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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

I had put Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood on my e-reader quite some time ago because I had been quite obsessed with Robin Hood during my childhood. Not only had I read a German copy of his adventures, but I had of course also seen the classic Errol Flynn film, the Disney version, and even the early-90s Kevin Costner one. In a rather disappointing twist I discovered quickly that the English-language version on my e-reader was actually simply the original of the German-language copy I had read as a child. I knew all of the stories by heart then. Still, it was interesting to see how Pyle - an American author on a truly British topic - played with language to give his text an older feel (he only wrote it in the late 19th century) and also how his version differed from what is popularly seen as inherently part of the Robin Hood legend today (namely that he has a pertinent love interest, Maid Marian is mentioned only fleetingly).

Most interesting though was the Wikipedia article consumption I indulged for this blog post. It seems as if Robin Hood is in fact based on a number of ballads dating from the 14th century onwards (and which may or may not in turn be based on an actual historical figure). Yet, this Robin Hood (just like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm for example) was adapted over time to suit the predominating mood or expectations. Thus, only in the 19th century does he become truly a bandit who steals from the rich to give to the poor. Pyle tells the story of how he is forced to flee into Sherwood Forest after having killed a forester who cheated him out of his winnings in a bet and then threatened his life. Yet, in one of the old ballads Pyle based his book on, Robin simply kills all 14 foresters who have also not threatened his life but merely cheated him.

Fascinating stuff about what stories mean, how they are adapted, and what the accurate version of a tale everybody knows actually is. And, oh yeah, the book was an enjoyable, fast and easy holiday reading of course.

Les Racines du ciel

J'avais beaucoup aimé le livre de Romain Gary sur la ségrégation et les racismes aux Etats-Unis Chien blanc, je m'attendais à beaucoup de son bouquin Les Racines du ciel alors. Malheureusement ces espoirs ont été déçu. Gary ici décrit la lutte Kohlhaasien d'un écologiste prêt à tout pour préserver les éléphants que les Européens tuent en Afrique pour le plaisir. Il y mélange les expériences de ses protagonistes dans l'Europe de la deuxième guerre mondiale, des camps mais aussi des viols commis par des soldats soviétique à leur entrée en Berlin. un drôle de mélange qui ne convainc guère et qui en plus s’étend sur beaucoup trop de texte et surtout trop de répétition comme si l'auteur avait besoin de se rassurer soit-même sur les sentiments qu'il faisait avancé ses personnages.

Ces Français, fossoyeurs de l'euro

Arnaud Leparmentier est un des rédacteur en chef du Monde et un éditorialiste que je 'aime beaucoup. Son livre Ces Français, fossoyeurs de l'euro a gagné une prix pour la livre politique de l'année 2013 en France et le sujet m’intéressait. C'était un peu un évidence que je me le suis procuré alors. Il ne m'a pas vraiment convaincu par contre. Déjà, le texte donne plus l’impression d'être une collection des courtes essais sur l'histoire de l'euro que d'avoir une fil conducteur. Ce qui est de plus, j'ai du mal à croire à une version de l'histoire si concentré sur des individus (des hommes et femmes politiques) et leurs interactions. C'est intéressant de lire ces anecdotes mais je ne sais pas à quel point ils sont décisifs pour avoir vraiment déterminé la façon que l'histoire s'est développé. Une lecture intéressante alors, mais je m'attendais à un point de vue plus globale, un récit moins anecdotique et plus révélateur.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Mason & Dixon

Thomas Pynchon's book Mason & Dixon clearly is one for the ages. 700 pages, including extremely well-researched historical details and expounded-upon stories as well fantastical and absurd deviations on, i.e., flying mechanic ducks with (too many) feelings. The title of course refers to the surveyors that established the to-become-infamous Mason-Dixon line that divided the slave-holding South and the - less slave-holding - North of the United States. Pynchon describes Mason & Dixon's work together - and separately - before they came to America but especially once they are there. His is a bombastic book that I fail to find words for, that is impossible to get a grip on properly, which doesn't even suck one in, because it is too complicated for that, but which one is incapable of properly putting down either, and which, especially, stays with one; its stories, its absurdities.

Briefe an Olga

Als Absolvent des Vaclav Havel Jahrgangs des Europa Kollegs fühlte ich mich fast dazu gezwungen etwas von diesem Helden der Moderne - Schriftsteller, Widerständler, Präsident - zu lesen. Seine "Briefe an Olga" stammen aus den Jahren 1979-1983 während er im Gefängnis saß und als einzigen Kontakt zur Außenwelt an seinen Bruder und eben an seine Frau schrieb. Havels Briefe sind insofern fast notgedrungen eine merkwürdige Mischung zwischen Mondänem und tief philosophischen Extrakten über den Menschen oder auch das Theater. Ich muss ehrlich sagen, dass ich viele seiner Überlegungen interessant fand, es aber schwierig fand in diese Sammlung von Texten hinein zu kommen. Die Briefe sind zeitweise zu abgehoben philosophisch, zeitweise zu sehr auf kleine Nicklichkeiten und Krankheiten fokussiert. Sein viel gerühmter Essay, The Power of the Powerless, den ich immer noch nicht gelesen habe, ist vielleicht ein besserer Einsteig. Oder auch einfach eines seiner Theaterstück.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

I had read Raymond Carver's short story collection "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" a couple of years ago already (maybe a decade or so) and had kept a very positive memory of it. So when I saw it lying around the other day, I picked it up and essentially read within one evening and one morning. The speed with which I raced through this book already hints at what I thought of it, Carver has such an amazing way to describe human relations with such few words - and thus darkly... Let's hope for humanity that he is wrong about people's nature, even while his stories show all the strength of what is human-created culture.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Coping with Post-Democracy

One of the classics of European political science of the last decade or so. Colin Crouch came out with Coping with Post-Democracy before he turned it into a book of the - almost - same title a few later. I read the original essay not, mainly because the Commission library for some reason only had this version, not the book (honi soit qui mal y pense). It was a great - short - read. Crouch argues that democracy has decreased quality-wise from the 50-60s (an argument that one could beg to differ with, I agree, not like those years of stability, economic growth and subdued women was such an ideal world either...) and that we live today in a not anti- but at least post-democratic environment, where civil society often times only goes through the notions and voting (if that) is the sole active part most citizens play in democratic decision-making. 

He really makes a lucid and worrisome argument for this that I can only recommend you to read if these kind of questions interest you. And maybe I'll find a copy of the actual book also one of these days...