Salman Rushdie’s “Joseph Anton” and Bob Dylan: Rushdie as ‘Dylan worshipper’?

(NOTE: I will be posting a full review of Joseph Anton as such here, soon)

Some years back, in an article still available at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/RushdieGFupdated.pdf, I outlined the (quite considerable) impact of Bob Dylan on the work of Salman Rushdie. The key work here is ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’, Rushdie’s novel of 1999 about the rock music world, but Bob Dylan also has the distinction of having his ‘I Pity the Poor Immigrant’ featured in no less a work of literature than ‘The Satanic Verses’. As I showed in my essay, Dylan references are scattered right across Rushdie’s œuvre (indeed, I subsequently looked at the novelist’s post-‘Ground’ allusions in an appendix covering his later work up to 2006). His two novels since 2006, ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ (2008) and ‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ (2010), do not to my knowledge contain any Dylan allusions (other than that the first points up Rushdie’s and Dylan’s common interest in Machiavelli), but now Rushdie’s latest work, the autobiographical ‘Joseph Anton’ (London: Jonathan Cape, 2012, 636 pp), makes up for that omission with a fair sprinkling of Dylaniana.

‘Joseph Anton’, named after the pseudonym Rushdie adopted in hiding, is primarily about his experiences under Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa and under constant police protection from 1989 to 2002, but it also ranges back and forth across Rushdie’s personal and writerly life as a whole. Here and there, gleaming amid the book’s dense mosaic of cultural allusion, are significant nuggets namechecking or quoting Bob Dylan, In his confessed enthusiasm for the songs of the former Robert Allen Zimmerman, Salman Rushdie shows himself to be as much a representative figure of his generation as his friend the late Christopher Hitchens, who (as I have also pointed out, at: http://nicolamenicacci.com/bdcc/christopher-hitchens-bob-dylan-fan), in his own memoir of 2010, ‘Hitch-22’, staked a claim to Dylan fandom in rather similar terms.

In ‘Joseph Anton’, Rushdie tells how he was introduced to Dylan’s work as an adolescent, by a friend at Rugby School – becoming ‘an enthusiastic Dylan worshipper’ after hearing ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ (30). Two pages later, he draws on that album to include ‘hard rain’ among the emblematic phrases of ‘the golden age of rock music’ (32). Elsewhere, Rushdie recalls how ‘A folk singer plugged his guitar into an amp and a voice in the crowd shouted “Judas !”’ (343), conflating two well-known Dylan episodes (the Newport Folk Festival and the Manchester Free Trade Hall incident) to offer one response among several to the question: ‘How does newness enter the world?’ – which, Rushdie says, was exercising him when he wrote ‘The Satanic Verses’. Later, Bono (the U2 frontman is a friend of Rushdie’s and a part of the intertextual nexus around ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’) is cited as telling the novelist that ‘in a rock group the writer just became a sort of conduit for the feelings in the air, the words didn’t drive the work, the music did, unless you came from a folk tradition like Dylan’ (388); and, finally, evoking the endless climate of uncertainty over the fatwa (will-they-won’t-they drop it?), Rushdie muses of his third-person alias, quoting (or actually slightly misquoting) Bob Dylan’s most famous song of all: ‘If there was an answer blowing [sic] in that wind, he had no idea what it was’ (459).

The evidence from ‘Joseph Anton’ is that for Rushdie, ‘Bob Dylan’ is above all the Bob Dylan of the first half of the 60s, the acoustic protest singer who, of course, Dylan hasn’t been for over four-and-a-half decades. Even as rock artist, he is mentioned in the context of his mutation from folk performer. This is the 60s-icon « Bob Dylan » to be found too in Christopher Hitchens’ memoir. Rushdie has, though, shown, in ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and elsewhere, that he does have some familiarity with the later Dylan; and surely he of all writers should be aware of how limiting it can be for an artist to be stuck forever in the metonymic groove of being famous for a statistically small but ever-retrodden segment of an œuvre that is in reality varied and abundant.

