Michel de Montaigne’s Library Contrasted with ChatGPT AI’s

Paul Wittgenstein and Thomas Bernhard’s Troubled Friendship. Book review by Jorge Pinto

Paul Wittgenstein and Thomas Bernhard’s Troubled Friendship.

Thomas Bernhard’s autobiographical novel, “The Nephew of Wittgenstein” describes with some detail the complicated and at the same time troubled relationship with Paul Wittgenstein, the nephew of the author of the famous Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, and one of the greatest philosophers of our time.

The first part of book relates the experience of both friends hospitalized in Austria at the same time but in separate pavilions part of a large hospital compound. Bernhard was treated for a severe pulmonary disease and Paul Wittgenstein suffering what the author described as a so-called mental disease.

In the book, Bernhard presents several examples of thedark picture of his friend Paul’s health, who since his childhood had a predisposition to a disease, which even if was never been precisely classified, afflict him all his life, until the day he died, adding, “At every end and turn they would use the term manic or depressive, and they were always wrong.

The author describes his relationship with Paul, using relevant moments, conversations and traits, including, Paul’s problems with his enormously rich family.

On a positive note, the book describes Paul’s passion for music, especially opera and the orchestral works of Mozart and Schumann. Bernhard list the most important opera houses that Paul visited during his trips to Milano, London, New York, Berlin, which according to his friend; None of them was any good compared with Vienna.

The author recalls how at one time Paul was considered by music lovers to be one of Vienna‘s most passionate operagoer, noting that Paul was feared on opening nights since If he was enthusiastic he carried the whole house with him by beginning to applaud a few seconds before the rest. If, on the other hand, he led them in whistling, the biggest and most expensive productions would be flops.

Bernhard was also a music lover. His grandfather took him regularly to concerts including those conducted by Herbert Von Karajan whom him admired as child, adding that he observed and studied the famous Conductor for decades, regarding him as the most important conductor of the century, along with Schuricht. On the other hand, his friend Paul had a fervent hatred of Karajan, whom he habitually described as a mere charlatan.

If music was an area that brought the two friends together, Bernhard highlights the fact that besides music, Paul’s other passions was Formula One motor racing. Coming from a very wealthy family, been himself a racing car driver, counting among his friends a number of world champions in this field. In his second half of his life he had to give up racing since he did no longer had money and his relatives kept him on a tight budget.

The book is full of anecdotes of the peculiar life of his friend, including the most bizarre and eccentric actions like splurging money in luxury restaurants and bars. In this context, Bernhard tells the story of Paul’s whims including a sudden wish to go to Paris taking a taxi in the center of Vienna, whereupon the driver, who knew him, actually drove him to Paris, where an aunt of Paul’s who lived there had to pay the fare.

To avoid depriving the reader the enjoyment of Bernhard’s rich prose telling the fascinating stories of his unconventional friend and his interactions with Paul’s brilliant mind, I avoid getting into other descriptions regarding Paul’s relationship with money, women, his brothers and the Wittgenstein family, which he had always made him felt threatened and shunned, except his sister, who was the only one he spoke with affection.

Since the book is written using the first person point of view narrative, it give the reader a unique perspective of Thomas Bernard’s enormous talent and antagonistic personality that produced so many enemies and detractors, which for some analysts was one of the impediments to get a well deserved Literature Nobel Prize.

Among the many controversies Bernhard was connecting his reiterated negative opinions of Austrian society and the explicit disdain for award ceremonies. With some humor he describes, what he considers those events to be nothing more intolerable in the world. In his own words; they do nothing to enhance one’s standing, as I had believed before I received my first prize, but actually lower it, in the most embarrassing fashion. Only the thought of the money enabled me to endure these ceremonies.

Among the vivid anecdotes of his unpleasant experiences receiving public prizes, was the ceremony at the Academy of Science to get the prestigious Grillparzer Literary Award commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the death of the famous Austrian writer. He describes the feeling when arriving at the prestigious institution that morning to be surprised to find that there was no one there to receive me. I waited in the entrance hall for a good quarter of an hour with my friends, but no one recognized me, let alone received me, even though my friends and I spent the whole time looking around. It isworthquoting part of the description of what follows once inside the auditorium which Bernhard tells with full of amusing details: The minister had taken her place in the first row in front of the dais. The Vienna Philharmonic was nervously tuning up, and the president of the Academy of Sciences, a man by the name of Hunger, was running excitedly to and fro on the dais, while only I and my friends knew what was holding up the ceremony.

Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) was born in the Netherlands but lived most of his life in Austria where most of his works take place. He is the author of dozens plays, novels and poetry books. Most of his work is dark, full with situations and characters experiencing pain probably as a sequel of being abandoned as child by his parents. He grew up with his grandparents which provided him with an artistic education, particularly his grandfather who was a writer. In an interview, Bernhardt recall his grandmother used to take me to the morgue when I was young. She’d pick me up and say, ‘Look, there’s another one.’ Once she told me that the corpses had a cord to a bell tied to them, so the undertaker would be alerted if they came to./2 This playful example, with a difficult childhood growing up in Nazi Germany and his only sister, spending years moving from one mental hospital to the next and constantly threatening to kill herself, explain the darkness in his writing, which often revolves around themes of death, despair, and hopelessness, including characters ready to commit suicide or actually taking their lives.

No doubt Bernhardt is one of the most important Austrian writers of the second half of the Twenty Century. Reading The Nephew of Wittgenstein open the door to know a remarkable writer and the nephew of one of the greatest philosophers of our time.

1.Excerpts From Thomas Bernhard Wittgenstein’s Nephew

Print version published by Vintage (October 13, 2009)

2. A Conversation. Thomas Bernhard, André Müller and Adam Siegel. Conjunctions, No. 55, Urban Arias (2010), pp. 329-362 (34 pages)

Thomas Mann. Enduring Troubled Times. Colm Tóibín’s THE MAGICIAN a novelized biography.

By Jorge Pinto M.

