Babi Yar, Shostakovich’s anti-fascist symphony, performed


This video from the USA says about itself:

Preview for Shostakovich‘s Babi Yar Remembering the Holocaust | April 27 & 28, 2019

In a powerful performance not to be missed, MSU [Michigan State University] Symphony Orchestra, Choirs, soloist Mark Rucker, baritone, and a trio of expert scholars present Shostakovich 13, Babi Yar, with selections from Davidson’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

By Nancy Hanover in the USA:

Michigan State University performs stirring rendition of Babi Yar, Dmitri Shostakovich’s anti-fascist symphony

1 May 2019

I am
each old man
here shot dead.

I am
every child
here shot dead.

Nothing in me
shall ever forget!

The ‘Internationale’,
let it thunder
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.

In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage,
all anti-Semites
must hate me now as a Jew.

For that reason
I am a true Russian!
[From “Babi Yar” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translation: George Reavey]

After nearly two years of preparation, the Michigan State University (MSU) Orchestra and Choral Ensembles performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor, based on Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” (1961), last Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan, and Sunday at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. It featured well-known baritone Mark Rucker, who also serves as professor of voice in the MSU College of Music.

Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar” is a poem that memorializes the Nazi massacre of 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, Ukraine, on September 29-30, 1941, one of the single largest instances of mass murder carried out during the Holocaust. It took place soon after the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The rapidly intensifying political atmosphere today—including the rise of anti-Semitism and authoritarianism nationally and internationally—heightened the emotional and artistic significance for musicians and listeners alike. One of the most enduring and powerful musical protests against fascism and anti-Semitism, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 was performed in Detroit one day after another brutal anti-Semitic murder at Chabad of Poway, just north of San Diego, on the final day of Passover. The killer issued a statement that denounced Jews “for their role in Marxism and communism.”

The contemporary resonance of MSU’s production “Babi Yar, Remembering the Holocaust” was noted by several speakers who introduced Shostakovich’s work. They referenced the fascist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, the terror bombing in Sri Lanka and the slaughter of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. Concert-goers included more than a dozen Holocaust survivors and a busload of older members of the Jewish Community Center, as well as many young musicians.

Socialist Equality Party campaigners distributed materials on the rise of the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the fight against the extreme right and were warmly received by many. “It’s not just in Germany, it’s here—it’s here”, one older concert-goer repeated, with unmistakable alarm.

The concert began with Charles Davidson’s “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” (1968), in slightly abbreviated form. The piece is written for orchestra and treble choir and based on poems by Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. The children were among the 150,000 Jews imprisoned in the Terezin concentration camp (also known as Theresienstadt). After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Nazis converted the Czech town of Terezin into a Jewish prison. It was not an extermination camp, but about 33,000 would die of hunger and disease there. The Soviet army liberated the camp in 1945.

The evocative poetic lines of the children were displayed above the orchestra and chorus. “The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads, To bury itself deep somewhere in our memories. We’ve suffered here more than enough, Here in this clot of grief and shame” begins the poem “Terezin.”

The piece is alternatively haunting and mournful and lively and hopeful, as the powerful choirs give voice to the children’s contradictory feelings. Davidson, trained as a cantor and with a doctorate in sacred music, has created an ethereal and entrancing melodic sound in this now widely performed piece.

Sophia Franklin

Sophia Franklin, a Music Education and Physics major at MSU, who sang alto in the 100-plus member chorus, later told a reporter from the World Socialist Web Site, “Our piece was about Terezin. It was a concentration camp, but designed by the Nazis to be the public ‘face’ of the camps for visits by the Red Cross. It looked like a nice camp, but really it was just as bad. People were disappearing. They [the Jews] knew there was something very wrong even though the murders weren’t happening there. They were living in constant fear.”

Echoing the thoughts of many of those in the hall, Sophia said, “I have learned about the history of the Holocaust in middle and high school. This has happened before. Can’t we learn from that?”

In one of the concert’s introductory lectures, MSU Assistant Professor Dr. Amy Simon explained that the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, beginning a war of annihilation. Recognizing the genocidal implications, Simon said, approximately 100,000 Jews fled Kiev before the fascist occupation. Those who remained were the sick, the elderly and many children. These Jews were forced to walk to a ravine on the outskirts, now called Babi Yar, lined up in groups and systematically machine-gunned to death.

After the wholesale slaughter of the Jews, who constituted the largest proportion of the dead, the killing would continue for months abetted by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Tens of thousands of Communist Party members, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and other anti-Nazis also perished there. It is estimated that the total number of dead thrown into the pit at Babi Yar would grow to more than 100,000 during the years of German occupation. Of the 6 million Jews who were exterminated by the Nazis, more than 2 million died in the Soviet Union as a result of mass executions similar to that at Babi Yar.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s famous poem “Babi Yar” was written in protest. It begins, “No monument stands over Babi Yar. A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone. I am afraid. Today, I am as old, As the entire Jewish race itself.”

The poem is a brilliant and defiant attack on both anti-Semitism and the Stalinist bureaucracy. The nationalist bureaucracy pandered to anti-Semitism and was hostile to its exposure; it opposed any remembrance of the genocidal treatment of the Jews, insisting there be no special mention of the Nazis’ determination to eradicate Jewry. Yevtushenko’s poem laments, “O, Russia of my heart, I know that you, Are international, by inner nature. But often those whose hands are steeped in filth, Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.” Unsurprisingly, the poem was officially denounced by Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Kevin Bartig, MSU associate professor of music, who also spoke before the production, related the extraordinary first exchange between the poet and composer. Shostakovich, he explained, approached Yevtushenko for permission to set “Babi Yar” to music. The poet immediately agreed, and Shostakovich, relieved, then told him the piece was already composed.

Bartig recounted Yevtushenko’s words when he first heard the composition, “Some of my poems were set before, but the music hardly ever coincided with the melody I heard in my inner ear when writing my poem. I hope it doesn’t sound like conceit, but if I were able to write music, I would have written exactly the way Shostakovich did. By some magic, telepathic insight he seems to have pulled the melody out of me and recorded it in musical notation.”

