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Thread: A Novel that Calls for Attention

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    A Novel that Calls for Attention

    About the novel The Rose’s Tears

    Hi, I have recently read a novel (2d edition) by an Albanian writer, Stavri Pone, sent to me as a gift. I’m of mixed descent, half Albanian and half Afro-American; I’m born and live in America, and I’ve read quite a few books in Albanian, but I knew nothing of this author before. Being curious about his literary work, I had a look on Internet about him and could learn only very few things. I’m trying to get in touch with him.

    His novel, The Rose’s Tears (Lotët e Trëndafilit), surprised me and made me think it is one of the greatest novels I’ve read by an Albanian author so far. It is about the life of people during the Communist dictatorship in Albania, one of the most oppressive and cruel dictatorships in Europe. I found it to be much more interesting and informative than tens of boring pamphlets and paper articles. It explores two major eternal themes – Freedom and Love – and opens with two significant quotations from Sigmund Freud and Hannah Arendt respectively.

    What struck me most about this novel was its originality, modern style and well-depicted characters. Its protagonist is convicted to 12 years’ imprisonment for his underground writings, and while in prison, under some adverse circumstances, he incurs some sort of mental disorder. During his hallucinatory spells he wanders in ancient Greece, where he meets with two ancient philosophers, Zeno and Socrates, sees Euripides’ Electra in the theater, has a love affair, etc., and these pages are among the most beautifully written in the whole novel – marked by tenderness, lucid meditations, and warm feelings towards ancient Greek culture (Albania borders on Greece and there’s never been wars between these two peoples, they’ve been living in brotherly peace from times immemorial.).

    With the coming of democracy, the protagonist is released from prison and after being hospitalized for two years, his mental health improves greatly. Having suffered terribly from lack of freedom, he engages in a long discussion on Internet on the origin and meaning of freedom with Orlando Patterson, the American author of Freedom in the Making of Western Culture, winner of the 1991 National Book Award. Prompted by Mr. Pone’s novel, I bought and read Mr. Patterson’s book, which also impressed me greatly.

    I’ve no intention to thoroughly analyze Mr. Pone’s whole novel, which would be a huge task for me, much more so that the novel is very complex, profound, psychological, and encompassing a long period of time, presenting many problems, and though it has a limited number of main characters, it involves a great many situations and events, all of which are very interesting and significant. It involves a 20-year period of time, beginning with the protagonist at the age of 27 and ending at 47.

    My intention is to dwell at some length on the letters the protagonist sends to Mr. Patterson. These letters, or essays, which pervade the whole novel, are marked by an original way of thinking, contention and witticism. This correspondence, however, never reach the Prof. Patterson, and remains imaginary.

    The novel contains 18 essays, with an average length from half a page to one and two (rarely) three pages. They are intertwined with the story line. What I find of interest about these essays can be summed up in three points: 1) the protagonist parts company with Patterson on the latter’s thesis about the origin of freedom; 2) he disagrees with a number of analyses on various topics; and 3) he points out certain critical errors in Patterson analysis of the tragedy Antigone.

    I think that these errors shouldn’t be underrated, although someone may say they are insignificant, detracting nothing from the greatness of Mr. Patterson’s work. It’s true that Patterson’s book is a great work, but with all the respect I have for it, whatever is flawed in it, however little, it would be better to come out in broad daylight, so as not to cause confusion among readers, students or University teachers. In point of fact, I personally don’t consider it a small thing to mess up the kin relationships of the characters of a tragedy of which Mr. Patterson himself says in his book Freedom, “Sophocles explored the cultural chord in his dramas, but nowhere more so than in the work which the West has come to view with a reverence close to that reserved for the Scriptures – the Antigone” (p. 99).

    With making such flaws public, I sincerely admit that I don’t intend to challenge the National Book Award committee’s decision for having awarded Mr. Patterson with such an honored Prize for his Freedom, as he really deserves it. My intention is that some other author, too, deserves to have his findings about Freedom being published. Even if Mr. Pone’s novel had no noteworthy literary merit whatsoever (though for me it is an awfully gorgeous and striking book), this spotting of errors alone in the Freedom is enough to simply reward him by paying attention and acknowledgment for his contribution to what is most honored among people – the truth and factual accuracy.

    Mr. Pone might not be the only person to have noticed Mr. Patterson’s errors in his book Freedom (no matter how few or insignificant they might be in comparison with his book as a whole), as other scholars, especially those who explore the ancient Greek literature, would have done the same, and they might have made them known to the National Book Award committee. But, as far as I know, Mr. Pone is at least the first to having pointed them out in his novel in a very original way.

