Essays and Reviews

Bret Easton Ellis’s White: Non-fiction Essays that Probe the Meaning of Art and Aesthetics

By: Katherine R. Sloan

photo by Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

photo by Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

Bret Easton Ellis’s new book, White—his first in nearly a decade and first non-fiction ever—is one that I’ve been hesitant to write on as it’s proven very controversial. What’s most appalling is that the media seems to view Ellis as some sort of Trump apologist, misogynist (due to a 2008 Tweet about Kathryn Bigelow) and bigot. Ellis would say that one should “Look to the art” and not the artist, that his personal and political leanings do not matter— it’s the writing that matters. I would not be reading his novels with such fervor if I believed him to be a Republican stooge or even sympathizer.

What interests me most about White is not Ellis’s views on the current political climate, millennial culture or his pseudo-friendship with Kanye West but freedom of speech and aesthetics. To Ellis, it is an artist’s duty to speak his or her mind no matter what the repercussion. His brilliant way of making me want to revisit certain titillating films from the 1970s and ’80s that are gritty, unflinching and very sexy is part of the book of interlocking essays that held my rapt attention. The way he speaks of an un-coddled youth where movies were the gateway to exotic, adult worlds reminds me of why I have been besotted with films my entire life. Ellis discusses—in great detail—Paul Schrader’s 1980 film American Gigolo and how watching it at fifteen had an influence that was “vast and undeniable” and “impossible to tally.”  Ellis agrees that American Gigolo was not a great film but that “It changed how we look at and objectify men, and altered how I thought about and experienced LA.” What’s so fascinating about Ellis’s discussion of this film in particular is that it’s not a cinematic masterpiece but it does have resonance in popular culture and proved to influence his fiction.

Ellis also goes on to do what, I feel, he does best and that’s to take his readers into completely faraway worlds, whether they’re of his own design or that of another artist (in this case it’s Paul Schrader). Ellis goes on to describe the film as “Set in 1979 Los Angeles, whose denizens dine at Ma Maison and Perino’s and Scandia and Le Dome—and Julian Kaye, the title character, is living in a chic Westwood apartment, adorned in Armani, driving the empty streets in a Mercedes convertible and making his living as a male prostitute for wealthy older women while haunting the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel.” Ellis goes on to discuss his understanding of the “male gaze” and how the camera ogled Richard Gere, thus making the film very gay: it objectified its leading man, was “minimal and chic” and saw Los Angeles as a “brightly colored wasteland.” Ellis also talks about Gere’s blankness, his emptiness. All this harkens back to his 1985 novel Less Than Zero: a story of privileged, nihilistic youth in Los Angeles.

I think what I loved about Less Than Zero and immediately understood was that Ellis’s depiction of certain behavior is not an act of this behavior; he’s not even condoning it but, instead, criticizing it. This is why Ellis is such an effective satirist. At times, his work can even be considered absurdist; he was the Jonathan Swift of the 1980s and early ’90s. American Psycho (1991) was his ultra-violent, sexually explicit version of A Modest Proposal (1729), if you will. Ellis is a wonderful record-keeper of popular culture, especially films. He writes about the 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar (starring Diane Keaton and Richard Gere) with such finesse that I immediately re-watched it—even though I was completely horrified upon the first viewing—stating that “Gere brings Keaton to orgasm in her apartment while Donna Summer sings ‘Could it be Magic’ and then performs a balletic mock-rumble kung-fu dance in his jockstrap while brandishing a glow-in-the-dark switchblade.” Ellis then goes on to say that this scene is “ludicrous” now but was “electrifyingly sexy” to his “eighth-grade sensibility.” This is what Ellis does so brilliantly: the nuance of his language trips off the tongue; the cadence sounds like a suggestive, playful bell that tolls for readers who want a thrill.

