A Beastly Comedy Canto 1.11

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The canto is about action, but also about the hunger of the pilgrim as well as the snails and slugs, hunger for solace, for eternity, or just greed. Dante gets to defend the pilgrim and gets frustrated in the process, having perhaps forgotten what it’s like to have mortal desires.

Dante is expressing his disgust at lawyers just because they defended people who had committed heinous crimes, yet he admits his views are imperfect. There is some bitterness in his voice, having seen these scenes over and over again. Comparing lawyers to thieves is a bit of a clichéd idea, but that is precisely why I deemed it a good topic to explore how morals change. Even clichés can be broken down. In the discussion we again see a clash between the medieval and more modern views, yet it’s not exactly a conflict.

The point is not that lawyers would be evil. Rather, Dante feels the urge to judge the snails, yet he too sees that this cycle of destruction, hunger, greed and suffering, is pointless. If there was once a reason for the punishments the pair sees, they’ve largely been forgotten. All that remains is Dante’s memory and the vague guilt the victims themselves might feel. Now there’s just hunger. Does it really matter what these creatures were like in their human forms?

Dante and the pilgrim find they have a lot in common too, as many questions are the same through the centuries. From this process of comparison and contrast, the willingness to understand each other and find common ground, some kind of friendship is forming that transcends the protector/ward relationship they’ve had.

In the end Dante does hold on to his judgment, his bitterness, but admits that his fury is not a measure of truth. In the medieval world moral absolutes were more easily conceived than today, but it is still very human to think in terms of absolutes when you feel the outrage, and to place judgment as if the strength of your feeling was a measure of how right you are.

Suloiset kiertoradat

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Kun vieras ei vastaa, ei ystävä,
harjukin on hiljaa,
mutta kuule: kivet kihisevät,
metsä ympärillä on verkkaista vastausta,
ikuisesti vaitonaista,
ja avaruus, sanattomat välit,
kiitos suloiset, pyhät kiertoradat,
kun pimeässä tähdet ihmettelevät,
hihittävät ilmakehän liikkeessä,
katsomme toisiamme:
kysymys vai vastaus?


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In his head it was always autumn. His legs were tired from walking through the fields looking for beautiful images he could hang on his wall. He did not need a camera. He was sure that the right landscape would automatically fill the empty space between the window and the cupboard.

Perhaps right outside the window love was spreading its wings, waiting for breadcrumbs to fall from the sky, but when he looked out he merely kept cursing the bird droppings on his window sill.

At night he was eagerly waiting for the sound of the rain, it sounded like a mistress gently trying to get in. Happily he lay there wondering if he would let anyone in if it came to it, but of course it never did.

When he saw the moon he thought about whether it was a hole in the sky or if the sky itself was a hole. He was certain it was the latter, after all space is almost empty, it is a probability, a distance between fugitives. But if it is like that, everything is really a hole, or many holes, and existence is an anomaly.

Some days he certainly felt like nothing really existed, but that was only when he looked into his flat from outside and could not see himself sitting in the armchair as expected. Maybe he would have felt sorry for the lonely man in an old cardigan. But since he was not there, he must have escaped into the crispy morning, lucky man.

He touched the glass and tapped cautiously, resisting the urge to flee the scene. He did this every morning, but no-one ever came, except the police turned up once. He had some trouble convincing them he really lived there. When he explained that he was only trying to see himself, the policemen looked at each other and walked away. They were full of holes too, in fact the whole world was a big Emmental cheese.

Words floated around him like planets or plankton. In his own way he must have been happy, perhaps even happier than most. Now nobody sees him anymore in or outside his house. The holes have finally taken over.


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En ole kirjoittanut uskonnosta pitkään aikaan. Aiemmin aiheessa kiinnosti se, kuinka ihmiset muodostavat mielikuvaa jumalasta, joka on määrittelemätön, ja kuinka tuo määrittelemättömyys on samanlaista kuin monet abstraktiot kuten rakkaus tai vapaus.