Colm Tóibín’s new novel, The Magician, gives the readers a unique insight into the personality and challenging life of Thomas Mann, allowing them to better understand his works and the troubling events the world endured during his lefetime. In many cases, Thomas Mann’s numerous family members are the main characters of Tóibín’s novel and direct sources of his book.

Colm Tóibín is an award-winning bestseller author who has written several novelized biographies including The Master,/1 about Henry James life abroad. He also wrote a non-fiction book, Mad, Bad, Dangerous The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce,/2 based on a series of lectures about the muddled relations of these great Irish writers with their fathers.

Tóibín is currently a Mellon Professor in the English and Comparative Literature Department at Columbia University and Chancellor of Liverpool University. He was born in Ireland in 1955, which positioned him to understand the culture and work of famous countrymen. Writing about Henry James and Thomas Mann. In his last book, Tóibín, used extensive research including easy to find diaries, correspondence, and other personal documents, photographs, and an extended lists of relevant research on their lives and works. There are certain parallels in the life of both writers. Henry James and Thomas Mann lived in exile. As a writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and poet, Colm Tóibín understands the labour and challenges faced by his famous predecessors in the same trade.

The Magician is a well-documented novel with facts directly referencing to Thomas Mann’s books, essays, speeches, and his biographical process while writing Doctor Faust. The text is also full of anecdotes taken from letters, testimonies, many easy to find and identify. In some cases, those facts are enriched by invention, using the context of the time and place of special moments.

Since The Magician is a novel, it is difficult to distinguish the specific sources of the quotes he used.

Tóibín explicitly credited several books at the end of the novel. The list is long and varied and is a testimony of the scope of the research he made to write the story filled with historical and relevant events during the life of Thomas Mann and his family.

One of the sources is Klaus Mann’s introspective biography of his family and time, particularly the description of the status of his predecessors in Lübek where Thomas Mann was born and the city of his famous novel about the decline of a family, the Buddenbrooks. Klaus Mann’s interpretation of his ancestors portrays that decline; “Everything seemed perfectly all right with the Manns, so far. A highly respectable family — nothing to be said against them. Their home was one of the finest mansions in town, and the dinner parties they gave were as opulent as they could be”/3.Klaus continues to skillfully portray the economic collapse and the natural trauma that hunted his father, his grandmother, Julia, and the rest of the family when the Senator and grandfather dies; “— all of a sudden — it turned out that the wealth of the family had melted away, almost entirely. The ancient firm was dissolved; the attractive widow left Lübeck, where she had always been a stranger. She moved to Munich, taking her younger children along. Heinrich and Thomas followed shortly, after having somehow juggled themselves through school.”/4.

The testament of the deceased Senator devastated the family, as Klaus described, forcing the mother of relocate with her five children. “The senator had left instructions that the family firm was to be sold forthwith, and the houses also. Julia was to inherit everything, but two of the most officious men in the public life of Lübeck, men whom she had always viewed as unworthy of her full attention, were designated to make financial decisions for her”/5

Thomas Mann married Katia Pringsheim who was the daughter of a very wealthy and well-connected Munich family. Her father was a distinguished mathematician who inherited a large fortune. Thomas Mann, already well known for the success of the Buddenbrooks asked a poet friend to get him invited to the dinners of the Pringsheim family which were attended by important artists like Gustav Malher and Winifred Wagner, the English wife of Sigfried, the son of Richard Wagner. In the novel there is a description of the first time Thomas visited the home of his future wife; “There were, he guessed, more than a hundred people at the Pringsheimssupper, the first one he attended, with tables spread over several of the reception rooms. Most of these rooms had carved ceilings and inlaid paintings and murals. No surface was undecorated./6 At the end of the dinner walking back home Thomas Mann asked his friend if the Pringsheim where Jewish and the poet wandered; They are Protestants now, even though they seem very Jewish. Jewish in a grand way. They converted?”“My aunt said that they assimilated.”/7

After the dinner, Thomas Mann became a regular visitor of the family and in 1905, married Katia in a lavish wedding. The couple produced six children while living in a luxurious villa in Munich located by the Isar river in what today is renamed Thomas-Mann-Allee 10, 81679, Munich, Germany.

His wife Katia’s Unwritten Memories/8, edited by Elisabeth Plessen and Michael Mann, his son Klaus and his daughter Erika, both writers, provided first hand material for Tóibín ‘s novel: “Klaus was now publishing one or two works of fiction every year. Erika became famous throughout Germany for her short articles about what being a new woman meant. She loved being photographed driving a car, flashing her short hair and expressing opinions on sex and politics that were combative and controversial./9

Another important source for the novel is Heinrich Mann, Thomas older brother, who also became a successful novelist and a public figure. The novel describes their striking differences, particularly different political philosophies and professional paths, specially their social and economic status. Thomas´s evident wealth, living in richly designed homes by famous architects in contrast to Heinrich´s modest apartments in Los Angeles, virtually bankrupt at the end of his life.

The ideological contrast between the two brothers is well documented, regarding particularly their views and writings on Germany and the First World War. Thomas Mann´s nationalism and political ideas were opposed to those of his older brother. Tóibín ‘s novel contains a quote with his ideas in 1914, which later Thomas Mann regretted “A short sharp war is the only solution. We should go in after the French like a thief in the night. And the only way to get the English is through their ships. I understand that we have been working hard on a new torpedo. That torpedo will make our enemies shake.”10

At the end of the war, Thomas Mann tried to amend these views in an ambiguous and controversial Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man./11 This text haunted him until, four years after its publication, in a public speech titled “On the German Republic,” he explicitly rejected the nationalistic and antidemocratic sentiments of the Reflections andin a sharp turn, declaredsupport for the Weimar Republic. The Reflections was translated into English in 1982, 65 years after it was published in Germany, many years after the author’s death. This book was never used to demonstrate the leading role he played in opposing Hitler and denouncing the horrors of the Nazis after 1933.

