Category: European literature

Czeslaw Milosz’ Proud to be a Mammal – finding grace in the belly of a beast

Czeslaw Milosz’ Proud to be a Mammal – finding grace in the belly of a beast

Emmanuel Levinas said “God left in 1941.” Theodor Adorno said “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Czeslaw Milosz, writing from Warsaw, Nazi terror’s ground zero, said this:

“The poetry I wrote before the war and later in Nazi-occupied Poland would have been utterly without hope if not for my awareness of the beauty of the things of this earth, and that beauty was incomprehensible, as it coexisted with horror.”

Czeslaw Milosz, Happiness 

Milosz lived and wrote through twentieth century’s darkest hours, in Warsaw disemboweled by war, its citizenry fighting like lions for the very soul of Europe, that fatigued continent. He sold contraband sausage, cigarettes, whiskey, and undies. He traded passports and crossed illicit borders. He saved Jews and was imprisoned in a transit camp. He translated and published little clandestine volumes of poetry on a Ditto machine. He survived. Today we read him as we read Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm, and Gunther Grass, all these austere witnesses of horrors doing a post mortem of humanity to decipher what the hell happened, why, and how it may happen again.

For his part, Milosz searches for answers in Dante, circles of hell, Faust, and European fatalism at a time when, as he says, history started rapidly accelerating:

“In Europe, this ‘acceleration of history’ demonstrated its force in the span of one generation: the First World War broke out; seemingly indestructible powers – the Russian Czarist Empire and the Hapsburg monarchy – fell; the Revolution of 1917 flared up; Nazism and Fascism culminated in the Second World War and Russia marched far beyond its 1914 borders, taking into its orbit little countries which had previously separated themselves from it, as well as nearly all the former Hapsburg domain. To one witnessing these events, the rise and decline of State organisms, the appearance and disappearance of chiefs, the millions of graves and the ashes of other millions scattered over the fields, all combined to make up a film running at a crazy tempo. Human affairs exploded like the mushroom of the atomic blast.” 

Czeslaw Milosz, Speaking of a Mammal

A whole lot of stuff goes on during a world war but, in moments when the centre doesn’t hold, some things are surprisingly durable: a stone and two blades of grass, or a roof of a hut, or a plough. While governments fall, the land is “singularly naked.” There are moments of felicity to be found even as the world goes ablaze:

“One should not imagine that those who have been swallowed by a dragon won’t experience moments of perfect contentment.” 

Czeslaw Milosz, Saligia

Milosz is deeply humanist, as are most of these wartime writers, paternalistically reconciling our capacity to do evil with our capacity to be good. Milosz, probably owing to his deep Catholicism (or to what some critics called a “beautiful naivete”), goes further than his cohort in his enduring optimism in humanity – pain is transitory and harmony is eternal. Writing idyllic verses in the land he claims was called anus mundi, the cloaca of the world, he says:

“Horror is the law of the world of living creatures, and civilization is concerned with masking that truth. Literature and art refine and beautify, and if they were to depict reality naked, just as everyone suspects it is, no one would be able to stand it.” 

Czeslaw Milosz, Anus Mundi

It’s an eerie feeling today, strolling across Warsaw’s old town, looking all those fairytale-pretty houses, bustling cafes, watching tourists take selfies by the Mermaid of Warsaw monument, and knowing it was all rebuilt from scratch, brick by brick, a city drawing its new blood from an underground cavern of old blood, burnt blood, shed for the country, its people, and its freedom. Czeslaw Milosz, much like the heroic fighters of the Warsaw Uprising, knew that his (and their) chances of surviving and seeing “what came out of this cauldron” were slim to none. Nevertheless, the old humanist went with Martin Luther’s advice: “when asked what he would do if he knew tomorrow was going to be the end of the world, he said, ‘I would plant apple trees.” 

Image: The monument to Warsaw Uprising, shot by me this summer.

