The Corona Diaries: Friday the 13th.

By Mege. – Friday 13th. What a coincidence. It was the day the Swiss authorities told us that we should all keep our distance from one another, that we should work from home if at all possible, that congregations of more than 100 people were a no-go and that we should self-quarantine if we felt sick. (Please note that these measures are only valid for Switzerland and are already obsolete anyway. Check with your own authorities.) Most shops and restaurants were still open. The situation seemed serious, but not really desperate. I still thought that my week-long holiday in Berlin might really happen. Hah. Continue reading

What rhymes with bombs?

On the one hand, I hesitate to call For Sama a movie, because there is no artifice, no script, no second take. There is a woman called Waad Al-Kateab, who shoulders her video camera and films the day-to-day chaos as she finds it. She lives in Aleppo, Syria, in the middle of a war zone, and nothing and nowhere is safe. If there are no Russian planes dropping bombs on the neighborhood, there are the snipers outside to worry about, or food shortages, blackouts. She is surrounded by friends who have not yet left, maybe because they feel rooted there, maybe because they are more afraid of leaving than they are of staying.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

It still gets me, that scene. I think I must have been ten or so, and there was nothing to prepare me for what would come on the telly. No-one in my family was any kind of art-house movie nut, so it must have been a coincidence that Buñuel’s short Un Chien Andalou was on. And then that razor cuts through the woman’s eye. It took me days to recover. Not many other movie moments have stayed with me because of their violence, and none as long as this one. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Nina Simone (1933)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I was in Berlin last summer, getting my bearings back, and I walked past a bar where someone played a live version of Nina Simone’s take on Sinnerman. Honestly, my friends, there cannot be many more songs such as this one getting under my skin like that. She wants to make light because the rhythm of the song wants to sound so jolly, and it does, but then that voice comes in and puts a damper on the cheer, warning about what is going to happen, turning the rhythm from jolly to urgent. And yet there is hope somewhere, not much, but just enough. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Don DeLillo (1936)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Two weeks ago, I sang the praises of Raymond Carver’s short stories, their lean, almost terse language. If that is way, way too short for you, then you might feel right at home in some of the novels by Don DeLillo (born in 1936), the longest of which is a weighty tome called Underworld, published in 1997 and clocking in at a whopping 827 pages, something that some of my university tutors called a two-hander. It’s true, you can’t read it in bed, holding it over your face, because if you let it fall, you die.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Raymond Carver (1938)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The most grassroots definition of a writer’s writer, I guess, is one whose writing you love to bits and immediately want to tell your friends about. In other words, somebody really good but still undiscovered. Katherine Dunn. Marisa Matarazzo. Esther Morgan. Sofi Oksanen. Greg Hollingshead. Rick Bass. Please feel free to add your own favourite obscure authors, and you will never run afoul of the definition above. Another, slightly looser definition might be that there is a lot you can learn from a writer’s writer for your own writing, such as dialogue from Elmore Leonard, or cliché-free sci-fi from China Miéville. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Waste Land and other poems (1940)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I’ve just finished Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a book I would have stopped reading if I’d had to carry it around with me, but there is an excellent audio-book, read by Wolfram Berger, thanks to which I somehow made it through. Did I understand all of the philosophical, political and social musings in there? Of course not – not even half. That is the advantage of novels: you can delve into certain sections and figure them out and read on later, and you can skip other parts. Novels must have some kind of plot, or they are barely novels. There is an obvious red thread, however spurious, that we can figure out and follow. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Excursion of the Dead Girls (1944)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Anna Seghers’ short story The Excursion of the Dead Girls starts with the heroine Netty walking through the Mexican desert as a middle-aged woman, but quickly spirals into past memories, fairy tales and metaphor, all connected to that school trip in Germany many years ago. It’s semi-autobiographical – Seghers, after going through two worlds wars, had to escape Europe, and it was Mexico that seemed to offer a way out, as told in her novel Transit. Plus Seghers calls her protagonist Netty, a name she got called in her youth. Continue reading

Toxic Digitality

I am writing this on a laptop with internet connection. I’ve got another laptop without internet that I use for writing because if I have to research something, it might lead to unbridled surfing. You know how it is. I have owned four or five laptops before, and maybe seven or eight cellphones until now. Then there is all that hardware at work that got upgraded regularly. That must be thirty to fourty units of hardware just because of me. I am a moderate user because the digital superhighway is not my preferred means of communication, but not using laptops or cellphones makes you a hermit without wanting to be one. Even my daughter gets her homework online. So yes, I have my hardware needs, and so have you. But where do our machines go after we dispose of them? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Brief Encounter (1945)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

David Lean is best known for movies that were anything but lean. Lawrence of Arabia, his longest feature, clocks in at 3 hours and 48 minutes, and Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage to India are significantly longer than your two-hour standard feature. These movies, however, are from the second half of his career; from 1940 until 1955, he was perfectly able to keep it brief, bringing in two Dickens novels (Great Expectations in 1946 and Oliver Twist in 1948) in well under two hours. He was an editor on much more movies than he was a director, so he knew how long a story had to be in order to be told well. Continue reading