So in Rushdie’s pages, it’s the ‘60s Dylan’ once again – once more, the Dylan who wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ half a century ago, yet, believe it or not, is still a living (and touring) artist today. At least those who reduce Dylan to half-a-dozen protest songs do usually have some kind of first-hand acquaintance, however superficial, with the works they cite, which cannot be said of too many of those who have opined over the years about ‘The Satanic Verses’. Meanwhile and at all events, ‘Joseph Anton’, among its many other merits, usefully reminds the world that Salman Rushdie has things to say about Bob Dylan; though to the inverse question as to what, if anything, Bob Dylan might have to say about Salman Rushdie – well, to the best of my knowledge: the answer is still .. dare I say it? – blowin’ in  the wind …

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Details of my article on ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ are as follows:

Christopher Rollason, ‘Rushdie’s Un-Indian Music: “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”‘, in Studies in Indian Writing in English, vol. II, ed. Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Pier Paolo Piciucco, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2001, 122-157; republished in Salman Rushdie: New Critical Insights, vol. II, ed. Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Joel Kuortti, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2003, 89-125; updated version (2006) on-line at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/RushdieGFupdated.pdf; and http://nicolamenicacci.com/bdcc/rushdie.pdf

«The last Marxist»? In memoriam: Eric Hobsbawm, 1917-2012

  1. «The last Marxist»? In memoriam: Eric Hobsbawm, 1917-2012

 On 1 October 2012, Eric Hobsbawm, surely the best-known and most important historian active in the English-speaking world in recent times, left us at the ripe age of 95, and the world of knowledge will be the poorer. Few historians could aspire to the erudition or the range and sweep of the author of such classic works as « Industry and Empire », « The Age of Revolution », « The Age of Capital », « The New Century » or, most recently, « How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism », his final book published only last year.

A professor at Birkbeck, University of London, Hobsbawm was not only a historian and academic. He was also an intellectual in the fullest sense of the word – incarnating, indeed, his peer the late Edward Said’s conception, as expounded in his « Representations of the Intellectual », of the public intellectual – as generalist (no narrow specialist he), as committed to a secular and rationalist reading of the world, and as a thorn in the flesh of orthodoxy. Eric Hobsbawm may be considered a leading public intellectual of the time between the second world war and the present, one who intervened both within his chosen field and outside it – the equal of such figures (not all of them always or necessarily on the left) as, in the Anglophone world and its hyphenated variants, Said himself, Harold Bloom, Christopher Hitchens or Salman Rushdie, or, outside that world, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, José Saramago or Umberto Eco.

Hobsbawm also embodied Said’s intellectual, for whom exile is the condition par excellence, by being of hybridated and deracinated status. A British citizen from the beginning, he was nonetheless born in Egypt, to parents who were both of Central European (and ultimately Russian) Jewish origins, and was brought up in Vienna and Berlin – thus with German as his first language – before his family relocated to the UK in 1933. Given this background, his Cambridge degree and doctorate and London professorship were not sufficient to constitute him as a « true Brit ». There was therefore – and not to the delectation of the more insular denizens of Britain’s groves of academe – always something « foreign » about him, though this could be seen as an enrichment: historiography à la Hobsbawm, one might argue, succeeded in achieving a unique synthesis of « Anglo-Saxon » empiricism with a more « continental », totalising approach. Eric Hobsbawm was at one and the same time a « British », « European » and « world » historian, whose work encompassed the entire period from the industrial revolution to the present. Two examples from « The Age of Capital » may serve to exemplify both his ability to combine the broader picture with telling detail, and his refreshing lack of Eurocentrism: his evocation, as instance of the workings of empire, of Britain’s deliberate and systematic destruction of the Indian textile industry; and his highlighting of the Taiping civil war in China (which left twenty million dead but is all but unknown in the West) as one of the major events in nineteenth-century world history. His fame extended, indeed, far beyond Britain and Europe: his major works were translated into multiple languages and he was, for instance, an invited lecturer at Mexico City’s Colegio de México.

Also of course, and as all who read him knew, Eric Hobsbawm was a Marxist, and remained so till the end. A lifelong member of Britain’s Communist Party, he held on fast to Marx’s Enlightenment-forged principles of rational, secular inquiry – politically in the face of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and intellectually despite the siren calls of postmodernist and relativist fashion. To stick to his guns in this way into the twenty-first century was to court controversy, and Hobsbawm’s vexed status in British intellectual and political life has – how could it not be? – been reflected in the public response to his demise.

