Il-Verità bħala stil ta’ ħajja

Reċensjoni tal-ktieb: Meta r-Ruħ tintbill fid-Deheb

Horizons, 2021

 

minn Robert Farrugia Flores.

 

Bosta mistiċi, u kif ukoll xi filosfi b’rashom fuq għonqhom u qalbhom f’postha, għarfu l-bżonn u d-dmir li persuna tidħol fiha nnfisha u timmedita sabiex tagħraf u tagħti spazju lill-ħajja tal-ispirtu. Minn dawn tal-ewwel nistgħu nsemmu l-kbar, bħal San Ġwann tas-Salib, Santa Tereża ta’ Ġesù u Santa Eliżabetta tat-Trinità, li l-awtur tal-ktieb Meta r-Ruħ tintbill fid-Deheb jagħmel referenzi qawwija lejhom u jimxi proprju fuq il-passi tagħhom. Mill-kamp tal-filosfi nsibu wkoll vuċijiet profetiċi bħal dik ta’ Edmund Husserl, li fil-bidu tas-seklu għoxrin kien qed javżana dwar dak li hu jsejjaħlu “barbarian hatred of spirit” li qiegħed jiddomina l-ħajja tal-Punent u li, kif jargumenta hu, huwa riżultat tal-materjaliżmu u x-xjentiżmu li qegħdin jinvadu u jaħkmu kull sfera u mistoqsija dwar il-ħajja. Id-dixxiplu tiegħu, Michel Henry, ikompli jirradikalizza dan sal-punt li jniżżel l-isfera tal-viżibbli taħt dik li hi nviżibbli, sabiex tal-aħħar terġa verament tieħu r-ruħ u l-ħajja. Wara kollox, kif jghid San Pawl (2Kor 4:18), “dawk li jidhru huma għal zmien qasir, dawk li ma jidhrux huma ghal dejjem.” Infatti Henry, li kiteb u għex fit-tieni parti tas-seklu għoxrin, sa anke wasal biex fl-aħħar xogħlijiet tiegħu jagħmel studju profond fuq l-Evanġelju fejn, mil-lenti filosofika u dik fenomenoloġika, jittratta t-temi tal-verità, tal-kelma u l-inkarnazzjoni.

Il-ktieb ta’ P. Charlò nistgħu narawh bħala żwieġ intimu bejn l-imħabba mistika u l-għerf tar-ruħ. Huwa biċċa xogħol ta’ valur siewi u neċessarju għax mhux biss jippreżentalna studju storiku dwar il-meditazzjoni Nisranija, speċifikament dik Karmelitana, jew kif l-awtur isejħilha wkoll “it-talb tal-ġabra,” iżda, bla tlaqliq ta’ xejn, jipproblematizza wkoll il-meditazzjoni fil-forma kontemporanja sekulari li rabbiet l-għeruq tagħha fid-dinja kapitalista u konsumerista – li hija l-istess dinja li tħobb tifqa’ dak kollu li hu profond, impenjattiv u misterjuż. Għaldaqstant, kif jinnota l-awtur, din il-prattika qed tigi kummerċjaliżżata għal finijiet li mhumiex propji tagħha. L-awtur jispjegalna kif, oriġinarjament, il-meditazzjoni ma’ kenitx maħsuba li tkun xi tip ta’ skappatura ta’ malajr mill-ġenn ta’ ħajjitna. Lanqas kienet maħsuba li tnessina, teħlisna jew twarrabna mir-realtà sofferenti tagħna u ta’ madwarna sabiex l-ego tiegħi u ġismi nħosshom tajbin għal ftit bl-għan li nkun nista’ nkompli ngħix iffukat fuqi nnifsi. Xejn minn dan, anzi bil-kontra! Kif jgħidilna l-awtur, bl-iktar mod ċar, “il-prattika tal-meditazzjoni tibdilna fi bnedmin spiritwali, jiġifieri bnedmin li ma ngħixux biss fuq livell materjali, iżda nidħlu fil-fond, fil-qalba spiritwali ta’ kollox” (paġ. 111). Għaldaqstant, “il-meditazzjoni tgħallimna nindunaw li s-sigurtà ma tinsabx la f’moħħna u lanqas fid-dinja materjali. Il-meditazzjoni issaffilna l-ħarsa tagħna biex nogħlew ‘il fuq jew ninżlu fil-qalba” (paġ. 112).