Many of the passionate conversations attributed to Thomas Mann, his family and friends that are part of the novel are imagined by the author, as are the moments of introspection and thoughts or can be credited to Mann if they appear on notes or diaries consulted by Tóibín. The dates of crucial events, including the release of Mann’s books, award ceremonies, like receiving the Literature Nobel prize in 1929, his conferences and radio programs, and of his visits to the White House are accurate. A decisive moment was the realization that returning to Munich was no longer an option in 1933 due to the danger of being harassed by the Nazis or detained by the authorities like what was happening to many intellectuals who openly opposed or wrote against Hitler.

News of the fire in Reichstag in February 1933 reached Thomas and Katia in Switzerland while they were on holiday. Each day, they heard further news of mass arrests and attacks on people in the street. When the National Assembly elections took place a week later, Thomass first instinct was to return to Munich as soon as possible to make sure that the house would not be ransacked.”/12

His oldest son Golo was in Munich living in their house. He was able to send the furniture, some paintings and books to Switzerland by pretending that he was selling them. Golo also managed to withdraw large sums of money from his fathers bank account. While there were manuscripts and letters, including all the letters from Katia written from Davos, that he would like to have transported out of Germany, the most important set of papers, Thomas knew, were his diaries. They were in a safe in his study.”/13

Thomas was worried, imagining his diaries could fall to the hand of Goebbels, aware of what it could do to his reputation if used for propaganda purposes, from great German writer to a name that was a byword for scandal.” /14

The reason why Thomas Mann was so worried about his dairies’ fate is explained by Alex Ross in an extensive review of The Magician, published in The New Yorker Magazine on January 17, 2022. Ross noted that in all likelihood, Mann never engaged in anything resembling what contemporary sensibilities would classify as gay sex./15 But, Ross notes that Thomas Mann’s diaries are reliable in factual matters and do not shy away from embarrassing details; we hear about erections, masturbation, nocturnal emissions./16

The novel is rich with descriptions of trips, particularly of locations, including the towns, hotels, restaurants, and Mann’s own homes in Munich, Princeton, Pacific Palisades, and Zurich, the last before he died in 1955.

Tóibín succeeds in taking the readers through the twenty-century destruction, terror and brutalities by narrating in chronological order the arduous life of one of the greatest German writers. It exhibits the economic, personal and political changes Thomas Mann and his family have to cope with, notwithstanding the financial and political privileges his work and talent offered him.

Thomas Mann’s father was a wealthy and well-respected merchant and a senator in Lubeck, making his children live with a privileged status and situation. Tóibín describes how Thomas Mann planned the famous novel, , The Buddenbrooks to “remake Lübeck. He would enter his fathers spirit, and the spirits of his mother, his grandmother, his aunt. He would see all of them and chart the decline of their fortunes.”/17

The Magician is a biographical novel on the life of Thomas Mann and his significant works. A mixture of serious and systematic research of various sources creates a hybrid story that allows the reader to discover this great writer’s complex life. The annex of the sources used by the author makes the book an accessible guide to immerse the reader in the changing world from the end of the 19th Century to 1955, involving two deadly World Wars, the brutality and the horror that Hitler and his party imparted to the world. It includes the description of the challenges of immigration of distinguished refugees like Mann and Einstein in the U.S.


After reading The Magician I became aware of the complicated life of Thomas Mann and his family and the trauma and consequences of the rise of Nazism in Germany. He and his family lost their nationality in 1933. They could not return to their home in Munich. Thomas Mann’s life is full of tragic events narrated with great detail in The Magician. His two sisters commit suicide. In 1949 his son Klaus died near Cannes from a drug overdose. In 1939, the Germans torpedoed the boat where his daughter Monika traveled to the U.S. She was saved, but her husband drowned in front of her. Heinrich, his older brother, suddenly died from a brain hemorrhage, poor and alone in Los Angeles after failing to save from his first wife and daughter from the Nazis and losing his second wife a few years before his death.

The novel describes the unique role Mann played in the U.S., helping with speeches and radio broadcasts to support the allied forces fighting Germany, denouncing the horrors the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews, and Europe.

In the Spring of 1935, Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein were offered honorary doctorates from Harvard, giving his family the option to follow many intellectuals and scientists that found safe asylum in the U.S. The description made by Tóibín of the warm welcome they received at their arrival to New York anticipated the productive and prosperous future in the country that embraced them with open arms. “Alfred Knopf, his American publisher, made an enormous fuss when the ship docked, demanding, to the surprise of the other passengers, that journalists be allowed on board to do interviews with the great man and that Thomas and Katia be given special treatment by the authorities.”/17

Agnes Mayer, the wife of the powerful owner of The Washington Post, made Thomas Mann her protegé and advised him in U.S. politics. The Magician mentions a phone call Thomas Mann received when he was already settled in Princeton, probably as a device used by Tóibín to resume the role the Mayers played on the Mann’s family; “I am calling to say that we should meet in Washington, where I am now. I will not be at the dinner, which will be an intimate affair. I am calling because there are two things you need to know. One, Roosevelt will be in power for a very long time. Two, I will be very useful to you.”/18

The Mann family lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, first in Princeton, New Jersey and later in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles. They built a house by the ocean designed by Julius Davidson, a prestigious modern architect who escaped from Europe to avoid persecution and the Holocaust. “The house in Pacific Palisades, Thomas often believed, was a mistake. Even before a visitor entered the building itself, it was evident that too much money had been lavished on the gardens.”/19

Paradoxically, the easy time in the U.S. living as a celebrity started to fade after the end of the war in 1945, when many of Thomas Mann’s countrymen and influent writers as Bertolt Brecht, left the comfortable life of Los Angeles to return to Germany. Some embraced socialism, and many sympathized with the Soviet Union, which by 1949 had becomed an enemy of the U.S. Caught in the middle, as a humanist, Thomas Mann started to be denounced in the United States by many as a supporter of Communism despite his assurances that he fully rejected the oppressive Communist ideology.”/20