The British press reactions, across the political spectrum, included reflective and respectful tributes in The Guardian and (more surprisingly) The Times; a rather more ambivalent obituary in The Economist; and a vitriolic piece in the Daily Mail by the novelist and critic A.N. Wilson, who, to put it bluntly, saw nothing good whatever in Hobsbawm or any of his work. The Guardian published both a news report and a full-length obituary. The former quoted Ed Miliband, currently leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition, as paying warm tribute to Hobsbawm’s skills as «an extraordinary historian » – without fear, curiously, of being tarred with the brush of being « soft on Marxism » (Miliband comes from a family of left-wing intellectual traditions; earlier Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair are also known to be Hobsbawm admirers). The obituary, co-written by the political journalist Martin Kettle, described Hobsbawm as « arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind, recognised if not endorsed on the right as well as the left », praising his « sweep combined with … telling anecdote and statistical grasp » and « unrivalled powers of synthesis» and declaring that « few historians have ever commanded such a wide field in such detail or with such authority ». Concerning Hobsbawm’s Communist Party membership, the obituary calls him a « licensed free-thinker within the party’s ranks », pointing out that, while remaining within the party, he condemned the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and that « not one of his books was ever published in the Soviet Union ».

The unsigned, two-page obituary in The Times placed Hobsbawm’s key works « among the masterpieces of historical writing », lauding his « breadth of comparison » combined with « use of concrete examples » and the appeal of his writing to specialists and the general reader alike. While locating his communism in a « hard 18th-century rationalism », it took care to dissociate his Marxism from Stalin’s, and recalled that in later years his positions were identifiably « Eurocommunist » . The Economist, a newspaper not famed for touchy-feely attitudes to Marxism, rather provocatively subtitled its – also unsigned – obituary (on the contents page, though not on the obituary page itself) ‘The last Marxist’, and, while stating that Hobsbawm’s scholarship  « deserved, and won, an audience well beyond leftist circles and academe », taxed him with « kneejerk political obsessions », « naive idealism », and, effectively, a stubborn refusal to change his views in the face of the evidence (while allowing that he distanced himself over time from Stalin).

 This was, however, nothing compared to A.N. Wilson’s extraordinary diatribe in the Daily Mail. Wilson, starting out from what he claimed to be Hobsbawm‘s unequivocal support for Stalin in the 1930s, appears to be one of those on the British right who believe that if anyone has ever had a good word for Marxism or the Soviet Union at any time in their life, then they are by definition an apologist for the gulag and everything they have ever said about anything is utterly worthless and deserves to be binned. Thus, he dismisses Hobsbawm’s books as ‘lousy’ and ‘badly written’, and predicts that Hobsbawm ‘will sink without trace’ and that ‘his books will not be read in the future’.

 Such a vituperative attack on a respected intellectual cannot simply be passed over. The detail of Hobsbawm’s attitude to Stalinism and its evolution over time is something to be argued over by experts on his work from both sides, though it may be noted that Wilson’s worst strictures apply to a time before Hobsbawm had written his major works. It may be affirmed in Hobsbawm’s defence that it is no defect in a public intellectual to refuse to change one’s mind, certainly not on things one believes in passionately. Intellectuals, after all, are in a stronger position than most when it comes to explaining, justifying and documenting their standpoints. Hobsbawm did not budge on Marxism – and nor did Saramago, another lifelong member of his country’s communist party. Nor did Said on Palestine; nor did Hitchens on religion. Nor has Bloom on the literary canon; nor has Rushdie on freedom of speech. Hobsbawm’s fidelity to Marxism, of which his final book is an eloquent distillation, may be set against the rejection of that same doctrine in their later careers by Paz or Vargas Llosa, but debate is of the essence of intellectual life, and whether one agrees with Hobsbawm or not his carefully substantiated arguments merit careful examination. Meanwhile, Wilson’s egregious piece of character assassination may serve as a salutary reminder of a fact all too well known to the likes of Said or Rushdie, namely that to be a public intellectual inevitably means courting unpopularity in some quarters: if you have deep convictions and express them forthrightly, not everyone is going to like you and – to quote Bob Dylan from 1965 – « you’re gonna have to get used to it ».

