2015 - Winter

Poems by Miljan Micakovic

Image: © Miljan Micakovic

Author: Miljan Micakovic


Inside and Outside


Marshall went to the shop,

To by some milk and meat,

He even ate some Pop-

Corn while starring at the cashier’s tit-


-le, yes, she was “cashier in chief”.

Marshall was greatly surprised

For her face led in disbelief,

Indeed, lacking an eye under the left lid.


He tried to makes sense in vain.

He paid the goods and, outside,

As he was peeping again,

He perceived what was blackness inside.


The Eraser


The woken claim a piercing speech

Crossing, cutting the morning glass

How long will it take for each

To realize away they pass,


To see that the sleeping never cry,

Nor that any sound drifts in the air

And yet all throw far away an eye,

With the other at themselves they glare,


With the never-ending question,

“But what is my name?”

Out loud and fishing for attention,

They shout with no sense of shame.


A Light-hearted self


To feel like a monster, a common fate,

Falling on the head completely unprepared,

Seizing all, mind, hands and eyes

Forcing all to follow a soft voice:


The inner one, the one that comes along

That is familiar but to you alone.

Yet a pleasure flowing everywhere

For an instant so real yet so true;


At last, pulling you down from

Where all aroused, you shall see

That you’re flying back and away.

Perhaps, that wasn’t the wrong way.


The Mess


Oh boy, my paper’s black,

The ink even got to the back!

What a mess I’ve done!

All that work made for none.


Okay, Okay let’s do it over

Again, but this time no shower,

No diluvian rain of chemical

Texture, baby, let’s get clinical!


Precise and neat, straight and clear

Like an athlete throwing a spear

Throw, throw my thought throw

On the paper that must be hollow.


The Smoky House


Among others around it,

Almost identical; same number

of floors, same wideness and height,

All having little flames burning in

through the windows, none but one,

This house, pours the grey smoke.


Among those lights, it perfumes

The air without invading, harassing

The senses, yet distinguishable and ironical.

The fire, alone, becomes the father.


Childless, bright and clear, fires

burn, consume the smoky air.




A straight line above another, those rails Stop where the page ends, although no pages are the same, nor the paper, nor the ink And the words look odd because none are Thought but from the white alone.

2015 - Winter

“Sir Gawain and the Green Dragon” by Kit Schofield

Image: © Creative Commons, link here

Author: Kit Schofield


Sir Gawain and the Green Dragon

Great deeds were done during Arthur’s reign,

Many battles were fought and great Knights slain,

Many demons downed and Vikings vanquished,

Many fabled foes of their heads relinquished.


None battled braver than gallant Gawain,

Who always returned fresh from a war,

Never he bled, nor his armour stained,

No wiser a warrior I ever saw.


On the greenest day in years,

A peasant man came pleading to Sirs,

He told a tale of a vicious snake,

Arthur discarded his fears as fake,

But great Gawain took up his spurs.


Immediately he rode at full speed,

Sought out the farmer’s golden field,

But mounted on his splendid steed,

The only gold in sight was his shield.


He asked the man the meaning of this,

Where are his famous fields and flocks?

They had been burnt by lizard’s kiss,

That scaled beast born out of the rocks.


Our hero hastened towards the mountain,

Determined to slay his fiendish foe,

And at the summit he saw him waiting,

Surrounded by the melting snow.


What began as mere a drop,

Came over Gawain a mighty wave,

A crushing cascade that never stopped,

A trick played by the nasty knave.


This liquid onslaught did not dampen his heart,

He was overcome by a different blast,

Nothing could block this flaming dart,

Gawain was swift but the flare too fast.


Having for this final time,

Put himself in the line of fire,

He’s stolen from us in his prime,

Burning in Nature’s funeral pyre.


2015 - Winter

International Question Federation, An Apology

Image: Questions © public domain image, link here

Author: Sandrine Spycher

International Question Federation

An Apology

My name is—oh forget it, that’s not important. What is important is that I work at the International Question Federation. What is that? you ask. Ah… well, that’s the whole point, the core of the Federation: the interrogation mark. I’ve always been amazed by human punctuation signs, especially that one. A big half circle, a little straight coda, and a final dot. “?” Several shapes in one, as disorganized as you could possibly make it; the perfect symbol of the interrogation I guess.

But I’m getting carried away in digressions here. So, what kind of work would I be doing at the IQF? Well, my job is in fact very simple. I just have to answer the phone. After that, everything depends on the question. My job, you see, is to bring answers to people’s questions. Some of them are of the weirdest sort, but the interrogators never expect me to fail to respond. No matter what the response is, there has to be one. I said my job was simple, not easy.

Sometimes I regret that time when the IQF hotline didn’t exist and they just threw their questions into thin air with no real expectation of being answered. Ah, I’m feeling nostalgic now. That time seems so long ago. At that time, I could just overlook the most difficult questions like “Why are there so many wars?” or “Why are some people victims of hunger?” How could I possibly know? No, I mean, seriously, how could I guess? I gave you my best world and you just keep fucking it up, so now deal with it!

Very sorry, I’m getting carried away again. Of course I never actually answered that to anyone. And so came the thirty-first century bringing new technology along, and all of a sudden my mysterious ways were not so mysterious anymore.

Anyway, the IQF hotline is how I work nowadays. What do I get in return? you ask. I get an incredible reward in exchange for my answers, the best that could be: I get to exist. You see, if I didn’t work my ass off to respond to all those questions, people would eventually stop asking them. They would just acknowledge that they cannot know everything and they would live with it. They would stop wondering, and they would stop believing.

And what am I if they don’t believe? I’d lose everything. From the home in the sky some of them built for me to the various names they like to call me. I’d lose my only link to this world I imagined and gave life to. I’d have no purpose and would slowly vanish, carried away by my own wind.

So that’s why I keep picking up this shitty human instrument known as a phone. And I keep inventing, imagining, creating answers. Answers that mostly come from them really. They amaze me with their continuous wars and battles and struggles and misunderstandings and rebellions and ridiculous fears. They entertain me with their questions and I give it back to them in their own words. I guess in the end you could say that they made me as much as I made them.

2015 - Winter

Momentous – Poem by Olena Danylovych

Image: Mountain © Olena Danylovych

Author: Olena Danylovych



Is this a mountain that I see before me?

