Sunday, December 16, 2012

So I took advantage of Melville's House Publishing idea of a firesale back on Black Friday, and scored "The Duels Set" which comprises tales featuring the lost art of dueling by different authors. Invigorating!

Besides the set, I also scored Leo Tolstoi's "The Devil" and Nikolai Leskov's "The Enchanted Wanderer", both of which went all the way back to the queue, and probably won't be read until the next presidential election is due (sorry tovarishes)

The Duels, however, have been promoted immediately to first-read status, and I already finished Casanova's tale and am half way through Von Kleist's. I have to say that I'm having a blast. There's something about the trepidation of those who are about to duel that seems strangely deja-vu-ish. Tales like Guy de Maupassant's "The Coward", -which deals with the anguish of fear on the eve of the duel-, or Stendhal's dueling scene in "Armance", or Balzac's (in the Peau de Chagrin) or again Maupassant's (in Bel Ami), all transport you to the claustrophobia of a time when all human action hinged inevitably around certain conventions, in this case, honor.

Without honor, you were a dead duck; no chance of social standing, or favors, or considerations. No invitations to parties or salons. If someone offended you or slapped you with his white glove, you had to man up and face the challenge; pick a second, pick a weapon, step on the coach, and off to the outskirts of the city to settle the score like gentlemen. First blood drawn, honor is served. Sometimes, someone would get killed, but often times, both parties would survive earning bragging rights for having faced death with unflinching valor. Today, the seriousness applied on the code is a romantic fancy that one smirks-to in pleasure (I'm speaking for myself, of course), but one would be surprised to learn that there are still classically trained martial artists that teach the ways of the sword as if we were living in the XIXth century, as is the case of Maestro Ramon Martinez of the The Martinez Academy of Arms, who was trained by the late swordsman Maitre d'Armes Frederic Rohdes in very much the same way that a Prince of the blood would have been in the times of Louis Philippe.

Then of course, we have the charming little manual by the Count de Chateauvillard, "Essay about Dueling", and the "Code Duello" which is a set of rules to be found here.

At my current pace (and I'm reading other stuff simultaneously), I reckon that I shall finish the last of The Duels series by mid to late March, at which point I intend to go to Weehawken, New Jersey to visit the spot where the most famous duel in the Americas occurred;  that of Alexander Hamilton versus Aaron Burr, where the former lost his life. There, I intend to read Hamilton's "Statement on my Impending Duel with Aaron Burr" , as well as any good account I can find on the subject. Then I will lay dueling to rest, but for now, I enjoy my readings with trepidation, wondering who will die and who will live at the end of each duel. And what would happen today, in this day and age, if dueling still existed?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Last night I saw -for the uptenth time- the 1998's version of 'Les Miserables' by director Billie August, and as excited and hopeful as I am to see the new musical version by director Tom Hooper, I couldn't shake the vague suspicion of impeding abridgments to land a commercial-(and Oscar)-worthy crowd pleaser.

So here are the metrics by which to judge whether 'trimming down' a timeless classic is actually 'dumbing down' complexities for a less 'alert' generation:

- Extending Fantine's role past her set expiration time mid-story in order to give Anne Hathaway more time to shine.

- Extruding all catholic references (which are pivotal to the story) to make the movie less-religion driven and more "politically correct". Whatever that means in this day and age.

- Fumbling around with French History ignoring the time, the place, and the circumstances that led to the June Rebellion, in order to serve the masses an archetypal and timeless "French Revolution" setting, which in reality would be a masticated galvanization of all the key years (1789, 1793, 1830, 1832, 1848, 1870) which served as stopovers that ended in the consolidation of the French Third Republic.

All the above notwithstanding, the new version of 'Les Miserables' will still be great -me thinks-, and even more so if my suspicions turn out to be baseless. I can't wait to be proven wrong.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Death in Venice?

I just finished "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann a few hours ago, which was promptly followed by the viewing of the eponymous film adaptation by Luchino Visconti, and both present "problems" that I will try to render to myself while bobbing my sleep-deprived head.