    I’m posting here two essays from his novel. The translation is mine, and I’ve tried to be as truthful to the original text as possible.

    I’d be grateful to any one who can give me some tip of where I can publish both a few words about this novel and author and the following two essays. And if any one of you would be interested to know more of the novel, I can send him only one or two other essays, not more, because it is a very fatiguing work and I’m aware that the translation of literature is a job for specialized persons. What I’ve done so far is only due to the great pleasure and surprise this book gave me while reading it.

    1) My Views on Freedom

    Dear Patterson,
    Thank you very much for your reply. As was telling you in my previous e-mail, I’ve been greatly impressed by your powerful work on freedom, this megamyth and megaaspiration, as you call it. Your broad erudition is self-evident throughout the book, and your delving into hundreds of other authors’ works exploring the theme really strikes me. I've been marveled at your definitions of freedom as a "sacred ideal” and "freedom is the one value that many people seem prepared to die for…"

    I want to assure you that my intention is not to analyze your great work as I’m not a historiography critic. However, being excited at the theme of Freedom your work explores, from whose absence my nation has been suffering for nearly half a century, I simply wish to express some views of mine about your work. Nowadays folks here, too, have won the right to express freely their thoughts and in doing so I am responsible only before my conscience.

    I'm a man of law by profession and the Communist dictatorship gave me a 12-year prison sentence on account of my thoughts. Although a man of law, I was crushed by the very laws I used to enforce. To my opinion, freedom and justice condition each other. Freedom is the possibility to establish Law and Law is the possibility to make Freedom either flourish or perish.

    With all my esteem for your great work, I have certain objections as well. The first one deals with your fundamental thesis, freedom was generated by slavery, which runs throughout your book from start to end. I don't agree with it and I’ll try to substantiate my arguments.

    The very first question which I think puts your thesis into question is: in the countries in which slavery has not existed, freedom has never been institutionalized?

    I am one among those of whom you say, “[they] hold that freedom is a natural concept, something that all human beings, simply by being human, would naturally want…”.

    Freedom is immanence. I agree with Freud who says, "The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization." Like Freud, I understand freedom in its universality. I understand it as a civil right of any individual to express his opinions, to move, to self-realize and to perform various activities socially permissible. In the metaphysical meaning, your binomial freedom-slavery is only valid insofar as the word slavery can be replaced by any other phenomena identical to it. The absolutization of this antagonism only expresses part of the history of freedom in its all-time track record. I don't deny that freedom has often sprung from your antipodal binomial freedom-slavery, but the antipode freedom-antifreedom that I propose underlies a much more universal foundation, because freedom has always sprung as a counterweight of its own absence that has not necessarily been institutional slavery.

    I can accept your binary freedom-slavery theorem as historically true only if it is regarded in a reversed perspective. It is slavery that was born out of freedom, or out of the right of the winners to make slaves the vanquished in the war. The right is freedom sanctioned by law, written or unwritten, to perform something socially or personally. It was that freedom, that right of the winner, that created slavery. To assert that freedom was generated by slavery means to extrapolate that freedom did not exist prior to slavery, which is not true. Slavery simply established the historical fact that freedom, vulnerable as it is, could be put in danger, so it is necessary for it to be sanctioned and institutionalized.

    You hold that "freedom was, and for many still remains, anything but an obvious or desirable goal. Other values and ideals were, or are, of far greater importance to them – such as the pursuit of glory, honor, and power… nationalism and imperial grandeur… filial piety, hedonism, justice, equality, material progress…" The question is: could such goals be ever fulfilled in the absence of the appropriate freedom to fulfill them?

    According to the philosophic Eastern Vedic school, the most ancient known so far, and whose writings are included into Vedanta, in universe exist two important notions, namely action, prvartti, and inaction, nivrtti, which lead to freedom, which is moksa, or a state of bliss. This is some ecstatic-metaphysical knowledge about the identification – or merge – of one’s self with the cosmic substance, Brahman, or the Supreme Soul. According to this philosophy, freedom is related only to the possibility of action and inaction, that are qualities of nature and man, so freedom is a natural quality of human being.

    In his Ethics Democritus claims happiness as the greatest bliss, the highest good, a condition to be achieved through temperance, serenity and freedom from fear. Thus, freedom is to be free from fear! One finds the whole meaning of freedom as being summarized in such a concise expression.

