April 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Somehow great writers are able to make a place seem exotic even as described through the narration of a native. In immortalizing a place through their writing they rebuild it as their own; we are shown the place in a mirror warped at the will of their words. Their incantations of vibrating music halls and forbidden markets leave me feeling more intimate with a never-visited place thousands of miles foreign to me than with the places I frequent daily. As I read, I become encased in the secret existence of a places richer and realer than my own experience has yet been able to create. The glamour and magic of Marquez, Kincaid, and Kerouac’s words construct beautiful, foggy maps of Columbia, Antigua and New Orleans in my mind. After these hushed encounters I am imprinted with a wonderment and devotion only partly mine, and left with the dream of visiting the clubs, markets, villages, and cities as described, with only my books to guide me away.
March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.”
– Tyler Durden, Fight Club
March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
“I want a History of Looking. For the Photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity. Even odder: it was before Photography that men had the most to say about the vision of the double. Heautoscopy* was compared with an hallucinosis; for centuries this was a great mythic theme.”
— Roland Barthes
*seeing one’s own body at a distance
February 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
“I do believe
if you don’t like things you leave
for some place you’ve never gone before…”
– The Velvet Underground, I Found A Reason
January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
I was lookingat my last blog about Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” In it I write reiterate Woolf’s arguement for economic independence as the prerequisite for gender equality. I think at this point in time we can all agree that women are “economically liberated,” but I think I was misleading, because at present men and women aren’t economic equals. Yes, women are no longer the “protected sex,” (although we still can’t be drafted) but despite the changing gender roles in the workplace and elsewhere, women are currently paid less than men in comparable positions.
January 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
In her essay Woolf presents the thesis that there are so fewer high quality female writers than male writers because in their creative pursuits women have had to overcome not only the self-doubts encountered in the creative process and criticism from reviewers and readers, but also the doubt cast from the centuries of belittlement of women and disparagement of their endeavors imposed in a patriarchal society. She says that women of her time must pave the way so future women don’t hear “the bishops and the deans, the doctors and the professors, the patriarchs and the pedagogues all shouting warning and advice.” The overarching direction of the essay is, of course, towards a room of one’s own as means to and result of financial and intellectual equality. I found “a room of one’s own” to stand as a three-fold metaphor, firstly as a sanctuary from discouragement, which is necessary for writing.
A room of one’s own next stands as economic independence. Woolf leads us along her thought process showing that once a woman has economic independence, she can no longer be made inferior to men. And once this is accomplished, she no longer needs male society’s approval and no longer resents men. And once this is accomplished she can reach the third incarnation of a room of one’s own, freedom of the mind. Now that she doesn’t need men’s approval she can present her own views and opinions, and now that she doesn’t resent men her thoughts and writing will be free of the anger and bitterness that sours and dates work.
Woolf uses the character Mrs. Behn, a middle class writer who supported herself through the profit from her writing to present her argument concerning the importance of economic freedom to a woman. She writes that the fact that Mrs. Behn “had to work on equal terms with men” was more important than anything she actually wrote, because she earned her financially equality though her own writing. This brings to mind a parallel scene from Julie Taymor’s movie “Frida,” about the life of the artist Frida Kahlo. In the scene Frida approaches the famous artist Diego Rivera with some of her paintings and asks him to tell her if she is any good. When Diego begins to reply that it doesn’t matter, if she is truly an artist she will paint no matter what, Frida cuts him off, saying she’s not just trying to amuse herself, she has to earn money for her family so if she’s no good she’ll do something else. Woolf’s statement, “money dignifies what if frivolous if unpaid for,” stands true to her belief that it is though economic independence that women will find equality.
Woolf’s predictions on the course of equality for women are eerily accurate. “…In a hundred years… women will have ceased to be the protected sex…they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. The nursemaid will heave coal. The shop-woman will drive an engine.” Looking at my reading, I see all the fictional writers within these books have a room of their own in which to write—their “sanctuary from discouragement.” In “On the Road” Sal paradise has his room in his aunt’s house in New Jersey, and in “Love in the Time of Cholera” Florentino Ariza has his room in his mother’s house on the Street of Windows. Interestingly enough, each male writer gains access to their rooms through their female guardians. Perhaps we see in this reversal the branches of Woolf’s early thoughts on the necessity of feminist economics.