So vast and powerful its face.

It rises from the earth below me,

Cemented in history’s trace.


In summer when the weather’s fair,

It flourishes with life and leaf.

In winter when its front is bare,

It stands resistant to insidious grief.


Sunshine and blue sky are best

For mirthful and sweet disposition,

But earthquake is the final test

Of mountains’ sturdy disposition.


In shrieking gales and howling rain,

When lightning splinters our soft core,

The mountains stand to entertain

This bleating that they’ve heard before.


The solid stump is evidence

Of many centuries of pain endured.

Yet sharp and creviced stony peaks

Attest to readiness for more.


But rains will end and sunshine come

And hardened face will turn from stone.

And tender greens will whisper out,

Breathing new life to hardened bone.


While frozen evils strike the land,

And petrify each living thing,

The inner stump will surely stand,

Awaiting warmth for flowering.


It’s no small wonder, then, to turn

To these great palaces of rock;

Through times of ravages and mourn,

And other feats of absent luck,

They’ll shed like feathers their adorn,

And still maintain their stalwart stock.

2015 - Winter

“Winter is Coming” by Kit Schofield

Image: © Deviant Art Bianca Masnikac, link here

Author: Kit Schofield

Winter is Coming


I feel its bite upon my face,

At first it merely nibbled my nose,

But now this hound begins to race,

Through all my spine, my head and toes.


The mountains are the first to fall,

The springs grow cold and cease to trickle,

We must retreat to fire and hall,

Escape this killer, oh so fickle.


As its chill extends to our home,

We hide inside our stone-made keeps,

This cold assassin continues to roam,

Surrounded! All around it creeps.


Our roses have long since faded,

The birds forgotten how to sing,

Our colourful trees appear so jaded,

It’s almost here. Winter’s coming.



2015 - Winter

“I don’t have my full body presence without my coffee.” – Interview with Kevin Curran

Image: Kevin Curran in his office © Sandrine Spycher

Author: Sandrine Spycher

“I don’t have my full body presence without my coffee”

Interview with Kevin Curran

Beginning of term, new classes, new students, and new professors. New professors that students don’t always know. It seems to me that for a long while, each time I mentioned Kevin, people would reply “who?” and I would say “you know the new professor of early modern English literature.” But you probably know him by now; he’s that handsome guy walking around the department with a neat shirt and necktie, not a single hair out of place, a clear-cut moustache, and a cup of coffee in his hand.

So here I am, headed for his office for an interview. The first thing that you notice when you walk into his office is the imposing emptiness. A few books, an empty bottle of water, an almost empty cup of coffee, and a drawing that says “Keep calm and Macbeth on.” I walk in and he immediately offers me some space on his desk, with a cheerful “oh, the interviewer!” While I set my recorder and laptop, I tell him that I have basic questions and silly questions. He laughs. The kind of laugh that says “this should be interesting” and “oh my, what did I agree to?” at the same time.

As he talks, he looks at me in the eye, as if my laptop didn’t exist between us. He talks with his hands, seems very at ease, rolls back and forth in his chair. The whole interview feels like an informal chat over a cup of coffee. I get more confident and ask my first questions, trying not to sound like some kind of inspector.

Quite obviously, my first question concerns our English department and its uniqueness. “This department was particularly welcoming, particularly friendly, very helpful,” Kevin tells me. “So yeah, I had a very good experience arriving here,” he adds with a smile. Despite having been part of the department for only a few months so far, Kevin has already noticed two special features that make it unique.

First of all,” he says, “I think the department is very egalitarian. I think there’s a real spirit of shared governance and collaboration. And I was very struck by that because for an American coming into the Swiss system, if you just look at the structure of the system from the outside—both the departmental structure and the university structure in general—it looks very hierarchical. There are many ranks and different corps that the ranks are divided into, and people in different sections have different kinds of obligations and duties and they seem pretty fixed,” he explains patiently. “But then you get here and you realize that, in practice, the spirit of the place completely disregards those boundaries for the most part, and people really work together. And there’s a real sense of respect. There is a real commitment to finding consensus. When there’s new ideas on the table in terms of departmental policy or procedure, people take the time to schedule the meetings that are needed, to listen to each other and to talk about things.”

One thing you notice when talking to Kevin is how dedicated he is in his answers. No short answer will do, only detailed explanations based on careful observations. He leans on his desk, clears his throat, and continues. “The other thing that I’ve noticed is that the students in the department are incredibly creative. That’s very striking. It’s not just that they are creative in their thoughts and their contributions to class, there’s a real kind of entrepreneurship that’s mixed with that creativity. Students make things, they start things: theater groups, performance events, reading groups. These are not official university organizations with a faculty adviser. These are things that the students do. And they do them well, they do them at a very professional level.”

After such praise of our beloved department, I cannot wait to hear him talk about our lovely city. “The city?” he says with wide eyes, “the city, I really love. You know, it’s not like when I arrived in the American South for the first time: in Texas, people are like knocking at your door and saying hello and inviting you over. The people of Lausanne aren’t a warm welcoming people in terms of personal interaction, but I think there’s a real kind of politeness on the street. People have very good manners.” Kevin adds that Lausanne is much smaller than other cities he’s lived in, such as Paris, Montreal, and Dublin. “And I’m particularly impressed by the fact that a city you know relatively small has so much going on in the arts: so many theater companies, so many dance troupes, an amazing music scene that extends genres from classical to indie rock. So there seems to be an extraordinary amount of energy in the city, especially in relation to its size.”

As Kevin is a Shakespeare scholar, my next set of questions concerns, quite obviously, Shakespeare. However, in an attempt to be creative and entertaining, my questions are personal rather than scholarly. Thus, I first ask him his funniest memory linked to Shakespeare. “Hmm, good question,” he says, sipping on his coffee. “I don’t know if I have any personal experiences viewing or reading Shakespeare that are particularly funny, but I definitely have loads of funny memories in teaching Shakespeare. From students. And I find, you know, especially undergraduate students can take a liberty with Shakespeare that some of us who have been highly trained and for whom Shakespeare is linked to a profession and something serious with high stakes are not as willing to take those liberties.” As he explains this, I think of Caliban, making a silent comparison between undergraduate students and this character who complains about having been forced to learn a certain language, just like students seem to be trained to learn a certain analysis of Shakespeare. I smile and report my attention back to my interlocutor. “For example,” he continues, “when I used to assign directing projects in my undergraduate classes—projects where they’d have to actually make a film of a scene, write about it and then submit it to me, and I’d watch all these films—I have laughed so hard at some of these. And I think a lot of times, students gravitate towards the humorous, towards lightening the subject of matter rather than darkening it. But without losing any of the intellectual depth, in fact sometimes with the effect of bringing more interesting ideas out of the text. I’ve encountered such funny ideas in those projects, things I would have never dreamed of. And I think that’s because these students are coming to this material fresh, without a set of expectations and assumptions that are hedging them in.”