Flat out the movie version does not even come close to emulating Thomas Mann's masterpiece; it is an echo at best. Certain personal (as well as unconscious) revelations about the artistic temperament of the author are present in the book which matter just as much as what is not present; namely, that he is operating his typewriter from a higher abode when "revealing" his near-lecherous affectation with the Polish boy Tadzio (or Wladzio, the real name of the boy which Mann met in his 1911 Venetian holiday). The more he reveals about the nature of the artist, of the writer, and of the frightful curse of talent (both in Death in Venice and Tonio Kroger), the more we can marvel at his Mariana-Trench-like depths of machination. Thomas Mann is sauntering effortlessly between the layers of Humanocracy; perfectly aware of the scandalous implication of his revelation, he is also aware of the new psychological and artistic persuasions of his era, as well as of his ego's own self-serving demands.

Of course, a true human sufferer as he was, accepting the challenge of the insurmountable, Thomas Mann was a great human being, and he was great where any lesser man would have thrived in mere trickery. His ego, which is appeased with the final, pathetic, and miserable destruction of Aschenbach, should really be identified as dignity.

But Thomas Mann had a few backups in case of wildfire. The Phaedrus references are no mere coincidence. Oh no. And way before we reached the scene of the dream in the hill with Socrates, my memory banks had already flocked to Plutarch's Lives, and the quasi-homosexual relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades, though the latter is nowhere mentioned in the book. It is implied.

The Greek backyard would give him solicitude with the more pigheaded contingent of his readers; he is able to manufacture art, reveal much, and yet stand aloof and untouched. His truth, then, remains true; he was arrested by a passion over the beauty of this boy; his own wife Katya said as much. Aside from the revelations that we, as posteriors (no pun intended) of his generation are privy-to via personal letters, tell-all's, etc, the thought that one might be arrested by a sudden passion over an object of beauty under the very same circumstances is not difficult to believe and/or to experience. In fact, it happened to me.

It was in Paris, early July 2004 and I was sitting at the base of the Eiffel Tower when this absolutely, positively beautiful girl sat down nearby with her parents. Now, while she wasn't necessarily "a girl", she couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 years old, while I was 25. To describe the strange conflagration of feelings that gathered in me at that moment is not easy, but it has been eased by Thomas Mann.

The first feeling that sank in my heart alongside the perception of this beauty was the inadequacy of this perception. The age differential made me feel ashamed, awkward, and upset, even when the feeling was of a pure sort, similar to those naive and tender feelings that one experiences when in elementary school. Disgust immediately followed this initial flurry of emotions; I'm not the type that "gets on" with the unblossomed variety  of human beings, that's simply not my kink, so to feel rent by something other than indifference by the sight of this girl was extremely disturbing. I was then assailed by sadness. Right there and then I thought about that boy in Paris, or wherever this girl might call home; a boy who must surely be in love with her without ever having told her what he feels. The kind of boy that I once was, the kind of voluntarily unrequited love that I was too foolish to procure for myself.

I stirred memories that I had not touched in years; about those innocent tender moments in a distant classroom, where no one suspects, where no one is looking (or so you think) while you spend the whole class day staring at the object of your affection. Silly and pointless sleepless nights (like this one), the acuteness of some senses, like the sense of smell or touch, and the occlusion of others, like sight or hearing. The dreamlike serendipity of songs, the innocence of first love; all came back and was bestowed to one invisible boy whose place I thought I was usurping. It was he who should have been where I was, sitting at the base of the Eiffel Tower on a gorgeous summer afternoon, with the Champ de Mars to his right, and his beloved to his left. I weaved the future story according to my insights of life; she falls for another, a more colorful sort. He forgets her, but never really. She gets hurt, as such are men; once, twice, three times, until she finally falls for the very first time, with the very first guy that really cares. He's grown too, and he's come to Paris at 25, to the Eiffel Tower, like all tourists do eventually.