Madankollu, dan il-ktieb mhuwiex xogħol reazzjonarju. Xejn affattu. Dan huwa xogħol fejn l-awtur jurina kif nistgħu niffukaw ħsibijietna, l-emozzjonijiet u l-aġir tagħna sabiex niltaqgħu mal-verità u ngħixuha b’mod sħiħ. Din il-verità hija Ġesù Kristu, li huwa n-nifs tal-ħajja li, kif jaċċenna għalih l-awtur b’mod espliċitu, huwa l-ispirazzjoni u l-aspirazzjoni – jiġifieri, in-nifs ’il ġewwa u ’l barra, u allura l-ħajja li tgħammar fina u żżommna ħajjin: “Li nirritmaw l-Isem li hu fuq kull isem, l-Isem ta’ Ġesù, man-nifs tagħna, bil-mod il-mod nibdew nindunaw li l-identità vera tagħna hija Ġesù Kristu” (paġ. 213).

Il-meditazzjoni Nisranija, allura, kif jgħinna nagħrfu l-awtur, tressaqna qrib din il-verità billi toħodna dirett lejn il-mument preżenti – “il-Waqt” – li hu “fl-issa ta’ ħajti li jiena ninsab, dak għandi u xejn ħliefu, kif ukoll Alla jinsab fih” (paġ. 193). L-aħħar kelma “fih” faċilment tista’ taħrabilna u nitilfu t-tifsira qawwija tagħha hawn. F’dan il-ktieb, kif ukoll f’diversi xogħolijiet mistiċi u filosfiċi li nkitbu matul iż-żmien, din għandha rwol sinifikanti ħafna. Il-kelma “fih” tindikalna li hemm xi ħaga ġewwa, bħal daħla, spazju ieħor u xi mkien ulterjuri. Hija kelma ripetuta f’dan ix-xogħol għaliex it-tema ċentrali tiegħu hija propju l-ġewwieni tagħna, dak li jinħeba minna imma, fl-istess nifs, dak li hu l-eqreb tagħna. Fi kliem l-awtur stess, “il-prattika medittativa tagħna sseħħ fil-kuntest tar-relazzjoni tagħna miegħu, Hu li mhuwiex ’il barra minna, iżda fina, magħġun magħna, anzi huwa l-Kewn tagħna” (paġ. 186). Infatti, l-awtur jipproponi kelma oħra flok meditazzjoni: “Qagħda” (minn toqgħod) li fil-fatt tkompli tibni fuq il-ħsieb li noqgħodu xi mkien – fih/ fina.

Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, it-tip ta’ meditazzjoni li dan il-ktieb qed iressqilna hija “l-koltivazzjoni tal-ħbiberija ma’ Alla li twassal għall-għarfien tiegħi nnifsi fih u tiegħu fija” (paġ. 184). Fil-proċess ta’ dan hemm il-ħelsien interjuri tagħna fin-nofs fejn niġu meħlusa minn irbit u jasar li ma jħalluniex nimmaturaw u nikbru bħala persuni b’mod sħiħ. Dan il-vjaġġ mhuwiex wieħed solitarju lanqas, kif jaċċenna l-awtur, imma maħsub li jkun fi spirtu komunitarju u f’relazzjoni mal-ieħor li huwa lil hemm minni. Allura, “il-bniedem meditattiv imsejjaħ sabiex jimxi flimkien mal-bnedmin ta’ żmienu u jrawwem ħarsa, qalb u azzjoni mimlija kompassjoni u mħabba lejn id-dinja bl-isfidi, il-provokazzjonijiet u l-kuntradizzjonijiet tagħha” (paġ. 189).