It is with a smile on my lips that I ask my next question: can you describe yourself with a Shakespeare character? Kevin laughs. He takes time to think, visibly mentally going through all of Shakespeare’s plays to find a suitable alter ego. “I don’t know, most of Shakespeare’s characters are so…,” he hesitates, “… have such deep flaws.” We both laugh at this quick analysis. “I feel like I’m gonna come off either looking very arrogant or like a deeply flawed person if I compare myself to Hamlet or Macbeth or Prospero, you know. There are major problems with that comparison.” He sips a mouthful of coffee. “I think some of the characters I’ve been most interested in have been Shakespeare’s women characters. Helena from Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ophelia from Hamlet. They often strike me as more human because they’re not required to meet these generic standards of historical figure or tragic hero or clown. All of which can be individualized a bit through particular characters in particular plays, but also always have this broader typological function to play. And a lot of the women characters aren’t locked as readily into those modes. I feel I can connect more with them sometimes and they’re often more complicated figures, I guess also because Shakespeare was particularly adept at writing female characters at a time when that wasn’t necessarily an expectation.”

I leave my personal questions aside for a moment and come back to a more departmental discussion as I ask Kevin about the Lausanne Shakespeare Festival, an event that recently came to life thanks to the collaboration of a handful of Shakespeare aficionados. Excitement sparkles in his eyes as he describes our common project. “Well, the Lausanne Shakespeare Festival is happening from June 24th to June 25th 2016 at Théâtre La Grange de Dorigny,” he says, checking the dates on his iPhone. “The idea really came out of just making some very basic observations about what’s going on here at the university and here in the city. I noticed that there’s a lot of theatrical talent, there’s a lot of theatrical activity, and a lot of it remarkably gravitates around Shakespeare. And at the same time, I saw this lack of an actual official Shakespeare event, which so many other universities and so many other cities around Europe and North America and elsewhere seem to have. So it seemed natural to do something that could get the university and the city some positive attention, that could be fun, and also that would, in a sense, be kind of easy because the pieces are all there already. All the people are there, all the talent is there. Hell, we even have a theater on campus! You know, that’s really nice.” He laughs. “And it also happens to be a university where both the faculty and the administration are very open to creative initiatives, which is not something to be taken for granted because even many very prosperous and successful universities are not always open to new ideas, especially in the arts and humanities. But that’s the case here, so that’s wonderful.” Kevin pauses to catch his breath and sip some coffee. “So that’s the idea,” he continues. “So this is going to take place. Everything is being organized. And the first year is going to be quite modest, you know, it’s gonna be a couple of plays, a couple of workshops, and some other events going on as well. And I hope that it will grow over the years. I hope that it will grow in scale, ambition; I hope that it’ll get more and more attention, and I hope that it’ll also continue to be unique. I don’t want it to be just another Shakespeare festival that happens to be in Lausanne. I want it to be Lausanne’s Shakespeare Festival, to have a distinct footprint on it. And we’re gonna try to make this happen from the beginning by having performances in both French and English for example, and by having everything created by local people rather than bringing in experts from England or North America. But as I stay here longer and learn more about the place and the people, I think there’s gonna be even more ways I discover of making the festival unique. And other people will have ideas about that too. I’m looking forward to it!”

As I quickly go over my notes, a new question forms in my mind, something I had not thought of but that springs from Kevin’s previous answers. I notice that creativity from students seems important to him and ask how he fits that into his classes. “Well, on the one hand, there’s just the pragmatics of integrating creativity. And that involves assigning projects that have both a critical and a creative component. It involves posing questions in class that veer out of the literary critical and into the theatrical for example. All of this stuff is also premised on a certain attitude about the profession of literary scholarship which I think is very important. That attitude is, for me, that artists and critics, or artists and scholars, have a lot to learn from each other and they actually have more in common than we sometimes think.” I nod in agreement. “The artists are often seen as less rigorously intellectual than scholars, and more pragmatic, more like craftsmen. And scholarship is often seen in the humanities as kind of just another version of the social sciences where we gather certain facts and try to make certain arguments and prove them with our facts. And I think both are unfair characterizations. Good scholarship is always creative. It should always be about invention. And no matter how much we rely on facts to connect our ideas to a certain historical context, we should also always continue to think about what the plays, poems and novels we study continue to make possible in our own ethical and political grounds. And this is about imagination and being creative. And I also think that good art is grounded in critical thinking; that a good play, for example, starts with asking hard questions about the text, about the language, about character. You have to find answers to those questions and then make decisions based on them. So I think when we put those two modes of thinking into conversation, we’re drawing from the widest possible intellectual pallet. You know, literary criticism doesn’t have to be just history on a literary theme. Literary scholarship is, or at least can be, much more complex, much more creative and inventive than that, and to me that’s a great opportunity. So if you come into the classroom with that set of assumptions, and you try to communicate that to the students and make them excited about it, then you have an environment where you can think like this. And then the students start being receptive to non-traditional assignments as well. They see it as an opportunity rather than something scary.”

