lørdag den 31. december 2022

Happy New Year 2023


Happy New Year 2023

Another year has gone by and again it is time to take stock. I think most people will agree that 2022 was not one of those years that will be remembered with fondness. Sure, this is the first new year post-COVID, but that already seems like such a long time ago and so much have happened since then. There is now war in Europe again and a bloody one at that and we are looking into an energy and an inflation crisis on top of all the other crisis’s plaguing us. I have an app on my phone telling me what the electricity price is over the next 24 hours so I can plan when to do laundry or use the oven, something I would not have thought of a year ago.

All is not bleak though. One man’s death is another man’s bread as the (Danish) saying goes. I work with renewables, and this is a field that is booming, as in gold rush boom times. We are hiring and are very busy and if all goes well, I will be opening our new Copenhagen office sometime in 23. If you are interested in this field you may want to check out the Danish Energy Island project, which is labelled as the Danish equivalent to the Moon project. Truly exciting stuff.

This was also the year where Sight and Sound presented their new and updated list of the 100 best movies ever and the number one spot, the best movie ever made, was: “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080, Bruxelles”. Interesting choice…

I have listed 55 movie reviews on this blog in 2022. Of these 46 were List movies and 9 off-List movies, making this the slowest year so far, but I am in no rush so never mind that. The period covered is 1975 to 1978 and three List years per calendar year does seem to be my pace now. A thing I have noticed in this period is how difficult is has become to limit my off-List movies to only three titles. There is just so many interesting movies out there that never many it to the List. This was also the first year without a new release of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” and while it may bee too early a call, this could be the end of an era. It does also seem like the host of 1001 bloggers have been thinning over years, either from abandoning the project or by finishing it and this blog may end up as an anachronistic artifact, but then, so am I.

On my book blog I have read and reviewed 13 titles which is almost three times more than the target I have set for myself, so I can be pleased with that. This took me from 1794 to 1811, 17 years, and I am now far into the Napoleonic wars, in the period known as Regency. So, that means I am looking into a lot of Jane Austen stuff.

I would like to wish everybody a happy new year with my sincere hope that 2023 will finally be a better year. I think we all need that.


tirsdag den 27. december 2022

Michael Kohlhaas - Heinrich von Kleist (1811)


Michael Kohlhaas

You do not need to write a huge tome to point out ethical, moral or legal dilemmas. Heinrich von Kleist manages to do that very well in little more than a hundred pages.

Michael Kohlhaas is a horse trader from Brandenburg who usually sell his horses in Saxony. This is supposed to be the sixteenth century, so Germany is divided into countless small fiefs, principalities, duchies and what not. Something that was still the case when Heinrich von Kleist wrote this book. Anyway, the good Herr Kohlhaas is as usual taking his horses to market in Leipzig, when he is stopped at Tronkenberg and asked to present a permit to transport horses through. This is news to Kohlhaas and in the end he manages to get through by pawning two mares until he can come back with a permit. In Leipzig he finds out as expected that there is no such requirement for permits. This is just a scam set up by the new master of Tronkenberg, Junker Wenzel von Tronka. Returning to Tronkenberg, Kohlhaas finds that his horses have been worked almost to death and the groom kicked out. Kohlhaas is also kicked out and now he starts his quest for justice. Junker Wenzel von Tronka must restore his horses to their previous state and return them with damages.

Problem is that the Junker is nobility with friends in high places who blocks the case at every turn. When Kohlhaas’ wife offers to bring the case before the regional ruler, the Elector, she is beaten to death. Kohlhaas, seeing that the opponent is not obeying the law, decides to force the issue outside the law himself. His attack on Tronkenburg sends the Junker fleeing and it escalates into a regular uprising. Only the intervention of a famous cleric (Martin Luther himself, no less) convinces Kohlhaas to return to a legal track, but now Kohlhaas is also a vigilante and a criminal in his own right.

The questions asked by Heinrich von Kleist is if you have a moral right to seek justice outside the law if the opponent is outside the law or protected by a flawed system and following that, if the purpose condones the means. This is a timeless question and what makes this book readable and relevant today. Von Kleist does not answer the question (who can?) but frames it most provocatively. Kohlhaas is likeable all the way. He has a good and righteous case, and his only real motivation is justice. Not the monetary value or a settlement, but proof that the law is for everyone and that a noble scoundrel is subject to the law the same as everybody else. His extra-legal means of pursuing this justice is however as villainous as can be: arson, plunder and murdering, not to mention challenging the policing might of the system.