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Autumn: turning the everyday into metaphysical exercise

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Autumn: turning the everyday into metaphysical exercise

Experiencing Autumn is a bit like newbie meditation. Wholesome intentions at the start, then excruciating boredom, and just then, when you, high-strung and anxious in all of your hyper-jacked always-on digital modernity, are ready to capitulate, just then you are (maybe) rewarded with It. That high-density particle of insight you’ve been sweating your saggy bits for. Momentarily relieved and perhaps even elated, you drag yourself back into supplication, back into that downward dog, back into the unassuming text whose cavalcades of wee chapters put you to difficult work again. That, or you call it drivel, and throw it behind the couch, a lifelong sentence of collecting cobwebs and lost buttons.

Only a well-established author of comfortably broad renown (and Knausgaard, that Scandinavian Proust, has earned his accolades through the widely popular My Struggle) can get away with a book as richly self-indulgent as this. Through the measured andante of the narrator, a salt-and-pepper-haired paterfamilias, we are invited to examine the intense materiality of this world. Apples. Badgers. Chimneys. Mouth. Churches. Piss. Forgiveness. Thermos. Vomit. Beds. Loneliness. Infants. Labia. Flaubert.

This is reality without makeup, as it appears in autumn within the bowels of a palpably hygge home to a “white middle-aged man with a frozen inner self, who walks stiffly and slightly stooped, and who never plays, never dances, never ventures into the wild, uninhibited darkness.” He makes coffee, writes, cooks breakfast, cleans, puts children to bed, and catalogs it all into his cabinet of banalities for the make benefit of his unborn daughter.  Perhaps one day, when she reaches the age at which adult children suddenly start enjoying spending time with their parents, she will thank him for these metaphysical lab notes, like the one about how pleasant it is to have a fever. Or how oddly satisfying it is to eat the entire apple, seeds and all. Or how war unleashes rational forces latent in humans. Or how sewing on buttons connects you with the spirit of your Norwegian grandmother. Or how  a thermos is “a kind of a family totem [that] discreetly embodies all that bound us together back then and which has now been broken.” 

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Autumn is its perfect stillness. There is no ebbing conflict to resolve in glorious crescendo. Instead, there is a near-perpetual but ever so irritating tension, like electricity static. An existential cul de sac. There is no untying this knot, there is no solving this mathematical equation, because it is life itself. It cannot be squared. It cannot be compartmentalized. It can only be endured or, better yet, accepted. A kind of Scandinavian stoicism, standing strong like a solitary autumnal leaf, grasping on while all his brothers have long tumbled into that early November frost.

 

Karen Blixen’s Babette’s Feast: deceptively simple Scandinavian wisdom

Karen Blixen’s Babette’s Feast: deceptively simple Scandinavian wisdom

Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke had a complicated  but colourful life. Reared in a conservative monarchist family in a stately manor house on the outskirts of Copenhagen, she fell in love with some kind of a dashing equestrian, but, rejected, married his rogue twin brother instead. Then, fate threw her to a coffee farm in Africa, where she experienced financial ruin, infidelity, illness, death of her second big love, and a disgraced return to the native shores. And then there was war, and another war, and a sprinkling of successful books under various pseudonyms like Tania Blixen (for Anglophone audiences) and Isak Dinesen (for German-speakers). At the zenith of her literary fame, Blixen journeyed to the United States where, as a bona fide aristocrat, she subsisted on oysters, grapes, and champagne while giggling up a storm with the likes of Marilyn Monroe…

But before all those accolades there was the mysterious French Babette, a culinary therapist, a dark-eyed saviour of prudish Norwegian spinsters, and overall a much-beloved character of Blixen’s Babette’s Feast, immortalized on screen in an 1987 Academy Award laureate.

At forty pages of literary minimalism, Babette’s Feast is not to be underestimated, for it takes a mightier writing muscle to craft something meaningful laconically than it does through flowery diarrhea of verbosity. And so, in a simple story of a French refugee thanking her pious Norwegian hosts, the reader learns that 1) excess asceticism is not necessarily the truest path to righteousness and God and 2) when spiritual and corporeal realms are well-nurtured one gets the purest Nirvana.

“This woman is now turning a dinner at the Cafe Anglais into a kind of love-affair of the noble and romantic category in which one no longer distinguishes between bodily and spiritual appetite or satiety.”

