Will Facebook Win the Next Nobel Prize for Literature? Will Wine Intoxication Ever Become Mandatory for Shepherds? …An Afternoon with Authors Pietros Maneos and Roman Payne.

(See the original interview at www.literaturemonthly.com)

They are both Americans, both highly-literary: Payne is the author of five novels that take place in Europe and follow the lives of itinerant dreamers who wander the world in search of adventure, meaning, and the “poetic life.”  Like his characters, Payne, 38, is an itinerant dreamer who lives in Paris, wanders in Europe, and devotes his time to “living the Homeric life,” and “inventing the next novel.”  Payne and Maneos are both published by Aesthete Press.

Above, Left: Roman Payne (Photo, copyright 2014: Marta Szczesniak, Photography) | Above, Right: Pietros Maneos. NOTE: SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE FOR FULL-SIZED PHOTOS OF THE AUTHORS.

Above, Left: Roman Payne (Photo, copyright 2014: Marta Szczesniak, Photography) | Above, Right: Pietros Maneos. NOTE: SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE FOR FULL-SIZED PHOTOS OF THE AUTHORS.

Maneos, 35, is no less a son of the divine Homer.  He seeks aesthetic perfection in all things: his life, his Ancient Greek body, and his literature, which, like Payne’s, marries Classicism and Romanticism.  Unlike other professional authors who seek the cliché in mid-life of some kind of professorship at a university, or a pay check in exchange for scholary pursuits in a library, Maneos chose a life that few have managed to live since the decline of the Ancient Roman aristocracy: he purchased 40-acres of Eden in North Carolina where he is constructing a vineyard to live his own version of a life like one of his heroes: the Roman literary-patron Gaius Maecenas.  “Bramabella” is the name that Maneos chose for his vineyard—a construction of two Italian words that, assembled, mean “yearning for beauty.”

The two authors and the editor Jean Sitori are sitting in the office of the newspaper Literature Monthly in Paris.  Jean is entranced as he watches Maneos stand and demonstrate how to properly hurl the discus. After a moment, Jean turns his attention to Payne…

JEAN SITORI:  Roman, speaking of hurling the discus, you just got back from Greece where you were living for about four months…  Are you happy to be back in France?  Were you writing well in Greece?

PAYNE:  I am always happy to be back in France—that is why I almost never leave France to begin with.  When I get tricked into leaving France, I almost always regret it afterwards.  I initially went to Greece this trip to research my next novel at a place on the beach just outside of Athens.  But the weather got bad, the sea turned cold and violent—fault of Poseidon!  I can deal with nasty weather.  But when the inspiration to write disappears, I lose my mind.  Here I was in Greece: the birthplace of the muses, and they had abandoned me.  I tried all the tricks to get literary inspiration back: yoga, running, hard alcohol, nothing worked.  My thoughts were so black that I became convinced that writing was something that was no longer a part of me at all.  Now, back in France, I suddenly feel like writing again; and my work is going well.

JS:  Are you reading at present?

PAYNE:  No.  When I am writing well, I do not read.  Reading takes valuable time away, and it puts another man’s or woman’s style in your head to mar your own.  What are you reading at present, Jean?

Jean makes a wholehearted laugh at this and says, “Let’s see… what am I reading these days?”  With that, he begins leafing through a copy of the woman’s magazine Grazia, which he said, had “mysteriously” appeared in his briefcase that day.  After scanning a blonde woman smoking a cigar for a moment, his eyes light up.  He’d found an article worth commenting on to his guests. Jean summarized the article…

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg told Grazia that he made it his 2015 New Year’s resolution to, quote, “read more literature,” and to finish a book every two weeks.  This resolution, he said, inspired him to make reading “chic” (we didn’t know that Zuckerberg had a magic wand for making things chic, but why not?!), so he has created a Facebook page called “A Year of Books.”  It currently has just over 350,000 likes.

JS:  Pietros, what do you think of Zuckerberg’ public display of affection for reading?

MANEOS:  Well, I think that it is noble of Mr. Zuckerberg to do so, especially as the head of a technology company, since society seems to be awhirl over technological platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and others, which has perhaps led to a decline in the written word. Not that there aren’t a plethora of authors flooding the marketplace, but it seems that modern man has lost the ability to sit quietly with a book for an extended period of time without succumbing to the lure of online ephemera’

JS: Some of the books Zuckerberg said he is reading are excellent titles.  Perhaps his publicist thought them up to make the Facebook founder seem complex and interesting, or perhaps he really is interesting.  Anyway, many of the titles delve into the Baroque, others into Romanticism, others into Ornate Gothic Style… since your own books are complex and ornate, and explore Baroque Romanticism, do you foresee that pop-culture is going to lean more in your direction and away from current trends, like Philip Roth ?