  1. Charlò jenfasizza wkoll il-kelma “attenzjoni” u jużaha kontinwament f’rabta mal-prattika tal-meditazzjoni li qed iressqilna. Din il-kelma hawn imfissra bl-istess mod kif Simone Weil, filosfa u mistika tas-seklu għoxrin, kienet targumenta li l-prattika tal-attenzjoni ħielsa hija neċċessarja biex tiprepara spazju għall-possibiltà tal-grazzja. Din l-attenzjoni tar-ruħ, maqtugħa u mbattla mill-egoċentriżmu, tiġbed it-Tajjeb sabiex jingħaqad b’mod kważi irreżistibbli mar-ruħ. Infatti, għal Weil, attenzjoni ġenwina, li hi mudlama u mneżżgħa minn ħsibijiet imferrxin, hija talba fiha nnfisha. Bl-istess ħsieb, l-awtur ta’ Meta r-Ruħ tintbill fid-Deheb, jurina kif fil-qagħda ta’ dlam u distakk aħna nistgħu noħolqu spazju fejn niltaqgħu mal-verità u nħalluha tiblagħna, sabiex aħna ngħixu fiha u hi fina.

Kelmtejn qosra tal-aħħar dwar l-istil u l-preżentazzjoni tal-ktieb.

L-awtur għoġbu jżomm il-vuċi tiegħu f’dan il-ktieb daqs li kieku wieħed qiegħed preżenti għal lezzjoni jew konferenza. Dan l-għaliex il-kontenut innifsu huwa l-frott ta’ laqgħat u klassijiet tal-meditazzjoni li ġew mogħtija fil-kunvent li fih jgħix l-awtur. Infatti, l-kapitli huma referenza għal kull laqgħa li saret u allura tinħass ħolqa naturali ħafna bejniethom inti u taqrahom. Apparti l-kliem, fil-ktieb insibu wkoll l-arti meditattiva ta’ P. Charlò’, li hi magħmulha minn pinzellati qosra ta’ inka sewda u deheb. Il-fatt li jinħassu li kienu magħmula f’sekondi qosra, jikkumplimentaw ħafna l-ħsieb tal-preżent li hu jitkellem fuqu kontinwament fil-ktieb. Peress ukoll li ma’ jirrappreżentaw xejn, għaliex huma astratti, tħalli fil-qarrej kemm sens ta’ kalma u kif ukoll għatx għall-inviżibbli.

Rigward il-kontenut inġenerali, minkejja li tgħin jekk il-qarrej ikun midħla tat-teoloġija u tal-filosofija li titratta l-ispiritwalità, madankollu huwa xorta xogħol aċċessibbli għal min b’rieda tajba lest ikompli jfittex l-awturi li jirreferi għalihom l-awtur stess u jaqra aktar dwarhom.

Għaldaqstant, jiena nifhem li l-awtur ma jridx jagħmilhielna wisq faċli u jagħtina kollox lest fuq platt. Anzi, jeħtieġ li b’temenza niskomodaw ftit ruħna u nidħlu għal dan l-impenn bis-serjetà li jista’ jħalli tant frott tajjeb u sabiħ. Fl-aħħar nett, dan huwa ktieb għal minn hu verament imxennaq li jidħol fil-qalba ta’ ruħu u lest jistenna, fis-silenzju, li jiltaqgħa ma’ dak li Hu.

Robert Farrugia Flores

Robert huwa għalliem tal-Istorja u tal-Arti, lettur każwali fl-Università ta’ Malta u qiegħed jaħdem id-Dottorat fil-Filosofija, fejn qed jirriċerka dwar l-interjorità fil-qasam tal-Fenomenoloġija.

