Category Archives: Blog

Beyond the Veil of Modernity: René Guénon

I am taking a break from my current writing marathon to reach out to all the literary agents out there. Last three years, up at 4 am every day, 7 days a week, with no break, to complete my project on René Guénon (1886-1951), Beyond the Veil of Modernity. I am indulging because I am within distance from the finish line, 30 pages, maybe 40 top. Shooting for the end of July… Ok, maybe mid August. In any case, it is round the corner. It is a non-fiction project, dealing with Traditionalism, and spiritual authority and temporal power… 150 K words, researched and all…

I imagine many of you are thinking, René who? I would not blame you since virtually no one knows who he is… and yet all the far-right politics of late link him to their ideologies. It is true in Europe, Brazil, Russian, and the US. Strange if not paradoxical move, given that Guénon was a spiritual being, a Frenchman who converted to Islam. Or maybe not, his spirituality veiled his politics? . . . That the premise of the book.

It is a unique project, since no comprehensive book in the US (or in English for that matter) has ever been written exclusively with René Guénon (and his world) as the central character. Only chapters here and there . . . often very misunderstood if not mis-portrayed.

A Fable for the New Millennial

“A Fable for the New Millennial: What Dictators Taught Me About Writing Fables”

by Frederic Colier

Writing fables demands universal wisdom. Nowhere else is this truer than in politics. I speak from experience. For years, I utterly failed at writing political fables. Success only came from outside of it. My failure was tied to my ignorance of the importance of truth. Call it a failure of imagination or lack of talent.

My efforts were not in vain, however. First, I came to learn that dictators are terrified of fables. Nothing frightens a dictator like a well-honed fable for children. Myths are much better equipped for politics, and dictators are the most comfortable when evolving in myths. With little concerns for truth, myths’ only prerequisite is a fertile imagination. A fable will fail if it tries to dress with the garments of a myth. The myth will look ridiculous with those of a fable. Myths demand high drama and exaltation. Dictators thrive on the heightened imagination of myths.

Second, I learned that dictators abhor fables. To write a successful one, a fable must produce a sobering lesson that can stand the test of time and takes responsibility for its consequence. Everyone knows the core message of “The Turtle and the Hare,” “The Grasshopper and the Ant,” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Whoever reads them can infer the meaning. This is true in Europe, Africa, or Asia. We called these lessons morals. Morals may have originated from socio-religious concerns, but they parlay an ethical code for social conduct. Most fables have managed to remain as relevant today, through all types of circumstances, as they were 3000 years ago.

This moral endurance is useless for dictators. The only permanent truth is the myth about the dictator. Only personality matters in myth, the more exalted the better. In fables, where morals reign supreme, characters, no matter how they behave, have little relevance. They only represent the failure of their moral conduct, and they can be substituted for other characters. Replacing the Hare, the Turtle, or the Boy with another Hare, Turtle, or Boy would not change the nature or outcome of the story. The fable of an everyday man seeking to become a king would suggest that the story will not end well, or in humiliation as in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Preachy endings make a poor bedfellow with the celebratory stipulations of someone seeking a mythic status. It would be a mistake, for example, to claim that the myth of a man who wants to rebuild a crumbling empire is about a moral lesson.

Given the constant demands of the dictator, myths are never about long-lasting truths. They are only concerned with any bright outcome. And the subject can never be replaced by any other subject. In fact, myths only celebrate the greatness of its subject. The myth of an everyday man, who claims to have a special destiny to rule over a vast number of people, without their consent, expects the same people to suspend common sense and believe in his supernatural power. This is what I failed to comprehend.

This failure made me realize that as much as fables have steady narratives, myths do not. The characters of fable live forever, whereas the subjects of myth are prone to mortality. The dictators must constantly update their wardrobe not to run the risk of falling out of fashion. Maintaining a myth current requires an unfettered, scruples-free, imagination. The would-be dictator must prove his extraordinary talent over and over to prevent the masses from questioning his actions. This unending process forces myths to escalate their display of fortune until the people, on the ground, feel dazzled by the burning rays of their fanatical mission.

Satisfaction is a big component of a fable’s resolution. Given their precarious nature, a myth never yields clear satisfying results. The endless quest of a shifting narrative explains why it is hard to learn anything from a myth. What can be inferred from a mosaic of disparate ideas cobbled together? In a fable, a character would see through the problem at once and expose the subject’s flaw. It is not advisable in a myth, at the risk of exposing its motive.

Preserving the integrity of a myth is therefore paramount. Dissent must be readily suppressed. The myth-monger must target the myth-busters: other politicians, journalists, and scholars, down to the single mother who commits high treason for requesting a foreign song on the radio to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. Nothing must threaten the image of the dictator. The survival of a myth is directly related to the darkness of its defensiveness. No myth no dictator. A fable’s moral is set in stone. No one can alter it. Given my lack of critical understanding about the nature of fables, no doubt I was setting myself for failure.

