Saturday, December 31, 2011

.„... but we still carry its genes” — reflections on David's Bezmozgis „The Free World"

I had quite special and unique impressions when I was reading „The Free World. A Novel” by David Bezmozgis. Born 1973 in Riga, Latvia Bezmozgis came to Canada as a child. Well educated in both Canadian and American universities, Bezmozgis debuted in 2004 with his „Natasha and Other Stories”. He is now well known filmmaker and writer. As it was for his debut, his new novel (published this year, 2011) „The Free World” reflects the experiences of Jewish refugees from former Soviet Union. The action of „The Free World” is set mostly in 1978 Rome with some episodes in Vienna and frequent comebacks to then soviet Latvia. Three generations of Krasnansky family of Latvian Jews, who escaped from USSR come through the painful process of getting accustomed to the free world. They look at this new world with their eyes which not long ago looked at the world through communist lenses. And to me this transformation, this change is the essence of the book. They are in the free world, but, to various degree they still „carry communist genes”.
On the other plane the book is very nostalgic and sad. There is a notion and a feeling of specific „uprootedness” the characters experience in Italy. A lot of thoughts about the feeling of Jewish refugees to the state of Israel, so often painted by remnants of soviet propaganda residing in their heads... Their specific reactions (Jews on one side of their souls and former soviets on the other...)  to swift change of Popes (this was the year of Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II)

Reading (i.e. listening to incredible voice of Stefan Rudnicki) the book I had that specific feeling of listening to debutant, although that does not make it worse than any other books I recently read...

BTW, here is 8 minutes long recording of Bezmozgis reading from the novel...

Published in the last hour of 2011...

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26 - Status of my reading ...

After „11/22/63” (the review below) I read very interesting book by Clark Shirky „Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations” (review pending).

Now I'm dividing my spare time between Eco's „Prague Cemetery” (reading) and David Bezmozgis' „The Free World” (listening) ...

Cheers Everybody !

Steven’s King harmonic theory of time and universe – 11/22/63

Stephen King’s writing has always been above the level of popular literature — whatever he used to write about. His horror books were not interesting because of the frightening horror scenes and plots — they were interesting because of the author mastery of storytelling. I could imagine King writing anything, even stupidest tales, yet I’m sure, it would be worth reading.

Travels in time, alternate histories — such themes were no seldom in novels. So, in some sense, the main theme of 11/22/63 is not very original. Yet King converts the seemingly banal sci-fi theme into a vehicle that he uses to portrait America of nineteen sixties with incredible meticulousness and color (we could even say — with a smell). He also uses it to tell us about his philosophy of time, of past, present and future…

In a synopsis to the novel I could only tell (not to spoil the pleasure of reading it) about its main hero, high school teacher of English from Maine who, with the help of seriously ill local diner owner, finds in this diner a time slip that enables him to travel in time to nineteen sixties. He finds many reasons to go there and “to correct” the flow of events that would later lead to some tragic facts. However, the diner owner’s mission, which he could not accomplish, was to revert the history of America by saving J.F. Kennedy, killed on November 22nd, 1963… 

Let’s leave it for now whether the mission was successful or not. The paradox is that with King’s imagination comes deep thinking about history and its essence.


“The past is obdurate and it does not want to be changed”.

Would we have better world if Kennedy was not killed in Dallas?

Traditional views and our hero say — yes, but are such views justified? King takes us on a journey, where we start with strong conviction of the veracity of such conviction, but where we later end with deep doubts. Yet King's conjectures are not politically motivated, instead he sheds light on the nature of causality itself, on the incredibly connected world where „butterfly effect” of individual human freedom of choice is profound. Its effect is so strong that for many, the world existing in time appears like the pre-ordained rigid and obdurate structure, but when one dares to trust his own sense of freedom — he finds that he could indeed change the course of events. Would it be for good or for bad — that’s another question which usualy remains unanswered… (The novel seems to claim - for bad)

King's mastery allows the mere mortals to ponder on these deep philosophical conundrums without any kind of abstract and unrealistic “philosophizing”.
How often we, in our lives try to rewrite our past? It is hard to find a person who passed his life without thinking (or sometimes even doing) „it would have been better if I did so and so”… Many tried, usually to no avail. In almost all known cases, we come to that simple fact of the persistent obduracy of the past…

It is not a first time when the great literature of our age contemplates time. Kurt Vonnegut in his Slaughterhouse No. 5 makes his hero “unstuck in time”. For Vonnegut events in time are fixed and frozen:

A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.' So it goes. "If You know this," said Billy, 'isn't there some way you can prevent it?
Can't you keep the pilot from pressing the button?' 'He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.  

For King, the time is open ended and our will can create parallel universes. They harmonize and we perceive all them as one single and consistent universe:

The multiple choices and possibilities of daily life are the music we dance to. They are like strings on a guitar, Strum them and you create a pleasing sound. A harmonic. But then start adding strings. Ten strings, a hundred strings, a thousand, a million. Because they multiply! (…) Sing high C in a voice that’s laud enough and true enough and you can scatter fine crystal. Play the right harmonic notes through your stereo loud enough and you can shatter window glass. It follows (to me, at least) that if you put enough strings on time’s instrument, you can shatter reality.

Here we come to the essence of the novel. The travel in time and Kennedy case are used to teach us the fundamental lesson about the higher harmony that exists in time and in events of history.

It is so easy to shatter the delicate harmony of the world. We must walk and live carefully.

“Every breath we take is a wave”…

The novel ends beautifully. You can read these words, they will not impair your future reading:


„She speaks in a voice almost too low to be heard over the music, but I hear her — I always did. „Who are you George?” „Someone you knew in another life, honey.” Then the music takes us, the music rolls away the years, and we dance.


It was one of the best novels I ever read...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

George Whitman of „Shakespeare and Company” — Paris famous English bookstore — dies ...


It actually happened almost when I arrived this time to Paris... So it was also a sign to me - I am unquestionable lover and patron and frequenter of this little yet incredible Parisian bookstore...

I only pity that I can't stay here for George's funeral (Thursday, Père Lachaise) - yet I kindly invite all my French friends to pay tribute to this unusual person...

The bookstore will stay as it was, led by his daughter, but it is hard not to notice that certain era in Paris' cultural life ended....



mirek@paris

Thursday, December 15, 2011

„11.22.63” by Stephen King: Life Turns on a Dime

I finished reading (listening to) „11.22.63” on my way from Warwick to London....
It is remarkable book and probably the best of all King's books....

Promise to write more soon !

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Semantic Web is NOT for machines to understand !!!

Quite shocking title - isn't it?

First — a word of explanation: I used to write here reviews of books that I read. But I'm also a businessman and, still, a scientist... Recently mostly computer scientists doing my mostly private research in Computer Sciences.

And on my trip to nearby Warsaw, for our conference for investors and media, I woke up in a hotel and suddenly an idea came to my mind that shakes the common understanding or interpretation of what Semantic Web is about. This was quite troublesome at that morning, as my conference had the title „Semantic Web for business”.

