Monday, March 31, 2014

288. The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms by Friedrich  Wilhelm Nietzsche is a collection of two essays and a selection of aphorisms on the Nietzsche's views on the music of Wagner in particular and the problem of degeneracy and the dangers of accepting it as the main culture. I read this e-book only because I wanted to read something by Nietzsche not because I truly understand high-culture or Classical Music, to which Wagner's music belongs. Though I enjoy this music genre. Yet, I do agree with Nietzsche on the need to guard against the tendency of misconstruing degeneracy for the norm at any epoch. As has happened today. Reading this essay, I shivered to think of what the author's response would have been to today's compositions, if there are any. Especially since Wagner, whom he critiqued caustically, is considered a virtuoso today by all standards and for whom a whole festival was organised to mark his two hundredth year last year. However, culturally it looks we might have truly slid down a very gentle but very long slope and have suddenly woken up to realise how deep we have fallen.

Not that Nietzsche considered himself above all else. His argument was that, Wagner was not a philosopher. If he were he would have recognised this decadence and struggled against it. But he did not. He basked in it and contributed to it. And this was what he considered as the difference between himself and Wagner.
I am just as much a child of my age as Wagner - i.e., I am decadent. The only difference is that I recognise the fact, that I struggled against it. The philosopher in me struggled against it.
Nietzsche considered this realisation of Wagner's music as pandering to degeneracy and his realisation of this as akin to recoverying from a disease that was Wagner.
The greatest event of my life took the form of a recovery. Wagner belongs only to my diseases.
Whilst dismissing the music of Wagner, in this technical discourse, Nietzsche praised Bizet, a musician who might today not be as famous as Wagner. However, during the time of Nietzsche's criticisms, it was Wagner that was all the craze. He bemoaned how people are not able to spot quality but will move like a herd and follow the one person who had been chosen to be good without truly assessing the others or allowing them to prove their worth.
May I be allowed to say that Bizet's orchestration is the only one that I can endure? That other orchestration which is all the rage at present - the Wagnerian - is brutal, artificial and "unsophisticated" withal, hence its appeal to all the three senses of the modern soul at once. How terribly Wagnerian orchestration affects me! I call it the Sirocco. A disagreeable sweat breaks out all over me. All fine weather vanishes.
Nietzsche accused Wagner of being an actor and not a musician and that his greatness stems from the fact that it is the mob that favours him. In a manner similar to Ibsen, he disregards the mob and attributed to them a sort of blindness to excellence and blandness to quality.
It is glaringly obvious: great success, mob success is no longer the achievement of the genuine - in order to get it a man must be an actor! - Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner - they both prove one and the same thing: that in declining civilisations, wherever the mob is allowed to decide, genuineness becomes superfluous, prejudicial, unfavourable. The actor, alone, can still kindle great enthusiasm. 
And yet today's world is no different. Once the industry, the academy, accepts you as their poster child, whatever you do - good, bad, worst - is not the issue. You write garbage and it receives rave reviews and made into a movie. You spews unintelligible lyrics and it becomes the new style. Today's marketing and personal branding have put talent beneath fame. In music, it does not matter what one is saying or what one is carrying across. What matters most is how much nudity one can show. Nudity without creativity. The more sex, the more popular; the more famous, the more the awards and the greater the acceptability. The arena of talent has been infested with the capitalist's financial vial. This has drained out talent and has put art in a way that is stranger to talent. Commercialisation has created the blueprint of success that entails no genuineness or talent, but of things that could hardly be attributed to talent: expletives, nudity, considered to be postmodernist. Intellectualism pandering to baseness and stupidity. Some aspect of post-modernism is characterised by one's ability to breakdown societal barriers even if it is at the expense of one's life, or at the death of creativity. Mere rebellion has been confused with talent. If in Nietzsche's days it was acting, and therefore pretentious, today it is much worse. There is no art in a work of art, for the decadent mob are in the majority and their tastes are sour and stale. In defining what Wagner had become, Nietzsche, who was Wagner's friend and a disciple before his what he considered as his recovery, wrote that
[T]he musician is now becoming an actor, his art is developing ever more and more into a talent for telling lies.
He questions - rhetorically though - whether Wagner was a musician at all. However, in all these he does not hide his admiration for certain aspects of Wagner's talent.
Was Wagner a musician at all? In any case he was something else to a much greater degree - that is to say, an incomparable histrio, the greatest mime, the most astounding theatrical genius that the Germans have ever had, our scenic artist par excellence. He belongs to some other sphere than the history of music, with whose really great and genuine figure he must not be confounded. Wagner and Beethoven - this is blasphemy - and above all it does not do justice even to Wagner.... As a musician, he became a poet, because the tyrant in him, his actor's genius, drove him to be both. Nothing is known concerning Wagner, so long as his dominating instinct has not been divined. [Note: all emphases are the author's]
Nietzsche answers the question he asked in the previous paragraph with 'Wagner was not instinctively a musician' in the succeeding paragraph. According to him this is proven by Wagner's abandonment of 'all the laws and rules, or, in more precise terms, all style in music, in order to make what he wanted with it, i.e., a rhetorical medium for the stage, a medium of expression, a means of accentuating an attitude, a vehicle of suggestion and of the psychologically picturesque'. And it is here that Wagner receives the most praise, albeit sarcastically when considered in the broader discourse on music. Nietzsche continues: 'In this department Wagner may well stand as an inventor and an innovator of the first order - he increased the powers of speech of music to an incalculable degree - he is the Victor Hugo of music as language, provided always we allow that under certain circumstances music may be something which is not music, but speech-instrument - ancilla'. In effect, Nietzsche might not necessarily be arguing against the creativity, but that creativity if it goes beyond the boundary and produces something different should as a matter of necessity bear a different name, just as Wagner's 'experimentation' went beyond the requirements of music. Nietzsche put his critique of Wagner into three requisitions:
  • That the stage should not become master of the arts;
  • That the actor should not become the corrupter of the genuine;
  • That music should not become an art of lying.
In all these, Nietzsche is moaning the replacement of art with something else. Just as today's crave for nudity has allowed talentless individuals with reflexive tendencies to go nude at the least opportunity to become the leading lights around whom some gather and to define what art should be, Nietzsche identified the results of confounding virtuosity in acting with virtuosity in music. He writes
Whom did this movement [the worship of Wagner upon culture] press to the front? What did it make every more and more preeminent? - In the first place the layman's arrogance, the arrogance of the art-maniac. Now these people are organising societies, they wish to make their taste prevail, they even wish to pose as judges in rebus musicis et musicantibus. Secondly: an ever increasing indifference towards severe, noble and conscientious schooling in the service of art, and in its place the belief in genius, or in plain English, cheeky dilettantism (- the formula for this is to be found in the Mastersingers). Thirdly, and this is worst of all: Theocracy - , the craziness of a belief in the preeminence of the theatre, in the right of the theatre to rule supreme over the arts, over Art in general...
To Nietzsche, anyone who engages in art or any field of it must subject himself to learning of that field; of what makes it what it is. Perhaps it is in knowing the rules that one could break it. Breaking it without knowing it is ignorance. In today's world, our affinity for sensualism and its imposition on art or its use as the mark of freedom and emancipation has led to the redirection of almost all music genres to profanity. Hip Pop, which began as a means of communicating and seeking kinship in suffering, has moved from that to debauchery; and so too has other forms of music.

