Friday, July 30, 2010

A Fetish for Good Poetry

Edited by Rose Kelleher, Issue 12 of the Shit Creek Review is kinky in the best way. It makes us think about the relationship between poetry and perversion. One might say poetry is a perversion of everyday language. Saying so not only sexualizes poetry, but also politicizes it. For who gets to say what is normal and what is perversion? Under whose regime are we still living, no matter how hard we try to liberate ourselves?

What does it mean for me to publish my poems about a father's belting, anal sex, underaged sex,  SM and fisting under the rubric of "perversions"? The line in the sand is always shifting: is anal sex still considered perverted or is it on its way to normalization? Normalized under what regime? There must always be lines, as there must always be regimes of control.

The Latin root of "pervert" means "to overturn" or "to subvert." The meanings overlap but they are not the same. Subversion is the diligent, secret work of sappers. Overturning is the work of revolutionaries. Perversion as a weapon has an analogy in deconstruction. Should it be seen as the endlessly differing and deferring sign? Or is it  the destruction of an old order to build a new one? I want perversion to be the second, but fear it is only the first.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917

He returned from Morocco in 1913, and before departing from Paris to Nice in 1917, painted some of his most challenging works. In the geometric construction of the paintings, you can see his response to Cubism, and in his use of blacks and grays his response to World War I. Instead of focusing on the aesthetic or political context of this body of work, the MoMA show throws a light on its physical production, how Matisse scratched and etched and repainted the canvases, or else left them "unfinished." The result is an exciting glimpse into Matisse at work in his studio.

Why the physical effort, and then to leave the evidence so clearly on the paintings? Matisse wanted to fight in the war but was rejected because of his influenza. poor eyesight and age. He spoke (or wrote?) about fighting the war in his own way, on his canvases, and so he did, I believe. But who was he fighting against? Not the Tradition, which he loved, but Himself. He fought to paint a different way from how he painted before. All that he upheld, prized, identified with, all that had to be thrown down. In overcoming himself, he became a force that cannot be dismissed.



The Window (1916)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Xie Zhiliu (1910-1997) at the Met

The title of the exhibition says it all: Mastering the Art of Chinese Painting. Unlike many Chinese artists, Xie Zhiliu, a native of Changzhou, kept the copies and sketches he made throughout his career, and these now provide an absorbing account of the development of a traditional Chinese painter working in the twentieth century.

Copying the masters and working from nature were the complementary disciplines of such an education. Not knowing the tradition in which he worked, I found it hard to distinguish between Xie's work and the work of his chosen masters, like the Ming painter Chen Hongshu (1599-1652) and other bird-and-flower painters. I could see that his lines, as a young painter in his twenties, were less sure than theirs, but I could not see how he departed from them deliberately. Even the drawings done from nature looked as if they had been traced.





I was most impressed by the work in the last gallery. (I could not find any images of the work on the Met website.) The years of imitation and study paid off in an original freedom. In 1994, Xie made a brightly colored album called Views of Yosemite National Park, California, after visiting the reserve with his wife. The mountains were rendered with Chinese feeling for both mass and etherealness. Xie remarked that the pine trees in the park made up half of the beauty of the place, a sentiment that is observable in so many Chinese landscape paintings. Leaves 8 and 10 of the album were particularly beautiful for their abstraction and color.

Even more interesting, to me, was the eight-leaf study of a lotus pond. In leaf after leaf, the lotus flower contended with the swirling wash of ink until it emerged from the darkness, in full bloom. Other lotus stalks, barely glimpsed earlier but now seen in the white space, reinforced the victory of the verticals.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Buggermania and Other Madnesses

TLS July 9 2010

from J.P.E. Harper-Scott's review of Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky, and Adam Zamoyski's Chopin: Prince of the Romantics:

Very touching are Tchaikovsky's letters to his brother Modest in 1876, which show him racked by his urge to perform sexual acts that he admits are contrary to his Christian belief. "Buggermania," he writes. "forms an impassable gulf between me and most people." Admitting to thoughts of joining a monastery, Piotr implores his brother, whose sexual interests were similar, to exercise control over himself. Some of the letters are more explicit than others. of Josef Kotek, fifteen years his junior, he writes, 
When he caresses me with his hand, when he lies with his head inclined on my breast, and run my hand through his hair and secretly kiss it . . . passion rages within me with such unimaginable strength . . . . Yet I am far from the desire for a physical bond. I feel that if this happened, I would cool towards him. It would be unpleasant for me if this marvellous youth debased himself to copulate with an ageing and fat-bellied man.
*
Wiley's musical commentary lays occasional critical emphasis on prelest', a concept veering from simple attractiveness to more dangerous seductiveness and corruption; he regards this as "a Russian element deeper than hackneyed determinants of nationality, enhancing it in pieces where no phrase of folk song ever sounds" . . . .
*
Recent musicology has out the body interestingly near the centre of its discourse about the production and meaning of music, but Zamoyski's drift here, by contrast, is that the body serves only as a conduit of the sempiternal, its shabby humanity burnt off by exposure to the fires of creativity.

***

from Paolo D'Iorio's review of Handschriften, Erstausgaben und Widmungsexemplare, edited by Julia Rosenthal, Peter Andre Bloch and David Marc Hoffman:

Nietzsche scholars will be delighted to find in this new book a reproduction of one of about ten known copies of the first edition of the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra (1885). This copy contains a significant dedication: "To my revered, dear friend Franz Overbeck with the request to keep secret this ineditum--and many other requests", which reminds us, better than any philological explanation, of the different editorial and philosophical status of the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra. While the first three parts are published works made available to the general public, the fourth part is a private printing, which Nietzsche wanted to keep secret.
*
Finally, a mention of the page that Nietzsche gave to the doctor of his madhouse as his "testament" on May 5, 1889. It contains staves, music, words, scribbles: some of them perfectly readable, though most are virtually indecipherable. This is the only document in the collection not to have been transcribed. Nietzsche has always been one of the strongest advocates of life, despite all its pain death and madness, and the presence of a speechless testament in the middle of these beautiful manuscripts and remarkable books is particularly appropriate, because it reminds us, better than any philosophical explanation, how difficult it is to be an advocate of life.

