Adonis Diaries

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Masterpieces. In Literature? Since when?

“We judge a great man by his masterpieces: His faults are irrelevant” Voltaire.

Apparently, in the western civilization, it is the same French Voltaire who first coined the terms “Homme de letter” and “Chefs-d’oeuvre” in the 18th century.

The world knew plenty of masterpieces in literature before the advent of the western civilization. The ancient Greek specifically build a library so that the works of Homers be transcribed and made public. The Arabs used the term Tehfa for the grand works in literature.

Petrarque  wrote on April 13, 1350: “This is what I affirm: We show elegance and skill when we express in our proper terms“, meaning that a masterpiece should be written in the popular language of the country in order for the common people who can read to comprehend the manuscript. Since then, Boccaccio and Dante followed suit and kept Latin at bay. And that’s how the Europe Renaissance took a giant step forward in achieving all kinds of masterpieces in literature, art, sculpture, painting…

A Masterpieces in literature creates its proper criterion, and it is the most audacious and unique expression of a personality.

The subject has a single utility: It is the yeast to rise the dough of its characteristic form. And the form is what defines a masterpiece and the author.

A masterpiece burst open taboo topics that normative cultures love to control. For example, same sex relationship, drag queen, taboo sickness of terminally ills…

A masterpiece in literature doesn’t serve the grand ideological trend or guideline of the period, such as the “Greatness of a nation”, “Progress”, “Technological breakthrough”, “globalization”, Capitalism, Communism, description of the Middle-Classes…

A masterpiece is meant to emancipate people from the common values, and thus, are fresh through the ages…

A masterpiece doesn’t talk about the future or the past: It is written by an author living his period and in his lifetime…

A masterpiece is not meant to describe any petty reality, or see meanness in life… The avid reader has already read all kinds of minor literature and he is set to discover and mine the gold in the masses of dirt…

The present is shown in its eternity: the present extends the sensation of immortality.

Nothing ever originated from pure abstraction that does not exist. All origins are generated from the sensation, and the idea of immortality is born from the simple fact of existing.

What counts is not reason but the seriousness of the author, camouflaged under comical and easy going style. We all can differentiate between a genuine and a copycat manuscript.

What counts is that “You liked the book”, that it touched a nerve, a hidden passion, a desire, an uplifting sensation, that demonstrated to you that you are not all alone, and the author happened to know you and is a friend of yours…

What counts is that the words feel like they are playing in a trance, dancing, cavorting, making sense to you.

Since humor is a scares ingredient, who manages to make you laugh is an angel: Like in “Too much ado about nothing“, Decameron, Life is a dream (Calderon)…

There are sentences that don’t sound funny to you, but they generate hilarious moments to others. It takes some training to discover the funny and this flap peeking in the cloudy sky, an opening to let sunshine seep in.

It is possible and beautiful to live a masterpiece, like a love story: We become better people when we read a masterpiece.

Publilius Syrus wrote in the first century: “The beautiful thoughts may be forgotten but never vanish

The are people who are masterpieces in the way they live, at least in moments of their lives, and they are very discreet and fragile creatures.

Do you think that it make sense to categorize masterpieces? Like collecting data from viewers and readers and analyzing the data statistically?

Note: Inspired from the French book “A propos des Chefs-d’Oeuvre” by Charles Dantzig

Crime, Sin, Punishment, Redemption, The Idiot, and Dostoyevsky

I admit that I feel aghast when the host assumes that the audience are on the same wave length, as he asks the invitee speaker: “What is the best book you select for an isolated island...?” And the invitee replies as if he perfectly comprehended the criteria of the host for the term “the best”.

Maybe part of my embarrassed position is that I have no idea what I would select from the thousands of books that I have read and loved…

There are books that I think are masterpieces in the issues they approached and covered, and there are wonderful books for the lightness they confront life and its complications.

How style, contents, types (tragedy, drama, humor, comical…), eye-witness accounts, well-researched topics…prioritized as constituting “best to re-read?”

Should we invariably have read the book? Is there any choice in selecting a work we have never read, but we always claimed that we will read before we die?

How many of you feel like re-reading books that you finished recently?

Do you care to re-read a book that you read decades ago and didn’t understand, but critics insist to say that it is worth reading and comprehending, unless you are vouched to damnation…?

I think around 1992-94, I have read many books, including many of Dostoevsky, like The idiot, Crime and Punishment, The brothers Karamazov...This recollection was generated as I watched the film on cables Crime and Punishment.

The movie had started and I figured out that it was on Crime and Punishment, and I didn’t try to finish it: The best part was amazing and the conversation strikingly simple and to the point.

This is a great movie that circumvent pages of description with pictures and a great cast of actors and drove the point through… I loved the incomplete movie more than the book. Crime and Punishment seemed pretty heavy and depressing at the time, and I missed or forgot the critical point of killing the innocent Elizabeth, the sister of the hated old lady.

I loved The Idiot best: From start to end I had this feeling that Dostoevsky was recounting hope in life, expecting that life is nice and the little harassment will be overcome… I sincerely was excited and happy to read The Idiot, though I don’t think I would re-read it when I have choices to many current books.

I loved the heroine Sonia, the prostitute, in love with (Arcadi? If I had in mind to write about this movie I would have taken notes on names…). Sonia promised Arcadi to follow him to the end of earth if he confesses his crime and is subjected to redemption, and she kept her promise venturing to Siberia to be close to her lover…

Donia, the sister of Arcadi, was not a heroine to me.  The employer of Donia was in love with her, but she had a nasty unrelenting hatred for her former employer and despised him.  The employer showed signs of changing and willingness to reform, but many workers would have been in better shape if the sister considered negotiating a deal.  The lover ended committing suicide instead…

Aracadi thought that he committed a crime killing the “blood-sucker” old lady, but worst, he believed that he committed sin by killing her innocent old  sister who happened to be in the premises.

The genius of Dostoyevsky is by inserting The Sin, saving the story, and giving a chance for Sonia to convince Arcadi to confess.  Otherwise, Arcadi would have never confessed and would have always thought that he was in the right of eliminating people for the “greater good”, thus becoming a terrorist, a violent “anarchist” of the period, a totalitarian ideologue, or a dictator, like his Hero Napoleon.

Would I care to re-read Crime and Punishment? Not a chance: and if I am to select movies, it won’t be this movie…

As for The brothers Karamazov, I think there are plenty of lectures in that novel, and I am in no mood to discuss religion and abstract concepts that cannot be demonstrated…

Guilt, shame, redemption, sin…

Why should all these feelings revolve around religious morals?

Must we restrict our emotional development by embracing religious dogma and value systems to make sense of any thing in life?

I would select a voluminous book, a comprehensive collection of short stories, and let my daydreaming take wings after I catch a fish and eat sushi flavored…




October 2020

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