Yet, I made an unsuspected discovery. A myth’s ravenous instinct of preservation, sooner or later, triggers its own comeuppance. The more extreme the myth, the fiercer the reaction. Human history abounds with cases. The allies decimated the Aryan Nazi myth. Mussolini’s or Ceausescu’s myth did not fare much better. This reversal takes place when the dictator, by attacking its coveted audience, makes the myth prone to unpredictability. This explains why, at some point, the dictator will experience a mighty fall. It may be triggered by a boy shouting in the street about a bad outfit. The downfall of three mythic dictators, in Tunisian, Libya, and Egypt, started with a street fruit vendor in Tunisia. The lesson is not that the day a myth starts forcing its clothes on everyone to justify its existence, though it is true, it de facto incubates an unpredictable street-vendor. The valuable lesson is that myths never proceed with caution. They are so blind to their greatness that they fail to see that inside each one of them hides a fable, pregnant with a hard-earned moral, eager to speak its truth. So, the boy in me is now shouting that a myth without a coat reveals nothing but a powerful naked fable. A terrifying revelation for a dictator. We knew this all along.

PEN America

There was a popular series of illustrated books when I was in England in the late 80s’. It was an unusual series. A silly-looking guy, with thick glasses, and red ski hat, walking around with a walking stick, a backpack, and a white and red stripped shirt, through complex imaginary landscapes. That was the world of Wally, as in “Where is Wally?” Everyone read those books, spending hours to locate for “the silly guy” buried in the various scenery.

When the series was transferred to an American audience, the name was changed to Waldo, which is a weird adjustment, since the new name conveyed nothing of the original title. A Wally is a Wally, not quite an idiot but a stupid or silly person. Waldo carries no meaning whatsoever. Basically the English cheekiness was lost in translation.

Attached is a photograph from a PEN America event back in January 2024. Can you find the Wally/Waldo in the picture? Clue: This Wally attended the event, and his face landed on the main photograph of it. He is standing, clearly a victim of imposter syndrome, along the crop of the best young emerging writing talent in NY. Next to him, Ayana Mathis.

Conversations with Gnausgaard

(Dec 08, 2023) You may not be aware . . . But I interviewed Karl Ove Knausgaard back in 2012, before he achieved a worldwide fame with his six-volume autobiographical series My Struggle as part of my own TV series, Books du Jour. The interview has just been published by the University Press of Mississippi, along many other in-depth conversations from the literary landscape. Bob Blaisdell did a remarkable job editing all these conversations in this must-have book. Whether you are a Knausgaard fan or simply a curious aspiring author or reader here is your chance to get a close look at Knausgaard’s creative process.

A Book for Emotionally Exhausted Women

Emotionally Exhausted Women by Nancy Colier

This is a message for all the exhausted women out there, who spend their life taking care of others and forget themselves in the process. Check out this book. Just released. It will help you to find yourself again.

From the author, Nancy Colier, “Are you feeling emotionally exhausted? Do you worry about being likable (at all cost)? Are you trying to do it all and be it all—all the time? This radically different self-care guide will help you find the courage needed to express your deepest needs, nurture self-awareness, and be yourself in a world that expects you to be everything to everyone.

Author du Jour: Meredith Maran

NewOldMe-small-fullsizeThe New Old Me” by Meredith Maran

(Blue Rider Press, pp 302, $27.00)

A great undiscovered jewel, and from what I infer, a book that deserves to get into every single book club in the nation, and beyond. My enthusiasm is perhaps excessive. There comes a time when a book appears and has valuable lessons to teach us. We learn something we never suspected existed. People in their 60s’ have a life as well, and they go through ups and downs like the rest of us, and still have to learn lessons along the way. They can even display resilience and an appetite for life. It is pleasant surprise that a publisher would release a book that actually concerns our aging nation, where so much emphasis rests on the land of twenty-something Lena-Dunham wannabes teaching the world with great self-assurance life lessons and proper etiquette. Which begs the question: what is more interesting, someone who fumbles through life while brandishing a narcissistic flag and seems to have all the answers? Or someone who has worked hard to build a life, only to lose everything overnight and who has to pick herself up to start again—at age sixty?

This is exactly what happens to Meredith Maran who had a perfect life, meaning living with a sense of safety that no one could ask for more, with a good marriage (to the woman of her dream), a beautiful Victorian house, a good writing career, and an active social life. And then Life comes knowing at her door, like it tends to when things are going too well, and it takes everything away, and more. The best friend dies; her father is diagnosed with Alzheimer; she loses her job, and the house, along with the marriage. Welcome to “The New Old Me.” This is where we meet Meredith, dead broke about to move to La La Land, CA, where she struggles to rebuild her life and self, with all the scrawny feathers that come attached to them, fanned by heartache, loneliness, and self-doubt. The energy of the prose however shows us that beyond the circumstances lies a strong-willed and witty woman, and sure enough slowly Meredith crawls out of her trenches, and she does so with humor. For those in search of summer inspiration, this is your book. Look no further. (It was my wife’s favorite read so far this year.)