Karen Blixen, Babette’s Feast

Babette, fleeing from the bloodbath of French Revolution, finds safety in the kind of place where split cod and ale-and-bread soup are the height of culinary sophistication. She is taken in by devout ecclesiastics who renounce the pleasures of this world, “for earth and all that it held to them was but a kind of illusion, and the true reality was the New Jerusalem towards which they were longing.” There is kindness here, true, but a lot of reservation. Open affection is scant, but regret is bountiful, and the scales ever more tip in its favour as wrinkles and grey hair make their inevitable advances.

Babette unwittingly throws a flaming Molotov cocktail right at the heart of this stoic philosophy by spending her entire fortune of a very lavish and very French feast for her benefactors and their uptight friends. There’s the fabled turtle soup with Amontillado sherry, Blinis Demidoff with Veuve Cliquot champagne, quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce, and numerous other luxuries to impress even the toughest critic, let alone Babette’s unsophisticated guests. With each spoonful, with each glass of effervescent refreshment, their eyes glow brighter, their hearts beat louder, and all those putrid lumps of guilt, shame, submission, and denial melt away. They eat their way to God and emerge, with the last sip of their digestif, innocent like children.

There are clearly common themes between Blixen’s Babette and a 90s novel by Joanne Harris Chocolat (and its successful same-name film adaptation with the immaculate Juliette Binoche). Other adorably saccharine genre buddies such as Ratatouille or Julie and Julia also hammer home the same universally palatable thought – there is something patently magical about food, some artistry that leads to redemption, salvation, or at the very least self-actualization to be found at the tip of that brimming ladle.

Image: A still from Babette’s Feast film adaptation (1987).

Amara Lakhous’ multicultural Italy, or how to be suckled by Rome’s wolf without getting bitten

Amara Lakhous’ multicultural Italy, or how to be suckled by Rome’s wolf without getting bitten

Do you think yourself civilized enough to use an elevator? And how about pork – would an image of a genuine Piedmontese piglet with a Juventus scarf encircling its lovably rotund head evoke any particularly strong emotions? These are not some extravagant conversation ice-breakers. These are litmus tests for racism, identity, and belonging, intermittently passed and failed by a flavourful assortment of characters inhabiting, by birthright or through labyrinthine journeys of immigration, the merry chaos of Amara Lakhous’ two thrillingly playful novels. Straight from the titles, we know we are about to seep through an alluring oyster shell crack of contemporary folklore : Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet and Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio.

Inside, it’s a veritable cornucopia of sights, smells, languages, and people, a pungent stew of stories and places peppered with satire, melancholy, and drama. Calabrian matriarchs, Albanian and Romanian mafiosi, a sagely madame from Casablanca and a pizzaphobic cook from Shiraz – all of them scale the walls of the Eternal City, their knees scraping against millennia of brutal and glorious history. Moscow does not believe in tears, but Rome doesn’t believe you period. Like an eye-rolling auntie, Rome has seen it all. It may permit some nomadic urchin to suckle from its live-preserving teat, but that’s not a ironclad contract. Rome is forever. Its deals? Ça dépend:

“By now I know Rome as if I had been born here and never left. I have the right to wonder: am I a bastard like the twins Romulus and Remus, or an adopted son? The basic question is: how to be suckled by the wolf without being bitten.”

Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

As the Old World clumsily dances around racial and ethnic tensions, Lakhous breaches these dynamite themes with candour and satire that work. Too often in contemporary fiction these topics are stillborn, suffocated by unhelpful sanctimoniousness, their death only accelerated by political urgency (especially in contemporary Italy, with . Everyone rushes to talk about the vibrancy of multicultural life without stepping back and giving space for said life to bloom. In steps Lakhous whose characters are not sieves for political themes. They are their natural engines:

“I know a proverb that the Italians often repeat: “Guests are like fish, after three days they stink.” The immigrant is a guest, no more or less, and, like fish, you eat him when he’s fresh and throw him in the garbage when loses his colour. There are two types of immigrants: the fresh ones, who are exploited inhumanly in the factories of the north or the agricultural lands of the south, and the frozen, who fill the freezers and are used only in an emergency.” 

Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

After an entertaining merry-go-round of the novels’ city life scenes, the reader is not sated. The Piedmontese piglet is saved, the baddies meet their just desserts, and life goes on, with cornetto or with kubideh kebab, no matter. A Fellini sunset. We still don’t know though what to do with this identity problem of ours. Perhaps, after all that’s been said and eaten, it’s not a problem at all.

