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Showing posts from September, 2008

Josh and Jasper and the Tale of Snoozefoxie

The snoozefoxie, a hedgehog-like creature, comes out of a six-year-old boy's nose to spark a love connection between him and another boy. The picture book is written in Dutch, by Oliver Robert. I found an English translation by S. Boone and J. Lagast on Google Books. According to The Advocate, where I read the story, the picture book has become a favorite with Belgian educators, and now 50, 000 elementary students ages 6 to 9 read about Josh and Jasper's gay crush each year. 
The same issue also covers the coming tenth anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. On Wednesday, October 7, 1998, the young man was found tied to a fence on the Wyoming prairie, barely alive, his skull fractured and his brain stem crushed. He died in a hospital five days later. He was 21. The state of Wyoming still has not passed the hate crime legislation put together in the wake of Shepard's death; neither has the U.S. government passed the federal version of that bill. Obama has promised to si…

Jessica Gaynor Dance

Yesterday, I sat in the Triskelion Arts Studio, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to watch a work choreographed by a colleague, Jessica Gaynor. The work was an excerpt from a full-length dance to be premiered in the same space in November 13-15. Titled "Enlarged to Show Texture," the dance meditated on the ways individuality arises from communal routines. The soundtrack stitched together original music (by Brian Harnetty) and recordings from the Berea Appalachian Sound Archives, forming a patchwork of soundscapes. After seeing the excerpt, I am keen to see the entire piece.

The excerpt began with a quartet of dancers sitting round on chairs, and tapping a foot. Soon, three of them moved to a far corner, leaving the odd one out doing her thing. This formation, and then breaking, of pattern informed the rest of the piece. By the canny use of different combinations--pairs, trios, quartets and quintets--the work achieved variety but also maintained its coherence. The movements and gestu…

Reading "The Iliad" Books 1 and 2

With a group of colleagues, I am reading The Iliad, translated by Richmond Lattimore. Not having made any close comparisons, I think the Fagles translation is more direct and muscular, whereas the Lattimore is more fluid. Lattimore also uses a longer verse line than Fagles does. Lattimore opens with these lines:

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

"Hurled" in line three is a main verb, but I read it first as a participle modifying Achaians; that confusion does not seem productive, and I wonder if the ambiguity is in Homer. Lines 4 and 5 do not reproduce Homer's chiasmic "spoils for dogs, fo…

Battling Fusion and Bored with Heterosex

from Michael Gorra's review (TLS Sep 2008) of Amit Chaudhuri's Clearing A Space: Reflections on India, literature and culture:
Too often "the Eastern and Western elements in fusion have a designated static quality that they do not in their own contexts". So Chaudhuri speaks on behalf of dialectic, not fusion; on behalf of quarrel and assimilation, and not the kind of multi-culti celebration that often winds up confirming our "unexamined beliefs about identity and where we come from".
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In another essay on Rushdie--"Huge Baggy Monster", first published in the TLS in 1999--he takes up the question of the imitative fallacy, the sense that a large sprawling country requires large sprawling novels . . .
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from Gordon Bowker's review (TLS Sep 2008) of The Creator as Critic: And other writings by E. M. Forster, and The BBC Talks of E. M. Forster, 1929-1960:
. . . his interest in he evolving personality inspired by reading Walter Pater and Samuel Butler,…

Poem: Albuquerque 7

Albuquerque 7
after Richard Diebenkorn

There is a figure in a landscape with no figure,
if only because we look for him behind the elm,
above the snow line, or along the marshy creek,
or on the white sand polished by sapphire seas,

if only because we look at it, and see the spur
steering the mountain’s floating hulk a whaler’s helm,
and see the fleeting torso of a marbled Greek
in the cloud hurling the discus sun into our eyes,

and wide in its deliberate curvature, the river
bend its bow till the ends clap, palm to shining palm,
despite the thunderstorm, despite the cracked and bleak
stumps, clap in blue applause manifest destiny.

And you, love, turning fifty as around a corner,
watching the vanishing point of every painted realm,
you’re thinking of your fading father, as we speak
of early hardships, breakthroughs, late discoveries.

Paint, like its painter, must fade, but between the fir,
cached in the middle of an unattended calm,
there is a lake that looks nothing like a lake—
no boats, no water, no sho…

Yefim Bronfman plays Rachmaninoff

It has been too long since I attended a concert, and last night's outing to hear the NY Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall was pleasure regained. 
According to the playbill, Yefim Bronfman was born in Tashkent, in the Soviet Union, in 1958, and immigrated to Israel with his family when he was 15. He made his international debut two years later, at the age of 17, with Zubin Mehta and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Since then he has been appearing regularly with North American orchestras. 
Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 has a special connection with the NYP. The composer unveiled the work in 1909, playing the solo part himself, with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony, which merged with the NYP. The playbill claims that Rachmaninoff only got round to practicing his part during the Atlantic crossing, when he rigged up a mute piano keyboard for that purpose. 
I came to Rachmaninoff through Scott Hicks's 1996 film "Shine," a biopic about the Australian…

Poem: Soft Depths

1.

At first he went to Cairo for the lads,
whom he saw from his hotel window
passing through the market stalls
like unacknowledged gods.
Then he found himself
passing for a local, winning
the confidence of the black-toothed elders,
uttering an automatic
prayer when the minaret floated
its call. He knew
he could never be a Muslim,
but he loved the religion’s seriousness,
the gravity
in the brown eyes of his lover
who stepped out of a starry robe
to climb under his covers.


2.

