Saturday, April 25, 2020

Paris France by Gertrude Stein is infuriating, simplistic and ... a lot of fun!

Gertude Stein's Paris France is infuriating, arrogant, simplistic, and ... a lot of fun to read. Her style, bare and repetitive like a song, is not as stylized as in some of her other books. The sentence patterns, loose but not too loose, are repetitive without driving you to distraction. Combined with the humor and the wit, the style makes for a more pleasant read than say A rose is a rose is a rose, and actually succeeds in courting musicality.

Stein muses about what France is at its essence, and this is the distillation of her analysis, if you can call it that:
"So there are two sides to a Frenchman, logic and fashion and that is the reason why French people are exciting and peaceful."

This sentence appears in modified versions on nearly every page, as a necessary conclusion. The question is, who the hell did Gertrude Stein think she was to be able to resume France in the 1900-1940s in a sentence? An arrogant prick, that's who. But a sympathique prick, no doubt.

Below she argues the French perceive themselves as Latin because they are logical. Ok. Maybe. Then she states logical people do not want to go to war, and certainly Stein proves by that deduction that sheis not French and logical, because in fact the logical Romans really had a thing about going to war all the time.
"When you first really get to know the French one of the first things that puzzles you is the insistence upon their latinity. They do not consider Italians or Spaniards latin, but they the french are latin, they insist upon being Gauls but all the same they are latin. Finally I realised that what they meant was that the spirit of latinity was kept purer by them the Gallo-romans than  it was in Italy which lost its latinity when they were overcome by barbarians and never recreated it, they might take on the forms and symbols of Rome but essentially the latin culture went out of Italy and it never existed in Spain so its true home has been France. And there is a good deal of truth  in it all. At first I did not know what they were talking about but gradually I did begin to feel what they meant by their latinity.
    They meant of course logic, the only people who were interested in logic were the Romans, logic because logical people are never brutal, they are never sentimental, they are never careless, they are never intimate, in short they are peaceful and exciting, that is to say they are French. The French understand war because they are logical, they do not care to go to war because they are logical, and to be logical is to be latin. That is what I was gradually understanding. It took me a long time to really understand it."

She assembles paragraphs of sweeping judgments, some of which are intriguing, others simplistic, often both. These ramblings, which are not actually rambling in the sense of over loquacious but in their lack of depth, are intercut with stories and anecdotes whose importance seem to originate from having been witnessed by Madame Stein, or have happened to people known by her, Dukes for example.
Stein and Toklas at their most stylish

Stein feels quite confident in answering the question of how come France was the cultural capital of the world, or at least of the Western world in the late 19th century/early 20th century. This bygone era has become history, as the French capital has lost this title to New York City, and Beijing, and Berlin, and Kinshasa, and Singapore, and Delhi. Despite her ironical, distanced tone, Stein's excitement at having been a part of the Parisian scene is still palpable:

"So the 20th Century did need France as a background. France might play with the idea of the destruction of the family as the beginning and end of everything but it could never convince any Frenchman and so France was a background for beginning of the 20th Century, it had had its one real effort to believe that the family and the things the family holds in its hands and walks on and eats and drinks and which belong to that family, they had their try-out of trying not to believe and that’s it the beginning of 19 century in the first french revolution, but it really was not interesting. Wars yes and excitement yes, but really not interesting. There is no logic to it, no civilization to it and no fashion.       So when the 20th Century was going to start in to try it out all over again, the Frenchmen were very content to be in it but not of it." I guess her writing teacher did not tell her about getting rid of "so" in her texts.

Some of her judgments do not apply to modern France, and it raises the question of whether France has changed, or Stein was wrong. She states that the French do not punish their children. Now, the French punish their children much more than Americans, even corporeal punishment is common in all classes of society.

Despite the book being called Paris France, it's full of anecdotes about Stein's neighbors in the countryside, and these stories do work as a windows on France before WWII. The content seems to have been the result of the following process: Stein and Toklas take a walk with their dogs close to their countryside home. They run into people and have a nice little chat with them. Stein the genius extracts a great insight about France from the meeting, and a relevant anecdote.

The book is short, written in an easy tone, fun, and not a bad read for anyone interested in that period of French history. Personally, I have sympathy for Stein, because she was a woman, a lesbian, and made no mystery about it. In the vein of the self aggrandizing, flamboyant, vociferous celebrity, she gets my vote over Hemingway, even if he had a hell of a sharp pen. And below, as a parting gift, is a story with a nice narrative, and striking images, such as these small boys on oversized bicycles because the French were not rich enough to give bicycles to their children. Children bikes probably didn't exist. Here's this sweet piece:

