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Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott’s Advice on

Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity

by

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (public library) is among my 10 favorite books on writing — a treasure trove of insight both practical and profound, timelessly revisitable and yielding deeper resonance each time.

Lamott adds to the collected wisdom of great writers with equal parts candor and conviction, teaching us as much about writing as she does about creativity at large and, even beyond that, about being human and living a full life — because as Lamott notes in the beginning, writing is nothing more nor less than a sense-making mechanism for life:

One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.

What makes Lamott so compelling is that all of her advice comes not from the ivory tower of the pantheon but from an honest place of exquisite vulnerability and hard-earned life-wisdom.

She recounts her formative years and where she headed once she encountered that inevitable fork in the road where we can choose between being shut in and shut down by our traumatic experiences, or using them as fertile clay for character-building:

I started writing when I was seven or eight. I was very shy and strange-looking, loved reading above everything else, weighed about 40 pounds at the time, and was so tense that I walked around with my shoulders up to my ears, like Richard Nixon.

I saw a home movie once of a birthday party I went to in the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab.

I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny. I got funny because boys, older boys I didn’t even know, would ride by on their bicycles and taunt me about my weird looks. Each time felt like a drive-by shooting. I think this is why I walked like Nixon: I think I was trying to plug my ears with my shoulders, but they wouldn’t quite reach. So first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.

[…]

All I ever wanted was to belong, to wear that hat of belonging.

In seventh and eighth grades I still weighed about forty pounds. I was twelve years old and had been getting teased about my strange looks for most of my life. This is a difficult country to look too different in — the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krassner puts it — and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did.

So she found refuge in books, searching for “some sort of creative or spiritual or aesthetic way of seeing the world and organizing it in [her] head.” To find that, she became a writer and began fantasizing about getting published, about “the thrill of seeing oneself in print,” as the highest form of existential validation.

When Lamott published her first book, she awaited the affirming grandeur of public approval and secretly thought that “trumpets would blare, major reviewers would proclaim that not since Moby Dick had an American novel so captured life in all of its dizzying complexity.”

Of course, none of this happened — not with the first book, nor the second or third or fourth or fifth. Instead, what Lamott found was a deeper kind of reward — that sensation “unmerited grace” that Annie Dillard so eloquently captured in her timeless meditation on the writing life. Lamott echoes Ray Bradbury on rejection and reflects:

I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

[…]

I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.

But, one might wonder, why? Lamott answers beautifully:

My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.

But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.

For her, the essence of writing is about something simple, something immutable about being human:

Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.

[…]

Hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate. Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.

At the heart of writing, Lamott argues, lies a capacity for quiet grit and a willingness to decondition the all too human tendency to get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey that we’re too paralyzed to take the first step.

She recounts this wonderful anecdote, after which the book is titled:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

In this bird-by-bird approach to writing, there is no room for perfectionism. (Neil Gaiman famously advised, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”, and David Foster Wallace admonished, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”) Lamott cautions:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

[…]

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

Lamott echoes Susan Sontag (“That’s what a writer does — a writer pays attention to the world.” and offers a beautiful definition of what it means to be a writer:

Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.

[…]

The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell” standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes. You’re outside, but you can see things up close through your binoculars.

Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense. Then you can recognize others.

In a sentiment reminiscent of E. B. White’s timeless words on the responsibility of the writer, Lamott considers the core of being a writer:

To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care. You do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy. But a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.

That is, one needs to have a moral position.

I myself have long believed that the role of a great writer — or editor, or “curator,” or any other custodian of cultural values — is to frame for people what matters in the world and why.

George Eliot famously observed, “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” — a notion Lamott considers in the context of that necessary moral position:

As we live, we begin to discover what helps in life and what hurts, and our characters act this out dramatically. This is moral material. … A moral position is a passionate caring inside you. We are all in danger now and have a new everything to face, and there is no point gathering an audience and demanding its attention unless you have something to say that is important and constructive. My friend Carpenter says we no longer need Chicken Little to tell us the sky is falling, because it already has. The issue now is how to take care of one another.

She finds in writing what Carl Sagan found in science — profound awe, deep reverence, a source of spiritual elevation:

In order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? … Think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world.

Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment.

This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.

[…]

There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness. . .

Most of all, however, Lamott sees in writing not a selfish act of personal gratification but an act of warm generosity — which is, after all, what drives all of us who wake up in the morning to put something we love into the world and go to bed at night glad that we did:

If you give freely, there will always be more. … It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person to whom they come for food and drink and company. This is what the writer has to offer.

This mutual gratification is where the mesmerism of literature lies:

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored.

We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

Bird by Bird is an absolute must-read, and must-reread, in its entirety. Complement it with Annie Dillard on writing, which inspired Lamott, and Dani Shapiro on the pleasures and perils of the creative life, which was inspired by Lamott.

For more notable advice on writing, see Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing, Walter Benjamin’s thirteen doctrines, H. P. Lovecraft’s advice to aspiring writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.

Do you master a Second Language? The proper way to be Born Again

The Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, who wrote in French, talks of the change of language as a catastrophic event in any author’s biography.   “When I changed my language, I annihilated my past. I changed my entire life,” says Cioran. And rightly so.

The world reveals itself in a certain manner to the Japanese writer, and in quite another to the one who writes in Finnish.

Literary virtuosity almost always betrays a sense of deep, comfortable immersion into a familiar soil. As such, if for any reason the writer has to change languages, the experience is nothing short of life-threatening.
Not only do you have to start everything again from scratch, but you also have to undo what you have been doing for almost as long as you have been around. Changing languages is not for the fainthearted, nor for the impatient.
 
 (And I did change writing in 3 languages, 3 times)
 
COSTICA BRADATAN posted this August 4, 2013 in the Opinionated of NYT Born Again in a Second Language

In her exploration of the Catholic religion, “Letter to a Priest,” written the year before her death in 1943, Simone Weil noticed at some point that “for any man a change of religion is as dangerous a thing as a change of language is for a writer. It may turn out a success, but it can also have disastrous consequences.”

When you become a writer, you don’t do so in abstract, but in relation to a certain language. To practice writing is to grow roots into that language; the better writer you become, the deeper the roots.

Painful as it can be at a strictly human level, the experience can also be philosophically fascinating. Rarely do we get the chance to observe a more dramatic re-making of oneself.

For a writer’s language, far from being a mere means of expression, is above all a mode of subjective existence and a way of experiencing the world. She needs the language not just to describe things, but to see them.  A writer’s language is not just something she uses, but a constitutive part of what she is. This is why to abandon your native tongue and to adopt another is to dismantle yourself, piece by piece, and then to put yourself together again, in a different form.

When changing languages you descend to a zero-point of your existence. There must be even a moment, however brief, when you cease to be. You’ve just quit the old language and the new one hasn’t received you yet.

You are now in limbo, between worlds, hanging over the abyss. A change of language usually happens when the writer is exiled or self-exiled. Yet the physical exile is doubled in such cases by an ontological one — an exile on the margins of being. It is as though, for a moment, as she passes through the void – the narrow crack between languages, where there are no words to hold on to and nothing can be named – the self of the writer is not any more.

Weil’s comparison to the religious conversion is indeed apt because, just like in the case of the convert, the writer who changes languages undergoes a death-and-rebirth experience. In an important way, that person dies and then comes back as another.

When she starts writing in the new language the world is born anew to the writer. Yet the most spectacular rebirth is her own. For this is a project of total reconstruction of the self, where no stone is left unturned and nothing will look the same again.

Your native language – what you were before – appears as less and less familiar to you.

But that doesn’t bother you at all; in fact, you look forward to a moment when you will use it as just another foreign language.

Not long after adopting French, Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, complained of his native English: “Horrible language, which I still know too well.” The ontological promise of complete renewal that comes with the new language is nothing short of intoxicating.

When you are re-born in this manner it is as if all the possibilities are open; you are given a chance to re-fashion yourself into whatever shape you choose. You are your own demiurge: out of nothing, as it were, you can become everything.

Asked, in 1954, why he chose to change languages, Beckett answered: out of a “need to be ill equipped”. His response is exceedingly sly because, if you listen more attentively, its boastful tone is deafening. For in French the need “to be ill equipped” (d’être mal armé) doesn’t sound very different from the need to be (another) Mallarmé (d’être Mallarmé). Anything less than a Mallarmé status would not have been enough for a Beckett on his quest for the new self. Eventually, he didn’t become Mallarmé, but Samuel Beckett, the French author of “Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” or “Waiting for Godot,” which is probably just as good. And as if there was not enough alienation in his adoption of a new language, he alienated himself one more time by translating his French work into English.

