Guns in the USA (follow-up)

Why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West? You have a gun and I have a gun, and we'll settle it in the streets if that's they're thinking. We think we're such an improved society... The rest of the world is laughing at us.

— Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

The Mayor of Chicago responded here to a recent statement by the of the United States of America that the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 is unconstitutional, and handguns may not be banned by the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court enacted that the District's ban on handgun possession in the home violates the of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.

The Second Amendment states: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. As you can imagine, it's a very old stuff: it was enacted in 1791, shortly after the war of independence against the British. More than two centuries have passed, but it has not been modified.

A few months ago, about several articles published in the , where they showed that guns are a main Public Health issue in the United States, with tens thousands casualties a year. Unfortunately, it seems things will not change before a long time in that country.

In fact, Mayor Daley, most of the people in the civilized world are not laughing at the U.S.A. They are astounded rather, and sometimes scared.

Photography is Art

Towards the light - Midnight by E. Steichen
Towards the light - Midnight by E. Steichen (1908)
(The statue of Balzac by Rodin in the moonlight)

In a book published in 1911, entitled The Birth of the Sixth Art, Ricciotto Canudo (1879-1923), usually referred to as 'the first theoretician of cinema', suggested that cinema was the sixth art in a list that put together the spatial arts — architecture, sculpture and painting — and the temporal arts — music and dance.

He realized afterwards he had forgotten poetry and added it to his list, moving cinema from the sixth to seventh position.

Later, television and strip cartoons were also added. Then, Canudo's list is traditionally made up of nine items: architecture (1), painting (2), sculpture (3) , dance (4), music (5), poetry (6), cinema (7), television (8), and comic strips (9). Have you noticed? Photography is not included in the list.

Untitled #66 by Cindy Sherman
Untitled #66 by Cindy Sherman (1980)

Situated as it is between artistic pretensions and technological constraints, photography is on the horns of a dilemma.

On one hand, it has the great advantage of allowing everyone to practice some kind of a plastic art. That's a great advantage indeed for people who pretend to have some artistic sensibility, but don't have any drawing talent: thanks to technology and automatisms, they can try and produce beauty now.

Baudelaire by Carjat
French poet Charles Baudelaire
portrayed by Étienne Carjat (1863)

On the other hand though, because of its duality, some may still sound doubtful as to the artistic nature of photography. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, for example, called it An average art. Charles Baudelaire, in 1859, criticized it already for being the refuge for every flawed painter, not gifted enough or too lazy.

This appreciation may appear surprising, because he was friend with Nadar, one of the first photographers who used the medium with an artistic intention (he worked in particular a lot on composition and light). Yet Baudelaire did not criticize photography itself. Only, he believed that every art should strive for beauty, not mere reproduction of reality.

Photography can undoubtedly be art sometimes. Undoubtedly too, it is very often not artistic at all. I believe then that the question Is this art? is not that much a question about the medium itself, but about how it is used, by whom, and with which intentions.

What shall you say tonight?

Salomé dansant by Gustave Moreau
Gustave Moreau, Salomé dansant (detail)

Que diras-tu ce soir...

Que diras-tu ce soir, pauvre âme solitaire,
Que diras-tu, mon coeur, coeur autrefois flétri,
À la très belle, à la très bonne, à la très chère,
Dont le regard divin t'a soudain refleuri ?

— Nous mettrons notre orgueil à chanter ses louanges :
Rien ne vaut la douceur de son autorité
Sa chair spirituelle a le parfum des Anges
Et son oeil nous revêt d'un habit de clarté.

Que ce soit dans la nuit et dans la solitude
Que ce soit dans la rue et dans la multitude
Son fantôme dans l'air danse comme un flambeau.

Parfois il parle et dit: « Je suis belle, et j'ordonne
Que pour l'amour de moi vous n'aimiez que le Beau ;
Je suis l'Ange gardien, la Muse et la Madone. »

Charles Baudelaire

What Shall You Say Tonight?

What shall you say tonight, poor soul so full of care,
What shall you say, my heart, heart hitherto so sad,
To the most kind, to the most dear, to the most fair,
Whose pure serene regard has made you proud and glad?

— We shall set all our pride to sing her holy praise!
What sweetness to be hers! To live beneath her sight!
Half spirit is her flesh, angelic all her ways;
Her glance alone invests us in a robe of light!

Whether in solitude and deep obscurity,
Whether by day among the moving crowd it be,
Her phantom like a torch in air will dance and run;

It speaks: "Beauty is mine; Authority is mine;
Love only, for my sake, the noble and the fine:
I am thine Angel, Muse, Madonna, all in one."