Ellis discusses his youth where he was able to go to the local movie theater and watch horror films without a chaperone and how this ignited his imagination. He also deliberates on how these violent films (which were then mostly rated PG) would most likely be restricted now but how, in the 1970s, the horror films he watched “Smoothed the transition from the supposed innocence of childhood to the unsurprising disillusionment of adulthood.” Some of the most satisfying excerpts from the book are when Ellis describes the world of pre-internet pornography and a society where instant gratification didn’t exist: people actually purchased dirty magazines, drove to a video store to rent tapes and watched endless television at odd hours to catch only a glimpse of nudity on screen. This is all almost unfathomable today because of the internet; we simply have to look at our smartphone for X-rated entertainment. Ellis’s musings on film remind me of James Baldwin’s expert film criticism in The Devil Finds Work. Baldwin— like Ellis—was an avid fan of cinema and wrote some of the most insightful film commentary ever published.

I think the crux of White is when Ellis states that “The greatest crime being perpetrated in this new world is that of stamping out passion and silencing the individual.” This “new world” he mentions is where we all seem to be getting bent out of shape and offended by the slightest thing. I actually do believe that, as a society, we cannot become silent or complacent and that people should get angry but I also agree that, in today’s climate of over-sharing and posting every opinion on the internet, people are increasingly upset over things that seem petty and unimportant. Ellis describes the past few years (especially since Trump got elected) as “An age that judges everybody so harshly through the lens of identity politics that if you resist the threatening group think of ‘progressive ideology,’ which proposes universal inclusivity except for those who dare to ask any questions, you’re somehow fucked. Everyone has to be the same, and have the same reactions to any given work of art, or movement or idea, and if you refuse to join the chorus of approval you will be tagged a racist or misogynist. This is what happens to a culture when it no longer cares about art.” He refers to this world as “post-empire” and this is pretty much the takeaway from White: it’s wrong to think that everyone must, somehow, be moved by the same things and, in turn, equally outraged.

I, as a progressive, believe deeply in freedom of speech and differing opinions. This, of course, means dealing with speech I don’t particularly agree with or even like (hate speech is a completely separate and problematic issue). I am also not a saint and have been angered by those who do not share my views but, as human beings are contradictory by nature, I also believe that one can have many opinions—and these opinions often waver. We are all mercurial, imperfect and guilty of making certain remarks that do not necessarily define us. Ellis goes on to discuss Trump and, because he does not vilify him, some seem to think that he’s condoning and, therefore, supporting him. I simply am of the opinion that Ellis got all his Trump hatred out when he eviscerated his lifestyle in American Psycho. He explains that he has never considered himself to be political and that he’s more focused on art and aesthetics: “A romantic by comparison, I’d never been a true believer that politics can solve the dark heart of humanity’s problems and the lawlessness of our sexuality, or that a bureaucratic Band-Aid is going to heal the deep contradictory rifts and the cruelty, the passion and the fraudulence that factor into what it means to be human.” Pondering man’s existence is the exact purpose of art and what Ellis continues to do, even in the genre of non-fiction.

Ellis is no stranger to controversy. After American Psycho was published (it almost wasn’t) he was deemed a rampant misogynist and even received death threats. The novel that detailed the decadence of 1980s New York complete with greed and unimaginable horrors brought on by a society based on status was such a successful satire that it was actually taken seriously. He writes about all of this in White but the big question here is: how do we separate art from reality and are they one and the same? Ellis tends to agree that art exists separately from reality and explains that art never offended him.

photo by Mario Kroes

photo by Mario Kroes

Ellis explains that he “Understood all works of art were a product of human imagination, created like everything else by flawed and imperfect individuals. Whether it was de Sade’s brutality or Céline’s anti-Semitism or Mailer’s misogyny or Polanski’s taste for minors, I was always able to separate the art from its creator and examine and value it (or not) on aesthetic grounds.” He also goes on to cite James Joyce as an inspiration when he said that “I have come to the conclusion that I cannot write without offending people.” As for my take on valuing a work of art simply based on its aesthetics, I can only recall D.H. Lawrence’s 1920 masterwork Women in Love when the character, Loerke says of his sculpture: “It is a work of art, it has no relation to anything outside that work of art.” So, what Lawrence is trying to say, at least in part, is that it is possible for an artist to view his creation as something that can only be defined in an artistic context.