Traditionally, people in the field speak about „Machine Understanding” (like in the Wikipedia Semantic Web definition: „The Semantic Web, as originally envisioned, is a system that enables machines to "understand" ....). When machines are about to "understand" we come close to all these AI tales and predictions about machine intelligence and machine consciousness ...

It suddenly came to me, that, we, who care about Semantic Web, make a great harm to this fantastic field just by purporting that it will enable machines to understand.

Even if we put aside the dispute what exactly is this "understanding", it is clear that with all great achievements, we are very very far from the intelligent machines, AI, machine understanding etc. I know I will anger AI proponents, but there is quite common conviction that we are very far from any "understanding" on part of machines.

Semantic Web does not enable MACHINES to understand — it enables US, HUMANS to cope with vast sea of information (and the ground of data) and, in turn, TO UNDERSTAND the meaning of the data on the Web (and soon — everywhere). It does so by providing tools and techniques and specific frames and paradigms that enable PEOPLE to extract and UNDERSTAND, the MEANING of the information on the Web.

I know that this is nothing more but an interpretation and only a bit different point of view. I know, that when Tim Berners Lee spoke about "understanding" he used it in somehow metaphorical way. But I also know that many people today started to use this "understanding" in more literal sense, and that makes a big confusion in human minds, causing harm to this fantastic area of Computer Science...

So I will start making difference. Semantic Web is not for machines to understand, is for us to comprehend the meaning of the vast sea of information that form today's Web.

Written in Warsaw, 7.49, December 8, 2011


Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Reading status...

While I was happy I found some time to write a review about „Quantum Story”, that does not mean I'm well-timed with my reviews. The stock pile is still high and new titles arrived. After Scott's „Ivanhoe” (which, I must admit, I enjoyed very much) I read „Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4chan's Army Conquered the Web” — fantastic account about the strangest place of the entire web: 4chan.org.
As for now I read two books; on Kindle it is Eco's „Prague Cemetery” (very good) and on audio the latest Steven King's „11.22.63” — incredible ....

So... — stay tuned for more reviews...

Too short — (but still timely) — A review of The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments” by Jim Baggott

Jim Baggott wrote one of the most fascinating books about history of science I ever read. It is written with a kind of wit and vigor that makes its reading no less fascinating than a good criminal story.

But quite seriously it brings readers closer to the understanding of the huge importance of quantum mechanics for our modern thinking, for our understanding of reality and for modern philosophy (although Jim does not indulge in „philosophizing” at all!). There are many important spindles around which the author threads his tale, like that about the responsibility of scientists for using their discoveries in politics and in wars (important part of the book is auto-citation from another Baggott's book „Atomic — The first war of physics”).

But the most important motif of the book is the quest to understand the peculiar nature of reality revealed by Quantum Theory in the beginning of XX century. The discoveries made by then became the central in the famous debates between Einstein and Bohr, and they continue to this day. Jim Biggott presents the latest experiments and their interpretations and shows how bizarre is this reality. It is the reality of our bodies and of our world and of everything we know. The reality QM portraits is of  the world which cannot be thought of as objectively existing as it was assumed to be when only classical mechanics and our common perception were known. The book ends with this disturbing picture of the reality and leaves us with more questions then answers....

This is extremely interesting and open issue in science and it is really amazing that through exact science human knowledge comes to the fundamental problems philosophy tackled for centuries. Are we closer to solutions of these problems? Not really...

From the other perspective, the book was exceptionally pleasant to read for me, because the large part of my own life was closely bound to Quantum Physics. My 1992 PhD (Oh G ! — it was almost 20 years ago) and later, my great and long adventures (I was working for HyperCube) with Quantum Chemistry gave me fantastic opportunities to come closer to understanding of all these matters. In my PhD (link to database in Polish is here) and in my related works (see this) I explored the Feynman's Path Integrals. It was so nice to read a part of the book devoted to this remarkable theory! With Quantum Chemistry  the book is not dealing — perhaps it could not deal with all offsprings of Quantum Mechanics :-)

Here is also a nice video recording of Jim, talking about the book himself !

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Reading report :-)

I hoped to find a time today for a review... Alas, despite "free" day, I had plenty things to do and I also was jogging for more than 2 hours reaching my record of 18 km in a single run...

Of course, jogging is also my best time for „reading” audio books, so from this perspective it was the another reader's good day :-)

I finished „The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments” by Jim Baggott and I must say it was extremely pleasant and rich experience. It deserves a longer review — and I promise, it will come !
Let me only tell you how sweet was reading about the importance of Feynman's Path Integrals in the evolution of Quantum Theory — the same Path Integrals I devoted my PhD dissertation to. It was 20 years ago ...

Them, in audio I switched to ... Walter Scott's „Ivanhoe”. Surprising ? Well - it is a bit of my tribute to Scotland, Edinburgh and my daughter studying there ... BTW, quite nice reading/listening.

In paper I'm inside „The use of weapons” though I made relatively small progress...

On Kindle, I put „All things shining” temporarily on shelf for the long awaited new Umberto Eco novel „The Prague Cemetery” and it indeed promises good reading !

That's all for today :-)


Friday, October 21, 2011

'm currently reading ...

An update:

In paper: „Use of Weapons” (by Ian M. Banks)
On Kindle: „All Things Shining" (by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly)
By my listening ears: „The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments” (by Jim Baggott)

k

this tiny post posted while in Paris :-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Too short — (but still timely) — A review of „The Mystery of the Aleph”

Amir Achel's book „The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity” is essentially the book about the famous XVIII century German mathematician George Cantor — famous for his invention of set theory and its first formulation. The book focuses on his life-time long efforts to describe, define and understand the nature of infinity. The efforts, mostly related to his theory of  transfinite numbers and the search for Absolute Infinity that transcends the transfinite numbers. The mathematical details, indispensable in such a kind of book, are presented in a simple way, so that any high school student can understand it. However, the main theme of the book is the detrimental impact the search on Cantor's mental health.

What was a bit disappointing in the book is the Kabbalah thread. First and foremost, we can't find too much of good explanation of the link between Cantor's search and search for Ein Sof — absolutely Infinite Being. Perhaps the intro to Kabbalah was too short, or, as I tend to think, one can't really understand Kaballah in a simplified way, so that we can see the relation between it and science. This seems to be impossible, and the disappointment I feel is perhaps the signal of something deeper....

Any way — it is interesting and fascinating book to all those who are interested in history of mathematics.

Too short — (but still timely) — A review of „Predictably Irrational”

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely is amazing book. It challenges the common view that humans mostly behave rationally. Dan shows that this is very far from truth. Dan Ariely is practitioner and behavioral economics, and in his book he applied the methods of that branch of science to analyze many specific aspects of our behavior, mostly related to decisions related to economy. It is really amazing to discover how deeply irrational both markets and individual people in these markets are...

As this review is (by design) very short,  instead let me point to you the fantastic videos that Dan has created for every chapter of his book. See them here. There is also fantastic talk Dan gave at TED.

Too short — (but still timely) — A review of „The Essential Talmud” by Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is an exceptional person. Author of  more than 60 books, he was one of the first of Jewish Rabbis who undertook the translation of Talmud from original Aramaic language into modern Hebrew and later in English and many other languages. His translations were not free from controversies, with many scholars from different circles of Judaism, questioning accuracy of his translation. Nevertheless, for such ignorant like myself his popular introduction into Talmud — „The Essential Talmud” — was a great experience. 