 Of the figures beside whom I have set Hobsbawm, only Vargas Llosa, García Márquez, Eco, Bloom and (despite some people’s best efforts) Rushdie are still with us, and it is difficult to see whose voice can replace, on the issues they knew and cared most about, Said or Hitchens, both prematurely snatched away by illness. Hobsbawm believed, and passionately reaffirmed in his valedictory book, that Marxism is still valid today as a tool for the rational understanding of the world (he also argued in that book that the latest financial crisis has strengthened, not weakened that position). Time will prove him right or wrong, but meanwhile it is hard to imagine who among living historians could now debate Marxism so informedly, or offer a global analysis of modern times and be able to draw on the wealth of specialist knowledge combined with breadth of perspective that was Eric Hobsbawm’s. In our confused and unpredictable times, his was a voice that will be sorely missed.

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References:

Esther Addley. « Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95 ». The Guardian, 1 Oct 2012. www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/01/eric-hobsbawm-died-aged-95

Martin Kettle and Dorothy Wedderburn. « Historian in the Marxist tradition with a global reach ». The Guardian, 1 Oct 2012. www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/oct/01/eric-hobsbawm?intcmp=239

(unsigned) « Eric Hobsbawm ». The Times, 2 Oct 2012, pp. 46-47.

(unsigned) « Eric Hobsbawm ». The Economist, 6 Oct 2012, p. 102.

A.N. Wilson « He hated Britain and excused Stalin’s genocide ». Daily Mail, 2 Oct 2012. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2211961/Eric-Hobsbawm-He-hated-Britain-excused-Stalins-genocide-But-traitor-too.html.

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My own review of « How to Change the World », shortly to be published in a Spanish journal, is at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/Hobsbawm.pdf and also on this blog (entry for 9 July 2011) at: //rollason.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/is-marxism-alive-and-well-review-of-eric-hobsbawm-how-to-change-the-world/

 

BOB DYLAN, “TEMPEST”: INTERTEXTUALITY, SHAKESPEARE AND EDGAR ALLAN POE / INTERTEXTUALIDAD, SHAKESPEARE Y EDGAR ALLAN POE

It will surprise no-one to discover that winds from the past blow across Bob Dylan’s brand-new album “Tempest”, released in September 2012. The singer-songwriter’s latest opus lives and thrives under the sign of intertextuality, literary and musical – as of course does all his work, and even more so his more recent production. Such is announced by the title “Tempest” itself, which, whatever Dylan’s own disclaimers, inevitably recalls Shakespeare’s late-period masterpiece “The Tempest” (which Dylan had earlier cited, in the phrase “the stuff dreams are made of” from his unreleased early-80s song “City of Gold”).

The album offers textual nods from Dylan to Shakespeare himself (“I came to bury, not to praise”, a straight allusion to “Julius Caesar”), the Bible (the Book of Revelation, directly sourced), Mark Twain (“gilded age”), a nursery rhyme like “Little Boy Blue”, and popular ballads and blues songs from “Pretty Polly” to “Two Trains”. “Roll on John”, the tribute to the murdered John Lennon with which the album closes, includes direct quotations from Beatles and Lennon songs (“A Day in the Life”, “Come Together”, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”) and from William Blake’s’ poem “Tyger, Tyger”. “Scarlet Town” starts out from the ballad “Barbara Allen”, and that ballad’s compeers “ Black Jack Davey” and “Matty Groves” are there behind “Tin Angel”. The album’s epic title track, a near-14-minute narrative of the sinking of the Titanic, sounds like a pastiche of an old broadside ballad, and effectively has Dylan citing himself, since he had already mentioned the ill-fated vessel in 1965, in the ninth stanza of “Desolation Row”.

Haunting the album’s intertextual aisles is the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe, whom I have discovered there no less than three times! The opening track, “Duquesne Whistle” (co-written by Dylan with Robert Hunter) has the phrase “at my chamber door”, which, like the title track’s “nameless here for evermore”, comes direct from Poe’s celebrated poem “The Raven” (as earlier referenced by Dylan in 1965’s “Love Minus Zero / No Limit”). It is worth noting that Poe’s poem itself includes the word “tempest” twice, and the song “Tempest” mourns the Titanic’s dead in a lament – “Sixteen hundred had gone to rest / The good, the bad, the rich, the poor / The loveliest and the best” – that recalls another poem by Poe, “The City in the Sea” (“Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best / Have gone to their eternal rest”). Poe’s own interest in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, besides, is clear from his borrowing of its protagonist’s name, Prospero, for his story “The Masque of the Red Death”.

