Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature
— by Toni Morrison
Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature
Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature
— by Toni Morrison
[Irish | 1854–1900]
I just love his full name: Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde… Anyhow, he was a poet and a writer who — because of his sexuality — faced various problems and even had to spend a period of time in prison. This is one of my favorite of his observations:
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
And this, this is what I want to convey today to you:
You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes or their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.
(The only song I hear is the one sung by you.)
This poem — originally published anonymously, written after Wilde’s two year’s hard labour in Reading prison — is the tale of a man who has been sentenced to hang for the murder of the woman he loved. The Ballad of Reading Gaol follows the inmate through his final three weeks, as he stares at the sky and silently drinks his beer ration. Heart-wrenching and eye-opening, the ballad also expresses perfectly Wilde’s belief that humanity is made up only of offenders, each of us deserving a greater charity for the severity of our crimes.
A collection of stories, including two of Wilde’s most famous: “The Canterville Ghost,” in which a young American girl helps to free the tormented spirit that haunts an old English castle and “The Happy Prince,” who was not as happy as he seemed. Often whimsical and sometimes sad, they all shine with poetry and magic.
Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life; indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. The novel was a succès de scandale and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895. It has lost none of its power to fascinate and disturb. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life; indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. The novel was a succès de scandale and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895. It has lost none of its power to fascinate and disturb.”
(The Silence of Love)
As oftentimes the too resplendent sun
Hurries the pallid and reluctant moon
Back to her sombre cave, ere she hath won
A single ballad from the nightingale,
So doth thy Beauty make my lips to fail,
And all my sweetest singing out of tune.
And as at dawn across the level mead
On wings impetuous some wind will come,
And with its too harsh kisses break the reed
Which was its only instrument of song,
So my too stormy passions work me wrong,
And for excess of Love my Love is dumb.
But surely unto Thee mine eyes did show
Why I am silent, and my lute unstrung;
Else it were better we should part, and go,
Thou to some lips of sweeter melody,
And I to nurse the barren memory
Of unkissed kisses, and songs never sung.
— Oscar Wilde
“I hold there is no sin but ignorance.”
— Machiavelli ❱ Marlowe ❱❱ Rethink.
Esoteric red herrings… now I’m in the fucking know.
— Anna Bidoonism
I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp.
— J. K. Rowling
Did you know — I didn’t until I read it tonight — that reading for pleasure in one’s youth is a key factor in determining one’s future “social mobility” (success in later life). OECD Research shows the extent to which one reads for pleasure is the most important indicator of the future success of that individual [read on…]. I ask you, dear reader (Oh! James: Where art thou?), did you hear about/read:
01. — Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler (1970)
02. — Orientalism, by Edward Saïd (1978)
03. — Imagined Communities, by Benedict Anderson (1983)
Ignorance is bliss
If one is unaware of an unpleasant fact or situation one cannot be troubled by it. — “I don’t want to hear about Trump’s latest tweets, ignorance, in this instance my dear friend, is bliss.”
A clue or piece of information which is or is intended to be misleading or distracting. — “The writing of the Secret Sharer is convoluted and full of red herrings.” (Also: ‘a dried smoked herring fish that turns red due to the smoke in the drying process.’)
Relating to the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi; to deliberately obscure something; to be or act ambiguously.
Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialised knowledge or interest. — “She grew increasingly frustrated with the esoteric philosophical debates organised by Dr. Humaid.”
Rare, exotic, or obscure. — “Some of the idioms he insisted on using were to recherché for most of the students in the Elizabethan era literature class.”
[English | 1917–2012]
Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm was a well known British historian who focused on the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism and nationalism. Hobsbawm was born in Egypt but spent his childhood mostly in Vienna and Berlin. Following the death of his parents and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Hobsbawm moved to London with his adoptive family, then obtained his PhD in history at the University of Cambridge. His best-known works include his trilogy about what he called the “long 19th century” (The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848, The Age of Capital: 1848–1875 and The Age of Empire: 1875–1914) and, The Age of Extremes on the short 20th century.
In these works, Eric Hobsbawm traces with brilliant anlytical clarity the transformation brought about in every sphere of European life by the Dual revolution – the 1789 French revolution and the Industrial Revolution that originated in Britain. This enthralling and original account highlights the significant sixty years when industrial capitalism established itself in Western Europe and when Europe established the domination over the rest of the world it was to hold for half a century.