Wonderful and apt words! Sitting in the audience of this concert, one felt an emotional and seamless unity between the music and words—each heightening the power of the other.

Bartig noted that there were attempts to prevent the premiere of the 13th Symphony in 1962, but “it was a sign of the times, that the idea of censoring a performance—as would certainly have been the case a decade earlier [prior to Stalin’s death]—would have been more of a provocation or scandal than allowing it to go on.” This was during the period of the so-called Thaw in the USSR.

The music scholar noted, “The work is a meditation on repression, from anti-Semitism to the take-down of self-interested bureaucrats in the final movement. It was a risky project in the USSR. Even a few years earlier, Shostakovich might not have risked it. …

“Stylistically, Shostakovich is himself as ever here using a tonal idiom, dressed up with the things that make his voice so distinctive: creating dissonances, exaggerated contrasts, and sarcasm.” He concluded by noting, “The themes we confront in the 13th, which sadly remain relevant in 2019, make the work one of the most unsettling and powerful in the symphonic repertoire.”

Explaining his decision to create the work, Shostakovich said, “I was overjoyed when I read Yevtushenko’s ‘Babi Yar’; the poem astounded me. It astounded thousands of people. Many had heard about Babi Yar, but it took Yevtushenko’s poem to make them aware of it. They tried to destroy the memory of Babi Yar, first the Germans and then the Ukrainian government. But after Yevtushenko’s poem, it became clear that it would never be forgotten. That is the power of art.”

The piece is not easily classified. Requiring a bass soloist, men’s chorus and large orchestra, it has five movements. Babi Yar has been variously described as a choral symphony, a song cycle or a giant cantata. The first section, “Babi Yar”, the Adagio, is a funereal elegy, opening with a solemn chime, dramatically invoking the Dreyfus affair in France (1894-1906), the savage Bialystok pogrom of 1906 and the story of Anne Frank. The emotional music moves from the spiritual to the literal, in the breaking down of Anne Frank’s door. The use of the bass soloist, the impressive Mark Rucker in this case, a male chorus and the frequent effective use of chimes and bells is widely attributed to the influence of 19th century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

The second movement, “Humour”, is a livelier piece, but its message is just as pointed: oppression cannot silence the masses and their mocking of authority. It ends, “three cheers for humour—he’s a brave fellow.” The third (“In the Store”) is an ode to Soviet women, endlessly forced to line up to secure provisions for their families, ending with a quasi-religious motif. The fourth movement (“Fears”) evokes the menacing atmosphere under Stalinism, opening with a highly chromatic tuba solo that anticipates the composer’s later experiments with twelve-tone dissonance. “Career”, the final movement, condemns censorship and the ever-present Stalinist toadies with a lopsided opening waltz and beautiful woodwind solos, ending with a chilling final strike of the chime. It makes a bitter analogy to the Catholic Church’s trial and imprisonment of Galileo.

Attending the Orchestra Hall event, Joseph Jankowski, a student at the Detroit Institute for Musical Education, told us, “I knew this would be powerful. But when the conductor lowered the baton, no one clapped. Then everyone started clapping and didn’t want to stop—that was amazing.

“It was a beautiful portrayal and 100 percent relevant. Humanity-wise we face a serious issue today in this country and around the world. Events like this are extremely important because they should serve as a reminder that not all is as it should be. Large events like the Holocaust—even smaller events like Sandy Hook—we’ve allowed them to happen. We forget.”

“It was amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Edie, another audience member, “A person just feels more emotional about it all [in the setting of] such impressive music.”

International Youth and Students for Socialist Equality (IYSSE) member James said he was deeply moved by both the music and poems: “In Charles Davidson’s piece, the first poem, ‘I’d Like to Go Away Alone’, began with heavenly violin strings that captured the feeling of hope. But when the alto choir sang ‘Somewhere into the far unknown there, where no one kills another’, the vocals were a musical suggestion of such an un-worldly place.”

He continued, “The lyrics captured the feelings of children who had to watch this tragedy as it happened. … The gong and flute were used a lot to symbolize the blows that Nazi soldiers used against the Jewish prisoners of war. The orchestra members walked off in a single file line to symbolize what the Jewish people experienced at that time in these concentration camps.”

James also noted, “The [Shostakovich] music really felt uneasy, as the poem portrays things. The baritone singing, ‘Let the Internationale thunder as the last anti-Semites on earth are buried’ had me in tears. I hope the working class has more access to cultural events like this one in the future. This was a great experience for me.”

“The greatness of Shostakovich,” Fred Mazelis notes in his WSWS article on the composer’s legacy, was “to reflect the great struggles of his time, to find the musical language, in abstract, personal and emotional terms, through which to express not only his personal travail, but that of many millions of others.”

Many of those of us who attended the soul-stirring MSU performance would strongly concur. Indeed, the struggles of his time remain the struggles of our own.

The author also recommends:

The Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017) and the fate of the ‘60s generation
[3 May 2017]

Berlin exhibition—“Mass Shootings: The Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941-1944”
[28 October 2016]

The legacy of Dmitri Shostakovich
[7 April 2000]

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Ancient Roman poet Ovid, a Marxist?


This 2016 video from England says about itself:

In this module, Dr Llewelyn Morgan (University of Oxford) thinks about Ovid’s Metamorphoses in relation to Virgil’s Aeneid.

Some time ago, this blog asked the question whether ancient Greek poet Homer was a Marxist.

My short answer was no. However, did ancient Homer at least have one idea in common with modern socialists?

Yes. In Homer’s Odyssey, book XVII, King Odysseus is disguised as a beggar. He tells his companion, the swineherd Eumaios, that he can stand lots of trouble. However, now he is hungry. Odysseus then says (lines 285-289; my translation),

“But one thing no one can deny is ravening hunger, a cursed plague bringing people much trouble. That is why people launch oared ships for faraway expeditions across the harvestless sea, to bring evil and death to enemies.”

Here Odysseus, and Homer, in fact say wars are about economic resources. They sound like Bertolt Brecht on eating and morality. Homer did have at least one idea, the idea about the origins of wars, in common with modern Marxists and other socialists.

Now, to Ovid. Like Homer, not really a Marxist. However, like Homer, he had a ´socialist´ idea about the origin of wars.

