Sunday, September 15, 2013

Love in the no-land space between two cultures: an interview with Zlatko Anguelov

This interview appeared in the July issue of Empty Mirror: Books, Art and the Beat Generation

Jasmina Tacheva talks with Bulgarian-American author Zlatko Anguelov about his newest book, Erotic Memories (2012), and the ideas of love, devotion, harmony and memory on the border between two cultures.
Zlatko Anguelov, born 1946 in Varna, Bulgaria, is a Bulgarian-American writer, a Canadian and American citizen who lived for 21 years in North America, and recently moved to Southampton, United Kingdom. Although his non-fiction, medical, journalistic, and critical writings are in English, he writes fiction in Bulgarian and follows Bulgarian literature regardless of the place he lives in or the language (English or French) he speaks on a daily basis. Ten years after the publication of his memoir “Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer” (Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX 2002), a collection of five novellas, titled “Erotic Memories” appeared in the Bulgarian language (Ciela, Sofia 2012).
Currently, Zlatko is a staff writer with the International Writing Program in Iowa City, IA; he writes biographies of the writers who have studied or taught at the world-famous programs in creative writing at the University of Iowa for a website called Iowa Writing University. These profiles are also featured in the iApp Iowa CityUNESCO City of Literature.
J.T.: In The Symposium Plato states through his character Aristophanes that, “[l]ove is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole,” and also that when one finds a true lover, “the pair is lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight … even for a moment.” And yet in your book you often talk about the idea that “there can’t be an absolute balance.” You also describe the “strange, juicy mix of admiration and disgust” that sometimes arises between two people in a passionate relationship, so allow me to begin thus: do you believe that harmony between a man and a woman is ever possible?
Zlatko Anguelov
Z.A.: What is possible is the illusion of harmony. By definition, harmony is the full resonance between two entities or processes – and in a physical sense, that can only be achieved between inanimate objects or processes, where the components follow natural rules. People have will and autonomy, two properties that make them ungovernable by the laws of nature.
Now, it seems to me that you want to frame our conversation about the complexities of love in a philosophical perspective, and I feel I want to resist that. For two reasons. One is that we are discussing novellas about love, that is, an artistic representation of love relationships, which are inevitably laden with unpredictability and thus, escape formal logic; they follow the “ill”-logic of the soul. They cannot be generalized – and there is nothing more prone to generalization than philosophy. And two, philosophy can never help people love each other, or even more so, love each other in a kind of prescribed way. Then, why bother to search for the ideal? The Greek philosophers were idealists, and they, as well as thousands of thinkers between them and the 21st century, have attempted to present love as a special, elevated form of spirituality that takes people out of the mundane triviality of their daily lives.
I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in love that is tangible, and experienced spontaneously on a daily basis: as part of our dreams, careers, fulfillment, failures, aspirations, procreation, rises and falls, etc. Love is out there for grab. And everyone makes of it whatever he or she is capable of. It is this capacity to love that defines our souls, and makes us distinctive individuals. 
In this context, how can we talk about harmony? Instead, it is a struggle to overcome our selfishness. We are fundamentally egotistic creatures. Love, as I have experienced it and understood it, is a way to satisfy our egos. The paradox is that it comes at a price: love makes us dependent on our beloved (to a degree of enslavement). And if a person can realize that the only way out of this dependence is actually to turn the egoistic love into altruistic, and at the same time succeeds to persuade his or her partner to do the same, we may hope that a harmony can be established. But it will be but a temporary harmony, as we all change throughout our lives, and the changes are more often than not unpredictable. Here, we meet another paradox: in the majority of cases, we fail to use our will and autonomy to change in the direction that would keep us in harmony with our partner in love. We usually fall prey to our ego.
This view on love reflects human imperfection, which rarely allows humans to achieve the ideal love. Yet, it helps me think of love as a great instrument of personal improvement. If your heart is really hot and shaken by someone, and you desperately want to keep them longer near you, you begin to willfully make changes (people call them compromises, but they are good, positive compromises) that are in sync with the changes of your beloved. Think how rare this can happen between two people: either of them to change for the sake of the other.
To sum up, illusion of harmony and temporary harmony is not so bad, after all. We shouldn’t aspire for the impossible perfect state that our mind can conceive of but never really achieve.
J.T.: Would you say, then, that the zeal for harmony and perfection that has been handed down to us by the ancient Greek thinkers has a vertical trajectory, with the absolute being the final destination, while your characters inhabit a world that is rather spread out horizontally and thus, is inclusive, because it does not dismiss any possible manifestation of love? By the same token, I find the idea you just expressed – “I’m interested in love that is tangible, and experienced spontaneously on a daily basis: as part of our dreams, careers, fulfillment, failures, aspirations, procreation, rises and falls, etc. … It is this capacity to love that defines our souls, and makes us distinctive individuals.” – to be indicative of both the emotional and cognitive canvas of Erotic Memories. Is that so? 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dynasty and Divinity

From CultureKiosque

First seen in London at the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and several major American museums, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria tells the story of the legendary city of Ife (pronounced ee-feh) through its refined and beautiful sculptures.

 The exhibition features more than 100 extraordinary bronze, terra-cotta, and stone sculptures, ranging in date from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Many of these have never been on display outside of Nigeria and have been drawn almost entirely from the collections of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

From the 12th to the 15th centuries, Ife flourished as a powerful, cosmopolitan and wealthy city-state in West Africa, in what is now modern Nigeria. It was an influential centre of trade connected to extensive local and long-distance trade networks which enabled the region to prosper.