Author du Jour: Beatriz Williams

WickedCity-cover-smallThe Wicked City,” by Beatriz Williams

(William Morrow, pp 368, $26.99)

In “Wicked City,” one can smell the whiffs of Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway as he journeys back and forth between New York and East Egg. You can touch Princeton, the Prohibition, the allure of speakeasies with Fitzgerald pouring himself a scotch, and nudging the fabulously wealthy yawning at thought of attending the next party. From where we stand, the era feels like a distant shore, a fata morgana only made possible by the booming business and new wealth created overnight, the windfall of WWI. In typical Hollywood stories, with the new breed of winners come the losers, and not necessarily those who never had, but rather those who tried hard, got there, and walked away on a whim, which, for many of us, reveals a certain disposition towards foolishness. This is where Williams starts her two-time-framed narrative. The story moved from present to past and back and forth. “Wicked City” is a Nick Carraway journey in reverse.

Ella Gilbert starts at the top of society and decides to leave it all behind upon learning that her banker husband cheats on her. She trades her life of luxury and high-comfort in Soho for a small pad of Greenwich Village. That’s for the near present. But Williams’s story also is situated in 1924, where the Village was not the ultra-expensive resort for the startup moguls of today. Back then there were forbidden places, where more prosaic people went in search of excitement. The place in question is a speakeasy, the Christopher Club. The club introduces the second protagonist, Geneva Keely, a flapper, who gets caught in a raid and is forced to help the police track down her father, an important bootlegger . . . The story takes its own flight as we ponder how the two narratives are interrelated, making the twists and turns highly entertaining and surprising.

Author du Jour: Elizabeth Blackburn & Elissa Epel

The-Telomere-Effectfinalcover-smallThe Telomere Effect: a Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer,” by Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD and Elissa Epel, PhD

(Grand Central Publishing, pp 399, $28.00)

Whoever came up with the subtitle for this fascinating book did an excellent job creating a strong hook. Who indeed would not want to live longer? Contrary to what you may consider, that life is just a game of roulette, with molecules moving one way and DNA reacting in another, the authors claim that you can certainly influence your longevity. To entice you into their secret, they ask: why some people at 40 look like 60, while others at 60 look like 40? The story narrated here deals with telomerase and, more precisely telomeres, which are the capstones at the end of the DNA, whose states mirror the way we treat ourselves. Good telomeres will keep you disease free longer. Translation: your lifespan will be elongated.

Here, as in diet books, we find that the main culprits for premature aging: quality of sleep, frequency of exercise, types of diet, and chronic stress, all of which deeply impact our telomeres. Over the book, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (Nobel Prize winner) and Dr. Elissa Epel clearly demonstrate the mind-body connection. Having recurring negative thoughts for example will affect also your telomeres, and your appearance. Telomeres shorten in repeated adverse conditions. People looking healthy have long telomeres. So the main question you should ask yourself, and it should make you want to pick up this book at once, is whether a body who has been exposed to all types of unhealthy habits and physical and self-inflicted mental abuses can reverse damages done to the capstones of its DNA? In other words, are frayed telomeres irreversible? The book goes at great length to provide answers. Particularly fascinating are the chapters discussing the impact of early trauma during pregnancy and income inequalities to show the relations between depression and schizophrenia . . . which logically would mean that we may pay the price for circumstances that we do not control and that, in turn, impact our appearance. But nothing is set in black and white, and life choices still play their part. One thing is certain, reading this book will not age you.

Author du Jour: Suzanne O’Sullivan

AllinYourHead-smallIs It all in Your Head? Trues Stories of imaginary Illness,” by Suzanne O’Sullivan, MD

(Other Press, pp 296, $26.95)

Psychosomatic illness is problematic. Disregarded as not real, it is often not considered seriously and is relegated to footnotes in medical books. And yet, it is all around us, often having debilitating effects on the sufferer, which can last for years in some cases. According to Dr. O’Sullivan, it costs the health system twice as much to treat as diabetes. Expensive for imaginary treatment. Who has not heard of someone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome or sudden memory loss? In this important book, O’Sullivan lays out her case for a new approach and treatment methods for psychosomatic illness. Her argument is convincing. Taken from real life experiences, through her work as a neurologist and neurophysiologist, she shares the cases of some of her patients and ponders how come so many of them complain about symptoms without any physical manifestation? Is it really all in their head?

At first brush the book can appear predictable, since each chapter is matched with a specific patient. There’s Pauline, Camilla, and Rachel among others. But each has been carefully selected to illustrate precisely O’Sullivan’s claims. The plurality of psychosomatic manifestations run far and wide and would appear to stem from hidden stress and major traumas. O’Sullivan points out surviving rape or exposure to chronic mental abuses as being frequent culprits. We’ve known for century that the mind can affect our physical health. But clearly, here O’Sullivan seeks to establish a connection between mind and body that goes beyond simple mood disorder treatment. She advocates for new ways to look, understand and treat unexplainable symptoms, paving the way for bringing relief to her patients. Some of the cases will break your heart. Matthew did it for me.