In Metamorphoses, lines 141 to 143, he writes, translated by Brookes More:

they penetrated to the bowels of earth
and dug up wealth, bad cause of all our ills,
rich ores which long ago the earth had hid
and deep removed to gloomy Stygian caves:
and soon destructive iron and harmful gold
were brought to light; and War, which uses both,
came forth and shook with sanguinary grip
his clashing arms.

These lines are about the ‘iron age’ of human history according to Ovid.

That brings us to, to some extent, another parallel between Ovid and Marxists. Ovid in lines 89-150 of Metamorphoses describes the, according to him, four ages of human (pre-)history.

The age of the first human beings is the ‘golden age’. A time when there was equality and no private property yet. A classless and stateless society. So, no need for repressive governments and wars. There is a parallel with what Karl Marx called ‘primitive communism‘; and what other social scientists call ‘hunter-gatherer societies’. There are differences: Ovid adds mythological elements, like golden age spring lasting all year and rivers of milk and nectar flowing.

According to Ovid, after the golden age come the silver, bronze and iron age. This is a variation on the five ages of mankind of ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Progressively, these ages get worse and more violent. While human beings get more and more depraved.

According to Marx and other social scientists, after primitive communism come various types of class societies. With a rise of repressive governments and wars. Contrary to Hesiod and Ovid, Marx and similar scientists don´t claim that human beings as a whole get more and more depraved.

Though Ovid was no Marxist, extreme right people might call him a ‘cultural Marxist‘. A term of abuse among ‘alt-right’ neonazis for everyone opposing their support of inequality, their misogyny, their wars, etc.

Aegean sea journey, 18 April


Aegean sea, 18 April 2019

Before telling how we left Kos island in Greece after our 18 April 2019 arrival there, first this photo through an airplane window from just before our arrival: Greek Aegean sea islands to the north of Kos.

All photos of this blog post are made with a cell phone.

This June 2018 about the harbour of Kos island in Greece says about itself:

Kos City is the capital of the island, has the largest port and is the tourist and cultural center. Close to the harbour is the 14th century Neratzia Castle, built in 1315 by the Knights of St. John of Rhodes. In the center of the city is an old market place, an agora. The ancient Asklepieion is located between Kos Town and the Dikeos.

This February 2019 video says about itself:

Island hopping Greece

We had a great trip from Rhodes to Kos. The ferryboat stopped in Chalki, Tilos and Nisyros. All places were amazing. Enjoy!

After our arrival on Kos island on 18 April 2019, our ferry traveled in the opposite direction: from Kos to Nisyros to Tilos.

Kos-Tilos ferry. 18 April 2019

This photo shows our ferry from Kos to Tilos.

I had crossed the Aegean sea once before: from Turkey to Lesvos island. I had seen Scopoli’s shearwaters and bottlenose dolphins then.

What would we see this time?

We did not see as much wildlife as that earlier time. Mainly a yellow legged gull flying just above the sea. This ferry was a catamaran, sailing much faster than the Turkey to Lesvos ferry. It was windy as well, making it harder to use binoculars.

Greek flag, 18 April 2019

The Aegean sea: in ancient times, there were various explanations for the name Aegean. The Athenians said the name referred to their King Aegeus, of 1000 BCE, or longer ago. When Aegeus was king, the son of King Minos of Crete was murdered in Athens. Hand over my son’s murderers to me, Minos demanded. But King Aegeus did not know who had murdered the Cretan prince. Then, King Minos said, once in seven years you have to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete. These young people were fed to the Minotaur, a half-human half-bull monster living in the underground Labyrinth in Crete.

Theseus, Aegeus’ son, wanted to stop this human sacrifice. When the ship to Crete had to sail again, he traded places with one of the seven young men. He told his father: I want to talk to the Minotaur to stop his killing. If the monster is unwilling, then I will try to kill it. If I succeed, and all fourteen young Athenians will be alive, then, when the ship will arrive again in Athens, its sails will be white. If the sails will be black, that will be a sign that the Minotaur has killed me and the others.

When Theseus arrived on Crete, King Minos’ daughter Ariadne fell in love with him. She said: Theseus, you are strong and courageous. Maybe you can kill the minotaur. However, then you and the other Athenians will still die. You won’t be able to find your way out of the Labyrinth. Therefore, I give you this ball of thread.

As Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the string to the door. He found the Minotaur and killed it. Then, he followed the thread out of the Labyrinth. All the young Athenians boarded their ship. So did Ariadne, who had saved Theseus’ life and whom he loved.

The ship landed on Naxos island to get drinking water. As Theseus slept, the goddess Athena woke him up. She said: You must sail early in the morning. And no, you cannot take Ariadne along. Naxos is the island of Dionysus, the god of wine. Dionysus has fallen in love with Ariadne. She will become Dionysus’ wife.

Athena tells Theseus to leave Ariadne

On this Greek vase painting, Athena tells Theseus (left) to go to his ship, leaving Ariadne. Hypnos, the winged god of sleep, makes sure that Ariadne does not wake up.

Theseus obeyed the gods. But he felt so sad that he forgot to change the black sails to white sails. In some versions of the myth, Theseus voluntarily abandoned Ariadne, not really loving her. However, then his forgetting to change the sails to white ones becomes unexplainable.

As the ship approached Athens, King Aegeus was on the lookout on Sounio cliff. He saw the black sails. ‘My son and the thirteen others are dead!’ In despair, Aegeus jumped into the sea and drowned. And that, according to the Athenians, is why we still call it the Aegean sea.

There is also another explanation, based on another person who supposedly drowned long ago. Aegea was said to have been a queen of the Amazons. She supposedly wanted to bring an army of women warriors from Libya to help the Trojans in their war against the Greeks. However, she drowned; and the sea where she died was named after her.

Tilos, 18 April 2019

After about 90 minutes of sailing, our ferry-boat approached Tilos island.

Tilos, on 18 April 2019

We landed in Livadia, the harbour village of Tilos.

Tilos wildlife: see here.

Beowulf, ancient poem, new research


This 2015 video is called Classics Summarized: Beowulf.