It starts with explanation of the meaning and importance of Talmud.

„If the Bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar.”
„The formal definition of the Talmud is the summary of oral law that evolved after centuries of scholarly effort by sages who lived in Palestine and babylonia until teh beginningof the Middle Ages”

It then describes the fascinating history of Talmud - and shows how its most important feature - of the book that never ends — it is rather realized in minds and hearts of those who study it.

„The Talmud is the repository of thousands of years of Jewish wisdom, and the oral law, which is as ancient and significant as the written law (the Torah), finds expression therein.”

„Structure and Content” come next, describing the Talmudic exposition of laws covering the entire scope of Jewish life. The relation between Mishnah - the core of Talmud and Gemarah (which is known as Talmud itself) is explained.

The last part of the book, called „Method” describes Talmudic logic, and Talmudic way of thinking. It ends with the fantastic short chapter „The Talmud Has Never Been Completed”, that underlines the essence of Talmud:

„Every day, every hour, scholars find new subjects of study and new points of view. (...) The work that is a compilation of the endeavors of many generations, is edited with excessive precision, and has been studied by tens of thousands of scholars still remains a challenge.”

Despite my knowledge about controversy around the author, I must admit that it was a great book for me...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Too short — (but still timely) — trying to cope with backlog of reviews

I have such bad feeling about the number of books I had read and hadn't had time to write their reviews, that I decided today to make a sort of breakthrough. Of course, it is almost impossible for me to write my regular type of review for all that books - quite lengthy analysis of what is important for me in the book I just have read.

Instead, I will post a number of very short notes about each book. Some of the books on the list will have, in due time, a full review. However, as I noticed that the most important facts about these books slowly and steadily go into my mind's oblivion, I decided that I can't wait any longer...

Hope, you, my readers, will still get something positive from these notes ...

Lodz, Poland, October 15th, 2011

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Neuromancer — „what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”


There are two kinds of Sci-Fi books. Of the first kind are books that once described the space travels in gigantic cannon cartridges.The second kind of books uses the Sci-Fi „tools” to transmit a specific message. The message or thought that does not reduce itself to any specific implement or concrete futuristic scenery.

There are many primitive books (and movies) of the first kind.
There are much fewer books of the second kind….

I read number of books of both kinds. Sometimes you start a book, with a hope to find there a message, but it ends up in the proverbial „trip to moon in cannon ball”. Unfortunately the Sci-Fi book I read and reviewed here recently „WWW trilogy” is nothing more than such a stupid story. Even though its theme was artificial intelligence.

William Gibson’s „Neuromancer” is certainly of the second kind. But in the very beginning of this review, let me tell you that from the first sentence you know you encountered a great literature:

„The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

The language of the entire book has such specific colouring. As with many other books I read and reviewed, I find that kind of specific atmosphere, the best described via an analogy to color, as something rear and extremely valuable in books. However the colouring of Neuromancer is dark and void. Is not friendly, nor quite humane. Yet it exhibits beauty of its own kind.
What is so special about this book, the book that I discovered because of my son recommendation (he read it about 10 years ago !) and because of another book, „Infinite Reality:…” (by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson) ?? Perhaps it did not correctly predicted WHAT is cyberspace now, or HOW it is built. But many years before Web it very accurately captured its spirit:

„Cyberspace. A con sensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.  Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding....”

As many agree, it was Gibson, who in some metaphoric sense “invented” cyberspace. How true is  this review title, borrowed from Jack Womack’s note about Neuromancer: „ what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”. Impossible? Well… If you think about all these geeks and web inventors of the nineties who certainly have been reading Neuromancer before or during starting up their garage businesses? He also shed light on the aspect of cyberspace which we only recently discovered in web2.0 communities:

„It wasn't a name he knew. Something new, something that had come in since he'd been in Chiba. Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light; entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly.
"Go," he said. The Hosaka had accessed its array of libraries, journals, and news services.”

Gibson's painting of the virtual reality touches the most important aspect of it – total controllability and enumerability:

„And here things could be counted, each one. He knew the number of grains of sand in the construct of the beach (a number coded in a mathematical system that existed nowhere outside the mind that was Neuromancer). He knew the number of yellow food packets in the canisters in the bunker (four hundred and seven). He knew the number of brass teeth in the left half of the open zipper of the salt-crusted leather jacket that Linda Lee wore as she trudged along the sunset beach, swinging a stick of driftwood in her hand (two hundred and two).”

However, Gibson went further and beyond cyberspace as we know it today. He explores matters that are related to AI in a way nobody at his time did. Instead of writing about robots, he explores the roots of AI:

„The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games," said the voice-over, "in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.”

Any doubts he is right? The game industry was, if not strongest, driving force of virtual reality technology — at least its most popular. But he drills it deeper. He explores what could be defined as personality problems associated with AI. He somehow predicted what later proponents of so-called Apocalyptic AI would preach. However, Gibson notices issues that, despite many years of development, were not yet addressed:

„Wintermute had built Armitage up from scratch, with Corto's memories of Screaming Fist as the foundation. But Armitage's "memories" wouldn't have been Corto's after a certain point.”

He also comes to the matters related to such, potentially omnipresent (nothing strange in today’s cyberspace) reality:

"So what's the score? How are things different? You running the world now? You God?"
"Things aren't different. Things are things."
"But what do you do? You just there?" Case shrugged, put the vodka and the shuriken down on the cabinet and lit a Yeheyuan. "I talk to my own kind." "But you're the whole thing. Talk to yourself?"

In many ways Gibson’s depiction of Virtual Reality denudes its deep and dangerous ramifications. What is human reaction to it? Suddenly we discover that rage is perhaps the most human reaction to it:

"Mean, motherfucker," he whispered to the wind. "Don't take a chance, do you? Wouldn't give me any junkie, huh?
I know what this is...." He tried to keep the desperation from his voice. "I know, see? I know who you are. You're the other one. "So what now?" He swung them back into the bank of cloud. "Where do we go from here?" "I don't know, Case. Tonight the very matrix asks itself that question.

This very aspect of Neuromancer – disclosing and denuding the consequences of AI concepts, plans and steps toward it – should be studied with diligence by any adept of the nascent Brave New World….

Great book. The movie is coming.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stockpile, stockpile of un-reviewed books grows...

I owe you (and to myself) the reviews of:

  1. „The Name of The Rose” by Umberto Eco (read third time in my life)
  2. „Foucault's Pendulum” by the same author (read second time in my life)
  3. „Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution” by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson
  4. „Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe” by Bill Bryson.
  5. „Always On” by Brian Chen
  6. „The Estate” by Isaac Beshevis Singer
  7. Rabbi Jehoshua Ozjasz Thon — „Sermons”
  8. Carlos Ruiz Zafón first novel „The Prince of Mist”
  9. John Ratey's „Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”
  10. Michael M. Lewis's „The New New Thing”
  11. Amir D. Aczel's: „The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity”
  12. „Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely
  13. „The Essential Talmud” by Adin Steinsaltz
Wow !