He sits where I sit, and it is a peaceful day just like this one, and then he stares into the spot where his erstwhile beloved sat 13 years ago and where I weaved these thoughts for him, and a strange pang of foreboding, of nostalgia, of emotion stills his heart. There is nothing there for him to feel this way, and yet he does, inexplicably so. Such is the origin of sudden and arresting feelings; the fabric of the cosmos that aches to tell us of the coincidences that lie hidden from our eyes, but immortalized in a particular space within the fluidity of time. And thus perhaps it was here that another man once dreamed for me while staring at my first love.

So Tadzio's can happen. I've since forgotten the face of this creature I once saw in Paris, and the faces of many, many others in recent years with which I shared a single subway glance, an innocuous moment at a party, a stare at a coffee shop, a smile, a wink, a blindside kiss; love that is not even given the chance to blossom, that it rises inexplicably against the blunt force of apparent fate and sanity.

That is why there needed to be a Death in Venice, because Thomas Mann knew that inordinately falling for beauty inevitably leads to tragedy. He learned from Goethe's mistakes at Marienbad and did the only thing that a writer can really do: flesh it out the way it could have been, stand above it, know the ending, end it.

But while he killed his own alter-ego for the sake of his dignity, he nevertheless gave his momentary passion in that Venetian Holiday the one gift that contradicts his act; he gave it immortality.

And as long as this story continues to be read, there never really will be a Death in Venice.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The (belated) Ides of March


I really need to pull myself together; I can't continue flirting with insomnia, rapt with nascent emotions, listening to maladjusted combinations of Nat King Cole en Español and glo-fi. Today I even went as far as pulling the cobwebs out of my Luis Miguel "Romances" MP3's, and even good old Julio's, whose "Crazy" captures my brooding spirit perfectly in this very strange month of March: 

(Yes I do listen to SOME Julio Iglesias)

In other news, I was right. Three months after my last post, my life has indeed been bombarded by changes; I just didn't know how far-reaching these would be. New Work, New Ideas, New Prospects, New People, New Feelings, New Dichotomies. But I'll work with the former, and deal with the latter. 

I'm way too fickle to keep the blog updated regularly. I'll see you when I see you my crickets, but before I go let me tell you what I shan't do until next we meet:

"To me is all, I to myself am lost,
Who the immortals' fav'rite erst was thought;
They, tempting, sent Pandoras to my cost,
So rich in wealth, with danger far more fraught;
They urged me to those lips, with rapture crown'd,
Deserted me, and hurl'd me to the ground."
                                                      Goethe - 1823

I will not have a Marienbad; I have seen the Ides of March.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Hour between the Wolf and the Dog

elcome to my blog. With two weeks left of 2011, I'd like to suggest an interesting rite of introspection which I undergo every year before I press the faux reset button at midnight on December 31st. The first thing I do is place brackets between January 1st and December 31st, and then run an inventory of all the new things that I discovered or that entered my life in that period. One can be awed to find how eclectically life behaves in 365 days, as well as how disadvantageous our position was the previous December 31st in regards to the knowledge that came forth, seemingly out of nowhere.

I tally the books, authors, and the tidbits and fragments of general knowledge that had been unknowable in all the years before the bracketed period. A year can be pivotal in redefining, reinforcing or ultimately changing your positions and ideas about a myriad of things. Take shame, for example. My ideas on that feature of features was pretty solid. Then in the Spring I read Sigmund Freud's "Totem and Taboo" and I decided to reconsider. Then we have the issue of the Gospels; I had no idea that there had been a movement at the beginning of the XXth century that sought to cement the historicity of the documents to bring them safely into scholarly territory. I quickly added German theologian Rudolf Karl Bultmann into my Alibris wishlist, and swallowed the Wikipedia apéritif on the subject. But my inventory yielded many other interesting things too. I learned that there was such a thing as a South American Guy de Maupassant, in the form of Uruguayan Horacio Quiroga; I read two of his ouvres: "Jungle Tales" and "Stories of Love, Madness, and Death" and they were solid (and cringeworthy). I found authors I never knew existed such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Menendez Pidal, Lissagaray, Josiah Stamp to name a few, and found yet other strange beings and doings of that understudied horror machine that is the Third Reich (strange Italian mystic Julius Evola -monocle and all- hired to work for the Special SS think tank Ahnenerbe to research Freemasons)