From Harvard University in the USA:

Breaking down Beowulf

Researchers use statistical technique to find evidence that Old English poem had a single author

April 8, 2019

Summary: Using a statistical approach known as stylometry, which analyzes everything from the poem’s meter to the number of times different combinations of letters show up in the text, a team of researchers found new evidence that Beowulf is the work of a single author.

It’s been a towering landmark in the world of English literature for more than two centuries, but Beowulf is still the subject of fierce academic debate, in part between those who claim the epic poem is the work of a single author and those who claim it was stitched together from multiple sources.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, a team of researchers led by Madison Krieger, a post-doctoral fellow at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Joseph Dexter, who received a Ph.D. from Harvard, turned to a very modern tool — a computer.

Using a statistical approach known as stylometry, which analyzes everything from the poem’s meter to the number of times different combinations of letters show up in the text, Krieger and colleagues found new evidence that Beowulf is the work of a single author. The study is described in a April 8 paper published in Nature Human Behaviour.

In addition to Krieger, the study was co-authored by Leonard Neidorf from Nanjing University, an expert on Beowulf whose numerous studies include a book on the poem’s transmission, as well as Michelle Yakubek, who worked on the project as a student at the Research Science Institute, and Pramit Chaudhuri from the University of Texas at Austin. Chaudhuri and Dexter are the co-directors of the Quantitative Criticism Lab, a multi-institutional group devoted to developing computational approaches for the study of literature and culture.

“We looked at four broad categories of items in the text,” Krieger said. “Each line has a meter, and many lines have what we call a sense pause, which is a small pause between clauses and sentences similar to the pauses we typically mark with punctuation in Modern English. We also looked at aspects of word choice.”

“But it turns out one of the best markers you can measure is not at the level of words, but at the level of letter-combinations,” he continued. “So we counted all the times the author used the combination ‘ab’, ‘ac’, ‘ad’, and so on.”

Using those metrics, Krieger said, the team combed through the Beowulf text, and found it to be consistent throughout — a result that lends further support to the theory of single authorship.

“Across many of the proposed breaks in the poem, we see that these measures are homogeneous,” Krieger said. “So as far as the actual text of Beowulf is concerned, it doesn’t act as though there is supposed to be a major stylistic change at these breaks. The absence of major stylistic shifts is an argument for unity.”

The study is just the latest effort to pin down Beowulf’s often-mysterious background.

“There are two big debates about Beowulf,” Krieger explained. “The first is when it was composed, because the date of composition affects our understanding of how Beowulf is to be interpreted. For instance, whether it is a poem near or far in time from the conversion to Christianity is an important question.”

The second debate among Beowulf academics, Krieger said, is related to whether the poem was the work of one author, or many.

“The first edition that was widely available to the public was published in 1815, and the unity of the work was almost immediately attacked,” Krieger said. “From high school, everyone remembers the battle with Grendel and Grendel’s mother, and maybe the dragon, but if you go back and read the whole poem, there are weird sections about, for instance, how good Beowulf is at swimming, and other sections that go back hundreds of years and talk about hero kings that have ostensibly nothing to do with the story. So the way we read it now… seems very disjointed.”

One piece of evidence that has factored into debates about unitary composition can be seen just by looking at the text.

“The handwriting is different,” Krieger said. “At what I would call a random point in the poem, just mid-sentence, and not really an important sentence, the first scribe’s handwriting stops, and somebody else takes over. It’s clear that the second scribe also proofread the first scribe, so even though currently nobody really thinks that these two guys were different poets, or were joining together parts of a poem at this random mid-sentence location, it has helped contribute to a narrative according to which the writing of Beowulf, and maybe its original composition, was a long and collaborative effort.

For the nineteenth century, the prevailing view among academics was that the poem must be the work of multiple authors. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that another author — one whose name is all but synonymous with epic storytelling — began to challenge that idea.

His name? J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Tolkien was one of the greatest champions of single authorship,” Krieger said. “He was a very prominent Beowulf scholar, and in 1936 he wrote a landmark piece, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, that really revived the idea that it was the work of a single person.”

At the heart of Tolkien‘s argument, Krieger said, was the way in which Christianity is reflected in the text.

“The Christianization of Beowulf is very interesting, because every single character in it is a pagan, even in these odd digressions” Krieger said. “Beowulf is from southern Sweden and goes to Denmark to help other pagan Germanic peoples fight monsters…but it’s overlaid throughout with a Christian perspective and infused with Christian language.” Computational evidence from the study supports Tolkien’s view, from a new perspective. “Arguments based on the poem’s content or its author’s supposed belief system are vital, of course, but equally important are arguments based on the nitty-gritty of stylistic details. The latter also have the merit of being testable, measurable.”

Though he acknowledged it’s unlikely the new study will be the end of the debates about Beowulf’s authorship, Krieger believes it can shed important new light on English literary traditions.

“If we really believe this is one coherent work by one person, what does it mean that it has these strange asides?” he asked. “Maybe one of the biggest takeaways from this is about how you structured a story back then. Maybe we have just lost the ability to read literature in the way people at the time would have understood it, and we should try to understand how these asides actually fit into the story.”

Going forward, Krieger and colleagues are hoping to apply the stylometry tools developed for the study to other literary traditions and other landmark works.

“Even works as well-studied as the Iliad and the Odyssey have yet to be analyzed using a full array of computational tools,” Krieger said. “The fine-grained features that seem to matter most have never been examined in a lot of traditions, and we’re hoping to spread these techniques that we think could change the way similar problems are approached.”

Krieger also hopes to use the techniques to understand the stylistic evolution of English across history.

“Putting Old English in context is the springboard,” he said. “This is the birth of English literature. From here, we can look at what aspects of style evolved — not just grammar, but at the cultural level, what features people enjoyed, and how they changed over time.”

Ultimately, though, Krieger believes the study is a prime example of how ancient texts still hold secrets that can be uncovered through the use of modern tools.

“This is the first step in taking an old debate and refreshing it with some new methodology,” he said. “It’s a new extension of the whole critical apparatus, and it’s exciting that an area probably assumed to be very traditional can in fact be at the cutting edge of work that spans the humanities and sciences.”