I probably made this post not to boast about my long list of books read, but to remind me how bad I'm when it comes to writing these days. Shame on me :-)

Recalled in Zurich, in a beautiful Sunday morning, just before the trip to the foot of Matterhorn ...

Salome in Opera National de Paris ...

During my last stay in Paris I went to Opera National de Paris at Bastille to watch the performance of Richard StraussSalome”. It was very interesting experience for many reasons.


Richard's Strauss music is that specific kind of music to which one could attach a label „German” — however, unlike for some other composers of the late romantic period and the tragic first half of XX century, Strauss's Germanic style is not frightening... Maybe it is reflection of his attitude do Nazism....

The another reason was in, let me express it so, „lingual” aspect of the performance. It was played in the heart of France by mostly French singers ... in German !!!
As I humbly admit to know not both these beautiful languages :-) I decided to focus completely on the music, dance and specific body language of the Opera. The result was astonishing!
First and foremost, is was very easy for me to follow the action and the turns of the plot (I did not read the libretto before). Second, the interpretation of the Opera without clear perception of its libretto is surprising!

Contrary to almost all typical interpretations — I did not find Salome (beautifully played by beautiful German Angela Denoke) as an epitome of a kind of „femme fatale”! Of course, she was depicted as strange and almost perverse women, but what Denoke tried, and to me, succeeded in, was to show that her perverseness was somehow provoked by her step-father, Herod, who driven by his lust and desire to her body, somehow accepts her demands, when is satisfied by her sensual dance (and, needless to say, the Dance of Seven Veils was danced fantastic by Denoke). Herod was depicted as a cowardly, perverse old man, who, on the surface tries to dissuade her daughter from the crime, but in fact does what she wants — just because he first got what he wanted ...

So in some sense, not understanding the words, I found this performance of Salome quite different in its meaning. Less focused on the proverbial fatality of a woman, more on false meekness and cowardliness and lust of a man... When I read libretto of the Opera the day after - I was surprised by the text painting a bit different picture of the story ...

Written in Zurich, Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My favorite bookstore in Woody Allen's movie „Midnight in Paris”

No No, I won't switch to writing movies reviews... First, I very rarely visit cinemas, second, books will remain my specialty :-)

But „Midnight in Paris” is exceptional movie. (See a very good review in New York Times). Maybe it deserves being mentioned here — because it is all about literature and ... about nostalgia.

But for me one, short scene, almost a cameo was worth more — The hero couple of seconds long walk out from „Shakespeare & Company” bookstore at La Bucherie street just on the left bank in Paris...
For me it is primary place for literature in Europe, unmatched in climate, selection of books (new and old), activities (Literary Festivals, meetings with writers etc).



Thanks Woody !

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Foucault's Pendulum" & "The Name of the Rose" revisited...

Parallel to my life and other books I went through Foucault's Pendulum and The_Name_of_the_Rose again. I guess it was at least my third reading of each of them, and again and again a lot of new discoveries, new senses, new colors....

The reviews will come soon ...

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Finding a great book by fluke :-)

That happened in Edinburgh, during my first trip to Scotland and its beautiful capital...

I was passing by a street full of little bookstores - mostly antiquarian, when I dropped into this one:


And there among mostly old books of Philosophy, I found this very recent one: „Apocalyptic AI” by Robert M. Geraci. Minutes later I read a couple of chapters while sitting in a little French restaurant....

And I must say, I'm deeply and positively surprised. The author, who is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, wrote an extremely interesting account about the parallels between certain "hard" AI theories and predictions and ... religious experiences and attitudes. In the conclusion to the first chapter he writes:

„Apocalyptic AI is a technological faith that directly borrows its sacred worldview from apocalyptic Judaism and Christianity”

Sounds interesting ...

I started to think  a bit, and when I recalled my first encounter with Ray Kurzweil thought (despite my criticism there) I came quickly to a realization that there indeed must be a deeper link between highly technological belief in the possibility of uploading our mind with our consciousness to a computer and the beliefs in human immaterial soul. What at the first glimpse looks like the strong anti-religious argument (i.e. the mind can be „run" by a machine) is paradoxically just the argument for the opposite view. If one, indeed could upload our mind - that means this mind is completely different from the brain and indeed is the soul sought by religious people through our history....

Well, don't take me wrong. As the author in the introduction, I'm not a strong AI faithful..
However, the argument and the whole idea — and The Book — seems to be extremely interesting ...

The review will come ... :-)

Written in Edinburgh ...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Orhan Pamuk's great novel — „My Name is Red”

I start this review of the acclaimed Orhan’s Pamuk novel „My name is Red” in a specific climate. As I indicated in my harbinger of this review, when I was reading the novel, I could not put away all my recollections and feelings related to Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”.  So just after I finished great Pamuk’s  novel  and even before writing this review, I switched my MP3 player to equally  famous Umberto Eco’s book. That gives me another opportunity to ponder over the cultural differences between the European culture I was born to, and the Eastern, now by-gone culture of Ottoman Empire, that has some reflection in today’s Turkish culture, and with more general outlook — in Islamic culture.

However, before exploring the analogy deeper (what I probably postpone to another post) I will try to tell something about „My name is Red” itself.
The novel takes place in Istambul at the end of XVI century.  It introduces its readers into a world of miniaturists and painters devoted to book illustrations. At the outset, this is extremely interesting – as we well know, painting in Islam is quite restricted – even a depiction of any human form is a kind of idolatry and is forbidden.  This is why Islamic cultures developed more in directions of calligraphy, illumination of manuscripts, miniature painting, painting on ceramics and extremely flowery rugs and carpets creation.

The novel’s  intriguing plot throws us into the world of late Ottoman empire, under the rule of Sultan Murat III, who  purportedly, ordered an extended and rich set of illustrations, apparently borrowing from Venitian style of painting, to the book (Thousands Years of Hagira) which was to be offered to some European envoys as an expression of Ottoman or, more precisely — his own, pride. However, amid strong opposition from fundamentalists of the era, he did that in secrecy and commissioned the task to a specific workshop of talented miniaturists and illuminators. Partially because of another wave of pride and competition among them, partially because of the restrained love affairs and desires of the young people, and most importantly because of the influence of fundamentalists – the mysterious murders start to shadow the peaceful work of the illuminators.  And this face of the book — the numerous plots, almost criminal-like tension and great dramatizing is extremely well designed and rendered in words.  Let me however not reveal anything from these plots because I do not want to spoil the readers’ future impressions.  Anyway, let me only say shortly that the mystery about the identity of the main murderer is not revealed almost to the end of the novel. Yet when the conundrum is finally solved, it is of a very specific climate of surprise. Contrary to our today’s literary experiences it is almost non-surprising, we could probably conclude the truth well in the mid of reading – yet – just because of the fantastic way Pamuk intertwines the plot – it becomes a true crescendo of the book.