    Your assertion, too, "Non-Western peoples have thought so little about freedom that most human languages did not even possess a word for the concept before contact with the West. Japan is typical…" doesn’t sound convincing to me. Or, to use a stronger expression, it is utterly untrue. In Japan, as in all other nations, the word freedom has also existed insofar as freedom itself has existed, whenever it has existed. In that land, too, have been waged liberation wars, whether domestic or foreign. The Japanese have fought against Koreans and between themselves, and the bravest warriors have been the samurai led by shoguns. The aim of these wars was in essence to be free to prevail, to become powerful, so that one side to become sovereign over the other. And the assaulted side sought to preserve its freedom.

    Obviously, not every war in the world has been ever waged for freedom in the present-day meaning, but for freedom concentrated in the hands of emperor, leader, prince, chieftain. In Japan, as in my own country, fights within the clans have come to pass on behalf of the freedom of the most powerful. In Japan, too, people have been imprisoned and each prisoner has dreamed of his freedom. War prisoners have also dreamed of it. What would have dreamed the freedomless Japanese about if they didn’t know what the taste of freedom was like?!

    The example of Gandhi too, of that frail-bodied man, but with a powerful spirit, is meaningful. British imperialism did never create in India any typical slavery whatsoever except for a cultural and economical slavery. So, the spark to the feeling of liberty among Indians did not come as a result of some classic slavery, but of the oppression of their traditional notion of freedom, a feeling that found its embodiment in Gandhi's holistic philosophy and it was such feeling that did contribute to India's liberation from the British Empire. Should the Indians wait until their nation were turned into genuine slavery to have their desire for freedom inflamed?

    Your statement, too, that "… something is wrong with the rest of the world and with the majority of human history during which no one ever thought it necessary to express and cherish freedom as an ideal" seems equally untrue to me. You must be sure there is no single people in the non-Western part of the world that hasn’t embraced the notion of freedom of any kind – national, civic and individual. All Eastern peoples have fought for freedom, have yearned for it like for their life, their love, even though they have not always come off with institutionalizing it.

    Ex Oriente, lux, dear Patterson. I'm afraid you confuse the desire of freedom with its establishment, which in the West has been achieved through liberal democracy, which is in itself a reasonable restriction of freedom embodied in the rule of law. However, in spite of restrictions, freedom is harmony, cogency, even poetry…

    You say, "Since valuing freedom is not a part of the human condition, not something we are born with, we must inquire not only into the reasons for the West’s extraordinary devotion to it but into the circumstances under which it was first invented…”

    Invented! What is freedom, dear sir, the wheel the Sumerians invented? This word, invent, that you so frequently use throughout your book, surprises me. As far as the above statement is concerned, I may object you in two points. First, it is not true that “freedom is not something mankind has been born with.” You must be sure, dear Patterson, that Man has been born free. Freedom has been born with man. Humankind didn’t come across servitude since its birth. If the primitive fruit-gatherer or hunter were deprived of their freedom to carry out their tasks, the tribe would perish of starvation. Freedom is in man's instinct to secure his survival.

    You admit that blood has been shed for freedom. Is it the case for the West alone? Blood has been shed for freedom everywhere in the world.

    Slavery or antifreedom – if I were to use a term I've come across in a magnificent book entitled The Endless Anxiety of Freedom by an author of ours who has suffered hell from dictatorship together with his son – was created when freedom that was born together with man was lost, when the first prisoners of war and slaves were created. I maintain that Freedom was born together with humankind and was NOT invented. Just as love or hatred cannot be invented.

    Freedom may be lost and regained, but it cannot be invented. Freedom bears no connection with classic slavery, as it is a universal aspiration and a biological necessity; it is a physical, spiritual, intellectual, economical, existential, Benthamian need, and it has been concomitant not only of slavery as an institution, but also of the total, ubiquitous enslavement, incarnated in what I called above antifreedom. Freedom is an objective phenomenon and we cannot divest it of its natural notion. But in the human society it is more than a biomorphic notion, even though it is inherent in all living beings. And as regards your statement that freedom can be built, it makes sense when it is institutionalized and protected by law. I agree with your statement that “ordinary and influential persons socially constructed freedom as a value…” Which came to be fulfilled in the West and to remain a frequently unsuccessful effort in the non-Western world, but never as lack of aspiration.

    Even though it was in the West that freedom was built as an institution, its roots are to be found in the East, because civilization, even to a much higher degree, historically is earlier in the East rather than the West. And in the West, is there the same level of freedom? Apart from this, don’t dictatorships sprout there from time to time? Is it normal for a country like Greece, with the oldest democracy in the world, to have dictatorship appear out of nowhere right in the middle of the 20th century?

