Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category


Hamlet, or the eternal doubt

Written on April 6, 2015 by Susana Torres Prieto in Literature

susanaSusana Torres Prieto. Associate Professor of Humanities at IE University and IE Business School

To be or not to be” is, indisputably, the metaphysical doubt most often repeated in Western Culture. And probably one of those phrases commonly used out of context, at least out of the context Shakespeare had written it for. About Hamlet, probably the only theatre play that has been uninterruptedly on stage since its first version was acclaimed in 1602, have written extensively Goethe, Coleridge, Mallarmé, Freud or Lampedusa, just to mention a few.

“To be or not to be” is not only the doubt expressed by a young and cultivated prince between the anguish of being, and the liberation that suicide would bring, after the cruel disappointment of witnessing the shameful behaviour of his parents (we have all been through that in adolescence), but also the elucidation of a rather more thorny issue. If we remain in this world, Hamlet states, despite the many unsavoury moments we have to get through, is only because we fear the unknown, whatever might come after death, and such fear is greater than our repugnance for the present. And it is what paralyses us, depriving us of the required courage to take our lives and put an end to present sufferings. Indeed, for Hamlet, who is unable of closing his eyes to the heartbreaking evidence described by his father’s ghost –how his own brother poisoned him in order to obtain both crown and wife at one blow– his moral duty poses him a problem to be resolved only with the weapons at his disposal, which, in this case, is a theatre company with whom he plans the public revealing of the crime. Because for Hamlet being in this world without obeying one’s own conscience and, in this case, responding to his father’s request, is a possibility he does not even contemplate. And if all this was not enough, a public incrimination would imply not only accusing his own stepfather, whom his capricious mother has chosen as husband, but, more importantly, accusing the current king of regicide, and this, for Shakespeare’s time, was going a little bit too far. It was believed that the health and well-being of all the subjects of a given kingdom depended on the health and fortune of their king. John of Salisbury had already discussed the relevance of the head in the “body politic”, and the author himself leaves no doubt when he puts in Laertes’ mouth the words “His greatness weigh’d, his will is not his own, for he himself is subject to his birth: he may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself, for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state”. Moral doubt and political doubt are, therefore, mingled in this everlasting phrase from this Shakespearean tragedy in which, as in many others, almost all characters die (Hamlet, Claudius, the King, Gertrude, the Queen, Laertes, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), leaving behind only poor Horatio to tell the story. What a role to play!

Shakespeare, who analysed as few others either before or after him the consequences of the use and abuse of power (unfortunately better known of late for his Romeo and Juliet, a romance which lasted three days and killed six people, let’s not forget that), wrote about the misfortunes of the young dutiful prince overcome with grief at the peak of his career, when his pen has already been sharpened in a few Henrys and some Richards, and having coined other memorable phrases such as the famous “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” in Richard III. To that list, we could certainly add, beyond “To be or not to be”, the also often-quoted “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, that so little justice has done to such a generous people, so much so that H.C. Andersen himself used the beginning of Hamlet’s monologue to entitle one of his serious novels, which, by the way, in the lips of Hamlet, in Danish, would have sounded something similar to At være eller ikke være.


George Orwell’s luminous truths

Written on January 5, 2015 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

orwellThe title of this book is especially apposite. George Orwell’s luminous gift was for seeing things, for noticing what others missed, took for granted or simply found uninteresting, for discovering meaning and wonder in the familiarity of the everyday. In Culture and Anarchy (1869) Matthew Arnold defined culture as “the best which has been thought and said”. But for Orwell, though he was prodigiously well read and deeply learned, culture meant something quite different — “the life most people lead”, as John Carey has put it. Orwell never distinguished between high and low culture: all things were not of equal value to him but they were of equal interest. Nothing escaped or seemed beneath his notice, which was what made him such a good reporter.

There is a scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in which Winston Smith watches a propaganda news film depicting images of war. Amid the slaughter and brutality Winston notices something: a woman attempting to protect a child from the artillery fire that will kill them both. She puts her arm around the boy “before the helicopter blew them both to pieces”. The gesture is futile. What can she really do for the boy? Yet, for Winston, the “enveloping, protective” gesture of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something fundamental, an act of human dignity and selflessness, and an expression of unconditional love in an unforgiving world.

Repeatedly in Orwell’s fiction and essays, one encounters moments of clarity such as this, when the reader is startled by something small but significant that Orwell has seen. One thinks in particular of the essay “A Hanging”, set during his years as an imperial policeman in Burma, in which the writer looks on as a condemned man steps to avoid a puddle as he is being led to the gallows. Why should he care about getting his feet wet when he is about to die? But, Orwell writes: “When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we are alive.”

One thinks too of the essay “Shooting an Elephant”, in which Orwell recalls the day he shot a rogue elephant and left it to die in agony, not because he wanted to or felt the act was just but because he feared the derision of the villagers who were watching if he did not.

Seeing Things As They Are, selected and edited by the veteran Orwell scholar Peter Davison, features none of the most celebrated essays. It is intended to be a collection first and foremost of his journalism, with preference given to lesser-known pieces and reviews as well as some of the poems he wrote. It is full of interest and curiosities, such as the inclusion of “Awake! Young Men of England”, a jingoistic poem about the start of the first world war published in 1914 when Orwell was 11, in the Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard.

Continue reading in Financial Times


???????????????????????????????El pasado jueves 23 de Octubre el IE organizó la mesa redonda “Literatura infantil y Diversidad”. El panel estaba compuesto por dos profesores del IE, Margarita Alonso y Vincent Doyle, y por tres escritores, Olga de Dios, Lawrence Schimel y Javier Alonso, que mediante la literatura infantil y juvenil acercan al lector a comprender la diversidad humana desde la orientación sexual a las diferencias étnicas, pasando por las discapacidades físicas y psíquicas.

