets, and the meeting point of earth and sky, does not resemble the real Palestine flooding with blood and tears. It is denied peace because its people are deprived of freedom; denied love because its people are deprived of justice; denied a better tomorrow close at hand because its occupied present is surrounded by walls of hatred that deprive its people of hope.

~~~

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If you were not the rain, my love, then be the tree
Saturated and bountiful, be the tree.
And if you were not the tree, my love, then be the stone
Saturated and moist,  be the stone.
And if you were not the stone, my love, then be the moon
In the dream of the loved one, be the moon.
This is what a woman said to her son at his funeral.

~~Excerpt from Under Siege by Mahmoud Darwish~~

Translated from the Arabic by Taline Voskeritchian and Christopher Millis

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Reading Yessayan, Oshagan, Charents at MIT: an introduction

Poster_ArmenienWWR_web-2-2-3-2

 ~

PROGRAM

The Armenian Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
The Berlin International Festival, Berlin
Lepsiushaus, Potsdam
present

A World Wide Reading
Commemorating the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide

April 21, 2015
~
Welcome
Armen Samurkashian

Introduction
Taline Voskeritchian

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Zabel Yessayan
1878-1943
Աւերակներուն
Մէջ (In the Ruins)
Translated by G.M. Goshgarian
English: Judy Saryan
Armenian: Danila Jebejian Terpanjian

~

Hagop Oshagan
1883-1948
Մնացորդաց
(Remnants)
Translated by G.M. Goshgarian
English: Nanor Kebranian
Armenian: Gerard Libaridian

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Eghishe Charents
1897-1937
Իմ
Կէսօրին (To my Midday) and Տխուր Կարուսել (Sad carousel)
Translated by Susan Barba
English: Susan Barba
Armenian: Areg Danagoulian

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Introduction

Thank you all for being here tonight for this memorial reading on the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. Our reading is part of a network of such events, spanning several continents and cities—Muzuzu, Malawi; Mexico City; Cairo; Paris, Brussells, London; Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Oslo, Norway; Burgaz and Plovdiv, Bulgaria; Los Angeles, Montreal, NYC, and beyond. All in all some 66 cities in 28 countries, where readings are taking place on this day. Chances are that at this time, somewhere in the world, there is a World Wide Reading for Armenia.

The organizers of the World Wide Reading are the Berlin International Festival and the Lepsiushaus in Potsdam. Some of the best-known international writers of our time, among them a few Nobel Laureates, have endorsed this initiative. We’re honored that Boston is part of this network of readings.

Thank you also to our readers who agreed so graciously to participate in this memorial event.

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 Tonight, we commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide—what we Armenians call the Aghéd—by paying tribute to three giants of Armenian literature: Zabel Yessayan, Hagop Oshagan and Eghishe Charents.

The lives and deaths of these three writers intersected with some of the most cataclysmic events of the Armenian world in the first four decades of the twentieth century: The Adana massacres of 1909 about which Yessayan wrote after a visit organized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople; the destruction of the Armenian population of Van in 1915, which Charents memorialized in the poem, Danteesque Legend; the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and writers on the eve of April 24, 1915 in Constantinople, Yessayan being the only woman on the Ottoman lists; the formation of the Armenian fugitive underground in Constantinople where Oshagan was in hiding for three years, escaping seven arrests.

Later, in the 1930s, in Eastern Armenia: the founding of Soviet Armenia and Charents’ and Yessayan’s ideological commitment of communism—Yessayan’s case is more complicated, though; the unleashing of the Stalinist purges, which claimed the lives of both Charents and Yessayan.

Yessayan and Charents were both arrested in 1937 and died some years later; there is no gravesite for either of them. By contrast, Oshagan’s end came with a heart attack in Aleppo, on the eve of a planned memorial visit the next morning to the killing fields of the Der Zor desert where so many refugees of the genocide had lost their lives. He is buried in the Armenian cemetery in the Christian Suleymanieh district of the city. Between them, Charents and Oshagan divide up a privileged space in twentieth century Armenian letters—Charents as the pre-eminent poet of Eastern Armenian literature, and Oshagan as the towering figure in the modern Western Armenian novel.