[English | 1819–1880]
a.k.a., George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans was a philosopher, journalist and translator before she became a novelist. Her first book of stories was published in 1856. She led an unconventional life, co-editing the liberal journal Westminster Review for three years and living with the married man and philosopher George Henry Lewes. Her novels, in particular, Middlemarch, are acclaimed for their realism and psychological insights.
Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.
What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?
Today it is widely considered to be the case that her novels are amongst the greatest works of English literature produced in the 19th c.
Middlemarch contains all of life: the rich and the poor, the conventional and the radical, literature and science, politics and romance, but above all it gives us a vision of what lies within the human heart, the roar on the other side of silence. In the story, Dorothea is bright, beautiful and rebellious. Lydgate is the ambitious new doctor in town. Both of them long to make a positive difference in the world. But their stories do not proceed as expected and both they, and the other inhabitants of Middlemarch, must struggle to reconcile themselves to their fates and find their places in the world.
— 1859, Edinburgh: John Blackwood.
In this novel, the protagonist is Adam Bede, a wood worker, who is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves…
— 1860, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons.
In this novel, we meet Maggie Tulliver, a young lady who worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother; hunchbacked Tom Wakem, the son of her family’s worst enemy; and the charismatic but dangerous Stephen Guest. … choice-overload, right?
— 1863, London: Smith, Elder & Co.
This is said to be one of Eliot’s most ambitious and imaginative novels. It is set in Renaissance Florence during the turbulent years following the expulsion of the powerful Medici family during which the zealous religious reformer Savonarola rose to control the city. At its heart is Romola, the devoted daughter of a blind scholar, married to the clever but ultimately treacherous Tito whose duplicity in both love and politics threatens to destroy everything she values, and she must break away to find her own path in life.
— 1866, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons.
The novel centres around a lady called Esther. When the young nobleman Harold Transome returns to England from the colonies with a self-made fortune, he scandalises the town of Treby Magna with his decision to stand for Parliament as a Radical. But after the idealistic Felix Holt also returns to the town, the difference between Harold’s opportunistic values and Holt’s profound beliefs becomes apparent. Forthright, brusque and driven by a firm desire to educate the working-class, Felix is at first viewed with suspicion but, as Esther discovers, his blunt words conceal both passion and deep integrity. Soon the romantic and over-refined Esther finds herself overwhelmed by a heart-wrenching decision: whether to choose Transome or Holt… ch- ch- choices — again 😦
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
The Guardian view on George Eliot: a novelist for now
“It is 200 years since the birth of George Eliot, and her artistic virtues – humanity, honesty, seriousness – are more necessary than ever…”
Also, I wanna introduce to A.S. Byatt who has written a lot about George Eliot, is a well regarded literary critique (heart) and is a novelist in her own right and is, according to one essayist, “a gifted observer, able to discern the exact but minor details that bring whole worlds into being.”
Possession is not just a novel; it’s a collection of poetry, letters, journals and diaries, each with their own distinct voice. A tour de force of prose-wring skill, beyond the usual demands of fiction, written by a literary ventriloquist. The novel begins in the Reading Room in the London Library. Part-time research assistant Roland Michell, finds letters hidden inside a book. They were written by celebrated Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash to Cristobel LaMotte, a lesser-known writer, suggesting an adulterous affair…
[Vladimir Nabokov | 1899–1977]
Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian-American novelist and poet. He wrote the novel Lolita in 1955.
It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.
Narrated by a middle-aged man named Humbert Humbert, the book tells the story of his obsession with a 12-year-old girl named Dolores Haze (Lolita) and the sexual relationship he forces her into. A literary critic asks, “Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?”
Humbert Humbert’s seduction is one of many dimensions in Nabokov’s dizzying masterpiece, which is suffused with a savage humour and rich, elaborate verbal textures. In the novel, Dolores eventually escapes Humbert, who then goes on to have an emotional breakdown.
I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes.
Indeed and, ain’t this so very true:
The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea.
[French | 1871–1922]
Proust was a French critic, and essayist who is now best known for his monumental novel: In Search of Lost Time (sometimes known as: Remembrance of Things Past). This was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. Today, Proust is considered by critics and writers — e.g., Melvin Bragg and guests — to have been one of the most influential authors of the 20th c.
Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.
Nostalgia… do you want to be dragged there? Then read on.
Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.