Charles Baudelaire
Transl. Edna St. Vincent Millay
Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)
- : - : - : - : - : -
English speakers who don't know French might not notice at first how great a translation is this English version of the poem by Charles Baudelaire. It is not a word-to-word translation, but genuine English poetry, much better in my opinion than other translations of this poem displayed on

Edna St.Vincent Millay has succeeded here in adapting the atmosphere of Baudelaire's poetry. In particular, she has been able to transpose the musical quality of a French sonnet — a kind of poetry she liked much and reinvigorated in her own work — written here with the abab cdcd eef ggf rhyming scheme, and she has kept the Romanic 12 feet alexandrines.
Translating poetry is always a challenge. I believe Edna St.Vincent Millay here made it possible for English readers to experience the rythm and musicality of Baudelaire's poetry, something that happens rarely when you don't know French.

The 'Fête de la Musique'

Fête de la Musique 2008 June 21, the day of the Summer solstice in the Northern hemisphere, falls on a Saturday this year. I expect there will be a lot of people in the streets this night then, to celebrate the Fête de la Musique, the World Music Day.

Fête de la musique means Festival of Music in French. Launched in 1982 in France, it is now held in more than one hundred countries all over the world. New cities join the festivities every year, the main newcomers in 2008 being Melbourne (Australia), Sacramento (USA), Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan), Cebu (Philippines), Port-Moresby (Papua New Guinea), Hannover (Germany), Ostrava (Czech Republic), Málaga (Spain) and Québec (Canada). Several traditional festivals happening on solstice day, such as the and Saint John's Eve festival, now take part in the popular festival.

Fête de la Musique The purpose of the festival is to make all genres of music accessible to the public, with a multitude of free concerts everywhere, including places that are not usually used for concerts.

Officials say that more than 10,000 free concerts will be held in France today. Also, amateur musicians are encouraged to perform in the streets. The slogan Faites de la musique ! (Make music!) — which is pronounced the same as Fête de la Musique — is used to promote this goal in French speaking countries.

Fête de la Musique I'll probably spend most of next night strolling around in the Latin Quarter, listening to a musician, singer, or band after another one. Leaning on a wall at the corner of a street sometimes, sometimes seating on a bench in a public garden or at the terrace of a café, no doubt I'll hear the best and the worst: the festival is open to everybody, without discrimination to résumé, background, style and experience. Musicians only need to find a place where to put their gear, which in Paris means they'd better arrive early if they intend to play in a place where a lot of people walk through.

Voi Che Sapete by W. A. Mozart

A good classical guitarist may come on right after a dreadful heavy metal band... or the contrary. You can leave the rap singer on the boulevard and get closer to the piano and mezzo-soprano performing Voi Che Sapete in a courtyard, if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. The unstructured nature of the festival is the basis of its success.


Destino — White telephone and ruins
Destino — White telephone and ruins
(1946, Oil on plywood, 60.6× 47.9 cm)

Although it is hard to imagine two more widely separated artists, Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney admired one another.

Dalí made no secret of his interest in Disney: as soon as in 1937 he wrote to his friend, the French Surrealist André Breton: I have come to Hollywood and am in touch with the three great American surrealists — the Marx Brothers, Cecil B. DeMille and Walt Disney.

On his side, Disney loved to have contemporary artists involved in his films, although relationship with them was sometimes stormy.

More than sixty years ago then, the idea was born of a short film collaboration between Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney. Disney probably made the suggestion to Dalí when the latter was in Hollywood in 1945, working on Alfred Hitchcock's film Spellbound. Dalí worked on the storyboard in the Disney Studios from February to April 1946. The film was originally planned to combine real footage and animation and tell the story of the ill-starred love of a ballerina and a baseball player. It was called Destino, after a ballad by the Mexican Armando Domínguez which was to accompany it. However, Disney Studios could not complete the film for financial reasons... at least during the lifetime of the two men.

More than a hundred paintings and drawings had survived though. This material enabled the Disney Studios, in 2003, to make a six minute film directed by Walt's nephew Roy Disney and the French artist Dominique Monfery. I watched it several months ago — several times in a row — in the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, at an exhibition entitled Il était une fois Walt Disney (Once upon the time, Walt Disney), that surprisingly connected Disney's original drawings to occidental artworks that inspired them, from Gothic Middle-Age to Surrealism. The whole film is not online, but here is an excerpt found on YouTube:

Destino (2003)

The six-minute short movie is a digest of Dali's imagery, without much of a spot to speak of, but deserts, telephones and ruins, melting clocks and ants, all morphing from one to the other. It is like a last message from Dalí, long after he passed through the looking glass himself.

Corsica — Jean Nicoli

I arrived today at Ajaccio, in Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean sea, where I'll spend three days. The island and city are essentially known as the hometown of Napoleon Bonaparte. In Ajaccio, Napoleon is everywhere indeed, from the big bust that is the first thing you see when you arrive in the main hall of the airport, to street names and many cafés' signs.

Yet Napoleon is not the Corsican 'hero' I wish to talk about now. On my way from the airport to the Convention Centre, the taxi passed though Le Cours Jean Nicoli ('Jean Nicoli walk'). It recalled me that I read a book about this great name a couple of years ago, and several quotes by him have marked me.

