Monday, January 30, 2012

What I'm Reading- A Moment in the Sun

A Moment in the Sun is John Sayles new, monstorous epic that captures the American  moment of imperialist expansion. Running from 1897-1902, it focuses on the the coup in Wlmington NC, the Yukon gold rush, and  staged U.S. wars in the Philippines and Cuba. It runs 935 pages and alternates between gripping, confusing and blah.

There are few women characters in it and none that are developed- Sayles tells only of  a man's man's world then and the presence of women solely from the sidelines seems a real loss. I think the character of Hod and his story has proven the most compelling so far- his story of entering the gold rush fields in the Yukon starts the book and has the feel of both an old rip-roaring yarn and a modern, psychological short story. I'm less interested in /able to follow clearly the war in the Philippines  (This may not bode well for apparently the war in the Phillippines is also the topic of Sayles's next film, Amigo. On the other hand, I can also imagine that this section would work much better on film. It's confusing because it's hard to track- who is who and where everyone is is important but not easy for me to picture.)

What I love about the novel is the language- each section does has a unique feel and sound (although there is also a monotony at times to all the war speak) and most of the language is rich, exotic, and beautiful. I think too few authors try for big anymore and I appreciate that Sayles has. It's a joy to lose yourself in a novel for an hour and know that you still have hours of story to unfold before you. We mostly get that kind of temporal displacement from TV series now, which may partially explain the popularity of shows like The Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men. There's a great joy from getting outside yourself and living in another place, time, and mind. Perhaps it's Sayles work as a filmmaker and writer that allows for him to imagine this grand a stage. A Moment in the Sun is one of the few new books that, like Ulysses, allows for temporal and psychological displacement in such an extended manner.

What I would like to steal from this book is its bigness and grandiosity. Too few writers go big anymore and I want to bring back the big topic, big line, big book, big ambition. What I admire most is what feels like the accuracy of the language. I know how hard that is in a poem- to tackle it in almost 1000 pages of prose seems amazing. I'm neither a huge fan or hater of Sayles's film work, although The Secret of Roan Inish is one of my favorite films to watch. But I like the way his interest in a variety of mediums talks to each other here. A Moment in the Sun argues for the importance of reading, watching, and listening widely.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What I'm Reading/Watching- Marina Abramovic

I recently read Phaidon's Contemporary Artists book about Marina Abramovic. I saw her MOMA retrospective The Artist Is In and was really moved by it and by her presence in the museum. My favorite video pieces were from the Balkan Erotic Epic. I thought they were smart and beautiful. But mostly I like Abramovic's work because she's so present and open in it.

Last night I watched The Order  from Matthew Barney's Cremaster III. The film itself was beautiful and I bought the argument of Barney working as a sculptor in film and I would absolutely go see more from the series.

However, I also thought the film was hiding behind so many layers of, well everything, mythology, flash, silliness, that it just seemed like an elaborate MFA exercise. There was a documentary about Barney afterwards and I, from the moment he opened his mouth, wanted to punch him in the face. It was an endless pile of language meant to obfuscate anything he wanted to say or the film may have wanted to explore.

All of that obfuscation is fine if that's what you want, but he presented himself and his work as heroic. Anything that may have been in stake in that film or in his interview was safely swaddled in clouds and clouds of academic jargon and bullshit (For example, instead of talking about playing football he alluded to his "athletic practice". Dear Suffering Jesus.) which I think immediately drains all the heroicism out of it. It was just a puzzle or a  trick, one Barney played well, but far from heroic.

I do think Abramovic is and has been heroic. While that heroicism took the blatant form of personal danger for awhile, I think her heroicism now- of being well and truly present and open- is so much more moving. I could have stood upstairs and watched her sitting for hours- it was a beautiful, moving exercise.

What I want to steal from her is that presence, that ability not to hide behind words or images, but to tell a truth and not distance myself from that truth.

Here is Abramovic talking about Balkan Erotic Epic. It has a lot of boobies and penises and masturbation and ground humping so don't watch it is you don't want to see those kinds of things.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Labyrinth- Roberto Bolano

I've been at a loss with what to do with this blog. I think it's a good idea to keep one as part of being a poet, but I haven't cared enough about what I'm writing to take the time to do it.
But I've been interested lately in keeping track of what I'm reading, listening to, watching, and looking at while I'm working on a new book, Stay. And then it dawned on me that those are things easily kept up with by blog, especially with a mobile app to blog by. No one else may care, but this should be a handy list of what input is shaping Stay. First up-
Roberto Bolano's Labyrinth in the Jan 23 2012 The New Yorker. (Doesn't the The make you want to punch them a little?)
I'm a little hot/cold with Bolano but I loved this piece for its concrete origins- a picture of Sollers, Kristeva, & some Tel Quel folk that Bolano runs with. There's thick description, some speculative fiction, a little psychology, all beautifully written. It feels beautiful & insightful instead of pretentious & tricky. The ending feels cheap (Since this is posthumous work I wonder if it was just a placeholder ending. DO NOT PUBLISH UNFINISHED WORK BY ME AFTER I DIE. This is my poetic DNR. Although since no one is batting down the doors to publish me alive, I'm probably safe.) but the rest pulls you along & the structured turnbacks are beautiful. I love the imagination & the joy you feel Bolano had in writing it.
I want to steal its combination of smarts & play. Read it for yourself here