December 23, 2013


Memory of the Garden at Etten (Ladies of Arles) - Van Gogh (1888)


These are a few of the synonyms I got for the word ''old'' when searching on I believe these words (and ideas) reflect society's view on old age: it is out-of-date, retrograde, used.

To have vs. To be
I recently spent a great deal of time reflecting of what it is and what it means to be old. To ''be'' old.
The use of the verb  ''to be'' suggests that ''old,'' in a person, isn't merely an accessory of one's identity, but at its very core. When you ''have'' something, you can easily change it or replace it, or so it seems. When you ''are'' something, changing is trickier.

Objects vs. People
I don't like how the use of the adjective ''old'' sometimes suggests an objectification of people. Let me explain.
Things get old. In this post-modern world, we buy, consume, and throw away. We are increasingly witnessing the phenomenon of obsolescence, and even planned obsolescence, in which technologies last for a limited time only and must then be replaced by newer, more effective ones.
People aren't like this. People don't become obsolete. There is no such thing as becoming useless because of age. On the contrary, the elderly have an incredible amount of science and wisdom to share.

Body vs. Soul
My real question is, can one really get old? I mean, the body sure gets old, and eventually dies. But can the soul be old? Can one's mind be old? I would say I don't think so.

It is mostly experience that differentiates generations and how they reflect on things and ideas. Experience, and a different historical background. Older people don't necessarily have an ''old'' perception of the world we live in, but one that takes into consideration their past experience.

This short post is by no means exhaustive of my thoughts on the subject. The point I want to get across is that we need to rethink our conception of ''old.'' There need not be an absolute dichotomy between ''old'' and ''new;'' these might just be different stages, degrees or perceptions in the wide spectrum of the human experience.

November 5, 2013

Inspiration (ou manque de)

The Walk, Woman With a Parasol - Monet
L'inspiration. Je n'en ai pas pour écrire depuis un certain temps déjà.
Je me pose plusieurs questions par rapport à ce que c'est que l'inspiration. D'où nous vient cette idée, cet éclair de clarté venu de Dieu sait où, cet élan qui nous vient à la fois de l'intérieur et de l'extérieur.

C'est une muse capricieuse qui ne se montre qu'à son meilleur, et que lorsqu'elle en a envie. C'est peut-être pour cela qu'elle nous garde constamment accrochés. Nous sommes impatiemment dans l'attente de l'heureux jour où elle nous fera l'honneur de nous visiter à nouveau, de revoir son visage.

Elle ne vient pas sur demande et même à prix d'or on ne peut l'acheter. C'est précisément en dehors du cadre matériel des choses qu'elle habite, et elle est souvent donnée aux plus contemplatifs.

L'inspiration ne peut se commander mais elle vient néanmoins plus spontanément lorsque nous sommes dans un certain état d'esprit. La pression, les attentes, les échéanciers ne sont pas suffisants pour la séduire toujours. Elle vient, elle part, on ne sait quand sera son prochain appel, alors on reste accroché au téléphone.

L'inspiration, qui vient en quelque sorte de l'extérieur de notre pensée et qui s'y greffe, a besoin d'espace pour se mettre à l'aise. «Inspiration» rappelle l'acte de prendre en soi quelque chose qui nous est extérieur. Un esprit plein, occupé et saturé jusqu'au débordement n'aura pas assez de place pour lui donner un nid. Il faut cultiver un espace libre des préoccupations et des contraintes, tel une chambre d'ami, à laquelle on lui donne la clef et où elle sait être bienvenue quand l'envie lui prend.

Si on ne peut l'accueillir, elle trouvera bien un autre endroit, un autre ami.

August 5, 2013

A Reading List For Alex J.

A Young Man Reading - Albert Ranney Chewett
Recently, a friend of mine asked me to make a list of books I would recommend, and I received that request as a compliment, considering that Alex J. (my friend) has great taste in literature (and music, cinema, art et caetera).
So I made an attempt at listing some of the books that touched me, amazed me, upset me and changed me the most. Not all those books are novels, some are written more in the form of an essay.