Nyt pohdin sitä, kuinka uskontoa käytetään ja kuinka jumalankuvia luodaan jostain halusta tai pelosta käsin. Ehkä kyse on sittenkin vielä määrittelemättömyydestä, mutta tällä kertaa huomioni kiinnittyy siihen, miten se aina täytetään jollakin, usein hyvinkin maallisilla haluilla, joihin vain liimataan päälle pyhyyden ja hyvyyden sädekehä.

Isäni konservatoriossa on monta huonetta.
Opiskelijat saavat yksilöllistä opetusta sekä osallistuvat ryhmätunneille.
Harpuin ja helistimin he ylistävät.

Isäni olympiakylässä on monta huonetta.
Ilmaisia kondomeja saatavilla majoitustilojen sisäänkäynnin luona.
He hyppäävät korkeammalle Herran kunniaksi.

Isäni parakeissa on monta huonetta.
Pyhät aseet tarkastetaan kolmesti päivässä.
Päivystäjä tarkistaa iltavapaalla olevien määrän vahvuuslaskentaa varten.

Isäni sydämessä on monta huonetta.
Eteiset ja kammiot tuottavat elämää.
Veri sykähtää säännöllisesti eteenpäin.

Isäni talo,
meidän isä, isä meidän,
jolla on isompi palkka, isompi mulkku,
edustustili ja paikka kaupunginvaltuustossa,
vahvempi kuin teidän isä,
vaikka kumpaakaan ei edes olisi.

He yrittävät rakentaa suurempaa kuolemaa
kuin katedraalia sortumaan aamunkoitteessa.
Kun valo viimein lävistää lasimaalaukset,
värit liikkuvat joka suuntaan kivilattialla
vain peittyäkseen tomuun ja siruihin,
mutta aamu tuli jo,
valo on ollut täällä koko päivän,
nyt ei ole pimeää jolta pitäisi pelastua,
ja me hengitämme kaiken aikaa värejä,
kun kosketamme ja ajattelemme sitä,
tässä sinä olet,
tässä! sinä!

Jacques Brel – La Fanette

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A wistful story of an outsider, La Fanette sounds like an early attempt at what Brel did more dramatically with Ces gens-là. There is a similar rhythm, an unreliable narrator and the theme of not being accepted. Other details may be different, but Brel was very good with these kind of songs that explore rejection and hopelessness when you want to belong somewhere, cling to hope of love, only to be disappointed again.

The July beach initially is a place of hope, its emptiness a world of possibilities, the warmth and the lull of the sea bringing comfort. And the beloved is compared to nature in a Brelian fashion, this time she’s as beautiful as a pearl of water. I’m reminded of two things: in Ces gens-là Frida is beautiful as the sun, and in Ne me quitte pas the narrator is ready to offer his lover pearls made from rain that falls where it never rains. These simple images are very powerful. A pearl of water can either be rain or tears, or in this case also seawater. I especially like the double comparison. Drops of water are like pearls, which are something else, something desired, eternal, a symbol of affection and devotion.

He is holding her hand, so there is at some degree of mutuality in affection, although it’s not certain what kind of gesture it is for her.

How often do we cling to these metaphors and comparisons, only to find out that all the beauty of affection was based on an illusion in the first place? There was only hope, and hope was everything, and hope was beauty. Maybe it is all we have, and at times it is enough. But the very moment it is revealed to be just fantasy, the whole world crumbles and nothing is beautiful anymore. That is the danger of placing your dreams in emptiness. What happens when the projection of your desire has no more canvas? There is nothing, just the beach, the cold streets, and the sea that sings forever. We still return to our dreams and disappointments, even when it’s just waves washing the shores.

Alongside the sadness there’s a sinister mood. We don’t know what truly happened except that Fanette found someone else and they went away, swam far from the narrator. They haven’t been seen since, and then he suddenly asserts: let’s talk about something else. This little injection suggests that either he’s too emotional or that there’s something more to the story of lovers who swam too far, and Fanette’s voice that he still keeps hearing when the sea is still. Since Brel did this in other songs too, I think it’s intentional, ambiguity that could turn the song upside down if we think that the narrator had something to do with the disappearance. And that’s what’s wonderful about Brel’s style of lyricism, he can suggest two entirely different stories built from simple elements.