This research was supported with funding from a Neukom Institute for Computational Science CompX Grant, a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant, a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and a Neukom Fellowship.

Playwright Bertolt Brecht, new film


This 23 March 2019 German video is about Heinrich Breloer on fusing documentary and drama to tell the story of ‘Brecht’ [TV Show].

By Stefan Steinberg in Germany:

69th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 4

Brecht: A new film about the famed left-wing German dramatist

5 March 2019

Interest in the famed left-wing German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is undergoing something of a revival. Recent signs of that renewed interest include the 2014 publication of the important biography of Brecht by Stephen Parker and the 2018 movie Mack the Knife—Brecht’s Threepenny Film, directed by Joachim A. Lang.

And now, this year’s Berlinale featured a new film biography of Brecht by one of Germany’s leading directors, Heinrich Breloer (Die Manns—Ein Jahrhundertroman [The Manns—Novel of a Century], 2001; Speer und Er [literally, “Speer and He,” released as Speer and Hitler: The Devil’s Architect], 2005; and Buddenbrooks [based on the Thomas Mann novel, released as Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family], 2008).

Breloer makes films on historical subjects in the manner of so-called documentary dramas. He combines documentary material with dramatic scenes and superimposed comments in a dynamic fashion. In so doing, Breloer has been able to win large television audiences for films dealing with key figures and epochs of German history. He has adopted the same approach for his new work about Brecht.

As Breloer (born 1942) explains in the introduction to the book published to accompany his film, his fascination with Brecht began when he was a student. Already in the summer of 1963, just seven years after Brecht’s death, the young Breloer worked together with an individual who was to become one of Germany’s most outstanding theatre directors, Claus Peymann, on a production of Brecht’s Antigone, an adaptation of German poet Friedrich Hölderlin’s translation (1804) of Sophocles’ tragedy.

Some years later, in the summer of 1977, with a copy of the material assembled about Brecht by Werner Frisch and K.W. Obermeier (published in 1975) in his rucksack, Breloer travelled to Brecht’s birthplace, the city of Augsburg in southern Germany, to track down and conduct interviews with those who had known Brecht personally, including the first love of his life.

Then again in 2010, Breloer undertook what he describes as another journey toward Brecht and began a second round of interviews with those who had worked with Brecht after his return in 1949 to East Germany (GDR) following his flight from Hitler’s Germany and 16 years in exile.

These interviews with some of Brecht’s closest friends and collaborators determine the modus of the new film, with interview clips juxtaposed with key episodes in Brecht’s life.

Breloer’s Brecht is divided into two parts. The first 90 minutes deal with the writer’s early life in Augsburg, his move to Berlin and his later success as a dramatist. In 1914, Brecht, aged just 16, was a strong supporter of Germany’s aggression in World War I. He quickly turned against the imperialist war, however, as news of its horrors emerged, particularly in the form of the letters sent him from the front line by his childhood friend, Caspar Neher. Neher later became a famous stage designer, who worked on many of Brecht’s productions.

In one early scene in the film, we witness the young Brecht (Tom Schilling) denouncing the war in a school classroom to the horror of his teacher, who immediately threatens the young “traitor” to the German national cause with retribution.

After the war, Brecht was present in Munich when nationalist Freikorps mercenaries brutally crushed the Bavarian Soviet Republic in April-May 1919. At the time, Brecht was closely following the activities of the Independent Social Party (USDP), which had broken from the main body of the Social Democratic Party in 1917. These two events—German capitalism’s role in the horrific war and the defeat of the uprisings in 1919 (including the murder of Rosa Luxemburg in January of that tumultuous year)—were to play a decisive role in Brecht’s political and artistic development, along with the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In Munich, Brecht turned to the then well-known writer Lion Feuchtwanger, who took him under his wing and helped him in his first stage successes. Breloer then follows Brecht’s move to Berlin where he begins to achieve considerable success as a playwright. The pinnacle of this success in the Weimar Republic comes with the triumphant response to the first production of his (along with Kurt Weill) The Threepenny Opera in 1928.

During the late 1920s, Brecht began to study Marxist literature and came increasingly under the influence of the German Communist Party, along with dissident leftist intellectuals such as Karl Korsch. The Stalinisation of the Communist Party and the disorientation of figures like Korsch did not assist Brecht’s political development.

In a number of interviews, Breloer refers to Brecht’s concern with concealing his private life and persona. Instead, the playwright wanted to be remembered only in terms of his work. “He loved the masks of the classics,” Breloer notes. In his new film, Breloer seeks to look behind those “masks” and throw light on Brecht’s personal life. He explores in some detail Brecht’s complex relations with a number of his closest female co-workers. In so doing he makes clear that Brecht, in his literary and dramatic work, was always intent on collaboration, in developing his ideas as the leading figure of a team.

Breloer’s film largely skips over Brecht’s period in European exile with his wife Helene Weigel (Adele Neuhauser). In its second half, we see the much older writer, now played by Burghart Klaussner, in the US in October 1947, where he appears before the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the witch-hunting, anti-communist outfit set up by the House of Representatives.

The day after the HUAC hearing on October 30, during which he declared he had never been a member of the Communist Party (which was true, strictly speaking), Brecht returned to Europe. He ultimately moved to Stalinist East Germany two years later, where he was able to recommence his literary and dramatic work. In 1953, he finally received his own theatre, the Berliner Ensemble.

Brecht’s Faustian bargain with the Communist Party had profound consequences for his artistic development. In his book, Breloer notes that the Stalinist archives in Moscow described Brecht in the 1930s as a “Trotskyite”, based on the playwright’s links to co-workers such as the actress Carola Neher, who, along with her husband Anatol Becker, was denounced as a Trotskyist. …

In fact, although he admired Trotsky’s writings highly, Brecht rejected the latter’s analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy as counter-revolutionary. While he continually came into conflict with the nationalist-philistine Stalinists in East Germany after the war, Brecht repeatedly sided with the GDR and Soviet bureaucracy at crucial junctures … Having provided the bureaucracy vital public backing, Brecht, at the same time, drafted notes criticising Stalin and his policies. …

The Ulbricht regime was well aware that Brecht’s work did not fit into its repressive, anti-Marxist straitjacket of “socialist realism”, but decided the playwright and his theatre company—always under close observation from the state security service—could function as an important safety valve to prevent social layers disenchanted with the system from challenging it head-on. Brecht, in turn, was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in Moscow a year before his death. Breloer’s film depicts these events very well.

