UnA colección extraordinaria de ensayos sobre el oficio de escritor y la literatura. Problemas Literarios by José Luis Martínez

The power of demagogues.“What you must do .. is have the rabble on your side. With the rabble on your side, no one can get at you.” From: Michel Houellebecq. “The Possibility of an Island. 2006”

“They are on my side,” I protested; “they come to my shows.”

“That’s not enough; you’ve got to go further. What they respect is money. You’ve got money, but you don’t show it off enough. You’ve got to blow it a bit more.”

Excerpt From: Michel Houellebecq & Gavin Bowd. “The Possibility of an Island.” Knopf, 2006. iBooks.
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Against the crowd of analysts and negative bias reporting in the financial press anticipating the demise​ of Apple, savvy investor WB made a big profit

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway boosts AAPL stake to almost $1.5B, likely made $194M profit to date

Opinion: Will the launch of Apple Music mark the beginning of the end for Spotify?

Walker Percy’s “Lancelot”: a Philosophical Novel

Screenshot 2014-07-04 11.01.59Lancelot is probably the most controversial of the six novels written by Walker Percy, who is considered one of the greatest provocative “existentialist” voices in American literature. His first novel The Moviegoer won the 1962 National Book Award.

 Percy followed the philosophical path of Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger and other relevant writers and philosophers. He was born in Alabama in 1916 and belongs to the extraordinary group of American Southern writers which includes William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, William Styron, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Tom Wolf, etc. Most of their works are marked by the “Southern Culture” which, for historical reasons, is different from the North and the West. New Orleans is one of the favorite places where some of the novels take place, as it is a multilingual city located in Louisiana, a State with a distinct culture breeding from a diverse ethnic population influenced by its background as a former French colony sold by Napoleon to the United States in 1812.

 Walker Percy’s life was full of tragedies. When Percy was 13 years old, his father committed suicide. Three years later, his mother was killed driving her car, which plunged into a river – many think it was intentional. He and his two brothers were then adopted by their uncle, a wealthy owner of a large plantation, a poet and a writer who was a friend of many important Southern writers including William Faulkner. His uncle, a lawyer graduated from Harvard, offered great help to the local poor and black people to get mortgage loans, which is noted by Peter Augustine Lawler in his anthology book titled A Political Companion to Walker Percy, the Percy family “..were vigorous opponents of bigotry and narrow-mindedness, especially when it was directed against Catholics, Jews, and Negroes”. His uncle was also openly against the Ku Klux Klan, which was at that time very powerful in the South.

With the support of his uncle, young Percy attended the most prestigious schools. After graduating from Columbia Medical School, he worked as an intern at Bellevue Hospital in New York, where he contracted a rare kind of tuberculosis. He was then forced to be in isolation for three years at the Trudeau Sanatorium near Saranac Lake in up-state New York. Under the influence of his uncle’s literary background, during this timePercy became a voracious reader of St. Thomas, St. Agustin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus and, for obvious reasons, Thomas Mann, whose Magic Mountain portrays people in a secluded situation similar to his. Due to this unexpected experience, Percy decided to abandon medicine and dedicated his life to writing, thus turning into a “confessed philosophical novelist preoccupied with the nature of the world and man’s purpose..”, according to Susan Lardner (Miscreants, The New Yorker, 02 May ,1997)

 Percy’s novels take place in New Orleans, where he lived most of his life, His main characters, like himself, are highly individualistic with a solitary nature and are inclined to explore their own existences, covering subjects such as social background, idiosyncratic traditions and religion, mainly Catholicism as Percy became a Roman Catholic since marrying his wife.

 Taking into account the number of suicides in Percy’s family, the issue of “suicide” cannot but be present, implicitly or explicitly, in some of his novels. For example, in The Moviegoer one of the characters contemplates suicide and in The Last Gentleman a suicide actually takes place.

 Percy’s experiences with the recurring hurricanes in New Orleans, some with deadly effects, also become a motif of his novels. Furthermore, Percy tends to include the notion of “accident” or “incident” that dramatically changes the lives of the main characters in his stories and therefore brings them into such a depressed state that they blame the situation on what they view as the corrupted “Zeitgeist” i.e. the spirit of their time.