This exercice brought up the question, ''Why does one enjoy literature''? I believe there is no universal answer to that question, although I believe I have found a partial, or at least satisfactory, answer for myself. When I was in college, one of my English literature teachers told me that he read books for the purpose of ''deepening his understanding of human nature.'' I subscribe to his opinion and believe that literature should not simply be viewed as ''entertainment,'' but also as a means of acquiring a deeper understanding of ourselves, the people around us and the world we live in.

However, since I named this post ''A Reading List,'' and not ''An Essay On Literature, Human Nature And The Universe,'' I will put an end to my reflections and proceed to give the promised list:

Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
1. Notre-Dame de Paris
If you have seen the Disney Movie ''The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,'' please forget all about it, because it is by no means a faithful rendition of the book. Notre-Dame is an ode to Middle Ages Paris in the form of many seemingly isolated stories that ultimately converge in the same direction. It is a story of outcasts, of virtue and corruption.
2. The Last Day of a Condemned Man
This is either a very short novel or a very long short story. It is the diary of a man awaiting the execution of his death sentence and reflecting on life, death and himself. The reader never finds out about the condemned man's identity, social status or crime, but only the thoughts of a man in the face of his own imminent death.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
3. Eugénie Grandet
This is the book that really sparked my interest for French literature when I was in primary school. It is a depiction of life in rural France in the 19th century, and the story of a greedy father whose relationships with his wife and daughter are totally controlled by his avarice. Includes a love story, the reason/passion contradiction and the consequences of evil behaviour. 
4. Le Père Goriot
This novel made a strong impression on me by the feeling of indignation it inspires to the reader. Goriot's love for his daughters is blind to the point that he excuses and pardons their cruelty towards him. It is an illustration of ungratefulness at it filthiest and the tragedy of unrequited love.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
5. Pensées
Pensées is a posthumous collection of Pascal's religious and philisophical writings. It is a series of numbered paragraphs elaborating on various and sometimes random subjects (from interpretation in art to the importance of Cleopatras' nose to an exposition of biblical prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ). Contains religious theories that greatly influenced modern thought, such as Pascal's Wager. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)
6. The Little Prince
It would be incredibly hard for me to choose what is my favourite book, but if I had to, it would probably be this one (see this blog post). The Little Prince is often wrongly seen as a children's book, whereas it deals with some of the deepest and most delicate questions of life. The Little Prince is a beautifully written book about relationships, true friendship, the simplicity of life and the nature of human attachment.  

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
7. The Count of Monte-Cristo
Be prepared for a two-volume epic about an unjust trial, ambitious treachery, imprisonment and an unbelievable jailbreak. Follow the protagonist in his reflections about love and hatred, revenge and forgiveness. Also be prepared for your mind to be blown at the end of the book when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and you figure out the meaning of everything. 


Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
8. A Christmas Carol
A classic I can never get tired of. I read it every year as 'preparation' for Christmas, and it moves me every time. This short book deals with one's mistakes in life, the consequences of one's actions and the possibility of changing one's ways.  

George Orwell (1903-1950)
9. Animal Farm
This book was inspired by the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Union. Indeed, it shows the disorder resulting from the disappearance of authority (the farmer) within a society of animals. Starting with laudable ideals, the animal government gradually shifts to an unjust regime leading to cruelty and chaos. Makes the reader reflect on justice, totalitarianism and democracy.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
10. Mere Christianity
Lewis, who taught at Cambridge and Oxford and was one of the finest thinkers of his time, gave a series of talks on BBC radio about Christian faith during the Second World War. He builds his argument on morality, or the laws of nature (thorougly analysed and discussed by Enlightenment philosophers), in explaining the Christian faith. This book, or collection of talks, is an essay based on inferential reasoning, and exposing the essence of Christianity. 

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
11. Heart of Darkness
One of the gems that I had to read in college. Conrad's writing style is unique and impressive considering that English was not his first language. Tells a story of colonialism, imperialism, racism and views on civilization and "savagery.'' The movie Apocalypse Now was inspired by this novel.

John Locke (1632-1904)
12. Second Treatise of Government
I read this political/philosophical essay when I was young and again while writing a thesis on the influence of Englishtenment philosophy on the Declaration of Independence, and was impressed by the quality of Locke's reflections. His views on government, the state, the individual, liberty and private property have had a tremenduous impact on Western thought, especially American philosophy and the Declaration of Independence.