Equally, Brecht also made artistic compromises—such as shifting the action of his plays to past centuries and other continents and creating “fables” or allegories—so as to avoid a direct confrontation with the bureaucracy. Important sequences toward the end of the film show Brecht in the process of rehearsing a number of his later works, including Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Life of Galileo.

Breloer’s film implies that Galileo most closely resembles the trajectory of Brecht’s life and career: Galileo (1564-1642), the outstanding astronomer and physicist, who strikes a pact with the Papacy and renounces his scientific discoveries to avoid punishment by the Church, on the one hand, and Brecht, a remarkable poet and dramatist, who cut his own deal with the Stalinist bureaucracy to continue his work, on the other.

Breloer’s film and accompanying book provide an opportunity for a younger generation to acquaint themselves with a key literary figure of the 20th century. The film is due to be shown on German television on March 22 (Arte) and March 27 (ARD).

The revived interest in Brecht, who has been treated as a “dead dog” or worse by the academic and official intellectual world for decades, is another indication of a growing radicalisation.

Vanity Fair, Thackeray’s novel as TV series


This 2018 video from Britain says about itself:

Gwyneth Hughes’ adaptation of Thackeray’s literary classic is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and follows Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty and scale the heights of English Society. Her story of “villainy, crime, merriment, lovemaking, jilting, laughing, cheating, fighting and dancing”, takes her all the way to the court of King George IV, via the Battle of Waterloo, breaking hearts and losing fortunes as she goes.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Vanity Fair: A new television adaptation of the great 19th century novel

1 February 2019

“But we are bound to stick closely, above all, by THE TRUTH—the truth, though it be not particularly pleasant to read of or to tell.”— Catherine: A Story (1839–40), William Makepeace Thackeray

A seven-part series based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, was broadcast in the UK in September and October, and released in the US on December 21. It was distributed by ITV in Britain and Amazon Video in the US.

Vanity Fair, published in 1848, is one of the great novels of the 19th century. Thackeray (1811–1863) set his work during and after the Napoleonic Wars, with the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 playing a role in the events.

It follows, over the course of two decades or so, a group of characters—Becky Sharp (“Sharp by name, and sharp, I fear, by nature”, as someone in the series suggests), a young woman from a poor family who survives by her wits and charms; her friend, then rival … and then friend again, the naïve Amelia Sedley; Amelia’s husband George Osborne and her adoring lover from a distance for much of the book, William Dobbin; and Becky’s spouse Rawdon Crawley, and their respective families, lovers and friends.

Vanity Fair, book cover

It is a remarkable social satire and picture of life. Without moralizing or lecturing, Thackeray holds up to the light the opportunism, hypocrisy and greed of the middle classes, the pseudo-greatness and viciousness of society’s “betters,” the high price to be paid for “getting ahead” in society at any cost, etc., all these social features and more.

The title comes from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the extended Christian allegory. In that book, often considered the first English novel, “Vanity Fair” is a location built by the devil, where people are sinfully attached to the things of this world. For Thackeray, who uses the title somewhat ironically, “Vanity Fair” refers to contemporary Britain, whose inhabitants, he writes in Chapter Eight, have “no reverence except for prosperity, and no eye for anything beyond success.”

During its 19-month serialization in Punch, the British humor magazine, in 1847 and 1848, the author gave his novel the subtitle Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society, giving notice that he had also included many of his own illustrations. When it appeared as a single volume, it carried the unusual subtitle A Novel without a Hero.

Both subtitles are correct—and both are significant.

The new television series, written by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by James Strong and (for one episode) Jonathan Entwistle, opens with Thackeray himself (Michael Palin), who acts as narrator throughout, introducing us to “Vanity Fair”, which he explains, “is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbug, falseness and pretension.”

In London, 1814, Becky Sharp (Olivia Cooke), the daughter of an “opera girl” and an artist, and Amelia Sedley (Claudie Jessie), from a wealthy background, leave Miss Pinkerton’s school for girls, where Becky has been teaching. She quits the place on bad terms, complaining about her poverty wages and insulting its headmistress. Leaning out of the departing carriage, Becky shouts, “Vive la France! Vive Napoleon!” In his novel, Thackeray observes that “in those days, in England, to say, ‘Long live Bonaparte!’ was as much as to say, ‘Long live Lucifer!’”

Before she takes up her position in the countryside as a governess for the Sir Pitt Crawley family, a prospect she dreads, Becky spends a week in London with Amelia and her family. The vain, oafish Jos Sedley (David Fynn), Amelia’s brother, described by his own father as a “lardy loafer”, who has been making his fortune in India, is home for a visit. Captain George Osborne (Charlie Rowe), Amelia’s fiancé, also comes around. George, whose family is rich, takes an instant, snobbish dislike to the ambitious Becky, who openly sets her cap at Jos. George’s friend, Captain William Dobbin (Johnny Flynn), also loves Amelia, hopelessly. A memorable outing to Vauxhall Gardens, one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London at the time, provides Jos, who is known to be “terrified of young ladies,” the opportunity to propose to Becky, but he drinks too much, makes a fool of himself and evades the opportunity. Becky heads off to her governess position.

She sets to work in the household of Sir Pitt Crawley (Martin Clunes), a horrible, miserly, dishonest man, taking care of his two neglected young daughters. Thackeray writes of Sir Pitt, “Vanity Fair—Vanity Fair! Here was a man, who could not spell, and did not care to read—who had the habits and the cunning of a boor: whose aim in life was pettifogging: who never had a taste, or emotion, or enjoyment, but what was sordid and foul; and yet he had rank, and honours, and power, somehow: and was a dignitary of the land, and a pillar of the state. He was high sheriff, and rode in a golden coach. Great ministers and statesmen courted him; and in Vanity Fair he had a higher place than the most brilliant genius or spotless virtue.”