***
TLS June 11 2010

from Lorna Hutson's review of David Hawkes's John Milton: A hero of our time:

Hawkes's insistence on the centrality of usury to understanding the development of Milton's thought illuminates the psychic tendency involved in the early poetry. One of Hawkes's arguments for Milton's immediate relevance to the present moment is the poet's claim that the truths he revealed were ahead of his own time, and would only be understood by succeeding ages. As young as twenty-two, Milton imagined for himself the life of study and contemplation that would make him a prophetic poet. This situating of a studious life in the context of the financial investments that paid for it makes the reader aware of the poet's stressful sense of psychic investment, of the strains of living one's life as a debt that risks going unpaid.

***

from Llewelyn Morgan's review of Ellen Oliensis's Freud's Rome: Psychoanalysis and Latin poetry:

But if at times one can feel that the theory is flattered by the superlative talents of the critic, that nicely conveys the manifold merits of Freud's Rome: for me Oliensis's reading of Scylla's erotic pursuit of Minos in Metamorphoses 8 does not amount to a case for penis envy, but it is from any perspective a superbly illuminating account of the episode, stylish, perceptive and psychologically acute. With this of all topics I am bound to allow that the problem may be mine. Does the proliferation of feet in Catallus 63 play out a castration anxiety? Maybe not/ But it cannot be anything but therapeutic for classicists to be told that "synecdoche is the rhetorical counterpart of the fetish".

***
TLS July 16 2010

from Guy Dammann's review of the 63rd Aldeburgh festival of Music and the Arts:

One can never be prepared for someone like [Pierre] Boulez. His identity seems entirely bound up with the paradox, implicit in the idea of artistic originality, of necessity as the flipside of novelty.
*
Now months shy of his 102nd birthday, [Elliot] Carter is in as good a position as any to compose a work with the title What Are Years?, a setting of five poems by Marianne Moore. Scored for chamber orchestra, with an array of pitched and unpitched percussion, the limpid instrumental writing provides a sleek bedding for beautifully measured vocal lines which support the wittily skewed angles of Moore's verse. In both the poems and the music, detail surrenders itself imperceptibly to confrontation with mystery.
In the final, title song, a bird is observed "growing taller" in the act of singing, It sits captive between fear and desire but voices the infinite reach of human longing: "satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy". The line is carried through a steep crescendo into a resounding chord, amid the decay of which the soprano intones "This is mortality. This is eternity". 
*
Scored for a folksy, almost comic ensemble which includes basset horns a contrabass clarinet and parts for mandolin and banjo, [George Benjamin's] Into the Little Hill is less an opera than a piece of ritualized musical storytelling. At its heart is the dramatic contrast between the compromised reality in which we accept, as the minister puts it," all faiths because we believe in nothing", and the realm of unbridled presence accessible only to the innocent children (and rats), who blissfully follow the piper's Pythagorean strains to the light that blazes under the hill.
In one sense, Into the Little Hill can be understood as a kind of negative Gesamkunstwerk--a total work that has renounced all totalizing claims. With the aid of John Fuljames's minimal staging, the work affords a limitless space and time for the imagination through the bewildering beauty of its gestures. Though the audience are left no less bereft than the townsfolk in the story, the work engenders a strong and emboldening perception of one's own freedom to pull together each phrase, image or utterance. At the same time, it suggests an easier, more honest relation to history than that which dominates the gloomy horizons of Boulez and Berio. The illusions of the past cannot be brought back, or its horrific losses made good, but the structure of our relation to ideas of infinity and perfection remains the same, brought to being neither through enchantment nor disenchantment, but through the effort to create and comprehend beauty [italics mine].

***


from Stephen Gaukroger's review of Edward Skidelsky's Ernst Cassirer: The last philosopher of culture:

In his Essay on Man, [Cassirer] writes that
language, myth religion, art, science, history are the constituents, the various sectors of [the circle of humanity]. A "philosophy of man" would therefore be a philosophy which would give us insights into each of these human activities and which, at the same time, would enable us to understand them as an organic whole.
Such insight is to be achieved, on Cassirer's view, through an appreciation of the symbol-making nature of human beings. While other animals are immersed in the immediacy of worlds of their own, human beings go beyond these limits, and must construct symbolic forms of understanding--myth, religion, language, art. science--to find their way in a way which is not their own, even if it remains of their own making.

***

from Siriol Troup's review of Gunter Eich's Angina Days: Selected poems, translated by Michael Hofmann:

"All poems are too long", [Eich] said in 1965. "I'm graphic, black-and-white, I'm in favour of omission, abbreviation, shorthand . . . . I ask questions, I don't give answers". . . . His writing becomes a decision to see the world as language, an attempt to translate from a language in which word and thing coincide. We translate, he says, without having the original text.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pedro Almodovar's "Law of Desire" (1987)

I think I may have gone off Almodovar. I could not watch to the end his tale of obsessive love (of Antonio Banderas's crazy rich young man for Eusebio Poncela's narcissistic filmmaker). There was little that was new in the film's exploration of obsession and narcissism, and so I was left with two unpleasant characters for whom it was hard even to feel repulsion. The acting was fine (titillating to see Banderas buggered by Poncela), but the plot was thin. The one bright spot was the portrait of the filmmaker's transsexual sibling. Carmen Maura was by turns terrified and tender, and gave the film what heart it had.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

So Many Artists, So Little Time

The New Museum block party, at Sara Roosevelt Park on Saturday, was a small neighborhood affair, consisting of about 8 small tents and mineral water sponsored by Whole Foods. Good enough, I suppose, for fitting in, but not for reaching out. The museum however was crowded. GH and I watched Patrick Pleutin's animation short Bamiyan (2008), shown as part of the REDCAT International Children's Film Festival. The 14-minute film narrated, in French and Chinese, with English subtitles, the visit of Chinese monk Xuanzang to Bamiyan, Afghanistan, where he saw the giant statues of Buddha. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, and children living in the valley told the legends of that destruction. The colors of the film were as gorgeous as stained glass, but they moved and changed.

Both GH and I liked the work of Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander, but we liked different parts of it.  GH liked At a Certain Distance (Ex-Voto Paintings) (2010) for their architectural rendering of space, and matched muted colors. He also liked the film The Tenant (2010) which featured a soap bubble wandering through a deserted house. I enjoyed Rain Rains (2002), "an environment of leaking buckets." It used just a few basic elements to create a sensuous and meditative experience. "After the Storm" (2010), made with New York county maps exposed to the weather during Brazil's rainy season, resonated with implied narratives. The painting over the torn maps suggested the working of imagination, after the weather had taken its toll.




