September 2021 | Reading & Writing

Essays, reviews, articles

#Magazine #Culture #Fashion | Purple Magazine issue 36, Mexico City

The best magazines are usually the ones without much commercial interest + the ones that appear quarterly. The Purple Magazine published a new issue biannually and the quality of research, photography, interviews, and essays shows. Purple’s issue on Mexico City came out in September and its 500+ pages (it’s a heavy block to hold on your lap) cover topics from the local art and fashion scene to the native traditions and folk tales.

“We will no longer travel, it will no longer be worth traveling. When you can go around the world in eight days or 15 days, why do it? In the journey there is the time of the journey. This is not to see quickly. It’s seeing and living at the same time. Living on travel will no longer be possible.”

– Marguerite Duras, interview by Michel Drucker on French television, September 25, 1985, Antenne 2

“What order of magnitude does a catastrophe need to attain before it can discharge the general lightning bolt of knowledge we are waiting for?”

– Peter Sloterdijk, Panic Civilization


#Essay #Hedonism #Anthropology | The Sixth Taste by Daniel Soar via the London Review of Books

Irrelevant facts 109326: There exists in Japan a condiment named Aji-No-Moto, often sold in a little glass bottle with a trademark red label. Apart from being Japan’s biggest condiment producer’s flagship product since 1908, it’s meant to be a shortcut to deliciousness: sprinkle a pinch of the crystalline powder into a soup or sauce and it instantly imparts a magical boost of that moreish, meaty, savory taste we now know as umami.

The essay by Daniel Soar takes down the paths of Aji-No-Moto’s invention story, as well as its fluctuating recognition among home chefs. Simmering with fun facts.

#Shortstory #Literature | Yente By Olga Tokarczuk via The New Yorker

A short story by the Polish writer (and Nobel Prize winner) Olga Tokarczuk of a fragile old woman on the verge of dying, taken to attend a family wedding.

“Yente is small and thin, like an old chicken, and her body is limp. Her chicken’s rib cage rises and falls at a rapid rate. Her half-open mouth, framed by extremely thin lips, caves inward. But her dark eyes follow the medic’s movements. After he has chased all the onlookers from the room, he lifts the covers and sees her whole body, the size of a child’s, sees her bony hands clutching strings and leather strips. They have wrapped her up to her neck in wolf hides. They believe that wolf hides restore heat and strength.

How could they have brought along this old woman with so little life left in her, Asher thinks. She looks like a shrivelled old mushroom, her brown face cruelly carved up by the candlelight, making her appear no longer human; Asher has the sense that soon she will be indistinguishable from nature—from tree bark, gnarled wood, a rough stone.”


#Book #Essays #Frenchliterature | Exteriors by Annie Ernaux

Exteriors by Anni Ernaux

Ernaux travels the RER between a Paris suburb and the city and wanders in shopping malls and supermarkets. She writes about her daily encounters and observations, at times interrupting to question what is the point of her doing this. All the same, all the same, she just wants to describe a momentum without any contextual implications that placing the characters and situations inside a novel would proclaim.

The book’s overarching sentimentality is beautifully wrapped between the opening quote and the last paragraph.

“Our real self is not entirely inside of us” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 “So it is outside my own life that my past existence lies: in passengers commuting on the Metro of the RER; in shoppers glimpsed on escalators at Auchan or in the Galleries LaFayette; in complete strangers who cannot know that they possess part of my story; in faces and bodies which I shall never see again. In the same way, I myself, anonymous among the bustling crowds on streets and in department stores, must secretly play a role in the lives of others.”

#Book #Novella #Frenchliterature | The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir

Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir

Written in 1954, five years after The Second Sex, the short novel was never published in Simone de Beauvoir’s lifetime.

She’d shown it Sartre who’d considered dismissed the work as inconsequential. Beauvoir wrote of it in her memoir that it “seemed to have no inner necessity and failed to hold the reader’s interest.” This note seems like a more likely reason for the novel not seeing the light of day during Beauvoir’s lifetime than the guess that the story of this coming-of-age female relationship was too personal to share.

Now, it’s published. And it’s beautiful, exploring how society’s expectations can exasperate and exhaust a person, (regardless of their age and gender).

For an intriguing introduction to Beauvoir’s early life and relationships read Merve Emre’s book review in The New Yorker.

The last paragraphs of the novel:

“Madame de Gallard sobbed. “We have been but instruments in the hands of God,” Monsieur Gallard told her. The grave was covered in white flowers.
A dark thought occurred to me: Andreé had suffocated in all this whiteness. Atop that immaculate abundance, I lay down three red roses, before leaving for my train.”

#Book #Essays #Humanism | Coming to Writing and Other Essays by Hélène Cixous


While my favorite essay collection by Hélène Cixous remains Stigmata: Escaping Texts, the collection at hand explores beautifully the topic of becoming a writer and justifying the desire to write for oneself. As is Cixous’ trademark, the text flowing like a dreamy stream-of-consciousness river is filled with wordplay and references to other thinkers’ work.

Some quotes from the title essay:

“Wouldn’t you first have needed the “right reasons” to write? The reasons, mysterious to me, that give you the “right” to write? But I didn’t know them. I had only the “wrong” reason; it wasn’t a reason, it was a passion, something shameful – and disturbing; one of those violent characteristics wit hwhich I was afflicted. I didn’t “want” to write. How could I have “wanted” to? I hadn’t strayed to the point of losing all measure of things.”

