Monday, November 12, 2018

Xavier Villaurrutia on Abraham Ángel

At the beginning of November I was in Mexico City for a short holiday-cum-research trip. One of my research projects is to translate some of Xavier Villaurrutia's theater pieces. Another research project, should I live long enough, is to write a critical biography of Abraham Ángel, since no one has every written such a thing about him—an artist who hardly anyone has ever heard of. I searched at a couple of bookstores, never finding anything on Ángel, but I did purchase Villaurrutia's Obras, in which the poet had a brief piece on the painter. Here is my translation.

Abraham Ángel
by Xavier Villaurrutia, trans. Frank Garrett

Why doesn’t our climate support any attempt at genius? A sustained attempt at genius, more than for an intellectual culture, brilliant insights, for sure—perhaps unaware—an exercise of the senses; the attempt at genius that was Abraham Ángel. Ironically, fate, like a scowling, disgruntled rival, suddenly cut short a dynamic and fertile existence, capable of how many realities?

In Abraham Ángel the postulates of this new harmonious philosophy that awaits in Mexico to discover an exponent who expands and dispenses “the philosophy of the man who works and plays” were fulfilled. Barely, in his case. I should say, instead of the man, of the adolescent who works and plays. It’s not unmoving buddhic introspection that leads to the dispersal and the fainting, nor the rigid posture of Rodin’s thinker; better the grace of the pensive one who is always at the point of getting up, or at least changing position; better still, human dynamism: man is motion; motion, thought.

Abraham Ángel demonstrated, without aiming to, without knowing, the vital truth of d’Ors’ theory.* His pictorial work, confined to a few years, was developed during hours fully lived. Teleological repetition—with its distance in time, geography, and values—from the attitude of the hallucinatory Rimbaud who produced his work like one carrying out the unconscious task of breathing, loving, or playing. As in Verlaine’s friend, Abraham Ángel had a kind of disdain for what he so easily, so naturally, did.

The mere quick glance at his canvasses reveals our painting’s priceless qualities. Sustained contemplation exposes the vastness of the gifts of expression he had attained. A sureness of form, a markedly pronounced magnitude, harmonious ordering, brave on the enormous canvasses—a legitimate reaction against the portable copy. And a daring conception in the background of his portraits, of his groups.

Above all, the coloring: the sensuality of succulent fruits’ adolescent friend. Colors never seen on a canvas. Seen only in the parched pomegranate and the bountiful watermelon.

The son of his time and of his environment, his figures are Mexican, spiritually and formally. What’s more, they are chronologically well situated.

From the primitives he had the thoroughness that leads to considering each section of the canvas as a small picture, self-contained and complete. It directly accommodated the vision, for everything to represent it intact, even in the minor details.

He fulfilled, at the same time, his duty as a modern artist.

* In 1931 Catalonian philosopher and art critic Eugeni d'Ors (1881-1954) first proposed his theory that there have been multiple baroque periods throughout history. English translations of his work are difficult to find, though useful excerpts can be found in Chapter Four of Baroque New Worlds: Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest (Duke UP 2010).

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Star Is Born

Watched the new A Star Is Born this past weekend after watching the earlier three versions over the past few months. There are some things the 2018 version gets right. For example, making the debut of the star a duet instead of a solo. This scene is more in line with the 1937 version when Norman Maine insists on doing Vicki Lester's screen test with her.

While the film is fine on its own as Hollywood pablum, it's dismissal of some worthy tropes, aspects, and plot points from the story's long history makes it a weak addition to the franchise.

Sausage Fest in the Writing Room

While literary giants Dorothy Parker collaborated on the 1937 script and Joan Didion collaborated on the 1976 script, there are no female writers credited on the 2018 script. It's fucking 2018.

Sausage Fest on the Screen

The three earlier versions focus on the arc of a female star being discovered and made. But the focus of the new film is on the naturalistic denouement of a male star. They might as well have called it A Star Slowly Dies.

There are apparently no other women on the planet where this film was set. In the other versions, there are at least other women around, references to other females, and even multiple female family members. Yes, there's a nod to Édith Piaf, but the only other woman with any substantial, though still quite minimal, screen time is the assistant who walks Ally to the side of the stage. There are no mothers, which makes more room for an ever abundant number of father figures! Well, there is one mother...

Ghettoized Blacks and Queers

Every single Black person, including the Black mother, is crammed into a couple of scenes to serve as ethnic accoutrements that somehow make Jackson seem more real and less of a dick. It's fucking 2018.

Ally has a Latinx friend, who, I think, is supposed to read as gay even though there is no direct evidence in the film. But come on: the (ambiguously) gay best friend trope needs to die a slow Jackson Maine death. Regardless, his character is more of a prop than a cast member.

The drag queens (again: more men) are also crammed into a couple of scenes to serve as sassy accoutrements that somehow make Ally's lame backstory more real. It's fucking 2018, which also means there is not a single drag bar on planet Earth where a woman is singing "La Vie en rose." This is the kind of bullshit backstory plot point you get when you put a group of white heterosexual men together to write a blockbuster: the worst of all possible worlds.

Ultimately, the Blacks and queers serve as supporting audiences to Jackson and Ally's love (and performances) with only the slightest gesture toward having lives away from the stars. And that's just bad—also racist and homophobic—writing. As if misogynistic writing wasn't already enough.