There is also a beautiful love story. The love from the first sight, yet almost tragic and almost unfulfilled, it finally finds fulfillment in a way perhaps different than its actors expectations, and a bit different to our expectations as readers. And that makes it even more beautiful. As its frequent references to the story of „Hüsrev and Shirin”  by Persian poet Nizami …
Beyond all these features, the book has also many philosophical connotations. We are exposed to specific way Muslims in Ottoman Empire pondered about God and human soul, the afterlife, the reward and punishment. I wanted to stress a thought that, to me, was probably the most important. It is a consideration about books and painting. First and foremost, it shows the incredible role of writing, books and libraries in the development of Islamic culture. But it also shows, that just after armies, their soldiers and all the military power, the books were assumed to have equal power. Pamuk recalls an attack on a city where, after the massacre of its inhabitants, the books were the next victims ...
We are exposed to the numerous deep thoughts that decorate the action packed pages, like:

„Painting is the silence of thought and a music of sight”


„I don't want to be a tree; I want to be its meaning.”


„Books, which we mistake for consolation, only add depth to our sorrow.”


„A letter doesn't communicate by words alone. A letter, just like a book, can be read by smelling it, touching it and fondling it. Thereby, intelligent folk will say, 'Go on then, read what the letter tells you!' whereas the dull-witted will say, 'Go on then, read what he's written!”


„What was venerated as style was nothing more than an imperfection or flaw that revealed the guilty hand.”


„Where there is a true art and genuine virtuosity the artist can paint an incomparable masterpiece without leaving even a trace of his identity.”

The ideas about painting („… the farthest one can go in illustrating; it is seeing what appears out of Allah’s own blackness”) are also thought provoking.  And the parts of the narration were we discover that the true essence of painting can be discovered only by blind painter.  That parts of the book were very deep – and one could not avoid an analogy to Beethoven who was almost deaf when composed some of his masterpieces.  And the mystical self-blinding of some of the book heroes in  the critical events of the plot…
Pamuk explores the European influence on Islamic art, the opposition and admiration of it. In fact the attempt to apply European style of painting into Islamic illustrations becomes one of the key controversies among the characters of the novel. Rich parallels shed some light on wider context of the cultural connections between East and West,  their evolution in the Middle Ages and the tolerant approach of religious Muslims of the age  („Unto Allah belong the East and the West”)
I guess it is worth mentioning how beautiful and unusual writing instruments are used by Pamuk.  For example there is a chapter were the narrator is a tree or a horse or a coin… And the chapters with have such unusual narrators, play an important role in this amazing book…
Finally, if you let yourself to live with this amazing book for a considerable amount of time, you start to feel the climate of the time it describes… And when you compare that feeling to the feeling we Europeans experience while reading  „The Name of the Rose” or  “The Book of Abraham” (Marek Helter) on the another – we lose our pride and typical conviction of the superiority of our culture over the ancient cultures of Judaism or Islam…

„My Name is Red” is a monumental book, the book that will stay with you long after you flopped the last page of it, or, as was in my case, when you switched your AudioBook off for a long time after it…

Finished in Woodbridge, UK.

Benjamin Britten Music ...

Out of my admiration to Benjamin Britten's music I travelled to Aldeburgh - a little costal English town on the North Sea shore...

Here is the sculpture sitting on the stony beach there:


And all the day I had Britten's music in my ears...

Mirek@Aldeburgh

„The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco

When I noticed the parallels between  „The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco and Orhan's Pamuk „My name is Red” I spent several hours with the former. It was my second encounter to the book (first in my mother tongue many years ago). However, fo a moment I will restrain myself from writing about it. First I feel un urge to publish first my review of „My Name is Red”, second, the version of „The Name of the Rose” I listened to was abridged version, and I do not want to review it from it. Already have the unabridged and it waits ...

Meanwhile, having my fascination of Umberto Eco prose returning to me, I read „Foucault Pendulum” again... The review will come one day :-)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

My Name Is Red — The Mysteries of Books, Illustrations, Islam and Love ...

This short note is not a review yet.
Contrary to my hopes, I could not find time to catch up with the growing pile of unreviewed book....
Maybe soon...

But I cannot withhold myself from telling you how fantastic is Orhan Pamuk's "My Name Is Red" novel.
It touches so many important matters — the Islamic philosophy and religion, importance of books and paintings, reaction to European influence upon Ottoman culture....

Deeply immersed in Islamic tradition, it reminds me about "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco... As the later was related to the importance of books to medival Christian/European culture, so the former was to Islamic culture of Ottoman Emipre...

I only hope I will find time soon to tell you more about it....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In paper ...

The previous entry was about listening to the incredible "My Name is Red".

This is about real, paper book...

This is even more incredible "The Kuzari" by Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi....
More to come...

Tomorrow I start on 3 day solitary canoeing on my mystical Lupawa River in North Poland...
:-)

"Painting is the silence of thought and a music of sight"

I still did not become warmer after freezing effect of 12 months of hard work on my blogging....
Yet I read. And this reading gives me peace and deep thought. "My name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk.

How deep are stories about the best illustrators and miniaturists that excelled to the highest levele only when turned blind ... When you paint while being blind - it's like Allah himself would paint...

The book of course, has much more in it...

Keep listening while biking and jogging in the Pomerania....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Lift not the painted veil which those who live call Life"

I was about not to write any more reviews before going off to my place of summer holidays... But when I finished yesterday "The Painted Veil" (W. Somerset Maugham) I just could not resist a temptation to share with you my admiration and complete enchantment to the book...

This 1925 year novel is a masterpiece of prose, of author ability to paint scenes with words...
but there is something deeper - the plot that gave rise to the 3 movies (1934, 1957, 2006) was quite shocking to me today on a deep personal level...

And please don't ask me with what side of the triangle I  sympathize the most ...
The only thing is that Maugham has an unusual ability to tell the most important truths of life without an jota of preaching or moralizing....

Perhaps , a longer review will come...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Backlog of reviews. III

Well, seems I have no chance before vacation to write almost ANY review. The hardship of all my recent business trips, very long stay in Paris, super-short in Vienna and so much work, makes me dumb on my own blog...

So just to tell you — my backlog piles up (because I still read (or rather: listen to) like crazy) — I recently added to it:

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe” by Bill Bryson.

„Always On” by Brian Chen — the great book about social and business ramifications of iPhone revolution.

„The Estate” by Isaac Beshevis Singer — enchanting story about life in Jewish-Polish communities in Warsaw at the end of XIX century,

The Painted Veil" by W. Somerset Maugham — the book that was used to make the movie under the same title — truly great prose...

Cheers :-)
Mirek

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beyond, above and below the text — the mistery of reading in "Proust and the Squid"

This will be only a short note and certainly the review of this fine book will have to wait till I have some more time during the incoming summer holidays...

But I wanted to tell you how amazing this book is. By recalling the Socrates objection against written form of knowledge and looking, from this perspective, on the current transformation of paper based to digital reading, Maryanne Wolf writes an incredible apology of deep reading. And about many more....