Coinciding with the two hundredth anniversary of Goethe’s birth, Thomas Mann was asked to write articles and give conferences about the famous German writer with whom he was very familiarized, including his famous Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns published in 1940 in the US. The ideas contained in these articles and lectures are summarized in The Magician as follow: “using Goethes example, that in public as much as private the world should recoil from single ways of seeing things, and begin to think in myriad ways. Goethes paradigm could be nourishing to a world threatened by a savage clash of ideologies. The writers mind was protean, his imagination was open to change.”/21

The conference’s ideas and accepting an invitation to go to Weimar, at the time under the Soviet sphere, to receive the East German National Goethe Prize were not welcome in Washington. The trip to the East plus a series of unpleasant events, including Mann’s children’s aggressive interviews by the FBI, made the family decide to leave the U.S. in 1952 and settle in Zurich. Tóibín describes how different the mood was receiving the Manns´s to the U.S. and seeing them go: “There was a time, he was aware, when this decision would have been front-page news in America, with reporters flocking to the house so that he could pontificate about his reasons. There might even have been appeals for him to stay, or articles outlining his contribution to the war effort. Once, he realized, he had possessed gravity. His prominence lasted a decade and then it wore off.”/22

The Magician ends relating several moments of the last years of Thomas Mann in Kilchberg, near Zurich, where he celebrated his eightieth birthday, and his last trip to Lübeck, his hometown, to receive the Freedom of the City award. The book closes with a story about the secret Buxtehude wanted to share with a young musician, a secret that promised to make him the greatest composer in the world. Mann, sitting in a cafe alone after the ceremony in Lübeck recalls this tale asking her mother: who got it and what is the secret?” Thomas remembers her voice, If I tell you, will you promise to go to bed?” /23


1. Colm Tóibín. The Master. Scribner; Reprint edition (May 3, 2005)

2. Colm Tóibín Mad, Bad, Dangerous The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce. Scribner; 1st Edition (October 30, 2018)

3. Klaus Mann. Turning Point. Serpents Tail/consortium; First UK edition. (January 1, 1987)

4. Ibid

6. Colm Tóibín. The Magician: A Novel. Scribner (September 7, 2021)

7. Ibid

8. Katia Mann. Unwritten Memories, edited by Elisabeth Plessen and Michael Mann. Alfred A. Knopf, 1975

9. Colm Tóibín, ibid

10. Colm Tóibín, ibid

11 Thomas Mann. Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man. Ungar; First Edition (January 1, 1983.

12. Colm Tóibín, ibid

13. Colm Tóibín, ibid

14. Colm Tóibín, ibid

15. Alex Ross. Thomas Mann’s Brush With Darkness. The New Yorker Magazine on January 17, 2022.

16. Ibid

17. Colm Tóibín, ibid

18. Colm Tóibín, ibid

19. Colm Tóibín, ibid

20. Herbert Lehnert & Eva Wessell. Thomas Mann. Critical Lives. University of Chicago Press, 2019.

21. Colm Tóibín, ibid

22. Colm Tóibín, ibid

23. Colm Tóibín, ibid

The Secret World. John Le Carre Books & Films

I publish a new eBook with selection of reviews of John Le Carre books and Film adaptations. http://books.apple.com/us/book/id1577299385

Available in Mexico http://books.apple.com/mx/book/id1577299385

Living in Irrational Times: 

MilitiaA militia group stands in front of the Michigan governor’s office. Photograph: Seth Herald/Reuters

a follow up of The Age of Unrest Published April 30,

There is a broad consensus calling the time we are living in today irrational, Some analyst goes as far as to think we are also living a revolution in slow motion. Some find it resembling situations described in Kafka’s classic novels, The Trial and The Castle. Others think of an Orwellian time about the dystopian world pictured in George Orwell’s famous book 1984 where, in an imagined world, the leader of a totalitarian country enjoys an extreme form of the cult of personality and citizens are trained to uncritically accept as only “truths” the daily broadcasts‚. The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears, Winston Smith, Orwell’s leading character, says. It is a chilling remark reminiscent of the prevailing party loyalty in the USA

Turning now into relevant recent non-fiction authors that can help explain the nature of our convulsive time, I will mention to start, Tony Barber article in Financial Times of April 22, Book Review Column Machiavelli and his enduring appeal as a man for all times, The Renaissance writer’s ideas remain relevant amid today’s troubles three new books explain why.

Among the three books Barber mentions, it seems that Machiavelli The Art of Teaching People What to Fear by Patrick Boucheron, a renowned French historian, places the Florentine writer in today’s complicated time. The Introduction opens with the following quote “Real Power ,” I don’t even want to use the word ”fear” This sentence quoted by the French author, could have been written by Machiavelli, but, it was spoken by Donald Trump in March 2016 when Trump was still only a candidate for the US presidency. Boucheron tells us that this statement is also used as the epigraph to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear”: Trump in the White House.

Boucheron’s book contains a series of lectures about the works of Machiavelli teaching him to see it less as a representation of power than as a machine for producing political emotions: persuasion, in the public buildings of the republican city-states; and intimidation, in the fortified strongholds that the princes built to keep those states in line. The book was written before our current health, and the economic crisis but shows Machiavelli having the power to sharpen our understanding of the present, which is uncertain, unbalanced, and has brought so much suffering in terms of loss of lives, unemployment, and further impoverishment in the world.

In one of the essays included in Boucheron’s books, he brings back the question about Machiavelli’s motivation to write The Prince and to whom he was addressing this famous book mentioning two possibilities. One by Diderot, the famous French Eighteen Century philosopher and editor of the Encyclopedie, who believes Machiavelli was giving instruction to the powerful, teaching them a detestable sort of politics that can be captured in three words, the art of tyranny. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Social Contract, took the other side: This man has nothing to teach tyrants, they already know perfectly well what they must do. He is instructing the people on what they have to fear. Probably based on this premise, Boucheron thinks that reading Machiavelli is so current by showing not only what tyranny is but also which actions and situations should signal the people that there are dangerous times ahead.

