Tag Archives: Nonfiction

‘Shakespeare’s Library’ by Stuart Kells

Shakespeare's Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in LiteratureShakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature by Stuart Kells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We talk of him so much, yet we know of him so little. As George Orwell elliptically put, “Much rubbish about Shakespeare has been written” by anti-Stradifordians as well as Stradifordians, and various sects of Shakespearenism still multiplying and evolving. Nonetheless, William Shakespeare is a heavyweight literary champion and a provocateur of authorship of his popular plays and pearly poems. He is certainly a man of reputation that gives him a status fusing highbrow elitism of a famed writer with a sensuous appeal of modern-day celebrity. In Shakespeare’s Library by Stuart Kells, such academic hullabaloos over Shakespeare’s authorship of his oeuvres are laid bare in the course of Kells’s quest of the existence of Shakespeare’s library, a list of books the Bard owned and a folio of his own manuscripts per se. For the meaning of Shakespeare’s library and its whereabouts are bound up with the authorship question and hold the key to the cardinal principles of humanities and truth.

Much of the debate on the Authorship Question arises from Shakespeare’s non-aristocratic family background despite the erudition of his writing. The book serves as Kells’s scholarly demurrer challenging the claim of Shakespeare’s non-authorship and flagrant plagiarism. Kells demurs at such preposterous allegations that negate the capacity of Shakespeare as a writer on the basis of ambiguity, uncertainty and prejudice. Kells takes a conservative liberal Socratic position of impartial advocate who defends the Bard on the grounds of (1) different social and historical criteria; and (2) the demonstrative evidence of the library at issue. With respect to Shakespeare’s alleged plagiarism, it must be regarded as a common de rigueur literary practice of his day that adopted the ideas from other source texts into an adaptor’s own. Adaptation was a revered literary custom, stretching back to medieval times when a monk modeled other people’s writings on his own because they taught him different styles of writing he wanted to emulate. Shakespeare lived before the advents of copyright and intellectual property law and psychoanalysis with the emergence of the powerful middle-class intellectuals as a substitute of the ecclesiastical caste. Therefore, we must not make an anachronistic mistake of looking at the past with our modern criteria in making parallel with our own time period, measuring the trend of the days against the principles of our day.

Further to the social background, including a lack of formal education and humble family origin, classicism is used as a touchstone of validity of Shakespeare’s authorship as carefully nuanced in this book. Kells as a learned adventurer shines through in this book. Various debates on the Authorship Question are rendered accessible as he pivots deftly from keenly observed details about the source texts to the universally equitable ramifications of his search of Shakespeare’s library in favor of the ingenious Bard. Kells wears his learning lightly here and writes with a general reader in mind, discriminating none regardless of social and cultural differences to invite all in his search of Shakespeare’s library. Shakespeare’s library is his source texts ingeniously combined into his world of imagination populated with star-crossed lovers, fairies, witches, kings, princes and a parade of various walks of life, all manifested in his legacy of literature still revered by all around the world. It is an excellent case of dispersion of collective knowledge throughout society as an Elizabethan-styled meme, a unit of cultural imitation, which is a form of cultural revolution in which art always flourishes.

If Chaucer foundered the bedrock of English literature, Shakespeare popularized it through his appealing works all over the world, making his timeless quotations indexes of wisdom and wits percolated through our daily lives. Rather than as a serious grim-faced man of letters, such as what Leo Tolstoy and his Anglo-Saxon ilk liked to lionize, Shakespeare was a fashionable Elizabethan literary tradesman, a workaday dramatist who had a feat of converting existing works into new kinds of drama, packed full of scintillating wits and memorable lines easy to understand with themes blended with the highbrow concepts and the lowbrow dramas that were contemporaneously popular in Shakespeare’s time. In Shakespeare’s library, readers will meet the Man as he was thanks to Kells’s impressive scholarship of Shakespearean literature and general erudition combined with his Socratic principle of “Knowledge to All” as manifested in his approachable writing style. Moreover, readers will come to know more interesting, more lively and more attractive libertine Shakespeare who was a practical artist with a wordily sense of success and vision to match. For he knew that to create was to recombine by letting his fancy free in his solipsistic library of books and notebooks – his Cabinet of Curiosities in Mind.

a merry day in a working-day world

History-Revealed-Issue-72-September-2019My letter to the editor of BBC History Revealed regarding “The Wild West” was printed in the September issue of the magazine – again! Today was the first day of the new issue which was downloaded on my Kindle Fire during my one-hour lunchtime at my regular Starbucks store. I have since ordered a hard copy of the magazine for a keepsake. It feels great to see my own writing published in an established periodical. Robert Waldo Emerson said: “Thinking is the function, living is the functionary.” Likewise, I want to actualize my thoughts from a deep cave of silence.