Just fantastic and must read for all interested in the current culture...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Backlog of reviews. II

My current backlog of reviews has the following titles:

  • Rabbi Jehoshua Ozjasz Thon — „Sermons” (in my mother's tongue)
  • Carlos Ruiz Zafón first novel „The Prince of Mist”
  • John Ratey's „Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”
  • Michael M. Lewis's „The New New Thing” 
  • Amir D. Aczel's: „The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity” 
and the new titles I did not review yet:

  • „Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely
  • „The Essential Talmud” by Adin Steinsaltz

I'm also reading now (on my Kindle software):


and in paper:

  • The english translation of „Kitab al Khazari” by philosopher and poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in the English translation by Rabbi Daniel Korobkin issued by Feldheim Publishers.

Hope I will be able to review them in the comming summer months :-)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Suspended time in Arkansas ...

I was completely mesmerized and enchanted by John Grisham „A Painted House”. On the surface it is a story narrated by 7-years-old Luke, living with his parents in deep poverty on a cotton farm in Arkansas.
The story itself is simple, and at the first glimpse quite ordinary — maybe because of its apparent plainness and commonness. But when you read it (or listen as I did) carefully, you start to notice some light coming from the background, the light that makes this novel absolutely extraordinary. Is it for the honest and modest depiction of the harsh life in rural America in fifties? For the relation of responsibility and hard work and freedom? For poetic description of the nature and life in Arkansas? For the finest narration?

Maybe.... But I find in the book something out-of-this-world, something that escapes naming it and confining to this or that aspect of Grisham narration. Perhaps I  must admit, that I do not really know what made me so deeply moved by this common story...

I will certainly continue with Grisham. It was my his first book.
You can find the typical summary of the book here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Alone, Grand Alliance, Triumph and Tragedy — Churchill on II World War

Some time ago I finished reading Churchill's multiple volume account on II World War. As I wrote before, Churchill narration is excellent and if you want to know the history of one of the most tragic periods of human history — his books are invaluable.

I do not support those who claim that Churchill was not „objective” in his relation of the war time. First, as we well know, there is no such thing as objectivity. History is played by people and is written by people. Their worldview and events they participated in always shape it. Second, I was amazed how honest Churchill was in his account. Of course, he toots his own horn, but he does not avoid writing about the sins and errors of his own nation and his own! It was the author himself, who wrote about his work: „This is not history, this is my case.” Well, I have many objections to the books, but I will write about them at the very end of this review.

In „Alone” (which, in the first edition, was called „Their Finest Hour”) Churchill writes about the Fall of France and about the two crucial battles of the II World War — the air battle of Britain and the sea battle of the Atlantic. Unfortunately for French people, his relation of French attitude to the war and to Hitler is shameful. He reveals the lack of any preparation to the war on French part, their lack of coordination and flat collaboration of many of French influential circles with Nazis. One of the most interesting parts of this volume
is about Dunkirk and the amazing evacuation of about 300 thousands soldiers (including about 120 thousands French) to Britain. Having in mind the power of  Hitler at that time of the war (May 1940) that was indeed a miracle. The narration about the Battle of Britain and RAF bravery is fantastic. It is here were we can read, firsthand, about emotions and gratitude that led Churchill to the famous saying:

„Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

We then move to the North Africa and Middle East, just to discover how important the region was during the war, and how big was Britain effort not to allow Hitler to grow too much there. Here comes the part about Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, the great British soldier. This account is special — because Wavell was in fact dismissed by Churchill after unsuccessful operation „Battleaxe”. Churchill writes about Wavell in high esteem. The book ends with the vivid arration about the treacherous behaviour of Soviet Russia in the war — until the later time, when they were attacked by Hitler, what was called „The Soviet Nemesis”. Reading this part, I was amazed how shallow is human memory... Today, Russia's role is remembered as the part of the great alliance that conquered Hitler. And that is fine and true. However, we tend to forget (with great aid of
Soviet, and later and even today, Russian propaganda) that it was for Stalin’s policy that Hitler could gain so much in the beginning of the War. Were they not attacked, they would stay on Hitler's side... It is amazing that we don't see Russian's afterthoughts about that shameful part of their history ...

„Grand Alliance” is an epic tale about the turn in the fate of war and the formation of the alliance between Britain, United States, and now on the attacked side, Soviet Russia. It is extremely detailed and fine written part.  Sometimes I lost sense that it is historical account, because it reads like a novel.

„Triumph and Tragedy” describes the finale of the war and the German defeat. However, as the title goes, the joy of victory was spoiled by the tragedy of divided Europe, that was the result and, as Churchill suggests, the price of the war. As in many parts of the entire set, here we also get sincere admission to allies own blunders. Churchill seems to be an outspoken narrator of both the glory and the sin...

For example, when he writes about Poland and the tragic fate of Warsaw and the treacherous behaviour of Stalin and his puppet communist government (Lublin committee) it becomes clear that Allies simply indulged to Stalin’s whims and demands. BTW, I'm not entirely sure if Churchill did not try to exonerate himself from these sins in some way or another, but no one can deny he is honest in his narration...

However, there is deeply disturbing issue about the book, well, about all the books of the set. It is a complete silence about Holocaust... As we now know, Shoah, the mass murder of almost 6 million Jews during the war and about 5 to 11 million other ethnic or social groups was one of the major efforts of Germans, both logistically, politically and militarily. It is startling that Churchill does not write anything about it. I do not suspect him of anti-Semitism, though one of only two mentions about Jews in the entire set is a petty joke ..., but this ignorance is hard to understand.

There is no doubt that both Churchill and Roosevelt new about the systematic extermination well. Jan Karski, Polish underground fighter, informed western powers about that. There are evidences that both most important Polish Government in Exile figures, like Mr. Mikołajczyk had frequent talks with Anthony Eden, Churchill's right hand. So why such omission? Maybe it explains Churchill handling of the case of Jewish refugees coming to then being-born state of Israel?

I do not know, but this ignorance casts a deep shadow on Churchill's account, despite the paradoxical greatness of the books and the well deserved Nobel price in literature he won...

This review was written in Paris, between 25 and 29 of May, 2011 with lots of  thoughts about France, Europe and the bad past they came through ...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The dark side of British handling of the Palestine just after the war - a story told by Yoram Kaniuk

„Commander of the Exodus” by Yoram Kaniuk, Jewish writer and journalist is a book that shows the darker and much less known side of the immigration to Palestine of the Holocaust survivors.

It is a story of  brave Palestine-native hero — Yossi Harel, who in the course of 1947-48 brought about 20000 Shoah survivors to Palestine. There would probably be nothing strange in the story if it was not for British Navy and, more generally, British Mandate authorities to actively oppose the coming of the survivors to their land....

Kaniuk, who demonstrates the unusual talent of combining true historical account with a great story telling talent, does not seem to be anvengeful or even biased against British. He just coldly relates the episode of the complicated history o the birth of the state of Israel. This relation is, nevertheless, quite disturbing and embarrassing for the British — who verbally declared support to the Zion Cause, but did very little to help the nascent State to start its life in peace. The ships coming to Palestine from Europe were harassed and often turn back, not without fighting, to Europe. In the most dramatic stories, some Holocaust survivors were sent back to Europe and deported to the former Nazi camps!