Percy incorporates all these elements as the key parts in the plot of his fourth novel Lancelot, published in 1977. The protagonist Lancelot seems to be locked somewhere like a jail or a mental hospital. The novel is basically an elaborate and complex monologue that Lancelot has with Percival, who can be a friend, a psychotherapist or a priest that visits him and listens to his story and troubled past. “…whether prison or not, is not a bad place to spend a year he tells his attentive listener. By using the names of two of the most famous Knights of the Round Table involved in the quest for the Holy Grail, Percy seems to have drawn some parallels between the two stories. Lancelot, like the Knight, is associated with tragedy and adultery, ending up disillusioned in solitary confinement, seeking redemption after a series of calamities, whereas Percival is the Knight that represents the values of Christianity. Another relevant reference is that in the novel Percy briefly mentions Queen Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife who commits adultery with Lancelot.

 In the beginning of the novel Lancelot tells Percival that he decided to kill his wife after he “discovered purely by chance that my wife had been, and probably was still, unfaithful to me”. The “accidental revelationconveys profound outrage and disappointment with life, a feeling that makes it impossible for him to have any form of trust in others, including romantic relationships. He blames the prevailing decadent culture of his time, sermonizing like a madman, “I can’t tolerate this age.. Make love not war? I’ll take war rather than what this age calls love. Which is a better world, this cocksucking cuntlapping assholelicking fornicating Happyland USA.Lancelot also associates his anger and resentment with religion when he says “God’s secret design for man is that man’s happiness lies for men in men practicing violence upon women and that woman’s happiness lies in submitting to it.

 In addition to the moral and religious remarks to justify the brutal act of killing his wife, Lancelot also mentions the political context of his indignation, telling Percival that his country “is down the drain. Everyone knows it. The people have lost it to the politicians, bureaucrats, drunk Congressmen, lying Presidents, White House preachers, C.I.A., F.B.I., Mafia, Pentagon, pornographers, muggers, buggers, bribers, bribe takers, rich crooked cowboys, sclerotic Southerners, rich crooked Yankees, dirty books, dirty movies, dirty plays, dirty talk shows, dirty soap operas, fags, lesbians, abortionists, Jesus shouters, anti-Jesus shouters, dying cities, dying schools, courses in how to fuck for schoolchildren.Clearly Percy does not share Lancelot’s extreme opinions which, however, some people do embrace in the US till today.

Although Percy portraits Lancelot as a sophisticated thinker at times, in the end he looks like a deranged man so full of contradictions that he murders his wife without remorse. To make his character more complex, Percy adds the notion of “redemption” like the Knight of the Round Table. Lancelot tells Percival that once he is released from jail or the madhouse, he wants to marry the woman from the next door cell, who was gangraped and is recovering from the traumatic experience. Women must be saved from the whoredom they’ve chosen.”, he explains.Lancelot wants to lead a revolution with his future wife to save the world from decadence, “we had both suffered the worst that could happen to us and come through, not merely survived but prevailed…we were qualified as the new Adam and Eve of the new world. If we couldn’t invent a new world and a new dignity between man and woman, surely nobody could.he adds.

 When the novel was released, it received some negative reviews, especially one from Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a novelist, political activist and editor of The New York Times Book Review. With the title “Camelot Lost”, the reviewer considers that Lancelot’s ideas are “downright upsetting. His treatment of an educated Negro as his family slave, his ridicule of the pretensions of modern art, his snobbery toward the socially inferior longing for acceptance and, most of all, his abhorrence of the liberated woman and his insistence that after his revolution “the New Woman will have perfect freedom. She will be free to be a lady or a whore”, ideasthat Walker Percy clearly didn’t share. It seems that Mr. Lehmann-Haupt treats the book as a non-fiction, forgetting that the characters are fictional and also deranged. As a Southerner, Lancelot experiences with race might be different from a Northern liberal, but he is definitely not a racist as Mr. Lehmann-Haupt seems to have implied. The reviewer takes out the context of Lancelot’s rants about blacks and women, showing bad faith by failing to mention that Percy was a socially concerned person and publicly criticizes any form of bigotry.

Written as a monologue in the “first person” p.o.v. enriched withphilosophical content, Lancelot is probably Percy’s most difficult book to read. The main character and the only voice in the novel seems to be mentally ill. At times itinconsistently recounts the storyof his life in the context of a well-cultivated man who frequently quotes movies, classic existentialist writers and philosophers whomWalker Percy knew so well after years of studying their works. Percy is not only highly recognized as an extraordinary fiction writer but also asan existentialist philosopher who wrote several essays on Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel etc. Just a few months before Lancelot was released, Percy published “The Man on the Train” —- an essay in which he explores some of the issues that Lancelot faces, particularly “alienation”, a lonely existence lost in the crowd and psychological isolation in modern life, which he calls “everydayness”. Lancelot deals with all these existentialist concepts; therefore,it can also be treated as a philosophical fiction.