In 1942, Corsica département was annexed by the Italians, still Germans allies in the first years of WWII. Jean Nicoli was a French Resistance fighter. He was caught captive in 1943, tried for terrorism, and sentenced to death. The night before he was executed, Jean Nicoli wrote a letter to her wife, daughter, and the people of the world. Here come an extract of this letter (English translation of mine, any correction welcome):

I can give men an advice: don't be afraid of death. It scares you because you don't know it, yet believe me: it is not evil at all. It is nothing terrible, and as soon as you are getting closer to the large black gate, it seems welcoming and cheerful.

Do not lament that much over your leaving ones: you are much more to be pitied than us. We have arrived, and we see you, at the foot of your death, struggling to catch up with us. Poor you... You are climbing, and you are afraid to arrive at the top and rest.

Don't be scared of the top. I have reached the last meters. I feel that I will rest soon on the springy smoothness of the top. You think: "how awful it must be, when you know you're going to be shot in four hours!" Well, no, you see, it is not...

Beautiful Losers

Famous Blue Raincoat [Leonard Cohen]
Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers was written outside, on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies, behind my house on Hydra, an island in the Aegean Sea. I lived there many years ago. It was a blazing hot summer. I never covered my head. What you have in your hands is more of a sunstroke than a book.
Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen writes Beautiful Losers on Hydra island in the mid-1960s.

Beautiful Losers, the second novel by Leonard Cohen after The Favourite Game — and the last, up to now was considered a scandalous book when it was published in 1966. A critic even described it as the most revolting book ever written in Canada, because it contained obscenities in several paragraphs.

Beautiful Losers The book's main character, a man who is never named, is a scholar doing research on the first Native American once canonized as a Christian Saint, Kateri TekakwithaThe Lily of the Mohawks. It broods over his research the memory of his dead Native wife, Edith, and their dead male lover and all-knowing mentor, he calls by his initial only, F. History, sex, politics, religion, and poetry, merge into an intricate dance of power relationships in which nothing can be taken for granted, except the beauty of loss.

More than 40 years later, the novel is now a classic. It is certainly excessive in more than one place, yet it is a novel of another level than the simple provocation by a young author of the . Although Cohen was not a Beatnik himself, the novel placed him from the start with the best authors of the time, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso.

Songs of Love and HateAfter Beautiful Losers, Leonard Cohen stopped writing novels though, and pursued his famous career as a poet, songwriter and singer.

His third album, Songs of Love and Hate, in 1971, included in particular the awesome, yet frightening, Avalanche and Joan of Arc and, ranking high in my favourite songs, Famous Blue Raincoat. The love triangle Leonard Cohen is calling up in this song cannot but be reminiscent of Beautiful Losers.


Der Kuss (The Kiss) — Gustav Klimt, 1907-1908
Oil and Gold Leaf on canvas, 180 cm x 180 cm
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria


Önce bir ellerin vardı yalnızlığımla benim aramda
Sonra birden kapılar açılıverdi ardına kadar
Sonra yüzün onun ardından gözlerin dudakların
Sonra her şey çıkıp geldi.

Bir korkusuzluk aldı yürüdü çevremizde
Sen çıkardın utancını duvara astın
Ben masanın üstüne kodum kuralları
Her şey işte böyle oldu önce.
Cemal Süreya

Tout au début

Tout au début, il y a eu tes mains entre ma solitude et moi
Puis les portes soudain se sont ouvertes en grand
Puis ton visage, puis tes yeux et puis tes lèvres
Et puis tout s'est accéléré

Nous n'avons plus eu peur de rien
Tu as retiré ta gêne pour l'accrocher au mur
J'ai abandonné tous mes principes sur la table
Ça s'est passé comme ça, tout au début
Cemal Süreya

At the beginning

At the beginning there were your hands between me and my loneliness
Then the doors were opened suddenly all through
Then your face, your eyes and your lips
Then everything came up

A fearlessness surrounded us
You took off your embarrassment and hang it on the wall
I left the rules on the table
Everything happened this way at first
Cemal Süreya

The Unknown Rebel

The unknown rebel
Beijing — June 1989.

During several weeks in the spring of 1989, hundreds of thousands of students gathered together in continuous peaceful protests in several cities throughout China, against the policies of their government.

On June 4th, 1989, the Chinese State ordered an end to the demonstrations that had been taking place on Tiananmen square in Beijing. Infantry and tanks were deployed against the unarmed people. Several hundreds were killed, thousands perhaps. 19 years later, and a few weeks before the Olympic Games are held in Beijing, about 130 persons are still imprisoned in China because they dared protest in 1989.

On the day after Tiananmen slaughter, a single man shocked the world, when he stood alone before a line of tanks and made them stop and turn off their motors.
The Unknown Rebel

Nobody knows who this man was. Nobody knows if he could make it at the end. Maybe he is one of the 130 people still imprisoned since 1989. Yet this anonymous, ordinary person, with shopping bags in both hands, has become an example of human courage and struggle for freedom. He is an icon of the 20th century.

(Repost of a blog published on the same day last year
on Yahoo 360°, with a few changes)

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