The following is my letter published in the September issue of BBC History Revealed.

“Dear Editor:

The article about the Wild West in this month’s issue was particularly interesting, since I am a recent immigrant from the East to the West: the restive nature, the swashbuckling gunslingers, the outrageous outlaws and the ruthless vigilantes were all embroidered on the popular Hollywood-generated image of the West that became something of a  factoid to people living outside the West.

Even though the U.S. Census Bureau declared in 1890 that no more western frontiers were left to conquer, I believe that the culture and ambiance of the West remains here in California. As someone who lived many years in New Jersey and the New York City before moving to Camarillo, the most distinctive characteristic of California is its unsullied beauty of nature in replacement of the skyscraper jungle as I see every day on the commuter’s railways.

Surely, there’s no more John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, or Paul Newman with Robert Redford walking in the streets. Yet, the spirit of eternal youthfulness is still nuanced by a combination of its beautiful rusticity of nature and a diversity of people interacting with the special aura surrounding the land.  For this reason, the West has not lost its charm with its continuous saga of immigrants in search of better future and the timeless beauty of nature.”

good bye to sunday

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Sunday is the saddest day of a week because it heralds a start of another week that brings unknowns to all mankind: employed/unemployed, men/women, affluent/impecunious, and educated/uneducated. Every minute of Sunday hastens to its end like as the waves make towards the quicksands. For Paul Collie, who works as a manager at a supermarket, is an imperturbable person hardly under the weather, Sunday means constructive solipsism in which his artistic sensibilities and intellectual proclivity are manifested in such forms of gardening, reading and writing otherwise smothered under the pretext of financial needs and familial responsibilities during weekdays. Gardening, because it gives him a sense of being a master of fine arts akin to Michelangelo; reading and writing, because he it teaches the styles of writing he can employ in his own writing. On this late afternoon, Paul is having a jovial time with his like-minded friend Hans Cow, a senior librarian at Tolkien Library and a part-time private investigator, who called on him to talk about the current affairs of the week. This week’s topical subject of the Sunday talk: “Elitist Art exclusive of the undesirable”

Hans: “Did you read an article about Snotty Museum turning down an annually pledged largess from Johnny Mojo, the chairman of the cleaning company Mojo? The reason for the rejection was said to be of moral, ethical standards because Johnny Mojo was a one-time drug addict and affiliated with some kind of money-laundering scheme. But you know what? I think it’s all about posturing, gestures of some kind of uneducated, former jailbird upstart trying to hobnob with the big wigs and the celebs that these so-called “Guardians of Fine Artsimg_0458” do not want to approve of. For Mojo – let’s be brutally honest – does not meet their standards of impeccable donors. What they want is immaculate man without original sin!”

Paul: “Yeah, I read that Mojo guy. You are right in saying that Snotty Museum’s decision img_0457was rather foolhardy and rash, groundless in their a priori reasoning that a donor should be also morally and spiritually immaculate to support artistic causes. Which is a supercilious stance on the puritanical touchstone of sponsorship. That a company doing a dubious business should not contribute its munificence to the museum is a hokum, nothing but a supercilious illustration of elitist art exclusive of the populace. The museum do not want to be involved in moral money-laundering, or “art-washing”. I want to think that Mojo’s intention to donate his wealth to the museum was bona fide because art is open to all, not a prerogative of the moneyed. Besides, art is for art’s sake and not should be used as a tool for political campaigns or social dogmas. Lucy Maud Montgomery expressed the same sentiment, and W.H. Auden also concurred that art should not be trapped by political and social systems. The museum’s decision shows that even a realm of art has been a domain of social Spencerism…

Pleasure and activity make the afternoon hours seem short as the discussions seem to have no ends. There’s nothing like a merry heart that goes all day when talking and listening to a kindred spirit who understands your mind’s world and encourages to continue cultivating your mind’s garden. The sun has moved closer to the horizon, and soon the evening will come. Then this Sunday will become a part of the memories of the past as a new Monday comes. Then it all seems legit to chime the timeless Latin phrase: “Tempus figit”. So it does. Times flies.