With this interview, I also want to uncover a part of Kevin that has nothing to do with his profession, and therefore I ask him if he had a special talent. He first laughs, but quickly starts describing his love for music. “Well, music is my other great passion. And modesty forbids to say that I have a true talent, I don’t know. But it’s definitely my other great passion. I love music. I like playing music, and listening to music, and going to see live music, and talking about music with people; I mean, I love music. And I think that if I hadn’t become a professor, something in the world of music or musical performance would have been the next kind of step.” I ask what kind of music he likes, and he answers without hesitation. “Rock. Rock is my home base. But I take that term rock in its widest possible formation. So I mean, if you go to a record store—although even saying record store sounds a bit dated now—but if you go to a record store and look in the rock category, you find things that are experimental, you find electronica, you find very heavy things, you find folk influence things, you find things with hip hop influence, contemporary indie music has a strong classical baroque influence as well. And I’m interested in all of that. And because of that wide range, I also end up listening to lots of classical music, I listen to hip hop, I listen to metal.” Having noticed his tattoo—the symbols of rewind, play, stop, and fast forward on his left forearm—I ask him if his passion for music is what inspired it. “It is!” he says with enthusiasm. “I guess it is kind of the story behind my tattoo, that’s right! You know, I’ve never been forced to talk about it, but I guess in some ways the tattoo is an intersection of interests in language and interests in music. There’s a clear musical reference here, but these are hieroglyphs also, right? It’s a symbolic language. Some languages die, you know, and I wonder if these symbols will constitute a dead language at some point because these symbols used to have a real analog meaning: pressing this button meant that reels turned in that direction. We don’t have that anymore, but you know if you listen to music, you’re still gonna have them, although it means nothing, literally. But it kinda survives, you know.”

As the interview draws to a close, Kevin finishes his coffee and that makes me think of just one last question; a question that seems to define the man. And thus, I ask him to add a final word about coffee at UNIL. He laughs. “Yes, people have noticed that I drink a lot of coffee. And, you know, the one thing I’m having a hard time adjusting to is the fact that I used to always teach with coffee. I like coffee, but it’s also a prop and a habit, and it’s come to help me think. And of course, in America, you get these very large coffees; they’re very hot, they take a long time to drink. It’s not the best way to drink coffee, but it’s very handy if you want to drink coffee during a class because you’re gonna do a class for an hour and a half and this thing is gonna last for the full duration of the class. Well, now I have these very small coffees and it’s a real problem. I come in with my coffee and by the time I get to the top of the stairs, it’s cold. And I get into the classroom and I finish it after five or ten minutes. And you know, I feel like kind of an amputee: I don’t have my full body presence without my coffee. So I’m kind of adapting to this. But then again, if that’s your biggest problem in your new job, it means things are probably going pretty well,” he concludes with a smile.

2015 - Winter

Chocolate Sand Roses

Image: Chocolate Sand Rose © Jessica Chautems

Author: Jessica Chautems

Chocolate Sand Roses

Winter is coming! It’s that time of the year again; the time when you can snuggle up under a fluffy blanket, drinking a cup of your favourite coffee or tea (with a sip of milk for me, please…) while reading the last book of Joël Dicker. Well, that’s only if you don’t have exams in January, because then you would more probably be studying ten hours a day and be drinking two strong espressi per hour. But anyway, in both cases, something very important is missing; chocolate sand roses. You may wonder what that is and what it is made? of. Don’t worry, there is no sand in it; just chocolate, butter and cornflakes. By the way, chocolate is very good for stressful situations, Happy, so don’t hesitate, eat some (Please not too much, I don’t want to be responsible for your indigestion). Those chocolate sand roses are the perfect cookies, especially for students. They’re delicious, cheap, very easily and quickly made, and you don’t need any special equipment, not even an oven! And no one will notice if you use M-Budget ingredients, they’re still heavenly good.

So, what you need is:

200gr Milk chocolate
300gr Dark chocolate
30gr Butter
1 s
mall package of vanilla sugar
200gr Cornflakes

What you do:

Melt the chocolate, vanilla sugar and butter in a bain-marie or in the microwave (1 minute and then mix, and again 1 minute and mix, until it’s smooth).

Add this to the Cornflakes in a big bowl and stir.

Take two spoons and make small piles with the mixture on a non-sticking paper (I use the backing paper).

Let it harden.

And it’s ready to eat! Enjoy!

It makes a perfect gift for Christmas (well, if there is any left), especially if you want to impress your family with your cooking skills.

Don’t be shy, just try!

2015 - Winter

Hylobittacus Apicalis

Image: ‘An Irish Girl at the Christmas Market’ © Mike Kniec. SourceCC License

Author: Anonymous

It was that time of year, the time of gift-giving and the spreading of love and joy. Manny had been preparing for a while. He had finally found the perfect recipe he would present to his chosen one, knowing it would impress her. He had never spoken to her, but had kept his eye on her. Younger and more naive, he had often been rejected by women for trying to sleep with them without taking them out for dinner first. He would then carelessly switch from one to another.

But with her, it was different.

The first time he had seen her, he was in awe. They were so different, not only physically, but her behavior and daily rituals were so foreign. He had an intuitive feeling that she would be a wonderful mother and that the two of them would make great children. It made him want to succeed at seducing her and be the best man he could be. It inspired him.

Last time, he had made sure that everything would be perfect. He had known the exact time she would walk through the snowy park. The atmosphere he had set was delightful: from the charming wooden bench to the carefully chosen wine and the white candles, all set under the glimmering stars. But, just minutes before she had arrived, a man had appeared from nowhere and taken over.

Manny had been weaker back then and had been easily ripped away from his hard work. Bloodied up, he had lain just meters away behind bushes as he watched her approach him. He had felt his heart ripping as she had laughed at his jokes, held his hand, and sat down with him. Fury had filled him as they started eating, and jealousy had spread through him with every heartbeat as they started making love there, on the pillows he had thoughtfully laid out. Defeat had taken over him after they had finished and only long after that had he been able to pull himself off the ground.

Things were different now. He had taken a two year break to plan everything exceptionally better than last time. He also trained himself in self-defense, should last time’s occurrence want to repeat itself. Seeing the children that were conceived by the other man and her did not anger him further: instead they were a source of motivation for him to do better. He knew that his children with her would be better than any others.

He took a deep breath, stepping away from the meal he had set up. He evaluated the quality of it, reassuring himself as he couldn’t find anything out of place. He straightened up and readjusted his tie, before checking his watch: she should arrive momentarily.

“Wow, this is beautiful.”

He turned around to look at her beaming face, cheeks rosy from the cold. After staring at the cup of tea hesitantly, she accepted it, allowing him to then guide her to the table. He laid a warm blanket over her shoulders as she sat on the couch he had brought. He sat down in front of her as they smiled at each other shyly from across the table.