“It’s marvelous to be able to free ourselves from the chains of identity which lead us to ruin. Who am I? Who are you? Who are they? These are pointless and stupid questions.” 

Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

Image: Artnet.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones -a witty stroll through bougie Edinburgh

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones -a witty stroll through bougie Edinburgh

“Did you see that survey published in the papers the other day where people were asked if they believed Winston Churchill ever existed? A quarter of them said they thought he was mystical.”

At what fateful sigh of time does history seamlessly transform into myth? At what point do harrowing mass bloodbaths become delightfully spooky tales by the crackling fireplace? Those grand, bushy-bearded kings of old, when do they slip into irrelevance? When does the sacred Stone of Destiny, the hallowed instrument of coronation, become just a minimally polished bit of rock? The Unberable Lightness of Scones (yes, pun intended) by a comfortably popular Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, does not attempt to answer these largely rhetorical questions of collective national mind. This is, after all, meant to be an easy, jolly read, with obvious hat tips to P.D. Wodehouse and David Lodge. Furthermore, this wee gem is part of a series about daily lives and pedestrian dramas of inhabitants at 44 Scotland Street (a real street, by the way, a very typical, quiet, residential nest in New Town). Still, as readers are taken out for a fun stroll along those unmistakeable Edinbughian streets of fog and stone, they are invited to ponder, through personal journeys of a dozen characters, the fate and future of this royal city in the 21st century.

After all, every city and nation must bow to time. Even a place as enviably strong, creative, and rebellious as the stone pearl that is Edinburgh. A cradle of Scottish Enlightenment in tow with David Hume, Adam Smith and its own vibrant literary Pleiad (Burns, Stevenson, Scott), it is not sheltered from the winds of Zeitgeist. Work, leisure, food, relationships, blood, belonging, identity, all gets a good toss. Even Boy Scouts are not entirely without sin, as six-year old Bertie discovers, chaperoned by an overbearingly progressive mum in between psychotherapy sessions and yoga classes.

Speaking of classes, the novel is a clearly bourgeois milieu, populated by gallery curators, teachers, artists, designers, restorateurs, and aspiring models. They go to Australia for their honeymoons and misplace their fancy Blue Spode cups, yet not all is sedentary in this quiet swamp. These bougies try to stir their snug little teapot by engaging in contraband of illicit jam, choosing love over money, and even aiding the descendant of the Young Pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie reclaim his centuries-lost birthright to the Scottish throne. The folks of Scotland Street, through their amusing peregrinations, unwittingly labour on redefining their beautiful city as it gracefully endures into another century, weathered and wisened by all that passed before, from bloody Jacobite rebellions to the dark pleasure of the kind of life depicted in Trainspotting.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones went to print in 2008, when the world was just entering the feverish pain of the financial crisis. That was a globally shared misfortune though, quite unlike the deeply national challenge thrown by the chaos of Brexit. The latter, still ongoing, made a careless tear in the patchwork of national identity, British, English, Scottish… Voices, questions, doubts, and long dormant anger are now reopening wounds, pustules, and callouses. A referendum can be a cornucopia of fury, hope, hate, disappointment, joy, ugliness, progress, regress, and a whole lot of confusion in between. It can also be a dud, a deflated balloon, a false alarm. Millions are raising their hearts to the stars to ask: “What makes us us? What makes this place ours and us of this place? Is it mountains and heather, castles and Robbie Burns, hearty curry with your Polish neighbours, or simply the zesty chill of Edinburgh air?”

In the Unbearable Lightness of Scones the remedy against tough times is simple – a lovely dinner with the neighbours, a no-nonsense menu, some flirts and giggles, and a cheesy poem-toast for a finale:

“I love this country, for all its ways,

I am as moved as any when I see

That landscape of quiet glens,

Those pure burns and rivers,

Those blue seas and islands

Half blue. I love all that,

And the people who dwell therein;

But I love, too, our neighbours

And those who are not our neighbours,

I shall never relish their defeats,

Not celebrate their human difficulties;

For, frankly, what is the alternative?

I see no other way.

I see no other way but that;

I see no other way but love.”