““Write me!” One day it begs me, another day it threatens. “Are you going to write me or not?” It could have said: “Paint me.” I tried. But the nature of its fury demanded the form that stops the least, that encloses the least, the body without a frame, without skin, without walls, the flesh that doesn’t dry, doesn’t stiffen, doesn’t clot the wild blood that wants to stream through it – forever. “Let me through, or everything goes!””

“Why did you put me in the world if only for me to be lost in it? “

“So,” says the doctor, “we want to write?”

“A bit of sore throat,” I say, hoarse with fright.

He inspects me from head to foot, he cuts me up in little pieces, he finds my thighs too long and my breasts too small.

“Open your mouth, let’s take a look.”

I open my mouth, I say “Aah,” I stick out my tongue. I have three of them. Three tongues? Pardon me. And what’s more, he doesn’t know that I have on or two that aren’t attached here, or perhaps just one that changes and multiplies, a blood tongue, a night tongue, a tongue that traverses my regions in every direction, that lights their energies, urges them on and makes my secret horizons speak.

Don’t tell him, don’t tell him. He’ll cut out your tongues, he’ll pluck out your teeth. “Open your eyes, pull in your tongue.” I obey.”

“In the beginning, I adored. What I adored was human. Not persons; not totalities, not defined and named beings. But signs. Flashes of being that glanced off me, kindling me. Lightning-like bursts that came to me: Look! I blazed up. And the sign withdrew. Vanished. While I burned and consumed myself wholly. What had reached me, so powerfully cast from a human body, was Beauty: there was a face, with all the mysteries inscribed and preserved on it; I was before it, I sensed that there was a beyond, to which I did not have access, an unlimited place. The look incited me and also forbode me to enter; I was outside, in a state of animal watchfulness.”

“The milky taste of ink.”

#Book #Philosphy #Humanism | Strangers to Ourselves by Julia Kristeva

Strangers to Ourselves Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva’s book is concerned with the notion of the “stranger” – the foreigner, outsider, or alien in a country and society not their own. Yet it also explores the concept of strangeness within the self – a person’s conscious idea of the self and its distinction from the world outside one’s body.

The author’s examination reaches across the history of world literature and philosophy, from Ancient Greece to the formulation of modern society and its laws. She tracks the “melancholy lovers of a vanished space” throughout the past three millennia to see how the stranger’s (foreigner’s) rights have altered in various cultures and eras.

While I found some of the proposed conclusions far-fetched and at times even violently bent, the author’s level of erudition amounts to an eye-opening trip across cultural history.

Some notes from the book:

“The face that is so other bears the mark of a crossed threshold that irremediably imprints itself as peacefulness or anxiety. Whether perturbed or joyful, the foreigner’s appearance signals that he is “in addition.””

“Can one be a foreigner and happy? The foreigner calls forth a new idea of happiness. Between the fugue and the origin: a fragile limit, a temporary homeostasis, Posited, present, sometimes certain, that happiness knows nevertheless that it is passing by, like fire that shines only because it consumes. The strange happiness of the foreigner consists in maintaining that fleeing eternity or that perpetual transcience.”

“Not belonging to any place, any time, any love. A lost origin, the impossibility to take root, a rummaging memory, the present in abeyance. The space of the foreigner is a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping. As to landmarks, there are none. His time? The time of resurrection that remembers death and what happened before, but misses the glory of being beyond: merely the feeling of a reprieve, of having gotten away.”

“For Socrates, the name “Greek” did not apply to a race but “it is that of a culture, and one calls Greek those who have the same education as we have rather than those who have the same origin.”

JK on Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Finally, today’s foreigner easily imagines that this consummate poem, which embraces the whole of the universe – ranging from individual passions to political conflicts, from the quiverings of the landscape to the mysteries of theology, from the pains of hell to the ecstasies illuminated by Beatrice – in an extraordinary divide, for Dante, for endowing himself with a universe at the very moment whan his own and proper place is lacking.”

The foreigner is a dreamer making love with absence, one exquisitely depressed.”

#Book #Essays #Autobiographical | Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno

screen tests kate zambreno

A stream-of-consciousness rambling on what it means to be a subject and write in the postmodernist world melange with a homage to feminist artists, actors, and writers who dared to live their truth. At times interesting, at times too recognizable as quotidian lamentation I’ve seen some other author describing. We’re all human, after all, with similar desires and heartaches, and Zambreno’s book is a fairly good reflection upon a white middle-class woman’s soul-searching project in a big city (and a big world).

“To escape the self, in a portrait of another. That’s acting. That’s photography. That’s perhaps writing too.”

My favorite page of the book was perhaps the one where Zambreno lists various author photos that she has found, of Barthes, Lispector, Sontag, Beckett, et al, finishing the list with “Thomas Bernhard is eating an ice cream cone.”

Thomas Bernhard Enjoying a Tiny Ice Cream Cone

Among her banter, KZ tells us that it must be nice being Elena Ferrante and not having to deal with publicity and interviews + mentioning she had a column for The Guardian between 2018-2019.

Or how about this fact: “Wittgenstein thought his book Philosophical Investigations was a failure, but he thought he should publish it because he was worried about his students plagiarizing his ideas from his lectures before he published them.”

The quotations from (mostly female) authors are aplenty in the book, so let’s conclude with one by Anne Carson: “Sometimes I feel I spend my whole life rewriting the same pages.”