They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Poems in Prose

Poems in Prose

By Sara Plaza

Under this title some writings by Oscar Wilde were published in 'The Fortnightly Review' in July, 1894. I have come across them in a collection of his short stories called 'Oscar Wilde, Complete Short Fiction', edited by Penguin Classics with an introduction and notes by Ian Small. Among those texts that make up 'Poems in Prose' –that can be seen either as poems or prose–narratives–, the one titled 'The Artist' might be an ideal setting for the loud racket caused by the May 1968's 40th anniversary celebrations during the following days. I took notice of this noise a week ago reading the pages of 'Babelia', EL PAÍS literary supplement that appears with the newspaper on Saturdays. But let's start at the beginning. I would like to introduce you to Wilde's words first:

The Artist

One evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment. And he went forth into the world to look for bronze. For he could only think in bronze.

But all the bronze of the whole word had disappeared, nor anywhere in the whole word was there any bronze to be found, save only the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for Ever.

Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned, and had set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life. On the tomb of the dead thing he had most loved had he set this image of his won fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that endureth for ever. And in the whole world there was no other bronze save the bronze of this image.

And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great furnace, and gave it to the fire.

And out of the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for Ever he fashioned an image of The Pleasure that abiteth for a Moment.

I have read once and again the story and still cannot decide whether his first work ended up being enveloped in flames for there wasn't really any bronze left in the whole world or for the artist have run out of love and sorrow successively. May 1968 was also a work of great artistic merit and, as it seems, there is no material left in today's world as the one used by its authors four decades ago. It is even possible that some of them have also run out of the revolutionary feeling they were inspired by. However, it won't be crazy to think that maybe inspiration is connected with the First Law of Thermodynamics, the one explaining that nothing is lost for everything changes into something else. If that is the case, it might happen that the material used for the so called French May is still part of the poetry and prose written about it 40 years later. You may judge for yourself having a look at the opinions conglomerate that, with a great deal of lyric, 'Babelia' presented on Saturday 20th April. I believe that there was a lot of metaphorical sense in the headlines of some articles; have a look at the following verses by Fernando Savater: 'The Walls Eloquence' and Juan Goytisolo: 'Instant [photograph] in sepia tones of an extraordinary month'. And pay attention to the brief outlines of possible stanzas sketched in some sentences as the one written by Catherine François y Santiago Auserón: 'The Youth did not want an assured future but a fascinating present', or the one they mentioned that was written in 1984 by Gilles Deleuze y Félix Guattari: 'No matter how old the event was, it does not agree to be left behind, for it means the opening–up to what is possible'.

However, what most excited me while I was getting further with my reading appeared when I was trying to make up my mind whether the rhyme of that literary supplement was consonant or assonant. At that very moment, Josep Ramoneda and Antonio Muñoz Molina added another possibility that I had not previously considered: dissonant. The former went back over the events topicality, but through different lens: 'It has not been easy to understand that time passes for everybody and modernity patent does not belong to anybody'. And the latter almost turned his back on the issue: 'To be honest, so much May 1968 celebration causes me a sheer boredom. I already know everything: the part of the story about the imagination coming to power, about being realistic and ask for what is not possible, about the paving stones and the sand on the beach, etcetera. Other contemporary events are matter of much more importance to me, thought they inspired much less literature'. On his part, Octavi Martí, in his article 'The echoes of the revolt' went over the thoughts murmured aloud by another group of voices that also disagree with each other on the importance of that student movement and whether it change the world –for better or for worse– or didn't change anything. Among those voices there was the present President of France during the last election campaign, who, as Martí mentioned: 'only missed the opportunity to award retrospective influence to May 1968, and blame it for Nazism, slave trade or the Babel Tower collapse'.

Despite the fact that during the last four decades rivers of ink have been expended on this topic, flood warnings have been issued by publishers after announcing the new books that will come out these days. Good news on the other hand, if we consider that there is no harm in checking our opinion under the current circumstances. It won't be strange to discover a good number of trite phrases and some commonplaces, to find out that we don't know everything about the subject yet, though we can recite some mottos from memory. Needless to say that, sometimes, new readings don't serve us well in undoing old clichés, on the contrary, they may help to perpetuate them. So we will have to make an effort to unwrap those ideas that have been used so often, which no longer have much meaning, and argue their point. Nonconformity is always healthy in small doses.

I've said, sometimes, that we were better children –as far as we knew how to face our parents– than parents –as far as we didn't know how to face our children–. With our attitude –and integration power of contradictions inside capitalism– we have left them no place for transgression [1].

[1] Excerpt from the article 'Contestación mundial' (World Contestation) by Josep Ramoneda. El PAÍS, Saturday, 20th April, 2008.