La primera presentación corrió a cargo de Margarita Alonso que explicó los resultados de sus investigaciones sobre la importancia de educar la diversidad. Su didáctica ponencia mostro los perjuicios de los estereotipos, utilizó como ejemplo el error que es no permitir a las niñas competir deportivamente puesto que posteriormente provoca que las mujeres no sepan distinguir entre lo profesional y lo personal, puesto que el deporte enseña a concentrase en algo y competir por ello en un momento concreto pero una vez terminado ahí se queda.

A continuación la ilustradora Olga de Dios tomó la palabra. Explicó las razones que le llevaron a dedicarse a la literatura infantil y realizó una lectura comentada de su libro Monstruo Rosa (Apila Ediciones, 2013). Durante el expresivo relato de su obra, la autora desentrañó los fines didácticos de la misma. También compartió con el público el hecho de que es una obra autobiográfica y el éxito que ha cosechado como herramienta docente entre niños autistas (de hecho, Monstruo Rosa ha sido traducido a diversos idiomas).

Posteriormente intervino el escritor Lawrence Schimel quien posee una extensa bibliografía de literatura infantil donde abarca temas tales como la adopción, LGBT o multiculturalismo.  El ponente explicó sus obras, entre las que destacan Amigos y Vecinos  (La Librería, 2005) y Igual Que Ellos (Barracuda, 2010). También destaco que una de las funciones de su literatura es “desmachistizar” la literatura infantil, pues la mayoría está protagonizada por varones puesto que los niños se muestran reacios a leer cuentos con protagonista femenina debido a que lo consideran “cosas de niñas”, como en Mi Gata Eureka (Bibliópolis, 2005).

Finalmente fue el turno de Javier Alonso quien nos presentó su libro La historia de España en 25 historias (Montena, 2014),  donde, en sintonía con su anterior publicación La historia del mundo en 25 historias (Montena, 2013), explica a preadolescentes los principales acontecimientos y personajes de la historia de España. El autor se detuvo en un capítulo que trata el respeto a la diversidad, mediante la historia de rey Carlos II, heredero de la endogamia Habsburgo, sufrió la incomprensión de su pueblo. También narró la extraordinaria vida de Mary Kingsley, quien superó los prejuicios de su época y se convirtió en exploradora.

Tras las ponencias los autores y el público compartieron una animada conversación en el cual se trataron numerosos temas referentes a la diversidad y los obstáculos a la hora de transmitirla a los niños. Una vez finalizado el evento varios miembros de la audiencia se acercaron a charlar con los ponentes y a ver su obra.


Humanities Center 2IE Humanities Center tiene el honor de invitarle a la presentación del libro Siete Canciones Pasada La Medianoche, de D. Pedro Letai, el miércoles 29 de octubre a las 19.30 h. En esta mesa redonda intervendrán D. Pedro Letai, profesor de IE University, D. Felix Valdivieso, Director de Comunicación del IE, y D. Ricardo González, Director de la editorial noVelnoBel VB comunicación. El debate estará moderado por Dña. Arantza de Areilza, Decana de Humanidades y Relaciones Internacionales del IE.

Tras la publicación de un libro de poemas y algunos ensayos académicos, Pedro Letai se aventura en el género de la novela. Siete Canciones Pasada La Medianoche es una reflexión sobre la edad y sobre todo aquello que afecta interiormente al ser humano. El amor, la amistad y un extenso mundo de esas relaciones que van apareciendo en nuestra vida y dejan su poso de alegría, pena, ilusión y desilusión. El autor repasa la vida desde el escepticismo de un periodista que busca su lugar definitivo. La obra refleja la influencia de cosas tan diferentes como el fútbol o la poesía; la música, siempre presente, el periodismo.

La presentación se desarrollará en el Pabellón de Papel del IE Business School situado en c/ Serrano, 99.

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Patrick Modiano wins the Nobel prize in literature

Written on October 9, 2014 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Literature

Modiano-couv-03Patrick Modiano has won this year’s Nobel prize for literature.

The 69-year-old is the 11th French writer to win the prestigious prize.

The Swedish Academy gave the 8 million kronor ($1.1 million or £700,000) prize to Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”.

Modiano, whose novel Missing Person won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1978, was born in a west Paris suburb two months after the second world war ended in Europe in July 1945.

His father was of Jewish Italian origins and met his Belgian actress mother during the occupation of Paris and his beginnings have strongly influenced his writing.

Jewishness, the Nazi occupation and loss of identity are recurrent themes in his novels, which include 1968’s La Place de l’Etoile – later hailed in Germany as a key post-Holocaust work.

Modiano owes his first big break to a friendship with a friend of his mother, French writer Raymond Queneau, who was first introduced him to the Gallimard publishing house when he was in his early twenties.

Modiano, who lives in Paris, is known to shun media, and rarely accords interviews. In 2012, he won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said: “Patrick Modiano is a well-known name in France but not anywhere else. He writes children’s books, movie scripts but mainly novels. His themes are memory, identity and time.

“His best known work is called Missing Person. It’s the story about a detective who has lost his memory and his final case is finding out who he really is; he is tracing his own steps through history to find out who he is.”

He added: “They are small books, 130, 150 pages, which are always variations of the same theme – memory, loss, identity, seeking. Those are his important themes: memory, identity, and time.”

Last year’s award went to the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro.

Continue reading in The Guardian

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