We turn to our current time, on the May 9 issue of The Economist as an invited guest Margaret MacMillan wrote an article with the suggestive title On covid-19 as a turning point in history. The pandemic exposes our weaknesses and strengths. How the story unfolds will depend on leaders. 

Margaret MacMillan is an acclaimed historian teacher at Oxford University and the author of several books, particularly the War that ended Peace.  This book describes the events that led to the First World War, the small conflicts and tensions between superpowers and their different allies through the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. This local event leads Europe to a war that ended the European empires and caused the worst chaos, death, and misery to millions of people.

Her work and experience as a highly qualified researcher of historical situations and events that have triggered serious conflicts that changed the world make her analysis of our time particularly relevant. With compelling arguments, she considers our time as a revolutionary moment that is “challenging the old order.”

She compares some aspects of the current health and economic crisis to what happened in France in 1789, Russia in 1917, and in the Europe of the 1930s. Her analysis focuses on current leaders that are weakening democratic institutions in the US and Europe supported by popular discontent that has facilitated the ascend of extreme-right, xenophobic, and nationalists movements.

She recalls articles by a series of several journalists like Paul Krugman, who warned us about profound social and economic inequalities that fueled movements like “Occupy Wall Street” or France’s “gilets jaunes”. But what Macmillan considers to be a turning point is the chaotic responses and blame games of certain governments have exacerbated divisions in and among societies, perhaps permanently. Pointing out at the troubling fact that America has withdrawn from moral and material leadership of the world, she adds the dangerous moment that represents an evident new type of cold war between China and the US that started with tariffs and continues with a destructive blame game, which feeds growing hostilities among the two superpowers, making rogue states such as Russia gleefully make more trouble and the United Nations is increasingly marginalised. 

Margaret MacMillan also mentioned the devastation that the Second World War produced in Europe, to highlight the fact that the societies that survive and adapt best to catastrophes are already strong. Britain rose to the challenge of the Nazis because it was united; France was not and did not.

The historian sounds the alarm bells contrasting the current leader’s actions. Angela Merkel, addressing the challenges and the steep road ahead, while on the one hand, demagogues as President Jair Bolsonaro are playing to fears and fantasies of their followers. In this category, Margaret MacMillan explicitly includes among the populists, President Donald Trump, who claimed he had “total” authority, demonstrating something about his instincts if not his knowledge of the American constitution.

MacMillan ends the article questioning how this difficult time will be judged, by future historians, if there are any who can still research and speak freely, particularly the actions the leaders of individual countries and their citizens..

There are many books published before the health crisis I consider particularly relevant to understand our current situation, How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky, a Political Scientist and a Harvard University Professor and Daniel Ziblatt, the Eaton Professor of the Science of Government also at Harvard University. As the title indicate, the authors consider that in the past democratic countries fall into a dictatorship by “Coups d’ Etat”, which are easy to identify. They used the case of Chile when Salvador Allende, the Constitutional President in 1973, was assassinated and with him, also, the Chilean democracy. The military took control, subjecting the country to a brutal dictatorship that lasted for decades. The authors also present the tragic consequences of the Cold War era when coups d’ Etat accounted for nearly three out of every four democratic breakdowns. Democracies in Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Turkey, and Uruguay all died this way.

With this context, the book focuses on modern times when democracies slowly die paradoxically by democratically elected leaders, which by design grab power, bend and erode the rule of law and weaken the democratic institutions that made them possible to be chosen. The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy ”gradually, subtly, and even legally” to kill it.

What makes this book relevant in the time of Coronavirus Cov-19 is the fact that we can see an erosion of democratic values and the rule of law as a normalized situation in the US and many other democracies. Many will have difficulty passing a ‘democratic’ test, particularly Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Mexico Brazil, etc.

Gillian Tett, a renowned financial analyst of the Financial Times, published on May 8, 2020, an essay with the suggestive title Is it safe to go to the shops, see a friend or get on a plane?..on how to assess risk in the age of coronavirus. Her note opens with a widely reported situation that, many consider, to be unimaginable only recently last month. She quoted the following tweet by Michigan State Senator Dayna Polehanki, who posted it from the Capitol building: “Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us,” she texted. To provide context and show the unthinkable situation in a democratic society, the Senator posted a picture of armed protesters standing in the building, demanding an end to the Covid-19 lockdown in the name of “freedom” (see photo on top).

Gillian Tett rightly thinks it is naive to think that in today’s circumstances, the US continues to be built on the principle of individual freedom and an ideal of the individualistic management of risk, adding that, ..most individuals recognise that pandemics are a group threat. That is why the majority have accepted State’s mandatory lockdowns, travel bans and other controls,…by the high levels of compliance. 

She considers it is even more striking to see the rise of egalitarian risk management in the US including the use of masks, emulating Japan and China, and many other Asian countries following their collectivist traditions.

Following the same type of conclusions made by the authors previously reviewed regarding the revolutionary character of time we are living today, Gillian Tett ends her article with an idea which I think will be challenging to find on her past article in FT: Where might this lead? She rhetorically asks, My own best guess is that in countries such as the US and UK, we are heading towards a future with more emphasis on egalitarian risk control but within social boundaries; keeping our “tribe” safe will be the new mantra..  

There are many books directly related to past pandemics and articles with lists of classic fiction and non-fiction dealing with historical pandemics and situations similar to the one we are now living. Particularly, Albert Camus The Plague, now popular historical Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, and even Shakespeare, who was born at a time England was facing a serious pandemic.

Many books with updated visions about the current pandemic and the human, social and economic effects produced by lockouts of countries and cities will be coming soon to the bookstores, virtual libraries like Apple Books. One of the first is Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present by Frank M Snowden published by Yale University Press, in May 2020.