Be the tempest Shakespeare’s or Poe’s, storms from bygone times loom over Bob Dylan’s newest work, released a full half-century after his debut album. The poet and songwriter is still there, accompanied by shadows of the high and popular culture of the past, to serve as our elusive and sardonic guide, on this disturbing but eminently listenable album, through a deceptive world where “if love is a sin, then beauty is a crime”, a dark and shadowy universe perhaps only redeemable by the constant, ironic alertness of the artist’s gaze.

Note, 12 January 2013: This text has been published in the UK Dylan magazine THE BRIDGE, Winter 2012 (No 44), pp. 13-14

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Nadie se sorprenderá al darse cuenta de que el nuevo álbum de Bob Dylan, « Tempest » (“Tempestad”), salido en septiembre de 2012, está atravesado por vientos que soplan del pasado. La última obra del cantautor vive y medra bajo el signo de la intertextualidad, tanto literaria como musical – igual que toda su producción, ya lo sabemos, y máxime sus entregas más recientes. Así anuncia el mismo título « Tempest », pues – y eso aunque lo haya intentado negar el propio Dylan – indiscutiblemente recuerda la obra maestra de la última fase de Shakespeare, la muy conocida pieza « The Tempest » (texto, además, ya citado directamente por Dylan, quien integró en su canción de primeros de los años 80 – aún no disponible en álbum oficial – “City of Gold”, la frase shakesperiana “the stuff dreams are made of” [“la substancia de que se hacen los sueños”]).

El nuevo álbum incluye homenajes textuales dylanianos al mismísimo Shakespeare (« I came to bury, not to praise » [“Vine para sepultar, no para alabar”], alusión directa a la pieza « Julius Caesar »); la Biblia (el Libro de Revelaciones, nombrado textualmente); Mark Twain (« the gilded age ») [“la edad dorada”]; la canción de cuna “Little Boy Blue”; o baladas populares o canciones del blues, desde « Pretty Polly » a « Two Trains». « Roll on John », el lamento por el tristemente asesinado John Lennon que remata el álbum, integra citas directas de canciones de los Beatles o de Lennon (« A Day in the Life », « Come Together », « The Ballad of John and Yoko »), evocando, además, el célebre poema de William Blake, « Tyger, Tyger ». La canción « Scarlet Town » se inspira en la balada popular « Barbara Allen »; a la vez, « Black Jack Davey » y « Matty Groves », temas perteneciendo al mismo género, surgen como antecedentes palpables de otra de las nuevas composiciones dylanianas, « Tin Angel ». La canción épica “Tempest”, la que le da su título al álbum, es una larguísima narrativa, llegando a casi 14 minutos, que nos vuelve a contar el naufragio del “Titanic”, suena como imitación de una balada de calle decimonónica, además de mostrarnos también un Dylan muy autorreferencial, puesto que la misma historia del trágicamente famoso bajel ya fue evocada por el cantautor en 1965, en la novena estancia de su celebérrima canción « Desolation Row ».

 En los pasillos intertextuales de este álbum resuenan los pasos fantasmales de Edgar Allan Poe, cuyos rastros ya se me han revelado allí nada menos que tres veces (!). El tema que abre el cd, « Duquesne Whistle » (coescrito por Dylan con Robert Hunter) luce la frase « at my chamber door » [“en la puerta de mi recámara”], la cual, así como « nameless here for evermore » [“sin nombre aquí para la eternidad”], en la canción “Tempest”, constituye una cita directa del famosísimo poema de Poe, « The Raven » – texto, recuérdese, ya aprovechado por Dylan en su canción de 1965, « Love Minus Zero / No Limit » (notemos también que en ese mismo poema “The Raven”, el vocablo “tempest” aparece dos veces). Siempre en la canción dylaniana « Tempest », el desastre colectivo del “Titanic” viene calificado con las siguientes palabras: « Sixteen hundred had gone to rest / The good, the bad, the rich, the poor / The loveliest and the best » [“Mil seiscientos habían ido a su descanso / Los buenos, los malos, los ricos, los pobres / Las más hermosas y los mejores”], que recuerda otro poema poeiano, « The City in the Sea »  [“La ciudad bajo el mar”]: « Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best / Have gone to their eternal rest » [“Donde los buenos y los malos y los peores y los mejores / Han ido a su descanso eterno”]). Por otro lado, que Poe también se interesara por “The Tempest” de Shakespeare se demuestra por el hecho de que le haya sacado a la obra shakesperiana el nombre, Prospero, del protagonista de su relato “The Masque of the Red Death” [“La Máscara de la Muerte Roja”]. 

