Happy New Year to you all! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! С новым годом!
New Year’s Day and, to a lesser extent, Christmas Day are a major holiday period in Russia so of course some of her greatest writers wrote stories set during this time of year.
You may wonder why I titled this entry with New Year preceding Christmas. The answer is quite simple: In Russia the Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and thus celebrates Christmas Day on or near January 7. This date works out to be December 25 in the Julian calendar which existed prior to the Gregorian calendar most of us use today.
Nonetheless here is the reading list for you to choose from:
THE NEW YEAR’S TREE by Mikhail Zoshchenko
THE BOYS by Anton Chekhov
A CHRISTMAS TREE AND A WEDDING by Fyodor Dostoevsky
AT CHRISTMASTIDE by Anton Chekhov
DREAM OF A YOUNG TSAR by Lev Tolstoy
MAKAR’S DREAM by Vladimir Korolenko
A WOMAN’S KINGDOM by Anton Chekhov
A DISTANT CHRISTMAS EVE by Kaudia Lukashevich
THE LITTLE BOY AT CHRIST’S CHRISTMAS TREE by Fyodor Dostoevsky
CHRISTMAS PHANTOMS by Maxim Gorky
A LIFELESS ANIMAL by Teffi (a.k.a. Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya)
MY LAST CHRISTMAS by Mikhail Zoshchenko
There are no doubt many others so if you have any recommendations please leave a comment.
I have seen a few people do these ‘7 things you don’t know about me’ challenges on Facebook. Of course no one would ask me as I have a pessimistic mind. I would likely just make up fantastical things to joke it off and reveal nothing of myself or things I consider arbitrary like the fact I carried both a brass statue of Ganesha and some lucky coal from my grandmother in my pocket when doing many sixth form exams. That statue however has been lost somewhere. Nonetheless without Facebook’s restrictions here are some matters to state. Are they totally honest or a bit fabricated? You’ll never know and thus it’s just another layer of mystery about who it is running this on going concern.
1) Empathy over sympathy. I try to be happy. It’s just the natural ebb and flow of life. People who appear forever happy are in someway trying to avoid tackling certain hard matters in their life and potentially setting themselves up for a greater fall in the long run sadly. Prehaps it is because I too easily identify with peoples’ issues when they voice them to me and in some part ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ yet, all too frequently in my case, this means I take the burden of that person’s issues upon myself whether I can help or not. Sometimes people just want someone to listen and I would like to think I am good at this though I am not the person they wish they were speaking to.
2) I am very weary of people who immediately, upon a first encounter, use terms of familiarity if I do not know them personally. For example terms like ‘mate’, ‘butt’ or ‘buddy’. These overly familiar terms are used to make you lower your defenses by suggesting the speaker has an openness and lack of judgemental opinions. However, to me, it is a red flag telling me to be weary as the use of this bluntly ued social skill is intended to achieve something detrimental to myself – namely to make the recipient ‘off guard’ which means you don’t practise cautioun with someone whose intentions may not be that good. Often the people who casually use these terms of address are amongst the most judgemental people I have ever met.
3) ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ is my leifmotif. The first time I heard it was on an anime VHS ‘Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Still: Volume 1’ which I bought at a car boot sale many years ago. It was performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and an unnamed tenor. However it originally comes from the comic opera L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti.