The human toll of the deadly decease is unprecedented for the speed it affected millions, overwhelmed hospitals and health services, tragically claimed dozens of thousands of deaths around the globe. Also, the economic situation provoked an increasing number of unemployed, reaching almost 40 million only in the US.this week. It is difficult to foresee a fast, recovery, and many sectors will take longer or will never fully recover. Airlines are not yet scheduling flights and have scrapped or indefinitely postponed orders of new airplanes. Businesses, large and small are declaring bankruptcies, delinquent mortgages and unpaid rents are rising. Most industrialized nations’ governments have approved packages to support their economies as the pandemic threatens a global recession, creating enormous deficits of trillions of dollars. Also, central banks are pumping an enormous amount of cash to the system to keep interest rates low, affecting the income of the commercial banks, which are already weakened by growing unpaid debt. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will have to pledge funds to support countries in need. to diminish the impact of a broken international economy 

.It is too soon to have a real sense of how the future will be once the pandemic is under control. There are multiple scenarios, including the optimistic presented view by Gillian Tett.As we mentioned before, she thinks that the US and UK, are heading to a future with more emphasis on egalitarian risk control. Other analysts see a revolution with millions without jobs or income, as a result of a deep recession like the one in the late 1920s, greater state intervention, reduced freedom, an increase polarization, nationalism, increase international tensions and conflicts and the end of an interdependent world as the one we know it today. Finally, a cynical view of the future, like in the famous novel The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa which is a story of the passing of feudalism with a decadent and dying aristocracy threatened by the forces of a revolution.in Italy in 1860 which ended with the following motto, Changing things so everything stays the same


The Age of Unrest

Empty airport

Last year I started writing about the political problems the world was experiencing in 2019, particularly the election and straightening of populist leaders, the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, the violent street protests in France, Hong Kong, and Chile among others. These kinds of movements are fulled by the anger and what the famous Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset describes in his classic book, “La Rebelión of the Masas.”

Many aspects of last year’s violent street protests in Europe are similar to those after the First World War in 1919, also during the financial crisis in1929 economic depression with massive unemployment, and finally, in students’ movements in 1968, to quote those that come to my mind.

 The social and political situation in some countries was so bad last year that The Economist dedicated one of its leading articles on August 1, 2019, titled “Are Western democracies becoming ungovernable?”  This article refers to the problems the governments of Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, and others faced described in the following quote: “When you survey the political landscape of rich countries, you see an unusual amount of chaos and upheaval. Prague has seen the largest demonstrations since the overthrow of communism. More than a quarter of the current parliaments in Europe were elected in polls that were called early. In Britain, the mother of parliaments has been at the gin bottle, and opinion polls everywhere show increasing numbers of people losing patience with democratic niceties and hankering after a strongman…” (Source: https://www.economist.com/international/2019/08/01/are-western-democracies-becoming-ungovernable)

 Today when the Coronavirus Cov-19 has infected almost two million people and kill more than one hundred thousand, the street movements have quieted for now. No more protests in Hong Kong, calls for independence in Catalunya, violent clashes between police and demonstrators in Chile and Colombia or yellow jackets in France. Also, it is now history the political crisis in Italy, which at the start of the year threatened the Government collapse.

Emergency measures were needed to deal with the epidemic, giving governments enormous political and social power. In many countries, leaders taking advantage of the situation have born actions that have crippled primary democratic institutions, mostly in Hungary, India, and in other democracies. Beyond the logical and needed “lockouts” of cities and entire countries, the Executive Branch of some governments took advantage of the pandemic to enact extreme anti-democratic measures, including limiting constitutional powers of the other branches of government, rights of their citizens and some social organizations. In cases, censorship, surveillance, and repression is also happening in some democracies.

Not only the political landscape has changed, but the economic consequences of the pandemic are also already happening in terms of massive unemployment, bankruptcies, and economic stagnation. The Economist, cover of April 9’s issue, is represented by the economic devastation that is already happening around the globe. The main article, “the shock ripping through the business world eloquently describes a bleak future. “With countries in lockdown accounting for over 50% of global GDP, the collapse in commercial activity is far more severe than in previous recessions. Numerous indicators suggest extreme stress. Global oil demand has dropped by up to a third; the volume of new cars and parts shipped on America’s railways has dropped by 70%. Many firms have only enough inventories and cash to survive for three to six months. The exit path for those that survive will be precarious, with uneasy consumers, an efficiency-sapping stop-start rhythm, and tricky new health protocols. In the long run, companies will have to master a new environment. The crisis and the response to it are accelerating three trends: an energising adoption of new technologies, an inevitable retreat from freewheeling global supply chains, and a worrying rise in well-connected oligopolies.”

The eventual end of the health crisis probably will bring back the old political conflicts. Already in Europe, LePen in France, Salvini in Italy, and Casado and Abascal in Spain are capitalizing on the new discontent. They will benefit from the natural and justified resentment for an economic situation that will hit so many without a job or real income. There are counting on the anger that millions of people that worked in the informal economy, now without any pay in more than a month and have no idea when they will resume their work. Also, these demagogues are counting on recruiting the owners of small companies that might not survive the current slow down, and the anticipated recession. 

In anticipation of future unrest, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, warned that “the pandemic had the potential to increase social unrest and violence, which would greatly undermine the world’s ability to fight the disease.”


Woman Abuse in the time of Facebook

Who You Think I Am by Camille Laurens

Woman Abuse in the time of Facebook

Who You Think I Am”, the novel from the award winning French author, Camille Laurens, presents the reader with the troubling repercussions produced in personal lives by social media and the virtual world, particularly in relationships by those obsessive love-hungry individuals that fill their lives with distant little known or unknown persons.

Narrated by several characters in the first person style, reading the novel is like listening to someone directly talking to us. First, Clair, the central character is a 46 year old divorced woman who is desperate to love and to be loved. She narrated to her psychotherapist her painful relationships, including the tragic emotional Facebook virtual connection with Chris, a man twelve years younger who she never met in person. The novel also includes a notebook about this relationship written by Claire and read by her physiotherapist. Among the character the author adds a novelist who wrote and intends to publish Clair dreadful story. Each one presents a different perspective of Claire complex life, making the book a thriller which could be read as a plot made for cinema, plot, that I don’t intend to reveal.

