I believe history is a branch of literature full of events and stories made by artists and artificers weaving facts into myth, and vice versa, into a timeless tapestry of the world that was, is and will be. In that regard, Kipling is an artist who spins beautiful tales of how animals became what they look like into a poetic wheel of ear-delighting and cadenced words aided by gorgeous illustrations distinctively graceful and dazzlingly beautiful.
Kipling’s evolution of animals explains why they look the way they are, such as a Leopard with spots, a Carmel hump, and many more. The stories become a fable and a history of its kind. It’s a literary version of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the wonderful menageries of Man and Beast that cannot live alone despite the differences in species because we are the inhabitants of this world, Earth. But, above all the fantastic tales of wonder, the Cat’s tale stands out in the story and the subject. Kipling’s Cat is proud but not arrogant, independent but affectionate, and vain but graceful. It’s a cat who walks by himself, and everything is alike to him and nothing else. The Cat is a beautiful stranger even if he likes to be a family, a kind of forever loner, the Puss in Boots with a cowboy hat and an empty holster. Kipling’s writer’s eyes saw the romantic solitude in a cat, and the result is one poetic Cat that rhymes well like the graceful way cats do their amazing somersaults.
Just So Stories are not just for children even though it is classified in Children’s literature on the shelves of libraries. It’s a book for everyone who loves legends and magic, who still has a childlike innocence that refused to put away as an adult because it’s in nature. The stories are not for academic analysis or psychoanalysis but simply for the enjoyment of the mind and the delight of the heart. Remember Freud’s saying, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” So are Just So Stories, so delightful and so pleasant.
Paul Gauguin was a man with a moon and sixpence. He was an artist in an endless pursuit of the rising sun at the dawn of a day with a flaming glory in dazzling magnificence. He was an intellectual with a wealth of knowledge drawn from a wide range of reading and classical Jesuit education. Gauguin was a man of irony with contrasting colors reflected on the soul’s spectrums, from the passionate red to the sanguine blue, hopeful green, and melancholic purple, which is why he left Vincent Van Gogh at Arles alone in neverending loneliness. He craved recognition in a grand salon, yet he longed for independence on an island beneath an ancient sun. So, naturally, I wanted to know about Gauguin from his own writings, not from another in the form of a biography. Hence the Writings of a Savage by Paul Gauguin.
The book is an attractive compendium of mostly letters to his select few friends and occasionally his wife and of essays and articles about arts and religion, demonstrating Gauguin’s erudition and introspection. While reading the book, I could not help but think that if he had been a professional journalist or an art critic, his artistic talent would have basked in the glorious sun at dawn rather than a struggling painter always on the verge of starvation. But most of all, what I wanted to know was if Gauguin had cut Gogh’s ear as I heard the rumor. Before reading this book, I had a priori thought Gauguin was a man of temper because his image was incompatible with the Dutch painter’s delicate, sophisticated, and sensitive appearance and temperament. But while my prejudice was not entirely faulty, Gauguin proved not guilty as he talked about it before his impending death away from civilization. Besides, my reading of Gauguin’s writings convinced me that he was not culpable for the injury, even if some like to contrive the circumstantial evidence to make the French pariah artist imbued with jealousy and violence against the suffering Dutch genius. Gauguin might have been passionate, but the passion is directed toward his artistic creation of the worlds he views in his mind and the snobbishness of critics and bureaucrats curating the works of painters who know nothing about the arts.
Imagination, innovation, and independence are the jewels of Gauguin’s prime colors that create his artistic Elysium. Gauguin was liberal in social stance, especially against clericalism, but royal in the artistic philosophy that how to draw doesn’t mean an exact copy of the figure because that’s not the purpose and creation of art for art’s sake. As the title indicates, Gauguin was a noble savage who, as a disciple of Rousseau, returned to a primordial state of humanity to escape from the over-intellectualized inertia of civilization that depreciated and ignored his works of art. I still can’t say the book converted me to the cult of his paintings, which differ from Renoir, Monet, and Pissaro. But the book is a medium of looking through the labyrinth Gauguin has built leading to his secret garden, wondrously vibrant and dazzlingly radiant.
Writing has never been easier these days than in the bygone days before the advent of the computer. If you are unsure about how to spell “Tomato,” then the computer will spell it for you by way of auto-correction. And it can even reconstruct your sentences like a pro. The magic is inside the computer, as if it has a mind and even a soul, as it were. This wizardly power of auto-correction can sometimes, however, lead you to an embroglio of nonsense, especially when writing emails or tweeting. Quite devilish, so I think and wonder: are things like auto-correction and the likes a wicked invention of science or science of diabolical existence? Hence, I am talking about Titivillus, the patron demon of scribes.
The birth of Titivillus could trace back to the 13th century when Franciscan theologian John of Wales pinpointed the malicious demonic trickery for the scriber’s mistakes. That’s not a footless excuse for the faux-pas made in a beautifully ornamented medieval script. In medieval times, copying the passages of the Holy Scripture was a painfully punctilious task for a monk to accomplish with perfect penmanship and exquisite illuminations. And the job cost a good amount of his youth with arched back, squinted eyes, and cramped arms and fingers, not in the least due to the time spent scribing. Toiling (even though for the glory of God) and Rejoicing (for the joy of self-fulfillment), Sorrowing always hoovers over the glories. Titivillus often brings this Sorrowing by making the scriber err in labor, such as misspelling or miscopying. When that happens, a corrector scraped off with a penknife or an acidic solution was applied to loosen the ink. Or sometimes he just made little dots under a wrong word, meaning the reader should ignore that bit. In case of more significant errors, the passages were sometimes lined through, and the correction was written in the margin or copied on a smaller piece of parchment and glued into the book.
To think of it, Titivillus has not returned to the Ninth Circle of Hell, always making himself a reason to stay as long as humanity continues writing. Writer’s block is a dark cloud hovering over the soul’s palace, the dome of thoughts. Philological carbuncles, including misspellings and awkward syntax, combine the demon’s interruption and the writer’s fear of writing. The fear is more than devilish trickery or neurotic obsession because it stifles creativeness and imagination of the writer. Still, I cannot help but think that today Titivillus manifests himself in the form of auto-correction, which can change the entire meaning of a whole sentence, often most embarrassingly and awkwardly. You agree?