Que el maestro de la tempestad sea Shakespeare o Poe, esta última obra de Poe, lanzada literalmente medio siglo después de su primer álbum, se encuentra indudablemente en el ojo de la tormenta. El poeta y cantautor sigue en pie, rodeado por fantasmas de la cultura del pasado, tanto alta como popular, sirviendo como nuestro guía, huidizo y sardónico, en este álbum, perturbador pero eminentemente escuchable, por un mundo engañoso (pues nos canta Dylan:  “if love is a sin, then beauty is a crime” [“si el amor es pecado, la belleza es crimen”]) – por un universo de sombras que tal vez sea redimible únicamente por la conciencia, irónica y constantemente alerta, del artista creador.

Nota, 12 enero 2013: Este texto ha sido publicado en la revista dylanita de Reino Unido, THE BRIDGE (44, Invierno de 2012), 13-14.

 

BOB DYLAN DECORATED IN PERSON BY PRESIDENT OBAMA, 29 MAY 2012

On 29 May 2012, at the White House, Bob Dylan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honour existing in the US – by President Barack Obama in person. [see: ‘Bob Dylan Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom’, ‘Rolling Stone’, 29 May 2012 - www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bob-dylan-awarded-presidential-medal-of-freedom-20120529].

The full citation text appears at: Mary Bruce, ‘Obama Awards Medals of Freedom’, ABC News site, 29 May 2012, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/obama-awards-medals-of-freedom/; and in the Summer 2012 issue (No 43) of the UK Dylan zine THE BRIDGE (www.two-riders.co.uk/) (pp. 105-106). 

The citation describes Dylan as ‘one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century’, going on to state: ‘Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades’, and recalling that Dylan has written over 600 songs and that 3000 cover versions of his compositions are in existence’ (THE BRIDGE, pp. 105-106).

Introducing Dylan, President Obama declared: ‘There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music’, describing himself as ‘a really big fan’ and adding: ‘I remember in college, listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up’ (THE BRIDGE, p. 105).

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There were a total of 13 recipients of the medal including Dylan, one of them the African-American writer and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

In her article, Mary Bruce states that the official function of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to the White House, is to recognise ‘individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours’.

According to Malcolm Jones (‘The Daily Beast’, 29 May 2012:

www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/29/bob-dylan-s-presidential-medal-of-freedom-says-times-really-have-changed.html), previous musician recipients of the award include Irving Berlin, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, gospel singer Marian Anderson, and, believe it or not, country artist Tennessee Ernie Ford.

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Concerning the ‘contributions to the … national interests of the United States’ and ‘cultural … [and] significant public … endeavours’ that have won Dylan the medal, it is certainly not every day that an American president praises a living musician in terms like those used by Obama. The citation text strikes a fair balance between Dylan’s career as a whole and his ‘famous’, early protest period. In the circumstances, of course, it is absolutely right to foreground the early 60s Dylan: ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ did contribute directly to the whole process which enabled Barack Obama to be president today. And did it cross Dylan’s mind that his country would have a black president in his own lifetime when he wrote ‘OxfordTown’, or ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, or ‘The Death of Emmett Till’? Meanwhile, those of us who know ‘Huckleberry Finn’ (a Dylan favourite) may wish to imagining Twain’s Pap Finn, who said he would never vote again in a country that admitted a black college professor, turning in his unquiet grave …

SPANISH TOURIST STATISTICS – CALATRAVA TRIUMPHS / ESTADÍSTICAS DE VISITAS TURÍSTICAS EN ESPAÑA: TRIUNFO DE CALATRAVA

On 17 July 2012, ‘El País’ published the list of Spain’s eleven most visited tourist locations (‘Los momumentos más visitados’, Europe print edition, p. 39; reproduced at:

http://digitalculturenews.blogspot.com/2012/07/monumentos-mas-visitados-de-espana.html).