"Helen Button was her name and she lived in war-time. She lived somewhere but the thing that is important is that she lived during war-time.
There is a great deal of war-time in history and Helen Button lived in it. (...)
   Of course children do go in and out as they like a great deal more in war-time than in peace-time for there is not much use in just staying at home while it is war-time. 
   Helen Button started out with her dog William. As they were walking along suddenly William stopped and was very nervous. He saw something on the road and so did Helen. They neither of them knew what it was at first and at last as they approached very carefully they saw it was a bottle, a bottle standing up right in the middle of the road. There had been something in the bottle but what, it looked dark green or may be blue or black, and the bottle was standing up in the middle of the road not lying on its side the way a bottle on the road usually is.
   William the dog and Helen the little girl went on. They did not look back at the bootle. But of course it was still there because they had not touched it.
   That is war-time.
   When Helen went out there were a great many little boys on the large bicycles about. The bicycles were so tall that they cannot get on the seat at all but they were all over the country wriggling from side to side to have their ride and when they saw water and some of the roads were under water they went forward and back through the water to make it splash. That was because their big brothers and their fathers were gone away and that made so many more little boys able to play. 
   Then Helen did know it was war-time. 
   Helen and her dog William were out every day and almost every evening and they always saw someone. They knew a boy named Emil who was a big boy with very large eyes and a dog named Ellen. Ellen the dog had been born in the country against which they were fighting. Emil looked at his dog and wondered if he could love him. The dog loved Emil but could Emil love him.
   As Helen and her dog William came along Emil's dog Ellen sniffing along the side of the road in the sand and finally went sniffing up the bank. Helen's dog William went sniffing too. Perhaps there was game there, very likely because in war-time men did not go shooting nobody hunted anything only dogs and cats hunted in war-time, Emil the boy with large eyes sighed about this. He said dogs hunt in war-time but they do not get much, anybody could see two or three dogs going together to hunt and waiting to see if anybody saw them because in peace-time of course they can not go hunting. Then Emil said but cats in peace-time or in war-time, they sit and watch and prey. (...)
   Helen had a grandmother and when she had been the age of Helen there had been war-time. She told Helen how one day she had a slice of bread and there was very little bread to be had, but she did have a good big slice and she was just commencing eating it. A soldier came along an enemy soldier on a horse, he stopped and got off this horse and not roughly but he did, he took the slice of bread out of her hand, she had just had one bite and he gave it to his horse who ate it and he went away on his horse and he did not say anything."

Please note: I have tried to reproduce the text's random capitalization. For Stein, all French people seem to be men, and a dog named Ellen is a he. In the story of Helen, the characters all have English names or English spelling of French names. My guess is that Stein could not be bothered to find out the real names or relevant spellings. Or she invented the whole thing. Which is still pretty gracious.

Stein's famous portrait by Picasso

And finally an anecdote, but that illustrates how injustice could affect a woman, and a lesbian's life. Stein left her art collection as a trust to her partner Toklas. When the collection became extremely valuable in the early 60s, the Stein family had it seized while Toklas was away from France, on the pretext she was not taking care of it properly. Toklas was never able to recover it, despite legal action. It's also distressing that Stein did not leave the collection to Toklas as an inheritance. Selling one piece would have saved her from her poverty in her late years. 

Published and written by  - - Arabella von Arx

Monday, March 30, 2020

What should we keep of the new normal?

People waiting in line with social distancing
We got together virtually and talked about how we are experiencing the pandemic, what are our fears and our hopes.
We’re sad that some people have died, suffered, and that a lot more will. We’re worried for that risk which is all around us, and might take away some of the people we love, and ourselves too, naturally.
We wonder what ways, or rites, we can come up to to express that sadness, to mourn as a community, now (virtually) and when the pandemic is over (a ceremony in cemeteries, other ideas?).

                                                                     * * * * * * *

Our world will be changed, it will never be the same, and we are trying to think of ways to veer it in a direction we value: more wholesome, just, zen. Less consumerism? Less production? Less pollution?
Some of the things that are happening are good, some are bad. Below is a list. We want to have our voices heard about how this pandemic is handled: social action. Two proposals, one physical: we stand at our windows with posters expressing our views: lives over dollars, save small businesses, help to illegal immigrants, suspend rents, suspend mortgages, etc.

Virtually, we could have a day of action where we all express on the internet (instagram, fb, twitter) our political views through photos, memes, statements.


 THE NEW NORMAL (post covid19)
Bad hair cuts
Less commuting
More work from home
Either or.
Less traveling
Keep? More environmental solutions.
Less flying
Keep. Bring back transatlantic ships, they pollute less.
Less socializing
Lose. More “in the flesh” events.
Lots and lots of time on the Internet
Lots of sex with one partner (or two)
Less work
Less pollution
More time with loved ones
More time alone
More physical exercise
Either or
More caring
Hospitals overwhelmed
Small businesses endangered
Help from govt, from us
Virtual parties
Keep (for people who are sick, isolated, depressed, far)
More cooking!
Either or.
No restaurants, gigs, concerts, shows, exhibitions
Virtual shows, gigs, art.
People lose their job
Help from govt, from us
Some people have more access to health, some have no insurance
Justice, equality.
Illegal immigrants get no help
Justice, equality.
We read more
Either or.
Bad teeth
Lots of time with pets
Feeling we’re in this together, everyone
Hairy legs, and other places on the body
Either or.

At the end of this long tunnel of isolation, we want to celebrate too. Maybe pick a date, and have a huge dance party at the park where everyone brings their own music and dance our liberation.

Skyping from NY to MD

We would love to have your comments, ideas, reactions, feelings, below!

This was contributed by Ingrid Norton, Nupur Mathur, Hyojin Yoo, and Arabella von Arx

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Not a review: Michael Rakowitz at the Jane Lombard Gallery

Michael Rakowitz is showing work at the Jane Lombard Gallery in an exhibition entitled:

Detail of work at the top

He has recreated his versions of those particular works that have been destroyed by ISIS at Nimrud. Above is an example, the bright colors coming from wrappings with arabic branding on them. The relationship between the destruction of the art and the wrappings is unclear. ISIS can not be accused of promoting consumerism, they don't promote anything but nihilism, the only relationship seems to be that the wrappings are Arabic. ISIS has been able to establish itself in Iraq following the chaos left by the American invasion. This military action was justified as a response to Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction". It appeared later that there were no such weapons and that US intelligence had no convincing evidence that they ever existed, and that the motivation was purely to access petrol.

In that sense, the destruction of these world heirlooms can be imputed to the interference of the US in the region. The same could be said of the destruction of art such as the Buddha statues by the Taliban, as the US armed the mujahhideen when the enemy was the USSR. We had no idea when the Taliban blew these statues that one day the Taliban would seem rather mild and self disciplined in comparison to ISIS. Ironically, the Assyrian civilization was one of brutal militarism.

Organisations such as the Taliban and ISIS would not waste their time and dynamite blowing ancient monuments if they did not purpose to antagonize the West. One can feel quite helpless if this iconoclasm is only attributed to fundamentalism. But if these actions are, correctly, imputed to Western inference in the Middle East, we can exercise our political rights to prevent this kind of short sightedness in the case of the Taliban, and self serving politics in the case of Iraq. Imagine a foreign power (no names here, as I prefer my coffee non radioactive) poured funds into survivalist groups in the US, we would soon have a number of Timothy McVeigh empowered to blow up more buildings with babies. 

The ancient Assyrian reliefs that were acquired in various ways by institutions in the Western World were saved from destruction by ISIS, necessarily. The show seems to be an indictment of the movement pressuring these institutions to return the work to their originating countries. Also the stunning beauty of the original reliefs contrasts jarringly with the current branded look, providing added motivation the original work not be destroyed (See beautiful original on the left). At least, that's how I perceived it, which was somewhat puzzling. I'm quite ready to believe that Rakowitz had good intentions, I wish they had been clearer.

Caption accompanying the work above at the gallery

Written and published by  - -  Arabella von Arx

Monday, January 27, 2020

Not a review: Wheeler at Zwirner

The title states that this is not a review, in the sense that I try to communicate my personal experience of a gallery event in Chelsea rather than discussing the work which I will let speak for itself.

I have a problem with a panel with 3 white guys even if one has a charming Italian accent, I know I'm being dogmatic, but it does feel terribly déjà vu. I was incapable of listening to anything Germano Celant said, maybe it's his accent, and he is likely to have said some very interesting things, he is the guy who coined the term "Arte povera" and who heads the Prada Foundation in Milano - maybe he is better with the written word. He does have a most charming name too, a whole story could be imagined around that name!

Doug Wheeler was more arresting. He stuck me as being the interesting case of a man who was shy to start with in life. Had he chosen another path, he would have had to overcome it. But he has become a famous artist, and  this allows for every idiosyncrasy of the personality. The artist is sold "as is" :with the understanding he is not able, nor expected to conform, and his failings are his qualities as they are linked to his creativity.

Wheeler, 81, has a handsome mane of long white hair. Its always a fun exercise to imagine a man with his long hair trimmed short. And I thought, imagine, imagine this doctor's son had had a career in a corporation. Or had started his own business of medical supplies. He might have had to beat the shyness out of his system, as is expected of what one calls a real man, of a breadwinner. And I can see his face shorn of hair, he would have had to compact into something showing power and control his spread out sitting position that is a self conscious attempt at appearing relaxed, and why not, It is a very different person yet the divergence in these paths might have been caused by something seemingly benign, like a bit of bullying by a cousin or an over demanding father.

My impression is that Wheeler knows the show business. He's been there for a while now. He probably doesn't really like it but it's the ransom of celebrity, and he'll play along, which is fair enough. He tells his stories, gamely. Does he tell these stories repeatedly? You would think, from their content's relationship to his artistic path, but if he has told them before, it's not obvious from the fresh, convincing delivery he achieves. He's a good story teller. He recalls his father the surgeon flying his small plane to remote areas in Arizona. Scary landings on high streets when there was no runway. His father would say: see that patch of the sky over there that's particularly blue? Don't go there. They're turbulences. John Wayne! In fact, minimalism has something macho about it. For a start, there is a certain arrogance in asserting that a very simple piece is a worthy art work just because the artist says so. Nothing soft or intricate or empathic about minimalism or conceptual art, these qualities typically needing figurative art or complex abstraction.

He tells of his father letting him fly the plane. Of the  landscapes seen from above, of the different
experience of the world. Of wanting to communicate his sensory experience of the world to others. 
He speaks simply, he is humble, he often seeks the gaze of his wife in the audience, the Hollywood producer Bridget Johnson, and mentions her by name. He also refers to another man in the audience by name, maybe to break the mythology of the famous artist on stage addressing the anonymous reverential audience, which is sympathique.

But still he is there, and he speaks, filling his expected role. The Zwirner son, Lucas, moderates. He's the picture of the young golden boy, well to do, confident, educated, handsome. WASP. Does he know suffering? I guess everyone suffers at some point. It's not a criticism of Lucas. It's a genuine question. The people  I know personally that have been born into exceptional privilege do not strike me as happier than the average Josephine (the average woman informed me she prefers Josephine to Jane).

At the end of the show, people take selfies in the Infinity Room.

And this ... is definitely not a review.

Written and contributed - reluctantly - by  - -  Arabella von Arx

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Barber Shop Chronicles at BAM: infectious? No, more like, healing!

(the title of the post refers to the fact that so much of our vocabulary that should be positive is in fact negative: infectious, battle, crusade, armed with, etc. Down with death, war and disease, up with team work, care, love and peace)


Well, why should the actors and playwright have all the fun, and a reviewer only the dull, rationalistic role?
The minute you walked in the BAM Harvey Theater (which has undergone some work, including a gallery, what a grand idea, you can meander through it during the interval or on your way out, or on your way in if you are the kind of person who arrives early at the theater rather than out of breath with your coat half buttoned, and that gallery shows When A Pot Finds Its Purpose, a work by japanese-american (how many of these can there be, but welcome?) artist Glenn Kaino, a radiant installation with a political commentary),
well the minute you walked into that theater you were hit by a vibrant energy, a joyous chaos: actors, techies, members of the audience buzzing on the stage, off the stage, romping music, actors seating people (mainly young women, hum) in the barber chair, selfie opportunities, hip swinging, laughing, smiles on every face, lots and lots of cellphones out and busy recording. Went on and on: was that going to be the show? The whole show?

But no. People were gently shoed off the stage, and the actors threw themselves in a short music dance piece. The play The Barber Shop Chronicles takes place in 6 cities, 5 in Africa, the 6th being London. Some of the vignettes carry a story, others are situations involving caring, forgiving, conflict, and lots and lots of discussions about fathering and politics (a welcome parallel is made between father figures and figures of state authority) politics politics, and sports! The play takes place during one day, the final of a soccer championship between Chelsea and Barcelona.

There is a change of mood through the play that is well controlled by super talented Nigerian Inua Ellams). At first, it's a lot of humor, and the situations and lines were damn funny. The scenes get more serious, more emotional. That's always a risk: everyone wants to laugh. But cry? The emotions of betrayal, and loneliness, and loss were  conveyed gently, by the talented cast.

The transition between the scenes/locales is made by picking a bit of a sentence, a bit of a mood and  turning it by turning into a short piece of dance (movements brilliantly orchestrated by Aline David) and song: pure joy.

Was the play perfect? No. It does not have to be. Some actors were less talented than others. Some moments did not hit their full potential.

It does not have perfect, because it gave so much to the audience. A gift. God these people on stage have talent, and the playwright captured what his people have to say: it's a lot. The African diaspora through Africa, pushed by necessity. What does it mean to be a man? What it mean to be a black man? What does it mean to be a strong black man?

Can't wait to see more work by the young playwright Inua Ellams who was elected to the Royal Society of Literature!

Hum. There were 12 actors on stage. 12 men. No women. Zero women. It's in a barber shop, you say? Someone as talented at Ellams could think of one hundred ways of featuring women in this play. No, having just men on stage is not cute, it enforces that the norm is male. Ellams had better follow this up with the Nail Salon Chronicles...

Will Broadway buy the rights? The concern is that they are going to edit some of the more political, more philosophical materials in order to speak down to their audience. Don't do it.

Friday and Saturday night: DJs will be spinning after the show!

Written fast and furiously by  - -  Arabella von Arx

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Speaking of bilingual

There is a tendency to believe that bilingualism (or multilingualism) is expanding thanks to the explosion of the means of communications, and the expansion of education. It seems to be quite the opposite. Languages ​​are disappearing. UNESCO projects that it is likely no more than 500 languages ​​will remain within a century out of currently 6,000 existing languages. Should we preserve languages ​​and which? In the region where I grew up in Switzerland, the local dialect has completely disappeared in the last 50 years. Unless a handful of old people in the countryside remember a few words. It is estimated that at least 30,000 languages ​​were born and disappeared in the last 5000 years. This information is computed in an extensive website that register very interesting global linguistic data.

In addition, we imagine that primitive communities moved little, but people have always moved, they have emigrated or traveled. Movement is a human aspiration that counterbalances the elemental desire for security and comfort. As the territory of the languages ​​were smaller, the travelers soon were in an area where a foreign language was spoken. They also married women from other communities. Or kidnapped them. It has been shown that men in Iceland descend from the Norse, but the women descend from the Scottish. Conclusion? Icelandic men raided Scotland for women, as their Norse women were disinclined to move to an island where the highest temperatures in summer are around 68F/19C, and nothing grows. Furthermore conquests frequently swept continents, conquerors bringing with them their language which would end up cohabiting with local languages. There was the official language of the government, like Latin in France, and the local idiom like Gaul dialects, or hindi in India, and local dialects like Mulu.

Languages ​​are probably created not only by creolization and natural evolution, but also as a way to distinguish one's community from others, to create an identity.

I admire Michel Foucault, but I regret that he denied the benefits of creolization for languages, as proposed by Martiniquan thinker Edouard Glissant. This petrifying vision of French saddens me. The defense of a monolithic language provides a way to confirm the superiority of France over the rest of the French speaking community in African and elsewhere, and of the educated classes over the working, or non working rather, classes.

Posted by - - Arabella von Arx

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Second Woman at BAM - not a review!

Alia Shawkat live on the left, broadcast on the right

The winter/spring season has started at BAM, with the new curator David Binder. Great expectations! Joseph V Melillo brought shows with a constant quality to BAM: those that weren't good were excellent. OK, they were a few misfires, but few, so very few. Walked out on maybe 3 out of 100s of shows over the years.

The Second Woman is the first staged show of the season. Created by Nat Randall and Anna Breckon, two outstanding women that do a bunch of other things in the show too.

A red box. Neon signs reads "The Second Woman", the decor is 60s/70s living room, including liquor caddy. A woman walks in, Alia Shawkat, in a beautiful red dress and stilettos. Excitement! She's pulpy, topped with a Geena Rowland style blond wig. Two camerapeople sit outside the box, filming. Image is projected on a screen next to the box.
The camerapeople get up, she gets up from her seat and goes and stands in the corner. Man walks in. Kisses her. They talk. Voices are not amplified, hard to understand. The dialogue, apparently, is inspired by Cassavetes' Opening Night. She expresses her insecurities. The man replies, pretending to reassure her, but not really. She throws noodle dish at him. Then puts music on. They dance. She tries to drag the man down to the floor. He won't. She offers him $20 (says in an article $50, and that's what the men get paid for their performance, but I saw $20, maybe fee went down) and he leaves.

That's the basic scene that gets repeated over and over.  Over 24 hours. 100 men. The men are non actors, cast locally. Her dialogue is always the same. The men have a bit more leeway. They can choose between a few options, the most important one being their reaction when she says: "and I love you": they're all uncomfortable by the expectation she sets they respond. They either say: 'and you love me', or "I love you too". The last line has a similar weight: either "I love you", "I've always loved you", "I never loved you anyway"  She is the perfect woman according to stereopical men's expectations: beautiful, sexy, submissive, insecure. But then her sexuality, her insecurities get too much when she tries to drag them to the floor: she has to be beautiful, sexy,  submissive, insecure but within pre established parameters. She says: You don't think I'm capable when that's all I want to be, I just want to be capable. Well, that's exactly what she is not expected to be.

The purpose is clearly to subvert gender definitions. But this feminist show has 1 female actor for 100 male performers! Almost as bad as the Lehman Trilogy!  (winking face here)

The images shot by the camerapeople  are edited live, turning the theater scene into a film scene with alternating close ups, details, wider shots. Visually, the show is stunning. Visually, Shawkat is stunning.

The tension between the two forms, theater and film, is stimulating. The time conventions are different. On stage, normally, time elapses only when the actors are not on stage. The scene acted out here is neither theater nor cinema. It's too short to be either. And that's fine. The actors go through the motion, the woman reacting to each man, often aping him, or at least taking clues for her behavior from theirs. But their acting is not theater acting nor cinematic. It's a different form, not unlike Lepage's 10 hr show Lipsynch also at BAM.

The men are old, young, different ethnicities. One is gay, another is a woman. The repetition of the action, the improvised differences, Shawkat's comedy makes for humor that lacks subtlety.

As the dialogue is nearly fixed, it is the physical aspect of the scene that changes: the way he opens the bag of Chinese food, the way she throws the noodles, their dance. Sometimes he takes the $20, sometimes he doesn't. She's often playful, which antagonizes the agonizing content of the dialogue.

After over 23 hrs on stage, she's still going strong. Alert. Responsive. Spontaneous. It's astonishing. It's actually better because she's looser, and so are the interactions. Over twenty-three hours into the show, she danced a cancan, and these legs were going high up in the air, no cheating. She was also still wearing her stilettos, when her feet must have been jam. There must have been bloody toes constrained in these contraptions. Maybe that kept her awake! But when she went to the floor, she was lying down flat, and thinking: soon, soon I'll be in my bed. And got up again.

Alia Shawkat still going strong after over 23hrs on stage

Here I conclude: it's a compelling show. Pfew! Expectations are not let down. The experimental aspect, the visuals satisfy the curious mind. Somehow the show could be better, the relation between the dialogue and the action could be more meaningful. A piano accompaniment punctuates the series of scenes, and also plays before the show starts. It's intense, repetitive to obsession. Most apt. So is the music track for the dance,  Aura's "A taste of love".

Interestingly, the relationship to the audience plays an important part in the show: how long will people stay? how do they decide when to leave? When to come back? Somehow their lives are brought into the space, whether they took a break to go to the gym or to make love. There is also time to think, to chat in between iterations. The audience is markedly younger on average than the usual BAM theater audience, and many are friends of the male performers, or the male performers themselves. A ticket will get you a red ribbon around your wrist, - you're not supposed to shower for 24 hrs, I guess. At one point, I took a break, went to the bar:
A beer, a glass of white wine and a bag of cookies.
31.50, says the employee, without blinking. The bag of cookies is teeny tiny, like 5 crumbs.
Dollars? I ask.
She does not smile.
It does include these BAM reusable tumblers, so I guess I'll be saving on my next drinks when I bring my own brand of mescal or armagnac in my pre bought tumbler.
I know, this last part is not all that serious or relevant, but it's an experiential blog! I can be serious too, see here.

Written - fast and furiously by -  Arabella H. von Arx

It is entitled "not a review" because the format does not follow the regular review, or essay or article, structure, with their introduction, development, conclusion. It's looser, more spontaneous and aims primarily at reproducing the experience rather than analyzing it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Arundathi Roy - the audience in the palm of her hands


Author: Arundathi Roy
Book: Walking with the Comrades
The crowd chatted feverishly while waiting to be let into the auditorium. "Literary sensation!", "brimming with talent", "unique sense of vernacular" were the terms flying around the groups in the foyer. Ages ranging from 16 to 80, they were all educated New Yorkers who had rushed to be part of this literary communion. The doors to the large auditorium opened. Beautifully built of wood and lit as for a crowning ceremony, it held several hundreds of us. There was a rush through the doors, a run down towards for the first rows, a bit of push and shove which quieted down quite soon as we are civilized after all.
Chats, last minute cellphone check, laughs, changes of seat, no change of heart. At last the diminutive woman walked on stage, sat down, took a gulp of water and leant towards the microphone. She raised her eyes towards us, she raised her eyebrows. Not a whisper in the room, nor a cough, nor a scraping of throat or shoe. 
And Arundathi Roy started. She started, and she didn't stop. She started and she didn't let go. Telling us about tribal people being beaten, poisoned, arrested, women being raped, their land being raped. Constantly on the move to escape persecution. Undernourished, under educated, under cared for, families dispersed, belongings null. 
These people in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Lalgarh have the great misfortune of having their lands sitting on profitable minerals and metals. Where they lived close to nature and far from what is called civilization, large companies have arrived with equipment to dig up the earth and pollute the waters, the airs, the soil. They burn villages, they bring elephants to trample the forest, they scatter babool seeds to make the soil barren.
She had an educated audience that exercise a certain power through belonging to a privilege society, and they needed to know. This was not a literary salon where minds get stroked thanks to highbrow exchanges and eclectic language. This was about the world out there, politics, humans, pain, injustice, ugly holes dug in the earth.
At last she was done. The audience, awed, was a different group of people that had walked into that auditorium an hour before. The moderator announced that the renowned author would now sign books. A long line of people formed from the top of the stairs of the auditorium all the way to the desk she was sitting at. She had asked for our time, for our ears, for our conscience. And now she returned the favour in full. She signed at length everyone's book, talking, smiling, indefatigable, this was the woman who had walked for months through the jungles. She let people take photographs. A young couple was keen on Roy holding their 2 year old in her arms for a snapshot. The 2 year old was uncooperative. Roy waited patiently for the child to be convinced they would all treasure the memento forever, and that an ice cream would be obtained on the way out. Finally the snapshot was taken, the couple ecstatic, and Roy turned graciously to respond to the next request.
Outside the auditorium, people made a beeline for the bookselling stalls, in a much more sober mood now, and purchased Walking With The Comrades, a convincing and commendable work.

National Geographic has a very different approach to the subject. They call Arundathi Roy's "comrades" killers who stand in the way of development.

Down To Earth begs to differ from National Geographic, with hard facts and statistics.

Amnesty also condemns the violations of human rights and the breach of Indian law in the mining regions.

Written and published by  - -  Arabella von Arx

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The 10 most underrated women writers

Writer Grace Paley

1. Grace Paley (1922-2007)

American. She’s like an older sister to me. I read her audacious writing, and I think, wow, she was so intrepid! Robert Kaplan posts quotes and excerpts from writers on facebook, and that’s how I discovered her writing. Chance. She didn’t get half the recognition and awards she deserved, and is in danger of slipping into oblivion. Help! Rescue her unique work!
What to read: her short stories. All of them: they're fun and mind blowing and very much grounded in NYC.
Why she should be read: Tone. Freedom of expression. Time capsule. Originality.

French woman writer Violette Leduc

  2. Violette Leduc (1907-1972)

This French writer was mentored by Simone de Beauvoir. The latter was a good writer too, particularly her memoirs, but not underrated. De Beauvoir, and Sartre too, behaved most shabbily at times toward their intellectual competition. But de Beauvoir paid a publishing house to forward secretly Violette Leduc a monthly allowance that allowed her to write. Most elegant. Leduc’s writing was modern in its rawness and authenticity. Totally underrated.
Why she should be read: she was a groundbreaker, her work is unflinching in describing herself and others. There is no need to make allowance when you read her, as you might for mid 20th century writer.
What to read: La Bâtarde, no doubt. This memoir tells of her origins (she was the illegitimate daughter of a maid and an aristocrat), of her love affairs with both men and women, of her life during WWII when she was a black market operator: fascinating! Raw. Authentic. Compelling.

Swedish woman writer Selma Lagerloff

3. Selma Lagerloff (1858-1940): 

I always feel bad for people who died in the early 1940s: imagine the picture of Europe they took to the grave. She was a lesbian as was Yourcenar. Marriage, and child rearing, had typically not allowed women to develop their creativity. Successful creative women in the 19th century and 20th century were usually not marriedL George Sand, George Eliott, the Brontës, some were even crippled like painter Schjerfbeck.
Lagerloff was the first woman writer to win the Nobel Prize (hum, she was Swedish), but is now mostly overlooked.
Why she should be read: her work is of a bold, romantic streak, without any sentimentality: a treat to devour under or over the covers.
What to read: Difficult to recommend something, as she wrote in a whole range of genders. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils is a great book to read to children.  I loved her Löwenskold series, which is more realistic than some of her gothic or fantasy works.
French woman writer Marguerite Yourcenar.

4. Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987)

Marguerite Yourcenar won a Nobel Prize yet she is not as read as she could be, maybe because work is often historical fiction but she eschews the traps of the genre. She is admired by a number of writers for her rich prose and for the drama of her work. 
Why: a beautiful stylist, and a great story teller.
What to read: Memoirs of Hadrian (Hadrian wrote an autobiography that has been lost, Yourcenar imagined what it might have been), Coup de Grâce (romantic novella about a dramatic triangle) is a great book gift for a woman in her twenties.
Anecdotal: She had a 40 year relationship with literary scholar Grace Frick. They lived together on an island in Maine.

5. Jamaica Kincaid: born 1949 in Antigua. Alive and kicking.

Writer Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid is a writer who is getting quite a bit of recognition. But that’s not good enough, because she is great, there is not a word that needs to be thrown away in her writing. She will only stop being underrated and scratched from this list when she gets the Nobel Prize.
Why she should be read: there is an undercurrent of passion, in the sense of Christ’s passion, in her work. Her prose is spare and powerful.
What to read: I love The Autobiography of My Mother (great title too), but Lucy is her most famous work.

6. Carson McCullers 1917-1967

Carson McCullers

She married a man also called McCullers who also wrote and drank. Then they divorced. Then they married again. Without ever having to alter her name in her documents. She lived at a time when a lot of creative people did not live long: Jackson Pollock, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Bowles (should she be included in this list?), Albert Camus. She had a funny, sweet face. Her style is supposed to be Southern Gothic. I don’t know, I think she’s just a good writer. Her characters are memorable, they touch the heart without sentimentality. She’s underrated because they don’t read her in high schools when it would be most appropriate content, I rest my case.
Why: great characters that will stay with you. Psychological insight. Depiction of Southern society.
What: Member of the Wedding. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is awesome too, written when she was 23.

Chinese American writer Pearl Buck

7. Pearl Buck (1892-1973) 

She led a fascinating life, being born the child of missionaries in China. She loved China, the Chinese people and peasantry which she described in her works. She was an activist against racism and sexism. The Good Earth was the second-best-selling novel of the 20th century, outsold only by "Gone With the Wind: the two best selling novels are works by women! The people voted!
Why she should be read: great story teller, amazing insights into China at the beginning of the 20th century.
What to read: Any of the Chinese novels, such as The Good Earth. A great read for teenagers too. I positively loved her memoir, Fighting Angel, about her father, a tender and honest portrait of a stiff Baptist missionary with some redemptive traits. Apparently her portray of her mother, The Exile, is also very good.
Anecdotal: when she was old, she got involved with a shady character, some kind of swindler who squandered most of her fortune. A sad and grotesque endgame for a remarkable woman.

8. Elsa Morante - 1912-1985 –

Italian writer Elsa Morante

You read right, Morante not Ferrante. In my opinion the better writer. A powerhouse of a writer. It’s so inspiring to read explosive works by women who lived when the consensus was that women were weak creatures that could only decorate vases. Women such as Ferrante and Lagerloff and the Brontës, of course, paid no heed to these superstitions, thankfully for us. It should also remind us creators how important it is to go it alone, without worrying about trends and opinions.
She was quite successful during her life. Some of her works were translated into English. However, modern Italian does not always translate well into English, the tone is drastically different. She expressed reservations with some of her translations. She was married to Alberto Moravia, the legendary Roman writer, whose writings also do not translate well into English.
Why she should be read: epic, visionary writer
What to read: don’t, it’s too sad. Ok, if you must: La Storia. The story of an Italian woman and her little boy born from a rape by a German soldier. Mythic. Poignant. Unforgettable. 
The title is often not translated because it is not translatable. La Storia means both “story” and “history”:. Same in French with “histoire”.

9. Jetta Carleton - (1913-1999) - 

Jetta Carleton
Her novel The Moonflower Vine was a success when it was published. Then she didn’t write for another 30 years. Reasons are suggested, she married (not a good idea for women creators in the 20th century!), she was busy founding a publishing house, but that did poorly. Maybe success was difficult for her to handle? It can be traumatic! Her second, and last novel, The Back Alleys of Spring, was written just before she was disabled by a stroke in the 1990s. It was eventually published posthumously in 2012.
Speaking of which, she’s quite the ghost writer, she died in 1999 but went on a tour in 2012...

Ursula K. Le Guin - 1929-2018 -

My count was 9 underrated women writers, and I could not narrow on anyone else: the Brontës got their due, George Eliott, George Sand have the fame they deserve (easier with a man’s first name, obviously), Marguerite Duras was an ace at self promotion, Alice Munro got the Nobel Prize. A bunch of writers could certainly do with more attention, but it’s not crying out loud: Doris Lessing, Patricia Highsmith (probably more highly regarded outside the US) the best crime writer ever, Françoise Sagan, Nathalie Sarraute, Astrid Lindgren, Sigrid Undset, Goliarda Sapienza, and most likely a whole beautiful array of writers from Asia and African and Latin America we wish we were reading (speak up in comments below!!).
Anyway, I asked around, and thought I would include this writer in the list who I have never read. A science fiction writer, she seems to gather suffrages around her writing, and is working in a genre that has been dominated by men. Time to give her a try.
Why: people say so.
What: The Left Hand of Darkness, according to Harold Bloom.

♛ After I posted about the 10 most underrated women artists, readers suggested I post about women musicians, which I felt I was not qualified to do, but am hoping someone else does. But I thought I would enjoy gathering a list of the most underrated women writers. My findings? Women writers have not been as systematically pushed out from the public eye as artists. Most intriguing!
Why? It would be very interesting to investigate this phenomenon in depth, and someone should. Right now, I would venture that there is an immediacy about books as media. No one worries about the original manuscript, the work is the words, its physical support does not matter so much. It’s a consumer good, and if it sells, it sells. The two most successful novels in the US 20th century were written by women: Gone is the Wind, and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck (see above) Paintings need to be presented in institutions that have been run by men. Museum still show an overwhelming majority of works by white men. Art works have to be reproduced in a costly process to be spread to a larger audience. To become a good writer, writers often recommend reading extensively: that was fairly easy for educated women in the 19th century. All a writer needs is paper, a pen and ... talent! To become a good artist, techniques need to be learned, supplies need to be accessible and affordable.
Women writers often published under men’s pen names in the 19th century, which was not the case for women artists who did not experience that need then, or earlier, in the 17th or 18th century. The suppression of women artists’ work mostly happened in the 19th century, once their painting craft became Art with a capital A and was institutionalized via museums, and the founding of art history and theory. Novels were necessary fodder for the 19th century publications, which needed serials to hook its readership. These publications were not run by an academic establishment, they were profit making companies who didn’t care whether the content was written by a woman or a serial killer or a lemur, as long as it was successful. The 20th century might have been relatively less egalitarian as serialization disappeared and novels became literature, flanked with literary criticism and theory. Just as painters, women writers who were successful in their lifetime have often been evinced from cultural memory: Pearl Buck, Selma Lagerloff, Jetta Carleton, Violette Leduc, etc.
♛ Two of the books, Hadrian’s Memoirs and La Storia, above are selections of the 100 best books selected by authors such as Salman Rushdie and Milan Kundera. It’s a very interesting list though a bit biased (well, the writers doing the selecting must have felt obliged to pick each other)! 
♛ I tried to use photos of women writers at different times of their life, to give a sample of role models for aspiring writers, young and not so young.

written and published by  - -  Arabella von Arx