Friday, August 31, 2007

Hooray for Me

Well, good news. I got an internship with the Folio Literary Agency. I start in two weeks. Should be a good learning experience. This is probably the best bit of news I've recieved all month. I don't want to go into details, but it's been rough at times, thankfully the City, the Bottle, and the Word have gotten me through it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Today I went to the Avery Fischer Center, located on the second floor of the Bobst library at NYU. All you NYU students should check it out if you haven't and if you have you should give it a second look. It has a look of films that are not only well worth watching, but should be watched. Its all free and though you can;t take the items from the center, they have places to view them that are probably going to be better than seeing them at home, since their are fewer distractions.

I watched a production of Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha, which is based on the life of Gandhi, more specifically on the evolution of his thought. The work is divided into three acts, each one covering the influence of Tolstoy and Tagore on his approach to activism and the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King Jr.

I admit I only saw it because they did not have a copy of Glass' first famous work, Einstein on the Beach. In the long run, I was happy for the occurrence. Satyagraha is more accessible music wise and reflects the work he was doing at the time of Koyaanisqatsi, which is, in my opinion, his best overall composition (as opposed to piece). The staging is impressive and combines the right level of simplicity in the character of Gandhi, lavishness in those around him, and being abstract while still retaining some link to the Indian roots of the title character.

It is probably one of the few western operas composed in Sanskrit, the ancient liturgical language of India. The language is perfectly suited for opera and I believe it should have more works composed for it. It sounds a lot like Italian when sung, which makes some sense, given the common root of both languages. The use of Sanskrit makes the use of subtitles cumbersome as these appear out of since to when one hears the words sung.

If one one was not familiar with Gandhi's life, I do not know how they would look at this piece. Certainly a basic appreciation of the music and libretto would be possible, but one would have to know a good deal about his story, which might be provided in the playbill to those watching. then again I think the ending of Gandhi walking up a stage with his wounds, looking like a Hindu version of St. Stephen, would be enough for anyone with a shared sense of humanity who is able to mourn the loss of great men of spirit.

This opera has confirmed for me a theory I have been developing about art. What makes great art "great" is not adherence to form or emotion, per se, but creating a form of emotion, separate from fear or disgust, pleasure or pain, simple admiration or rage. Great creates an aesthetic feeling, a sense of inner beauty. How to quantify it is difficult, but it can be seen in how well a work inspires others. Aesthetic feeling can be best described as a mixture of jealousy for the artist, pride in his accomplishment being accessible to you, hope for the future, and a simple pleasure when even seeing something that in the real world would be hideous and possibly inspire terror.

The great works of art leave much to be said, the poor ones talk about much, leaving nothing to inspire one to speak out.

While watching the production, I wrote six poems, An idea for a play, another for a short story, and one for a novel set in an alternative universe where Hitler and Gandhi have switched roles, some notes on an ethical philophy and on hedonism, and several epigraphs to introduce these works and others. A poorly put together piece of culture (I refrain from consider such things art) can inspire one, but only because they think they can do better. A well put together cultural artifact, such as an action movie, might inspire imitation. A great work inspires things that often have nothign to do with it. it simply stimulates one desires and one sets out to them and may or may not accomplish them. The point is that great art makes you want to try instead of giving up.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Ruins of Byron at the W Court Hotel

This past weekend I stayed at the W Court Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Don't ask me why. It is not important for this article. How and why are not important here. The journey will not be covered, only the details of the destination. What I saw anyone could see, if they looked around and were not too busy.

Whatever, Whenever...that is the motto of the hotel chain. there are several W's, each one has a special designation. This one was known as the "Court." I never saw a courtyard, or any judges walking around, I suppose it makes more sense than the one up the street, the W "Tuscany."

Whatever, Whenever...all exemplified by the surrounds, the textures, the sounds. What kind of hotel was I staying in? What was I supposed to do while there? How would a vacation in such a place be seen as good or bad? What was the ideal stay supposed to be like? It was all up to me. The rooms trapped me in complete freedom.

It was all very romantic. The hotel did not provide me with a copy of Lyrical Ballads or paintings of man in his natural state. To those of an emotional temperament, it was not Walden, it was not the Lake District. No. it was not for them, but then again romanticism has passed them by. They are locked up these days, they are denounced, medicated, called all sorts of names, and for the most part ignored. The romantic belongs to a different sort now. More ambitious, more dirty, more violent, more austere, more bottled up for special moments. Less literate. Still emotional driven, abounding in passion, even if they need whole corporate apparatuses and magazine articles written in perfectly good commons sense to get them to accept the fact.