It plays during a character’s recollection of how the world wronged his father and deemed him a monster. His father, Von Folgen a senior member of a research facility, was deemed a monster for causing the destruction of a large mass of land during an experiment involving a new power source, the Shizuma Drive, claiming it was flawed and unsafe to be used. He set off a reaction killing him and many of the people involved at the location. At the end of the anime, after the villains, Big Fire composed of the Magnificent Ten and their henchmen, have killed many of the heroes, the International Police Organisation, and have themselves fallen in battle, it is revealed that the Shizuma Drive, which had revolutionised the world and was a universally used power source to the point fossil fuels and nuclear power were obsolete, is in fact truly faulty and dangerous of a world scale. Von Folgen had seen that it would cause a chain reaction within the atmosphere eliminating the ozone within seconds and all life on the planet would be wiped out within minutes at a certain point in the new power source’s use. The villains all along had actually been saving the world the entire time and their methods, while damaging to government facilities as no one believed what they were saying, had been for the greater good compared to the heroes defence of these locations. In the end it was a pyrrhic victory. Giant Robo, the title robot, is revealed to be powered by nuclear energy hence why it and it alone could continue to fight Big Fire during the power black outs. Ultimately in order to stop Von Folgen’s ambition they had to ironically rely on the power sources which they had abandoned. By the end of the series the world has survived but is devastated as their over reliance as left them in a true dark ages while all Von Folgen had desired was for people to embrace this ‘beautiful night’ and find alternative means of power without the risk of annihilation due to greed for success.
In the context of the original aria it is a man in love with a girl who buys an elixir of love, in truth just some wine bought from a conman, and while watching the girl laments that if only she could understand him “Una furtiva lagrima” (A furtive tear) is the romanza from act 2, scene 8 of the Italian opera L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti. It is sung by Nemorino (tenor) when he finds that the love potion he bought (in fact a bottle of wine from a conman) to win the heart of his dream lady, Adina, works. Nemorino is in love with Adina, but she is not interested in a relationship with an innocent, rustic man. To win her heart, Nemorino buys a love potion with all the money he has in his pocket. That love potion is actually a cheap red wine sold by a traveling quack doctor, but when he sees Adina weeping, he knows that she has fallen in love with him, and he is sure that the “elixir” has worked.
Eventually it turns out the elixir is not required but in reality it would be a tragedy not a comedy. Nemorino seems to suffer from limerence at this point leading to…
4) I excel in formal situations rather than informal ones but that isn’t a valuable ability in society if you don’t have ‘soft skills’. I prefer one to one communication or better yet small groups. I work well in formal situations more so than informal ones. So ironically in the modern day work enviroment, where everyone refers to each other by first name, I feel a bit uneasy knowing the truth of the matter is that this is a social facade and the underlying authority and division between roles still exists.
I was for a time in charge of mentoring a group of people on interview skills. Most of them were successful in finding jobs within weeks of my mentoring which far exceeded that of the more senior experienced staff. Of course at the end of the probationary period I was let go as I did not follow the rules which made it more of a babysitting job than actually helping people get jobs. If people got jobs quickly I suppose it would somehow negatively affect the organisations profits so ironically doing the correct thing was ‘wrong’ and so I found myself ironically joining the people on this course being held back from achieving what I could. In the end I found employment by myself and so this entire process was pointless. They just let me do my own job search because I didn’t need them. I could tell stories of those who were evil and manipulated this position of power but what is the point. The abusive will always gain power in society but disguise it with token gestures of altruism they make sure people witness and will hold testimony to.
Society idolises the self promoting individual as part of a group. If you even have a passing knowledge of a sport you can identify the main figures in a sports team who are noted as excelling past their comrades however the individual who does not belong is demonised if they act in a manner which flies in the face of cohesive teamwork. A sportsman who was an excellent player decades after their career has ended will still find themselves the centre of societal events even if they treat all those they deem unworthy of their company like dirt. It is only natural such people are valued though they are everything you are told when growing up to detest. Humans are a social animal and any animal which excels is valuable as a ‘good’ example while those that do not otherwise conform are a liability to the group and must be cast out to ensure the group’s security.
Yet ironically modern life has allowed the outsider to survive though not to thrive and thus natural selection has led to many issues. Boo Radley of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ needed to be cared for by his brother yet the modern age could allow him to survive by himself as communication is less and less done face to face. Such figures are left to imagine interaction or to facilitate it only in passing and so ultimately the mind-set is forged that there is no need to invest in others as all things are fleeting. Of course people understand this in some sense but to such people that moment of loss is all the more immediate and so when it comes to pass it is a matter of fact not of loss as it is just the way things are meant to be. It may be due to people finding me a good listener.
