No 10 Downing Street is probably the most famous front door in the world. It is different from the other centres of power because it has the appearance of an unassuming, ordinary front door on an ordinary street. So, it’s not the White House, nor is it the Kremlin. The doorway could be the doorway…
All houses or should I say, each house has a particular noise, a kind of signature that is like a finger print identifying and memorialising it. I remember our first night at the Moskva, a modern hotel, in the Soviet style in Moscow, in 1984. Remarkably, it groaned and spluttered at night more or less…
In his poem ‘September 1, 1939’ WH Auden (1907-1973) referred to the ‘unmentionable odour of death’. That was at the outbreak of the 2nd World War. But now we are into the second month of Putin’s war against Ukraine and the revelations from Bucha recalls Auden’s line, but sadly, even if the odour of death is unmentionable, we can well imagine it, all that way, away from the actual grim and unspeakable horror that is Bucha.
Like everyone else, I have been full of admiration for the valour, the courage and grim determination of the Ukrainian people, this past week.
In Philippic II, Cicero(106 -43 BC) wrote a rebuttal to Mark Anthony’s scurrilous attack on him. This was not the Shakespearean Mark Anthony but the real-life historical Marcus Antonius, debauched, lascivious, drunkard Marcus Antonius. The Marcus Antonius who was unfit for office.
Emil Cioran (1911-1995) poet and prophet of pessimism, an existentialist, but one who abhorred meaning-making, whose philosophy focused on the tragic and meaningless, the despair in existence. He wrote ‘I have seen one man pursue his goal, another that one; I have seen men fascinated by disparate objects, under the spell of dreams and plans…
In Marguerite Yourcenar’s (1903-1987) Oriental Tales, there is a story “Aphrodissia, The Widow” which deals with the problem of secret grief, that is secret because the source, the relationship with the lost object is a secret but also forbidden.
I am preoccupied with the nature of oaths and vows. How is it that we come to find promises binding? What is about words, about language, that utterances take on the status of fiat. There is the associated magic of the written word, the manner in which suddenly the affixed sign turns a dull document from insignificance, from an inert object to a living document that has power and authority.
This is the context then of When We Dead Awaken, a play that describes an encounter between a retired sculptor Arnold Rubek and Irena, a model who had sat for him. It is a reckoning of sorts, an accounting of the value of a life. And sadly, it concludes that the artistic life eschews living and is dead!
The Epic of Gilgamesh was written over 5,000 years ago. It is regarded as the first great work of literature. My interest today is not in the usual emphasis, that is placed, on the examination of the nature of friendship, the treatment of the duties of kings foreshadowing ‘mirrors for princes’ in the Epic. Today, I am preoccupied with the motif of journeys in literature. This theme is most explicit in Homer’s Odyssey and in Aeneas’ Aeneid.