Elsewhere Beckett claimed that he preferred French because it allowed him to write “without style.” Yet writing “without style” is one of the writing styles most difficult to accomplish; you really need to be well equipped to do it.

Tucker Nichols

There is something “natural” in one’s becoming a writer in one’s native language. Having reached self-consciousness into that language, having assimilated it along with the mother’s milk, so to speak, such a writer finds himself in a somewhat privileged position: he only has to bring to perfection whatever he has received.

Granted, rigorous training, self-discipline and constant practice are necessary; after all, art is the opposite of nature. Yet no matter how you look at it, there is a distinct sense of continuity and organic growing in this writer’s trajectory.

Becoming a writer in a language that is not yours by birth, though, goes against nature; there is nothing organic in this process, only artifice. There are no linguistic “instincts” to guide you on the path and the language’s guardian angels rarely whisper into your ear; you are truly on your own. Says Cioran: “When I wrote in Romanian, words were not independent of me. As soon as I began to write in French I consciously chose each word. I had them before me, outside of me, each in its place. And I chose them: now I’ll take you, then you.”

Many who shift to writing in a second language develop an unusually acute linguistic awareness. In an interview he gave in 1979, some seven years after he moved to the United States from his native Russia, Joseph Brodsky speaks of his ongoing “love affair with the English language.”

Language is such an overwhelming presence for these people that it comes to structure their new biographies. “English is the only interesting thing that’s left in my life,” says Brodsky. The need to find “le mot juste” starts out as a concern, turns into an obsession, and ends up as a way of life. These writers excel at the art of making virtue of necessity: out of a need to understand how the new language works, they turn into linguistic maniacs; out of a concern for correctness, they become compulsive grammarians.

When he moved to France at the age of 26, Cioran’s command of French was barely decent, yet he ended up as one of the greatest stylists of that language. Similarly, Joseph Conrad learned English relatively late in life – which did not prevent him from coming to be one of its most sophisticated representatives.

Vladimir Nabokov is doubtlessly another such representative, even though he started learning English at an early age. The same pattern again and again: everything out of nothing, from halting ignorance to a mode of expression of the first order.

Towards the end of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” the reader comes across something whose significance exceeds the confines of the story. It is the scene where Montague meets the “book people.” In a world where printed texts are banned, they have dedicated their lives to preserving the “great books” of the humankind; each commits a book to memory and spends the whole life reciting it. They are living texts, these people, language incarnated. Apart from the masterpieces that inhabit them, they don’t mean much.

Their bodies matter as little as the paper on which a book is printed. In a way, a writer who has changed languages is not very different from these people. In the long run, because of their compulsive preoccupation with linguistic precision and stylistic perfection, a colonization of sorts takes place: language penetrates all the details of that writer’s life, it informs and re-shapes it, it proclaims its dominion over her – it takes over. The writer’s self is now under the occupation of an invading power: her own writing in the new language.

In a certain sense, then, it could be said that in the end you don’t really change languages; the language changes you. At a deeper, more personal level, writing literature in another language has a distinctly performative dimension: as you do it something happens to you, the language acts upon you. The book you are writing ends up writing you in turn. The result is a “ghostification” of sorts.

For to change languages,  a writer is to undergo a process of dematerialization: before you know it, you are language more than anything else.

One day, suddenly, a certain intuition starts visiting you, namely that you are not made primarily out of flesh anymore, but out of lines and rhymes, of rhetorical strategies and narrative patterns.

Just like the “book people,” you don’t mean much apart the texts that inhabit you. More than a man or a woman of flesh and blood, you are now rather a fleshing out of the language itself, a literary project, very much like the books you write.

The writer who has changed languages is truly a ghost writer – the only one worthy of the name.

Having done all this, having gone through the pain of changing languages and undergone the death-and-rebirth initiation, you are sometimes given – as a reward, as it were – access to a metaphysical insight of an odd, savage beauty.

It is the notion that the world may be nothing other than a story in the making and that we, who inhabit it, may be nothing more than characters. Characters in search of an author, that is.


Costica Bradatan

Costica Bradatan is an associate professor of honors at Texas Tech University and the religion/comparative studies editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. His most recent book is “Philosophy, Society and the Cunning of History in Eastern Europe.”

Dry bones of abridged book versions; (August 16, 2009)

Fifty years ago, Ray Bradbury had this outlandish notion:

1. that the visual memories of what we had read are stored intact;

2. that a technique will be developed to retrieve the contents of books that we have read.