MANEOS:  Well, I think popular culture and literary culture are two disparate entities. With regard to popular culture, I think that it is enamored with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and other such works, no?

But now transitioning to literary culture, I don’t think that there has been much cultural shift from the irony, cynicism, and anti-aestheticism of the previous epoch. I still think that many writers and artists are busy declaiming ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’, while writing in short, spare, suburban sentences. I, of course, have rejected this trend for a Baroque aestheticism that one finds in personages like D’Annunzio and Kazantzakis. I embrace epithet, adjective, apposition and heightened musicality, which are despised by many moderns. So, I certainly consider myself part of a burgeoning counter-culture of To Kalon in modernity along with such movements in the visual arts such as Post-Contemporary.

JS: Pietros, just what is it about “Baroque aestheticism” that you embrace? And can you explain the term a little for our readers who have turned a blind eye to that phrase up until now?

MANEOS:   An example of Baroque aestheticism might be, ‘The light, soft and sensuous, brushed across the crest of the Brushy Mountain,’ where spare, suburban 20th century minimalism would simply say, ‘The light hit the Brushy Mountain.’

The great Matthew Arnold once noted, ”The instinct for beauty is served by Greek literature and art as it is served by no other literature and art,’ and I am striving to continue this Hellenic sensibility in the 21st century.

JS:  Pietros, when one reads your work; or talks to you personally, and listens to your music playlists, one feels that you are more Greek than any full-blood Greek currently alive in Athens, or in Sparta, or Macedonia… How come you didn’t start Bramabella in Greece instead of America? Or at least, why don’t you live six months of the year in North Carolina, and six months of the year in Greece?

MANEOS:   Well, although I am Greek by descent and sensibility as an ardent student of classical antiquity, I do not speak demotic Greek, so that alone would be a challenge. Additionally, Greece is suffering under dire economic conditions, so if I ventured there, I might end up starving to death, ha!

Also, similarly to the orator/philosopher Isocrates, I have always believed that Greece or rather Hellenism is not so much of a language, or a land-mass as it is a world-view, a philosophy, if you will. Figures like Oscar Wilde, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Paul Cartledge, John Boardman and many other Artist/Scholars are as Hellenic as any Greek whose last name happens to end in ‘os’ by happenstance. You too, my friend, are Hellenic even though you were born in America, and have elected to reside abroad.

Though, I must make a final confession to you – Traveling to Greece to raise a classicizing army to battle ISIL in Syria-Iraq does intrigue me, as it is perfumed with both Herakleanism and Byronism.

JS:  Pietros, our poor friend Roman is starting to daydream over there in his chair—one can tell because his eyes look like Lucy in the Heavens with Rhinestones—maybe he is bored because we are so interested in your work right now.   To ask you a question about Roman’s work… His first novel was a Parisian thriller in the Dostoevsky style. His second, Cities and Countries, was a Bildungsroman set in an imaginary world.  His third was a tragic love story.  His fourth was a diary of seducing women in Paris—everyone from impoverished seamstresses without breeding and a ripe age that can be counted on three hands, to blue-blooded countesses cheating on their husbands.  Then his fifth novel, “The Wanderess,” well that is more hard to define.  The question is… you, Pietros, are a literary scholar and, if I may flatter you by saying: a literary visionary.  What do you think Roman’s sixth novel will be about?  What do you think it “should” be about?

MANEOS:  Roman is a great genius, and I think that for Rooftop Soliloquy and The Wanderess he should be considered for the Nobel Prize, but to speak of your question, I think that he should continue in the Heroic and Aesthetic vein. Perhaps, since he is descended from the ‘Chian Nightingale’ – Homer – in such a pronounced way, he could write a Modern Odyssey akin to what Kazantzakis attempted.

JS: You make the distinction between two phrases: ‘The light hit the Brushy Mountain,’ and one that I believe you appreciate more: ‘The light, soft and sensuous, brushed across the crest of the Brushy Mountain.’ …Mark Zuckerberg would probably claim to agree with your tastes. Do you think this is an anomaly—the preference of a well-educated billionaire matching the preference of a Homeric poet who is most likely a descendant of the immortal poet Sappho ? Or do you think that we may be entering a new literary age—a time when people are, frankly, sick and tired of “spare, suburban, 20th Century minimalism?”

MANEOS:  Well, I am not sure about a new literary age, but one can only hope! I think that my kinship with figures like Roman Payne, Tomasz Rut, Michael Newberry, Sabin Howard, Graydon Parrish, Michael Imber and others is indicative of a cultural paradigm shift. I am always hesitant to use the term ‘movement’ – but – there is certainly a shared sense of aesthetic values.  And one of my aims is to have Bramabella stand as an expression of this aesthetic.