False histories

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History is a nonfiction narrative that reads like a novel, packed with actions, emotions, and characters, in the discovery of the universal human traits; it is both considered as parts of Humanities and Social Sciences in modern academia with the beauty of literature and the authority of science. That is why history is the most potent basis of political tool for manufacturing ideology in the form of a myth. Nazism was the proverbial example of the myth as an effective propaganda that called for the unity of the Germans. But the building of myth is not confined in the Germans; it’s an in-vogue political trend across the Seven Seas, which shoehorns ambitious political ideology into a suitably fashionable story of national pride and beguiling ethnocentrism.

Historian Michael Wood’s article “Dangerous Histories” in this month’s BBC History is the most apposite to such current revisionist view on history. In the article, his example of India, where the rise of the Hindu nationalist movement imbibes the populace with the mythical Hindu past that was claimed to be distorted by medieval Muslim conquests and British colonialism, bespeaks a danger of rewriting an untruthful history without objective facts, tempered by blind jingoism and askew ethnocentrism. In fact, such revisionist rewriting of history contributes to a powerful social cohesion of the populace  in times of national crisis. It’s really a case of mass mind-control by means of myth, the imagined history tinged with false patriotism and insular outlook on the world.

History is a collective narrative of a people who have been together through thick and thin, warts and all, sharing the same culture in the same place for centuries. Thus, it shapes the sense of identity of the people among others. However, if history serves to berating peoples of other nations to claim its own cultural superiority over them and therefore rightful subjugation of their cultures, then history as the factual subject in the academia loses its force of truth and becomes no more than a propagandist manifesto of jingoism. Let history be history, not a legend. Maybe it is high time we invoked the spirit of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who put forward factual and empirical elements in historical narratives.

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‘Coal Black Mornings’, by Brett Anderson – review

Coal Black MorningsCoal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Albert Einstein once said, “There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.” That said, the story of Brett Anderson, the founder and lead singer of English rock band Suede from London, has a polyphony of vicissitudes woven by multiple strands of existential life experience and innate artistic sensibilities which seems to give him a status fused with the wisdom of an Orwellian thinker and the suaveness of a modern day troubadour in a stylishly insouciant way. Now, on his second calling as a writer, Anderson in Coal Black Mornings tells a story of his family and himself without “the usual coke and gold discs” in such a way that it strikes the hearts of the ordinary and underlings alike who feel a burden of existential needs on their shoulders that smother their creative spirits and ambitions.

Anderson traces the long and winding road that led him from a childhood as a sentimental boy from a poor but culturally sophisticated family. A poverty of material comforts was reconciled with a wealth of artistic sensibilities and intellectual proclivity inherited from his eccentric taxi-driving father whose saint was Franz Liest and his quiet and beautiful painter mother who used to make clothes for him and his elder sister. He evokes the grim, bleak, and dreary scenes of very real urban poverty in which a lack of money can make you feel debagged and insignificant, but he does not hold grudge against the discomfort of such poverty because it became a part of his inspiration for his music that empathizes with the feelings of others in distress. Anderson charts the wandering romance of loneliness and creativity in an existential reality where his wings of artistic aspiration were often clipped by chains of subsistence. It’s a literary catalog of his ongoing journey of life, a personal treaty on the depth and breadth of his life so far, which the author wants to dedicate to his son who will continue a saga of his beloved family.

This is a heartfelt, sincere memoir of an artist who tells it all about himself in hope of chiming the bells of emotions of readers whose life stories share the same elements of existential life when they collide with ideals and dreams that are universal in kindred spirits all around the world. Coal Black Mornings is a literary kaleidoscope of one man’s vicissitudes of life, many of which illuminate the glory of being beautifully misfit in materialistic society. Anderson said that this book was primarily written for his son and that any form of public accolade would be a bonus to him. He was right because the book told me that I wasn’t alone and that I am not alone by feeling misfit. Here we come, the beautiful ones.

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