Love thy neighbour. Make them dinner. Fix the world. Sláinte!

Image: Leamne Arias Deniz, “Edinburgh.”

Maria Alyokhina’s Riot Days: Of protests, prisons, and the time Putin peed his pants

Maria Alyokhina’s Riot Days: Of protests, prisons, and the time Putin peed his pants

Famous people’s explosive, celebrated, seminal memoirs, how does one go about reviewing them without sounding like a worn out cassette? Take the Pussy Riot girls, for instance. Their story is generally well-known, regarded as heroism by some, as vulgarity by others.  Subversive and beautiful weapons, they’ve been fetishized and cursed, celebrated and anathemized. They had their own Netflix special, were whipped by the Cossacks during Winter Olympics in Sochi, were kicked off planes and were denied asylums. And still, seven years after that fateful performance, they manage to stay around, relevant, and, most critically, alive. The West, initially an eager enabler of Pussy Riot aesthetics and now engulfed by a threatening wave of its own existential problems, may grow fatigued of these statuesque rebels, but that in no way denies their significance. Their battle, after all, goes on. Their Sauron is far from defeated.

Maria Alyokhina, a key Pussy Riot girl, wrote her powerful and laconic memoir in 2017, quite some time after having endured her personal Golgotha. She is not prone to verbosity, making each word of her story heavy and impactful, like a sizeable stone being plunked into a quiet forest lake. It’s not a memoir, it’s more of an intimate conversation Maria has with a reader, a close one, around a kitchen table, with strong black tea and cigarette smoke and mittens quietly drying on the heater. No embellishments, no sanctimonious sermons about fighting for human rights. Just a conversation, taking us back to that pivotal act at that strategically important church:

Glittering Orthodox iconostasis, scant light from gold and silver lampadas, cheerfully coloured balaclavas, and four slender bodies quivering in a punk song-dance whose thick-as-butter guitar riffs are periodically punctured by nun-like harmonies of the chorus:

“Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away!”

This performance was first in the arduous litany of many others: the Russian police had their own performance, and the corrupt courts too, and the brutal penitentiary system, and even the Botoxed tzar with his dead fish eyes had a show of his own. For everything in that country is performative, from the lowest bureaucratic motion to the highest affairs of state, concocted deep within Kremlin’s bloodied walls.

From Hobbesian Leviathan to Bentham’s Panopticon to Orwellian fantasies, a myriad of classical and contemporary metaphors have been used to various degrees of poignancy to describe what it’s like to live in a repressive system. And it’s always dismaying how fundamentally little things change, making pessimists the world over sigh and say “there’s nothing new under the sun.” On the Goliath side, organizations like KGB are now brandishing a new set of abbreviations (in this case FSB), but their ghastly innards (and often their actual staff) are the same old guard of Judas apparatchiks. On the David side, previous generation of Soviet political dissidents like Mandelstam and countless others are now replaced by Pussy Riot, Navalny, and God knows who else in the near future. There are many faces to a regime, but underneath it’s the same clever cockroach.

There is one thing about Pussy Riot that is somewhat overlooked by the mass media yet captured quite clearly in Maria’s memoir. These are clever girls. Well-read. Erudite. Deep thinkers. They are not actors, they are philosophers, tough like steel, fragile like children, terrifying in their modesty and surprising in their resilience. They are not into punk for the studs, spikes, and leather jackets. They repurpose and revive it, resurrecting it into a weapon of resistance powerful enough to piss off Putin, the man who rides horses topless, poisons his enemies, and periodically interferes in elections here and there.

In her tireless attempts to alleviate inhumane conditions endured by inmates in Russian prisons, Maria works hard and with mixed results, enduring threats, indifference and ridicule. No matter though, because her wisdom grants this young woman strength of acceptance and grace of humility. Maria gladly becomes a martyr, sacrified at the altar of the hollow Russian Ark:

“I think about fate. About how many prisoners who protested have died and now lie in the ground. It is just an illusion that you go on hunger strike to achieve results. Yes, that’s how it begins but, later, you realize that it’s not for the imagined outcome, but for the very right to protest. A narrow sliver of a right, in a huge field of injustice and mistreatment. You also realize that your right will always be just a narrow sliver in the field. Not there, with the majority. But I love this sliver of freedom, however little it’s noticed by those on the other side of the wall.”