Manny had to calm himself down as she evaluated the meal he had laid out in front of her. He was so close to reaching his goal, yet still so far away. The next few seconds were crucial. A feeling of reassurance rushed over him as she began to eat. But he knew he needed to be quick. He slipped under the table and crawled over to her, running his hands over her legs and pushing her skirt up. This was it. Her ovum would take in one of his spermatozoa and he would finally have the perfect descendants.

2015 - Winter

The Job Interview (An Anecdote)

Image: © Miljan Mickakovic

Author: Miljan Micakovic


The other day, I went to a job interview. The lady greeted me kindly, and the usual tell-me-what-you-can-do/why-do-want-to-work-with-us dancing happened, and I was glad to be on the dance floor. My answers were more than satisfying. I thought I would leave the place light-hearted and confident. And then she remarked that I haven’t worked for a long time (which means I have no work experience). And the judgement fell: Thou shall not work, for thou art unqualified. I smiled and left.

What is all of this? What is it about? The word I am looking for is competence: and not only competence, but also the verb to compete. What the fine lady suggested is that I am not able to compete with the other candidates. This is where we’re going now.

I was schooled at a simple school, nothing fancy. I had more than average grades. At high school everything went more than fine. University was a joke too. Yet, I realize now that competence never was the purpose of my journey at all. (The lady was right), but who is, then, competent?

Each step in education proves that no one is master of a single subject. You want to study arts? Fine, don’t forget your Latin and Greek grammar. You want to study Latin or Greek? Fine, don’t forget to bring your History books, and so forth. As long as one wants to master a subject, a job, a particular skill, he has to exploit other capacities that build his ideal mastery. The path to competence is nothing but a path of revealing one’s incompetence. As much as you want to master art, science, etc., you see that you no longer can master one, and only one, subject.

Brace yourselves, the race of knowledge begins. The kid’s vanity of I-know-more-than-you never vanishes. But, what it builds is only the image of oneself as incompetent, as never achieving one’s desire of mastery. As much as you fragment your ideal mastery, you create an infinite horde of fields of incompetence. How is one to compete with others, where none share a common package of subjects? Or, how can I prove that I am less incompetent in what I do than what the other does within what he does? Let me rephrase it: brace yourselves, incompetence is coming.

You can only know how incompetent you are; always calculating, conceiving what your knowledge lacks, without really knowing what it is, this knowledge you think you possess. However, the dance continues and grades are playing the music while you try to move your feet on the dance floor. I left the interview still dancing! Discovering (and thus knowing at least) that I did not have a passing grade – fine.

Incompetence is not the inability to compete but the opposite: it is the source of competition; ever-lasting competition between incompetences, etc., etc.

That day, I went back home with the pleasure of feeling my incompetence. I sat at the table, opened a book by Readrid Quajes, and closed it right after, knowing I wouldn’t find any answers.

2015 - Winter

Indie Author Ann Livi Andrews

Image: Cover Illustration of Crimson Mistress, designed by header5buck 

Author: Sandrine Spycher

Indie Author Ann Livi Andrews

Ann Livi Andrews is an independent author from the USA. This busy mother of a two-year-old son qualifies writing as “the most basic form of art.” More than only art, writing is for Mrs Andrews also a witness of history. She sees writing as an indispensable tool working on several levels. “From mere fantasy and creativity to teaching someone a skill to documenting history,” she says, “we know so much because someone took the time to write it down.” And although Mrs Andrews is admittedly always busy and finds it hard to fit writing in between different little jobs and taking care of her child, writing holds an important place in her life. Not only is it a “stress reliever and a way to maintain emotional health,” but also a tool to fight insomnia.

Ann Livi Andrews has been writing since she was in first grade, though she’d had “stories swirling around in [her] head.” She writes because she has stories to tell; like that of the pencil and the eagle, her first ever written story. Suffering from insomnia, Mrs Andrews says that she can’t go to bed until all the words are put on paper. “A sense of peace” emanates from putting those thoughts on paper.

It is partly thanks to her husband that Ann Livi Andrews chose to self-publish her work. With his marketing background, he was the one to encourage her to “find some inner courage and put [herself] out there.” Since then, Mrs Andrews received positive reviews; for instance a reviewer wrote that they had “found this little gem by accident.” And although the book in question (short stories) was for her a side project, it received a large amount of positive feedback and encouragement, which “definitely put a smile on [her] face.”

One of the stories written by Mrs Andrews bears the title of Hollow Towns: The Beginning. The story begins in a sort of climate change apocalypse, where the reader is introduced to several characters who are not, apparently, linked to each other. Yet, all the characters seem to suffer from a kind of amnesia. This element allows the writer to cleverly build her story around memory and uncertain past events.

The reader discovers what is happening at the same time as the character, however there is always a missing element. While the vague outline of the narrative builds incredible suspense, it can also prevent a full understanding of the story. One could also reproach the writer the several repetitions and the incessant questions at the end of paragraphs. Yet, the intrigue is developed in such a way that it leaves you clinging to the book, waiting to discover any climatic ending. The dialogs are sharp and well organized; they allow the reader to better understand the characters’ feelings. Moreover, the light writing style makes the book a quick read.

Apart from the Hollow Towns series, Ann Livi Andrews is also working on a series called Rehab for Superheroes from which Crimson Mistress is volume one. Crimson Mistress is a story full of suspense and mystery. The mystery is set right from the beginning with the somewhat strange character-narrator who is Clementine. She is a superhero, but getting sick while the city outside her window is burning.

The reader is immediately thrown into a suspenseful narration where they will try to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. Indeed, bits of info are given along the pages, but the suspense stays at a maximum level as very little is revealed about the setting, time, or even the main character herself. She seems to be struggling with regrets and internal conflicts which are cleverly described through flashbacks and memories. One detail does seem out of place, though: the fact that the superhero publishes short stories in her free time. Against Clementine is what seems first to be an incredibly evil villain. One could almost be put off by how much of a jerk he is at first. Yet, after an interesting switch in the narrative, he turns out to be quite an interesting character as well. However, Butlerians among the readers will probably be annoyed by the fact that the villain is portrayed as a father-figure who answers all the questions of the apparently clueless heroine.

