Obituary – not for Robin Williams – but for Simon Leys.

1407827712967.jpg-620x349CNN, BBC, all newspapers around the world are full of stories about the suicide of Robin Williams. I am sorry for his death but only to a point. He choose to end his life and I respect his decision. And not only for this but also because  I do not want to know all the gossips, innuendoes, weird opinions of this or that friend or colleague of him. I don’t want to know all the lurid details of his troubled life, full of problems. I think that all the blablabla’ we hear and we see it is just fuelled by vulgar human instincts propelled forward by the Hollywood movie industry. They want us to think that this personal tragedy is a universal tragedy. I disagree on this, I feel sorry for him but his legacy is negative: drugs, alcohol, so much talent wasted.

Great actors who, like him, are so capable to slip into different characters seem to have a pathological streak that made their life – no matter which their achievements can be – miserable and prone to depression. They do not possess their own personality thus they can be anybody and anything. In Italy we had a very famous actor and imitator – who look like very much Williams, also in his facial traits – called Alighiero Noschese. He was wildly popular in Italy when I was a teen and he ended up like Williams, shooting himself.

Today I want to remember a great man, who also died on the 11 of August 2014. Simon Leys, who had dyed in Australia on the 11 of August. I consider him one of the greatest intellectual, translator, sinologist, poet of our times. But the news of his passing went unnoticed by the CNN and the BBC.

His real name was Pierre Ryckmans (28 September 1935 – 11 August 2014) a Belgian by birth. I believe that one of the reason of his premature dead is the stress and frustration he felt seeing his children made stateless by a bovine law contained in the Belgian constitution. If the child of a Belgian is born abroad and he is not stating in the proper manner to his government that wants to remain Belgian when he is 21, he is automatically stripped of his belgian passport and nationality.

I have discovered Leys very late but I made up my lost time reading some of his wonderful books. Like Chinese Shadows and The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, published in English translation in 1977. Then the wonderful pearl of The Death of Napoleon, of 1986. It was made into a movie with the title The Emperor New Clothes in 2001, directed by Alan Taylor. Leys disliked its rendering, saying: “The latter avatar [The Emperor’s New Clothes], by the way, was both sad and funny: sad, because Napoleon was interpreted to perfection by an actor, Ian Holm, whose performance made me dream of what could have been achieved had the producer and director bothered to read the book.”

He wrote Chinese Shadows because he had to opportunity to work as Sinologist during a six-month stint as cultural attaché at the Belgian embassy in Bejing in 1972. One of the reason that may explain why Leys had not been on the international radar is the fact that he had never written with hypocrisy about China and Chinese Cultural Revolution. He had been proven right but at the beginning he was badly mistreated by the French gauche caviar and all their maitre a penser. He had rightly noted that:“Whoever talks about China talks about himself.”  Like looking in a mirror…

He had been a strong anti-communist, but he based his opinions on facts rather than ideology combining it with a great love for the old cultural traditions of China.

Ian Baruma writes about his lost friend:  ‘Few read Gibbon any more to learn about the decline of the Roman Empire. He is read for his English prose. The reason I cherish all my books by Simon Leys (I think I have them all) and turn to them often, is because he wrote so beautifully, in French and in English. Leys was one of the great essayists of his age. His reputation will continue to grow as long as there are people who love language.’

I agree with Baruma and , alas! Robert Williams with all his qualities and so many defects, in a few years will be completely forgotten,while Simon Lays will always be with us in the future, near and far.


7 commenti su “Obituary – not for Robin Williams – but for Simon Leys.

  1. Angelo is very assertive. However, I don’t know whether Robin William will be forgotten in a few years – I don’t hope so, he was a great actor anyway, and ‘Dead Poets Society’ is a beautiful masterpiece. And I cannot help but remember that a girl, a platonic alien from my past, claimed that I looked like him, or rather that my lips were like his. For this reason, I confess, I was attentive to his movies and career, and very happy when he won an Oscar. So, now, the news of his tragic death particularly grieved me. I feel pity and caritas (and I’m just a bit worried).
    About Simon Lays, I already spoke of ‘The Death of Napoleon’ and I completely agree with Angelo. ‘He wrote so beautifully,’ it is true; his was a splendid prose. I didn’t know he was dead, sorry, and this lack of news about a great writer isn’t a good sign of the times.

  2. I do agree with Angelo. Point is that all the beautiful words which are attributed to Robin Williams – there are several in Death Poets Society which are now circulating on the WEB – are not his own words. They were written by someone like Leys…

  3. I am very sorry for the passing away of Simon Leys, I cannot understand why these news did not reach me, or I did not reach for these news. What is important? What is happening in Asia?

    I treasure my battered copy of ‘Chinese Shadows’, I still recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about China.

    Simon Leys was not only the preeminent sinologist. His essays on European culture are also masterpieces, showing a rare knowledge that very few can grasp.

    His essay on Don Quixote for instance, included in his latest collection of essays “The Hall of Uselessness”. Simon Leys explains how the Spanish mindset and cultural traditions are based on a deep awareness of reality, and not otherwise as other pretend to stereotype.

    I am also grieving for the passing away of Fr. Jaime Pajares, a courageous man who sacrified his life for the needed, he felt to Ebola virus. He was an example of the best Spain has given to the world, so few of them are still left. I am also sad for the passing away of a great actor, Robin Williams. And a great actress, Lauren Bacall. I pray for them.

  4. I mourn for the passing away of my all-time hero. On Monday, hours after learning of this piece of sad news, I remained stunned and speechless for a long time.

    While I never made my way to meet him in Australia, I have always felt I had known this best teacher for a long time, after corresponding with him by hand-written letters (he didn’t use email) for 25 years. I treasure each letter and card from this Renaissance man.

    I only wish I knew the French language to enjoy this classic moment captured in the video:

    Pierre Ryckmans, R.I.P.

  5. I have started reading Leys, I began with Le bonheur des petits poisons, which contains many critiques of our contemporary society. He is a writer and thinker of great integrity. That is rare.

  6. My belated condolences on the passing of Pierre Rycklands. I just discovered him yesterday when I read a comment about him in an article by John Derbyshire. After reading about him for only a few hours, I feel a loss of, in many ways, a kindred spirit, albeit one at a much higher level intellecutally. I look forward to reading his books. Thank you, Angelo, for your tribute to him.

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