Thus, the intellectuals who fled from the cities to the countryside, wandering like hobos along the old railroad track that is no longer used, have each of them memorized special book or sections of books waiting for the current Dark Age to be over: the one party rule burned the original manuscripts and saved the tasteless abridged versions.

This new version has a coda by the author, which focus on the new realities in book publishing where the publishers are taking liberty to self-censuring sections and paragraphs that are deemed hurtful to the powerful minorities so that they might sell better and avoid group harassments.

For example, the supporters of dwarf, orangutan, dolphin, nuclear non-proliferation, environmentalist, Neo-Luddite, Unitarian, Irish, Italian, octogenarian, Buddhist, Zionist, Women’s Lib, and so forth want to impose and interfere with aesthetics. Consequently, books that focus mainly on a single gender or race or a nationality or use detailed descriptions on the diversity in culture and life style are vigourously classified as non-publishable.

Most of books are revisited and abridged for high school readers, a tampering that render the style of the books alike; thus, you discover that Mark Twain reads like Poe who reads like Shakespeare who reads like Dostoevsky.

Digressions which are the sunshine, the life, and the soul of reading are scraped in these abridged versions.

Consequently, if we take out the philosophic digressions of Dantes and Milton, then what stays are dry bones.

It is no wonder why every organized minority has as a priority to own its publishing business; it is no wonder that I feel the US novels are all the same in style and composition and thus are no longer exciting if we are seeking variety, innovation, and contradiction.

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (written in March 28, 2007)

The novel “Fahrenheit 451” is set in the USA, around the year 2450 as the “citizens” have given up on reading books, and reverted for instant audio-visual communication media, or at best, very abridged versions of the original work.

The firefighters’ job has changed into burning book,s and people in their residences are doing their best to holding on to their private libraries. The trend is to substitute the “how to do things” for the “why things are done”.

And the historical processes, which led to the current life style in the most advanced country, are relegated to seeking continuous fun and never caring for the consequences of these attitudes that are demanding only safety, comfort and peace of mind, and forgetting the responsibilities toward the neighbors or the under-developed countries.

            In order to bring his main idea into focus, the author Ray Bradbury loads his novel with quotations from famous writers. The firefighter Captain Beatty has reached a desperate state and wanted to end his life; thus, he pushed so hard the firefighter Guy Montag to react to his harassment and of burning his apartment, along with the few books that Guy stole while burning private libraries, which Guy had to burn with Beaty’s fire torch.

Before this event, Beatty is talking to Montag about a fictitious dream he had, and the dialogue between him, the Devil, and the righteous Montag. Most of the dialogue are extracts from famous writers such as: “Sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,” in contrast to “Words are like leaves; much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found”

And  the following quotations “A little learning is a dangerous thing; the shallow draughts of the Pierian spring intoxicate the brain, and drinking deeply and largely sober us again;” or “Knowledge is more than equivalent to force;” or “He is no wise man who will quit a certainty for an uncertainty;” or “Truth will come to light, murder will not be hid long;” or “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose

Or “The dignity of truth is lost with much protesting;” or “A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the farthest of the two” to be retorted by “The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us;” or “The terrible tyranny of the majority; the solid unmoving cattle of the majority who is the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom.”

Latimer said to Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford for heresy in 1555,  “Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Ray Bradbury had this outlandish notion, fifty years ago, that the visual memories of what we had read are stored intact, and a technique will be developed to retrieve the contents of books. Consequently, the intellectuals who fled from the cities to the countryside, wandering like hobos along the old railroad track that is no longer used, have each of them specialized in memorizing a book or sections of books when the current Dark Age is over.

This new version has a coda by the author that focus on the new realities in book publishing, where the publishers are taking liberty to self-censuring sections and paragraphs that are deemed hurtful to the powerful minorities so that they might sell better and avoid group harassments.

For example, the supporters of dwarf, orangutan, dolphin, nuclear non-proliferation, environmentalist, Neo-Luddite, Unitarian, Irish, Italian, octogenarian, Buddhist, Zionist, Women’s Lib, and so forth want to impose and interfere with aesthetics.

Consequently, books that focus mainly on a single gender or race or a nationality or use detailed descriptions on the diversity in culture and life style are vigorously classified as non-publishable.

Most of books are revisited and abridged for high school readers that render the style of the books alike. For example, Twain read like Poe who read like Shakespeare who read like Dostoevsky.