White is a complex collection of essays filled with all sorts of topics ranging from freedom of speech, the author’s disinterest in politics, Twitter, literature, actors and films. I would say that, if you’re a fan of Ellis, give it a read but don’t expect it to be like his fiction (I prefer his fiction) and don’t read only one-sided reviews that use the word “Trump” as click-bait. Instead, read it for Ellis’s discussion of Joan Didion, shout-outs to Charlie Chaplin and his musings on writing his autobiography, random reflections on nearly-forgotten performances such as Yul Brynner as a robot in Michael Crichton’s 1973 Westworld and for the sheer pleasure of delving into a fascinating writer’s life.

Lyricism, Dark Nostalgia, and Vulnerability in Willie Perdomo's The Crazy Bunch

The Crazy Bunch  Willie Perdomo Book was designed by Elise J. Strongin, Neuwirth, & Associates.

The Crazy Bunch
Willie Perdomo
Book was designed by Elise J. Strongin, Neuwirth, & Associates.

Willie Perdomo Public Domain Photo Credit: Oscar B.

Willie Perdomo
Public Domain
Photo Credit: Oscar B.

Willie Perdomo's The Crazy Bunch, snakes up on you like a twisting code of portmanteaus and allusions that exemplifies some early lines as told by Papo/Skinicky: "Bro, poems were falling from rooftops, flailing out the/windows; sometimes you'd pick up the corner pay phone and a/poem would be calling collect" (xiii). The nod to Pedro Pietri's telephone booth poems is not just a nod. It is documentary, for within the vivid language in this poetic bildungsroman, we are given back doorway into the very real poetic imaginary of crews that carry secrets to the death. This is not poetry about a world; this is a world that lives and speaks in poetry because there is no other way to decipher it or survive it.

There are three ideas that I explore in this review. The first has to do with its lyricism. Early reviews of the collection have made much of its homage to hip hop (Abdurraqib; Publisher's Weekly) and Perdomo himself acknowledges his love of the art form. However, I would like to pose that this collection is not influenced by hip hop. Instead, it records moments when hip hop is created, meaning that the collection reflects and records the phenomenon, the people, the actions that manifested hip hop. hat is to say, the work remembers that hip hop came from somewhere and it places the who, what, where, and why. The second idea I explore here is what I call dark nostalgia. We often think of nostalgia as sweet or bittersweet, often smoothing over edges and casting a sunset filter on memory. However, over the course of the weekend depicted in The Crazy Bunch, the look back is an excited frenzy couched in pool dips, fire escape adrenaline, junk food, high school crushes, and blood. T When the mix is gloomy, I argue the pull back is stronger. The final concept I explore is the vulnerability of our black and brown men, shown as a tableaux in what amounts to a poetic memoir. Right now, when so many African American and Latinx men are being shot, and then accused as an afterthought in order to justify these shootings, we desperately need a text that reveals that running boys with hard muscles en el barrio have soft hearts, too.

Some of us will read The Crazy Bunch and interpret one thing, but I swear that Perdomo's crew from back in the day will read something on top of, or perhaps underneath, the something the rest of us read. The pretext and subtext will be different for its varied readers, depending on whether you are from a barrio, or el Barrio, or whether you were part of the inner sanctum of the crew. Perdomo said in an interview that this book was a response to his homeboy Baby Los asking when he would write about their crew (Charney), and the poems themselves confess to us, "But there's some shit I promised to take to the grave. Y'all know/how that go" (xv). Regardless of your velvet rope status, the poetics communicate how this gathering of Black and Brown folk weaved "wild style" (3) and "masticated benches" (7) into the gold that became the world's rhythm.

The titular name of the crew was born on a day when two dozen friends were planning to "crash Josephine's sweet 16" and select members set up "a Florsheim guiso" or cooked up plan to get some shoes for free (7). The juxtaposition between the saccharine celebration and the economically-driven desire for kicks—both for selling and stylin'—sets the tone for the moniker. Skinicky, who is the central character, responds to Nestor's suggestion of calling the crew The Crazy Bunch, with a non-chalant, "Naturally" (7). Not, yes, that's great, or sounds good. Naturally. Yes, naturally because that is the beat, the rhythm, the vibe. The feeling isn't the crazy bunch electricity alone. It must include the casual, everyday acceptance of the crazy bunch static and its melodious crackle. Of course, naturally, that's just what we have here. Poetry droppin' everywhere.