As Proust saw it:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.
In Search of Lost Time — a novel of over 4,000 pages — is considered by many to be the definitive modern novel. This is not least because it has influenced directly and indirectly generations of writers, in 1922 Virginia Woolf said, “Oh if I could write like that!” Vladimir Nabokov — author of Lolita and himself considered one of Europe’s most talented writers of prose — said in a 1965 interview, that the greatest prose works of the 20th c. were “Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bely’s Petersburg (see Endnotes), and the first half In Search of Lost Time.”
Lost in Time isn’t exactly easy reading but somehow you can get carried along by them if you can allow yourself to fall int the flow or, you can begin by listening to it in this ten part, ten hour BBC dramatisation:
(listening to the radio’s easier on your green eyes Jay; yes Jay, it’s easier on your brown eyes too Jay.)
In Search of Lost Time, is compiled in a number of volumes:
To somehow summarise the work, many describe it as something of a fictional autobiography by a man whose life almost mirrors that of Marcel Proust. The first forty pages of the novel describe the narrator as a young boy in bed awaiting, and as a middle-aged man remembering, his mother’s goodnight kiss. Though it is not obvious to the reader at the time, these first forty pages also establish most of the themes of the next seven volumes and introduce most of the major characters. The rest of the novel traces the chronology of Marcel’s life over the next fifty years and the lives of his family, friends, and social acquaintances. The novel concludes at a grand party in Paris attended by Marcel and most of the remaining characters.
Because the story is told with two “voices,” that of the narrator as a young boy and also as an older man recalling his youth, it is sometimes difficult to tell Marcel’s age at any particular moment in the novel. The reader must rely on the context of the action.
Two of the novel’s major themes concern Marcel’s frustrated desire to become a writer and his despair at the corroding effect of Time, which makes all human feelings and experiences fade into nothing.
Unhappy love affairs are a leitmotif of the novel.
The best known is that of Charles Swann, which could act as a template for all the rest and is described in “Swann in Love.” The tension and swing of power between lovers and the inevitable disappointment when we achieve the object of our desires is a constant theme throughout the book. (Swann’s love for and pursuit of Odette takes him from the pinnacle ofsmart society to the depths ofsocial rejection and eventual oblivion.)
All the book’s love affairs essentially describe:
the futility of trying to possess or even understand another person
Love is a metaphor for all human experience. According to Proust:
all man’s suffering is caused by his desires [and] achieving those desires only increases the suffering.
1. — Bely
— Andrei Bely
Andrei Bely (1880-1934) was educated at Moscow University where he studied science and philosophy, before turning his focus to literature. In 1904 he published his first collection of poems, Gold in Azure. Petersburg, was published in 1916.
Petersburg is Bely’s masterpiece and it is generally considered to be a vivid, striking story. Bely’s richly textured, darkly comic and symbolic novel pulled apart the traditional techniques of storytelling and presaged the dawn of a new form of literature. This book is considered to have heavily influenced several literary schools, most notably Symbolism, and his impact on Russian writing has been compared to that of James Joyce on the English speaking world.
The novel is set at the heart of the 1905 Russian revolution. In the book. a young impressionable university student, Nikolai, becomes involved with a revolutionary terror organization, which plans to assassinate a high government official with a time bomb. But the official is Nikolai’s cold, unyielding father, Apollon, and in twenty-four hours the bomb will explode. Petersburg is a story of suspense, family dysfunction, patricide, conspiracy and revolution. It is also an impressionistic, exhilarating panorama of the city itself, watched over by the bronze statue of Peter the Great, as it tears itself apart.
2. — Ruskin
The best thing in life aren’t things.
[English | 1816–1855]
Charlotte Brontë was born in Yorkshire in 1816. As a child, she was sent to boarding school along with a number of her sisters but when two of those sisters died there, she was returned home and received the remainder of her education there. This homeschooling was also provided to two other of her younger sisters–Emily and Anne–who also went on to become authors of note. Jane Eyre–her seminal work–was first published in 1847 under the pen-name Currer Bell. Like other female writers of that time (and other times too) Charlotte felt her books would be more widely read if she hid her gender…
It is said that Jane Eyre is a novel of intense emotional power, heightened atmosphere and fierce intelligence. Indeed, it dazzled and shocked readers with its passionate depiction of a woman’s search for equality and freedom on her own terms. According to William Makepeace Thackeray, it is:
The masterwork of a great genius
Its heroine Jane endures loneliness and cruelty in the home of her heartless aunt and the cold charity of Lowood School. Her natural independence and spirit prove necessary when she takes a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of a shameful secret forces her to make a terrible choice…
All my heart is yours, sir: it belongs to you; and with you it would remain, were fate to exile the rest of me from your presence forever.