On the second floor was Brion Gysin, painter, performer, and poet. In 1959 he invented the Cut-Up Method and together with William S. Burroughs created The Third Mind, a Cut-Up collage manifesto. He also invented Combination Poetry (computer rearrangement of the words "the poet does not own the words," for instance) as well as the Dream Machine, a rotating light sculpture that used the flickering effect to create visions. The methods were interesting; they shared a common wish to circumvent the mind. But could they say anything more than that?

I enjoyed the art on this visit to the New Museum much more than on previous two visits. The artists on show this time were much more substantial and creative. After resting at GH's place for a while, we went to the neighborhood garden where his friends R and L and their daughter S were working. They became members not so long ago, and were planting some flowers in their allotted bed. The garden was wet and loamy and hot.

Leaving them, we passed by a much bigger neighborhood garden (at the intersection of B and 6) and went in to take a look. A fish pond bubbled near the entrance. A pavilion stage stood at the back. We were back at the gate again when a young man ran up to us and invited us to return for a film screening. Later, at the Q&A, we realized that he was the director of the film. The Evangelist,  directed by Nathaniel Chapman, explored the relationship between a gay man (played by Theodore Bouloukos) and a boy he adopted (Lucas Fox Philips) who turned out to possess a religious bent.

Set in Provincetown, the film deliberately, and quite originally, flipped the usual scenario by making gay the status quo and religion the marginalized. What followed was almost a parable about the murderous instinct at work in religion, but a parable inflected by absurdity and familial love (from a gay man!). The supporting characters could have been fleshed out more, but the central drama was captivating. Despite working from what must be a tight budget, the black-and-white cinematography was very artful.

We were soaked in perspiration by the time the film was over. The night was very humid. But we wouldn't have wanted to miss watching the film. One of the incidental pleasures of a Saturday night in New York.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lucian Freud at the Centre Georges Pompidou

TLS June 11 2010

from Mark Hutchinson's review of "Lucian Freud: L'Atelier" at the Centre Georges Pompidou:

Where, then, does the heart of Lucian Freud's originality lie? Over and above his unquestionable technical virtuosity, there are two areas of his work in which Freud can be said to have opened up new ground. One is the series of portraits he made of his mother, who posed for him in his studio more than a thousand times between 1972 and her death in 1989 . . . not only are they among his most powerful paintings but, as Jean Clair, the man who first championed his work in France, observed some years ago, the theme of the son watching over the dying mother is a visual counterpart (and an unusual one) to one of the most haunting images in Western art, that of the mater dolorosa.

The second area, of course, is his nudes, in which the model's genitals are, often as not, positioned at or near the centre of the composition; and, by extension, at the very heart of the act of creation. So familiar have these "naked portraits", as he prefers to call them, become that it is easy to forget how fearless this self-styled "biologist" has been in his demythologizing of the nude. To remind yourself ot his, you have only to stand before one of his more insistent male portraits, sprawling with his legs apart like the Barberini faun, but without the civilizing reference to Antiquity--"Nude with Leg Up (Leigh Bowery)", say. Try as you might, you do not know where to look, particularly when the model is male. . . .

*

Freud's rendering of flesh is almost a byword for clinical detachment; this, it seems to be saying, is what the human body comes down to when scrutinized under a 200-watt bulb and stripped of its airs and graces. A portrait, however, will often tell us as much about its maker as it does about the model, and for all the talk we hear of the complicity and intimacy involved in posing for Freud, it is the painter, I suspect, who is the real object of his excoriating gaze; ultimately, the impression you get from so many of his nudes is of a man bent on mortifying his own fascination with, and dependency on, the flesh.

*




The most arresting image of all, however, is the full-length "Painter Working, Reflection" (1993), a portrait of the artist naked at seventy, one hand brandishing a palette-knife, the other with the thumb hooked like a second phallus (a conceit Freud uses more than once in his male nudes) around his palette. It is an extraordinary image, a mixture of melancholy, gravitas and clownish pathos in which the artist stands before us, half-doubting, half-defiant, his heavy legs bruised with blood, and with nothing to support him but the unlaced boots he might almost have borrowed from Van Gogh.

*




As for the monumental portrait of Leigh Bowery, what can one say about this eight-foot-tall figure standing with his ankles crossed like a ballerina, who seems to have stepped straight out of Greek mythology, part man, part bull, except to note that, whatever it is Freud has been looking for all these years in the human flesh, he has clearly found it. Candid, factual, admiring and unembarrassed, for once it is openly and unreservedly an act of re-enchantment, and one that makes our conventional categorization of human sexuality look hopelessly threadbare. "I found him perfectly beautiful", says Freud with disarming simplicity.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon"

I was some way into the novel before I realized that it is, basically, a Bildungsroman. It charts the growth into maturity of Macon Dead, Jr., nicknamed Milkman. Born into middle-class affluence, and suffering from its ennui, Milkman is torn between a dominating landlord father and a loveless, hopeless mother. He wishes to escape from home, from the heavy hand of the past, but he does not know what he wishes to escape to. In search of the gold his Aunt Pilates had supposedly taken from a white man she and her brother killed, Milkman journeys to the South (Virginia) where he experiences black communal life--connected to Nature, free of the North's materialistic individualism--and so recovers his lost family history.

If this sounds like romanticizing the black South, it is. Sure, Morrison depicts the South as proud and violent (Milkman gets into a fight in the store), as racist and greedy (Macon Dead Sr.'s father was shot dead by the whites who wanted his farm). But the Southern blacks, in this novel, are essentially kind and hospitable. They do not take vengeance for injustices like the seven Northern blacks who call themselves the Days, and kill a white person for every black person killed by a white, in order to preserve the racial ratio. No, they do not live for the Days, but  keep the race memories for forgetful Northern blacks.

What is this family history kept for Milkman? That his great grandfather Solomon was a big man in that part of the country, who had many many children (like Father Abraham), but decided to fly off (literally) and leave his wife and children. This is not history, but allegory, of a magical kind. The trope of the flying man opens the novel and recurs throughout. Allegory simplifies history and character in the hope of achieving archetypes. I am not sure that is achieved here. Guitar plays the Cain to Macon Jr.'s Abel, but that archetypal relationship is constantly troubled by a lack of convincing reason for the attempted murder. Too much plot credibility is sacrificed at the altar of symbolism.