    This is all I had in this comment, which I wrote with the greatest benevolence.

    Respectfully yours,
    Viktor Ikonomi,
    Wistful Aficionado of Freedom

    2) On the Analysis of the Antigone Tragedy
    Dear Patterson,
    It is one thing to analyze a universal notion or idea such as, for example, the notion of freedom, where everybody, whether correctly or incorrectly, judges according to his own mind, and it is another thing to construe the elements of some concrete work of some concrete author.

    In general, your analysis of the tragedy Antigone is profound and insightful and it comes to capture its meaning and importance, but having in view the beauty of your book I can notice, not without regret, that in the exploration of this tragedy of which you say "the West has come to view with a reverence close to that reserved for Scriptures.." (p.99) you have certain critical errors.

    First, you mess up Antigone's patrilineal and matrilineal kinship relationships, which results in making a whole mess of the relations of all the other main characters of the play. So you give Oedipus and Creon as brothers (which they aren’t), Creon and Antigone as brother and sister (which they aren’t), Antigone as Creon’s niece by her father’s side, (which she isn’t), Antigone and Haemon as paternal aunt and nephew (which they aren’t), Creon as the brother of Polyneices and Eteocles, etc.

    Excuse me, sir, but I feel I have to restate here Oedipus' myth briefly: Oedipus is the only son of the King Laius and his wife, Jocasta. He kills his father unwittingly and marries his own mother by whom he had four children: Eteocles, Polyneices, Antigone and Ismene.

    On p.129 you say, “The one man who should be doing so – her father’s brother, Creon, is the very man who has enslaved her.” ("Her" refers to Antigone, and her father is Oedipus.) You state here very clearly that Creon is Oedipus’ brother, which is not true.

    On p. 122 you say, "Her love destroys her betrothed, who is also very much a member of the family, being both her cousin, the son of her uncle, Creon, and her nephew, being her father-brother brother's son." No, dear Patterson. That Creon is not Oedipus’ brother, that is, the brother of Antigone’s father-brother, but Jocasta’s brother, is substantiated by all sources about this myth, which say that Creon is Oedipus' brother-in-law, the brother of his wife, Jocasta. Oedipus had no brother by his parents, Laius and Jocasta; he was an only son. He had only two brothers by his mother and also his wife Jocasta: Eteocles and Polyneices. So, Haemon, Antigone’s betrothed, being Creon and Eurydice’s son, is only her cousin by her mother’s side, and not her nephew.

    On p.128 (and elsewhere) you state that Antigone is Creon's sister and put the following words in his mouth: "This is one feisty sister." No, dear Patterson. It cannot be that Creon addresses Antigone that way, as she isn't his sister. By her father Oedipus, Creon isn’t her brother. Oedipus has four children only, the ones I mentioned above. Nor is Creon Antigone’s brother by her mother. Jocasta married only two men: Laius, by whom she gave birth to her unfortunate son Oedipus, and her own son – the same unfortunate Oedipus – by whom she gave birth to the children I mentioned above. So, Creon and Antigone are not brother and sister. For if they were, Eteocles and Polyneices would have been Creon’s brothers too. And so the tragedy would have been centered not merely on the burial/nonburial of Antigone’s brother, but as much on the burial/nonburial of Creon’s brother, too.

    Antigone has only three brothers: Oedipus, by her mother, who is also her father, and Eteocles and Polyneices, by the same mother Jocasta, and the same father Oedipus.

    You mess things up further in giving Creon and Antigone as paternal uncle and niece. Their true kin relationship is maternal uncle and niece, as Creon is Jocasta's brother, not Oedipus' brother. Consequently, Haemon, Creon's son, is not Antigone’s nephew, as you say, taking him for the son of her father (Oedipus)’s brother. Being the son of Creon, that is, the son of her mother-grandmother (Jocasta)’s brother, Haemon is Antigone’s cousin.

    Thus, with regard to kinship relations between the characters of the tragedy Antigone you have several serious errors and in case you plan to reprint this book, I'd suggest you to put their relationships right.