Becky makes herself useful, as a secretary, to Sir Pitt, who, in turn, develops a longing for her. His second wife’s health is fading. However, Pitt’s handsome son, Rawdon Crawley (Tom Bateman), a dissolute, debt-ridden cavalry officer who earns his living by gambling, catches Becky’s eye instead. The entire Crawley clan are in economic thrall to Miss Matilda Crawley (Frances de la Tour), their wealthy and eccentric relative (Thackeray writes that she was considered “a dreadful Radical … She read Voltaire, and had Rousseau by heart; talked very lightly about divorce, and most energetically of the rights of women”). Becky worms her way into Matilda’s good graces, until the older lady learns that her new protégée has gone and secretly married Rawdon! His aunt instantly cuts Rawdon out of her will, largely determining the course of the new couple’s future.

A renewed war with France looms, as Napoleon has escaped from exile on the island of Elba and assembled a new army. George is generally inattentive to Amelia, who naively adores him. Thackeray, throughout his works, writes strongly about the situation of women. He observes that Amelia’s “heart tried to persist in asserting that George Osborne was worthy and faithful to her, though she knew otherwise. … She did not dare to own that the man she loved was her inferior; or to feel that she had given her heart away too soon. Given once, the pure bashful maiden was too modest, too tender, too trustful, too weak, too much woman to recall it. We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too.”

Amelia’s father goes bankrupt and George’s cold, unforgiving banker-father (Robert Pugh) demands that his son instantly end the relationship with her. George proceeds to marry Amelia against his father’s wishes, and is cut off financially for his efforts. This couple too is now poor. George grows resentful of Amelia, who he blames for his difficulties. To make matters worse, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, with the various characters now temporarily quartered in Brussels, George falls for the flirtatious, conniving Becky and begs her to run away with him, which she refuses to do.

George dies at Waterloo, and Amelia, pregnant with his child, dedicates herself to his memory. Dobbin knows the truth about George’s failings and disloyalty, but can’t bear to tell her.

Becky becomes disgracefully involved with Lord Steyne (Anthony Head), a rich, powerful and cynical marquis. “I have arrived”, she says, when the nobleman inveigles her an invitation to court.

In one of the most powerful, disturbing sequences in both the novel and new series (in Episode 6), Rawdon is locked up for non-payment of debts. Although appealed to and fully capable of doing so (thanks to the depraved marquis’ “generosity”), Becky does not extract her husband from debtors’ prison. Another of his relatives eventually does so.

Rawdon returns home unexpectedly to find Becky—alone, at night—singing to Lord Steyne, with whom she has been carrying on an affair. Becky protests her innocence. Steyne, believing that Rawdon is aware of the sums he has given Becky, supposedly to pay her debts, interjects: “Innocent! When every trinket you wear on your body I gave to you. Oh, I see what this is. The pair of you mean to lay a trap for me, to con me out of even more money than the thousands of pounds I have already given to this whore … which, no doubt, Colonel Crawley, you have already spent.” He calls Rawdon a “pimp”, who thereupon attacks and drives him out of the house. The marquis obtains his revenge, having Rawdon appointed to a position on a remote island where he later dies of yellow fever.

Mr. Osborne continues to persecute Amelia, who he blames for the falling out with his son. When Dobbin intervenes on behalf of Amelia and her young son, her deceased husband’s father hisses, “She may have seven children and starve, for all I care. She is dead to me.” Later, he makes his support for Amelia’s son conditional on the boy being taken away from his mother, which she, heart-brokenly, accedes to.

Dobbin, seeming to give up on Amelia, goes off to India. Years pass. In the end, fortune favors Amelia, when her son inherits his grandfather’s house and wealth. She now is provided for. Becky wanders the continent, working in gambling dens and such. She has been cold and unloving to her own son, and when he, for his part, ends up with the Crawley estate, he informs his mother, in a letter, “I do not wish to see you. I do not wish you to write to me. On no account should you ever attempt to make contact again.”

In Pumpernickel (a fictional Weimar), Germany, Becky and Amelia meet and reconcile. Dobbin arrives from India, with Jos, and hopes that time will have opened Amelia’s eyes. When she still persists in her illusions about her dead husband, Dobbin bursts out, “All these years, I have loved and watched you. Now I wonder, did I always know that the prize I’d set my life on was not worth winning? Your heart clings so faithfully to a memory because that is all you are capable of. Your soul is shallow. You cannot feel a love as deep as mine. … Goodbye, Amelia. Let it end. We are both weary of it.”

It takes Becky’s intervention, who informs Amelia that George proposed their flight together when they were in Belgium, to finally make her friend see the light: “George was not as he was painted! A man who was weary of you, who would have jilted you, but Dobbin forced him to keep his word! Why would anybody do that? Heavens above, Amelia, because he [Dobbin] loves you! Because he wants your happiness above his own!” It is a quasi-happy conclusion for Amelia and Dobbin, while Becky goes off with Jos, to a less certain future.

The new series (Vanity Fair has been adapted numerous times for radio, film and television) is a valuable and conscientious one. It starts off slowly enough, but then so perhaps does Thackeray’s novel. The first two episodes are slightly colorless. The scene at Vauxhall Gardens is not as spectacular and disastrous as it ought to be. With Becky’s departure from the dreary Crawley household and the emerging financial distress of the Sedleys, however, events become more colorful and compelling. The last few episodes are quite riveting. …

Cooke is fine as Becky, who exhibits an extraordinary selfishness and ruthlessness (produced by her circumstances), but who is not essentially mean or vindictive, as her ultimate conduct toward Amelia and Dobbin reveals. The younger generation of performers is generally fine, but it is the older generation—a chilling Anthony Head, Frances de la Tour, Robert Pugh, Simon Russell Beale (as Amelia’s father), Felicity Montagu (as Matilda Crawley’s unfortunate servant) and Suranne Jones (as Miss Pinkerton)—who truly stand out.