Other than their literary ambitions, little unites these two great figures—linguistically, esthetically, culturally, but most of all ideologically—Charents an avowed communist Soviet citizen, and Oshagan a writer who rejected all ideological intervention in literature and wrote his most ambitious works after the Genocide, in statelessness.

The case of Yessayan is of another order: She begins as a writer in pre-Genocide Constantinople, is marked for arrest in 1915, escapes, and by a circuitous route eventually settles in Paris. Then in an act of radical reversal, repatriates to Soviet Armenia. Yessayan’s doubly tragic figure hovers over the two major events of twentieth century Armenian history–the Aghéd and Sovietization.

Three turbulent lives, large and impassioned, each the stuff of at least a few novels, each a world onto itself, sustained by torrential forces, extraordinary courage, singular talent, and prodigious literary output. Tonight, we pay tribute to all these attributes, but more so to their common literary project: the project of turning thought (and language) to the horrific and the unspeakable, and against all odds, creating literature—poems, chronicles, novel cycles–out of this fateful, defining encounter with genocide–literature as testament for what was destroyed, obliterated beyond repair, but at the same what was recovered, restored, and imagined anew: Yessayan in the chronicle, the memoir and to a lesser degree the novel; Oshagan in the novel first and foremost but also in the literary criticism/history and the dramatic plays; and finally Charents in the poem. It is an astounding spread of literary forms, languages and intentions, which brings into its sphere Yessayan’s unique re-working and combining of the chronicle, the memoir, and the testament; Oshagan’s architectural conception of the novel, and Charents’ expansion of the idea of the poem as a capacious form that can accommodate the lyrical, the elegiac, the political, even the mythic.

We begin with selections from Zabel Yessayan’s account of the Adana massacres of 1909, Աւերակներուն Մէջ (In the Ruins). The work was published in 1911, after which this remarkable woman traveled to the Caucasus, then to Cilicia again in 1920, back in France until 1933, and finally to Armenia where her fate was sealed.

The second reading is selections from Hagop Oshagan’s monumental and unfinished novel, Մնացորդաց (Remnants), whose third part the author had imagined as a description of the annihilation of the population of his native Boursa. It was written in Cyprus, in feverish speed, and first published between 1932 and 1934.

And we conclude with two poems of Charents from 1935-37, Իմ Կէսօրին and Տխիւր Կարուսէլ (To my Midday and Sad Carousel), both of which were published only much later in 1968 in the first collected edition of his work. These are poems of longing and profound sadness. When Saroyan met Charents in 1934 in Moscow, he reported being struck most of all by Charents’ profound, all-encompassing sadness. No doubt one of the sources of this sadness is that 18-year-old conscript’s experience of the destruction of the Armenian population of Van in 1915.

The selections will be read first in English translation and then in the original Armenian. This bilingual dimension of our reading is a tribute to another, less violent kind of encounter, the encounter of translation, which brings two languages into a common sphere and creates the conditions for a conversation between them, a conversation which will fertilize both. Translation, therefore, is also an act of imaginative renewal, albeit more modest, which turns the original toward a language other than itself, and from this meeting something new comes into being. In an accomplished translation, such as those of G.M. Goshgarian and Susan Barba, we sense not only the vitality and possibilities of the language of passage, but also the echoes of the original.

Oshagan wrote: “Our literature is our homeland.” Homeland, perhaps not– but home, certainly. This home, this evening, is no match, to the homeland, to what was lost a hundred years ago in lives, property, traditions, dialects, artifacts, and more. It is no match either to the three writers we’re honoring. And that is why, in the end, our evening is a kind of wake not only for the victims and survivors of the Armenian national catastrophe but also for that which can be recovered in remnants only. Thank you.

