Acting, Ethics and Being Human

An incredibly incisive comment on the moral obligations of acting by Eddie Marsan on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking show (available to listen here):

I was making a film with Ewan McGregor once and we had a couple of hours off; we was watching a film with this big American star, making a film and the performance was awful and Ewan said this great thing. He said, “He’s referencing other actors and what he’s doing is he’s playing a character based on other performances of other actors.” And we both realised that that’s morally a terrible thing for an actor to be, because as an actor you have to be a human being so that when people watch you they think “that’s me” and they don’t feel lonely any more, they don’t feel isolated, they feel that they could talk to the person sitting next to them; but if you portray characters referencing other actors, then you create a character of what we wish we could be, so those performances create more isolation. They create more detachment, more depression, more low self-esteem and so the job of an actor is to give an honest testimony of what it is to be a human being.

— Eddie Marsan

Rereading. Not Telling

It is rare I will reread favourite sections of a novel just after finishing it. Malina, Ingeborg Bachmann’s only finished novel is a disquieting and strange and engrossing exception. It repeats and evolves throughout in words, phrases, unattributed and unfinished telephone sentences, recurring dreams of the cemetery of murdered daughters, anonymous letters the protagonist writes… As I read, Ingeborg became a more and more obsessing figure. I found myself staring at the sky on Sunday while a friend went to charge his phone, just thinking thinking about Ingeborg and Malina. When I was tired of the novel (it is not light), I reached for the book of her poems I have. The picture of her on that book could be another woman. There is a photo of her on the cover of most of her books. Each could be another woman (here on the Piper Verlag website). She seems protean and chimeric. There is a book of her correspondence, Herzzeit: “For a long time their love was a great secret, now it is documented” according to the Suhrkamp Verlag. There is a biography of her relationship with Max Frisch. There are no photos of them together.

She seems protean and chimeric. I have no idea what she really looks like.

I do not tell stories, I will not tell stories, I cannot tell stories, it is more than an interference in my memory.

— Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina

“What use is all that I have read up until now”

Anyone would say that Ivan and I are not happy. Or that for a long time we have had no reason to call ourselves happy. But anyone is wrong. Anyone is nobody. I have forgotten to ask Ivan about the tax return on the telephone, Ivan has generously said he will do my tax return for next year, it is not about the tax and what this tax already wants from me for another year, for me it is only about Ivan talking about next year, and Ivan said to me today he had forgotten to tell me on the telephone that he has had enough of sandwiches and that he would like to know what I can cook, and then I promise more from just one evening that from next year. Because if Ivan wants me to cook, then that must mean something and he cannot then run off quickly, after one drink, and tonight I look around in my library among my books and there are no cookbooks among them, I must buy some right away, how absurd, then what use is all that I have read up until now, if it is of no use with Ivan. THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, read at 60 watts in the Beatrixgasse, Locke, Leibniz and Hume, under the small reading lamps in the half-light of the National Library from the pre-Socratics to BEING AND NOTHINGNESS infatuated with all the concepts from all of history, Kafka, Rimbaud and Blake read at 25 watts in a hotel in Paris, Freud, Adler and Jung read at 360 watts on a lonely Berlin street, to the muted turns of Chopin Études, studied a fiery discourse about the expropriation of literary property on a beach near Genoa, the paper specked with salt and warped by the sun, read LA COMÉDIE HUMAINE in three weeks in Klagenfurt with a mild fever, weakened by antibiotics, read Proust in Munich until the first light of morning and until the roofers broke into the garret flat, read the French moralists and Viennese logicians, with my stockings falling down, read everything with thirty French cigarettes a day, from DE RERUM NATURA to LE CULTE DE LA RAISON, gone through history and philosophy, medicine and psychology, worked through the medical histories of schizophrenics and manic-depressives in the asylum in Steinhof, written transcripts in the Auditorium Maximum at just six degrees Celsius and still made notes at 38 degrees in the shade about de mundo, de mente, de moto, read Marx and Engels after washing my hair and read V. I. Lenin completely drunk, and read newspapers and newspapers and newspapers racing though them distraught, and already read newspapers when I was a child, by the oven, while lighting the fire, and newspapers and magazines and paperbacks everywhere, at every station, in every train, in trams, in buses, aeroplanes, and read everything on top of everything in four languages, fortiter, fortiter, and understood everything there is to read, and freed from reading everything for an hour, I lie down next to Ivan and say: I will write this book, that does not even exist yet, write it for you if you really want. But you have to want it really, want it from me, and I will never make you read it.

Ivan says: Lets hope it will be a book where everything turns out fine.

Lets hope.

— Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina (my translation from the German)

Published in English by Holmes & Meier and in German by Suhrkamp.