He liked sun-tanning on Christopher Street pier
where other sun-tanners slept on the grass
like so many fish. He liked the idea
they were happy out of
their element.
The grass blades bristled, the ants
with their busy jaws scavenged
what the summer gas had poisoned.
But the sun-tanners were not dead yet,
they were dreaming
of limbs and lungs,
and the unaccustomed sun of mammal sex.


3.

He washed carefully,
glad to be out of the cold
that was reducing his gang at the pier.
He almost gave himself up to the Shelter
but remembered its ranks of army cots.

Wang Hui at the Met

This exhibition is the first time the Met focuses on a single Chinese painter, here, the virtuosic 17th century landscape painter, Wang Hui (1632-1717). It is a great opportunity to study the artistic evolution of a significant Chinese painter. The first three galleries display the Tang, Song and Yuan styles of painting that inspired Wang Hui. The rest of the galleries are devoted to his works, gathered here from the Taipei and Beijing Palace Museums, the Shanghai Museum, North American collections, as well as the Met's permanent collection.
Roberta Smith, in The New York Times, reviews the exhibition in glowing, if somewhat uncritical, terms. Along the way she takes swipes at excessive laments about the harmful effects of the art market, and at rigid distinctions between creating a personal style, and copying the Old Masters. The art market is not a modern, let alone contemporary, phenomenon. Wang Hui, by synthesizing the styles of mentors and Old Masters, does create an individua…

Exhibitionism, Keats's Champion, Sex, Lolcat, and Snowclone

from Paula Marantz Cohen's review (TLS Sep 5 2008) of books on Alfred Hitchcock:

[Hitchcock] was flamboyantly modest or, perhaps better, a self-deprecating exhibitionist. His understated preening is evident in his famous interview with Truffaut and in the cameo appearances he insisted on making in all his films.

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He had an unerring grasp of the cinematic--on the technical level of understanding lenses and camera angles, and on the conceptual level of visual storytelling. He was able to make suspense into a metaphor for life and to use the theme of mistaken identity as a source of rich existential meaning. He understood the popular audience, was a master of studio politics and a genius at publicity, and yet he managed to hold on to his own vision.

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from Richard Marggraf Turley's Commentary piece (TLS Sep 5 2008) on "Barry Cornwall" (the pseudonym of Bryan Waller Procter) and Keats:

. . . we reject Cornwall for not offering the layered complexities our long admiration fo…

Turning Torso and Ceruse Poisoning

from Rebecca Mead's essay (TNY, Sep 1, 2008) on Santiago Calatrava:
The first completed Calatrava skyscraper, the Turning Torso tower, in Malmo, Sweden, which is fifty-four stories high and twists through ninety degrees, was derived from a sculpture that Calatrava first made in 1985, and this, in turn was prompted by his sketches of the human spine. . . . Calatrava's bridges, for which he initially earned his fame, often evoke the shapes of lithe human forms, bending or lunging with Olympian vigor.
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More recently, he built a library for the University of Zurich's law school--an ovoid structure topped with a glass oculus--that fits snugly within the courtyard of the school's existing hundred-year-old building. A visitor standing inside the splendid skylit atrium will see no books or students; the workspaces are hidden behind five levels of pearwood-clad balconies, as if the library were a beehive in which all honey-producing activity had been cunningly concealed. The oc…

To Live Aesthetically Or To Live Ethically

from "Why So Serious?" Alex Ross's review (TNY Sep 8, 2008) of Kenneth Hamilton's After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance, and William Weber's The Great Transformation of Musical Taste" Concert Programming from Haydn to Brahms:
With the aristocracy declining in the wake of the French Revolution and subsequent upheavals, the bourgeoisie increasingly took control of musical life, imposing a new conception of how concerts should unfold: programs favored composers of the past over those of the present, popular fare was banished, progrm notes provided orientation to the uninitiated, and the practice of milling about, talking, and applauding during the music subsided. To some extent, these changes can be explained in anthropological terms: by applauding here and not applauding there, the bourgeois were signalling their membership in a social and culturel elite. As Johnson points out, they felt obliged to reconfirm that status from year to yea…

Julian Barnes's "Arthur & George"

I have a deep affection for Julian Barnes, generally because I always enjoy his intellectually stimulating novels, more particularly because he taught me how to look at a painting. One chapter in The History of the World in 10½ Chapters muses on Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa.” I remember Barnes’s careful marshalling of evidence in the painting to decide whether the tiny ship in the horizon is approaching the desperate survivors of the shipwreck, or leaving them. I don’t remember the conclusion, but the approach has stuck with me: seeing is also interpreting.

His new novel Arthur and George begins with the desire to take a look:

A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see.
This particular child who wanted to see is Arthur, who is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, the professional ophthalmologist, the champion of the weak, and, finally, the evangelist of Spiritualism. What the child Arthur saw was t…

Rabindranath Tagore's Song Offerings

I'm reading Joe Winter's translation of Song Offerings (Gitanjali). According to Winter, Tagore wrote Gitanjali from 1906-10, but mostly in the last three months of that period. These poems were written as poems to be read on the page. Tagore turned them into songs as or shortly after he wrote. Winter describes the relationship between poems and songs in this way: "It is as songs that they are known far and wide by Bengali-speakers; yet the text still has a spoken voice."
Winter also describes usefully the publication and reception of the English Gitanjali:
Tagore translated a number of the Gitanjali into English in 1912, at first, while recovering from illness and without the energy, as he put it, 'to sit down and write anything new'. He continued the exercise on a voyage to England that year, his first serious venture into English translation, and arrived with a manuscript made up half of Gitanjali re-creations and half of pieces from nine other of his books.…