As long as you have the right look and good communication skills it doesn’t matter if you are under qualified and shameless in your self promotion because you’re ‘the right sort’ no matter what situation you’re in.
5) I empathise with characters that have high moral standards but are ultimately flawed individuals often leading to their downfall by the end of the story. In a brief way I have always preferred characters with a staunch set of values, be they hero or villain, and willing to die for them though often these figures are presented as isolated people and not people to be viewed in any positive manner. The most well-known example would be Javert from Les Miserables. In the book he is introduced far later than in the musical but in both his view is that the law, as a set marker of morality, is unquestionable and this is reflected in his songs and ultimately his fate as he commits suicide when, depending on your perspective, he either kills himself unable to accept Jean Valjean is a morally good man though in the eyes of the law he is a criminal or, as I prefer to interpret it in line with the novel, he commits suicide because it is the logical end to the matter. In order to capture Valjean would mean prosecuting a man who is noble and doing the right thing but at the same time he is duty bound to uphold the word of the law and the simplest answer is to remove himself from the equation. He is not a villain as the musical audience wish to pigeon hole him. He is one of ‘the retched’ although instead of living in poverty as many of the characters do he is instead retched as he is restrained from doing moral right due to being so steadfastly insistent on maintaining the letter of the law even when presented with situations he knows to be ‘good’ despite not being legal.
He knows Valjean stole bread to feed starving family, he sees the benefits the factory has given to people who Valjean assumes a new identity and he sees the mercy Valjean has during the revolution even being willing to finally allow Javert to take him in so he is not in trouble. For Javert to finally find his creed to be wrong and that upholding the law is morally wrong but letting Valjean go is legally wrong so in order to resolve the matter he removes himself form the equation as stated previously.
This sentiment of upholding a creed no matter what is also present I the film ‘In Bruge’ where Ralph Fiennes as Harry Waters states killing children is something even he, a career criminal, deemed inexcuseable and in fact sparks the events of the film in motion.
At the end of the film he kills a racist midget and believing he is a child keeps to his word and shoots himself in the head stating ‘Got to stick to your principles’.
I notice in a lot of films, especially super hero ones, the hero is excused killing as long as they do not do it directly or are shown to show some partial remorse about doing it. For example in the recent Superman film he snaps General Zodd’s neck. He cries but there were alternatives on how to resolve this matter which the film makers could have taken rather than this route and justify it with ‘…and Supes decided never to kill again’. In Spider-man he leaps out of the way of the Green Goblin’s jet platform allowing the villain (who is clearly mentally ill due to the side effects of an experimental serum), to be impaled on the device while he leaps out of the way. In Batman Begins the hero manipulates the situation so Ra’s Al Ghul is stranded on a train heading into an explosion and doesn’t save him. This is a gritty reboot but nonetheless though Batmasn hasnt dirtied his hands with the actual act he did create the situation in which to kill his adversary. In these cases the hero created the lethal situation, or allowed it to occur, and we are meant to view this as the villain being hoist by their own petard. I find that the media is endorsing some very disturbing hypocrasies in morality in such films which becomes ingrained in the mindset of children. Further examples involve V of ‘V for Vendetta’ who is a vigilante and in the original graphic novel a villainous anti-hero terrorist figure fighting a totalitarian state as the greater evil yet in the film this is dumbed down to him fighting for freedom without any civilian casualties and Evie’s torture/training being presented in a far more sympathetic tone than the original story. It is no surprise that Rorschach from Watchmen is the most liked character though his morality is clearly in the mould of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism which Steve Ditko, one of the founding figures in modern American comic books fully endorsed which led to the creation of Mr A after he and Stan Lee found they had very conflicting views on how the heroes should act.
