Sunday, March 14, 2004

I liked so much the way she would suddenly sit down on a wall, or a broken pillar in that shattered backyard to Pompey's pillar, and be plunged in an inextinguishable sorrow at some idea whose impact had only just made itself felt in her mind.

"You really believe so?" she would say with such sorrow that one was touched and amused at the same time. "And why do you smile? You always smile at the most serious things. Ah! surely you should be sad?" If she ever knew me at all she must later have discovered that for those of us who feel deeply and who are at all conscious of the inextricable tangle of human thought there is only one response to be made - ironic tenderness and silence.

In a night so brilliant with stars where the glow-worms in the shrill dry grass gave back their ghostly mauve lambence to the sky there was nothing else to do but sit by her side, stroking that dark head of beautiful hair and saying nothing.

Underneath, like a dark river, the noble quotation which Balthazar had taken as text and which he read in a voice which trembled with emotion and partly with the fatigue of so much abstract thought: "The day of the corpora is the night for the spiritus. When the bodies cease their labour the spirits in man begin their work. The waking of the body is the sleep of the spirit and the spirit's sleep a waking for the body"

-From Durrell's Justine

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I like the energy that Florian captures in his photos. Flo is a friend of Mina's who stayed with her last week.

The week before that was Mina's 29th Birthday!! Happy belated birthday Mina. You only seem to grow younger like you've built your own secret time machine.

What I like about Mina's own photographs are their sense of assurance. She has an accomplished eye. I don't know why I like these two harbor pictures so much, but I do.

On the subject of birthdays, my friend Paul is celebrating his birthday this week in Paris. By some strange conjunction of events, the kind of stuff usually associated with planetary alignments, it looks like I might be in Paris in a few days to join him. This is good. I'd like to finally meet his friend Jenn (below with paul), who was a news anchor for Hong Kong TV, as well as Paul's sister Elizabeth, who is in the world of Paris couture, and whom I have always admired from afar.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Latin Jungle
La Selva Latinoamericana

In Venezuela it was the writer Romulo Gallegos who in 1929 penned perhaps one of the first indigenous novels, Dona Barbara. Here, the natural world arises as a powerful protagonist. The Latin American novel seems to first take form as a drama in which the European man is soaked in the wild, savage psychology of the native world.

A better novel still is Gallegos' Canaima in which the landscape itself defines the course of the novel. Canaima is about one man's futile struggle against the forces of nature, and by implication - destiny. I wanted to quote from Canaima but after looking around for days, even through old boxes of books, I am giving up. The climactic chapter has the protagonist caught in the jungle far from home as a violent storm approaches. He decides to tear his clothes off to confront the storm head on, hugs the largest nearby tree and confronts the elements - wind, rain, lightning, earth - one by one as a series of heroic trials.

Miguel Angel Asturias Men of Maize, however, was the first to combine the European form with the magical, dream-like narratives of native folktales to create what is known today as 'magical realism' (Asturias even won the Nobel prize and yet is still fairly unknown) Men of Maize is so deeply imbedded in Native culture it is an adaptation of the Maya's Popol Vuh. It is difficult to read if you do not know what it references. But it is beautiful, hallucinatory writing with the rhythm and unexpectedness of a large prose poem. A sample:

The word of the earth turned to flame by the sun almost set fire to the maize-leaf ears of the yellow rabbits...but Gaspar was once again becoming earth that falls from where the earth falls, which is to say, sleep that finds no shade in which to dream in the soil of Ilom, and the solar flame of the voice could do nothing, tricked by the yellow rabbits that set to suckling in a papaya grove, turned into forest papayas, that planted themselves in the sky, turned to stars, and faded into the water like reflections with ears.

Asturias' contemporary is the much more readable Alejo Carpentier. His book The Lost Steps is in many ways a very modern piece of fiction which reads like an adventure story. An ethno-musicologist from New York City flees into the jungle in search of ancient music. But the jungle, of course, not only transforms him but also twists the storyline, imposing its own ancient sense of time and narrative as the protagonist wanders farther and farther away from his modern reality. The Lost steps is one of those books which I at first read quickly, only to realize later how much I had missed.

The last pearl in this string is Alvaro Mutis' The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll. Garcia Marquez admires Mutis fiercely. Mutis is Joseph Conrad mixed with Garcia Marquez yet, like any original writer, comparisons are unfair. Maqroll is the individual, the thinking man who, forged from the jungle, can now embody it and make it his own. Maqroll is a fearless voyager, a philosopher with odd observations and aphorisms, an observer unbound by his environment. He has no home but the world is his home. Mutis' writing is so immediate, so real, that I want to re-read it even as I am reading it.

A caravan doesnt symbolize or represent anything. Our mistake is to think that its going somewhere, leaving somewhere. The caravan exhausts its meaning by merely moving from place to place. The animals in the caravan know this, but the camel drivers don't. It will always be this way.


A woman's body under the rush of a mountain waterfall, her brief cries of surprise and joy, the movement of her limbs in the rapid foam that carries red coffee berries, sugarcane pulp, insects struggling to escape the current: this is the exemplary happiness that surely never comes again.

Both from Mutis' The Snow of the Admiral

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Simultaneously, moments in life are disconnnected episodes and also part of a larger narrative. In the first case, moments of peace and sleep are dividers which separate self-contained events, oases of experience which are presented to us much as a cinematic moment. In the latter case, experience is an elaborate but not incongruos story which unwinds erratically, as if told by a stuttering and distracted storyteller.

We all have the hands of a sculptor. Events unfold that have that sense of both accident and providence, like a meteoric collision. We catch them and shape them into something we can understand, coloring them with our own private set of pigments.

This morning the sun was too bright and so I squinted like a beast who had emerged from a cave, holding my black coffee with both hands as if it were a precious stone.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

This will be a reminder to myself to attend the Isabel Samaras shows later this month here in San Francisco. The pop-culture-meets-Art thing is difficult to pull off well.

My friend Thomas in college believed strongly in the circular theory of Aesthetics. That is, if something is terrible it has the potential to be magnificently terrible. Anybody can create art that is uninspired but to able to create something truly monstrous takes talent and inspiration. And so the truly bad is also the truly great.

He used to search for music and art that was so bad it was sublime. He'd play old homegrown records he dug up in garage sales, home-recorded stuff say of someone singing in the high-pitched voice of a child, strange symphonies that sounded like a huge catfight, all in search of that magnificently terrible.

I still think of Thomas when I see a lot of pop art these days. I like the work of Samaras because she doesn't take herself too seriously. She can unite Botticelli's Venus and Gilligan's Island in a way that is both funny and new. She's also done a lot of illustrations and the one above is one she did for Bitch magazine.

A while back I posted about the New Yorker covers done by Eric Drooker. The cover above is another one by him titled X-Ray Manhattan. That cover and many others will be showing here in San Francisco starting this week. There's a special opening for the show this Thursday which I have an invitation for and I'd like to attend but I probably won't be able to.