Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category


Inteligencia y Felicidad

Written on January 17, 2008 by DeansTalk in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy

Fernando Fontes


Con gran alegría retomo, después de más de un mes de ausencia, mi colaboración semanal en Sapiens.

En estas largas vacaciones de Navidad, al menos a mí, que no he salido de Madrid, se me han hecho muy largas, he releído algunos libros de ficción de Borges, lo que me ha llevado a “La inteligencia fracasada” de José Antonio Marina.

La razón de que Borges me llevara a Marina es que Borges le hace decir a uno de sus personajes dos cosas que me han vuelto a impresionar.

La primera es cuando dice: “he cometido el mayor de los pecados que un hombre puede cometer: no he sido feliz”.

Y la otra: “Me había acostumbrado a la infelicidad y acaso no la cambiaría por la felicidad”.

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Arantza de AreilzaYussupov

Click here to read this post in Spanish

This morning I thought of who could best describe the marvelous city of Saint Petersburg, of who could portray with great fealty the height of its splendor and be capable of transmitting, with able beauty, the special soul of the City of the River Neva, which the contemporary Russians affectionately call, "Peter."  I then recalled the most captivating figure whose memoirs I had read, Prince Felix Yussupov.   

On his mother’s side, the last of the Yussupovs was a direct descendant of the Khanes Nogai Tartans, and, on his father’s side, was the great grandchild of King Frederick IV of Prussia.  His Serene Highness inherited the greatest fortune of Russia, which many calculated was superior to that of the Czars. 

Felix Yussupov was the cadet son of the Princess Zenaide Yussupov and Count Felix Sumaroff-Elston, the highest Russian aristocracy.  This luck of lineage allowed him to live in the aristocratic splendor of the final years of Czarist Russia and, to witness the end of that world and of the country he had known. 

In his memoirs, entitled, "Lost Splendor," Felix Yussupov narrates, with the aloofness and refined humor which were characteristic of the Oxford education he received, the lifestyle of a Russian aristocrat from the beginning of the century, and the celebration and courtliness which captured the palaces where he lived such as the Moika of Saint Petersburg or the beautiful Arkhangelsoye in the outskirts of Moscow. 

But, perhaps, the most attractive aspect of his memoirs is the complex personality of the author. 

Felix Yussupov possessed a great beauty which was accompanied by a lucid intelligence and refined artistic tastes.  In his youth, he was the object of numerous scandals related to his nighttime escapades dressed as a cabaret singer (his identity was betrayed by the mother’s valuable jewels which he wore), and as a beggar, eager to know the social reality of his country outside of the noble circles that he belonged to. 

Felix Yussupov was surely bisexual, which did not impede his marriage to the Grand Duchess Irina Alexandrova, niece of the Czar Nicholas II, upon his return from Oxford in 1913. 

That winter, Saint Petersburg only spoke of the influence of Rasputin over the imperial family.  Rasputin, son of a Siberian horse thief, to who was attributed all sorts of healing powers through hypnosis, and who, his supporters went to see, in him, the Reincarnation of Christ. 

The high ranking officials of the Czarist Court were profoundly worried by the influence of the "staretz" over the Czarina, and, the weakness of the Czar which put the crown in danger. 

The Prince Yussupov saw the imminent danger and decided to assassinate Grigori Rasputin, a horrific episode which he describes, in detail, in his memoirs.  By winning the trust of the preacher, Yussupov invited him one night to his Moika palace where, after a long and anguished evening, when his poison mixed with wine failed, he saw himself obligated to finish off his scheme with various gun shots, before throwing his body, still alive, to the icy Neva River. 

Some hypotheses suggest that Felix Yussupov belonged to the British Secret Service, who saw in him the ideal instrument, by relationships and his quasi legal immunity, to eliminate from the Russian Court, the germanphile ascendant embodied by Rasputin. 

In 1919, the Prince and his family had to abandon Russia after all of their belongings were confiscated of which they were only able to save a few precious objects, two Rembrandts and the Pellegrina Pearl, the pearl that Phillip IV of Spain gave to his daughter Maria Teresa for her engagement with Louis XIV of France.  The Yussupovs lived the first period of exile in London and then definitively establish themselves in Paris, where Prince Felix, the last of the Yussupov, passed away in 1969. 