Harper Lee (1926- )
13. To Kill A Mockingbird
The Pulitzer-prize winning TKM is a classic of American literature. It deals with racism and racial inequality in Southern U.S. shortly after the Great Depression. It contrasts the ugliness of racism with the beauty of the quest for justice and the recognition of human dignity and worth.  Timeless and inspiring.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
14. Of Mice and Men
A tragic book dealing with the powerlessness that can come from intellectual and economic limitations, among others. Also emphasises the importance and role of dreams and aspirations, and explores the theme of fate.

Jerry Spinelli (1941- )
15. Milkweed
I found this book on the floor somewhere and that's how I came to read it. It is the story of an orphan living in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, and struggling to find an identity. The narrator gives an innocent and naive outlook on the horrors of war, the Holocaust and the Nazis.

Mark Twain (1835-1920)
16. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
This book is hard to describe or summarise. It is the story of a young boy growing up in Mississippi and an account of his adventures and mishaps. 


Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
17. The Idiot
It is is a long novel centered on a mysterious prince who leaves no one indifferent. Some think he is a genius, some think he is an idiot, and the reader doesn't really know (until the end). The Prince is a strange man, remote from society and asexual. Although he seems fundamentally good, he is influenced by the corrupt world he lives in. The Idiot can be a tedious read at times, since most of the book consists of dialogues that sometimes seem unrelated to the central plot (also unclear at times). However, the last 200 pages, where all the story and enigma unfold, are worth the other 700. 
18. The Brothers Karamazov
This is such a complex and profound novel that it seems unfair and unworty of me to attempt to summarise in a couple of sentences. Its plot develops very slowly and through a series of dialogues, monologues and essays on various themes such as human nature, free will, virtue and vice, asceticism and pleasure. The reader follows the story of Fyodor Karamazov's sons, their actions and reflections. An imposing philosophical work dealing with some of the themes that concern human beings most, and a novel you just can't put down.

Although my list is not exhaustive, I recognise that it is short. The reason for this is that I am still in the process of expanding my knowledge of literature. I can think of so many classics that I have never read.
All are invited to share their literary discoveries with me, and although my time is limited, I will try my best to read most of them!

March 6, 2013

Songs About March

How time flies. March 6th, and halfway through the semester.
March is a beautiful month. The snow melts, the sky is blue again and everything seems to be coming back to life. Every day is a bit longer than the day before, suggesting the bliss of summer.

I thought I could share some songs that I love about spring, or March.

Jon Foreman - March (A Prelude to Spring)
Short and sweet. I can't get tired of Jon Foreman's music. It is simple, introspective and evocative.

Elis Regina - Aguas de Março
A Bossa Nova masterpiece. The lyrics don't really mean anything, to be very honest, but the song is very poetic.

Stacey Kent - Les eaux de mars
This is Stacey Kent's interpretation of the French version of the same song. I like Stacey Kent, sometimes. Her version of Les eaux de Mars is a classic.

Vivaldi - Spring (The Four Seasons)
This one is for my dad who has always loved Vivaldi's music. It is nearly impossible to listen to this without wishing you could play the violin.

Sufjan Stevens - Redford (For Yia-Yia and Pappou)

This song is not about March, or spring, but I wanted to include it because it is just breathtaking.

January 16, 2013

Hope Deferred

Why does the human heart have longings? Why do we have goals, dreams, expectations?
Why is the ''heart sick'' when those needs are not met?

Proverbs 13:12 says that ''hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.'' I am assuming this verse is referring to good, or healthy longings.

While good, healthy, wise longings are a ''tree of life'' when they are fulfilled, bad or unhealthy desires can become a great pain when they are fulfilled. Some things just keep asking more and more of you every time.

Some, for example, will only be ''happy and satisfied'' if they succeed in being the best at everything. But the satisfaction that comes from, say, winning a competition or getting the best mark on an exam is very short-lived. Pretty soon there are new competitions, new classes, new exams, new jobs, and the previous success seems now all forgotten: you have to start again from scratch.

A good longing, when fulfilled, is a tree of life. Trees usually live and last a long time. They don't vanish overnight. Many trees were there before we were born, and will still be there after we die.
Trees are not still. They are strongly rooted, and grow stronger and stronger every day. They are not barren: they produce flowers, fruit and seed. From a tree's seed can spring another tree.

[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed (Proverbs 3:18)

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