 

 

Down and Out Around the Mediterranean

 

Inside the Horse

Vincent Vella

Horizons, 2021

 

FROM THE FOREWORD TO THE BOOK  BY ĠORĠ MALLIA

 

This is the story of a man who does his masters’ bidding. Selling oneself, and in so doing giving away the liberty of thought and actions, sounds like what a desperate man would do. Then again, it could be the action of someone who finds it convenient to do so. This is not the only instance in which Vincent Vella’s novel Inside the Horse prophetically mirrors so many of the realities of the everyman we often see around us … people whose values are easily cast off and who depend on favours meeted out through political patronage, a doted-on politician doling out the crumbs that make skill-less lives just barely bearable – but for which people are willing to pay with the loss of their dignity. I will not go so far as to say that the whole novel is an allegory of a modern Malta that seems to have mired itself deeper and deeper within the obscure mud of servility for the sake of gain. But it does not stray far from that, though it stands alone as a brilliant novel … picaresque in so many ways, following the adventures of its roguish ‘hero’ as he narrates the story of his life.

 

The novel shows Vella at the height of his mastery of writing. He pushed his ability to the limit and did not cut corners. He consciously went for a difficult narrative style. For example, there are no conversations in the novel – or, to be exact, very few direct speech passages. The book is almost totally a first-person narrative and commentary. Only the three and a half-page introduction to the proceedings is in the third person. It is proof of a writer’s ability that this does not render the book monotonous.

 

So many things happen in Inside the Horse – there is such a vast panorama, ranging from the historical to the intimate, happening in five different countries at a time when “interesting” (to say the least) events were the order of the day that the length of the novel almost threatens the busy reader, who will certainly be unable to put the book down.

 

At this point, I will give a brief synopsis of the novel’s plot … not that any synopsis will do it justice, but I will attempt one for the sake of showing just how well-thought-out the novel is.   Here goes: An old man in an old people’s hospital tells his life story to a doctor, who duly writes it down. The narrator’s mother belonged to Maltese nobility, but his English father was of a rather different mettle. Grown to adolescence and following a somewhat violent argument with a girlfriend, he is sent to Sicily, where he is introduced to the aggressive methods and philosophies of Mussolini’s Fascist regime. There he becomes an aide to the Ras, the Fascist commander of that sector – the same person he later accompanies to Rome and a posting in the Italian Fascist propaganda machine. The civil war in Spain  narrator is taken with him, finding himself at the front. From there he goes back to Rome and soon after returns to Malta, at first as a spy for Mussolini. Suspected of treason during the war, he is exiled to an English village.

 

After the war, he emigrates to America, where he spends

the rest of his life as a small shop owner, by which time

the novel comes full circle, reaching the point where we

came in.

Those are the barest of bones of the “odyssey”.

Throughout

the novel the telling of the liaisons the

protagonist forms with different women makes interesting

reading. He is an insatiable lover in much the

same way he uncontrollably wanders from one place

to another, shying away from marriage, much to the

chagrin of Helga, a Swedish/Italian art student he moves

in with in Rome.

The character of the protagonist is the main link

and major motivating force of the various plot lines that

wind their way round each sequence. The character is,

ironically, not that deep, and is communicated to us in

tones of the main role player in a film noir. The narrator’s

is an intuitive

existence, almost drifting with the currents

of circumstance. He also lives in the shadows of others

– the Monsignor and Grandmaman in childhood

and

adolescence, briefly the Mafia godfather Don Alfonso in

Sicily, the Ras throughout most of the novel. He is also greatly influenced in actions by those

around him: Don Alfonso’s homosexual son Paolo, the

physically well-endowed, but patriotically

confused

Cabo Martinez, the domineering, psychological blackmailer

Helga – indeed, almost a puppet,

who puts up a

show of resistance,

but is finally only too willing to let

others think out his future for him. He belongs to them.

The reader quickly understands the motivations of

the narrator and finds it easy to identify with his stands

in each situation. We can almost say that his is a vacant

persona

into which the reader can step to partake of the

action.