Number one is the Alhambra in Granada, followed by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Prado in Madrid. Fourth, though – and this is the surprise – is the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, designed by Santiago Calatrava with Félix Candela. This remarkable complex is, then, now Spain’s most popular contemporary touruist attraction – surely refuting those who have dismissed it in the past as a mere white elephant! Congratulations to Calatrava!

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Valencia Oceanografico

El 17 de julio de 2012, ‘El País’ publicó la lista de los once monumentos más visitados de España (‘Los monumentos más visitados’, edición impresa Europa, p. 39; lista reproducida en:

http://digitalculturenews.blogspot.com/2012/07/monumentos-mas-visitados-de-espana.html).

En el primer lugar encontramos la Alhambra de Granada, seguida de la Sagrada Familia de Gaudí en Barcelona y el Museo del Prado en Madrid. En el cuarto puesto, no obstante – y ahí viene la sorpresa – se coloca la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, la gran obra de Santiago Calatrava (con Félix Candela)  en Valencia. Este excepcional conjunto, entonces, se ha convertido en el monumento contemporáneo más visitado de España – un hecho que, seguramente, viene a desmentir a quienes ya en el pasado lo denigraron como un inútil espejismo … ¡¡Muchas enhorabuenas para el arquitecto Calatrava!!

“CHARLES DICKENS AND HIS TIME”: CONFERENCE (UNIVERSIDADE NOVA DE LISBOA)

From 18 to 20 June 2012 I attended the conference “Charles Dickens and His Time”, organised in Lisbon by the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and held at its Faculty of Social and Human Sciences (http://www.fcsh.unl.pt/submissao-de-artigos-cientificos-en/charles-dickens-and-his-time). Plenary speakers included international Dickens expert Michael Hollington, who spoke on “Dickens and Europe”, and the novelist’s direct descendant, the writer Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, whose subject was Charles Dickens’ brother Augustus. My own paper was on “Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe: From ‘The Chimes’ to ‘The Bells’”.

Note: My paper was published in 2013 by the Journal of the Odisha Association for English tudies (Baleswar, Odisha/Orissa, India). For full details, see entry on this blog for 2 June 2013.

Below, photos: two of the conference (second is my presentation); Universidade Nova campus; and three of Lisbon – castle; Museo do Azulejo (tile museum); and the Rossio square fountain.

Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012: Homenaje / Homage

15 May 2012 witnessed the sad loss of Carlos Fuentes, the novelist who had incontestably held the position of the greatest living figure of Mexican letters, since the death in 1998 of the Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz (see: Juan Cruz, “Muere a los 83 años el escritor Carlos Fuentes” [“The writer Carlos Fuentes dies at 83”], El País, 15 May 2012, http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2012/05/15/actualidad/1337107962_042539.html; and Joe Tuckman, “Carlos Fuentes dies at 83”, Guardian, 15 May 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/15/carlos-fuentes-dies-aged 83).

Carlos Fuentes, born in 1928, had a rich and diverse literary career up to the end, practising fiction – novels, novellas, short stories – in the most varied genres (classical realism, the fantastic, historical fiction) and commenting as engaged intellectual on the issues of his time.  He never won the Nobel he would have richly deserved, but the author of works such as Agua quemada and Aura was the recipient of such major awards of the Spanish-speaking world as the Cervantes Prize and the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts.

He chose to be buried in Paris, where he was at one point the Mexican ambassador. This was a personal decision taken before his death, which in no way detracts from his Mexican identity, since for Fuentes as for so many Latin American intellectuals of his generation, the French capital incarnated enlightened reason and the life of the mind. His mortal remains lie in the Montparnasse cemetery, also the last resting-place of Julio Cortázar, his contemporary and fellow exponent of the mid-twentieth-century Latin American literary “boom”, the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, and Fuentes’ own children, Natasha and Carlos.