Similarly, the nepotism and arbitrariness of the power structure with family relations protecting each other and legal rulings being made by people entirely unfit for the job, placed their qua noble birth and family relations. It is a system obviously unfair and biased against the little man in which the law is flexible and apply less the higher in the hierarchy you are.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, I am not surprised, and you do not have to go to fiction to find examples.

In the case of Herr Kohlhaas, he does manage to get justice in the end, but his extreme means costs him everything and even that resolution is so arbitrary and with so many byways that it feels random. Meaning that even at the ultimate prize, justice is no guarantee.

Heinrich von Kleist was a known provocateur of his day. Anti-Napoleonic, but also liberal and revolutionary, he seems to have been a critic all round. I can certainly see “Michael Kohlhaas” as an argument for German unity as well as democratic reforms, even if the ultimate question of the novel is how far you are allowed to go to seek justice in an unjust system.

“Michael Kohlhaas” is a short book and even though written in that very complex German style where you almost forget how the sentence started by the time you reach the end, it is easy enough to comprehend and it is knife sharp on its moral and ethical points. If anything, it is too short and brief to get under the skin of the characters, but I doubt that was the intention anyway.

In my research of the book, I discovered it was made into a movie in 2013 with Mads Mikkelsen and Bruno Ganz. I think I will look up that movie.   



søndag den 11. december 2022

Elective Affinities: A Novel - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1809)


Elective Affinities

One of the best, and likely also worst, things about art is that it is open to interpretation and not an exact science. In the case of Goethe’s “Elective Affinities” I seem to have a rather different understanding of the novel than the clever heads who have formed the official interpretation of the novel and because of the above, my interpretation may be as good as theirs.

In the German countryside live Charlotte and Eduard. They may be lower nobility, but their rank is newer spelled out. They have resources enough for some extravaganza, but not endless funds. Both were previously married but as both widowed around the same time their infatuation with each other in their youth can now be realized in a marriage at their not so young age.

Their life together is in harmony when they get two new lodgers, Charlotte’s niece Ottilie and Eduard’s friend, the Captain (known throughout as “The Captain” and later “The Major”). Eduard falls passionately in love with Ottilie and his feelings are reciprocated. Charlotte and The Captain also develop feelings for each other but are better able to control them. When Eduard and Ottilie’s affair becomes too obvious Charlotte decides that Ottilie must be sent away, but Eduard flees and begs that Ottilie then can stay in the house. Eduard just manages to make Charlotte pregnant before he leaves but that is not enough to bring him home. Instead, he goes to war and throws himself into danger (the Napoleonic wars are raging at the time). When finally he does come home, he is dead-set on getting Ottilie. His scheme is that he gets divorced from Charlotte and marries Ottilie, while Charlotte marries the Captain/Major. Except his wild passion sets off a string of calamities, starting with the drowning of his little son.

Now, as I understand it, the common interpretation of this novel is as a critique of the institution of marriage as that being what prevents the “logical” pairings of the characters. Another, slightly more refined interpretation says that it is not so much the institution of marriage but the inability of the characters to think out of the box and release their adherence to conventions. In any case, they seem to think that Goethe meant these people to combine in different ways and their misfortune was that they were prevented from doing so. The major argument being that Goethe himself had affairs left and right and did not really consider marital faithfulness an objective but merely an obstacle.

My take on this story is much simpler. It demonstrates two characters, Charlotte and Eduard, where one can handle her emotions and weather potential disasters, while the other is a victim of his passions which unchecked must cause disaster left and right. Rather than being an advocate of serial monogamy, this story demonstrate the danger of unruly passions to the happiness and wellbeing of people.  

All characters have potential good futures ahead of them with plenty of reward, both socially and materially. Charlotte and the Captain/Major demonstrate how to reconcile passion and reality to both a common and a personal good, even satisfaction. Eduard on the other hand entirely embraces the romantic idea of letting his passions run his decision making with no regard for other people’s feelings and the potential for disaster, personal and to others. This makes him an egocentric person and his affair with Ottilie is just one example of his passion driven poor decision making. Charlotte’s daughter, Luciane, is another example of such a character where the damage she inflicts on others for he own gratification is obvious.

Rather than being an advocate of free love, Goethe is actually running a critique on the romanticism that was the rage at the time, asking those free spirits to rein in their passions a bit. This follows very much in the line of Goethe’s earlier novels, “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship” which run similar conclusions.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong, but I am entirely entitled to my own interpretation of art.

Recommendation? It is okay, but pales compared to Goethe’s earlier work.