Those feel-good times when…

When was the last time you got completely absorbed into the wolrd of a piece of art? For me it was last Saturday evening while watching Les Coloriés by Alexandre Jardin, performed by the Cie Anapnoï at Cornèze (Aude, France) as part of Le théâtre dans les vignes festival. As soon as the theatre went dark at the end of that one-hour-and-twenty-minute show, my husband and I turned towards one another with the same astounded look. Wow.

What we felt at that moment was unutterable. Of course we tried to put words on how we were overwhelmed by the truthfulness emanating from the characters. But there was more, it would go beyond that. What more can we say? It was just GOOD.

So many words can be used: it felt right, fair, spot on… Yet all I wanted to say was thanks. Thanks to the actors who gave an incredibly correct account of our society through their admirably emobodied personas. Thanks to the stage director who made that play known to us, who managed to make the content of the play real and authentic until something changed forever within us. Thanks to all the organisers of the festival – Compagnie Juin 88 – who provided us with such joy. Thanks to the gentleman who renovated this wine cellar to turn it into a fabulous, welcoming place where magic rules.

It can be a book, a film, a play, a picture, a painting, a poem, and so much more. Art is a way of understanding hidden meanings, of discovering new concepts, of playing with words and images, of analysing the way we eat, talk, live. Cherish those moments. When you can’t even describe what just happened between you and an art piece. Share them through the most accurate words you can find, even though they probably won’t deliver as much as you just received. Do spread that pure sensation however. It’s important for the world to acknowledge bliss is there. It’s ephemeral, but it’s there. And maybe the fleeting character reinforces the strong positive impact. Although you can choose to have an exultant daily life, rapturous moments like these are as sweet as the caress of a dewy rose-scented petal on your upper lip one fine spring morning. Just bliss.

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The power of music

Music is a superhero. One we all know and which is real. A ‘real superhero’ is an oxymoron. But maybe it’s beacause music is and sometimes isn’t. Music can be silence. Or noise. Music can be anything.

I’m sure music can heal. And even though I’ve always been profoundly convinced of the power of music, that feeling was reinforced when I went to see Keziah Jones play live this weekend. We, people from Carcassonne, had the chance to have him perfom for us on Sunday, 16th July for the second time at the Théâtre de la Cité, which is a stupendous place in terms of sound, history, style… Keziah Jones gave us pleasure, joy, rythm, talent, everything he’s got. And we received it all with such thankfulness and excitement that the theatre filled up with relentless enthusiasm and grooved to his spellbinding beat.

They were only three on stage: the stylish, serene bass player Joey Grant, the ecstatic, very gifted drummer Joshua McKenzie, and him, Keziah Jones. The musical wave that hit us when they started playing was tremendously powerful for three human beings scratching a few strings and beating on some taut skins. Impressive. Strong. GOOD.

You feel so alive at that moment that you become aware – if you weren’t already – of the incredible might of music. You feel the vibe spreading from your heart to the rest of your body – making you move your arms, hips, toes, head – travelling like a blast of good energy, your guts absorbing whatever comes from outside, eagerly devouring the invisible positive fluid only your inner senses can detect. Transmission (of knowledge or of whatever you’re able to give away) is a marvellous process, especially when you’re consciously part of it, should you be the one who gives or the one who receives. There, on Sunday, the audience witnessed a fantastic, touching exchange of reciprocal openness, truth, simplicity, bliss.

He said it, Rythm is Love. And oh, how right he is!!

A masterpiece of Japanese literature

As my job allows me to catch up on my reading list and add more titles to it – sigh – I recently and completely by chance laid my hands on Keiichirô Hirano’s latest novel, Compléter les blancs (kûhaku wo mitashinasai). Sorry for the non-French speakers, but I wasn’t able to find the English equivalent – is it possible that Corinne Atlan did her work before any anglophone translator? It would be extremely surprising but nevertheless plausible. I think. Anyway.

Like Haruki Murakami, Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Takashi Hiraide, Joe Hisaishi and many more, Japanese floklore and reality interweave in order to create that indiosyncratic atmosphere Japan lovers from the Western world like me are particularly attracted to. We can feel it through the words they use, the way they think, the notes they choose, the sounds and images that reach us. It’s more than a feeling actually; the essence of their culture resides in their text, their music, their drawings – their art. And it powerfully takes possesion of your senses. That’s where you let go and let yourself be in the moment, with the characters and their (hi)story.

The instant – the here and now – is an important notion in Asian doctrines and medicine, and throughout Compléter les blancs you understand how efficient yet disturbing growing up with this thinking becomes. Maybe the concept is too frightening, too BIG to be grasped by the human mind. However I think it’s spot-on. Yesterday when I turned the last page, read the last words and closed the book, I was moved but in a way I couldn’t really describe. I was joyous and disconcerted, flabbergasted and light, relieved and anxiously pondering at once. And to be fair, it’s exactly what I take great delight in when the reading is over. Because it goes beyond the pleasure you took while unravelling the plot; it continues some time after you’re done with the book as an object. The sensation is that of a cloud full of ideas floating around you. I experienced being wrapped in a captivating brainstorming fog. That’s what a great piece does to me – like Gaël Faye’s Petit pays and Shan Sa’s La joueuese de go I spoke of in a previous post.