= Excerpts From: Walker Percy, Lancelot, iBooks.  Originally published by Farrar, Straus, 1977.

= Patrick H. Samway, Walker Percy: A Life, University Press of Kentucky 410.

 = Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. Camelot Lost, Books of the Times,The New York Times, February 17, 1977

 = Walker Percy. “The Man on the Train: Three Existential Modes.” Partisan Review, no. 23 (Fall 1956). Hobson, p. 64. Later published in 1975 with other essays in Walker Percy “The Message in a Bottle” ,New York, Picador, 19

Letters as an Art Form and a Source of History. Part II. Rilke, Kafka, Van Gogh, Freud, Churchill, Lennon

Screenshot 2014-03-18 11.19.41Part II

…. I will provide some of the historic contexts and literary backgrounds, starting with the correspondences between Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse, two renowned literature Nobel Prize winners, including texts that showed their fears during the rise of Nazism in Germany and Hitler’s arrival to power. They wrote about the impact of this dark regime in their literary works as well as their feelings on witnessing the tragedy their own country was going through during those years. Even in the early days of Hitler both authors sensed that something very wrong was happening to their country. As  Thomas Mann mentioned in his letter dated July 1933 to Hesse, “Day by day news from Germany, the deceit, the violence, the ridiculous show of ‘historical grandeur’, the sheer cruelty, fill me with horror, contempt and revulsion”. In 1934 Mann wrote, “I am so plagued by the happenings in Germany, they are such a torment to my moral and critical conscience, that I seem to be unable to carry on with my current literary work.” Hesse, on the other hand, expressed his fear for the safety of his family and close friends, “At the moment any wrath aroused by my name is likely to bring physical mistreatment and other troubles on my friends”, he wrote in February 1937. By contrast, in most of their letters, there are direct references to the books which they were reading and what they were writing at that time. With great eloquence, Pete Hamill wrote an introduction to the latest English re-print edition by Jorge Pinto Books, describing his experience reading the letters, “…I feel like some privileged guest in a special room, sitting off to the side somewhere, listening while these men talk.

To complement the views of these two exceptional writers regarding the horrors which followed Hitler’s destructive path from the early 1930s, there are also some relevant passages in the letter that Winston Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine before the UK’s involvement in World War II, giving his account of the events that had led to the war. These personal letters provide a spontaneous personal description of the challenges that his country and Europe were facing at the time.

In a less somber theme, I find Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters to Lou Andreas-Salome refreshing, under the title “Rilke and Andreas-Salome: a love story in letters” and his own “Letters to a Young Poet”, which include references to poetry and love. The content of these letters show his frankness and desire for intellectual conversations and are full of wisdom, showing at the same time the unique passionate sensibility of this great artist and his immense capacity to express and discuss love.

The same characteristic can also be found in the letters of Franz Kafka to his two lovers, Milena and Felice, to whom he almost wrote daily. From the two collections, we realize that Kafka is not only a great novelist but also a fertile and passionate correspondent.

The collections of avant-garde artist Van Gogh’s letters to Theo, his brother, are full of references to what art and painting meant to him as well as to other famous artists such as Monet and Gauguin.

The extensive correspondence of Sigmund Freud to his fiancé, colleagues, patients, friends and family members show how the Father of Psychoanalysis used letters to share his knowledge and insight of the human condition way beyond his professional realm.

Sending letters in the past required time and patience. Correspondence has its own protocol: once a letter is completed, it is usually sent folded in an envelope and, in some cases, sealed with wax to avoid tampering. Some rich individuals and government officials have their own trusted messengers; others might ask friends or relatives to deliver their letters just to feel more secure. Postal services have existed since ancient times in a relay fashion similar to ours, with one messenger passing letters on to another at a certain post or tavern along defined routes linking different cities and even countries. With the introduction of a more affordable national postal service together with a growing educated and well-traveled middle class in the mid-18th century, letter writing began to flourish with messages exchanged almost globally. That form of communication requires people to wait patiently for weeks before the postmen bring replies to their messages. To illustrate what expecting a letter meant I would like to quote from the final paragraph of one of Mrs. Churchill’s letters to her husband Winston in 1915: “The post will be here in a few minutes & eagerly await a letter from you”.  Sigmund Freud seemed to be frustrated with the slow postal system and complained to Carl Jung in 1911, “I am writing you again this year, because I can’t always wait for you to answer and prefer to write when I have time and am in the mood… “.