The W Court gives them the cages they need. Those who consider themselves the bastard children of Byron can come here and unwind. Byron's legitimate children, the one who inhabit English departments and read his poetry, who know less of an image, and less of a man, they are off in Greece, staying God knows where. But the Hotel I was staying at, this was the place for those with passions that reach out for sheets and curtains.

This was no Marriott, no Best Western. This was no place for the Beats or the Star Children. My room would not hold them, they would leave quickly and take the mini bar with them. Wordsworth and Shelly might just sleep there and do no else, going out, looking for a tree to write about. This was a high class establishment. This was a place for youngsters with nascent beards and longish hair to sit declare "We'll no more go a roving."

Nothing was set up as a small paean to reason, no feeling was triumphant. Everything was joined together to create an experience of fancy and passion. A CD case in the room declared that I could, "Listen to me or whisk me away for $13." Yes, the CD is embodied with the pathetic fallacy. It calls out to you. It has feelings and it lives. It is part of a world that feels and moves with the observer. You can whisk it away like you would a damsel to a castle for a night of lovemaking upon cold ruins.

The sign to hang on the doorknob, to announce my intentions for breakfast, asked me questions...why not a pastry or toast (I feel like a biscuit actually) what about a drink or fruit (okay, I suppose) who wants eggs or pancakes (I'm the only one here, and yes, I would like those) What side? (Left or right?) Who wants a quick start (How about ahead start? I could have lunch for breakfast) What about a NY Minute (Why not an hour?) Want to be healthy (At these prices I couldn't afford to eat much anyways)?

Elsewhere things remained silent, preferring to ooze romantic tendencies all over the place instead of trying to strike up a conversation with me. There were pillows covered in shells, pure whimsy. Trying to rest on them was like sleeping on glass. Another pillow was covered in some sort of fur or hair. A stuffed beard upon the chaise lounge.

There was reading, but done in the form of pictures, elaborate and well lit hieroglyphics. Magazines with one syllable titles, encapsulated style, finesse, beauty surrounded by the sublime, gentlemen and ladies doing what they damn well pleased looking off into cocaine and starvation induced stares at the reader or over to the next page where another model or a watch posed. There was a book on Spectacles, no judgements made within the pages, all gatherings, all colors, for whatever superstition, what a wonderful thing, social art with people as flecks of paint.

Another volume sat upon the desk. Within its pages was a listing with pictures, of all the hotels in the W family. But the cover was what caught my eye and my heart. It had a purple background with white images poured over the top. From a distance it looked like a psychedelic design, the kind of random fanfare that is the only allowed representation of passion and emotion with abstract gears of design. Paisleys and Pollack stains are what you usually find if someone is trying to be warm and avoiding any realistic depiction of the world outside and inside of them.

But the cover, which lit up in the darkness as if trying to dispel death with intense feeling and joy, was filled with the outlines of shapes that resembled real objects. There was plenty of swirl but realistic forms could be picked out. There was a genie's oil lamp spewing out all wishes and desires, trying to make them real. A girl cast a shadow and an outline by an champagne bottle opening up in the corner and sending foam all over the cover. I managed to notice, with my ribald eyes, that it resembled a circumcised phallus and the drops coming out looked like the discharges know to emerge from within when rubbed like the genie's lamp.

Away from it all, emerging from and surfing the contents swooshing all around was a couple, a man and a woman. He was following behind her, his muse leading him onto greater glory, If I turned the cover he would leap out and land in San Diego, Boston, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco, in the lap of luxury, his beloved transformed into a hotel room capable of holding and soothing him.

The elevators, the transport tubes for the young romantic who were piling out into the hallways and falling out of rooms, were mobile clubs, going up and down to a throbbing beat pulsating out of the ceiling and mixing with the melting lime and rose colored lights. I admit I danced, in front of other people. But it was for myself and no one else. I didn't earn any money.

Down in the lobby were red lights and mirrors, mirrors were everywhere int eh hotel in fact, reflecting off one another and creating clear abysses for Byronic heroes in backward caps and bejewelled necks to lose themselves in, maybe giving them a vision of suffering that would cause them to take up a rifle.