The main reproach that could be addressed to the author is the amount of repetitions. Some more time could also have been accorded to editing as some inconsistencies in style appear (use of abbreviations, use of numbers). Yet, her somewhat flat style makes for a quick read where suspense and descriptions are interwoven. Mrs Andrews’s strong point is definitely her ability to create suspense. As mentioned above, suspense appears right from the beginning of the story because it starts in medias res. And is finished on a huge cliffhanger; something to make the reader hungry for more.

Despite the inconsistencies, the numerous repetitions, and the gendered hierarchy of knowledge, I enjoyed reading Crimson Mistress. I would recommend it to any fan of suspenseful science fiction, and to lovers of short stories with interesting characters.

Ann Livi Andrews has an incredible potential for writing suspenseful stories which will keep you awake and turning the pages. She admits writing for herself, and editing for her readers. And though she has to squeeze writing early in the morning or late at night—“Either way, it’s writing versus sleeping,” she says—she always finds time to read and write dark fantasy and apocalyptic fiction. As a master of suspense, Ann Livi Andrews displays great skill in writing. Keep an eye on her for she might soon be a bestselling author of weird stories.

2015 - Winter

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein After Story or the Legend of Inurlangut

Image: © Bastien Numakura

Author: Ann Dorothy Firmann


To Mrs. Saville, England

19th May 1845

Dear Grandmamma,

You will no doubt disapprove of this announcement but I hope you of all people will understand my reasons for such a decision. I have this day departed Greenhithe harbor with the HMS Terror under the command of Captain Franklin, and though I can’t wait for my grand adventure to take place, I leave with a heavy heart, knowing how you all dreaded my pursuit of what you consider to be a fool’s dream. It pains me to leave you all troubled but I hope that your anguished hearts might find peace in the perspective of my return.

I did try to tally with the family’s expectations regarding my future still I couldn’t stay watching my life pass before me, when there is so much to discover, so many new tribes to encounter, so many languages and cultures to study. Even though father had shown me great understanding when he let me continue my studies in this new field I enjoy so much, while working at his law firm, I strongly felt that this was not my rightful place, and that my life was destined for greater a purpose. I realised that had I renounced, all new discoveries in my field would have been painful wounds that with time would have no doubt turned me into a bitter man, jealous to see in others the courage he himself lacked. After all it was you who taught me that nothing was worse than living in regrets.

I have henceforth made my decision as any free man should. I was commissioned on this expedition based on my language skills, being at the same time clearly warned not to bother any crew member with my interests in indigenous people. As the Captain hinted the chances of a direct encounter are very small.

However, encounter of any sort might be of tremendous interest for me, as it might result in an opportunity to convince the board to finance my own scientific expedition. In any case, I will have plenty to observe and will acquire a better understanding of the climate the Arctic tribes endure. Of course there is always a risk of failure, however, something good always comes of such a voyage. After all, your brother wrote a book on his expedition that I dare say made him quite rich after his return. The perspective of following in his steps and being part of the expedition that will traverse the last not yet navigated section of the Northwest Passage is in itself a great achievement for me.

Both ships are sturdily built and were equipped with the latest inventions to tell you the truth I can hardly imagine how anything could happened to us on such solid and reliable vessels. The crew of the Terror is made of 128 of the best and most courageous men I ever met, and though I am to sleep in a common room with four crewmembers, which reduces the perspective of comfort, the company is nice and my essential needs are covered. My companions are lively men, and though they do not understand the use of a scholar like me on such a dangerous expedition we still enjoy trivial yet nice conversations.

Fear not for me, I will return safe and sound as Robert, your dear brother, did forty-five years ago. Such a great and important expedition is bound to succeed especially when I’m under the order of such an experienced and competent explorer as Captain Franklin.
I can’t end this letter without urging you to reassure mother and dear little Anna about my wellbeing. Please tell father how sad I am to have caused him such great disappointment, I hope you and mother might make him understand how vital this choice was for me, and that with time he will come to forgive such a stubborn son, as my three brothers are resolute to make him a proud father and, hopefully, a grandfather soon.

Sincerely, your Robert.


January 1847

My Dear Grandmother,

I write to you knowing that you might probably never set eyes on this letter. In the depths of my despair I am reminded of you all, and of my own foolishness in ignoring your predictive warnings. Both our vessels are trapped by a sea of ice as far as human eyes can see. On sunny days we have been hearing rumbles and roars surrounding us as if the earth was cracking its knuckles endlessly. At first the crew was relieved to hear such sounds thinking the ice was finally setting us free but we have now been stuck for almost a year, and except those bloodcurdling sounds there is no reason to hope for a change in the immediate future. The food is rationed and groups are daily designated to hunt around, with not much success. Rapidly several brawls took place between crewmembers and some of the troublemakers had to be shut away in the bilge. Strong men started to get sick and some died in an instant like infants plagued by scarlet fever. After almost a year of cold, desolation, hunger and death, resignation marked faces as surely as death, and the crew started wandering around like cursed souls on a ghost ship.

What a fool have I been to ignore those rightful warnings delivered with such loving concern! I weep at the cruelty of fate, I who dreamed for so long to walk alongside my great uncle in a North Pole expedition, am now trapped in the same manner as he once was, without much hope of surviving. You showed me your correspondence during his journey as a warning but blind to my own faults I only saw in it a frightening ghost story, ignoring the fundamental warning it hold about self-contempt and pride. I, as Victor Frankenstein, took my dreams for reality and rushed in this adventure without further thoughts. But whatever pain and shame I hold, I am but responsible for my own fate, and am grateful not to have more responsibilities in this exploration.

Sorrow and concern weigh on Captain Franklin as the earth on Atlas’s shoulders. Even though we all chose to participate to this expedition, our Captain is responsible for his fellow companions’ lives. I therefore spend a great deal of time with him, as I consider it my duty to be useful in some way. I often suggested that I shall explore the area in search of a native tribe that might supply us with food and intelligence on how to inform the world of our dreadful situation. My proposition was politely turned down by the Captain at first till he clearly stated to me that: “As long as he lived no man under his command shall mingle with such savages”. You might imagine how disappointed I was to realise how much prejudice is held against these natives even in the eyes of one of the best educated and cultivated men in England.