Pic post Compléter les blancs

I know I’m always (more than) a bit vague when I review books, but I just want to tempt you through the explosion of emotions they provoke in me. See if they will do the same for you – although it is kind of unlikely since I’m a highly emotional person at all times. I wasn’t expecting anything from that book when I picked it up – nothing but to encounter that poetic Japanese art and spirit through Hirano’s writing. I did find it indeed. The problem of suicide in Japan adjoins the overwhelming joy of some quality time spent with one’s family, and the writer gives us clues as to the potential solution one may find in either of these sources of serenity. Do we choose one of those paths? Do we have to or do they impose their will on us independently, influencing our actions inconsciously? Many answers to even more questions in this psychological novel that leads you… Well, I don’t know where, but it must be somewhere!

P.S.: a lovely article on Japanese folklore.

The rightful right to be right – masterpieces by Shan Sa and Gaël Faye

I have recently read two powerful books thanks to my new job – nearly a month has passed since I’ve become a member of the bookshop staff and I’m at my fifth reading, great! (And I just got extra-work from a customer – she is an adorable old lady – who lent me one of her favourite books, L’épervier de Maheux by Jean Carrière, the winner of the 1972 Goncourt Prize!) Among my readings then, two books have deeply imprinted my memory. I’d love to say that they are wonderful, but I can’t. They are, they truly are, but ‘wonderful’ is too positively connoted to be used here. These works are poignant, poetic, brutal, enchanting, violent, tender… So many paradoxical adjectives can serve the purpose. And they rely on one another to fully describe the atmosphere the reader discovers when penetrating into the narratives; they are interdependent.

The books I was so moved by are Shan Sa’s The Girl Who Played Go and Gaël Faye’s Petit Pays. While the first was published years ago (2001), the latter is recently published (2016), and they both won the ‘Prix Goncourt des Lycéens’. What those two fine works have in common is the accurate knowledge of their home countries – China (Manchuria) for one and Burundi for the other – and their insight into the horrendous incessant fight between neighbouring countries and races – Japanese vs. Chinese in Manchuria in the 1930’s and Hutus vs. Tutsis in Burundi and Rwanda in the 1990’s. The aforementioned conflicts lead to deplorable consequences – the killing of so many Chinese civilians by the Japanese army before the Second World War was triggered and the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

They are and they are not easy readings altogether. The allegorical writing of the authors allows the eyes to behold the words and explore the metaphores with a certain ease. When we look at the texts, there is no apparent difficulty. But the content hits you with full force. The reader is powerlessly witnessing hatred and violence taking over love and reason. Passions are no longer conceivable, slaughter turns into a harsh daily reality. Is there hope left for any of the protagonists? For their contries, their races? Is there anything to believe in that won’t be destroyed in the end? Is pluralism a bad thing and shall we all conform to a unique way of seeing, imagining, being? We don’t know. Even after closing the book, we are still unsure. Wondering is our only option – both for us readers and for the paper beings we commiserate with.

After all that’s happened and carrying a forever haunting past, is there anything rightful? Shall we listen – but to whom? Shall we act – to do what? Shall we dare think – to what end? Maybe simply (that’s definitely not the right adverb) read for now. Who knows which truth will unfold for you?

Working in a bookshop

‘Ah, now that you work in a bookshop, you must know so much more about books, mustn’t you?’

Depends on how you define ‘knowing’ there. If it means I can more easily associate a name with the content of a book, then yes, I know more now that I work in a bookshop. But if you mean being able to advise someone on which of these works he/she should try according to his/her specific taste, then no, I’m not there yet.

‘But you’ve only been there a week.’ Half a week, to be precise – thank you wisdom teeth.

True, and there is so much to know! Good news is I can learn. Yay!

What I can already do with my personal little knowledge is to give advice on classic literature if anyone wants to discuss his/her inclination. However no one besides me is into classics, except for those who make school programmes for students to hate it. Therefore I have very thin chances to be useful at present. And yet the other day – my first day – I had the pleasure to have a say in a customer’s request as for which classics she should have read by now that she hasn’t. She was what I will call a ‘blank page’ and it was an absolute delight to share with her my sincere opinion about this play by Shakespeare, that masterpiece by Flaubert or Stendhal, etc. Being of a realistic nature, I am not likely to succeed in bringing people to reading more classics. This lady happily proved me wrong. She ended up buying Boris Vian’s L’écume des jours – Vian’s work is just as mad and poetic as Joyce’s and they’re both now considered ‘classics’ within the scope of literature, may we like it or not. It’s a start. A wild one, but it’s a start. We’ll see if she ever comes back. Haha.

Time will be my best friend in this job since it takes you a lifetime to gather information about so many works – and believe me, there are many many many many many… of them. I can read when the shop’s empty, which is a duty I am more than happy to perform, and the team is adorable and helpful. So far so good.

‘I’m looking for a book that’s just come out. About politics. You know, it’s all over the radio and on every TV show. You see which one, right?’

‘Uh… See my colleague over there?’