An interesting phenomenon of letter communication is the fact that active writers, in general, are highly disciplined and tend to keep organized collections of their letters to make it easy for people to publish them after they die. In some cases, a close family member becomes the editor, as is the case with “The Personal Letters of the Churchills”, of whose selection and editing their daughter Mary Soames was in charge. Likewise, it was Freud’s son Ernest L. who compiled and edited a selection of his father’s letters addressed to Einstein, Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Maria Montessori, Carl Jung, Romain Rolland and many others, under the title The Letters of Sigmund Freud. Most of the editions of the collections of letters in the form of a book are made by scholars who are given access to the archives of the original copies.

Letters of famous people can be valuable tangible assets and kept in museums for safe storage and exhibition. For example, in the renowned Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the letters of Albert Barnes, its founder and collector, to various artists, intellectuals, gallery owners, etc. are displayed with detailed context and background to show how and why some of the art works of the Museum were acquired.

The material value of letters can be confirmed by the regular auctions where many important letters can fetch a big sum of money depending on who the writers are. To give an idea: the price of a hand-written letter from John Lennon to Eric Clapton reached a pre-sale estimate of US$20,000 to $30,000 in an auction by Profiles in History, a leading dealer in original historical autographs, letters and manuscripts. Two days ago the Financial Times published an article about a new sale of another manuscript by Lennon this time at at Sotheby’s for the same estimated price.

Reading these collections gives a glimpse of the richness of the form of the written communication that is being lost little by little with the arrival of modern technology, including personal computers, internet and portable electronic devices such as iPhones and iPads together with many social platforms which have changed the way we read, interact and communicate with others.

The new media to communicate show a striking contrast through a simpler and instantaneous process: messages can be sent soon after finished with a click of a button. Particularly with improved eMail applications in smartphones, correspondences tend to be fast, made even on the road. Computers, smartphones and tablets have replaced ink, paper and typewriters, whereas internet and wireless communications have greatly diminished the role of the much slower traditional postal services.

Today, almost everybody is connected, receiving and sending dozens of emails a day and probably posting notes and photos on Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms or messaging services. The new communication styles are tremendously different from those of traditional letter-writing, reserved for private moments.

We can easily imagine that in the near future we will see books with selections of private relevant e-mails by famous people. Some of their e-mails could become valuable items for various reasons. Private disk drives and other storage devices could be worth a fortune. Just imagine the value of a selection of Steve Jobs personal e-mail archive!

The abandoning of physical letter-writing as a communication method replaced by electronic mailing is so unprecedented that Malcolm Jones, the well-known author of book reviews, considers that the “decline in letter writing constitutes a cultural shift so vast that in the future, historians may divide time not between B.C. and A.D. but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not

Bibliography Part I & II:

1. Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann. Introduction by Pete Hamill. The Hesse-Mann letters,1910-1955. Jorge Pinto Books, 2006.

2. Rainer Maria Rilke, Lou Andreas-Salome, Edward Snow (Translator) “Rilke and Andreas-Salome; a love story in letters” W.W. Norton, 1988

3. Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet. Dover Publications, 2012.

4. Franz Kafka, Letters to Felice, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1988.

5. Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1990.

6. Vincent van Gogh, The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, and Nienke Bakker, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009.

7. Mary Soames, Winston Churchill, Clementine Churchill. The Personal Letters of the Churchills.Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999.

8. Sigmund Freud. Letters of Sigmund Freud. Edited by Ernest L. Freud. Dover, 1992

9. Peter Aspden John Lennon as writer and artist. Financial Times, March 15, 2014

10. Malcolm Jones. The Good Word. Newsweek, January 17, 2009. Link:

Linking “Against the Current” paper li and “Learning & Sharing”

I am producing “Against the Current” li Paper for the last 6 months, selecting daily five stories  that I consider relevant about Books, Culture and Technology that are published by different media outlets.

The process is easy since I read many stories every day on those topics. The platform is great and easy to use. One issues which make it limited is the fact that it did not allow to add any personal comments, just posting the selected article.

Paper li’s platform does all the formatting , including selecting an image from each article and the first few lines of each  story.

Paper li allow me to look at the the post before is made public. Is a good option to be able to move selected articles of the day  and deciding which will be the leading note. Once I a satisfied the way it looks the Paper li program sends an eMail to each subscriber and also posted the Daily in my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Now I will see how it work having as one of the notes, reviews made in this site, “Learning and Sharing” that includes personal notes and comments, linking the two sites.