February 1847

Death seems to have cast its black veil on our expedition; men die weakly of sickness, despair, or exhaustion, and lately the reinforced hull of the Terror shows signs of weakness, it won’t take long for the ice to split our vessels open like hazelnuts. Yet it seems that I who was prone to illnesses as a child, am the only one death seems to willingly ignore. As I am quite useless in any manual task I was appointed to second the physicians in taking care of the sick and suffering, but however wretched the state of the patient I never got sick unlike my luckless companion Md. Haworth who died two months after I was appointed to him. I believe death takes even the best of us. This morning Captain Franklin’s second called on the remaining physician and we were appointed to the Captain’s cabin, as our dear protector and chief is lying in bed with a Typhoid fever. All water supplies have been replaced but it seems the constriction of the space added to the number of people on the ships have rendered the air rotten and poisonous. I have to resume my task, and attend on those who need comfort. It may well be my last task so see to the peaceful death of all the crew before my own.


6th March 1847

Captain Franklin is dead. After a long and painful fight against his condition he finally surrendered during the night. We were all devastated by the news. Today we will hold a ceremony in his honour, though we can’t bury him, we will do the same as for all the others, conserving him in an iced part of the ship, letting his body be mummified by the freezing temperature. It is strange how their bodies shrink like dried apricots. Some of the crew are now looking at every new death with hungry eyes, daily rations no longer fill the gap in our stomach, we are not far from starving, and we could use some fresh meat. The option was considered, our physician pointed out the risks of disease, but the matter was still put to a vote that was thankfully refused. Just the thought makes me stagger, I would rather die than stoop to so wretched an act as cannibalism. I won’t be able to bear it for much longer, hope of rescue has completely vanished by now, and living on this ship is more and more like waiting for my turn in a gigantic grave of ice. I now spend most of my time on deck, preferring the beauty of this desolated desert of ice under this deep blue sky to the fetid air and the ships of death that our vessels have become. I am resolute, my death is certain, the last sparks of hope died in me months ago. But the idea of dying on this ship, surrounded by living dead, corpses, cries, and death wheezes is unbearable. I would rather die outside; my body eaten by wild beasts, at least my last breath might be made of cold, pure, fresh air.


26th March 1847

I’m leaving! This morning I gathered my few belongings, and sat at a table to write these few lines. When I’m done, I will bid my adieu to my companions of misery and take my chances in the wild. Nothing keeps me here, our Captain is dead, and soon there will be more dead bodies than men on these vessels. I don’t have much hope for myself; I know I will die on this land. But I hope those men will be rescued, though we all stopped believing in this possibility a long time ago. If these are my last lines, I have but one regret that my death will be a source of misery for my loved one.

Robert A. Saville.


September 1849

Today while I went through my belongings I found this diary, and thought of relating the main events of the last two years. A few hours after I had left the vessels of death, the bright and burning sun gave way to a snow storm that hit me out of nowhere. Instantly, the cold, peaceful, immaculate land that surrounded me turned into a dark, freezing hell. The snow was so thick that I couldn’t see my hands in front of my eyes. Slowly I sat on the snow waiting for death to take me.

I woke up in the most puzzling décor, my body firmly packed in a warm fur. It seemed that all my surroundings were bathed in a strange bluish light. After a while I realised I was actually staring at the ceiling of some sort of building, the material used was white and almost shiny, like made of peculiar opaque, white, glass. I was stretched out on a firm yet soft floor, and I could smell the characteristic odour of wood fire. I was still blurred by delirium when a nice cold hand was placed on my front head. That was when I realised that hunger no longer contracted my stomach, and cold no longer burned. I felt weak yet the doom that had followed me for I don’t know how long had vanished. I tried to sit up when a firm hand restrained me, followed by a flow of strange guttural sounds. An old woman appeared above me, her face was wrinkled and tanned like a piece of vellum, round and smiling, which wrinkled the corner of her eyes even more. Her long pepper and salt hair were tied in a long braid she wore on the side. She looked me straight in the eyes for quite some time before renewing the guttural sounds she previously made. She then pointed her finger at me, put one hand over the other before her separating them horizontally. My brain was not more efficient than a bowl of pudding at that time but I still understood she expected me to stay where I was, and lie down. I nodded stupidly and she took off whistling a particularly melancholic tune. This was my first encounter with my saviour.

It took me six months to recover, in what I guessed to be an Eskimo camp. The old lady cared for me all that time, I could often hear other voices muttering but she was the only one I saw till I was finally well enough to take a breath of fresh air. I realised then that the shelter in which I had spent my convalescence was actually an Igloo, one of several built in circle. My nurse was the only member of the community to approach me even after I had fully recovered. The women ignored me, the men showed curiosity while children looked at me suspiciously. But what terrified me the most at the time were the “wolves” who seemed to wander freely around the camp. I later learned they were in fact Arctic dogs.

It took me three more months to learn the basics of their language. I had always believed Inuit languages to be somewhat similar to one of the many languages I mastered but I discovered a specific language of incredible richness. The old woman was a patient yet strict instructor, teaching me to speak as if I was a particularly slow type of student. One night she sat in front of the fire intimating me to tell her my story. She then told me that she had found me alone in the snow on the verge of hypothermia. She brought me to her village and cared for me.

When she found me I was in quite an awful shape, my body was exhausted and my recovery longer than expected. I then told her about my companions and the vessels trapped in snow, on hearing it she went out and came back with five tiny yet strongly built men. They listened carefully and took off for the night, the following day at dawn an entire rescue team had formed. I sat on one of their sledges and we took off. After several days of search we finally located Victoria Strait and the two vessels. At the sight of them I immediately understood we were too late, the ships had been abandoned for at least two weeks. The Eskimos told me that another tribe had reported finding a cave with several bodies of strange men; I was now undoubtedly the last survivor of the Franklin expedition.


December 1849

Today I was offered a woman, Chena. It is a tradition for my hosts to supply any foreigner with a woman, though this might be considered a barbarous act in England, this tradition is actually based on scientific grounds. As I found out the village that took me in is actually composed only by members of a single family. Therefore giving a girl to foreigners is a way for the village to renew blood and insure the best offspring possible. For that purpose men when in age go visit other tribes in search for a bride that they will bring back with them.