I think it should be noted that Javert mentions that he was born inside a jail and holds himself to a higher cause having been raised amongst the worst of society (which gives him a jaded perspective). Yet we are to identify with Jean Valjean who has been on the run for years. I suppose Hugo, viewing society at large, and Doestoevsky, viewing the individual’s sense in ‘Crime and Punishment’ conflict here. To Raskalnikov ultimately it is his own sense of righteousness killing the money lender, mistaking it for a morally justifiable action, which results in his personally enforced sense of guilt for the grevious act once he sees how little consequence it has had to the order of wider society. It is no doubt ironic that Raskolnikov compares himself to Napoleon in his belief of justified actions. It was a period of human history where the letter of the law and morality was being challenged and not assumed to be one and the same as it had been for centuries previously.
Porfiry Petrovich, who is the head of the Investigation Department in charge of solving the murders of Lizaveta and Alyona Ivanovna, who, along with Sonya, moves Raskolnikov towards confession operates under very different methods to Javert however. It is interesting to think that Javert, who is authoritarian, is considered a villainous figure or at best an anti-villain so we have figures like 2000AD’s Judge Dredd (based on Javert saying ‘I am the law and the law is not mocked’ and Sylvester Stallone’s role as Dredd infamously repeating the phrase ‘I am the law’) when adapted. However Petrovich, who is more open to using coercion and manipulation to persuade Raskolnikov to confess though he has no actual evidence, is adapted into friendly, almost comical, Columbo who rambles about things for a while before saying ‘…eh, and one more thing…’ before nailing the guilty with a single question about how things do not add up in regards to people’s account of the events.
6) I have not met anyone I was friendly with in school face to face in over ten years. More just by coincidence than anything as many moved to England for their jobs or even as far as Australia or Germany making themselves a life in these other countries. Even then I am not sure what the word ‘friend’ means to people nowadays when they use it. Certainly Facebook and social media with their use of ‘friend’ instead of ‘contact’ or ‘acquaintance’ have changed the context of the word’ common usage. Prehaps it could be said it has even led to misinterpretation by simplifying the language we use day to day causing us to use the word ‘friend’ when we mean an association far less intimate than the common dicitionary definition of friendship which leads to misunderstandings.
7) I find people are more prone to immediately think the worse of others than give them the benefit of the doubt. I find if you are quiet people reveal their true personality as they will assume things about you thus demonstrating their own personal prejudices. It is surprising what you discover about people this way. The extrovert with many friends, in not being able to gauge you, can become hostile as you are, to them, an unknowable element which they rarely encounter thus precieve you immediately as a threat for keeping ‘secrets’ from them when others would merely respect your sense of privacy. Some people may expect to just get their own way and as society has appeared to become more informal with people addressing their superiors by first name, rather than Mr/Mrs/Miss ____, it appears everything is more relaxed when in fact things are perhaps even more formalised in the sense of interaction where people will be forced to do certain things as a favour’ when really it is an instruction. Being in absolute control of the situation is a major hangup for many people it seems. ‘An easy life’ is the mantra I often hear stated. People want an easy life and yet this easy life comes at the expense of worsening the situations or others with ambiguity of where they stand in a group.
‘Good People’ get to do what they wish while adhering to the morality we are told to value in society leads to ostracism for making things difficult for others.
Don’t ‘stand up’ for anything just ‘go with the flow’ is deemed far better despite what we keep telling each other and holding as a virtue in our morality tales through out human history. Let those who wronged you walk away happy because, you know, they haven’t given a second thought to what they did afterwards. They owe you no apology because doing so serves no purpose for them. They’re ‘Good people’. Good people get to use violence. Good people get to demand others adhere to their morality no matter how self serving it is. There is only light and dark in their world. Good and evil. Me and them. ‘Shut up and be happy because you are bringing me down’ they might say at any point in their life from the cradle to the grave. They have a right to demand it. You don’t have a right to challenge them. They have the right to condemn you to others later even if they put on the facade of agreement. Because they’re Good People while you are an outsider even in your own community.