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Monday, September 01, 2014

Knut Hamsun: Pan

first edition of Pan (1894)
photo: The Hamsun Center
no copyright infringement intended

These last few days I have thought and thought of the Nordland summer’s endless day. I sit here and think of it, and of a hut I lived in, and the forest behind the hut, and I’m writing this to help pass the time, and to amuse myself...

So begins Pan, the novel Knut Hamsun published in 1894. Once you start reading it you don't leave the book up to the end. The story takes place in Norway, sometime in the 1850's. A young officer, Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, retires from the military and moves far away, on a small island in Nordland, to live there lonely in the woods, hunting and fishing, his rhythms and moods following the rhythms and moods of nature, the alternation of sundowns and sunsets, of summer's endless days and winter's long nights, the coming and going of seasons, the caprices of weather, the moves of clouds on the sky, the winds, the storms, the snowfalls, the sunny days. There is a village nearby, the whole region is isolated in the fjords, a postal ship comes to the island every two weeks or so. A girl of means from the village, Edwarda, seems to fall in love for the lieutenant. Once he reciprocates, she starts to humiliate him and their love becomes for the lieutenant a masochistic story. Very soon everybody in that small community turns against him and follows Edwarda in making his life miserable. In all his troubles he finds at a certain point a substitute lover (interesting literary technique), a much simpler girl (Eva), occasion to be even more ridiculed. Eventually he has to leave the island, defeated in all respects.

The lieutenant moves back to the capital, and this horrible episode seems to be now a closed chapter. After several years he receives an envelope containing two green feathers. He can guess who the sender is, and the trigger is raised again: the lieutenant starts writing a diary, putting there the memories of his love story: re-living everything again in his mind, at the same intensity.

Sure, we can think at the impossibility of love between two beings belonging to different universes: he belongs to the nature, she belongs to the civilization. We can think also at an ancient erotic paradigm, that frequently comes in the works of Hamsun: Iselin, la belle dame sans merci, like an eerie breathing from the dark of woods at dusk and dawn (Worster in The Fortnightly Review, December 1920). There is something more, I think.

Actually what we have in the novel is just this diary. The story is told at the first person, he is the narrator. We will never find Edwarda's version, her reasons. All we have is the lieutenant's diary. And I think, the object of study in this novel is not the woman (as fascinating as she could have been, as angelic or evil - is there a potential evil hidden in any angel?). No. The object of study is the lieutenant, and we can debate whether he is sane or mad, whether all that story happened in real life or just in his imagination, whether his narration is an objective account or just a madman's diary. And the debate remains open, we'll never find definite answers. For him, I repeat, not for her. Gogol and Dostoyevsky are not far.

The novel of Hamsun belongs both to the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a romantic story (though we could consider Hamsun rather a Romantique défroqué, the kind of Heine), and his love of nature is not easily paired (some considered Hamsun a Pantheist, for whom there was not God, but gods). On the other hand, his depiction of the morbid dimension of love puts this author in the camp of Hyeprrealists of the end of 20th century!

And the psychological side of the novel, his movement back and forth between narration of facts, sheer imagination, flow of consciousness, dreams, all this announces the works of Joyce and Woolf.

Let's come back to the story. It has an epilogue, this time no more narrated at first person. After many years the lieutenant is in India, hunting, and seemingly very praised in society. He gets again a letter that will force him to a tragic end. That old chapter had never been properly closed.

Here is a link to the text of Pan:

Five movies were made based on this novel. The first one, a Norwegian silent, was released in 1922: Pan. The second came in 1937: a German production this time, with the same title (Pan). Greta Garbo was initially offered the role of Edwarda: she declined and eventually the enigmatic heroine was played by Hilde Sessak (that I had the chance to watch in another movie, Feuerzangenbowle, where she was co-starring near Heinz Rühmann). The third adaption was Danish:, Kort är sommaren, in 1962. In 1995 a Danish/Norwegian/German version came, again with the same title as the novel, Pan. And finally, in 1997 came a Canadian production, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, loosely inspired by the novel of Hamsun, also by a short story by Mérimée (La Vénus d'Ille - where a statue of Venus comes to life and kills the son of its owner). What could link the two stories? An idea of female side viewed as devilish destiny? Maybe.

Here are two fragments from the movie made in 1995.

Pan. fragment of the movie from 1995
(video by EdvardaLtGlahn)

Pan. fragment of the movie from 1995
(video by EdvardaLtGlahn)

(Knut Hamsun)


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Catalan Universe

La dibujante Pilarín Bayés lleva la historia de Catalunya al iPad
(Sketcher Pilarín Bayés quita la historia de Cataluña en el iPad)
no copyright infringement intended

(La Española - or Hispaniola)


La Española (or Hispaniola)

A tale of Two Ships
Una cuenta de dos carabelas
(shared from Hornblower page)
no copyright infringement intended

Había una vez, no uno, sino dos carabelas que tenian el mismo nombre: La Española (o Hispaniola, lo que ocurra primero).

There was once not one, but two caravels carrying the same name: Hispaniola (or La Española, whichever comes first).

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Edmund Charles Tarbell

In many American museums, near the cloakroom there is a living, with some large armchairs to rest a little, and to meditate at the paintings you have seen. A fireplace is there, with an impressive mantel, the way mantels were designed in the past. Some tableaus hang on the walls: images of the past curators of the museum, sited on large armchairs, like the one you are resting on, near the same fireplace.

The photo above was taken when Edmund Charles Tarbell became the principal of the Art School at Corcoran in DC. He didn't stay there for too long, but came back to Boston, to have a position of responsibility at the Museum School. He had had such a position also prior to his Corcoran period. So pervasive was his influence on the generations of Bostonian painters that they would be dubbed The Tarbellites. A true son of New England.