Not only does allegory oversimplify history (some would want to praise it as "mythologizing"), it also does not completely cohere in Morrison's hands. Solomon's flight is supposed to be transcendental, in contrast with others who fly and fall to their death. However, Morrison editorializes in an aside that, unlike men, women could fly while staying on the ground. But if women are superior to men in this manner, where does that leave poor Solomon? In mid-air, I guess.

The editorial comment seems to promote feminism, but I find the depiction of women, and their relationships with men, in this novel troubling. Women like Ruth Foster (Macon Jr.'s mother) and Hagar (his lover) give up everything, including their selves, for romantic love, the first with her father, the second with her cousin. If the women are not crazy for love, they are just crazy, like the bootlegger and witch Pilates (she who does not have a navel), her slow-witted daughter Reba, and Circe who took care of Macon Sr. and Pilates when they fled from the whites who killed their father. The crazies, living by themselves at the margins of society, are cut off from the community Morrison valorizes elsewhere.

The stories of all these women, lovers or otherwise, are subordinated to the stories of men. Milkman's sisters Magdalena called Lena and First Corinthians take center-stage for a while, but they always give way to Milkman. It is his redemption (easy enough, since all he has to do is to bury the woman he "killed" by rejecting her heartlessly), his assumption of patriarchal authority (he tells Pilates what is actually in her bag, and so serves as the envoy of her father's ghost) and his fraternal struggle with his best friend Guitar that the novel ends with. Love for the Patriarch is ultimately symbolized by the discovery that the bones Pilates carries and keeps with her do not belong to the murdered white man, but to her father. Where does that leave Morrison's feminism?

The moment the novel revealed that the father's body, washed up from its shallow grave, was threw into the same cave where Macon Sr. and Pilates murdered the white man, I guessed the secret of the bones. I doubt I am unusual in doing this. The problem lies in the storytelling. It is just not deft enough. Too labored also is the recovery of the family history, bit by bit, from different people. The novel begins ploddingly, with a long set piece about the birth of Milkman, quickens with interest in the chapters about Pilates's strange household and Corinthian's awkward love affair, and then drags out the meanderings of Milkman in the South. The women in the novel are more intriguing than the men but they don't have enough air time. This is, after all, not the Song of Sheba.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"A Disappearing Number" and "Perfect European Man"

Two plays in two days in two very different settings, the first attended yesterday with LW and friend S, the second today with TH.

Appearing as part of Lincoln Center Festival was Theatre Complicite's A Disappearing Number in its New York premiere. High-tech set, including video and direct projection, fluid stage transformation, polished acting, cross-cultural interactions spanning UK, India and the USA. The production, conceived and directed by Simon McBurney, moved like a film. It spliced the life of mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan (Chetna Pandya) with a contemporary romance between a math professor Ruth Minnen (Saskia Reeves) and a futures trader Al Cooper (Firdous Bamji). It meditated on the different kinds of mathematical infinity, and sought consolation for death in the idea of infinite series, or Things Are Connected When They Happen One After Another. It was also about the idea of beauty. The Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy (David Annen), who worked with Ramanujan, wrote in his A Mathematician's Apology, "Mathematicians are only makers of patterns, like poets or painters."

The other play was also concerned with beauty, though of a much more physical kind. Written and directed by DJ Salisbury, Perfect European Man looked at the life of Sandow the Magnificent, who was to be preserved for posterity by a British Museum body casting. Xander Chauncey was a little opaque as Eugen Sandow though he bared almost everything throughout the show. Thom Christopher Warren was the vulnerable, and thus believable, caster Desmond Frates. The play quoted Keats's Endymion. The small Cherry Lane Studio Theatre was almost full for this part of Fresh Fruit: the 8th Annual International Festival of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Arts and Culture.

It's not about patter, it's all about verbal patterning.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Andrew Howdle's review of "Equal to the Earth"

Andrew Howdle has been a keen reader of my poetry for a number of years. His review of my book Equal to the Earth is informed by his intimate knowledge of my work as well as by our regular correspondence. If I suggest that his review is so far the best reading of my book, I do so not because he is highly complimentary, but because he reads it with high intelligence and broad sympathy. He is sensitive to the various ways technique contributes to emotion, and so neither is discussed in isolation or, worse, as if they are contradictory. Instead, he explains both the vision and the viscera of the work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Lion, the Werewolf and the Harlequin

I was expecting theatrical magic from The Lion King, when I watched it with my family on July 4. The show was engaging, but proved to be less than enchanting. When I watched the parade of puppet-animals on YouTube, accompanied by the song "The Circle of Life," I cried. At the Minskoff Theatre, the song sounded tinny, and the puppets by Julie Taymor, beautiful individually, were too few to really impress. Only one elephant? One rhinoceros? Everything seemed smaller than the YouTube video had led me to imagine.

The less heralded stage design, by Richard Hudson, was for me much more impressive. Pride Rock rose in a majestic spiral from the stage floor. In contrast, Scar's cave was a slanted bed of rock limited by a triangular ceiling. The staging of the wildebeest stampede, during which Mufasa fell to his death, was wonderfully imaginative.

The singing, by the ensemble as well as by Dashaun Young (Simba) and Chauntee Schuler (Nala), did not do justice to the Elton John music and Tim Rice lyrics. The songs were belted out when the notes came within the singers' range. Gareth Saxe was a suitably nasty Scar. Cameron Pow wielded Zazu the parrot with comic flair. The hyenas, Shenzi (Bonita J. Hamilton), Banzai (James Brown-Orleans) and Ed (Enrique Segura) were my favorite characters as well as puppets.

*

Tom Matlock, in the Huffington Post, made the observation that The Twilight Saga movies are made not so much for teenaged girls as for their mothers who fantasize over raw boy meat (Taylor Lautner) and old-fashioned chivalry (Robert Pattinson). Liberated and successful, these grown women do not want their men to be vulnerable and sensitive. They themselves can be that, thank you very much. Instead, they want strong men who will protect them so that they, the women, can be vulnerable and sensitive, while beating the men at their game.

