Sunday, July 01, 2018

Models and Metaphors

At MoMA today, the revelation was Bodys Isek Kingelez's sculptural models of buildings and cities. Fanciful, colorful, utopian. "Without a model, you are nowhere. A nation that can't make models is a nation that doesn't understand things, a nation that doesn't live": Kingelez (1948-2015), based in then-Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Also saw the retrospective of Adrian Piper but was not as taken with it. The exception was a triptych of Madonnas and children, white in the central and biggest panel, flanked by black and Asian. The misery in the side panels comments ironically on the happiness in the center.

Among the many gifts of patron Agnes Gund to the museum was a startling beautiful "Soundsuit" by Nick Cave. Perched on a mannequin was an elaborate construction of metal, beads, and ceramic birds and flowers of the kind commonly founded in antique or secondhand stores.

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Two Singaporean debut novels. Enjoyed Rachel Heng's Suicide Club much more than Sharlene Teo's Ponti. Wrote a negative Goodreads review on the latter and was attached by a pseudonymous reviewer who called me "a little male 'poet.'" Yes, with quotation marks around the word "poet."

Back to Rachel Heng's novel. An engaging debut. I read it in two sittings. It has a well-paced plot, the construction of which is workshop-smooth. It alternates between two points of view, both given in limited third person, coming together not unexpectedly but quite satisfyingly in the end. There is a slight imbalance between the two perspectives representing the two protagonists. Lea has a more complex character arc than Anja, though not necessarily more convincing. The flashbacks showing young Lea's anti-life impulses come rather too late, and therefore too conveniently, to explain her final decision. Anja's own struggle is taken to be self-apparent rather than imaginatively presented. The futuristic world, of genetically blessed "lifers" who seek long lives, even immortality, is believable if not exactly lush with details.  The repetition of Nutripaks gets a little tiresome. New York City, in the novel, is a little confusing. By the end I still cannot work out where in the city are the newly christened Inner and Outer Boroughs. The city comes off as rather generic. The writing is pleasingly free of cliches, with moments of precise beauty. For instance, a huge birthday cake, "floating on a glass pedestal in the middle of the crowded room," has decorative flowers on it that stand out "like pinpricks of blood." 

Finished Tim Tomlinson's short-story collection This Is Not Happening To You some time ago. Funny, cruel, wry, superbly crafted. Too many slighter stories towards the end of the collection, many of which harped on similar themes as the much better ones in front. Someone once said that if she found one or two excellent poems in a book, she considered the book a good buy. By that measure, Tim's book is a very good buy. "Before and After Science," "Graey Area," "The Perfect Throw." "The Motive for Metaphor" has the depths of a novel and the compression of a poem.

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