    But in the analysis of Antigone, you appear ambiguous and provide contradictory assertions in other points as well. At first you say that Antigone's behavior is consistent with the divine law and order, as on p.121-122 you say: “She is driven to near madness by her determination to bury her treacherous brother, and goes willingly to her living death… She is utterly loyal to the dictates of the gods and single-mindedly obeys their laws.” On p.124 you also say "Antigone serves the unwritten dictates of the divine cosmos." And, on p.127 you also say: "The gods of the underworld are, for Antigone, the divinities who share their house with justice." And, further, on p.130, you say, "As a rebel, woman, and slave... she comes to identify 'right', 'justice' and 'law', unwritten law, as the content of her personal freedom...".

    From the above statements it follows that Antigone acts in accordance with the divine law, which is the traditional, unwritten, family law. These gods represent perpetual laws that are made tradition, as chorus says on p.179.

    But, surprisingly, in a second set of statements, as on p.122, you say: "She offends the gods above by choosing the gods below…" And on p.122, you say again, "[…she was] condemned to doing that which she, and the gods themselves, most abhor… She commits the most egregious impieties in her most consciously pious endeavors."

    What ensues from the second set of statements is that Antigone doesn't act in accordance with the divine cosmos, but against it. Not only is it difficult to conceive of two opposing attitudes in her behavior toward the divine order, but it is also difficult to conceive of two contradictory stands of the very gods toward her: the same gods to whom Antigone is loyal and who approve of her act of burying her brother are the very ones that are insulted because of the naturally expected result of her act, which is her death. But her act, the burial of her brother, and her own death, the inevitable result of this act, are closely linked with each other. It is hardly coherent to approve of one act and disapprove of the other. This is the first ambiguity.

    The second stems from following statement, "…[this] woman is a sinner. Not, of course, in the Christian sense." (p.122) No, dear Patterson. She is not a sinner, an impious woman, in whatever sense. She is a heroine inspired both by her divine impulse and her devotion to justice and sisterly love, which she manifests by opposing both Creon and the state law and by acting in accordance to gods. How could she be a sinner when you yourself assert that she does what gods want her to do?

    It isn't as if her behavior runs counter to the divine domain, the pious, but that you describe this domain as being contradictory. On p.127 you say: "… [in] mankind's relation with the divine order, more specifically with the chthonic realm, death is positive, generative state… And some lines below you say: ”Antigone's death obsession and her eventual descent into the cave tomb to which she has been condemned by Creon is partly modeled on the Kore-Persephone myth… The gods of the underworld are, for Antigone, the divinities who share their house with justice." If gods are such, that is, just and righteous, why then Antigone is a sinner?

    If the matter is about the divine order of the underworld gods alone, and, consequently, about the gods who share their houses with justice, Antigone, again, acts in accordance with them.

    In general, it seems, your judgments of Antigone’s acts lack coherence, because you once say: a) Her act of burying her brother is in accordance with divine order. Once: b) Her act by going virgin to death is counter to divine order. And once: c) Her act by going virgin to death is in accordance to the chthonic gods of divine order.

    In a word, now Antigone act in accordance with the divine order, now she doesn’t. The confusion increases even more because of your presenting the divine order as twofold: a) the upper gods, b) the chthonic, the underworld, gods – which gives rise to opposing attitudes toward Antigone's actions.

    Creon's actions, too, lack coherence. It is hard to understand whether he acts according to the state law or the divine law. At first you say he upholds state laws, written, untraditional ones: "Creon, now ruler of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of Polyneices, in accordance with state law." (p.121)… But, surprisingly enough, a bit further you say: "His refusal to bury the traitor Polyneices was consistent with divine law." (p.123) If so, why does he forbid Antigone from burying her brother, when of Antigone, too, you say (point a, above) that her act of burying her brother is in accordance with divine order?

    All in all, with regard to the traitor's burial/nonburial issue, which makes up the whole thrust of the tragedy, you hold opposing views. Your whole discussion on Antigone of what is in agreement with the divine order and what is not, is only too misty.

    In conclusion I'd like emphasize, dear Patterson, that like ancient Egyptians erected their immortal pyramids of stones in memory of their dead pharaohs – mortal humans – in order to challenge the historic amnesia, so did the ancient Greeks, who erected their grand pyramids – their monumental works of dramatic art, though not of stones, of course, but of letters – so as to incarnate the living spirit of man and to perpetuate his immortality. To dig in wrong directions into the passageways of Egyptian pyramids is, of course, to lose something of history. But to dig wrong into the gangways of the Greek tragedies I'm afraid much more is lost, something of the spirit of that time, which still boils in our present-day man…

    Respectfully yours,
    Viktor Ikonomi
    Inalienable Half-witted Analyst
    Last edited by ~Robert~; 03-09-2007 at 07:57 PM. Reason: Typo.

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