It's hard to imagine other reasons why in this post-feminist era women wish to identify with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who spends most of New Moon mooning over the boys. The very young teenage girls may romanticize Edward, safe in the knowledge that he would never ask them to show him how much they love him. Grown women, however, can romanticize the boys and imagine making out with them too. In this they are not very different from mature gay men, who want to feel rejuvenated by a bout of passionate sex with a hot young stud. No prize for guessing whom I would choose. A werewolf over a vampire any day, or night.

*

Sexual power gives artistic power. That is one lesson from the Picasso show at the Met. As a young man, Pablo frequented brothels and feared becoming blind due to syphilis. He was always hungry for the next new thing in art, and his style changed as he moved from love to love. Germaine Pichot was painted in his early figurative manner. Olga in his neo-classical style. Dora Maar in his Cubist period. Also striking was the series of poses he chose for himself: harlequin, saltimbanque, bullfighter, chevalier, musketeer. He was constantly re-making himself.

This self-invention should resonate with me, but it doesn't, and I don't understand why. I admire enormously the energetic creativity, but individual paintings seldom capture me the way a Matisse canvas would. They are too frenetic. Even the linoleum cuts, reminiscent of Matisse's paper cut-outs in their simplified shapes and blocks of primary color, are too full of stuff. The last suite of prints, made during the last six months of his life, displayed his continuous invention. They are exhausting to look at.

The paintings that mean most to me show tight composition of figures, like La Coiffure (1906):





or simple but graceful abstraction like this 1922 Head of a Woman.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Fausto Melotti's "I magnifici sette"

You never know who you are going to stumble into at the Chelsea galleries. Almost two weeks ago, SW, visiting from Singapore, and I were wandering in the neighborhood when we walked into Gladstone Gallery, and met Fausto Melotti's I magnifici sette (The Magnificent Seven), 1973. Made of brass and stainless steel, the seven forms look like power grids but frame what appears to be outlandish musical notation.





The effect is strict, even severe, as befits Melotti's credo that "Art is an angelic, geometric feeling. It addresses the intellect, not the senses." But does the work provoke contemplation of order in the cosmos, or its opposite? The press release cannot decide. It quotes Melotti, "It is not for us to know, though a genius might, whether the thousand effervescent thoughts, so much in contrast today, like never before, are beginning to agree like the voices in a choir, to finally emerge together in a single voice or whether it shall all collapse in a dark torrent... We would be content if it were the wind of the Elysian fields, shaking and rattling the empty and sensitive pipes."

I do not sense such contentment in The Magnificent Seven. Instead, I feel its immense rage for order and harmony. If its mathematical and musical form reminds me of Hesse's Glass Bead Game, it lacks the German's feel for the necessity of prayer. Despite his reference to angels, the work's appeal is to the mind, and not what lies beyond the mind.

Born in Rovereto, Italy, to a musical family, Fausto Melotti (1901-1986) began studying music, mathematics and physics before enrolling at the Accademia di Belle Arti Brera in Milan. The 1986 Venice Biennale opened with a major exhibition of Melotti's work, earning him a posthumus Leone d'Oro.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lyndall Gordon's "A Private Life of Henry James"

The full title of this 1998 biography is A Private Life of Henry James: Two women and his art. It is not one biography, but three, and focuses on the intersections--social, emotional and imaginative--between the writer and the women. James met his cousin Mary (Minnie) Temple when he was still a young man, and was immediately taken by her bold, capacious approach towards life. Later, already an established writer, he met Constance Fenimore Woolsoon, or rather she met him, for she journeyed to Rome after reading his fiction, hoping to find a common spirit and a willing mentor.

In adopting this biographical approach, Gordon makes no bones about what she is doing. In the sphere of art, she aims to elevate the women, in particular Woolson, from mere muses or handmaidens to actual collaborators in James's fiction. She does not mean that Woolson helped write James's works. Rather, the stories that Woolson wrote elicited a conversation with James who replied in his own stories. In explaining so convincingly the exchange in fiction between the two writers, Gordon wishes to demolish the myth of the self-sufficient artist working in creative solitude, a myth of himself first started by James, and sustained by his destruction of letters and papers before he died.

In the sphere of life, or human relations, Gordon depicts James as a predator of souls, especially women's souls, which he took as his artistic material and kingdom. James in this portrait emerges as a ruthless artist who cared supremely for his art. He would draw close to usable women in order to extract their stories, only to withdraw from them when their human demands impinged on his art. Minnie Temple was dying, but thought that a visit to Rome might help her recover. James, along with other family members who claimed to love her, ignored her desperate pleas because such a visit was not on his agenda.

Even more damning was his behavior towards Woolson. The two were so close that they shared a house, Villa Brichieri, in Bellosguardo, for a time, risking exposure and scandal. But James did not provide the friendship or mentoring Woolson longed for. Given an opportunity to promote his friend, James wrote an essay that damned her with faint and limited praise. He did not come to her at her hour of need and she killed herself by jumping from the balcony of her house. Gordon shows that the suicide not only shocked James but angered him, for Woolson's action demonstrated that he did not understand women's souls the way he claimed he did. Bewildered, James put out the story that Woolson killed herself in a moment of insanity. In a thrilling section of the book, Gordon examined closely the reports of Woolson's last night, and concluded that, contrary to James's fantasy, Woolson took her own life with deliberate intention.

James was highly conscious of what he was doing. This awareness was dramatized, again and again, in his fiction. Gordon puts it this way, in the final paragraphs of her reparative biography:

In Jamesian dramas of contrition, a man uses a single woman, May, Maria, or Milly, for his own ends; then recoils from usage of this kind. And yet, James himself continued to use two women as the material of art. It is consistent with the Lesson of the Master that art, of necessity, preys on others. This is the questionable point where James the man meets James the writer. He drew women out as no other man, exposing needs that lurk unexpressed on the evolutionary frontier; and then swerved from responsibility. Fenimore took a calculated risk when she made a 'home' in his work. His involvements were for readers, for posterity, and only in passing for subjects whose need for reciprocity remained active. For this reason, he was in his element with those who died.
Jamesian heroes of the major phase often excoriate themselves more relentlessly than evidence against them might seem to justify. Their own sole detractors, they gape at their flaw: the oblivion of the sensitive gentleman. Of course, only a person of the calibre of James would have the moral courage to confront it.
Here is a fictional truth James offered in lieu of biography. He is right, of course, to urge the autonomy of art, were it not for one problem, a myth of solitary genius. That myth, it must now be apparent, is largely untrue. For James leant on the generosity of women who surrendered 'the Light of their Lives'. Feeling, breathing women who provided the original matter for Milly and Miss Gostrey were disappointed in untold ways not unconnected with their deaths. It is on behalf of these women that biography must redress the record James controlled.