JS to PAYNE: Pietros Maneos is a poet, novella scribe, and satirist… he is a writer of many styles, many genres. What is your favorite genre of his at present?

PAYNE:   Maneos has arrived at a sacred mastery of certain literary forms (I am not fond of the word “genre”).  I would say, these “sacred forms” are my favorites of his, since no one does them better than he does.  The forms that come to my mind first is what I would call his “Bramabella Pastorales.”  In these poems, Maneos is able paint a landscape like Renoir or Monet, construct a exquisite virgin like John Williams Waterhouse, sing of the youthful love of a troubadour, or the old man’s lament of a Cavafy poem.  He can prepare the body to fight like a Homeric hero, fall to tears like a Nocturne of Chopin.  They are all that is life: his Bramabella poems are the laments of a poet intoxicated with wine, and the joys of a madman sipping the sweet fumes of the poppy.

JS:  And what is the literary style that you would like to see Maneos work on next?

PAYNE:   I would love to see him write a 200 page “roman d’amour” in the French tradition… an old style novel about a couple’s first love, and their last.

JS:  (To the readers)… This concludes our all-too-short interview, but we at Literature Monthly hope to have Maneos and Payne with us again soon!

 

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A Problem of Aesthetics: Must we kill the ‘Perfect’ Hero in literature? An explanation of what is preventing me from finishing my fifth novel…

Lord Byron in Heroic Dress

ABOVE: Lord Byron, the heroic literary figure. Could he have received public approval if it weren’t for his club-foot and rumors of his unhappiness?

If my last novel [Rooftop Soliloquy] was about a heroic man who lived the perfect life in a perfect world, and who met no tragic fate at the end but concluded his adventures in happiness—embracing a woman in the moonlight, he delivers a final soliloquy to praise his poetic adventures and the beauty of life—it was because my own life then was so good, my own adventures were so poetic.  It was the climax of my life, there was no reason for a tragic flaw.

Arthur Rimbaud

ABOVE: Rimbaud received the gifts of The Muses at a very young age. He was cocky and self-assured. But without his adventures in Africa that cut his life short, would he have received the approval of the reading public?

I was quite young then (thirty-two), and the city of Paris was my kingdom.  By this time, Paris had opened itself to me like a blossoming flower inviting me to feast of its nectar; the people of Paris were all on my side.  I saw no downfall in sight for myself.  Every street I turned down, in every neighborhood, I would hear: “Ça va, Roman?  C’est bien de te voir !”  Every sip of air in those years was like a quaff of Helen’s nepenthe—that Homeric drug to enliven, invigorate, to forget all sorrows of the past and see beauty even in moments of wretchedness.

So, in the temporary bliss of it all, I eliminated those most common devices of literary narrative: that of the heroic person in a wretched or dangerous world who overcomes through strength and cunning; and that of the flawed person in the good world, who because of his flaw eventually dies or ends up like the biblical Job, on the dung-heap.  Other writers in my position would have made “Rooftop” a comedy, ending in marriage and laughter.  But my strength is poetic prose.  I am a descendant of Racine, not Molière.  The comic hero is a buffoon.  I wanted to create a Heracles with a harem, and that’s what I did.  Some people enjoyed this book immensely.  One critic said, while he praised the beauty of the prose, which made it worth reading; he found the main character to lack depth.  Is this because I was not yet thirty years-old when I began writing it?  I think no… I think it was because I gave the character no real flaws, I didn’t kill him at the end, and all of this was on purpose!

 

Few readers enjoy reading about “the positively good man”—the hero who possesses beauty, good fortune, luck, and an overall enviable life.  Some writers who see the world as beautiful, and human-potential as infinite, have tried to express their awe in the presence of life, but they fail to move the reader—unless they give the glory to Nature or to God.  Critics approved of Walt Whitmans “Song of Myself,” but they believed he was glorifying either God or “the multitudes” (the “common people”).  Whitman was glorifying himself.

To express an awe for what you are… not what Nature or God is, but you…  A writer who can pull this off deserves a Nobel Prize.   But, then again, he or she who can smash cockroaches with a shoe in a pitch-black room deserves a Nobel Prize.

The old method, one that Charles Dickens used, was to make the protagonist become heroic through overcoming adversity.  Yet what about the writer who doesn’t take Voltaire’s expression of Candide as a joke?  “All is perfect in a perfect world!”  The heroic soul says, “There is no adversity to overcome!” …at least our hero is above all such adversity (Heracles with no “labours” to undertake).  Only poetry can make such a book interesting.  Without poetic narrative, any pastoral adventures of Heracles as he drinks red wine from the belly button of a naked nymph, this is rather boring.

