This week’s “Economist” magazine includes a review of a new biography on one of America’s greatest poets ever: Elizabeth Bishop.
Highlighted above is one of my favorite Bishop quotes, from her poem “One Art”:
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things feel filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster”
Remarkable thoughts from Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.”
Pains of the soul versus pains of the tooth. From Hans Christian Andersen’s story “Auntie Toothache,” found in the Penguin Classic compilation of his “Fairy Tales.”
For a few weeks this book has been on my mind. Didion, Didion, Didion. And her “Year of Magical Thinking,” written during the first year she mourned her husband’s sudden death.
This for me has proven to be a year of magical thinking, a year of metamorphosing concrete barricades into trampolines via transformative thought.
Magical thinking works. Didion said it first. I look forward to going through her words.
So I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Relato de un Náufrago” (“The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”) in one sitting. I had my doubts when buying it beacuse I tend to find that all shipwreck stories are the same. Sun, thirst, hunger, dead fish.
Indeed, my favorite part of the tale was Marquez’s introduction, which included the stupendous description above of the Colombian historical context at the time the story was published (apologies to non-Spanish readers).
And, while no one can say that Marquez’s shipwreck tale is bad, it’s a story of sun, thirst, hunger, dead fish. It does interweave an interesting message, however, of the difference between the fear of dying and the fear of death.
Death, actually being dead, does not scare the narrator. Death is a form of salvation, the end of water hell. But the act of dying is immediate, terrifying hell. The options are not good: sharks, imagined carnivorous turtles, burnt lungs.
Fear of going through such terrible experiences keeps the narrator from letting himself die, no matter how much he claims to want the out of death. As a result, he stays alive.
With this story Marquez confirms that our extreme cowardice when faced with gore, pain, any form of death by dying is so effective that it finally makes us brave.
I can think of few things I enjoy more than buying a new book at an airport. The thought of being trapped in the air inside a metal tube for hours with nothing to do but read or watch bad movies is thrilling. The more so with a brand new glossy book upon my lap.
On my flight today I carry the story above. Garcia Marquez’s first formal forray into the novelesque: a literary rendition of a true-life shipwreck tale. The “actual” story took place here, in Colombia, where I often work and play. Marquez’s version was first published in installments in one of the main national newspapers.
Which brings forth the question: why doesn’t installment writing happen anymore? Perhaps this blog will do something about that.
But, for now, there is nothing but paper and plane.
Pope Francis is to the Vatican as Bob Dylan is to the Nobel Prize in Literature. Both represent a promise, long overdue, finally made real.
In the case of the Vatican, the overdue promise is to embody Jesus’s goodwill. In the case of the Nobel Prize Committee, the overdue promise is, in Alfred Nobel’s own words, to award a writer whose work both moved in “an ideal direction” and offered “the greatest benefit on mankind.”
I dare anyone to name the past three Nobel Laureates (Svetlana Alexievich, Patrick Modiano, Alice Munro). As a writer, it’s hard to benefit someone who has not read you. Harder still to benefit those that have not even heard about you. But Dylan, people know Dylan. They get Dylan.
To award Dylan is to award his audience. It is delivery to deliverance.
Just as Pope Francis’s gentle message draws the Catholic Church closer to love-hungry hordes, Dylan’s simple lyrics deliver art to culture-starved crowds. Dylan’s Nobel legitimizes the Prize for a population increasingly distant from the tangible, written word, and in doing so, gives new relevance to Literature.
Institutions must be commercial if they are to wield influence. Barely in time, the Vatican recognized that its message was lost without the right messenger. Apropos, the Nobel Committee realized that #trending is a good thing.
Photo Credit: Dylan’s photo is by Paul Natkin (Getty). Pope Francis’s photo is from the AP.