Beware, beware, of falling for a writer.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nicholas Ostler's "Empires of the Word"

Ostler's erudition is encyclopedic. All by himself, he wrote this handy one-volume language history of the world, ranging from Sumerian, Akkadian and Aramaic in the ancient world to English in our contemporary scene, discussing Egyptian, Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Russian in the course of his immense story. The narrative is not one of a triumphal march; rather, it is a subtle plotting of the rise and fall of languages, and so puts the current prevalence of English in much-needed perspective.

Throughout the book Ostler is at pains to correct the misconception that empire-building has carried the burden of language spread. Some conquerors in fact adopted the language of their vanquished foes. Even when military might led to language spread, what was more vital for the permanent adoption of the foreign language was the growth of the language community, in which a parent, often the mother, taught the children her native language. The hearth and not the battlefield was where language victories were won or lost. 

Ostler gives four main reasons why an imperial language lives on after the empire disappears. The reasons are self-explanatory: creole (e.g. all the American colonies that became independent from their mother countries in Europe), nostalgia (why French has hung on in sub-Saharan Africa), unity (the take-up of Malay by the newly independent Indonesia), and globality (the many countries that adopt English).  In Ostler's terms, Singapore has retained English for reasons of unity and globality. 

This is a book I will come back to again and again. In my first reading, these special bits stick out:

By their presence, the Phoenician settlements will have spread far and wide a sense of what the cultivated and literate society of the Near East was like, as well as opening up a long-distance export trade in metals. The Phoenicians were the globalisers of Mesopotamian culture. Most concretely, they spread knowledge of their alphabetic writing system to the Greeks and Iberians, and just possibly to the Etruscans and Romans; so they can claim to have given Europe its primary education.
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This participation by women, especially princesses and priestesses, in Sumerian literature was not uncommon. They wrote funeral hymns, letters and especially love songs.
The city lifts its hand like a cripple, O my lord Shu-Sin,
It lies at thy feet like a lion-cub, O son of Shulgi.
O my god, the wine-maid has sweet wine to give,
Like her date wine sweet is her vulva, sweet is her wine...

[Pritchard, James B. (ed) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (1969: 496): Love Song to a King (translated by S. N. Kramer)]

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Later on, Sanskrit becomes very wide ranging in its content, including among its most widely known works romantic comedy, theoretical linguistics, economics, sexology (notably the Kama Sutra), lyrical verse, history and moral fables, along with a continuing production of epic poetry and religious and philosophical tracts. It is a very self-conscious literary tradition, full of learned allusions, and above all the most elaborate development of the pun known anywhere on earth.
[My note: one reason of Rushdie's obsessive punning in Midnight's Children and other books?]
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Particularly accomplished was Queen Indradevi, consort of Jayavarman VII (who ruled in Cambodia 1180-c.1218): she was a pious Buddhist and taught the Buddhist nuns of three convents. She has left an inscription, in praise of her younger sister, another scholar, who had sadly died young: it runs to 102 verses in several different metres. 
[Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra (1996), Study of Sanskrit in South-East Asia, Calcutta: Sanskrit College, p.19-20]
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To the south of the Kievan domain was grassy steppe, dominated in the second half of the first millenium by a series of largely Turkic-speaking nomadic peoples on horseback, who kept arriving from the east, conquering and settling down as the new masters: Avars, Khazars, Bulgars, Magyars, Pechenegs, Kipchak-Polovtsians, Alans, and finally Genghis Khan's Mongols. There was persistent warfare over the period, immortalised in the first surviving work of Russian literature, Slovo o Polku Igoreve, the Lay of Igor's Campaign, set in 1054 and apparently written in the twelfth century:
O Prince, grief has now taken your mind captive;
for two falcons have flown from their father's golden throne
to gain the city of Tmutorokan,
or else to drink of the Don from their helmets.
The falcons' wings have now been clipped by the sabres of infidels,
and they themselves are fettered in fetters of iron...
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If we compare English to the other languages that have achieved world status, the most similar--as languages--are Chinese and Malay. Of course, we need to discount the main sources of its vocabulary: English has been in close touch all its short life with French and Latin; and since 1500 the education of very many of its elite speakers has involved Greek too. As a result these three languages have provided the vast majority of the words that have come into the language, whether borrowed or invented. But when the origins of its words--and hence their written look on the page--is set aside, the amazing fact emerges that the closest parallels to English comes not from Europe, but from the far east of Asia.
Like English, Chinese and Malay have Subject-Verb-Object word order, and very little in the way of verb or noun inflexion. Words are simple, and complex senses result from stringing them together. By contrast, all the other languages we have considered have a high degree of inflexion, although Portuguese, in the form in which it established itself in Asia, has most of this stripped away.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

"Du Fu: A Life in Poetry" translated by David Young

Like all the other Chinese scholars of his time, Du Fu aspired to serve the court in the country's vast bureaucracy. He was passed over again and again, and lived with his family in poverty for much of his life, intermittently relieved by the generosity of friends and patrons. The country's loss is poetry's gain. Du Fu might have written as much and as well if he were a high-ranking official (although that is very doubtful), but he would not have been as innovative in his subject matter.

Struggling with the various miseries of poverty, he gained a profound sympathy for the weak and helpless, and wrote wrenching poems about commoner families suffering from devastating warfare. Separated from his family in order to find work, he celebrated in verse the simple joys of playing with his son and watching chickens scratch in the backyard, when he was finally reunited with them. Equally new was his expression of romantic sentiments for his wife. Before Du Fu, feelings of affection were reserved, at least in poetry, for courtesans and male friends. But Du Fu wrote, in "Moonlight Night,":

Tonight
in this same moonlight

my wife is alone at her window
in Fuzhou

I can hardly bear
to think of my children

too young to understand
why I can't come to them

her hair
must be damp from the mist

her arms
cold jade in the moonlight

when will we stand together
by those slack curtains

while the moonlight dries
the tear-streaks on our faces?


The progression of ideas and images is utterly simple and convincing. "Slack curtains" is a masterly touch. It speaks of their financially straitened circumstance as well as their strong longing for reunion, but it does so in an image that gives the opposite impression of tension and strength.

David Young's unrhymed couplets, here and elsewhere in the book, capture very effectively the extensive use of parallelism and caesura in Chinese verse. The minimal punctuation--beginning with a capital letter and ending with a period or question mark--also evokes the openness and suggestiveness of Chinese poetry. Yet the translation reads like a successful English poem.

The translations are arranged in the book according to the chronology of the poet's life. The eleven section titles sum up its course: Early Years in the East, 737-744, Back at the Capital 745-750, War and Rebellion 750-755, Trapped in the Capital 756-758, Reunion and Recovery 758-759, On the Move 759, Thatched Cottage 759-762, More Disruptions 762-765, East to Kuizhou 765-766, The Gentleman Farmer 767-768, Last Days. Young introduces each section with a paragraph of biographical context that, read together with the poetry, gives the sense of a tumultous life.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Camellias

It rained so hard that we canceled the hike for fear of landslides. Instead of tramping along the flank of Tiger Leaping Gorge, we visited Yufeng temple, a Scarlet Sect lamasery at the southern foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The main hall of the temple was undergoing reconstruction, and so we climbed to the topmost courtyard to pay court to "the King of the Camellias."

We were too late to see the thousand camellia blooms. The tree flowered in the spring and early summer for 100 days, putting out 20 000 blooms in 20 batches. Without its floral attraction, the tree was still an impressive sight. It was not very tall but held up a great canopy of branches. The 500-year-old tree was planted in Emperor Chenghua's era in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which made it older than the temple. It was completely appropriate that the temple was built around the tree, and not the tree grown in the temple.

If the tree was blooming, a close examination would show that it put out two kinds of flowers, bigger pinks with nine pistils, and smaller whites with single pistils. The explanation for the miracle was that the tree was not one, but in fact two trees. Growing at first side by side, they became so entwined through the years that they were now indistinguishable from each other. Voluptuaries of the sun and rain, they became one in their joint pursuit of essential needs, outliving the generations of monks that tended them, displaying every year the hue of youth.

In the afternoon of the same day, we visited Black Dragon Pool. The lake park was sacred to the Naxi people, still is. The water was a dark green jade, spanned by stone bridges that somehow looked airy. The connection between dragons and water, for the Chinese peoples, is an ancient one. In mythology, the four seas are ruled by four fraternal Dragon Kings. The name of the park in hanyu pinyin is heilongjiang. The last character, jiang, is made up of two parts: the water radical and the work stem. A jiang is a man-made lake. The English word "pool" is man-made in the wrong sense, but mystical in the right sense, the sense of the Chinese character.

Sitting in a cafe that overlooked the impenetrable pool, I thought about the destructive force of water. TH emailed me a few days ago that his cousin and his cousin's grandson were killed by a flash flood in Arkansas. The rain swelled the river, and the familiar camping ground, situated ideally on a slope, became a death pit for 20 people. Hard on the heels of this piece of news came another shock: the daughter of a colleague and friend suffered a fatal accident in New Zealand. Later I learned that RS fell while skiing and broke her neck.

Entwined with these mortal thoughts was the thought of love. I started dating GH just before leaving for China, and throughout the trip I was full of longing for him, for him to long for me. Shadowed by death, the budding love appeared at certain times ill-omened, black and red. At other times, however, it is thrown into blinding relief.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Five Poems in PN Review

Five poems inspired by Eavan Boland appear in PN Review 194. They are "Attribution," "The Rooms I Move In," 'Not Demonstrative," "A Whole History," and "What the River Says." They mark my third appearance in the poetry journal edited by Michael Schmidt. They will be a part of my fourth book tentatively titled Infinite Variety.

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Alive in Memory or Alive in Use

It was a good idea to approach the imperial city of Beijing from Yunnan Province, the home of a great many ethnic minorities in China. The approach immunized against the unqualified admiration of Chinese power and destroyed the illusion of a homogeneous Chinese culture. Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is dominated by Han Chinese. They thin out in the smaller cities and towns where the Hui, the Naxi and other peoples live, not as ciphers of internal exoticism, but in communities of their own.

After driving six hours through stunning mountain scenery, our bus pulled into the city of Dali, the home of the Bai people, who are related to the Tibetans. I felt an immediate connection with the city. I could live here, I said in half-wonderment. The city appeared all of a piece. The unity came from the common architectural style, whitewashed walls bordered by marble panels painted with birds, animals and plants. The slate roofs curved gently upward into two ears. There was no spectacular structure to seize the eye. The buildings here were low, not rising to more than ten storeys. Between the white buildings we glimpsed flashes of Erhai Lake.

We stayed at Sam's Guesthouse. Sam used to work for a hotel, and then he set up his own business. A friendly and compact-looking man, he spoke shyly to us one breakfast about the history of Dali. The city was once, at the time of the Tang Dynasty, the capital of the Nanzhao kingdom. The Bai people, who built it, have their own spoken language but no written script. Learning that we planned to visit the Three Pagodas that morning, Sam told us an old story about them, that was also about why the Bai did not write down their language.

A king who wished to preserve the memory of his good deeds asked his three sons to visit a wise master to learn from him the writing script. The oldest son brought along food in the form of bread, the second brought a piece of tree bark for shelter against the weather, and the third weapons for self-defence. After an arduous journey complete with tests and dangers, they reached the master. He granted their request and wrote the language on the bread, the bark and the weapons. On their way home, the brothers suffered from severe deprivations, and the oldest decided to split his bread among them so they would live.

When they returned safely to the father, the other two sons had the writing to show for their efforts, but the oldest son had nothing, since his writing had been eaten. But the father praised the oldest son for his compassion, and awarded him the rich land of Dali. He became the ancestor of the Bai people. The second oldest was given the next best land around Lijiang, becoming the ancestor of the Naxi people, and the youngest, the fighter, was given the toughest land of Tibet. A tall pagoda was built in honor of the oldest son. The other two sons had smaller pagodas built for them later.

The story fascinates me because it pits compassion (eating) against the desire to be remembered (writing), and prefers the former to the latter. In their self-conception, the Bai people are not builders nor fighters. They are, instead, do-gooders.

Later, in Lijiang, our tour guide Janice gave us another explanation for the Three Pagodas. A dragon living in Erhai Lake created trouble by drinking up the water so that there was none for the crops. To control the dragon, the people built the pagodas. There was no explanation for how pagodas make dragons behave. Perhaps the gods, pleased by the pagodas, exerted themselves to alleviate the people's suffering. Or maybe pagodas, those strange towering structures, have magical powers.

Janice is not Han Chinese either. She is either Bai or Tibetan, I cannot remember which, to my embarrassment. She does not like the Han, for she sees them as outsiders who came into that part of the country to take the fat of the land away from the minorities. The ancient grudge has surfaced, for Janice, in a contemporary form. In the last decade, young Han Chinese have poured into the city of Lijiang, made famous by the earthquake, and then chic by the reconstruction, and they have driven up the costs of living. Supported by rich parents in the metropolises, they snapped up the choicest apartments. Many have become tour guides, competing against the minorities in presenting minorities' cultures. Janice spoke scornfully of the superficial knowledge of these guides. She had heard them purveying errors blissfully as truth.

Lijiang, at least in the Old City, was one big tourist extravaganza. Shops selling clothing, accessories and souvenirs lined stone-paved streets, little picturesque canals running alongside. Behind one long row of shops blinked bar after bar, waiting for nightfall to come alive. In a major intersection some ethnic minority group, it really does not matter which, danced in a circle for the amusement of the tourists. The label of World Heritage Site given by the UN may have done as much to destroy that heritage as conserve it.

In the midst of so much inauthenticity stood the Naxi Music Concert Hall. The only quarter given here for tourists was the use of English by the emcee, alternating with Mandarin. The orchestra was made up of old men, a number in their eighties. They played period instruments--mostly percussion, wind and strings--and music dating back to the Tang Dynasty, as well as Naxi folk tunes. They had no conductor. A human voice--half-laugh, half-sigh--waved the music in.

The leader of the band Xuan Ke joined them in the second half of the program. He had an imposing presence, and a voice which he used to great effect when he told his personal story to the audience. He was a rising star in China's Western classical music scene when he was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution for associating with foreigners. From age 28 to 49, the best part of a man's life, he languished in a prison in Kunming. On his release, he vowed to have nothing to do with music, and turned instead to teaching mathematics. He was persuaded to return to his first love when he found his calling in the preservation of ancient Chinese and Naxi music. A Christian, he recently formed a choir made up of local farmers and taught them to sing Handel's Messiah in Mandarin.

Xuan Ke's story moves me not only for his bravery, but also for the brilliant fusion of different cultures in this one person. He may be identified with Naxi music, but he does not identify himself solely with it. He is also Christian and Chinese, as was his father before him. He understands that cultures die--become a mere fossil of themselves--when they are overwhelmed by a stronger culture or when they try to arrest some "essence" of themselves, and so stop evolving. This death we saw in the Naxi pictographic script called Dongba, when we walked round the museum dedicated to its preservation. The script is of fascinating historical interest, but no more than that. Many of us bought our souvenir of a scroll handwritten by the Dongba priest on-site. But a souvenir commemorates what is already dead and gone, alive in memory, perhaps, but not alive in use.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Chinese but does not know Chinese

Walking around the narrow treasure gallery in the Forbidden City, I was jostled by the Chinese tourist horde. I turned to a girl pushing behind me, and snapped "Don't push me" in English before I registered the uselessness of saying so in a language that she would probably not understand. She, in turn, said in sneering Mandarin to her father, "A Chinese but he does not know how to speak Chinese."

The grandmother of one of the home stay families complimented me on my grasp of Mandarin. When I protested, more out of honesty than modesty, that my Mandarin is actually very poor, not having taken my lessons seriously when growing up in Singapore, she would have none of it. She also would not hear of me calling myself Singaporean. For her, a Chinese anywhere in the world is still a Chinese.

Criticized or complimented for my Mandarin, I never felt at home in China during my 18-day sojourn. No reason why I should feel that way, for my personal history has little to do with the history of that country. I don't know where and when my family left to migrate to Singapore. My grandfather, who was the last person to know relatives in China, is dead. Not that I would resurrect him to question him, if I could. My interest in my family tie to China is still-born.

China fascinates me the way Egypt does, as a repository of ancient cultural forms. The Round Sacrifice Mound at the Temple of Heaven, for instance, moved me tremendously. Encased in a huge square courtyard, three circles, all white stone, rose on top of each other to the sky. Nine steps--nine being the Emperor's number--bring you from the circular world of Earth to the world of Humans. In another nine steps, you ascend to Heaven. In the center of the top circle lies a flagstone on which the Emperor stood and spoke to the gods, usually to beg them to give the country favorable harvests. Here was a primitive rite that seemed older than Buddhism, older even than Taoism. It was sky worship. The starkness of the Mound, in sharp contrast with the intricately decorated temples, was beautiful and noble in its simplicity. It was at both the beginning and the end of a long and complicated cultural development.

The Flying Acrobatic Show was another breathtaking occasion. The acts were all astonishing feats of human agility and daring. But what concentrated my attention was not the two boys running like hamsters on wheels suspended high in the air. Nor was it the twelve girls riding a single bike. It was three young men balancing their bodies against one another's with superb force and counter-force. Wheels and bikes were unnecessary appurtenances to the singular accomplishment of the human body. Clad only in loincloth, their bodies were not merely on conspicuous display but in necessary performance. I have seen more muscular bodies on the dance floor but they appeared in excess of what clubbing required. Nothing about the Chinese acrobats suggested superfluity: everything was directed at action and produced stillness. The same ideal for beauty is expressed in the tag for Bench Press: poetry that exerts pressure at every point, and so achieves a momentary rest. The figure behind the tag is the bench-pressing gym rat. The Chinese acrobats offer a better representation in so far as they show what one body can do when working with and against another.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Back from China

Got in yesterday afternoon, but have been on the move still since then. I need a long session of quiet to put together some thoughts on my experience of China. Half my mind was here when I was in China. Now I am back, half my mind is in China.

Will write soon, I promise myself.

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