With my novels, I have been attempting my own aesthetic style that I think is new in literature.  At times, I feel I succeed.  Other times, I fear that I am failing miserably.  Here is more on that…

Dostoevsky’s  notes reveal his intense aesthetic conflict over how to write his novel, The Idiot, where he wanted to create “the positively good man,” (“Christ-like,” as he wrote).  Yet Dostoevsky knew that in novels, perfect people are uninteresting.  One tires of their beauty and success.  Dostoevsky pulled-out his hair over the problem of how to make Prince Myshkin likable and still perfect.  His solution was to give his hero epilepsy, as well as a naïve simplicity that inspires the other characters to mock him.

In Homer, we have Odysseus who is more like a god than a man.  But we excite ourselves during his story because he has imperfections and adversity: he hasn’t seen his wife in 20 years.  He doesn’t know his own son.  And we don’t know if his losing of all his voyage companions is the fault of the gods, or his own fault (after all, the only account we have of Odysseus’ companions dying, is the account he gives to Alcinoos in the first-person.  The only time that “monsters” appear and eat Odysseus’ friends, is the time when Odysseus tells the story himself—and Odysseus is one of literature’s greatest liars!).   Odysseus has a duplicity that makes him interesting, and the reader doesn’t know if he truly god-like.  His humanness is apparent in the end when he isn’t satisfied with domestic life (his reunion with Penelope) enough to stay in Ithica.  His wanderer’s nature comes back like an illness, forcing him to take him back out to sea.  Poor wanderer!

Knut Hamsun is an exquisite example of the innovative writer.  Both in Hunger and in Mysteries—his two best novels—he creates “the brilliant hero.”  In Hunger, his hero is a genius writer who has no trouble telling the reader he is a genius.  The only problem is that the hero can’t afford to feed or lodge himself.  In Mysteries, the hero Nagel is also a brilliant man, and has the added quality of being independently rich.  His faults lie in depression, suicidal nature, and his inability to obtain the woman of his dreams.

Pietros Maneos succeeded with his character of Gabriele (The Italian Pleasures…) despite the fact that Maneos and I share a literary aesthetic vision.  Gabriele is handsome, with the physique of a Greek hero, he lives the enviable life of the aristocrat on the Grand Tour.  He enjoys women as he fancies them.  He is a Romantic and lives like one, but he doesn’t seem to share the flaws of past Byronic heroes.  Where Maneos succeeds is, for one, the age of his hero. Gabriele is in his early twenties.  Readers kindly excuse the lofty self-importance of youths, knowing that later: “the poor boy will come to realize what the world is really like, and his ego will suffer for it.”  World-weary disillusionment isn’t a stranger to Gabriele, who finds himself in a Europe that is not the Europe of antiquity, but a crude fossil, inhospitable to his genius.

In “Rooftop,” I wanted to describe our world as a perfect, hospitable setting for my Romantic hero.  The need for money, and other crude topics are left-out.  Beauty is everywhere, and nothing is as beautiful as my hero and his muses.  While writing “Rooftop,” it was easy to believe myself in such a world.  Today, after a few personal tragedies, and after losing the microcosm of beauty that was Paris, I see with more and more clarity the crudeness of our world.  Thus, I am more and more concerned with the future of my aesthetic style.  It is for this reason, (as well as others that I will go into another time), that I haven’t yet finished my novel The Wanderess, which has been in progress for almost four years (four years of literary uncertainty!)  If I had lower-standards for this book, I could have finished it after the first year; it would have read like a run-of-the-mill French libertine novel of the 18th Century (which is not at all bad).  But I want The Wanderess to take heroism to a new level, and still move the reader to tears of joy.  I will certainly fail with the former, as these days, heroism is not my primary literary concern.  I am an adventurer who has seen the dark-side of the adventurer’s life and it would be a lie if I didn’t share this with the reader.  As for the tears, I can always save my art through the poetry of my prose.

While I’ve lost confidence in many of my powers as of late, I retain the power of poetry and a knack for creating plots.  The great pre-occupation for me is touching the emotions of the readers: for it is the tears of the reader that water the fruit in the gardens of the gods.  Persephone ate of one such fruit, and because of this she can only feel the warm flesh of the sun for part of the year, the other part she is thrown into darkness.  Perhaps the literary hero and the literary figure (the writer), must obey such condemnation.  The literary hero must die or experience wretchedness to gain the empathy of the reader.  Recall that headaches are born of orgies with wine.  Remember the sores of syphilis are born of nights of love.  With Zeus as my witness, I will perfect a new genre of literary heroism, or die trying.  In the meantime, while I tinker in my workshop, I praise my readers and fellow novelists for forgiving my excesses and shortcomings.

Your Humble Servant,

Roman Payne, Son of Helen of Troy