January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
Frida Kahlo struggled with physical infirmary for most of her life. At six she contracted polio, and at 18 she got into a near fatal trolley accident. For the next period of her life she was confined to her four-poster bed with a mirrored top, trapped in plaster body casts. Forced by her suffering to confront her own image and identity, she painted what may be the most famous self-portraits in history. Through her images Kahlo created an autobiography detailing her quest to understand both herself and her world. It is a mixture of dark knowledge and jubilant passion that one sees looking into the deep-set eyes of her self portraits, the dry ground she lies upon, or the scattered Mexican talismans lying nearby. Her paintings explore revolution, westernization, industrialization, tradition, bloodlines, love, freedom, death, and disaster, with a frank lack of discretion that catches us off guard no matter how many times we see them her paintings.
Despite spending nearly half of her life confined to bed, she became a Mexican cultural icon; her persona as much a part of her mystique as her art is. According to the bare bone details of her life Kahlo could easily be categorized as the cliché female stereotype in the art world: victimized, suffering, eccentric to the point of destruction. But what keeps Frida’s face plastered on posters, umbrellas, lighters, tote bags, murals, museum walls, the walls of Madonna’s mansion, and in the ephemeral crawl space of our minds and hearts is her ability to paint the dreadful beasts that lurk in our souls, worshipping them as a thing of beauty. She dares us to grasp the horns of the devil and look him right in the eye, explaining to us with delicate brush strokes that this is the only way to the goddess-like passion and vibrancy she embodied, and towards which we nervously tread, grappling for truth.
*If you like Frida Kahlo’s work I recommend reading “Frida Kahlo: Painting Her Own Reality. I provides a short but complete biography and nice reproductions of her paintings. I found my copy at a MOMA museum store in JFK but you can buy it on amazon.
January 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve always taken the Beats personally. I can’t read Beat writing without weighing my own life against their dogma. This has resulted in a way too invested love/hate relationship with the Beats, literary figures from over half a century ago at this point in time, whose ideas and lifestyle, if not their writing, is seriously dated by now.
My investment probably has something to do with the fact that I can’t read about Kerouac without relating to him, and his propensity towards “ both spiritual panic attacks and arias of ecstasy.” David Gates describes the Beats prime audience as “late adolescent idealists who aspire to become holy degenerates,” and I fit the bill in that sickening way that makes self-identified non-conformists squirm.
Gates’ article on the Beats describes them as the Romantics of the 20th century, both literary movements attempting the “direct expression of inner states of feeling” in their work. This comparison also holds true in my feelings towards each movement: I appreciate Beat and Romantic writing, but it’s their philosophy I love. But strangely it’s only the Beats by who I feel judged, maybe because the Romantics are safely sealed away in the passage of years and their academic prestige. Or maybe it’s the difference between the Romantic medium of choice, the poem, and that of the Beats, the novel. So much of Beat dialogue is devoted to doctrine and Beat description is of glamorized nights out.
With their combination of dogmatic preaching and estrangement from respected literature, the Beats are preserved as the cool radicals, the “holy degenerates,” forever taunting us to join them, unaware of how times have changed to where even if our hearts were in it, we’d be hard pressed to figure out how. What in the 40’s and 50’s was radical and bohemian—dirt poor road trips, weed, Levis, open relationships, free form music and writing—is now assimilated into main stream culture. Perhaps this phenomenon adds to my resentment: the impression that I’ve been left with something cheap, diluted, a knock-off from a previous generation. For me, “On the Road” must rest in glorified nostalgia. In their time the Beats worshipped each other’s mumbling whispers of genius, but for me to join their ranks in this reverence is now impossible.