Digressions which are the sunshine, the life, and the soul of reading are scraped in these abridged versions; consequently, if we take-out philosophy away from Dante and Milton works, for example, then what stays are dry bones.”

It is no wonder why every organized minority has as a priority to own its publishing business;

It is no wonder that I feel the US novels are all the same in style and composition and are no longer exciting if we are seeking variety, innovation, and contradiction.

Note: You may read current accounts on this topic in https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/who-is-controlling-the-present-controlled-the-past-is-set-to-control-the-future/

“The Joke” by Milan Kundera

Written in March 22, 2007, before I started my blog

Kundera was responsible for the incarceration of a citizen in the 1945 when he was a staunch communist.

He was young and his position might have changed and evolved, but it is a sign of his character and his writings do express a few of his apologies.

Ludvic Jahn was a bright student and played clarinet in Moravian folk bands. His is a staunch member of the communist party that came to power in Czechoslovakia after WWII and was attending university with prospect for higher responsibilities.  He wrote a joke on a postcard for his girlfriend Marketa who was enjoying a “healthy atmosphere” at a training camp that says:

Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!”

Ludvic was expelled from both the university and the Party by his student colleagues; he had to do his two years military service as the enemy of the people in a brigade wearing black insignia.

He worked in the mines but was paid for his work unlike the patriots doing military service; this brigade worked seven days a week with a one day pass every two weeks if the commander was pleased with their production and obedience. He met Lucie and fell in love with her.

Lucie left town without giving notice after she refused to have intercourse and without explaining her reluctance.

We learn later on that Lucie was with a gang in her hometown and that the gang chain-raped her, but kept hanging out with it until the police rounded up the gang for thievery.

Ludvic lived 15 years as a marginal with bitter needs for revenge on his friends who abandoned him, especially Zemaneck whom he thought would defend his case but turned out to be the most virulent opponent.

Ludvic returns to his hometown in order to meet Helena, the wife of Zemaneck, who was falling in love with him and didn’t know that her husband knew Ludvic or the schemes of the latter.

Ludvic wanted revenge on Zemaneck through his wife ,but Zemaneck would not care less because he had another young girlfriend and going with the flow of the new generation who didn’t care of what happened during the early communist take over of power.

It dawned on Ludvic that it was too late to physicalyl hit Zemanek: he should have done it when he was castrated from the Party instead of wasting 15 years in bitterness and failing to taking care of the present.

The 3 harrowing days that Ludvic spent in his hometown opened his soul to new facts and new realities. Ludvic has been rationalizing his behavior toward Lucie as “a function of his own situation” when he needed understanding and tenderness in his military service stint and, as adolescent behave wearing masks to overcome their shyness and uncertainty, he failed to ask questions with the purpose of understanding the real Lucie and her predicaments.

Lucie used to gather flowers and roses from the cemetery to offer them to Ludvic when he was on leave; she used to stand outside the fence of the camp waiting for her Ludvic to steal a few minutes and talk with her.

Communism had the spirit of the great religious movements: it had religious gestures and feelings but remained empty and godless within.

Communism tried to supplant religious faith by adopting the same rites camouflaged in secular mass ceremonies and practiced excommunication extensively in the name of “the historical optimism of the victorious working class” and delivered by the youth instead of professional, matured, and responsible people.

The Marxist teachings were secular in origin, but the significance assigned them was similar to the significance of the Gospel and religious commandments.  They have created a range of ideas that are practically untouchable, thus sacred.

For example, is the case of young Alexej who was banished to the black insignia brigade because his father stood trial as enemy of the people; he still thought and acted as a communist because “we are responsible for everything that goes in the camp” and he felt free enough to act like a communist by sending letters to the higher-ups condemning the camp commander’s behaviors as counterrevolutionary.

Alexej was twenty, an adolescent and his destiny hung on him like a giant’s clothes on a tiny body, and Alexej committed suicide by swallowing an overdose of medicines.  Although communism was a cruel religion, it was better than the new era of mockery, skepticism, and the mob of youth, coarse, cynical, and nasty, without enthusiasm or ideals.

This mob of incomplete youth is compelled to play-act as fully grown, adopting forms, patterns, models that please and enact them; the more the youth is aware of his boyish appearance, the more fanatical his devotion to the role of superman and the more forced is his performance.

Kundera views youth as terrible and that history often was the playground for the immature Bonaparte, Nero, and the likes whose simulated passion and simplistic poses metamorphose into a catastrophic real reality.