Image: Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism, Saatchi Gallery.

Mesa Selimovic’s Death and the Dervish: everyman’s ethical seppuku

Mesa Selimovic’s Death and the Dervish: everyman’s ethical seppuku

Mesa Selimovic intended his Death and the Dervish to be a commentary on faint-heartedness and moral cowardice that pervaded many aspects of life in communist Yugoslavia. Conveying this mood of metaphysical disenchantment, as all comforting notions of love, life, family, and country implode upon themselves to reveal nothing but punctured, hypocritical hollowness, Selimovic gives us Modernity, disguised in the shroud of 18th century Bosnia. It was a place technically within the coordinates of Ottoman splendour, and yet the most enduring cultural signal is not the aesthetics, the riches, or the intellectual rigour, but stifling corruption, abuse of power, violence, injustice, and countless other symptoms of an expansive empire feeling the burden of its own weight.

Perched atop this Babel there sits a Dervish. A man of faith. A man of doubt. One day, his brother disappears, and that’s when things start to get interesting, that’s when the masks drop and the prayer beads snap, and the Koran starts getting misquoted.

The Dervish Sheikh Nuruddin… His soul’s journey, documented before us in extremely quotable meditative plainchant, makes for a rather relatable, pitiable, sometimes admirable Everyman. Armed with Koran and ascetic rules of monastic life, he tiptoes along the labyrinth of society’s impossible choices, doubt cementing on his tired shoulders with each passing day. This doubt permeates every filament of human activity, its molecules invading everything from public spaces where political farce plays out with a hefty doze of injustice, down to the private nooks of people’s bedchambers, where one cannot be sure of one’s beloved’s fidelity. Everything melts, like Dali’s clocks, and the centre doesn’t  hold:

“We haven’t conquered the earth, but only a clot to put our feet on; we haven’t conquered mountains, but only their image in our eyes; we haven’t conquered the sea, but only its resilient firmness and the reflection of its surface. Nothing is ours but illusion, and therefore we hold onto it firmly. We’re not something in the world, but nothing in it; we’re not equal to what’s around us, but different, incompatible with it. In his development, man should strive for the loss of his self-consciousness. The earth is uninhabitable, like the moon, and we only delude ourselves thinking that it’s our true home, since we have no other place to go.”

Order, law, family, friendship, faith, all this, our Dervish discovers, is just victim to a “false conviction that we can keep life under control. But life keeps slipping away, and the more we try to keep hold of it, the more it eludes us.” Is it possible to accept this as a stone-cold fact and just move on? “How can a man live without beliefs that grow on him like skin, that become inseparable from him? How can you live without your self?”

This novel is chock-full of good existential questions like that, enough for a number of undergraduate philosophy classes to unpack. There are answers also, but more often unsatisfactory and nihilistic at best, once again underscoring the perpetual angst of a mind hard at work, digesting the cacophony of everyday chaos. Therein lies the timeless relevance of this work in our equally chaotic 21st century context. For instance:

“We should kill our pasts with each passing day. Blot them out, so that they will not hurt. Each present day could thus be endured more easily, it would not be measured against what no longer exists. As things are, spectres mix with our lives so that there is neither pure memory nor pure life. They clash and try to strangle each other, continually.”

Or this one:

“We vacillate between despair and the wish for peace and don’t know what is ours. It’s difficult to stop at either end, to embrace only one side, but that’s what we need to do. Any decision, except the one that will disturb our conscience, is better than the sense of disorientation with which indecision bestows us.”

The dervish is a spiritual Everyman, a stand-in for all of us, reasonably self-aware and yet not even remotely close to that coveted “inner peace.” He gives us plenty of stuff to work with: some are no more than elegant sound-bites, many are indistinguishable from modern-day self-help mindfulness vogue, and yet toward the end all of these noble aspirations, all this soul-searching and David vs Goliath heroism, all is lost in the vortex of self-destruction:

“Fear is flooding over me, like water. The living know nothing. Teach me, dead ones, how to die without fear, or at least without horror. Because death is senseless, as is life.”

Image: The Seated Demon, by Mikhail Vrubel