The series sincerely attempts, all in all, to do justice to Thackeray’s complexities and ambiguities. As one commentator observed, in Vanity Fair, “Conventional categories of human types were disregarded in favor of an individualization so complete that we know the characters better than we know our friends” (A Literary History of England, edited by Albert C. Baugh, 1948). The book is “without a hero,” as its subtitle suggested. Thackeray “possessed a terrible power,” asserted the same literary historian, “to detect and expose men’s self-deceptions, shams, pretenses, and unworthy aspirations.”

The novelist despised cant and mythologizing. For example, in his earlier Barry Lyndon (1844—adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1975), the story of an Irishman striving to become a member of the English aristocracy in the late 18th century, the narrator, a soldier at the time, remarks that it is very well “for gentlemen to talk of the age of chivalry; but remember the starving brutes whom they lead—men nursed in poverty, entirely ignorant, made to take a pride in deeds of blood—men who can have no amusement but in drunkenness, debauch, and plunder. … While, for instance, we are at the present moment admiring the ‘Great Frederick [Frederick II, King of Prussia 1740 to 1786],’ as we call him, and his philosophy, and his liberality, and his military genius, I, who have served him, and been, as it were, behind the scenes of which that great spectacle is composed, can only look at it with horror. What a number of items of human crime, misery, slavery, go to form that sum-total of glory!”

In Vanity Fair, Thackeray flogs the “great ones” in society for their selfish, callous treatment of their servants and the small shopkeepers and others whose bills they refuse to pay. How many noblemen, he asks, “rob their petty tradesmen, condescend to swindle their poor retainers out of wretched little sums and cheat for a few shillings? … Who pities a poor barber who can’t get his money for powdering the footmen’s heads; or a poor carpenter who has ruined himself by fixing up ornaments and pavilions for my lady’s dejeuner ? … When the great house tumbles down, these miserable wretches fall under it unnoticed: as they say in the old legends, before a man goes to the devil himself, he sends plenty of other souls thither.”

As for the Becky-Rawdon household, “Nobody in fact was paid. Not the blacksmith who opened the lock; nor the glazier who mended the pane; nor the jobber who let the carriage; nor the groom who drove it; nor the butcher who provided the leg of mutton; nor the coals which roasted it; nor the cook who basted it; nor the servants who ate it: and this I am given to understand is not unfrequently the way in which people live elegantly on nothing a year.”

Thackeray was no political radical himself, and he had terrible blind spots, including the suffering of the Irish people, but he was for the most part a devastating, uncompromising realist about people and society, a figure who belongs alongside Dickens, George Eliot, Scott, Balzac, Stendhal, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky as a leading practitioner of the novel.

In The Historical Novel, Georg Lukács argued that Thackeray “is an outstanding critical realist. He has deep ties with the best traditions of English literature, with the great social canvases of the eighteenth century [in the work of novelists Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett in particular].”

Famously, Karl Marx, in his 1854 New York Tribune article, “The English Middle Class,” included Thackeray, along with Dickens, Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, as belonging to that “splendid” group “of fiction-writers in England, whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together.”

These writers, Marx indicates, have specialized in depicting “every section of the middle class.” And how have they painted this social grouping? “As full of presumption, affectation, petty tyranny and ignorance; and the civilised world have confirmed their verdict with the damning epigram that it has fixed to this class that ‘they are servile to those above, and tyrannical to those beneath them.’”

Thackeray’s major novels, Vanity Fair, Barry Lyndon, Pendennis (1848–1850) and The History of Henry Esmond (1852), along with rambling, uneven but still occasionally fascinating works, like The Newcomes (1855) and The Virginians (1857–1859), can hardly be recommended too highly. The new television series, in so far as it captures much of Thackeray’s intent, also deserves an audience.

Imprisoned Kurdish-Iranian refugee wins Australian literary prize


This 31 January 2019 video says about itself:

‘A victory for humanity’: Behrouz Boochani’s literary prize speech in full

Behrouz Boochani wins Australia’s richest literary prize

Asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani has accepted the $125,000 Victorian premier’s literary prize via video link from Manus Island where he has been held for six years.

‘I would like to say that this award is a victory. It is a victory not only for us but for literature and art and above all it is victory for humanity’, the writer said. ‘It is a victory against the system that has reduced us to numbers. This is a beautiful moment. Let us all rejoice tonight in the power of literature’.

Translated from Knack magazine in Belgium, 1 February 2019:

Iranian-Kurdish asylum seeker on Manus island wins major Australian literature prize

The Iranian-Kurdish writer and journalist Behrouz Boochani, an asylum seeker who has been imprisoned for years on the Papuan New Guinean Manus island by Australia, has won one of the most important literary awards Down Under. Boochani wrote the book via text messages.

On Thursday in Melbourne, Boochani won the Victorian Prize for Literature, the literary prize of the state of Victoria, with its 100,000 Australian dollars (approximately € 63,500) the highest-rated literature prize in the country. But Boochani could not accept the prize himself. He can not leave Manus island, where he lives since 2013.

The asylum seeker received the prize for his book ‘No friend but the mountains: writing from Manus prison’.

‘No friend but the mountains’ is a Kurdish proverb about governments oppressing Kurds.

His debut also received the prize for best non-fiction book, worth 25,000 dollars (about 16,000 euros). Boochani wrote the book according to his publisher with text messages that he sent from Manus to helpers in Australia.

Australia since 2012 has imprisoned on Manus asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia with boats. Doctors and refugee workers have already sued the government because of the precarious situation there several times. Australia also gets a lot of criticism internationally.

In the absence of Boochani, his translator Omid Tofighian received the prize. Boochani himself spoke in an interview with the newspaper The Age of ‘paradoxical feelings’. “I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me.”, he said. “I demand freedom, give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are only seeking asylum.” He accused Australia of a “barbaric policy.”

Boochani lived for years with hundreds of other refugees and migrants behind a steel fence in an asylum center on Manus. After the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court decided their detention was illegal, they were transferred to another, open center on the small island in the Pacific.

According to his publisher Boochani has a degree in political science, which he obtained in Tehran. He calls himself journalist, writer and filmmaker.

Why, Australian right-wing government, do you imprison Mr Boochani? Did he murder? Did he abuse children? Did he steal one Australian dollar? Did he steal one Australian dollar cent? No, no, no and no!