But then again, surrounded by so much luxury, amde to feel and be put at rest, everything given to them, everything coming in easy, perhaps not, I can imagine it:

Whatever, comes the end of the world, the country, the city, my life, all in full view. What does everything else matter? All is despair and agony, without ecstasy, without creativity, and what better way to create than to procreate! Here is the best time of my life, the worst time, the times for screaming, for staying away in dark luxury...let me spend 22 dollars on a muffin and some orange juice...someone is starving, someone has no house...ah but all is despair unto the end of human existence...what matters charity...what matters sympathy...though we must fight the conservatives, please pass the whiskey from the mini and let us pour a drink, or empty it out down the sink...what folly!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Midnight's Children

Well Professor Goswami, I finally did it, just in time for your class on nationalism. You assigned me Salman Rushdie's classic Midnight's Children to read for my World Cultures India class when I was a freshman, during my first semester. I admit that I read everything else that was assigned, but this book I could not finish. I only got to page 156 and then stopped. It was too hard to follow, the language was too wild to comprehend. I knew the background of what was going on, from what I had picked up over the previous years about India, but still the story of the main character and his family were lost on me.

I like to read. All sorts of things. Midnight's Children was the only book I have started and not finished, besides James Fenimore Cooper's Deerslayer. I bought that one in a thrift store and desperately wanted to be able to like it since it was a founding document in the development of American literature, but was unable to do so. However since I never paid that much for it, and Mark Twain disliked it, I never felt so bad about finding the book a waste of good paper and shelf space.

However, Midnight's Children was a book that has always weighed on my conscience for not finishing. Unlike the Deerslayer, it is internationally acclaimed, considered one of the great works of postcolonial literature. Time magazine named it one of the best 100 novels to be published since the magazine came out. It won the Booker Prize for literature, and then another one for being the best book of the first twenty five years of the prize's existence. Of course such accolades do make a book worth reading. But they do make it worth looking into.

I know I was not alone in completing the book, as most of the people in my class probably never started it. My Teaching Assistant was a big fan of the novel and kept telling us that it was hard to get into but that it got better as it went along. It took for two and a half years until I got around to finishing it, but thanks to the copious amounts of free time on my family's recent vacation to Niagara Falls, I was able to do so.

At first I ran into the same troubles that had prevented me from finishing the novel. The narration shifts abruptly from realism to fantasy, from past to present, in addition, the narrator often will switch from talking about himself in the 1st and then the 3rd person. I think this time I was better prepared for the work, having read so much experimental literature and works falling under the term of "magical realism." So I had the patience to achieve the understanding of what was going on. Still there were difficulties until I got to the birth of Saleem Sinai and the country of India, which happen simultaneously.

This is where the novel really begins, as it is centered on his life, the path that India takes as a country, and the lives of the other "Midnight Children," all born at the same time as him and able to telepathically communicate with him. Before this event, we get the background of the family, but I feel much of it is unnecessary detail, the kind of stories that writers like to throw in to reinforce the world that they have created. However I felt such tales could have been reserved for later, since they didn't correspond well with the history of what was going on in India at the time, which is the main support for the rest of the story and which makes it interesting.

Once the history of India and Saleem get going, then things are much more interesting to read. The effect of the partition on his family, war with Pakistan, political infighting, divisions within the radical left as experienced by the country's magicians, the liberation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh)as seen by Saleem, and the rise of Indira Gandhi and the Emergency she declared in the late 1970s are what drew me to the story. Saleem's digressions and descriptions needed the history of the subcontinent to focus themselves.

I think here is one of the themes of the novel, perhaps accidentally expressed, that one's life may not have much of a story associated with it unless it is wrapped up with greater historical struggle. Of course this message is subverted by a contrary one that states that individuals can through inadvertent willpower shape the course of countries and give them their stories as reflections of their own problems with themselves or those around them.

Overall it was an enjoyable read. It can be compared favorably with Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude (the greatest book ever written if you are a Latin American Studies major). Both use language in a superb way, navigating between the divisions of poetry and prose to stich together new forms of meaning and expression of the human condition. I think Marquez's book does a better job of developing the plot and characters, but Rushdie ties the hsitory of his country in much better, turning the subject of history itself into a magical experience, which as a history major, I can appreciate.