But Nietzsche provides no hope. And post-Nietzsche has proven him right. He moans that 'Nowadays all things that can be done well and even with a master hand are small'. To have a sense of how much smaller this has become, reflect on the major music and things of art today. For this he blames the rule that seeks to make corruption paramount.
From the rule that corruption is paramount, that corruption is a fatality, - not even a God can save music.
In the second essay, Nietzsche continues his discussions on Wagner in a more technical way. One thing that is clear is that he sees music as an end not as an instrument for dramatic effects that Wagner turned it into. Some of the sections in this section includes: Wherein I Admire Wagner; Wherein I Raise Objections; Wagner is Dangerous; A Music Without A Future; How I Got Rid Of Wagner; and The Psychologist Speaks.

Though the subject under discussion will appeal mostly to those whose interest in Music and its philosophy is keen, it can also work for those who do not enjoy these but have the patience to read some of the more universal applications of Nietzsche's statements. Which is not an easy task. I cannot claim I understood half of what Nietzsche wrote; but the first step is the reading. And the second and third steps are the rereading. One needs them to understand the author. A difficult essay but worth the read all the same.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Quotes from The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms by Friedrich Nietzsche

The greatest event of my life took the form of a recovery. Wagner belongs only to my diseases. 

All that is good is easy, everything divine runs with light feet.

For, as a rule, artists are no better than the rest of the world, they are even worse - they misunderstand love. Even Wagner misunderstood it. They imagine that they are selfless in it because they appear to be seeking the advantage of another creature often to their own disadvantage. But in return they want to possess the other creature... Even God is no exception to this rule, he is very far from thinking "What does it matter to thee whether I love thee or not?" - He becomes terrible if he is not loved in return...

[N]othing so easily makes a painful impression as when a great mind despoils itself of its wings and strives for virtuosity in something greatly inferior, while it renounces more lofty aims.

People can actually kiss that which plunges them more quickly into the abyss.

[T]he musician is now becoming an actor, his art is developing ever more and more into a talent for telling lies.

A man is an actor when he is ahead of mankind in his possession of this one view, that everything which has to strike people as true, must not be true.

It is glaringly obvious: great success, mob success is no longer the achievement of the genuine - in order to get it a man must be an actor! - Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner - they both prove one and the same thing: that in declining civilisations, wherever the mob is allowed to decide, genuineness becomes superfluous, prejudicial, unfavourable. The actor, alone, can still kindle great enthusiasm. 

I contemplate the youthlets who have long been exposed to his [Wagner's] infection. The first relatively innocuous effect of it is the corruption of their taste.

Wagner is bad for young men; he is fatal for women.

You cannot serve two Masters when one of these is Wagner.

Other musicians are not to be considered by the side of Wagner. Things are generally bad. Decay is universal. Disease lies at the very root of things. If Wagner's name represents the ruin of music, just as Bernini's stands for the ruin of sculpture, he is not on that account its cause.

When one is not rich, at least have enough pride to be poor.

All that which today makes a claim to being the grand style in music is on precisely that account either false to us or false to itself.

Nowadays all things that can be done well and even with a master had are small. 

From the rule that corruption is paramount, that corruption is a fatality, - not even a God can save music.

Biologically, modern man represents a contradiction of values; he sits between two stools, he says yea and nay in one breath. No wonder that it is precisely in our age that falseness itself became flesh and blood, and even genius. No wonder Wagner dwelt among us.

I believe that artists very often do not know what they are best able to do. They are much too vain. Their minds are directed to something prouder than merely to appear little plants, which, with freshness, rareness, and beauty, know how to sprout from their soil with real perfection.

In the theatre one becomes mob, herd, woman, Pharisee, electing cattle, patron, idiot - Wagnerite: there, the most personal conscience is bound to submit to the levelling charm of the great multitude, there the neighbour rules, there one becomes a neighbour.

There is no necessary contrast between sensuality and chastity, every good marriage, every genuine love affair is above this contrast; but in those cases where the contrast exists, it is very far from being necessarily a tragic one. 

I cannot endure anything double-faced.

[W]oman would like to believe that love can do everything - it is the superstition peculiar to her. Alas, he knows the heart finds out how poor, helpless, pretentious, and blundering even the best and deepest love is - how much more readily it destroys than saves....

The intellectual loathing and haughtiness of every man who has suffered deeply - the extent to which a man can suffer, almost determines the order of rank - the chilling uncertainty with which he is thoroughly imbued and coloured, that by virtue of his suffering he knows more than the shrewdest and wisest can ever know, that he has been familiar with, and "at home" in many distant terrible worlds of which you know nothing. 

[E]verything necessary, seen from above and in the light of a superior economy, is also useful in itself - not only should one bear it, one should love it... Amor fati this is the very core of my being.

Only great suffering is the ultimate emancipator of spirit, for it teaches one that vast suspiciousness which makes an X out of every U, a genuine and proper X, i.e. the antepenultimate letter. Only great suffering; that great suffering, under which we seem to be over a fire of greenwood, the suffering that takes its time - forces us philosophers to descend into our nethermost depths, and to let go of all trustfulness, all good-nature, all whittling-down, all mildness, all mediocrity, - on which things we had formerly staked our humanity. I doubt whether such a suffering improves a man; but I know that it makes him deeper...

Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not revealing her reasons?

Monday, March 24, 2014

285-287 The Lord of the Rings (I - III) by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, written between 1937 and 1949, was published in three volumes between 1954 and 1955. According to Tolkien it was not meant to be three separate books, however the size of the manuscript (original manuscript is estimated at 9,250 pages) dictated the form in which the publications would take. This is seen in the structure of each book, which many Harry Potter fans have used against it without realising that unlike the Potter series which was planned to be a seven-series book, the LOTR was not. Each Volume does not have a complete arch; it does not visibly rise and fall. This structure is however seen when all the three books are taken together.

Though these books had been in circulation for over forty-six years, it was not until the movie production that the name of Frodo, Bilbo, Sauron, Gandalf, and Gollum became household names and Tolkien became a worldwide phenomenon. Today, only a handful of individuals could be absolutely ignorant about The Lord of the Rings. At least, they might have heard of the name or watched the movie if not read the books. Basically, the story is about good and bad. The Dark Lord, Sauron, is rising from his first fall and gathering his army in his tower. However, what he needs the most is his ring - the One Ring that rules all the other rings. It was in this Ring that he invested all his power during his earlier rule over Middle Earth. The Ring has however fallen through different hands in its response to the master's call. Isildur came into the Ring after the defeat of the Dark Lord. During his return to his land, he was attacked and killed by Orcs. The Ring then fell to a Hobbit-like creature called Deagol who was eventually killed by his friend Smeagol, later Gollum, when he claimed that it was Deagol's gift to him on his birthday. After several years of being under the power of the Ring, Gollum was beaten to it by Bilbo Baggins during a riddling game. Bilbo used it mainly for his disappearing act on his birthdays. In Bilbo's 111th year and his nephew Frodo's 33rd, the Ring passed on willingly from the former to the latter. It was during this period that the Wizard, Gandalf the Grey, whom Bilbo had befriended on his first journey, discovered the truth of the lore of the Ring. The power of the Ring and the fear of using it for evil purposes and its near-indestructibility led to the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring during the Council of Elrond in Rivendell. This Fellowship, made up of a Wizard (Gandalf), an Elf (Legolas), a Dwarf (Gimli), four Hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry), and two men (Aragorn and Boromir) were charged with protecting the Ring bearer - Frodo - to Mount Doom of Mordor, where it was forged and where it can only be destroyed. Thus, the story is about the journey of this Fellowship as they struggle against the rise of the Dark Lord and his machinations.

Unlike most novels, it is difficult to pinpoint the protagonist. Every member of the Fellowship, including Boromir who fell under the Ring's power and died for it and Frodo's friends Merry, Pippin and Sam, did something not just useful to the realisation of its ultimate goal but also played significant roles. Besides, though Frodo was the Ring bearer - during the journey to Mordor, for there were several bearers in the life of the Ring, he was not the Lord of the Ring nor had power over it. The Lord of the Ring was the maker of the Ring - Sauron, and the only one over whom the Ring had no power was Tom Bombadil. Furthermore, Aragorn's role was more than just membership in the Fellowship. The whole story revolves around him, even more than Frodo. His role in the past, present, and future history of Middle Earth was what moved the story. And his strength, intelligence, and presence contributed immensely to the successful realisation of Fellowship's mission and the final destruction of the Dark Tower. Aragorn appeared as Strider, a ranger, who was weather-beaten and homeless. Yet, he was the Isildur's heir, of whom the prophecy is about. He bore the sword that was broken and he was the crownless who became king. For after the destruction of the Ring, Aragorn returned to take his rightful place as Elessar King of Arnor and Gondor. Gandalf himself played no mean role in the Fellowship, especially after he fell into the Mines of Moria and his encounter with the Balrog. Though he was tempted with power from both Sauron and Saruman, he stood firm and with his wisdom saw through smooth-talkers like Grima Wormtongue and Saruman and the madness of Denethor, steward of Gondor. In a way, Tolkien showed that collaboration and cooperation is the only way to defeat evil so that for the sake of the fellowship, an elf and a dwarf - who were mortal enemies - became friends.

The beauty of the LOTR lies in its creativity, the first of which any reader cannot but mention is the beautiful poems found scattered in the books. Right from Tom Bombadil's speeches to the songs sang in Rivendell and Gondor, Tolkien spent time on his creation. The musicality, the rhythmic movements of the poems is such a beauty. As an example, 
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky
Seven for the dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie. 
This three-volume novel is one of the most complete creation of a completely different universe I have read by any author. The other is Frank Herbert's Dune. It is the intellectualism of Tolkien that I appreciate the most. His creation of Middle Earth as an epoch in the natural metamorphosis of the earth, inhabited by different creatures - wizards, elves, hobbits, dwarves, orcs, and men, with its own geography and historical events made Tolkien appeal to a wider audience including those who might not even like the Fantasy genre to which his work is usually classified. However, the important aspect of his creations is the sheer number of languages the philologist professor, who had a full-time job as a university lecturer, created for the different speaking-people that inhabited Middle Earth. So detailed was Tolkien's creation that he provided variants of the same languages spoken by different tribes of the same group. It is believed that in all Tolkien created over twenty different languages, each with its own grammar and vocabulary.  He has been quoted as saying:
What I think is a primary 'fact' about my work, that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration. [...] It is not a 'hobby', in the sense of something quite different from one's work, taken up as a relief-outlet. The invention of languages is the foundation. The 'stories' were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. I should have preferred to write in 'Elvish'. But, of course, such a work as The Lord of the Rings has been edited and only as much 'language' has been left in as I thought would be stomached by readers. [...] It is to me, anyway, largely an essay in 'linguistic aesthetic', as I sometimes say to people who ask me 'what is it all about'. [Source]
The question 'what is it all about?' has led people to speculate and attribute all manner of allegories to the LOTR. However, in the foreword to the second edition (published by Houghton Mifflin), the author stated that he prefers applicability to allegories.
I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability and allegory; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author. [7]
In its applicability, the LOTR is about the fight between good and evil. And it is in the casting of the good and evil and the representation of its characters that Tolkien's magnificent creation - a creation of such humongous literary value and luminosity - is much criticised. Some have read this set of novels as a racist book that depicted all evil as black and all good as white or fair. There were Black Riders (or the Nazguls or the Ringwraiths) - the servants of the Dark Lord; there was the Black Gate of Mordor, the entrance to the Dark Lord's domain; Sauron - the villain - was the Dark Lord; the Dark Lord's tower was the Dark Tower; and many others. The fighting Uruk-hai, the strong and huge but brainless easily fooled type of Orcs, were described as 'black', so too were the smaller ones who worked as trackers described as 'black-skinned'. Sauron, the Dark Lord, was served by black men of the Easterlings and Southrons. In fact there are several lines scattered in the books that the race critics of Tolkien could easily referenced. For instance, at Bree, when the Fellowship were nearly attacked by the Black Riders, Butterbur - owner of the pub - swore that
No black man shall pass my doors, while I can stand on my legs. [181]
The distinction between dark and fair, light and dark, was sharp in this novel. Galadriel of Lothlorien, and Arwen the daughter of Elrond, were described as the fairest and the most beautiful. In fact, it was as if one's character type hinged on one's skin colour. Even when Saruman the White completely became evil he chose multiple colours instead of remaining white. In addition to these obvious racial characterisation, there were also class discrimination. For instance, Hobbits though white-skinned were constantly overlooked in Middle-Earth. Similarly, the fighting Uruk-Hai discriminated against the common Orcs, referring to them as Snagga. There have also been counter-arguments against these accusations of racism against Tolkien. The discussion in this area is broadening.

These are, however, not the only criticism of Tolkien's seminal work. The LOTR has also been charged with having few female characters in any major roles and reducing them to the conventional role of women. In fact, the Fellowship of the Ring included no female though individuals such as Galadriel played some very important role, in their own way. In addition to being a bearer of one of the three Rings for the Elven-kings, her gifts to the fellowship saved them from harm, hunger, and death. Eowyn cared for her uncle, Theoden King of Rohan, when he was under the spell of Grima Wormtongue. She had to disguise herself as a male soldier to be able to fight along side her uncle and in the end killed a Nazgul, which was no mean an achievement. Arwen, the daughter of Elrond - Lord of Rivendell - was known for her beauty and her marriage to the brave Aragorn who became the King of Arnor and Gondor. Yet, scarcely any of the female characters in the LOTR was assigned the traditional female characters of witch, sorceress, temptress, and others.

Whether these references and characterisation were metaphorical or that the criticisms might have arisen from an age where events have led people to develop a more sensitive ear, any book as popular as this is likely to be such charged even if it were written in an age where these things were acceptable and would not have raised an eyebrow.

Aside these references, there were also some unique or curious biblical references one could make. First, Frodo Baggins - Bilbo Baggin's nephew - was 33 years, considered to be the age of coming of age for Hobbits. This was the age Jesus Christ said it was finished and died, according to theologians. On this same day that Frodo was 33, Bilbo was 111 years. Unless it is far fetched, does this not represent the trinity? Besides, the sum of the two ages - the uncle's and the nephew's - give 144 (or 12 dozen), which was the same as the number of people Bilbo invited to their birthday party. This number is considered gross by Hobbits, though it has Biblical reference. According to the Bible there are 144,000 people who are sealed (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel). Though this may not be significant, it is worth noting.

What is clear from reading the LOTR is that Tolkien was doing something much more than just storytelling; he was creating. First, the story was less suspenseful. Tolkien could have easily cranked up the suspense had he chosen to do so or had the story itself being his primary motive - something fans are now craving for especially when it comes down to the battle between fans (HP and LOTR). The sheer size of extra-reading material Tolkien added to the book detailing the histories of the various speaking peoples of Middle Earth, the chronology of events of Middle Earth, Family Trees, calendars, language used in the text, were of such intellectual merit that it moved the novel closer to history. In fact, these materials formed almost thirty percent of the Book III. Finally, even when the Ring was destroyed the story did not end there. It went on to tell of the scourging of the shire and the wiliness of Saruman as he made his way into the heart of the Shire and what happened to some of the major protagonists. It should also be added that for such an epic story, more pages could have been added. Tolkien agrees to this.

The significance The Lord of the Rings as a work of intellectual superiority that has spurned several books, researches, and studies cannot be eclipsed by the accusations and critiques charged against it. In a way these critiques are part of the intellectual study of the text. The work exudes quality and beauty. It breathes. To end, it is important to state that there are differences between the movie adaptations and the books. Tom Bombadil did not appear in the movie, though he was mentioned several times in the novel as someone very important and mysterious (even at the Council of Elrond, he was considered as an option when the solution to the Ring was discussed). This is not the only difference; there are others. Consequently, if one's aim is to enjoy Tolkien's creation in its entirety - the dialogue, poems, languages, historical events - one has to read the set and not relay on the movie. In addition to Tolkien's own material, other materials also exist that would help any Tolkien fan (or scholar) who wants to know more about the author's creations.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quotes from J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (Books I-III)

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. [The Shadow of the Past; The Fellowship of the Ring, 69]

The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, buy you cannot for ever fence it out. [Three is Company; The Fellowship of the Ring, 93]

Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. [Three is Company; The Fellowship of the Ring, 93]

Courage is found in unlikely places. [Three is Company; The Fellowship of the Ring, 94]

There's earth under his old feet, and clay on his fingers; wisdom in his bones, and both his eyes are open. [In the House of Tom Bombadil; The Fellowship of the Ring, 143]

It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or for ill. [The Council of Elrond; The Fellowship of the Ring, 278]

It is wisdom to recognise necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning. [The Council of Elrond; The Fellowship of the Ring, 282]

Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens. [The Ring Goes South; The Fellowship of the Ring, 294]

[L]et him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall. [The Ring Goes South; The Fellowship of the Ring, 294]

Well, when heads are at a loss bodies must serve, as we say in my country. The strongest of us must seek the way. [The Ring Goes South; The Fellowship of the Ring, 305]

The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears. [A Journey in the Dark; The Fellowship of the Ring, 311]

True, but where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls. [A Journey in the Dark; The Fellowship of the Ring, 311]

It's the job that's never started as takes the longest to finish. [The Mirror of Galadriel; The Fellowship of the Ring, 376]

Where there are so many, all speech becomes a debate without end. But two together may perhaps find wisdom. [The Breaking of the Fellowship; The Fellowship of the Ring, 413]

[I]t is easier to shout stop! than to do it. [Treebeard; The Two Towers, 77]

[T]hey choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying. [The White Rider; The Two Towers, 99]

For imagining war he has let loose war, believing that he has no time to waste; for he that strikes the first blow, if he strikes it hard enough, may need to strike no more. [The White Rider; The Two Towers, 101]

Yet in doubt a man of worth will trust to his own wisdom. [The King of the Golden Hall; The Two Towers, 116]

The guilty shall bring the guilty to judgement. [The King of the Golden Hall; The Two Towers, 120]

Faithful heart may have froward tongue. [The King of the Golden Hall; The Two Towers, 126]

Say also that to crooked eyes truth may wear a wry face. [The King of the Golden Hall; The Two Towers, 126]

He that flies counts every foeman twice, yet I have spoken to stoutmen, and I do not doubt that the main strength of the enemy is many times as great as all that we have here. [Helm's Deep; The Two Towers, 134]

One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters. [Flotsam and Jetsam; The Two Towers, 169]

Nay, the guest who has escaped from the roof, will think twice before he comes back in by the door. [The Voice of Saruman; The Two Towers, 187]

Fair speech may hide a foul heart. [The Window on the West; The Two Towers, 285]

[I]t seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself, especially if one sees a friend bound unwitting to his own harm. [The Forbidden Pool; The Two Towers, 301]

They say that men who go warring afield look ever to the next hope of food and of drink. [Minas Tirith; The Return of the King, 33]

At the table small men may do the greater deeds, we say. [Minas Tirith; The Return of the King, 33]

Counsels may be found that are neither the webs of wizards nor the haste of fools. [The Siege of Gondor; The Return of the King, 86]

Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend. It can be so sometimes. [The Siege of Gondor; The Return of the King, 89]

Need brooks no delay, yet late is better than never. [The Ride of the Rohirrim; The Return of the King, 111]

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ghana Blogging and Social Media Awards - Vote for Us

ImageNations - the blog and the blogger - has been nominated in two categories at the Ghana Blogging and Social Media Awards alongside some amazing bloggers and blogs. The categories are:
  • Best Blog -
  • Best Male Blogger - Nana Fredua Agyeman
In addition, the organisation I work for, Writers Project of Ghana, has also been nominated in two categories:
  • Best Twitter Profile - @writerspg
  • Organisation with Best Social Media Presence - Writers Project Ghana
We will be glad if you could vote for us (WPG and this blog) in these four categories listed above. When you enter your email address and you will be served with a form listing all nominees. You will also need to confirm your email address by clicking on a link ( which will be sent into your inbox before your entry can be counted. Click here to vote

Thanks for the nomination, for those who read this blog, and for your votes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Golden Baobab Prizes Announced

The 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes have been launched and are calling for submissions. This year, Golden Baobab will award 6 prizes worth $20,000. These 6 prizes are:
  1. The $5,000 Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Book
  2. The $5,000 Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Book
  3. The $2,500 Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writers
  4. The $5,000 Golden Baobab Prize for Illustrators
  5. The $2,500 Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Illustrators
  6. The Golden Baobab Lifetime Achievement in Children’s Literature Award
This year marks the 6th anniversary of the 3 Golden Baobab Prizes for Literature. These prizes invite entries of unpublished stories for children written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin. In November 2013, Golden Baobab launched the fourth and fifth prizes, The Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrations, to do for African illustrators what the organization has been doing for African writers for the past 5 years: discovering, nurturing and celebrating their talent, passion and contribution to the African children’s literature space. Entrants will submit illustrations as per Golden Baobab specifications.

The newest addition, The Golden Baobab Lifetime Achievement in Children’s Literature Award, which is the 6th prize, has been set up to recognize African writers/illustrators who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding significance to the development of African children’s literature. At the appropriate time, Golden Baobab will communicate how this prize will be run.

Last year, the three Golden Baobab Prizes for literature received 180 submissions from 13 African countries. This year, the coordinator of the Prizes, Nanama B. Acheampong, is confident that these numbers will improve: 
We expect to receive many more submissions for the 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes for Literature this year. We have also had such positive reactions to our newly launched Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrations and are looking forward to being pleasantly surprised.
The 2013 winners were Liza Esterhuyse from South Africa who won the Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Book, Karen Hurt, also from South Africa, who won the Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Book and twelve year old Kanengo Rebecca Diallo from Tanzania who won the Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writers which awards promising writers below the age of eighteen.

Entry information for the prizes can be found on the organization’s website. Entrants should note that the copyright of each entry submitted to the Golden Baobab Prizes remains vested in them. However, by submitting an entry, entrants declare that they are legally entitled to do so and give Golden Baobab permission to make their entry available for exclusive worldwide royalty-free usage, reproduction and distribution. The deadline for the 2014 prizes is June 29th. Winners will be announced in November 2014.

For information on how to enter the 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes, visit Golden Baobab’s website or contact the coordinator, Nanama B. Acheampong at

Please support the Golden Baobab Prizes by:
  1. Forwarding this email on to interested persons or organizations.
  2. Encouraging eligible persons (i.e. African citizens of all ages) in your networks to write or illustrate and submit!
  3. Printing out and putting up our catchy posters (see here) and (there). It should only take a minute!
  4. Writing a story or creating an illustration yourself! You can find our rules and regulations here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

284. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White (FP: 1868; Penguin Popular Classic (1994), 569) by Wilkie Collins is the first book I read in 2014. It was a selection of the Book and Discussion Club of the Writers Project of Ghana for the month of February*. This is a fantastic story about love - found, lost, and found again; trust and mistrust; impersonation and title-chasing or more specifically an egregious quest for an upward movement into a more respectable class of English society; and about a misunderstanding that ended in divorce and loss (and regain) of reputation. 

Laura Fairlie was engaged to marry Baron Percival Glyde; the match was made by Phillip Fairlie, Laura's father, before he died. Marriage between the two was therefore a matter of time, at least until a poor drawing master - Walter Hartright, around whom some of the events in the story surrounded, entered the Limmeridge household. The two - Laura and Hartright - were doomed to love each other the first day they met. Miss Marian Halcombe - Laura's half-sister - has made it her duty to protect her sister and to ensure that the engagement was not broken. Fortunately, Walter was wise and cared about reputation - his and hers, so he agreed to leave the household to forestall any further desires they both might develop. Unfortunately, Percival had a secret and The Woman in White - Anne Catherick, a woman of doubtful mental capabilities and who stunningly resemble Laura, thought she knew what this dangerous secret was about. And because of her love for Laura's mother, whom she had lived with for sometime and who had convinced her to wear white, Anne made it her duty to prevent the marriage between Laura and Glyde. But she could not prevent a man on a mission to solve his financial problem from marrying the very woman who had the solution. And so the charms of Percival won over Laura Fairlie and any apprehensions that she had from the letter Anne had sent her dissipated. The marriage was quickly arranged and Laura's inheritance became the chief discussion point. Finally, when he had obtained access to her wealth, he would show her his true person. He really did not care for Laura and treated her badly. The money was all he wanted. But Anne would not stay quiet. The rest of the story is about Glyde and his friend - Count Fosco - trying to shut Anne up.  

Wilkie weaved his story in a way that made it difficult to second guess him and even when you are sure that something was going to happen, it eventually turned out not to have. In fact, the suspense in this tale is tense and palpable and he sustained it to the very end. Most authors, in the telling of their stories, shed off the peripheral (or lateral) stories and events to concentrate on the crux as the story heads towards its final unravelling (the denouement). But this was not so with Wilkie Collins. He kept every angle of the story going. This non-exfoliating (or killing off) of events produced a story that did not rush towards an end and that held the reader's interest until the last page. In fact, it is in reading to the end would conceptions and beliefs made from the beginning be broken.

Another beautiful thing about The Woman in White, apart from its ability to hold the reader's attention and command his or her reading time, is its characterisation. Each and every character in this story is unique. Each is memorable. And each is relatable. There is a Prof. Pesca who prided himself on being a perfect Englishman in his language and who said Now, my good dears... and who described the family he tutored Italian as
Among the fine London Houses where I teach the language of my native country, ..., there is one, mighty fine, in the big place called Portland. You all know where that is? Yes, yes - course-of-course. The fine house, my good dears, has got inside it a fine family. A Mamma, fair and fat; three young Misses, fair and fat; two young Misters, fair and fat; and a Papa, the fairest and the fattest of all, who is a mighty merchant, up to his eyes in gold - a fine man once, but seeing that he has got a naked head and two chins, fine no longer at the present time. Now mind! I teach sublime Dante to the young Misses, and ah! - my-soul-bless-my-soul! - it is not in human language to say how sublime Dante puzzles the pretty heads of all three! [7]
There is Count Fosco, also Italian and a well trained Chemist, who addresses himself as the Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Brazen Crown, Perpetual Arch-Master of the Rosicrucian Masons of Mesopotamia; Attached (in Honorary Capacities) to Societies Musical, Societies Medical, Societies Philosophical, and Societies General Benevolent, throughout Europe etc. etc. etc., and who spoke English with a flourish but in a way markedly different from Prof Pesca's. For instance, at the beginning of his narrative he writes:
I arranged to pass the preliminary period of repose, to which I have just referred, in the superb mansion of my late lamented friend, Sir Percival Glyde. He arrived from the Continent with his wife. I arrived from the Continent with mine. England is the land of domestic happiness - how appropriately we entered it under these domestic circumstances. The bond of friendship which united Percival and myself was strengthened, on this occasion, by a touching similarity in the pecuniary position on his side and on mine. We both wanted money. Immense necessity! Universal want! Is there a civilised human being who does not feel for us? How insensible must that man be! Or how rich! [544]
Fosco was a charmer whose true intent is forever hidden under a mask of plastered laughter. His talks could veer off into other directions for long periods before repairing to the original route. There is also the unforgettable Frederick Fairlie - a hypochondriac who could not tolerate sunshine and human presence. Everybody was below him in significance and as a bachelor he saw no reason why he should be responsible for the problems of married folks. Any intrusion into his space - physical presence, sound arising from the banging (or even squeaking) of his door, the misalignment of his curtain to invite more light than necessary - put him into a nervous state which would require days of absolute peace, lying prostrate in bed, to recover. Fairlie is your absolute egocentric who found decision-making extremely tasking and would want to be not bothered with any worldly thing apart from his collection of paintings. Even when Fairlie had come to know the cost of his selfishness and neglect of duties, he had to be threatened to tell his part in the story:
It is the grand misfortune of my life that nobody will let me alone.
Why - I ask everybody - why worry me? Nobody answers that question, and nobody lets me alone. Relatives, friends, and strangers all combine to annoy me. What have I done? I ask myself, I ask my servant, Louis, fifty times a day - what have I done? Neither of us can tell. Most extraordinary!
The last annoyance that has assailed me is the annoyance of being called upon to write this Narrative. Is a man in my state of nervous wretchedness capable of writing narratives? When I put this extremely reasonable objection, I am told that certain very serious events relating to my niece have happened within my experience, and that I am the fit person to describe them on that account. I am threatened if I fail to exert myself in the manner required, with consequences which I cannot so much as think of without perfect prostration. There is really no need to threaten me. Shattered by my miserable health and my family troubles, I am incapable of resistance. [304]
Miss Marian Halcombe was the straightforward character who took command over problems and events. She was one who did not bend easily and was not easily frightened. Lady Glyde nee Laura Fairlie was the usual English lady with English sensibilities and gentility. Even when she fell in love with Walter Hartright, she found it impossible to break the promise she made to her father to marry Baron Percival Glyde and rather wished that Percival would do it for her. She was weak and was counterbalanced by her half-sister, Marian. In fact, all the characters in this story are memorable even the dumber servant, Margaret Porcher. Countess Fosco, Laura's auntie, was unique in her submerged hatred and suppressed jealousies of her husband's female friends. Once in a while, when Count Fosco became too friendly with his female acquaintances, a wave of unexpressible fury pass across her face.

And Walter Hartright, the poor drawing-master who was struck by love but was willing to let it go for the sake of reputation. Not only was he central in the story, or did he put the various narratives together, but his role as an innocent and a good man was memorable. He grew from a weakling to a person with immutable resolve to protect a young lady from the rapaciousness of her husband and his friend. 

All the characters in this story were fully developed. None was flat. Pesca was not the anglophile he pretended to be; Halcombe was intelligent - albeit ugly - and together with Hartright sought the interest of Lady Glyde. Countess Fosco moved from the women rights' activist she once was to become a servile wife of Count Fosco, perhaps with the help of the latter's impeccable knowledge in Chemical compositions.

What is impressive about The Woman in White is not only in these unique characters but in the narrative style. Wilkie Collins used eleven - two major and nine minor - narrators in the telling of this story, each telling it from his or her own point of view. The stories of the narrators were arranged to give a smooth flow. It was like the prosecution calling in his witnesses to tell what they know of a case. The two major narrators were Walter Hartright who put all the stories together and who was part of the central characters and Marian Halcombe, whose journal entries was a great wealth of information for Walter's stories. The other nine contributed the parts which concerned them towards the compilation. None of the stories of the nine was up to forty pages.

Through these characters Wilkie Collins introduced humour in an otherwise serious story. Pesca's quaint English, Count Fosco's flourish use of language, Fairlie's verbosity and total ignorance of life around him, and even in Hartright's early description of the Fairlie household, were all sources of humour that lightened up the story.

This is a unique story on all fronts. It is not a story trying to imitate life - some of the coincidences were all too good to happen; however, it is a story that is proud to remain a novel: to entertain and to offer avenues for the discussion and analyses of human nature. A story should more than just imitate life. And The Woman in White does just that.
*We are reading Mawuli Adzei's Testament of the Seasons

Monday, March 03, 2014

February in Review, Projections for March

I know my passion for blogging has declined (or is declining). I have blogged on only one of the nine books I have read this year and already we are in the third month of the year. This does not happen often. But it has. Though I truly do not know the cause, sometimes I feel I am wasting my time - tasking myself for nothing. I don't know if people truly read the posts and if it makes sense at all or if it makes an impact. Or if I am just shouting into cyberspace and only contributing to the zillions of GB of information created everyday. Or perhaps the ups-and-downs of 2014 is having its toll on me. 

The month has ended and, once again, I am doing okay with reading. I am reading fast but slow. Slow in the sense that I leave a lot of days between the completion of one book and the beginning of another, which used not to be the case. However, I read all the four books I projected to read in February. Even with this sluggishness, I surpassed my daily target of 50 pages a day but lost grounds on the 5 books a month I need to accomplish my reading goal for the year.  This is because the books were all moderately big (all less than 500 pages but more than 300). All the same, I will be taking things slowly until I feel the energy to blog again. On the whole, I read one non-fiction, and three novels; one African writer and three non-African writer; one female writer and three male writers.
  1. The Two Towers (Book 2 of the Lord of the Rings) by J.R.R. Tolkien. [352p] This book deals with the story of the members of the fellowship after Gandalf fell in the pits of Moria. It talks about the Ents; Pippin and Merry; Sam and Frodo; Legolas, Gimli and Aragon (of many names); Saruman and others. I have always admired the creative prowess of Tolkien, even though in his trilogy he was accused of racism;
  2. The Return of the King (Book 3 of the Lord of the Rings) by J.R.R. Tolkien. [440p] The third book is where everything culminates. It is about the great war and the destruction of the ring. If there is anything, I agree with Tolkien that the books were not lengthy enough. With what Tolkien created, he could have gone on and on and created more vile and violent scenes. He could have made Sauron perform some (mis)deeds.
  3. The Psychology of Nations by G.E. Partridge. [350p] This is an essay on the psychology of nations written in 1919 after the first world war and the formation of the League of Nations. In this book (ebook), Partridge analysed the psychology of nations from the point of view of war. He discussed the causes and effects of war from several angles. Can war be noble? Is it economic? Is it an expression of man's animalistic instinct? Are wars fought for territories? He also examined how to replace the patriotism that lead to war with education. In fact, his solution to solving the differences among nations lies in the mode and method of education. He advocated for a complete overhaul in the education system. I don't know if he was taken seriously but what I know is that we still need to take a look at some of his propositions. This is a brilliant book. I cannot say I understood everything Partridge proposed but he did a thorough work.
  4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. [477p] I do not know what to call this book and as the author said in this very book, a novel is not suppose to be about one thing. So I will say, I like the part that dealt with race and not the part which dealt with love. The love story was not 'tight' for me and I have disliked the 'true love' kind of love stories. The likes where the partners roam the world - sometimes marry and still come back to it. No! It was Judith McNaught's Perfect and Daniel Steel's Lightning that did that to me. After reading those two books I stopped reading romance. I love the Deola-Wale relationship Sefi Atta's A Bit of Difference more than the Ifemelu-Obinze type. And there are a lot of similarities between the two books. For those who have not yet Sefi's book, I will beg you to try it. It is less than half the size of this but it covers a lot and has more dynamism. However, Adichie's insight into race, delivered through Ifemelu's blog, is superb. She writes flawlessly. I also like that she dropped a lot of books, authors, and contemporary music. She is one author I want to read entirely, whether I enjoy it or not.
I don't know what I will be reading in March. I have fewer books by Africans and I am not in the mood for the type of non-African books I have now. However, I am beginning How to Spell Naija in 100 Short Stories vol. 1 by one of my favourite - yet to disappoint - authors Chuma Nwokolo. If you are tired of the industrial hype and want something unique, refreshing, interesting, and yet biting, read Chuma.
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