Showing posts from July, 2013

Knots of Time

TLS July 26 2013

from Adam Thorpe's review of The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering after the Enlightenment by Peter H. Hansen:
Two essential elements of modernity are the foundation myth and the assertion of solitary will: both illustrated by Petrarch's ascent of Mont Ventoux in 1336. Interrupting his admiration of the view by opening St. Augustine's Confessions at random, Petrarch fell on a stern admonition: "And men go to admire the high mountains . . . and pass themselves by". He hurried back down in silence, convinced of the vaster landscape of contemplation. Five hundred years later, Jacob Burckhardt identified this moment in Provence as the arrival of the inward-looking "modern man", the beginning of the modern age.  This need for firsts, is, of course, in itself modern; and, as Hansen points out, the assignment of Petrarch's ascent as a boundary moment coincided with the rise of modern mountaineering. Peaks are, as he claims early on in

Summer: Three Poems

Out in the right season. My "Summer: Three Poems" has just appeared in First Literary Review-East's 2013 Summer Issue. Thanks, Cindy Hochman, for publishing it. She writes:

Wait! Your summer reading is incomplete unless you've checked out the sexy, sultry (and seasonal) poems in this big, juicy summer issue of First Literary Review-East.   We are particularly happy to feature talented poets from around the world (and, to that end, we have respected the particular spellings from each country).  ENJOY!    

Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes

GH and I took advantage of MoMA's early members-only viewing hours and enjoyed the le Corbusier exhibition in relative peace from 9:30 to 10:30. It is an inspiring show that covers his many areas of achievement: architecture, interior design, painting, urban planning, and photography. Radically he advocated demolishing a big area of central Paris in order to make way for workers' high-rises. In Chandigarh, he designed and built India's first post-independence city, with the largest of his Open Hand sculptures.

In architecture, he was the first to raise a building above the ground, supporting it on pilotis. He advocated for the use of raw concrete for its versatility and appearance. He designed curves inside rectangular walls. He flattened roofs for gardens, facilities and sculptural forms. After the show, GH wants to see his buildings in France during our coming trip, and so do I.

The Five Points of the New Architecture, which Le Corbusier finally formulated in 1926, incl…

The Oranges and The Details

American movies that are ostensibly about family are really about individualism. The family become the context, the arena, in which the individual struggles for genuine happiness or authentic conscience. This truism came home to me after watching The Oranges last Thursday and The Details last night, both films from 2011.

The Oranges, directed by Julian Farino, is set in an area of New Jersey where the cities all have the word "orange" in their name. The Wallings and the Ostroffs share a long friendship until the wayward Ostroff daughter (Catherine Keener) returns and has an affair with David (Hugh Laurie), the head of the Walling household. The resultant shake-up makes everyone realize their unhappiness and seek change. Oliver Platt puts in a pitch-perfect performance of the hapless Ostroff, father of the young siren. He is partnered by the always worth watching Allison Janney.

The Details, a black comedy, casts Tobey Maguire as Dr. Jeff Lang, who lives an outwardly perfect s…

Jem Cohen's "Museum Hours"

A film looks at paintings in a museum, and then turns that vision on the world outside the museum. Everyone learns afresh to look, Johann (Bobby Sommer) the museum guard, Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), the museum visitor whom he befriends and to whom he shows Vienna, even the docent when she is challenged by an obnoxious skeptic.

Bruegel is the presiding genius of the film. His radical acceptance of the mundane, lowly and gross into his canvas. His mixture of realism and allegory. His eye-directing compositions. Like his paintings, Jem Cohen's film will reveal new details each time it is viewed. Its richness does not overwhelm because it is so well composed.

WL, who watched it with me, commented on Johann's sense of irony. His gentle irony is directed at crass museum visitors and at himself. But irony is also structural in the film; by providing commentary as the voice-over, he constantly directs us to the gap between phenomenon and meaning.

E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime"

I enjoyed the tapestry of lives in the first half of the book, which weaves together fictional and historical characters like Harry Houdini, Pierpont Morgan, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and society lady Evelyn Nesbit, whose husband shot her lover, architect Stanford White. Tha narrative drifts in an indeterminate but compelling manner. The short sentences are brisk and factual.

In the second half of the book, however, the narrative is taken over by the single story of Coalhouse Walker, a black musician who seeks revenge against a racist fire chief who humiliated him and destroyed his Model T. Coalhouse's story borrows from the German novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist, published in 1811. Doctorow has acknowledged the borrowings on many occasions, but still it's strange to end such innovative music on such a traditional note.

"The Poet's Notebook"

The pleasure of writing is that the mind does not wander, any more than it does in orgasm,--and writing takes longer than orgasm.

--Donald Hall

Aperçus like the one by Hall above made me read The Poet's Notebook with curiosity and joy. There is a real attempt by the editors Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall and David Weiss to include a great variety of note-taking concerns and styles. I discovered what draws me, and what repels. I am drawn to the irreverent, earthy and child-like. I am repelled by the pretentious, earnest and showy. Both are self-presentations, of course, for if the poet started making the notes for herself, she selected these notes for others, for the readers of this anthology. The self-presentation that gave me most light and delight was that of Charles Simic. Reading his notes made me want to read more of his poetry. A sample of his notes below:

It's the desire for irreverence as much as anything else that brought me first to poetry. The need to make fun of a…

Three weeks in Singapore, June 27 to July 17.

1 Visit to Gardens by the Bay. I took parents to the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. We were rather underwhelmed, I think. Much more enjoyable was our visit to the Botanic Gardens, where a Talipot Palm in its 80th year was flowering for the one and only time before it died.
2 Parties. Pink Dot party at Park Royal Hotel, and a party at KA’s lovely home in Tiong Bahru. Met CCYC for the first time at Pink Dot. She took me to a party in Park Royal Hotel, one of many gay parties that night that overlooked the mass gathering. The host N knows CW from university days when they sang in the same choral group. Met there a number of young Singaporean artists, and a curator DC from the Singapore Arts Museum, who just returned from the Venice Biennale. He was trained in Goldsmith, in London. Met a cute couple there, H who is Malay and a civil servant, and V who is Chinese and an architect. Also was introduced to KA, who heads Heritage Conservation at the URA. It was a queer arty circle, quite new to …