The part of “On the Road” I found most poignant came in a paragraph that crossed from the second to last page to the last, as Sal waves from the back of a Cadillac to Dean, who is forlorn in his overcoat in the harsh winter of a New York street. His maniac rambling and shivering energy that Sal worshipped as mad passion is glorious in the hazy night of On the Road, but looking in after putting the book down proves Dean an uncertain hero. In this ending I got the impression of Sal finally seeing Dean ruined by reality, certain not to withstand the future. There’s a sense of guilt in writing off Dean as a relic of a era long past, because I can read in this ending Kerouac’s sadness in watching this fate fade in over 50 years ago.
I think it’s best for us not to write off the Beat’s and their philosophy, especially as another generation whose issues of identity seem wrapped up in catastrophes too big for their remediation. As quoted in Gilbert Millstein original review of On the Road, the Beats are distinguished in their “will to believe even in the face of an inability to do so in conventional terms.” The Beats best teaching might be to tell us to find whatever beat-up, haphazard, idealistic, disillusioned, transcendent belief works for us right now.
November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
Lucy and Her Mother
Lucy describes her rebellion against her mother and the identity their relationship represents: “I had spent so much time saying I did not want to be like my mother…her reply always was “You can run away, but you cannot escape the fact that I am your mother, my blood runs in you, I carried you for nine months inside me.” How else was I to take such a statement but as a sentence for life in a prison whose bars were stronger than any iron imaginable.” Lucy’s affliction is her inability to know herself. She rebels against her inherited identity, determined to shed her old self in return for a self-created one. As Lucy rejects her identity, her mother derives her power from her own, embracing her given nature, while she herself cannot. Her mother becomes a goddess figure for Lucy, enriched by the strength of generations of colonial people, the power derived from embracing the culture. As a result Lucy is unable to free herself from the power her mother wields over her. She says: “I would see her face before me, a face that was godlike, for it seemed to know its own origins, to know all the things of which it was made.”
So the question lies, why does Lucy need to sever her relationship with her mother? Why does Lucy reject not only her mother, but also her native culture? Lucy’s mother gives birth to five sons, upon whom she projects visions of great education and accomplishment. Lucy is devastated to discover her mother’s lack of ambition for her, the daughter molded in her own form. She sees her mother’s actions and perspective as so unforgivable that she will not allow herself contact with her mother, because to give into her desire for her mother’s love and approval would be to accept and validate her mother’s opinions about Lucy’s, and all women’s, potential for achievement. She cannot embrace her mother, she must reject her culture, because to do otherwise would be to concede to the identity her mother and native culture have prepared for her; one without personal accomplishment, education, great deeds. Lucy leaves Antigua to escape this shattering blow to her identity, but no longer able to worship this perfect, self-sacrificing woman, is lost in America.
Lucy wants to have an identity of her own creation, an identity that gives her value. Lucy remembers deciding that she wanted to change her name when she was younger. Rather than Lucy Josephine Potter, a name steeped in colonial references but empty of grandeur, she wants to be Enid Blyton, “the most unusual of all the names” (Kincaid 150) of the authoresses whose books she loves. When she tells her mother, her mother is furious, “a ball of fury, large, like a god” (Kincaid 150). When Lucy asks why she was named Lucy, her mother replies under her breath, “I named you after Satan himself. Lucy, short for Lucifer…” (Kincaid 152.) In this piece of information, Lucy finds an existential anchor, a vision of herself that is at last meaningful and grand enough for her. After all, if her mother is god, it makes sense Lucy should be Satan. Lucy admits she is her mother, as an angel is to god. Lucy then rejects the identity her mother would give her, becoming the fallen angel, Lucifer. However, her mother was the one who gave Lucy her name. Her mother gave her this identity, an identity that essentially requires its holder to reject their identity before assuming it. This revelation is shared towards the end of the book, providing a sliver of hope that Lucy will find an understanding of herself. Lucy says that after hearing her name, Lucifer, she “was transformed from failure to triumph. It was the moment I knew who I was.” (Kincaid 152)