Aside from the literary realm, my film savvy was drastically improved, and this year's brackets contain my first Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar), my first Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour) as well as my first viewings of Rashomon, Exterminating Angel, M, Judgement at Nuremberg, and so many other superb movies, both old and new. In fact, this was a great year in film, and I shall endeavor to name most from Well Done (good stuff) to Rare (popcorn flick): The Tree of Life, Margin Call, A Dangerous Method, Midnight in Paris, The Ides of March, J.Edgar, Drive, Limitless, Planet of the Apes and guiltily X-Men: First Class, Captain America, Green Lantern (I was an avid fan growing up), and maybe Thor. Actually, maybe not. 

I'm sure the above paragraph would have been reinforced had I seen: "The man nobody knew", "Anonymous", "Garbo: The Spy" and "Revenge of the Electric Car" but alas, I'm gonna have to wait until they show up on Netflix.

2011's Music inventory also yielded several golden eggs that I didn't foresee on that 31st of December, 2010: Neon Indian's fantastic "Era Extraña" spearheading the list, but also Hooray for Earth, The Horrors, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, M83, Washed Out, Com Truise, all came out with great albums, and last but not least, the 80's continued yielding bands that were unknown to me before: Snake Corps and Polyrock.

After having amassed and grouped all the data, books, bios, movies and music, I find that 2011 -just like all the years that preceded it- did not fail to surprise, illuminate, and introduce new things into my life. 

Then (Then!) comes the final part of the rite; you tally the tragedies and blessings, both personal and worldly, that afflicted, or refreshed the world. The Japanese Tsunami, the Earthquakes, the fall of strongmen everywhere, the new friends, acquaintances and paramours, as well as the rise of mass consciousness at home in the form of an Occupation. The death of loved ones, and admired ones (Ernesto Sabato, Jorge Semprún died this year) which hit you in a special way as you are reminded (as if we could forget) of our own fickle mortality.

After this, your inventory now complete, you wait until that final hour of the year when the sounds of firecrackers can already be heard from a distance, and find a place of solace where you can linger for a moment to reflect just how much was able to happen, enter and change in the last 365 days. Can you doubt then, even for a second, that come what may, new blessings, tragedies, friends, ideas, authors, books, music and movies will stack anew? Before rejoining your friends and loved ones for bubbly, wonder for a minute with vertiginous anticipation, on the shadow that lies ahead. I swear that if you do that, for a few magical moments, you can almost feel the content of the future year palpitate in your heart. Newness is always imminent. Exciting, Scary, Inevitable.  

For me at least, 2012 comes as my whole life has changed before my eyes during 2011. An omen in the form of Marc Chagall's "The Hour between the Wolf and the Dog (between Darkness and Light)" came to me in May while browsing prints for my wall. I purchased it and find myself staring at its strange symbolism all the time (I'm doing it as I type), that seems to make sense to me in a very personal way. The moment between the Wolf and the Dog; What did he mean? Between a savage nature and a learned one? Between the darkness of oblivion and the light of destiny? The picture seems to me to be representing the kiss of fate given to the artist at a grey, blue moment; a moment that the kiss will forever change. Be that or not what Chagall implied, there are years in one's life where such moments occur. This happened to me in 2011. 

And so it is with the transition from 2011 and 2012, what with all the hype about the "new age of consciousness"; be it the end of the Mayan 13th Baktun, or the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, drastic changes in my life have been developing in the last few months, and will continue to unfold in 2012. Hence the reason for this blog. I wanted to document the transition, and share it with whomsoever might find it useful, insightful, or entertaining. My Hour between the Wolf and the Dog is at hand. 

I just hope it doesn't mean the whole world is about to end.

The Hour between the Wolf and the Dog (between Darkness and Light) 

Start Date: 1938
Completion Date:1943
Dimensions: 100 x 73 cm
Gallery: Private Collection