Even calling these events „ironic” seems to be outrageous.
I have found the article that tells the true account of these events. The following picture of „Exodus 1947” ship comes from it:


„Commander of the Exodus” does not even try to explain why the events had such a turn there and at that time. The book focuses on the valour of its main hero and the brave people who believed they come to their dreamed off homeland — but were met by hostility of those in whose hands the fate of millions was endowed...

I must admit that I write this review long time after I read the book. And I write it now, because the another great book — that by Winston Churchil („The Second World War”) — sheds some light on the matters, and I will be reviewing it shortly. I will try to give my own theory in that forthcoming review....

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The third part of „The WWW Trilogy” — Just another flop ...

I tuned to the audio rendering of Robert J. Sawyer third part of his famous „The WWW Trilogy”. After „Wake” — the opening part, „Watch” — the second tome, here comes „Wonder” — the concluding part.

Honestly, after „Watch” I already had suspicion that the trilogy could and should be reduced to the single „Wake” part and would stay in our memories ...

However, it is not a first time in the genre that the sequel or, worse still, the second and third parts — are a far cry from the first book.

As you can read in my previous reviews (Wake, Watch), the „The WWW Trilogy” is about the emerging artificial mind born out of existing Web infrastructure. The theme itself is interesting, touches many current trends like AI, Semantic Web, knowledge representation, mind-body relation etc.

Unfortunately, while wandering from „Wake” to „Wonder” it arrives to extremely naive, almost childish story, possibly good to kids in the preschools...

The WebMind starts to talk to politicians, overthrows China government, works for peace, health and prosperity of humanity and so on, so on....

At some passages it is easy to identify some strange episodes that make me think that  the author indulges in „product placement” activity. Repeated references to „a single iPhone button” or the advice WebMind gives to US president to use FireFox instead of Internet Explorer — are explicit „signals” of such activities...

Well, why I read it after all ?

I tuned to it only to get something lighter and less serious than my recent war-time reading...
I now regret I spent several hours listening to it. There are better books to spend time with ....

Monday, April 18, 2011

What to do with a dove thrown into the nest of snakes ...

I know this is a strange title. My language skills in the tongue which was not my mother's seems to be limited to express what I feel after reading this book. I will try to express it as clearly as I can:

It is about an incredible person. Probably the one among the best who was walking the earth ...
Yet his story left me in fear and sadness.  It is about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And about the book: „Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich”.  The author is Eric Metaxas.

Please let me warn you. Be that as it may, I truly admire Bonhoeffer. I was surprised how deep his religiousness was. And how deeply, being faithful to Christianity, he understood Jewish roots of his religion — what, among other things, brought him to total denial of German ant-Semitism amplified and explored by the Nazi. I could only wish there were more such priests and monks and Christian laymen...

I have to write about my admiration, because in the later part of this review I will be critical also of Bonhoeffer !
So why I have such strange feelings and thoughts ?

Let me now tell you few basic fact — I do not intend to write long, typical review. Eric Metaxas’ work is a very good record of the life and struggle and martyrdom of Dietrch Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was German pastor and theologian. He was born in 1906 in Wrocław (Breslau). He came from very prestigious family of Professor Karl Bonhoeffer, the neurologists and psychiatrist. His decision to become a theologian, and later the priest came when he was only fourteen. His other talents were in music (was a very good pianist) and in sports (was quite good athlete).

The story of Bonhoeffer's life tells the tragic truth about that dark period in German, and more generally, in human history. He opposed the Nazi regime, he did it long before the war and during it. Despite his apparent pacifism and priesthood he conspired to kill Hitler. For his involvement in the plot against Hitler he was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on April 9th, 1945, just few weeks before the end of the war ...

For all interested in details there is a very good article about him on Wikipedia.

Now, let me come to the essence of my feelings. The biography relates also what was the attitude of the Churches to Hitler and his Nazi regime. And here came first shock. How little we know about the “German Christians” whose coat-of-arms had Nazi swastika inscribed into the cross! And how popular that movement was among German Protestants of that times. How little we know about Ludwig Müller — who became Reich’s Bishop in 1933. And let’s not blame only protestants. Catholic Church with all its majesty entered into specific state contract with Hitler — The Concordat. This shameful act, negotiated by pope-to-be, Eugenio Pacelli, was signed when it became quite clear what are true Hitler’s intentions... Do we really know, that it was never revoked by the Holy See? How can we really think of WORDS in the Pius XI encyclical „Mit brennender Sorge” when the ACT was still in place?

Of course there were Christians who opposed Hitler, of course there were priests murdered by Nazism. But what is the shocking truth, is that even in “Confessing Church” the opposition against anti-Semitism was relatively week, and its famous Barmen Declaration even does not list anti-Semitism as a crime!

I know I will tell harsh and strong words here — but all that represents nothing less than a total failure of Christianity in Europe in XX century. When you know all that facts, and spend some hours contemplating on them — what do you think when some European politicians speak about “Christian roots” of Europe?

I will not give answers to these burning questions — I know they would be too blatant...

It seems to me, that Bonhoeffer knew about this total failure, and to me it is clear from his letters, where we can find the term that latter become, somehow improperly, an emblem of his theology: Religionless Christianity:

Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. "Christianity" has always been a form--perhaps the true form--of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless--and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?)--what does that mean for "Christianity"?

Many “Christian” critics of Bonhoeffer thought of his ill will in these thoughts...

Did they know the history? Did they know how many of Hitler’s Willing Executioners (a suggestio to the book is intentional) were devote Christians?

I think that the Bonhoeffer notion of religion which possibly could be built upon ruins of Christianity — is the only true hope for Christianity — at least this is my private, and certainly heavily biased, opinion — of the person who equally intentionally left Christianity years ago ...

On these thoughts I seem to be in line with the author of the biography, though he avoids making such strong statements as I did here.

But there is also something in this book that is even more disturbing. Several times in the book, almost casually, its author relates Bonhoeffer’s and his circles, including his family, opinion about the First World War and the “unjust” treatment Germans got in and after the Treaty of Versailles... Imagine — the people who caused the first round of horrors in XX century, and who, including its best people, to whom Bonhoeffer certainly belonged, did not even accept the historical punishment they got ! Were they blind ?

Are we all blind? Were there only few doves and all that remained was the nest of snakes ?

Written in Paris, London & Lodz....

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Not all states are ready to admit their sins of the past... Russian Shame.

I usually don't write here on current affairs, even less I am a political blogger...
But what happened today is a bad example of  some states and nations inability to seek the truth and absolution from the sins of the past.

Here is what happened:

Tomorrow there is a day of remembrance for Poles who, on April 10, 2010 had lost their 96 political figures including the President in the plane crash near Katyn, the place of Polish POWs and intelligencia genocide committed by Soviet NKVD (Russian Secret police). The delegation was going there for 70 anniversary of the massacre. At the place of the crash there was a big stone and an inscription on a honours board explaining in Polish, who died there, when and what was the trip goal (i.e. commemoration of the massacre).

Just one day before the anniversary today's Russian authorities, under the cover of the night, removed the board and replaced it by another board with Polish and Russian inscription that writes the same... with the sentence about the goal of the trip (i.e. the mention of genocide) removed...

What problem it was for them? Was this small plaque able to change the classification of this massacre from war crime to genocide (what Russians vehemently oppose) ? Never. It is clear that it was a political act. But I'm not going to comment on that. I hate politics.