As Ray Bradbury said in his novel Fahrenheit 451: “Those who don’t build must burn; it’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”

Note: Finished reading the book on Tuesday October 21, 2008

Book reviews:  Of controversial manuscripts? Posted in 2008

Many of the books that I have reviewed were written prior to 2008, before I discovered wordpress.com, and they might be categorized as controversial.  

It is not my job to fall into that trap of judging what is fine to read.  I simply reviews,  summarizes, and add my comments of what I have read that express deep feeling and personal reflections.  

I always give my “expert” opinions anyway:  It is your right to express your opinion.

There are books that I had to publish several posts on particular chapters, simply because topics are interesting and need further development.

1) “Life after Life” by Dr. Raymond Moody, (written in June 7, 2004)

2) “A Priest among “Les Loubards”” by Guy Gilbert, (written in July 22, 2004)

3) “We the Living” by Ayn Rand, (written in July, 24, 2004)

4) “Prophesies of End of Timeby Paco Rabanne, (November 15, 2004)

5) “Alexander the Great”, (November 20, 2004)

6) “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” by Thomas Friedman (July 28, 2006)

7) “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Saleh, (August 10, 2006)

8) “The Princes of the Crazy Years” by Gilbert Gilleminault and Philippe Bernert.

9) “Carlos Ghosn: Citoyen du Monde” by Philippe Ries, (Septembre 27, 2006)

10) “Abbo”by Nabil Al Milhem, (November 23, 2006)

11) “Human Types; Essence and the Enneagram” by Suzan Zannos, (December 6, 2006)

12) “One hundred fallacies on the Middle East (ME)” by Fred Haliday, (March 2, 2007)

13) “Origins” by Amin Maaluf, February 15, 2007

14) “Imagined Masculinity” edited by Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb

15) “Post-modernism: the Arabs in a video snapshot” by Mai Ghoussoub,( March 4, 2007)

16) “The Joke” by Milan Kundera, (March 22, 2007)

17) “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, March 28, 2007

18)  “Biography” of In3am Ra3d, April 7, 2007

19)  “Al-Walid Bin Talal”, April 4, 2007

20) “The Gardens of Light” by Amin Maaluf, April 19, 2007

21) “Two old women” by Velma Wallis, May 1, 2007

22) “I heard the owl call my name” by Margaret Craven, May 3, 2007

23) “A woman of independent means” by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, May 6, 2007

24) “The Gospel according to Pilate” by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, May 9, 2007

25) “Les innovations du XXI siecle qui vont changer notre vie” by Eric de Riedmatten.

26) “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom, July 3, 2007

27) “Liban: le salut par la culture” by Phares Zoghbi, August 19, 2007

28) “Finding Joy” by Charlote Davis Kasl, August 22, 2007

29) “Tadjoura” by Jean Francois Deniau, Septembre 6, 2007

30) “How to dance forever” by Daniel Nagrin, September 8, 2007

31.  “The Second sex” by Simone de Beauvoir, (September 21, 2007)

32.  “A short history of nearly everything” by Bill Bryson, (September 25, 2007)

33.  “The God of mirrors” by Robert Reilly, (October 1st, 2007)

34.  “The tipping point” by Malcom Gladwell, (October 9, 2007)

35.  “The social structure of Lebanon: democracy or servitude?” by Safia Saadeh

October 15, 2007

36. “Fallaci interviews Fallaci and Apocalypse”, by Oriana Falaci (November 8, 2007)

37. “Aicha la bien-aime du Prophet” by Genevieve Chauvel (November 19, 2007)

38.  “Tess of the D’Uberville” Thomas Hardy, (December 19, 2007)

39. “Le livre des saviors” edited by Constantin von Barloewen (December 22, 2007)

40.  Gandhi’s non-violent resistance guidelines (February 21, 2008)

41. “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown (March 12, 2008)

42. “La reine de Palmyre” by Denise Brahimi (March 26, 2007)

43. “Culture et resistance” by Edward W. Said (April 18, 2008)

44. “L’Avorton de Dieu; une vie de Saint Paul” by Alain Decaux (April 23, 2008)

45.  “Down and out in Paris and London” by George Orwell (July 14, 2008)

46. “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan (July 21, 2008)

47.  “Igino Giordani” by Jean-Marie Wallet and Tommaso Sorgi (August 5, 2008)

48.  “Building a durable World” in “Science et Vie” magazine special issue of June 2008 (August 10, 2008)


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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