Notwithstanding the complexity of the story, it is relatively easy to follow for the consistency and the connections of the characters, timeframes, and sequences, which, with some attention, are easy to follow.

Claire, the central character is unable to communicate with Joe, her abusive previous boyfriend with who she had a real physical painful failed relationship. She continues to be obsessively in love with him and incapable to accept the fact the relation ended badly. Looking at Joe’s Facebook page, Clair discovers that Joe is sharing his home in the countryside with Chris, a frustrated photographer. To follow Joe’s and keep some form of connection with him, she creates a fake personality on Facebook in the form of a seductive, attractive and intelligent twenty four years old woman, a girl passionate about photography. who starts to following Chis. In Clair’s own account, “It wasn’t Chris I was trying to get to at all, at first. I didn’t know him, I wasn’t interested in him. I asked him to be my friend on Facebook just to have news of Joe—Joel. I was going out.., with Joe, at the time.”

After sharing profiles, both engage in daily virtual chats and electronic intimate exchanges, making Chris to fall in love with Clair’s virtual character, Also named Clair but she change the family name to Antunes, a name taken from the famous Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes.

To make the virtual character more realistic, Clare uses the manners and life style of her niece Katia who is approximately the same age as the fake persona. Katia’s parents died in a car accident when she was very young and Clair adopted her as a daughter.

The intensity of these distant virtual conversations makes Clair forget Joe and obsessively became emotionally virtually engaged with Chris disregarding the fact she was an impostor and aware that a real relationship was impossible. She used photos of a pretty young women in the Internet and chose a brunette who looks like Katia. With multiple excuses Clair refuses Chris constant requests to meet the fake Claire, who is aware of the disappointment Chris will have meeting the real Clair.

The story shows the sordid world of virtual distant human connections, like those described by Camille Laurens, the author. For many, in today’s world, ”far is near and near is far.” It is relatively common to find in restaurants couples obsessively looking at their phones, reading what others are doing far away, ignoring his or her companion and the real world that surround them.

The book give relevant descriptions about the fake personalities that populate the social media sites and the illusion they create. In Clair own words, ”for people like me, the Internet is the shipwreck as well as the life raft: you drown in the tracking game, in the expectation, you can’t grieve for a relationship, however dead it may be, and at the same time you’re hovering above it in a virtual world, clinging to fake information”

It is so common and prevalent situations like those describe in the novel that there are paying sites or Apps that help to profesionaly create these kind of Avatars or invented virtual phantoms.

To enrich the vivid description of the distortions and outright lies the social media facilities, the author uses the failed and abusive relationship with Joe and the fake relation with Chris produced by Clair virtual Facebook Frankenstein, the author quotes examples of the dreadful conditions and abuses woman have to endure in the hands of predators males like Joe, who knows how to exploit the weaknesses of recently divorced victims.

According to the numbers released by Facebook, various serious studies estimate that, ”as many as 270 million of the platform’s 2.1-billion-strong user base could be fraudulent or duplicated — a population verging on the size of the United States.” (https://mashable.com/2017/11/02/facebook-phony-accounts-admission/)

As an added value to the story, the conversations are full of relevant examples of classic books and authors Clair quotes in her discussions about abusive relationships. In the final note Camille Laurens acknowledges that the “novel contains reminiscences or quotations (some of them unfaithful) from A. Artaud, H. Melville, L. Aragon, J-F. Lyotard, N. Arcan, J. Racine, D. Winnicott, J. Didion, G. Flaubert, P. Lejeune, O. Steiner, J. Joyce, W. Shakespeare, J. Renard, M. Duras, P. Quignard, J. Lacan, W. B. Yeats, H. de Balzac, H. Cixous, R. M. Rilke, L-F. Céline, R. Juarroz, M. Leiris.”

Who You Think I Am by Camille Laurens is undoubtedly a book that addresses the disturbing adverse effects of social media, amplifying the potential of abusive emotional relationships and other forms of suffering and abuse women continues to endure.



Los malos consejos del pueblo por Ian Mcewan

AntiBrexitEl famoso novelista inglés en un artículo publicado en EL País, destaca el carácter anti democrático del referendum que conduce a la salida del Reino Unido de la Unión Europea, lesionando los intereses de millones de ciudadanos de ese país. Las mismas ideas son aplicables a los referéndum no calificados cómo fue el celebrado hace unos años en Cataluña.

Refiriéndose a Brexit se pregunta:

“.?Cómo es que un asunto de consecuencias constitucionales, económicas y culturales de tal envergadura se ha zanjado con una mayoría simple y no con una supermayoría?

¿Cómo se transmutó “consultivo” en “vinculante”? Gracias a los polvos cegadores que nos lanzaron a los ojos las manos populistas desde la derecha y la izquierda.”

El artículo presenta también otras ideas que trascienden el Brexit, particularmente los riesgo de la “democracia directa o de la calle,” el populismo y el surgimiento de movimientos políticos contrarios al mundo interdependiente de hoy. “El nacionalismo rara vez es un proyecto de paz. Tampoco le importa la lucha contra el cambio climático”.

Sin duda un artículo que contribuye a entender lo que está ocurriendo.