What is interesting however, is how week and frail is Russian's will to admit to their Stalin-era crimes.
Even if the only remainder of that crimes is a small plaque in Polish that would not even come noticed by many... Imagine ...

One could think that because they entertain some form of open society — the atonement for their PAST sins and totalitarian-era atrocites should be easy... It is not...Why ???  Is Homo Sovieticus still alive ?

Its a shame, but the shame that recently falls on many groups and circles in many countries. Take recent numerous pronouncements of  German politician Erika Steinbach who promotes the view that Hitler was the only evildoer of II World War ...

Sometimes I'm worried. Badly worried. If nations, particularly big nations allow for the historical "forgetfulness" — the bad times are ahead of us....

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Milestones of Disaster

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading the first volume of four of Winston Churchill „The Second World War. Milestones to Disaster”. First and foremost, I was greatly surprised what a good writer Churchill was !
I must say that he fully deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, he got in 1953. Some may argue about it and probably did, denying  his literary merits. But I believe one can hold such views only until he or she discovers his narration. Was it not about the greatest tragedy of XX century, I would say it is really fantastic and captivating story.

The tome describes the years that led to the war and its beginning, sometimes called by the term that Churchill coined „Twilight War” (see Phoney War)

I'm not going to relate the content of the book in this review — but rather prefer to focus on the most important conclusion of the book: It is true that the Second World War broke due to the madness of Hitler and his willing German, Italian or Japaneese helpers, the German guilt for it and all its atrocities including Holocaust, is unquestionable.

But, as Churchill proves, it was possible also because of so many errors and forbearances and the fundamental moral weakness of the alies in the period after the end of the First World War...

The list of incredible and literaly stupid things the Allies committed is long. When Hitler started to grow into power, British entered into shameful Naval Agreement with Germany. Americans passed the infamous Neutrality Act. When Hitler defied both Versailles and Locarno treatises and entered with arms into RhineLand, both French and English have full legal justification for a prevention. Nothing happened, even to the amazement of Hitler himself...

Churchill writes about all these facts openly and frankly. There is no hidden agenda to show British as heroes. Oppositely, he plainly condemns these acts, and the overall tone of his narration is that of seeking the truth, not the good opinion about his own flock.

One of the most deplorable act committed by French and English just at the dawn of the tragedy, was the Munich Betrayal, where Chamberlain along with Daladier, essentially allowed Hitler to partition and annex Czechoslovakia.

The true value of the book lies in the fact that most of these facts are not well known or publicised. The media style of portaying the Allies as heroes has dominated and still dominates the collective memory of Europeans. Churchill debunks the cheap, pseudo heroism of his own nation. Of course, where and when the English and French  soldiers fought, they deserved the admiration, and Churchill does not avoid it.

His demeanour can be a paragon of how any responsible politician should behave: first find your own nations sins, errors and attrocities — and speak about them openly an frankly and repent. Without such attitude the world can not become a better place...

All in all - „Milestones to Disaster” is a must for all who are interested in XX History.

Written in Paris, April, 3rd, 2011.

While there I also finished reading  Eric's Metaxas „Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010)” and I'm deeply shocked by its implications. A review to come soon...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why I do not write for a while ...

In fact, I have recently read a number of good books worth reviews. But as it sometimes happens, I am in a period of some reluctance to the Web and electronic communication...

That was perhaps caused by an unexpected death of my friend Jan Bereza OSB (A Benedictine Monk) who passed away almost this hour last week ...

Here is Jan's:




For my dear readers, I have a stock pile of books read that include:
Jehoshua Ozjasz Thon's Sermons (in my mother's tongue)
Yoram Kaniuk'sCommander of the Exodus”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón  first novel „The Prince of Mist”
John Ratey's „Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”
Michael M. Lewis's „The New New Thing”

My current reading is Winston Churchil's „The Second World War: Milestones to Disaster”

Mirek@Munich

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Black Swan — one of the best movies I've seen

As you know, I rarely review films here. But for the „Black Swan” I wanted to make an exception. Probably one of the best movies of Darren Aranofsky, it tells an imaginative story of a ballerina (featured by Natlie Portman) by of the New York City ballet company. She is so deeply engaged in her role in „Swan Lake” that her entire life is turned around it, and ultimately consumes her entirely... It is however hard to relate the „plot” of  the movie, largely because of the role of confusing, ambiguous turns of the action that flows on a brink between reality and dreams or hallucinations...

The beautiful filming, fantastic music and the great actor's craft make the movie one of my best ....

Sunday, January 30, 2011

„Night” by Elie Wiesel

It is a book that, just after I started reading, made me quickly to relinquish it. And I had real difficulty to return ...

Written by famous Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner, „Night” is very realistic account on the tragic fate of Jews during Shoah. But the realism it is written with is almost unbearable.

Don't take me wrong, though. I do not mean I could not read it or that it is bad book. But to apply a typical slogan „Great Book” or „Nice reading” is in fact an act of betraying the author ...

In short, it describes the events since the beginning of the war that happened in Sighet, through the liquidation of Ghetto in that Romanian town. We are taken on a journey to Auschwitz, Buna (Monowice —Auschwitz III) and to Buchenwald. Despite the fact that the fate saved the narrator of the book, he lost his faith in G-d, in humanity and in himself. As more about the book can be found in the good Wikipedia article, I will not elaborate on it more...

In fact, when I finished it I was in a kind of trauma for several hours...

See the ending of it:

„At six a clock that afternoon the first American tank stood at the gate of Buchenwald. Our first act as free men was to through ourselves onto the provisions. That's all we thought about. No thought of revenge or parents, only of bread. And even we were no longer hungry, not one of us thought of revenge.
(...)
One day when I was able to get up I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the Ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as it gazed at me, has never left me...”

Paris, January 30, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The pile grows ...

Oh yes, the pile of  books I have read but haven't  reviewed starts to grow.

Quite recently I read John J. Ratey's „Spark” - a very interesting, grounded in science book about the importance of physical exercises for our ... brain.

And very recently I finished Michel Lewis 2000 account „The New New Thing” about Jim Clark.
Very well written and fascinating story of the Internet Era most admired entrepreneur....

On this pile (on its bottom) there is still Joseph Conrad „Nostromo”...

Hope to have some time on the coming weekend in Paris ....

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Sense & Sensibility — Good Writership or Naiveté ?

I just finished  Jane Austen's first novel „Sense and Sensibility”. And I must say, I'm confused. It is a well written novel, no question. But the level of naivete, of narrowness of the characters' outlook of life — and what is more — of admiration of the gentry-mindedness and heroes idleness — keeps me away from writing a positive, or even any longer review. It also overshadows some passages of true irony and good comedy, that, perhaps give the true value to this book !

I'm not literary critic, so my opinion may not be taken too seriously. And I know, that many bright people (like Leo Strauss) admired Jane Austen's prose. Maybe, I could change my mind after reading some other of Austen's novel. But I still have in mind the another book of the genre and of Victorian age — Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Only 30 years between them, while the difference is of enormous proportions in favour of Bronte....