What’s in a tale?

A tale? Like a fairy tale? A fable, a moralistic story, a preachy narrative with extremely naive characters on the one hand and know-it-all saviours on the other, right?

Well, not necessarily, not always, not all of them. Tales are old. The written tradition came to replace the oral tradition in the western culture through them. Therefore an entire period of our history and a substantial piece of our culture hinges on them. Since their creation they have become more than genuine bedtime stories – children’s literature is rarely just for kiddies.

Tales for adults? How ridiculously controversial! Grown-ups have stopped believing in fairy lands and imaginary creatures long ago, haven’t they? Well, not necessarily, not always, not all of them.

The English language adds another dimension to the word ‘tale’. A tale can be a lie, a rumour – we would use a different substantive in French for that. Hence maybe its lack of credit within the narrow-minded world of grown-ups. Tales struggled to gain recognition from literary circles, but they finally managed to do so thanks to, I suppose, creative, fanciful, whimsically-built people.

Simply those who don’t forget – History, their history. If you remember being a child, if you remember going through several phases of life until you became of age, you must locate fairy tales, folktales, stories somewhere in your memory. If you can’t, I’m just sorry for you. Yet I discover things everyday I wish I had known a while back. And perhaps those who apprehend tales today, who didn’t get a chance to appreciate them as kids, will make the most out of them – more than those who think they grabbed their content, their implied meaning through a first and last reading. We’re often more astounded when something surprises, pleases, bewilders us as adults than it might have when we were younger – because we know how much harder and rarer it is.

However I want to believe that all adults aren’t destined to transform into sourpusses. Again, not necessarily, not always, not all of them. And this is a fancy I refuse to let go whatever happens, whoever I meet, even though counter-examples are more visible in our world of reason, pride, and seriousness.

Read tales people, believe it or not it’ll do you good! And believe is a key word here…

On Victorian fairy tales

Not very surprising, since I am an eager reader of nineteenth-century literature. And Children’s Literature is a genre you cannot just ignore. You acknowledged it growing up, and dealing with fairy tales and nursery rhymes as an adult means winking at your inner child. And it feels so good! Sometimes the content of the tales may sound too moralistic or too simple, following more or less the same patterns, using the same characters (princes and princesses, witches, kings and queens, etc.), ending up well… But having a closer look at them, you realise there is something for everyone – children and grown-ups, sceptics and believers.

fairy-tales-blog

In the introductory section of Victorian Fairy Tales, The Revolt of the Fairies and Elves, Jack Zipes tells us that Victorian England came to a point where it needed fairy tales as a means to put things into perspective. The genre was resorted to in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe by writers who wished to express their opinion about the regime, customs and traditions, the evolution of their social environment. It didn’t reach England at that time but when it did in the nineteenth century, it was to condemn, for instance, the strictness of the codes of the Victorian society towards young girls, who are to behave properly in society – Cinderella by Anne Isabella Ritchie, published in 1868, and A Toy Princess by Mary de Morgan, published in 1877 are perfect examples. The condition of women and the praising of female intelligence is a common theme to many of the Victorian fairy tales – as in The Magic Fishbone by Charles Dickens (1868) and The Ogre Courting by Juliana Horatia Ewing (1871) – just as the denunciation of the devastating consequences of the gold rush on the human mind and heart, brought about by the British imperialism, and exposed in The King of the Golden River, or The Black Brothers by John Ruskin (1841), Heinrich; or, The Love of Gold by Alfred Crowquill (1860), and The Prince’s Dream by Jean Ingelow (1872).

And yet besides all moralistic input, some of the tales from Zipes’ compilation seem to purely feed buried imaginary worlds. I did get that feeling through George Macdonald’s The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1879). First, Macdonald’s writing is detailed, gracious, enchanting, spot on. I could sense the magic of the tale through the author’s choice of words. His talent starts before the story is told, before the reader can figure out what the plot is about. The first magical elements are found within the black letters against the white page, within the form of the text before appearing in its content. Macdonald’s poetic description of the “night girl”’s apprehension of the world through her ceiling alabaster lamp is simply magnificent:

“And besides the operation of the light itself after its kind, the indefiniteness of the globe, and the softness of the light, giving her the feeling as if her eyes could go in and into its whiteness, were somehow also associated with the idea of space and room.” (181-182)

Second, this tale is peculiar because it gives you the impression of having no purpose, which is rather rare as we have seen so far and so, very much appreciated. It feels like we are simply witnessing the encounter of a boy that is only familiar with the day, and a girl that lives exclusively in darkness. That moment is the actual point of the whole story. But what a magical climax! Macdonald’s power resides in his ability to create a macrocosm in a microcosm. The whole world is contained within their two personalities, and life becomes meaningful to them both – and the tale to the reader – when they finally acknowledge one another. No preachy discourse, no other pleasure in reading than that of going back in time and being children again. The aim of the narrative: to be splendid, overwhelmingly grand. Well, that’s what I want to believe because that’s what I perceived, what I enjoyed in this text. I am sure academics will find more concrete ends than the fate of the two protagonists, but I am happy with my gullibility!

Reading for the love of it… So good!