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Olen totta
ihmisistä riippumatta.
Tämä on vapautta.
Yksinäisyys on epäily,
onko se totta.

Juoksen kohti ja päin kulmia,
en pääse mihinkään,
ei elämässä ole karttapinniä.
Käännyn sängynkulmalta etelään,
eksyn tikkausten verkostoihin,
säännöllisen ruutukaavan käsittämättömyyteen;
voisin olla missä vain.
En ole. Likistelen tyynyäsi,
kun siinä vielä on tuoksusi.

A Beastly Comedy Canto 1.10

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Dante is being abusive here, and the narrator does recognize it, yet cannot resist anymore. By now he’s distressed by hell and the realization that he is also guilty of wrongdoing by association and by ignorance, feeling responsible for all the evils of the world.

Surely Dante’s being unfair, and his reasoning is unsound. He berates the pilgrim for wanting some solace, equating such a wish for wanting to take drugs. And he blames the pilgrim for wanting to make him a kind of drug peddler when in fact he has much more noble things in mind. Even if intellectual, poetic or religious pursuits are just as much illusions as chasing dragons in drug-fuelled haze, he states it is still more noble to dedicate your life to scriptures and arts.

It doesn’t sound very convincing, and the pilgrim is starting to question his stance, if not his authority. As much as the pilgrim loves Dante, he’s also suffered enough by now to be afraid of angering him further. In the end the narrator does manage to say that he’s already broken and cannot stand his abuse, and Dante does apologize. Yet for the first time cracks are showing in their relationship, some permanent difference in worldview. Dante’s faith in what he pursued is absolute, whereas the pilgrim comes from a modern world which is much more about questioning our values and morals, whatever they are.

Rakkauden etsimisestä

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Etsin turhaan ehtoonnurkat,
hamusin hämärän huulta,
kuutamolle kuiskuttelin,
metsään murheeni mekastin:
missä lienee lemmittyni,
minne muiskuni asetan,
kuinka kutsuu kättä kylki,
kenen kuohuissa kukoistan?

Kangas kopsui koiven alla,
mustikkamätäs mutisi:
“Tuli tänne täpläsilmä,
vaniljanivel vaelsit
olallasi oljen tuoksu,
katseessa kukat kanelin,
haaveheilan heijastumat,
värit viljavan vapauden.

Katso kaarna kauneimmaksi,
parhaaksi puhu petäjä,
ihastellen iltatuulta
tunne sormissa sipaisu;
koskettele kortteen vartta,
hipaise havuun helähdys,
löydä leppä leikkisämpi,
oksan huojunta hupaisa.

Kun on kaikki kiiltäväistä,
hehkut itsekin ilosta,
korpi tehty kukkivaksi,
armo astelee aholla.
Kysy sitten sienen päältä,
huikkaa heltoilta haperon,
alta rouskun arvuuttele,
missä armaasi asunto.”

Liu’uin lehdon laitamille,
kuljin koivikkokujilla,
imarretta ihmettelin,
tutkin tuhkelon tomua.
Yllä tähdet tepsuttivat,
ilta aamua odotti,
joka notkoon jolkotellen
valo virkeä vilahti.

Raikui rotko rakkaudesta,
kolisten kivi kihersi,
runon lausui ruusukvartsi,
liuske luikautti sonetin.
Rämeeltäkin raikas reitti
kulki kumpujen ohitse
kohti kaipuun kasvimaata,
luhtakerttusen lupausta.

Eipä mieltä möykytellyt
enää kylmyyden kysymys
eikä korvan kirvellystä
huone hiljainen lisännyt.
Silloin siirtyi illan siinto,
värähti kesän väsymys,
kiintyi ehtoon ensikatse,
osui onneni ovelle.

Valoon astuin vastatusten,
tassun tarjolle ojensin,
suloiset kuin aamusuukot
silmät sielua sukivat.
Kätellessä kääntyi kukka,
kirjopillike pimahti,
sinuun saavuin soiden kautta,
sinuun seestyen sekosin.