Tarbell was a member of The Ten, and is considered as belonging to the American Impressionism, with a touch of duality though: his formative years in Paris had exposed him to the Old Masters on view at Louvre, as well as to the Impressionists who were at their pick by then. In his late years he became influenced by the works of Vermeer.

(The Moderns)

(New England)



Friday, August 29, 2014

Prosper Mérimée: La Vénus d'Ille

Prosper Mérimée wrote this story in 1835. It's definitory, I think, for his entire oeuvre: his passion for the cultural artifacts of Greek-Roman antiquity, even his desire to make their universe alive again, at any cost; his empathy for local folklores, his voluptuousness in pushing the imaginary to become reality;  his courage to find the evil dimension of the ineffable (lesson absorbed from Pushkin?); his balance of the story between rational and irrational; and his superb balance, superb mastership, of the phrase.

Was he a faithful Christian? Far from that. But, instead of faith, doubt: and nihilistic obsession for a mysterious presence of something beyond. Mysterious, capricious, incomprehensible, evil.

You can find the text here:

(Prosper Mérimée)


Catalan Universe: a Fragment from Canigó

let's try a bit of Catalan: a fragment from Canigó, a poem by Jacint Verdaguer i Santaló:

Lo Canigó és una magnòlia immensa
que en un rebrot del Pirineu se bada;
per abelles té fades que la volten,
per papallons los cisnes i les àligues.
Formen son càlzer escarides serres
que plateja l’hivern i l’estiu daura,
grandiós beire on beu olors l’estrella,
los aires rellentor, los núvols aigua.
Les boscúries de pins són sos bardissos,
los Estanyols ses gotes de rosada,
i és son pistil aqueix palau aurífic,
somni d’aloja que del cel davalla

Here is an English rendering:

The Canigó is an immense magnolia
that blooms in an offshoot of the Pyrenees;
its bees are the fairies that surround it,
and its butterflies the swans and the eagles.
Its cup are jagged mountain chains,
colored in silver by the winter and in gold by the summer,
huge cup where the star drinks fragrances,
the airs freshness and the clouds water.
The pine forests are its hedges and the ponds its dew drops,
and its pistil is that golden palace,
seen by the nymph in her dreams descending from heaven.


(Catalan Universe)

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Catalan Universe: Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer

Jacint Verdaguer i Santaló (1845-1902), poet and priest, was one of the greatest figures of Catalan literature, of the Renaixença, el Príncep dels Poetes Catalans, the Prince of Catalan Poets. Pope Leo XIII received him in audience in 1878, and they talked about Verdaguer's L'Atlàntida (I mention this, as  the memory of a great friend of mine comes to mind: he was considering Leo XIII the most important Pope in modern history).

(A Life in Books)

(Ramon Casas)

(Catalan Universe)

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Catalan Universe: Ramon Casas i Carbó

Ramon Casas i Carbó, self-portrait, 1908
drawing - charcoal, sepia and white lead, pastel and gouache on paper
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
(Google Art Project)
no copyright infringement intended

Tackling a bit the Catalan universe, here is about an artist of Barcelona, Ramon Casas i Carbó (1866-1932), known as a portraitist, sketching and painting the intellectual, economic, and political elite of Barcelona, Paris, Madrid, and beyond; he was also known for his paintings of crowd scenes ranging from the audience at a bullfight to the assembly for an execution to rioters in the Barcelona streets (wiki).

(The Moderns)

(Catalan Universe)

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Prosper Mérimée

I'm always coming back with great joy to my reading passions of my youth, the French authors of the 19th century. Their building of sentences is perfect, their French is the noblest. It cannot be more than that.

A bit about Prosper Mérimée. He knew Greek, Spanish, English, and Russian (the first who gave French renderings of Russian classics). He was an eminent archaeologist, with a great love for the arts and with a keen interest for mysticism and history. His stories show his passions, and his imagination is superbly impregnated with a particular spin for the unusual and beguilement (and what else is mysticism and history so often other than unusual and beguilement?).

(A Life in Books)


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yukon Kings

Yukon Kings, 2013
no copyright infringement intended

The Yukon River draws into its mouth the largest migration of chinook, chum, and coho salmon stocks in the world. For the chinook, or kings, the river offers passage from the Bering Sea to spawning streams across Alaska and Yukon Territory all the way to British Columbia. The iconic fish run is one of the longest freshwater fish migrations on earth. Because the kings will not feed once they enter the river, they must build up tremendous oil reserves beforehand. Burning only this fuel, some of the Canada-bound kings will ascend the river over 2,000 miles, climbing 2,200 feet, fighting the Yukon’s powerful current for up to two months. Consequently, with oil levels reaching more than 30 percent of their muscle weight, Yukon kings are the richest salmon in the world. More oil means more moisture, more flavor, and a lusher taste. Many epicures say these salmon have no equal. They’re like blocks of butter, says one Yukon River fisherman.

A nine minute documentary made by Emanuel Vaughan-Lee, telling the story of nowadays King salmon of the Yukon River. It's the most celebrated variety of salmon, now in danger of going into extinction. Historically, the average Yukon king run was around 300,000; but in the 16 years since 1997 half the run has disappeared; the average harvest is only a third what it was (Alaska Journal of Commerce). The fish is shrinking in size and in weight: evolutionary biology predicts that if a population is subject to significantly increased mortality, earlier sexual maturity will result, and breeding will occur at a smaller body size (Alaska Journal of Commerce). The ecological danger is tackled by the movie somehow obliquely: an old fisherman would love to have his grandchildren take over the trade (and pass the knowledge further, to future generations). His tone seems though far from optimistic. Under his plea there is concern. And so, the fisherman wish for his grandchildren becomes an elegy for an occupation that is in danger to disappear together with the Yukon king.

(Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee)