Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My heroes

Mark E. Smith

What a stage presence. This curmudgeon staggers through the stage, aimlessly, as he mumbles about God knows what. The music, which backs him, sounds like shafts of glass breaking through one another; his lyrics amass a million things together and present them in short little pop songs - "in a straightforward manner." I'd give anything, I'd walk through thistles and thorns, to merely see him live. But the real reason he is my hero is that he doesn't care: doesn't care for your affection, your admiration or your animosity. He exudes attitude.

Werner Herzog

I admire Herzog for his obsessive, resilient commitment to his projects. Like his films, he is a quixotic obsessive - a "soldier of cinema" - who will endure the most harrowing, most dangerous obstacles to unearth his visions. He is willing to steer a ship over a mountain, visit a volcano on the verge of eruption, endure torture, even if the weight of his own ambitions crush over his head. Yet he does all this while shunning pretension, having a sense of humour often absent in directors of 'art' films.

Marcelo Bielsa

Another obsessive. I admire 'El Loco' for two reasons: his obsessive nature and the results he obtained with Chile, taking them to heights that could have been even greater had they been blessed with a kinder world cup draw. Having the nickname of 'Loco' in South America brings to mind shamanism and witchcraft, but Bielsa's madness is of a nerdier variety. He has a vast collection of football tapes, which he watches and re-watches to analyse the opposition, and in his tenure at Chile he even lived in a little hut located in the national side's home ground. He never alters his signature 3-3-1-3 tactics, no matter what the opposition, and this can sometimes be counterproductive. His attacking, fast-paced football also reflects my mentality when it comes to writing: stubbornly attack, avoid modifying the strategy and attempting to remain true to one's principles. The way he was ousted by seedy Chilean business men was a great cause of grief to me and it is something I can't live down.

Franz Kafka

Secretly writing stories, novels, letters and journals of great calibre, fraught with existentialist and absurdist scenarios, Kafka never wanted you to peep into his literary world, ordering his dear friend Max Brod to burn all his writings. Kafka's difficult, complicated life - his relationship with his father, his troubled love affairs - all came as a result of his single-minded devotion to literature and writing. Not only is his inducing, haunting fiction something that I admire but his personal life, however fraught and difficult, I find something that, paradoxically, something worth aspiring to.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Review #23

Rayuela (Hopscotch) - Julio Cortázar

Having now past my adolescence, it seemed an enticing prospect to revisit a book I had once devoured back in those hectic times, when the hormones jangled fervently. This was one of the first novels I ever read, at the age of sixteen, Rayuela. Though as I delved into the book again I found it to be harder work than expected and a greater chore than I ever imagined.

Rayuela is a book that invites itself to multiple readings. It comes with a 'Table of Instructions' where Cortázar states "This book is many books, but above all it is two books'. Subdivided into three parts - 'From the Other Side', 'From This Side' and 'From Other Sides' - one reading of the book encompasses the first two parts, the other reading encompasses all three. The first reading is linear and is made up principally of a narrative thread; the second reading, which includes 'From Other Sides', is non-linear and includes a lot more theorising and philosophising. Either way you choose to read it, you will have an entirely different experience.

Now I chose to read it through the second option. Initially I became very frustrated by how often I was diverted, just as Cortázar began to raise my interest, to rather meandering ruminations on how to 'subvert' literature and the novel. I found reading these sections either very difficult to say the least (it doesn't help that Spanish is my second language), or simply boring. I stuck through it, though, and I found all the qualities I had found in Cortázar that I've always adored.

'From the Other Side' takes place in Paris, where the protagonist Horacio Oliveira, from Argentina, resides. Oliveira wanders across the streets with his lover 'La Maga' and gets together with a bohemian group of friends that call themselves 'The Club', where they converse (in a very heavy-handed manner) about literature and art, all while hearing jazz records. There is a rift between Oliveira and La Maga; he suspects that she is cheating on him, so he starts seeing another woman. In a spectacular scene ridden with suspense and intellectual discourse, La Maga's son dies, all in an ambience of disaffection and apathy. Eventually, Oliveria decides on returning to Buenos Aires.

'From This Side', while maintaining all the wit and stylistic innovation in the first section, downplays the relentless intertextuality and name-dropping. Oliveira finds that, when arriving at the port in Buenos Aires, a friend of his youth is waiting for him, Traveler, along with his wife, Talita. They are full of eccentricities, and a lot of Cortázar's characteristic humour comes to life in their interactions with Oliveira. He begins working as a fabric seller, then joins Talita and Traveler at the circus they work at until the owner becomes bored with it, sells it and buys a mental institution. Oliveira begins to see features of 'La Maga' in Talita, while he begins to spiral into a state of insanity.

A main theme in the novel is that of self-exile and South American adapting to new territory. Oliveira feels a sense of displacement while in Paris and later struggles to rekindle the pleasant memories of his homeland when he moves back. Cortázar indeed wrote the novel in Paris, having exiled himself there from 1950 until his death in 1984. Its foreign setting emphasises that many of the Latin-American novels of Cortázar contemporaries were written in Europe - including the works of Vargas Llosa, José Donoso and Carlos Fuentes.

The main impetus and concept behind the work is to create an 'open' novel wherein the reader plays an active, not passive, role in forming the work. This comes through in the novel's third section where Oliveira encounters a novelist, who doesn't figure in the other reading of the book, called Morelli, who writes such books. Cortázar, riling many feminists, called a reader who doesn't take an active role in the book a 'lector hembra' (Female Reader) and one that is more involved, 'Lector Complice'.

This idea of an open novel provoked a lot of reactions in South America at the time of its publication and in turn lent itself to analysis and dissection. This was indeed Cortázar's intention: to instigate a number of reactions, both positive and negative, and to create angered discussions and counter arguments. Because of this strife, Garcia Marquez stated that Cortázar was the 'Simón Bolivar of the novel'.

Much of the novel's appeal can't really be adequately reduced to words because Cortázar's main appeal lies in his use of language, using puns, interior monologues and wordplay (often going over my head). By the time I neared the end of the novel, I sort of glided through it and lost my sense of time and place; Cortázar really is one of the writers I most cherish for his writing style.

Though a lot of it, especially at the beginning, can be very long-winded and up its own arse. As I began the book I shared Borges' sentiment that Cortázar tries so hard to be original in every page that "it becomes a tedious battle of wits". Often, I became quite jarred by stand-off phrases like "Eyes of Picasso and ears of Varese."

It is pretty uneven overall, and to me its greater moments are shorter and ephemeral, which to me confirm that Cortázar's forte is shorter fiction of searing beauty. There are many chapters which you can take and stand on their own as excellent pieces of fiction, but which, a lot of the time, when placed together, seem disconnected. For anyone unfamiliar with Cortázar, beginning with his short stories is recommended.

I'll end the review on a personal note. I read the novel at a time of great anguish and despair, so the character's constant 'search' hit a chord with me. When I succumbed to a mental breakdown, the novel was a source of a number of paranoiac conspiracies and delusional beliefs which, for your sake, I won't recount here. Though, when I read chapter 145 and I saw that Morelli shares a correspondence, shares a literary adventure, with a "muchacho de Sheffield" it unsettled me and made me think that Cortázar, though from a different generation and from a different time, inserted me into Rayuela to involve me, very much in the same way that he involved swathes of youngsters who gorged and devoured this open-ended, multi-faceted and derailing novel

Thursday, 26 May 2011

All remote edges

This post consists of the best photograph of each Remote Edges instalment. Last time you will see it in my blog, and one of the last times I will probably see them, too - what with my Chile trip and me attending university for (hopefully) three years.

#1
#2#3#4#5#6#7#8

#9#10#11#12#13#14#15#16#17#18

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Where was I?

Click to enlarge. Dodgy scanning - my apologies.

'Day at the Circuits' (1975) by Art Spiegelman

Friday, 20 May 2011

Top 10 directors

I usually order these lists from bottom to top, leading from 10-1, and I intended to do just that here, but I forgot about that as I uploaded the photos, and it is always a tribulation to fidget about with images on blogger, so I'll leave it as it is.

The images I chose feature the directors, for the most part, at their most casual; I avoided choosing poncy photographs of an introspective 'artist' methodically smoking a cigarette in front of a camera. As much as I love art cinema, I don't at all like the posturing and pretence that often comes along with it.

I have compiled this list in the past, but I have since seen more films, making this new list a more accurate reflection of my film tastes.

1

Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky is a director who seeps into your mind, appropriating it and taking control of the recesses of your thought processes. I didn't at all like Tarkovsky in my first exposure to his work, Solaris, but I soon found myself having dreams influenced by the atmosphere of the film. Since then I have been flabbergasted, intrigued, haunted and ravished by the rest of his work

Personal favourite: Andrei Rublev

Russia
2

Carl Theodor Dreyer
After a hit-and-miss series of films from the silent-era (among them quite possibly one of the greatest films of all time, The Passion of Joan of Arc), Dreyer produced a small but incredibly powerful body of work in the sound era. His films reflect the dominance of a patriarchal society, depicting women repressed by the men around them. Like Bergman, he showcases characters' doubt in belief but, unlike him, always sides himself with God. And like Bresson, he portrays religious themes in a sparse austere way but, unlike him, emphasises dramatic techniques and emotion.

Personal favourite: The Passion of Joan of Arc (The entire film can be seen on YouTube.)

Denmark
3

Robert Bresson
Bresson economises almost every single aspect of film-making, yet it is minimised to the point of entrapment. Never working with professional actors, he tinkered with ordinary people instead, and his films avoid the flamboyance of theatre. Instead, Bresson's films favour the literary: the camera angles and the narrative techniques all utilise techniques more typical of a prose writer, with careful deliberation showing the inner thoughts of characters, in addition to exploring concepts more easily expressed in the written word.

Personal favourite: A Man Escaped

France
4

Krzysztof Kielsowski
The power of Kielsowki's films lie in the fact that he doesn't phrase his messages with dialogue in block capitals, he dramatises them instead. The audience is drawn to the films through his dramatisations, only later realising how forcefully it has hit their heart. His greatest films take simple moral lessons as their starting point (the ten commandments, the colours of the French flag), but from then on only tenuously relate to them.

Personal favourite: Blue

Poland
5

David Lynch
Lynch explores the dark, seedy underworld residing beneath the tranquility of suburban USA. Lynch's childhood was just that - idyll, suburban homes, fields of green - but he had such a scorching imagination that he transgressed it and, later, subverted the Hollywood facade. His films are a mind-bending experience, jostling and unnerving the viewer with a strange dream logic. Reality always seems dreadfully boring after walking out of a Lynch film

Personal favourite: Blue Velvet

USA
6

Ingmar Bergman
Exploring themes like spiritual belief, existentialism and sin, Bergman's overpower the viewer by their strength and emotional immediacy. The classic scene of the knight playing chess with death is symbiotically pretentious and fascinating.

Personal favourite: The Seventh Seal

Sweden
7

Werner Herzog
Herzog deals with obsession, a theme I am, incidentally, obsessed with... His quixotic characters, most memorably played by Klaus Kinsky, voyage after goals that are unattainable. Or in other cases, memorably played by Bruno S., they are eccentric people with peculiar talents in specific fields. His films straddle between documentary and fiction, and he has spent the last twenty years or so of his career focusing on the former.

Personal favourite: Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Germany
8

Woody Allen
From his earliest self-defined "early, funny ones" to his drama films, Woody Allen infuses the comical into the bleakest, most pessimistic scenarios. His neurotic caricature is endearing and his one-liners are amusing, but he he is also capable of producing cinema of the highest order, from the novel-like structure of Hannah and Her Sisters to the monochrome black-and-white photography of Manhattan.

Personal favourite: Crimes and Misdemeanours

USA
9

David Cronenberg
Cronenberg has always been a favourite of mine. He reflects my predilection for the unmitigated portrayal of gore, sex and morbidity, but he also has a cerebral agenda, making all sorts of social critiques that reflect the novels of Ballard and Burroughs. Since his earliest horror films, he has emphasised the importance of the human body, something that comes through in the oft-quoted statement "Long live the new flesh!"

Personal favourite: Videodrome

Canada
10

Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick is responsible for two films that are quite possibly the greatest ever committed to camera: 2001, A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove. A lot of his other features are very, very strong but there is a lot in his oevure that I find rather uninteresting, especially when he produces "genre" films that are wholly concerned with sticking to the conventions of the style instead of bringing a wider palette into the film... If all his films were as strong as the two aforementioned titles then he'd top the list, but he finds himself at no. 10... Still, he was strong enough to beat other directors I am fond of, like Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa...

Personal favourite: 2001, a Space Odyssey

USA

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The aesthetic and the moral


D. W. Griffith

Many works of art that are wholly immoral are often championed on a aesthetic level, yet many grudges are held against their moral codes. First of all I will take as an example silent-era film director D. W. Griffith, who directed the film Birth of a Nation, which is both praised and denounced on equal measure.

Birth of a Nation, made in 1915, brought to use many of the cinematographic techniques that would be practiced in subsequent decades. In terms of innovation, it is deemed to be on a par with Citizen Kane, and it used extreme and dramatic camera angles interwoven with careful edits.

Yet its content and messages are unavoidably tactless. Griffith distorted American history to propagate racial politics, glorifying the Ku Klux Klan. Birth of a Nation was the first feature length film to receive vast public distribution, and for many years was the highest grossing film of all time. As a consequence of its popularity, it re-instigated the Ku Klux Klan sect, which had been dormant for several decades, and it garnered more members than it ever had in its previous inceptions.

Viewing it from this standpoint, is it worthy of praise? When a work of art is aesthetically innovative, can it be seen in a good light when it deliberately stirs up racial hatred?

The existentialist dictum is that, with the fall of religion and the rise of secularism, we must make moral choices. Figures like Sartre and Camus used literary forms to showcase individuals who pursue their own path of self-fulfilment whatever the cost. This is a case of the moral and the aesthetic intertwining.

But then there are people like me who are very keen in portraying depravity and pornography in literature - what is the difference between this and the unadulterated expression of racism? Griffith himself staunchly advocated freedom of speech, and in response to criticisms of racism, made the equally innovative but equally dubious film Intolerance.

Should there be restrictions and inhibitions as to how far you can take literature, film etc. without reaching the territory of racial fomentation? Many controversial writers, who deal with dark and lurid subject matter, actually saw themselves as moralists. J. G. Ballard always argued that his books in fact postulate moral lessons and cautions, despite him having written excessively about mutilation and perversion of every kind. The same can be said of Georges Bataille, author of what is quite possibly the most sordid book of all time, 1928's Story of the Eye, who at one point almost became a priest.

Perhaps I am raising more questions than I am answering here, and I think I'll leave this blog post on an ambiguous note. Personally, I think that racial hatred and xenophobia are admissible to write about if it is dealt with ironically but, other than that, I think that immorality should be taken the furthest most reaches if one is felt inclined to go there.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Top 5 Woody Allen films

Taking into account that I've only seen about thirteen of his films.

No words. Just images.

5

Sleeper

4

Deconstructing Harry
3

Annie Hall
2

Hannah and Her Sisters
1

Crimes and Misdemeanours


Friday, 6 May 2011

Provinciality in English fiction

Reflecting on my reading interests, I have realised that I don't prioritise English fiction all that much. The English writers I do read aren't quintessentially English but approach the writing craft differently. On the whole, I find that English fiction is saturated by provincialism and parochialism, which is something I will explore in this blog post.

Perhaps England was at the forefront of literary advancements during the 18th and 19th centuries - we have, after all, Sterne, Fielding, the Brontes, Dickens, etc. - but 20th century fiction has seen little innovation. Many innovative authors who are classified as 'English' were in fact expatriates: T. S. Eliot was American and Joseph Conrad was a Pole who learnt to speak English at the late age of twenty-one.

Many writers who have brought something new to English fiction have in fact grown up in foreign soil. This to me is indicative of the type of impact England has on the creative mind, that perhaps something in its psychology doesn't nurture a creative mentality. Personally, I don't think that all the hallmarks of J. G. Ballard's writing - psychological despair, extremes, desolate surroundings - could have come to life had he not spent his childhood in China during the second world war. Had he grown up in a middle-class suburb in Britain, there is no doubt that his writing would have leant onto a different direction, or maybe he would not have felt inclined to write at all.

There can be no doubt that Britain is an insular little island, with little contact with the rest of the world. Many of its academic institutions still practice and teach the same syllabuses that were taught decades ago, a system many budding authors go through, and it often shapes their writing and world-view. If writers are to go through the same decadent lectures, seminars and education isn't this going to limit their horizons?

Ballard railed against the realist 'Hampstead novel' that was prevalent in the early 20th century, and this type of fiction is often representative of a lot of English writing: an enclosed world with a limited set of characters, the same situations and the same writing style.

Often for an English writer to break out of this creatively sterile community, he often receives a lot of scorn and animosity. A writer like Anthony Burgess, who wrote prolifically in every conceivable genre, had to peregrinate through Europe for much of his life because the British press was unappreciative of him and his work. The similar can be said of Lawrence Durrell, an Anglo-Indian who was out of sorts with the British literary community, and he sought for inspiration through travelling and experiencing different cultures.

U. S. A. seems to be a breeding ground of creativity. Its sheer size, its multifarious and varied landscape, affects the human mind differently. Its fiction seems to be far more cosmopolitan, and a wealth of important concepts and ideas are developed. One only has to look at the ideas of De Lillo, the density and complexity of Pynchon and the alluring meta-fiction by Auster and one can sense something far more exciting. These authors have been brought up in a vast communication landscapes that has instilled in them a more inventive and creative streak often lacking in English fiction.

From a personal point of view, I am an aspiring writer and - I can't say that the fiction I have written is remotely capable of changing the world or anything along those lines - I am Anglo-Chilean. I think that my writing is a synthesis of Latin-American (my favourite writers are from this part of the world) and British writing, and I really do think that my perspective and world-view is incompatible with English writing traditions. I do sense provinciality in its fiction and I think that a way of remedying this is by looking at world literature, by trying out foreign writing styles and looking into foreign writers - be they canonical, long-forgotten writers who never broke through or contemporary.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

You're being jolly naughty, Wiggins.


'Sir!' by Derek and Clive

Hahahaha, you can't get any lower than this!