Tribuna | Los malos consejos del pueblo

Author: Ian Mcewan

Source: https://elpais.com/elpais/2020/01/31/opinion/1580487788_326877.html

Ya no hay vuelta atrás. La negociación tozuda hasta decir basta de Theresa May, y después de Boris Johnson durante un breve periodo, ha logrado que se cumpla la ambición más masoquista y sin sentido jamás soñada en la historia de las islas. El resto del mundo, exceptuando a los presidentes Putin y Trump, han asistido al proceso con asombro y consternación. En diciembre, una mayoría votó a favor de los partidos que propugnaban un segundo referéndum, pero estos fueron, lamentablemente, incapaces de hacer causa común. Ahora nos toca recoger las tiendas, tal vez al son de las campanas de la iglesia,…

INICIA SESIÓN PARA SEGUIR LEYENDO https://elpais.com/elpais/2020/01/31/opinion/1580487788_326877.html


Copyright © Ian McEwan 2020


Celebrating Peter Handke Nobel Prize

I am surprised to see so many articles criticizing the Nobel Foundation for awarding 2019 Literature Prize to Peter Handke, the Austrian Novelist, Movies and Theater writer, and producer. 

Without getting on the merits of the critical comments made by the press about Peter Handke’s ideas about the war in Serbia and the massacres committed, the Prize is not about Mr. Handke’s ideology nor of his past political actions or speeches. The Literature Nobel Prize is about Literature, the published work, which is independent of the author or the artist.

Most of the critics recognize the merits of Handke’s work, which implicitly validates the jury’s decision to award Peter Handke with this year’s Nobel Prize.

I don’t remember where I read the wise proposition about the difference between art and artist, which should be separated and independent one from the other. Nobody can deny the value, quality, and enormous contribution of Picassos’ work independently if he was or not a womanizer. Following this principle, it is essential to celebrate Handke’s Nobel Prize.   

Book Review:
The Left Handed Woman” by Peter Handke. On Women’s Freedom from the Bondage of Undesirable Marriage

Una Historia Negra. La Violencia Machista, una Epidemia.

CoverSiguiendo el enorme éxito de las novelas de Elena Ferrante, Antonella Lattanzi.presenta en España su tercera novela, Una Historia Negra, (traducción de César Palma). La novela fue originalmente publicada en Italia por Mondadori en 2017 y reeditada en 2018, Actualmente esta disponible en español /1, portugués, en alemán y próximamente en 7 idiomas más. 

Se trata de una extraordinaria novela sobre el terrible problema de la violencia domestica y sus destructivos efectos en las mujeres que la padecen, en sus hijos y familias y finalmente en la sociedad. No obstante la publicidad que se le ha dado a este lacerarte problema, las políticas para combatirlo han tenido hasta ahora muy pocos resultados. 

Un extraordinario ‘thriller’ de la autora italiana, Antonella Lattanzi quien presenta con descarnado realismo el estado de desamparo y la escasa protección con la que cuentan las mujeres víctimas del abuso físico, emocional y sexual. En México la violencia domestica alcanza niveles de epidemia/2 y sigue presente en las naciones más desarrolladas. El Diario de España publica una nota con datos que muestran la seriedad del problema: “De los 1.000 casos de asesinatos de mujeres por parte de sus parejas o exparejas registrados en los últimos dieciséis años, solo existía denuncia previa en 209. Solo una de cada cinco mujeres denunciaron. ¿Hay desconfianza en el sistema?”/3.

En la novela de Lattanzi, los personajes nos hablan en primera persona (la protagonista; los miembros mas próximos y los mas distantes de su familia; sus amigos y amantes; los policías; los abogados; el juez; los medios; etc.) y nos hacen partícipes de sus sentimientos y pensamientos, sus relaciones, sus miedos, así como los acontecimientos y situaciones a las que se enfrentan.

Las conversaciones entre los personajes hacen que el lector participe como testigo directo de los conflictos y problemas que los aquejan. El narrador interviene para dar el contexto social y cultural en el que se desarrolla la historia, principalmente Roma y Massafra en la region de Apulia al suroeste de Italia. Asimismo, se dan fechas y temporadas (la novela se desarrolla de manera cronológica, en algunos casos haciendo referencia a una fecha determinada o a la estación del año), 

 En su prestigiada pagina de critica literaria y reseña de libros de El País, Una Historia Negra es considera como una de las mejores novelas negras publicadas en España en 2018. La columna contiene la opinión de escritores, libreros, editores y periodistas quienes eligen su libro predilecto del año. La periodista y escritora Laura Fernández considera con razón que Una Historia Negra no es otra historia de violencia de género. Es mucho más. Es casi una experiencia, vivísima, de acoso, liberación, prejuicio y derribo.”/4

Antes de escribir su primera novela, Devozione en 2010, aun no traducida al español, Lattanzi, pasó cinco años entre drogadictos, haciéndose pasar por uno de ellos. La experiencia le dio material, no solo para esa novela, sino para el guion cinematográfico del film Fiore, dirigido en 2016 por Claudio Genovese.

Una Historia Negra, por su titulo es considerada “novela negra” sin embargo desde mi punto de vista puede ser también un “thriller” por el acelerado ritmo de una historia llena de situaciones inesperadas y en muchos casos indefinidas, mismas que el lector ira descubriendo no sin ansiedad y con anticipación imaginando los desenlaces.

Una extraordinaria novela sobre la violencia machista cuyas aterradoras secuelas también producen amores enfermos y generalmente obsesivos. 


Antonella Lattanzi. Nacida en Bari, Italia (1979)


  • Devozione, Torino, Einaudi, 2010
  • Prima che tu mi tradisca, Torino, Einaudi, 2013 
  • Una storia nera, Torino, Einaudi, 2017

Guiones Cjnematograficos

Traducciones al italiano


1. Antonella Lattanzi. Una Historia Negra. Penguin Random House, 2018.

2. En México, según datos de La Encuesta Nacional sobre Dinámica de las
Relaciones en los Hogares
del INEGI, realizada en 2016, el 66.1% de las mujeres mayores de 18 años han sufrido algún tipo de agresión física, psicológica o sexual solo el 9.45% realizó una denuncia al respecto. 

3. Ángeles Carmona: “Si hay que decir treinta mil veces que la violencia machista tiene unas raíces diferentes a la intrafamiliar, lo diremos” El Diario, 19 Junio, 2019, España.

4. Las mejores novelas negras de 2018. El País, Madrid, 31 de Diciembre 2018.