Set during the Napoleonic wars at a time of national economic struggles in the United Kingdom, Shirley provides an unsentimental, but passionate depiction of conflict between classes, sexes and generations. The key protagonist is Robert Moore, a struggling manufacturer who has introduced labour saving machinery to his Yorkshire factory, causing a ferment of unemployment and discontent among his workers. Robert considers marriage to the wealthy and independent Shirley Keeldar to solve his financial woes, yet his heart lies with his cousin Caroline, who, bored and desperate, lives as a dependent in her uncle’s home with no prospect of a career. Shirley, meanwhile, is in love with Robert’s brother, an impoverished tutor – a match opposed by her family. As industrial unrest builds to a potentially fatal pitch, can the four be reconciled…
[Indian | 1961– ]
Arundhati Roy is the author of The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than forty languages. Roy has also published several works of non-fiction and is a widely respected human rights activist. Several of Roy’s works are set out below.
As Alex Clark articulates, there is something Janus-faced about the way we fetishise the writing of fiction: Roy is at once seen to be participating in the “real world” but also as having abandoned – or been abandoned by – the creative muse that we imagine propels all artists. Her recent interview with the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead, in which she said: “To me, there is nothing higher than fiction. Nothing. It is fundamentally who I am. I am a teller of stories. For me, that’s the only way I can make sense of the world, with all the dance that it involves,” suggests that she would not agree with that binary worldview. And neither, indeed, does her second novel.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) is, according to Alex Clark, “a curious beast.” There are many many characters, its written in an achronological way and while the style is somewhat haphazard, it has passages of breathtakingly composed and powerful prose: The idea that the personal is political and vice versa informs its every sentence. This novel of maddeningly frayed edges, wonky pacing and occasional longueurs. But its patchwork of narratives, painful, funny, sexy, violent, earthy, otherworldly, its recurring images of lost and recovered children, individual sacrifice and self-denial, and its depiction of the constant battle toward self-assertion in a society still held in thrall to the taxonomy of caste and class, make for a disturbing and memorable return to the land of make-believe.
According to Shirley Chew (2008), the novel is, “deftly and sensitively narrated.” According to Marie Arana (2011), “every once in a great while, a novel comes along to remind you why you rummage through shelves in the first place. Why you peck like a magpie past the bright glitter of publishers’ promises. Why you read.” Roy’s An Atlas of Impossible Longing is such a book, a novel to convince us that boldly drawn sagas with larger-than-life characters are still possible in a relentlessly postmodern world.
Spanning three generations of an Indian family from the turn of the 20th Century to India’s partition, An Atlas of Impossible Longing traces the intertwining lives of the inhabitants of a vast and isolated house on the outskirts of a small town in Bengal. One of the book’s main protagonists is a first-time novelist, is no one you’ve heard of, and yet she is also no stranger to books. She lives in the picturesque hill station of Ranikhet, in the distant Himalaya mountains, and commutes to New Delhi, where she works for an academic publisher that specializes in South Asia. It begins in 1907, when Amulya leaves Calcutta with his young wife, Kananbala, and travels to the backwater of Songarh to open a factory to manufacture herbal potions and perfumes. In time, they produce a son, who is a joy to them both, but the quiet cramp of small-town life becomes anathema to the lonely mother. She starts to evince strange symptoms, begins speaking out of turn and is given to obscene outbursts.
As months go by, it is clear she has gone mad.
Betrayal is a constant element in The God of Small Things. Love, ideals, and confidence are all forsaken, consciously and unconsciously, innocently and maliciously, and these deceptions affect all of the characters deeply. Read my review: The God of Small Things
O. J. ( as in, “Oh, Jay!” )
This book really and truly fascinated me:
The examples and illustrations are mind opening and mind blowing, respectively.
Richard Dawkins (see full profile here) is an English evolutionary biologist, author and professor at Oxford University. His seminal work The Selfish Gene (1976), popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. Here are a few extracts from The Magic of Reality that I feel it is okay to share as editable .pdf files: