Thursday, 26 December 2019

‘Animals’ - poem




Animals

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all may days

                               Frank O'Hara (1926 - 1966))*

 


*Francis Russell "FrankO'Hara (March 27, 1926 – July 25, 1966) was an American writer, poet, and art critic. Because of his employment as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, O'Hara became prominent in New York City's art world. O'Hara is regarded as a leading figure in the New York School, informal group of artists, writers, and musicians who drew inspiration from jazz, surrealism, abstract expressionism, action painting and contemporary avant-garde movements.


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Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Books: My favourite 16 books this year

My favourite 16 books this year:

Now that the year is ending the time has come to reminisce a little.
Here is my very own best book list of this year: 

“Leaving the Atocha Station“ by Ben Lerner
“Normal People“ by Sally Rooney
“On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous“ by Ocean Vuong
“The Vegetarian“ by Han Kang
“The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood
“Lanny“ by Max Porter
“The Maytrees” by Annie Dillard
“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer
“The Last Gentleman“ by Walker Percy
“The Sea” by John Banville
“As A Friend“ by Forrest Gander
“The Man Without a Shadow“ by Joyce Carol Oates
“Of Human Bondage“ by W. Somerset Maugham
“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie“ by Muriel Spark
“Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont“ by Elizabeth Taylor
A Little Life“ by Hanya Yanagihara



Leaving the Atocha Station“ by Ben Lerner:

This is a young American‘s tale of his alienated descent into Spain. In a constantly distorting mirror Adam is visiting the Prado and stands in front of Roger van der Weyden's “Descent from the Cross“, hoping for "a profound experience of art" that never takes place: "The closest I'd come to having a profound experience of art was probably the experience of this distance, a profound experience of the absence of profundity." 
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, very intelligent and unusual. It also introduced me to Ben Lerner, his other 2 novels (“10:04” and “The Topeka School”) and his poetry books.




“Normal People“ by Sally Rooney:

Feel like delving into more of relationship’s arduous, bittersweet dramas?
Here comes "Normal People" by Sally Rooney. An exploration of Young Adult first, intense love across social classes in contemporary Ireland. The energy and excitement of the story comes from the the inner lives of the couple, what they see, imagine, read, from their sensibilities. - Enjoyed it very much!






"On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous“ by Ocean Vuong::

Brilliant, heartbreaking, tender, and highly original – poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel is a gripping and shattering portrait of a family. 
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. 
In his late twenties, the narrator, Little Dog, starts a letter to his mother, telling all he was not able to tell so far and reveals the history of a family which began before he was born, in Vietnam.
it is a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity, asking central questions of our time, immersed as it is in addiction, violence, and trauma. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the bitterness of not being heard.  How to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, this powers this brilliant novel. - Beautiful, emotional, honest!



"The Vegetarian“ by Han Kang:

Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and body and renounce eating meat. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms. Scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. 
In sensual and violent images the book tells of the disturbing changing of Yeong-hye. The book shifts in language, moving between the baffled irritation of the husbands first-person narration, the controlled prose of the sister’s world, the dark and bloody narrative of Yeong-hye’s dreams, and the seductively sensual descriptions of living bodies painted with flowers, in states of transformation or wasting away. - Loved it, especially the tale of the artist, Yeong-hye his muse, he her lover!




"The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood:

A delightful and cunning novel in a novel in a novel. Here Atwood sketches, with fascinating mastery of period detail, of costume and setting, of landscape and sky, of odor and texture, of mood and voice and dark humor, the story of the sisters Iris and Laura and their coming-of-age between the world wars in Canada. A book full of life’s dramas and cruel jokes, philosophical, wise, observant, mesmerizing. -  One of the best books I’ve read in the last 2 years, one that deserves to be called ‘Good Literature’. A marvel!





"Lanny" by Max Porter:

In this short novel Max Porter, in an exciting, experimental way, merges poetry and prose with beautiful, mesmerizing results. Lanny, a sweet, dreamy, strange and otherworldly, nevertheless lively, charming  boy, whom everyone likes, goes missing one evening in his English village, 150 km from London. 
The police suspect an 80-year old local artist, who, living an isolated life, has struck up an unusual friendship with Lanny. The small-minded villagers cannot accept that an old man can simply be friends with a young boy, and assume Pete must be a paedophile and, now, a murderer.  -  
Lanny is a wonderfully gripping, suspenseful, touching novel. Highly recommend!




7. "The Maytrees" by Annie Dillard:

In elegantly sophisticated, spare prose, Dillard tells the tale of the Maytree family, a tale of love, extraordinary friendship and maturity, a tale of intimacy and loss, against a background of the vastness of nature in province town Cape Cod. - A moving, intelligent, warm and hopeful novel!




"Less" by Andrew Sean Greer:

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Arthur Less, a struggling minor novelist, middle-aged, finds himself all of a sudden single again after the young man with whom he spent the last 9 years suddenly announces his engagement to someone else. 
To avoid his ex’s wedding, Arthur embarks on a world-tour which develops into a funny, tragicomical journey with a parade of colourful characters and a voyage of self-discovery.   -  Funny, witty and rewarding!






“The Last Gentleman" by Walker Percy:

A jaded young man embarks on a journey of self-discovery with the help of an unusual family. 
After moving from his native South to New York City, Will Barrett‘a most meaningful human connections come through the lens of a telescope in Central Park, from which he views the comings and goings of the eccentric Vaught family. 
He meets the Vaught patriarch and accepts a job in the Mississippi Delta as caretaker for the family's ailing son, Jamie. Once there, he is confronted not only by his personal demons, but also his growing love for Jamie's sister, Kitty, and a deepening relationship with the Vaught family that will teach him the true meaning of home. - Walker Percy deserves to be read more and be republished!




“The Sea” by John Banville:

In this brilliant, Man Booker Prize winning novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who returns to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-off family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. - 
Gorgeously written novel - a true Banville! Psychologically dense, full of insight, with an almost painterly use of prose!



 "As a Friend" by Forrest Gander:

At 106 pages, it is a short book. Yet its shortness is an asset, lending the book the same shifty qualities as its subject, the doomed, magnetic Les. 
Les is a young poet and surveyor whose intensity and brilliance stands out among the residents of this remote Arkansas town. Les tries to live a nineteenth-century devotion to friendship with a 1970s approach to monogamy, with devastating results.
A beautiful, touching book about friendship and loss, love and hurt!





"The Man Without a Shadow" by Joyce Carol Oates:

An astounding psychological thriller that develops into an examination of the ways in which we define ourselves in terms of relationship, work, exploitation, ethics and morals.
Margot, a young neuropsychologist, is drawn to Eli, one of her case studies, a handsome man who, for various reasons, is unable to retain memories or new information for more than 70 seconds and so is trapped in perpetual presence and haunted by an image from childhood of a girl’s body floating in a lake. Over 3 decades her fascination with Eli deepens and begins to stray into unethical, obsessive, territory and builds up to a disturbing, heart-rending climax.
A true J. C. Oates, it examines the nature of passion, affection and, above all, the loneliness that permeates even the longest and most intimate relationships.




"Of Human Bondage" by W. Somerset Maugham:

In this modern classic the life of Philip, an orphaned boy, hungry for love and experience, a young person coming of age, unfolds. It is and is not a Bildungsroman (yes, for the protagonist’s increasing intellect, and no, for the final decision he makes) and it is clearly one of the best in its gripping storytelling, its minute dissection of the limitations of individual freedom, its insight in the emotional and why we do things and hurt others when we don’t really want to. -  A true masterpiece of the 20th Century!





"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie“ by Muriel Spark:

A masterpiece of narration, a Scots classic from 1960. A light, short and bittersweet read with dialogues full of Scottish wit. It was adapted 1969 into an Academy Award–winning film starring Maggie Smith.
The novel is set in 1930s Edinburgh and follows the downfall of Miss Brodie, an eccentric, matriarchal, romantic and lonely teacher „in her prime“ at a girls’ school, who manipulatively cultivates the minds and morals of a select handful of pupils, the so-called Brodie set.  - Light, profound and tragicomical!




"Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont“ by Elizabeth Taylor:

(a book by Elizabeth Taylor: No, not the actress but the British author who died in 1975 and who is just being recognized again and which made it onto the list of the 100 best books.)

One rainy Sunday in January Mrs. Palfrey, a widowed „tall woman with big bones and a noble face, who sometimes, wearing evening dress, looked like some famous general in drag“, arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Here she meets the other residents and it is with sharp wit and exquisite subtlety, teetering on the edge of a sitcom, that Taylor depicts them and their relationships. 
This is a very “British“ book in the ever present humor which deals lightly even with the sombre tunes of a life coming to a close, very touching!




A Little Life“ by Hanya Yanagihara:

It may be dark and traumatic, and it was published in 2016, but it is one of the most moving books I’ve read in the last years, it is heart-wrenching, gripping, at times unbearably sad and yet so full of love, beauty, compassion and friendship. 
Four young college friends move to New York to incredibly successful careers: as an artist, architect, actor, and Jude as a litigator. The story focuses on Jude: broken, full of secrets, his body a web of scar tissue.
Yanagihara shows how queerness can still be an act of extreme shame that suffers in silence and self-destruction. The soothing balm to all that suffering and anxiety is friendship.





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Tuesday, 24 December 2019

‘The Octopus Museum’ by Brenda Shaughenessy - review




“The Octopus Museum” by Brenda Shaughenessy:

A recommendation for the holidays, easy to read, short, hypnotic, sometimes unsettling, this book, partly science-fiction, partly reality, takes you into an alternate world where, because of man's shortcomings, cephalopods rule the earth now. Full of feminist ideas, humor, the anxieties of a mother, these poems are poetic brain fodder as well as entertainment.

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Monday, 23 December 2019

Reflection on Variations and Diversity



Reflection on Variations and Diversity:

“The reflection of her here, and then there, 
  Is another shadow, another evasion, 
  Another denial. If she is everywhere, 
  She is nowhere, to him.“ ...

 from "Bouquet of Belle Scavoir”, Wallave Stevens (1879-1955)

 

Some of my painterly work consists of variations, meaning, that I settle on one motif, one composition and then execute these in different aspects of colour and expression. 
This is by far not a new procedure. Variations of one and the same base motif have been common almost through all of art’s history. 
For example Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous and wonderful “Goldberg Variations“, composed in 1742 as the fourth and last of his „Clavierübungen“. With them he concluded masterly a long musical tradition of his time, the „Variationen“, meaning executing and performing around and upon a central musical model, leitmotif or base theme. The Goldberg Variations start with an introductive Aria and then, over the course of 30 variations in all moods, colours, tempi and tonal modulations, again conclude with it, the Aria being technically the same as the one with which everything started, but nevertheless somehow changed, and be it only through the experience the listener was put through during the cycle.

Claude Monet, famous French impressionistic painter, used the same method to show different aspects of one motif, say, haystacks, in painting them at different times of the day, early morning, noon, afternoon, sundown.

In these examples the motif, while still important, nevertheless moves to the background to allow other properties and aspects to come to the fore. In the case of Monet’s haystacks not the haystack itself is of importance, it rather serves as a projection screen of different moods and temperaments the changing light of day throws on it. The same goes for Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Variations, while at first glance might seem repetitive or even redundant, nevertheless teach us something about all the abounding diversity, the endless and plentiful variety which surrounds us, in life and art likewise. 
There is never only one model of something, be it a flower, an animal or a simple bacteria. Not one species is like the other, and within one species not one individual is the same. That is what variation means, the playing out of all the possibilities which lie hidden in one form.

This is also one of the main keys of life’s survival. Be diverse, be playful, be ready to adapt. Only in adaptation lies survival and endurance against all odds. This might be one of life’s greatest achievements and is something truly to be admired and be perplexed about. Variations are a guarantor of survival, standstill in the long run means extinction. 

This principle of variety, of diversity, is so ingrained in all things alive that it goes beyond and transcends into society, culture and art.
Hence my affinity to variations. While at first glance they might seem restricted, they do offer much freedom.

There once was this idea of „The Original“ in art, meaning that an artwork, produced by the artist, existed only in one and one only execution, the painting or sculpture you had in front of you. A lot of value, monetary and otherwise, was attached to this idea of originality.
Then came, for the first time in man’s artistic endeavor, the time of industrial revolution and serial reproduction, photography allowed copies of one picture and all of a sudden a work of art could be reproduced, in minute detail, as to be indistinguishable from the „original“. - The idea of what is original had to be redefined and change.

Our times do not stand still, they never do. And so, after the industrial revolution and serial reproduction came the time of quantum physics and with it the great revelation that one thing truly can exist in more than one execution (actually all possible forms) and in different locations all at the same time. This came to be known as "Superposition", the coexistence of distinct phenomena as part of the same event.

Imagine yourself in possession of a clever, cunningly constructed device, some sort of micro-macro-tele-time-O-scope. Wich would enable you, by simply turning some wheels or pulling some levers, to see some-thing, some-body, any-thing in all its variety, all its changing, endless forms, appearances and expressions through time, from start to end, all states of probability viewable. Then you would have a very good impression of its essence, its true being.  

Variations are, in a way, manifestations or expressions of superimposed states of being.

So, to get back where I started, with that line of Stevens’:

“The reflection of her here, and then there, 
  Is another shadow, another evasion, 
  Another denial. If she is everywhere, 
  She is nowhere, to him.“  


As beautiful as I find these lines, and as much as I do understand the feeling, I have to disagree with the conclusion. If she is everywhere she is there in all possible varieties. She is there, for him, after all. He only needs to look closely.

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Saturday, 21 December 2019

‘Bouquet of Belle Scavoir’ - poem



Bouquet of Belle Scavoir

It is she alone that matters. 
She made it. It is easy to say 
The figures of speech, as why she chose 
This dark, particular rose. 

Everything in it is herself. 
Yet the freshness of the leaves, the burn 
Of the colors, are tinsel changes, 
Out of the changes of both light and dew 

How often had he walked 
Beneath summer and the sky 
To receive her shadow into his mind… 
Miserable that it was not she. 

The sky is too blue, the earth too wide. 
The thought of her takes her away. 
The form of her in something else 
Is not enough.

The reflection of her here, and then there, 
Is another shadow, another evasion, 
Another denial. If she is everywhere, 
She is nowhere, to him.

But this she has made. If it is 
Another image, it is one she has made. 
It is she that he wants, to look at directly, 
Someone before him to see and to know.

                                 Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955)*

*Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955) was an American modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pensylvania and educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and then spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955.

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Monday, 2 December 2019

Curiosity and the Need for a Tale





Curiosity and the Need for a Tale:

So, I’ve been watching this series, never mind which one, suffice it to say it centers around a sheriff in the hills of Kentucky and his old macho ways to deal with law enforcement.

What is interesting, though, in this context here, is the intro trailer which is being shown, as is custom in almost every series production, before the episode starts, serving both as recognition and attunement.

In this trailer now one sees an assortment of Kentucky landscape impressions speckled with short, very short, situational street life moments, people walking, a dog barking, a cock crowing, people gathering, people minding their business, etc. There is one scene, as stated very short, in which the camera, presumably mounted in or on a driving vehicle, passes a boy or young man, standing at the side of the road. It all happens so fast that, although the camera does not willingly hide his face, one nevertheless isn’t able to see it. The overall impression is simply: hey, one of the indigenous, one faceless inhabitant of a nameless Kentucky town, in other words, a stand-in, a character, a cliché. And this ignited my curiosity.

As hard as I tried, I could never get enough of a glimpse of the young man as I would have liked to to give him form, substance and history. And so I was left to imagine a story, add history and circumstance and construe a personality for him. I will never know how close to the truth I came in my construction or re-construction of this young man’s story. But that is not of importance here, what is, though is that it revealed to me something we all seem to be doing when we meet strangers, be it only for a little fleeting moment. Out of imperceptibly small, hidden details of which we, on a conscious level, are not even aware, we tend to construct a tale, we feel the need to spin a story, embed this person in a history, a status, a form and function, in other words: a reason for being and a purpose in life.

It seems to feed an inner need, for security maybe or structural integrity, to endow things around us, inanimate or animate, objects, living things, people, with a story, something which might explain their existence. If we don’t know and are not being told we likely make up a story for ourselves, a construct, so we will not be left bewildered and having no explanation what’s going on around us.

We are one of the most curious species on this planet, we seek to know, we must know, why. There is a hunger for knowledge, explanation, reason and tales. Out of the same impulse art is born. Without curiosity there would be no art.



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“Bewilderment" by Richard Powers - review

 “ Bewilderment“ by Richard Powers: “Dad! Everything is going backwards.“  This frustrated outcry of a nine-year-old to his father is the ...