The Brilliance of Ingeborg

Her brilliance; we are sitting in front of a Roman estate agent, who is renting the apartment of a baronessa and gives us to understand, the baronessa may prefer an American diplomat as a tenant, DOTTORE, she says aghast, like a king’s daughter gone unrecognised, and she hesitates, SENTA, she says, SIAMO SCRITTORI, and the apartment is ours; terrace with a view over Rome. Often she is away for weeks; I wait in her Rome. Once, when I knew she had already set out for Rome, I could not wait another hour, so drive out before the city and keep watch at a bend in the road; I wait for her blue Volkswagen. To welcome her. Just in case, the driver does not see me on the road, my car is ready to start facing ROMA/CENTRO. Volkswagens pass again and again, blue ones too, so I wave. Perhaps she is still dining in Siena, RISTORANTE DI SPERANZA, I have time. Now she has not recognised me, but it does not take me long to catch up with her; I can see her round head from behind, her hair. She clearly does not understand my hooting, and it takes a while until I can drive up the way the police drive up to another car to stop it, and then she is frightened. I am a fool and I know it. Her freedom is part of her brilliance.

— Max Frisch, Montauk

Remembering Ingeborg Bachmann in Frisch’s Montauk, as I start a novel I’ve always been ashamed to say I haven’t read: Bachmann’s only novel, Malina, published in German in 1971, two years before her awful death.

And two writers who should be more widely available in English.

Reading on Coincidence: Robert Walser

It’s one thing or the other. Robert Walser is either fashionable in Brazil right now or I am an intersection of coincidences. Two friends, who I’m almost certain don’t know each other, have been reading him recently. One emailed me of one of his, Walser’s, prose pieces just before the new year; another was seen last week in a square with a newly published prose collection in his bag. Two friends, at least, are reading Walser.

The newly published part may be the key, but chance and coincidence have always influenced my reading habits (maybe more on that and William Gerhardie some other time), especially when the coincident writer is one who has been in the known-but-unread, admired-by-the-admired orbit for more than ten years. I studied German at university, but Walser—Robert, there is another, unrelated Martin—barely came up. Perhaps because he’s Swiss and German departments inevitably (?) concentrate on literature from Germany, rather than literature in German; but I may be being unfair and he may have been on a reading list that I ignored to read as much of Kafka as I could. But Kafka—like Susan Sontag, like Hermann Hesse, like W. G. Sebald, like J. M. Coetzee in this essay, perhaps like even more writers I was reading at the time—was an admirer of Walser, so perhaps the coincidence was there already and could or should have been seen sooner. But coincidence cannot be ignored forever. So I did pick up a slim volume from the Rio’s Goethe Institut library. So I did read it. Read more of this post

Preview, Rear View

Best of 2014

Well yes, the tradition is to do this before the year is out, but I do a fair bit of reading between Christmas and New Year and it would be, of course, disingenuous to exclude what could have been included as one of the best books I read in 2014—and indeed, the book in question almost was.

It was the year of finally catching the Dante bug (after studying and just not really getting it at university), spending months reading the Purgatorio and Paradiso (Inferno was last year), reading around in Boethius, Augustine, the Vita Nuova, Cavalcanti, and wondering if the modern equivalent of Dante looking down on the world from Paradise would be the Pale Blue Dot photo that the Voyager mission took of Earth as it left the Solar System.

But it was also a year of reading wider and wider in Brazilian poetry from the colonial inconfidents, to modernists, concretists and marginal down to contemporary writers.

For 2015


Sneak Preview

Well, more Brazilians, more Central Europeans (after a fantastic online course by the UK Poetry School in final months of 2014), more British and Americans, re-readings and plenty of writers I’m sure I barely know exist right now. Right now, the pile by the bed includes Ingeborg Bachmann, William Gerhardie, Joan Margarit, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Toby Martínez de las Rivas, Tomasz Różycki, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki and Louis Zukofsky.

And the best

So here is my list of what I read and re-read and loved in 2014: Read more of this post

The Old Mine of Rhyme

Rhyme is no longer, to be sure, universally despised as a kind of correctional institution for the English soul; it is more like an old mine, abandoned as unprofitable long ago and now remembered only by the nostalgic townsfolk and the odd curious visitor from abroad who wants to trace his family’s roots to their humble beginnings during a summer holiday. The ‘progressive’ critical community regards it as a sad anachronism blighting the landscape: willing as its members are to tolerate the occasional enthusiast, they are not about to welcome the conversion of this redundant enterprise into a going concern. Yet rhyme is not only the spirit of Pasternak, it is his letter.

Agree or not, it’s one of several striking images in the (polemical) introduction by Andrei Navrozov to his translation of Pasternak poems, Second Nature (Peter Owen Publishers, 1990).


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