So prolific and multifaceted an author may be linked by his readers with endless literary phenomena of past and present. But a handful of these connections may be mentioned here. Fuentes was a lifelong devotee of Miguel de Cervantes and his masterpiece Don Quixote, and famously argued that the whole of the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking universe should be denominated the “territory of La Mancha”. He also greatly admired Edgar Allan Poe, as evidenced in his prologue to a Spanish reissue of Cortázar’s translation of Poe’s tales which appeared in 2009 to commemorate the bicentenary of Poe’s birth. In addition, he had a particular link to José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel-winning novelist. Saramago’s widow, Pilar del Río, told the Spanish press: “After he introduced Saramago to the Mexican writers, my husband felt Mexican thanks to him, and deeply connected to Mexico’ (“El mundo hispanohablante llora al autor de La Muerte de Artemio Cruz” [“The Spanish-speaking world mourns the author of La Muerte de Artemio Cruz”], unsigned text, El País, 15 May 2012, http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2012/05/15/actualidad/1337110210_721532.html; my translation).

At the Paris Book Fair in 2009,  I had the privilege of listening to a lecture by Carlos Fuentes (see: http://rollason.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/salon-del-libro-de-paris-paris-book-fair-2009-pais-invitado-mexico-guest-country-mexico/, 18 March 2009). He spoke with lucidity, eloquence and passion. The death of such a writer, active and full of projects and ideas up to his last breath, can only be called an enormous loss for Mexican, Latin American and Hispanic letters, and for literature worldwide.

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Note: the above English-language text was published (see entry on this blog for 11 January 2014), as: Carlos Fuentes, 1928-2012: A Tribute’, in Indian Journal of World Literature and Culture, Vol 9 & 10, July 2013, 6-7.

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Me permito agregar mi voz a las tantas otras del mundo entero que en estos días le brindan homenaje a Carlos Fuentes, nacido en 1928 y fallecido este 15 de mayo de 2012, e incontestablemente el mayor exponente vivo de las letras mexicanas desde que nos dejó Octavio Paz (véase, en castellano, Juan Cruz, ‘Muere a los 83 años el escritor Carlos Fuentes’, El País, 15-V-2012, http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2012/05/15/actualidad/1337107962_042539.html; y en inglés, Joe Tuckman, ‘Carlos Fuentes dies at 83’, Guardian, 15-V-2012, www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/15/carlos-fuentes-dies-aged 83).

Aunque Carlos Fuentes nunca ganó ese Nobel que bien se hubiera merecido, sí que al autor de obras como Agua quemada y Aura se le otorgaron galardones tan importantes como el Premio Cervantes o el Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes. Se sabe que será sepultado en París, ciudad donde en su momento fue embajador de México – decisión personal tomada antes de su muerte, y que no le resta nada de latinoamericanidad, ya que para él como tantos intelectuales iberoamericanos de su generación la capital francesa encarnaba la ilustración y la vida de la mente: sus restos mortales yacerán en el cementerio de Montparnasse, último paradero también de Julio Cortázar, su coetáneo del boom hispanoamericano.

 De un autor tan prolífico y polifacético, incontables son los lazos que el lector puede tejer con el mundo literario de ayer y hoy, y aquí me contentaré con destacar, por un lado, su admiración por Edgar Allan Poe, evidenciada en el prólogo que dedicó a la reedición española de la traducción cortazariana de los relatos que salió en 2009, bicentenario del natalicio de Poe; y, por otro lado, una conexión especial con José Saramago, pues ha declarado a la prensa española Pilar del Río, la viuda del escritor portugués: ‘Desde que a Saramago le presentó a los escritores mexicanos, mi marido se sintió mexicano gracias a él y muy vinculado a ese país’ (‘El mundo hispanohablante llora al autor de “La Muerte de Artemio Cruz”’,  texto no firmado, El País, 15-V-2012, http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2012/05/15/actualidad/1337110210_721532.html

 En la Feria del Libro de París de 2009, tuve el privilegio de escuchar una conferencia de Carlos Fuentes (véase entrada en esta bitácora, 18-III-2009 –  http://rollason.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/salon-del-libro-de-paris-paris-book-fair-2009-pais-invitado-mexico-guest-country-mexico/). Fue un orador lúcido, elocuente y pasional. El fallecimiento de tamaño escritor, activo y lleno de proyectos e ideas hasta su último suspiro, constituirá una enorme pérdida para la literatura mexicana, latinoamericana y mundial.

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