The chief of this family is my saviour; here everybody calls her Aanak, which means grandmother. She was the one who chose Chena for me. I must admit I was a bit intimidated at first but Chena is a lively girl with a heavenly laugh, her hair is pitch black and her skin quite fair. Chena’s father helped me to build an igloo for us. It is strange how these people who know nothing of me accepted me like one of them. They are all very patient with me, and though I am quite convinced I will never be more than an awful hunter, my fishing skills improve daily.


February 1851

It is strange, now that I am surrounded by the subjects of my studies in ethnology, writing has become a burden. I would rather experience this life, immerge myself in it rather than look at it from a scientific viewpoint. I fancy this life more and more. In England I was unable to fix myself on one occupation, my mind always attracted by something else, I had no idea life could be so soothing. The strong wind has become a lullaby to my ears. My daily occupations are simple; the physical work I dreaded so much before has turned out to provide me new strength and sharpened my mind. The cold atmosphere is like a continuous source of stamina and the desert of ice I could see from the boats, turned out to be a source of unexpected livelihood. Chena is pregnant with our second child and we are going to get married, it will take place during the next gathering.

Every year tribes assemble to hunt the big and mighty whales. On this occasion they celebrate unions, tell stories, and exchange knowledge, techniques and so on. Last year Aanak asked me to stay with her and help her watch over the camp while the others were away. She convoked me this morning and announced that as I am now considered as part of the family I was henceforth allowed to not only witness but take part in it. The openness of this culture always amazes me, I now feel as Inuit as I could be and have no desire to go back to my previous life. The other tribes will start arriving in a few weeks and our village is now agitated by the preparations. Children can’t wait to meet with friends they haven’t seen for a long time and Chena won’t stop talking about how her friends will envy her new happiness. I must admit being the source of his wife’s pride is a wonderful sensation for a man.


April 1851

The tribes arrived over a month ago. The hunts were more than fruitful, and they will soon part from us and return to their camp. I am actually in a state of unprecedented confusion, last night I was told the story of Inurlangut, or the legendary giant man. During the night the strangest dream captured me and I realise I was told the story of a well-known wretch my grandmother told me about before I departed for Artic. I will convey to you this story as it was told to me.

Long ago a Angakkuq (1) of outstanding power was born among the Inuit. He spoke to animal and spirit and was respected and feared. After choosing a wife he decided to set his igloo outside of her village. On the night of his first son’s birth Igaluk (2) appeared to him: “Nanook (3) wanders the land, your Igloo is his prey. Search for Inurlangut, he is the child of Akna (4) that was torn from her womb. Angakkup lineage depends on him”.

Wise and devoted Angakkuq got out of his igloo, all was silent, Igaluk’s round and pallid face illuminating the earth. Amarok5 cried in the night and Angakkuq followed his grieving.After several hours he found a gigantic dark form lying on the snow. Coming closer he noticed the strange and repulsive appearance of the giant, withstanding his looks was hard in itself but Angakkuq knew better than to judge on appearances. He tied the colossal being to his back and pulled him to his Igloo, the prodigious being was heavy and dawn was already breaking when they arrived. Inurlangut’s body was as cold as ice but Angakkuq knew life hadn’t entirely left him. He set a heating fire inside and wrapped the stranger into the biggest fur he could find.

Angakkuq’s wife was scared but knew her husband to be a wise and intelligent man, she however forbade young Adlartok, their five year old daughter to approach Inurlangut.

After two days the body of the giant had regained vitality and on the third day his eyes opened. The giant seemed lost at first but soon his face showed the most pitiful, sorrowful expression, Angakkuq had seen this look on men before, it was the expression of those who had lost everything, even humanity.

Suddenly the giant jumped on his feet and ran off outside. Angakkuq’s wife who was outside screamed as if she had seen death itself, Angakkuq ran after the stranger and saw the most insufferable scene: Adlartok was playing on the shore and not ten feet from her an enormous polar bear raised himself up ready to charge. Angakkuq was powerless and as his daughter looked at him the polar bear attacked. In an instant he was on her, about to tear her head off with one strike, when the giant appeared behind him, gripped the beast and with a movement of the hips threw it in the water.

Inurlangut was about to run away again when Adlartok grabbed his hand, her face taking refuge in his rags. Angakkuq couldn’t let him go anymore for he understood the God’s words; Inurlangut was to be his daughter’s protector, in her lay the destiny of his lineage. Inurlangut stayed with Angakkuq’s family and became the little girl’s best friend, she taught him Inuit, the language of spirit and how things are more than what they appear to be. Inurlangut on the other hand did his best to help them and the entire village soon discovered how useful such a strong and resistant fellow could be. Of course his face did not inspire sympathy at first glance but Inurlangut turned out to be as kind and attentive on the inside as he was monstrous on the outside.

One day he confided to Angakkuq his wretched past, considering himself unworthy of the attention and love he received but Angakkuq explained to him that a man can only give what he himself received. As Inurlangut received nothing but fear and hatred he could not give anything else. Frankenstein’s demon had died following his master.

Inurlangut was then able to be reborn, a man gave him life but it was Akna who guided him here to this place where he could be revived as a creature of Mother Nature.

Adlartok became the greatest Angakkuq ever known, she never chose a husband and lived all her life with Inurlangut, when she had spent all the years her life contained, she died followed by her dear giant. It is said they still watch over the Inuit tribes and will till the end of time.

Here ends the tale of Victor Frankenstein’s creature.


July 1851

Dear Grandmamma,

I am now writing the last line of my adventure; once I’m finished I will travel to the nearest fur-trading post and send this diary. You shall never see me again, to be honest I don’t even know if you are still alive, but writing to you kept me from insanity and I owe the family into which I was born the truth. As Inurlangut did, I found the place where I belong. I am conscious this letter will only revive the pain of my disappearance but at least you will all know I am alive and happy. Please share the tale of our unfortunate mission with the world so that my companion’s family might find closure. The ships are still in the Victoria Strait containing bodies that deserve graves.

I now know it was faith that made me board the HMS Terror, I had to witness the useless purposes of our society to be able to understand the true beauty of Inuit’s lives. Humans are made to live as men not as Gods, I wish one day western society will understand that earth does not belongs to us, we belong to earth.

Forever with you in heart, yours sincerely.

Robert A. Saville

(1) Shaman
(2) The moon god
(3) Master of polar bears
(4) Goddess of fertility
(5) The Wolf spirit