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The Monument, Yerevan/Michael Arlen Jr.

Originally posted on Passages Home Blog:

I thought, How strange to finally meet one’s past: to simply meet it, the way one might finally acknowledge a person who had been in one’s company a long while. So, it’s you!

I was standing by myself beneath the overhanging slabs of the Monument, looking into the fire. I remember thinking that if I had had a flower in my hand

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The week of April 24: Oshagan speaking the Aghéd

Hagop Oshagan: Speaking the Aghéd

“The week of April 24 has particular relevance to the life and work of Hagop Oshagan. True, he survived the Aghéd while many of his literary contemporaries fell victim to the Ottoman genocidal machine. In fact, and as Vahé Oshagan says, his figure stands at the juncture between the loss of the historic homeland and the beginning of the dispersion. But more than that, it was his work that was shaped by the Aghéd (a term he used in 1932 to describe what happened to the Armenians of the Empire). In the words of Krikor Beledian, Oshagan’s legacy is not defined by the fact that he survived the Aghéd, but that he confronted it, “opened thinking to its stupendous emptiness.” From this confrontation emerged a body of literature which is part testimony, part fiction, part myth, part autobiography, part recovery. In private life, as his daughter (and my mother) Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian used to say, he never spoke about the Aghéd nor about his years as a fugitive in the Contantinople (1915-1918). He avoided public speaking in general, particularly about the Aghéd. Only on one occasion, did he succumb to the pleas of his students to speak on April 24. The story is told in Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian’s moving tribute to her father, published originally in Pakine (Beirut) in Armenian and then in The Armenian Review (Volume 35, 1982). Here is her telling, with some minor edits:
” The week preceding April 24, my father would become a changed man; he was moody, agitated, lost like a sleep-walker. He didn’t eat, had bad dreams, couldn’t write. “All my friends,all of them, I can see them, one after another–Varoujan, Zohrab, Zartarian, Shahrigian,” he used to say.

Once, in Jerusalem, on the commemoration of April 24, the young men begged him to say a few words. He accepted with great difficulty first because of his heart condition, and second, because he used to say that it was just impossible to describe April 24 in words. The patriarch, the priests and large audience attended this memorial service. There were some solo songs, some poems recited. Then, it was my father’s turn. He approached the stage with slow steps and when he turned toward the audience, the public was watching him magnetized, this survivor of a generation of martyrs. He just stood there, so silent, so sad, looking nowhere, but seeing something. A few minutes passed. Still my father was silent,his face as white as a sheet, his gaze lost in the past. After a long silence, he began to cry. The audience burst into tears. He sat down on the chair, his lips curled to try to make a word like “water.” Someone behind me was saying, “Be quick, the man is going to die.” Some young man went upstage, took him by the arm, and brought him back slowly, and turning round to the audience, he ended the event with these word: “Oshagan has spoken his speech. The commemoration is over.”

Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian, “Memories of Hagop Oshagan.” Armenian Review, Winter 1982.

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15 Great Books: How Civil War (Re)-shaped the Lebanese Novel

Originally posted on Arabic Literature (in English):

Today marks 40 years since the start of the Lebanese civil war, which officially began on April 13, 1975, when Christian militiamen machinegunned a bus of mostly Palestinian passengers, killing twenty-seven, after fighting between the PLO and Christian militiamen earlier that morning:

The civil war — although it officially ended in 1990 — continues to preoccupy novelists, with great new books set during war-time coming out every year. The Jordanian magazine 7iber and ArabLit look back at how civil war shaped the Lebanese novel, and recommend 15 great books set just before, during, and after the war.

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The 1960s brought changes to Lebanon and countries around the world, among these a mini-renaissance in Lebanese literary writing. “There was some kind of revival,” Lebanese novelist Rawi Hage said in a 2013 interview, “and a very progressive community…formed in Lebanon, mostly around the AUB area around Ras Beirut.”

It was an era of openness…

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