Even the epigraph at the start of the book sets the

tone for the vacuousness of the protagonist, and the

reasons for his allegiances:

I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;

Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

With homage to George Orwell

A dog without a master

As I said at the very beginning of this piece, at the

core of the novel is the character who ‘sells his soul’ to

his Fascist masters. I talked to Vincent Vella specifically

about this point … the selling of oneself for gain, or for

ideaology and our discussions revolved around how his ‘masters’ came to own the protagonist. “He knows it, he

hates it, resents it, which he reiterates several times in the

book, but he can’t get away!” Vella said. And there are a

number of reasons for this:

  1. a) because of his basic psychological profile which ‘enslaves’ him;
  1. b) because he is fascinated by naked power;
  2. c) because once he is in, the apparatus cannot and will

not let him go. And all the time he thinks he is being

clever, that he is actually in charge and using the

set-up while it is very much the other way around.

Until the fatal truth dawns on him (or rather hits and

crushes him).

This links directly to the title of the novel, and,

when asked about this, Vella told me, “The title Inside

the Horse encapsulates this idea. Ulysses of ‘the nibble

wits’ thinks up the Trojan Horse… but I’ve always been

intrigued by the question … what would have happened

if, when the moment came to get out of the horse he

found himself trapped inside and couldn’t make it?”

And this takes me full circle to my first paragraph

again, and the incredible validity of this book even

twenty-seven years after it was published for the first

time. We see this theme everywhere. From international

political figures, to the trolls whose political masters feed

them crumbs to attack real and perceived enemies. The

protagonist is a common sight around us, everywhere we look, he is there. The theme of selling one’s soul has

definitely given the book’s underrunning ‘message’ a

universality that makes it perennially relevant.

But I do not want to give the impression that there

is some sort of pedantic didacticism in the novel. There

is not. The novel is a whopping good read, taking us to

so many different places, revisiting so much that is of

historical relevance to the rounding of the characters

that populate the book … that it is just a tour de force that

makes for compulsive reading.

And it is also impossible not to appreciate the

author’s masterly invocation of historical setting, some

sourced from literary sources. I know from Vella, for

example, that when the protagonist finishes up in Spain

as part of the Fascist forces sent over to help Franco in

the civil war, he ends up in the Huesca section of the

Pyrenees in Aragon, facing the International Brigade (of

which George Orwell formed a part). Vella used Orwell’s

book Homage to Catalonia to build up the background

to this section of the book. So whatever Orwell describes

as seeing on his left, the protagonist of Inside the Horse,

being on the opposite side of the battle, sees on his right.

It is little wonder that a homage to Orwell graces the

epigraph of this book.

I also believe that the fact that, at the time of writing,

the author was a great fan of role-playing

games, could

have influenced this crafty manner in which he draws us

into the world of Inside the Horse. One thing Vella’s hobby definitely influenced was

the creation of so many different scenarios. They are

so numerous that this could acutally be seen as the one

main defect of the novel. There is no real direction – no

one plot that leads somewhere definite.

The narrator’s

life itself is the main plot, and it is chockful of subplots

and little plots that eventually make up the package that

is the novel. But then again, this also follows some of the

traits of the piqaresque novel that it at times emulates.

The narrator drifts, and so do the scenarios in which

he participates. One fades and another takes over, with

little or no overlap, not even by way of lessons learnt.

There is little nonsense in the narrator’s mental makeup,

and once his character is formed, somewhere in

part two of the book, it remains a constant staple point

of reference.

But the novel nonetheless holds together

marvellously. We get engrossed

in the narrator’s life,

archiving the characters that have been discarded along

the way and the situations

that have all too quickly been

forgotten in the adventure brought about by new ones.

To help us along we have Vella’s excellent grasp of

the English language and idiom. It is honestly a pleasure

to read.

I think I have said too much and my waffle is

keeping you away from the relish that is in store for you.

Yes, dig deep for meanings and significances, it is worth it, but also just taste the deliciousness of the writing that

infuses Inside the Horse with flow, and get lost in what I

guarantee will be for you a wonderfully enjoyable read.

 

University of Malta

19 July 2020