Bonus Question

What's the deal with all the white people having unnecessarily complicated familial relationships? Hell, my family is less complicated, and I've been estranged from them for most of my adult life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Last night I dreamt that Johnny Marr loved me

For the past few weeks I purposely didn't look up articles about Johnny Marr. I didn't want to discover that he too, like that other person from the Smiths, had become a terrible person.

Marr performs at the Granada Theater, Dallas, October 2018
Like most queer men of a certain age, I fell hard in love with the Smiths. The swooning, crooning vocals over jangly acoustic guitars. The preening wordplay and unmistakable sheer unlovability of its cheeky frontman.

Certain lyrics from The Queen Is Dead helped to push past the awkwardness between me and my partner when we were falling in love all those years ago. I repeated those words as my wedding vows to him in 2013.

Since the Smiths' breakup, I followed Morrissey's solo career. The first few albums are still good. But when I started hearing him in concert, it was clear that he meant to destroy any goodwill his fans had for his earlier career.

Refusing to play any of his popular songs and touring with his terrible neo-grunge band, even the better tracks from his later albums sound awful.

It's been seven years since I last saw Morrissey in concert. I refuse to see him again.

The spirit of the Smiths, however—as well as the spirit of all of his other great musical collaborations—lives on in Johnny Marr, clearly one of the most accomplished guitarists and musicians alive today. From his impressive professionalism to his setlist, it's clear that he loves his work and appreciates his fans.

The Smiths are dead. Love live Johnny Marr!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Bloomsday: My Conversion

Happy Bloomsday!

It's a greeting I thought I'd never say. But here we are: June 16. I'm wearing a fucking boater and heading to my first Bloomsday celebration. All because I read a book.

To be more precise: I read the book.

As someone who refused on principle to finish A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (see here for more background on the sham Professor Perl and his shite, over-determined interpretations), I, too, am surprised for having finished Ulysses. (I feel like we need to call it The Ulysses.)

Ulysses had already been waiting for me for 96 years. I'm glad it waited.

It was difficult and worthwhile. Every tender moment was broken up with some goofball pun. Met him pike hoses made me laugh every time.

I loved the overplayed psycho-sexual parenting/trapping/parenttrapping of Poldy and Molly over Stephen. Poldy, having lost a son (and father), wants a son as well as an Italian tutor for Molly, who, having lost a son (and mother), dreams of mothering the young professor herself, suckling him to her breasts like she had done with Poldy, her husband-cum-child-cum-husbandchild.

I loved the wandering eyes wondering if Poldy is circumcised. I loved the Wandering Jew returning home Ulysses-like (jewgreek is greekjew, after all) to his quasi-Jewish wife. I loved the farts, the fart jokes, the literary space for farting. Oh, and the handjobs and the public wanking and the literally orgasmic fireworks!

I loved Joyce's excessive writing sous rature and finally understanding how Joyce's writing impacted and influenced Derrida's writing and thinking. I loved how every word exceeds its semantic/sea-manic/Semitic/semen-ic order. Yes, I will see you in tea.

I loved the tonality of "The sound of the peal of the hour of the night by the chime of the bells in the church of Saint George." Yes, that's a hepta-prepositional phrase that also bends toward onomatopoeic tintinnabulation.

I loved Joyce's Nietzschean Bejahung, his Ja-sagen, the finality of his (Joyce's), Ulysses'—Molly's, no?—final yes that exceeds both finality and affirmation: "and yes I said yes I will Yes." Finally, I loved how the finality of this yes was said first and foremost to provoke a question whose response was already a predetermined yes. Finally.

Monday, May 7, 2018

SD1-989, or Why I Cried During the Slowdive Concert

Slowdive Concert, Granada Theater, Dallas, April 2018
I see several concerts every year, and I recently saw Slowdive for the second time live. Near the end of the concert they played a song, and I realized that I had started to spontaneously weep. The song reminded me of what I was listening to during the early 1990s when I was living in Austin. It might've been one of the actual songs I listened to back then.

Even living in Austin, a city that often boasts itself as being a refuge of progressive politics in an otherwise conservative state, friends were attacked, mugged, and beaten leaving gay bars. My boyfriend and I were refused housing because landlords wouldn't rent to two men sharing a one bedroom apartment. I was out to very few people because I didn't trust anyone. When your existence is under attack by very powerful people, you learn not to trust.

There was a time in the early 90s when it seemed like the whole world was holding its breath waiting for a death sentence. There was a time during those years when it seemed like everyone knew someone who was leaving this world in the most excruciating way. While politicians snickered about our deviant lifestyles. While preachers condemned us to hellfire and damnation on earth. It was exhausting to be so under attack. I'm not sure when it was that I learned how to breathe again.

I thought of all the people I knew (and knew of) who were diagnosed with HIV and who were dying of AIDS. Kitty's husband. Lum's best friend. Chuck. When David Wojnarowicz died, I clipped the announcement out of the newspaper and put it in one of his books that I owned. It was a private grief that I wouldn't share with anyone, including myself. It was basic survival instinct not to acknowledge how broken this heart was. The consequence is that sometimes I spontaneously cry. My pantheon of queer saints included Ron Athey, Robert Mapplethorpe, Derek Jarman, Brad Davis, Freddie Mercury, and Pedro Zamora. Of those, only Ron remains. This is the gospel according to dead saints. And Slowdive, the Credo of our liturgy miserabilis.