❝ If wild my breast and sore my pride
I bask in dreams of suicide
If cool my heart and high my head
I think, “How lucky are the dead.” ❞
— Dorothy Parker
Susanna Kaysen (1994, p. 48) writes in her memoir that certain hospitals, “had housed many great poets” and wondered if such hospitals specialise in poets, or was it that poets specialised in madness? She went on to ponder, “what is it about meter and cadence and rhythm that makes their makers mad?”
❝ A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us. ❞
— Kafka wrote,
— Sexton quoted,
— Auden would’ve approved.
Kaysen, S. (1993). Girl, interrupted. Private Idaho: Turtle Bay Books.
Parker, D. (2001). The Collected Dorothy Parker. London: Penguin Classics.
Nah, I will. & here — with a bit of “Beyond Good and Evil,” penned by Nietzsche — I bloody fucking go again:
❝ In the Jewish “Old Testament,” the book of divine justice, there are men, things, and speeches of such impressive style that the world of Greek and Indian literature has nothing to place beside them. We stand with fear and reverence before these tremendous remnants of what human beings once were. … To have glued together [the] New Testament, a sort of rococo of taste in all respects, with the Old Testament into a single book, as the “Bible,” and “the essential book,” is perhaps the greatest act of daring and “sin against the spirit” which literary Europe has on its conscience. ❞ — Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) (1886) — The bold highlight is mine.
A sinful act. A guilt upon one’s conscience. As in: when one’s upon their knees in the dark of the polished mahogany confessional box, willing themselves out loud to think of baby lambs and flower beds yet fully savouring the feeling of being aroused by the tantrically intimate intonation of the gentleman upon the other side of the divide who may or may not himself be now highly aroused by one’s confession-cum-fantasy of the ‘thing’ that happened with the milkman. Would a gentle touch be too much, you silently ask yourself as he begins to describe your Angelic Salutations and is want to linger on the requirement not to allow your hand, with or without object, to saunter (satanically) southward. But, ain’t the bible in fact the greatest work of literature peer-ee-ud? And the King James version one of the greatest works of translation and/or English prose full•stop? Well, here’s this post’s first purpose, to introduce you — one & only — to Jacke Wilson’s sonorous but soft voice. The voice is the narrator of a podcast called: The History of Literature. The narrator’s name (Jacke Wilson; that’s pronounced by him as ‘jack’ not ‘jayke’ / ‘jacki’) is, intriguingly, a pen name. I discovered this when I’d wanted to put a face to this mesmerising voice. Jacke, you see, touches upon the Old Testament (“The Hebrew Bible”) here and basically says that this compendium of stories far surpasses its one know literary predecessor: Gilgamesh and its near contemporary Greek works (i.e., Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad). Noah’s flood, Adam and Eve, human sacrifice and daughters laying with their dad, I mean, who could possibly make such stuff up ipso facto (by that very fact or act) it’s just gotta b divine, ain’t it? Hasn’t it? Well, let us see what Jacke has to say on this and some two hundred other works of literature:
William Wilson is a short story by one of my current favourite writers: Edgar Allan Poe. The novel covers a doppelgänger scenario and as I’ve read it said, it clearly explores the theme of the double (the delusional, the inner voice that will be called in extreme cases schizophrenia). In this mini novella, the second self haunts the protagonist and leads him to insanity and at the same time somehow represents his own insanity:
❝ Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. ❞
#2 — 1899 The Heart of Darkness
The Heart of Darkness is by Joesph Conrad. Conrad one of my all time favourite authors not least because his mother tongue wasn’t English, he loved the sea and he wrote so well about the loneliness and torment of the human soul. Some of his stuff, especially The Secret Sharer, speak flipping volumes to those who just cannot, and do not, quite fit in. To those who can’t be ‘just another number,’ weekenders, latter-day talent show and reality TV viewer who today seem content (sedated/duped) with snapping and instagraming and content just to be, not, in other words, to think beyond and ask the question of why… Adam Curtis would explain this by way of his Century of The Self thesis. Never you mind my mercurial friend:
❝ The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.
We live as we dream – alone.
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. ❞
#3 — 1951 The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea is a novella by Ernest Hemingway. Now, like everyone wants to retrospectively label Conrad as racist (by today’s standards okay, yes) I hear most critics say about Hemingway, amazing master of succinct prose but an awfully misogynistic fellow (seems so I guess) yet, I’m all confused here and I ain’t no debutante gadfly. You see, I never know if we should judge authors/artists or simply consider the work of fiction or the painted picture or the chiselled nude as a thing of its very own being. I mean, we aren’t wanting to make acquaintance with long since passed away people, and we can’t — with justification — judge them (too harshly from afar) because how can we know the extent to which their parents and/or the societal norms that pounded and pummeled their formative years impacted on their empathy for other modes of fellow human being. ANY WHICH WAY, this little story may be meant for men, men that like to hunt and kill, but who cares! I see in it a tale of dogged determination, nature’s turning of the wheel and the reality of us being but a handful of dust; for however high we soar we will all be grounded by gravity’s pull and the biological clock that would have us dead and left out to the vultures/ hyenas/ wolves by the age of say, 37. Alas, now is the time to think of only one thing (doing my f’ing assignment on Hermann H. Hesse). Here without further ado is this quaint work:
❝ There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
There is no friend as loyal as a book. ❞
#4 — 1963 The Bell Jar
This is the post’s second purpose to introduce The Bell Jar — a sort of autobiography by Sylvia Plath (it could be termed a Roman-à-clef too as we are told that real people and events appear in each and every chapter). It will be known to most that Plath took her life soon after writing this book (1) and that she decided it to publish it in England under the pen name: Victoria Lucas (2). It often comes with a public health warning, but come on, nobody here (who is actually no body) who’s stared so deeply into the abyss would wanna b chaperoned and spoon-fed mollycoddle. You see, I’m hearing the dull sound of drums, I’m not getting sleep, but I am letting Jacke try and rock me off, I’m not getting into the set texts, but I am getting more into the mind of Plath (**her works I should say) so here, my dears, are a quartet of resources for you: