El significado en el ritmo

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Hemingway sought to make the sentences and paragraphs he wrote ostensibly simple, filled with repetitions and odd variations, charged with a sort of hidden electricity, filled with an emotion which the reader could not easily find in the words themselves, emotion which seemed to live in the space between the words, or in the sudden endings of certain paragraphs.

Thus, in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway could write, “But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

In that sentence, he managed to declare very little, but to suggest a great deal. In the forty-one words, twenty-seven words have only one syllable. This makes the reader feel comfortable, as though something easy were being said. But it is clear from the way the punctuation works and the variation within the phrasing that nothing is in fact simple, and much is ambiguous and almost painful. Instead of saying so, Hemingway manages to give the impression of this, to comfort the reader with the diction, but then jolt the reader with the shifting levels of tone and meaning within the clauses.

The theory of this is to let the writer do the feeling and to register this in the prose, bury it in the white spaces; thus, the reader will come to feel it all the more intensely, because it will not come as mere information, but as something much more powerful, will come as rhythm. And it will come so subtly that the reader’s imagination will be deeply engaged in capturing it in all its uncertainty and strangeness. Thus, it will be closer to music in its impact, but the words will still hold their meaning. It will play the stability of meaning against the mystery of silent sound. This idea that what you leave out in prose writing is more important than what you put in made its way into the very core of Hemingway’s method as a novelist and short story writer.

Colm Tóibín

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Estanque de agua

Fuimos a ver el celebrado estanque de Casasano, el más grande y hermoso que existe en esta región. Su agua es tan pura que, no obstante una profundidad de treinta pies, pueden distinguirse en lo más hondo las briznas de hierba. Y hasta un alfiler, caído sobre las piedras que están bajo el agua, se ve brillar con toda claridad. Un muro de piedra, al nivel del agua, de treinta pies de altura, le rodea en forma de óvalo, y sobre cuyo borde me atreví a darle la vuelta acompañada de nuestro anfitrión que iba detrás de mí. Un resbalón ofrecía dos alternativas: de un lado ahogarse y del otro lado quebrarse la nuca. ¡Qué hermosura de agua: un espejo perfecto, con largas y verdes plantas como plumas en el fondo!

Madame Calderón de la Barca, 1840, La vida en México —Carta XXXIV.

Un telón de ópera para Querétaro

IMG_3714El cielo no existe aquí. Es tan azul y vacío todo el tiempo, que uno deja de verlo. Brillante y sin nubes, no representa mas que la nada. En este clima árido, pueden pasar meses sin lluvia. Diez meses. Se recuerda la lluvia como algo que existió y no existirá más, hasta que vuelve —tímidamente— a llover el siguiente verano. Incluso cuando llueve, las delgadas nubes vienen rápidamente, llueven y se van. El cielo está limpio al amanecer y al anochecer. Las nubes nadie las ve.

Septiembre 2013. El mes de la excepción. Sigue haciendo mucho calor y es casi octubre, sigue lloviendo inusualmente casi diario, pero lo más extraño ha sido la presencia constante de nubes, nubes gruesas, grises, muy grandes, que llenan todo el cielo todo el día, todos los días, que hacen que la ciudad se vea muy distinta también, aunque no llueva. Final de la urbe, pesada cubierta, telón de ópera, extraño muro que detiene al naranja de las casas y cambia radicalmente la atmósfera, la temperatura de la luz, la experiencia espacial y urbana.

The perfect coffee experience

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that in general there is no city in the world where the coffee experience is better arranged than in Milan. The barmen in the thousands of small cafes around the town are never temps, or students, or would-be actors going through hard times. They know how to make coffee. That’s their life. […] This man —in his early thirties, I’d guess— is at home in his job. He knows all his customers, their likes and dislikes. He is not studying to become a computer programmer or trying to write a novel or taking days off for theater auditions. He works very fast and can talk football or politics as he does so. When you take your cup from his hands you can feel sure that the next few minutes will be exactly the break you were after. And all this is done without that horrible pretension that hangs around the celebrated coffee houses of Paris with their silly red awnings and clutter of wicker chairs. In Milan, at street level at least, everything is natural, busy, fast and right.

Tim Parks, Italian Ways.

Why I Write

I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4. Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature — taking your ‘nature’ to be the state you have attained when you are first adult — I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth.

George Orwell, Why I Write.

An organizing principle

What editors want is to have that chaos organized in a fashion that can be presented in a periodical publication. All periodical publications are similarly engaged in this artifice: The New York Times tells you everyday that it contains all the news that is fit to print, and we all know that isn’t true. It can’t be true. But to The New York Times’ credit, they’re out there with the artifice telling you on the front page, “This is what you’re buying here.” You are buying an organizing principle. The world is full of stuff that happened yesterday, much of which is unknown, much of which no one can make any sense out of. But this thing you hold in your hands attempts to make some sense out of it. And of course, dismally fails, as all journalistic analysis ultimately fails, but it at least gives you the comfort of a kind of organization to impose on it.

Michael Kelly, The Art of Making Magazines.

Concebir la felicidad bajo una forma que no sea el buen humor

El paseante se dijo: «[…] Hasta ahora he vivido como me parecía justo y razonable hacerlo, y no me asusta la posibilidad de que me demuestren que he estado equivocado, pues con todo derecho digo: errar es humano. Veo, no obstante, que es hermoso adaptarse a algún ideal noble y moderar la alegría de vivir para dar cumplimiento a ciertas tareas, concebir la felicidad también bajo una forma que no sea el buen humor, y no pasar a depender de este último temiendo por él a cada hora o preocupándose por conservarlo: no, más bien dejándolo al descubierto, sacrificar la propia dicha y, quizá por eso mismo, recuperarla».

Admitió, según se ve, que todavía le faltaba discernimiento, pero se atribuyó capacidad de ejecución.

Robert Walser, Paseo dominical (I).