What I’m Talking About: Sartre, Ishiguro, Rumi

Book covers: No Exit by Sartre, Buried Giant by Ishiguro, Masnavi by Rumi

A weird thought occurs to me, as the summer of 2023 rolls in: Literary Kicks turns 29 years old this July.

Which can only mean we’ll be having a 30th birthday next year, and I guess I’ll have to think of some way to celebrate. What is Literary Kicks, as it nears its 30th year?

Well, it remains a one-person show, and if anybody thinks this one person hasn’t been very busy kicking literary stuff around, the only explanation can be that this person does not enjoy podcasts. I know I surprised and confused some longtime Litkicks readers when I suddenly veered off into podcast-land as my primary mode of expression a few years ago.

But I never stopped doing what I’ve always done here – and I don’t really know what it is I do here except that it’s some kind of ongoing mission or quest involving fiction, poetry, music, art, politics, psychology, religion and philosophy, and this pursuit has gradually led me to become an antiwar activist, among other things. To me, there’s nothing more literary than the pursuit of human peace.

Sometimes serendipity kicks in and reminds me of the connections between what I’ve written about in the distant past, the 90s and 2000s and 2010s … and what I often talk about on podcasts or blog posts or social media here in the current tumultuous decade. It’s nothing but serendipity that the last three episodes of the monthly World BEYOND War podcast interview series all turned into literary conversations, with no intention for this to happen on my part.

Jean-Paul Sartre. I’ve always been into this philosopher of freedom and the human condition. Freedom was his topic and his obsession, and he was an eternal optimist about the potential of human beings to live together in prosperity and peace, even though he lived through World War Two in Paris. The first of three literary podcasts in a row happened when an interview guest became unavailable at the last minute, so I recorded a rant about why I believe we could all be more optimistic in our political activism, and I talked about Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential play No Exit – not because there’s anything optimistic about No Exit, but rather because this play’s agonizing configuration hides a comic truth: the room these people are stuck in is not locked, and there is an exit. I’ve written about this masterpiece in previous blog posts here.

Strangely, I didn’t read Kazuo Ishiguro until recently, though I always loved the movie Remains of the Day, which was based on a novel he wrote and featured such beautiful acting by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I was disappointed in myself today when I searched Litkicks and discovered that I’d never written an article about Kazuo Ishiguro. What the heck? I suppose I didn’t really catch on to his other novels until he won the Nobel Prize in 2017, and my faithful Litkicks readers may know that I often enjoy Nobel Prize winners, and I suppose it wasn’t until he won the big prize that I got around to checking out his novel The Buried Giant, which presents a fascinating metaphor for the trauma of war. The “buried giant” of this pseudo-Arthurian postmodern meta-fantasy is, we discover gradually during this tale, the repressed agony and denied memories of violent battles, attacks and acts of plunder, which societies are forced to develop mass rituals to forget about so that they can continue to live together. This book was only one of several books I talked about with my very literary and well-read guest Joseph Essertier, a professor at Nagoya University and chapter leader for World Beyond War Japan. Not surprisingly, many of the peace activists I work with lately are avid readers and writers of fiction, non-fiction, drama and poetry.
Rumi, or Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī. We’ve been through a lot of phases together here at Literary Kicks. Remember Philosophy Weekend?? I began this weekly series of blog posts as a general forum for discussion of existential, metaphysical, epistemological and ethical philosophy. We used to carry out debates each weekend in comments, and some of the issues I brought up include the concept of the collective self, and the question of the elusive self. I’ve always felt that the “self” is the least explored major concept in popular philosophy, as we all cling to a narrow, naive sense of the human self as solitary and singular, whereas our actual lived existence as human beings shows that we are deeply interconnected at every motivational, functional and even physical level. Well, when I interviewed Nazir Ahmad Yosufi, a brilliant young professor in Hamburg who had endured several wars during his childhood and early adulthood in Afghanistan, I kept hearing echoes of these concepts about the self in the Rumi quotes Nazir Yosufi found meaningful. It’s no surprise that antiwar activists think about the intrinsically collective nature of human motivation, will, care and consciousness, since war is a collective horror, and peace is a collective blessing. Anyway, I thought this was a great episode that called to mind for me the good old days of Philosophy Weekend, where we would have hot debates every week in the comment threads. It’s all still there … here on the litblog that never forgets.

2 Responses

  1. It’s about time, Marc. Thanks for getting back to your Literary Kicks roots. Sure you’re busy with world peace and the podcasts and the Gilbert and Sullivan shows, but Litkicks still matters! I’ll be in the audience this afternoon, eagerly watching your sword fighting technique in “Princess Ida”. Break a leg!

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What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!