The following are excerpts from "The Uses of the Humanities, Part Two," written by Stanley Fish, as published in the New York Times.  To read the complete article, please click here.  This article is the second part of an article previously posted on the blog, to read the first part of Fish’s argument, click here


“The questions raised in my previous column and in the responses to it are: what is the value of such work, why should anyone fund it, and why (for what reasons) does anyone do it?

Why do I do it? I don’t do it because Herbert and I are co-religionists. I don’t believe what he believes or value what he values. I don’t do it because it inspires me to do other things, like change my religion, or go out and work for the poor. If I had to say, I’d say that I do it because I get something like an athletic satisfaction from the experience of trying to figure out how a remarkable verbal feat has been achieved.”

“The satisfaction is partly self-satisfaction – it is like solving a puzzle – but the greater satisfaction is the opportunity to marvel at what a few people are able to do with the language we all use. “Isn’t that amazing?,” I often say to my students. “Don’t you wish you could write a line like that?” (In the column I used the word “pleasure” to describe the reward of discussing and unpacking literary texts, but “pleasure” is at once too narrow and too broad; it is the very particular pleasure that attends cognitive awareness of an effect you not only experience but can now explain.)”

“What is in need of defense is not the existence of Shakespeare, but the existence of the Shakespeare industry (and of the Herbert industry and of the Hemingway industry), with its seminars, journals, symposia, dissertations, libraries. The challenge of utility is not put (except by avowed Philistines ) to literary artists, but to the scholarly machinery that seems to take those operating it further and further away from the primary texts into the reaches of incomprehensible and often corrosive theory. More than one poster decried the impenetrable jargon of literary studies. Why, one wonders, is the same complaint not made against physics or economics or biology or psychology, all disciplines with vocabularies entirely closed to the uninitiated?”


Argentina: La Apoteosis del Adjetivo

Written on January 8, 2008 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy


Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui
Tras faltar los dos últimos martes a ST, entro con cierta sensación de culpa, y mi sonrojo aumenta al ver que los demás han seguido al pie del cañón. Menos mal que toda vergüenza tiene siempre alguna excusa oportuna que la cubra: en este caso, mi deserción no era (sólo) por vagancia navideña, sino porque he estado lejos de internet, recorriendo Argentina, un país sorprendente, de tan diferentes climas, parajes y gentes que parece difícil dar con algo que lo pueda caracterizar de un golpe. ¿Qué tienen que ver los glaciares con el subtrópico, la pampa y los Andes, la Recoleta y la Boca? Sólo encuentro un rasgo que aparece en todas las facetas de la vida argentina, y que la hace única para bien y para mal: la preeminencia total del adjetivo. Otros pueblos habrá, como el alemán, que privilegian al sustantivo en su lengua y pensamiento, y otros, como el inglés, que hacen girar su expresión y sus ideas en torno al verbo. El rigor exhaustivo del BGB o la flexibilidad adaptable de la common law van a la par, respectivamente, de esta centralidad del sustantivo o del verbo. En Argentina, en cambio, manda el adjetivo.

A riesgo de caer en la generalización que roza la boutade, y que admite más excepciones que ejemplos, me parece claro y defendible que en Argentina el epíteto ya no señala atributos accesorios de una cosa, sino que designa su esencia misma. Tanto es así que desplaza en infinidad de ocasiones al sustantivo. Para empezar, el nombre mismo del país, “la plateada”. ¿Cuántos otros países tienen un adjetivo como nombre? Como si el Río de la Plata, su color y su riqueza, no sólo distinguieran a la República, sino que la invadieran hasta que la forma de estado deja de importar frente a su carácter.

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Will the Humanities Save Us?

Written on January 8, 2008 by DeansTalk in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy

As published in The New York Times, written by Stanley Fish.


In the final paragraph of my last column, I observed that the report of the New York State Commission on Higher Education slights – indeed barely mentions – the arts and humanities, despite the wide-ranging scope of its proposals. Those who posted comments agreed with David Small that “the arts and the humanities are always the last to receive any assistance.”

There were, however, different explanations of this unhappy fact. Sean Pidgeon put the blame on “humanities departments who are responsible for the leftist politics that still turn people off.” Kedar Kulkarni blamed “the absence of a culture that privileges Learning to improve oneself as a human being.” Bethany blamed universities, which because they are obsessed with “maintaining funding” default on the obligation to produce “well rounded citizens.” Matthew blamed no one, because in his view the report’s priorities are just what they should be: “When a poet creates a vaccine or a tangible good that can be produced by a Fortune 500 company, I’ll rescind my comment.”

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