Some of the poetry drops in the form of interrogations, which, unfortunately, are part of the locale's tapestry, but Perdomo's Poetry Cops are "Consolidated Poetry Systems," so in this imaginary those doing the questioning are the embodiment of word artistry. The neighborhood has come together to form an interconnected mechanism that brings together creative aspects of genius and wordplay, all to figure out what happened that weekend when three friends met their untimely end and left others with the puzzle. The answers are in the soundwaves of syntax. Dying too soon is an echo of Gwendolyn Brooks, reformed in the words:

Body Shot
Chop Shop

Black Hole
Myths Sold

Break That
Like This

Black Cat
Death Kiss (10).

House-heads will also hear Chip E's "Like This" remix spinning in the background as the friends wonder if they will be next. At this point, I remember, these are boys, the age my son would be, if I had one. Sons of nature and concrete, specifically sons of pineapples, grapes, and daisies (13), just the same as "cracks in planks" and a "rumble down a fire escape" (22-23). One begins to hope that the frutas are sweet enough to counteract the bricks that break the night (89). Nothing is certain except the pulse of language. When the barrio sages speak, even they say language is "a lemon running/up the stairs, a piano plink, an uppercut & a right cross" (90). Perhaps there is the salvation, the fact that here no one merely moves or speaks, they "electric boogie past that old hot dog stand" and "rock your Lees right" (25). Life itself must be a conglomeration of poetic action, in everything from naming your crew to the search for "Juice & Butter," juice being "a wink underwater,/a finger snap in a dark hallway,/…a club of coded fists" and butter being "leather bombers,/Virgin Mary medallions, Starfire/rubies" (18). Juice=power; Butter=the profits. All of it a campy painting of what it takes to create music when under pressure.

This dark nostalgia is perversely entertaining, a very guilty pleasure that borders on obsession. What happens when all of a sudden you are face-to-face with how dangerous your surroundings are, when you thought you were just having an illegal midnight swim with your homies? Perdomo writes, "We could've been six feet under for all we knew, so we hopped/the public pool gates, & swam 400-hundred-meter relays/in our soaked boxers" (91). This moment, three days, is all-consuming and it feels like a year. Isn't that what it feels like when you are shaken from the day-to-day to see what is actually before you? What has been taken from you? The first encounter with death is through Nestor, who was left so mangled on the crime scene, his "bile/the shade of old butter" echoes the power he would no longer be able to cop (47). The bravado changes here, Perdomo explaining, "Who was there to see what became of us at the touch/of blood?" (47). How can someone feel nostalgic for such moments? My response to that question is, "How can one not?" Anyone who goes through such heartbreak will become tormented by it. It will hound the thoughts, begging for a rewrite, as shown in the lines: "None of us wanted to exit this world without a sense of/procession" (47).

The series of deaths occur at the same time these young men are learning to shape their love. "That's My Heart Right There" explains to the reader that the phrase reveals a metonym for someone who is dear to you. Perdomo uses a prayer beat to explain:

We used to say
That's my heart right there.

As if to say,
Don't mess with her right there.

As if, don't even play,
That's a part of me right there. (37)

For young people who need to carve a space for tender sentiment to counteract the grind of the daily hustle, the reverence is not overstated. This nascent love in combination with the harshest losses is an acute trauma that results in "PTHD. Post-Traumatic Hood Disorder" (94), a trauma that simply isn't forgotten. However, the love isn't forgotten, either, hence this dark nostalgia that won't loosen its vice. The beauty within the tragedy brings you back even though the signs of logic flash, "forget." The view is distorted, "As in,/the best way to watch was the/other way./To see before they could say, I saw./You lean to the side & recline, only to see/Who else is hurting (69). And the danger is in staying in the distorted view of the past so that you might not have a future, as Perdomo explains, "The thing is, though, not to/stay behind &/take the Life/that was taken/from you" (73). This stanza begs the questions, who took these lives, and didn't a part of all the crew's lives go along with them when they were taken? One might fear that forgetting might be tantamount to taking the lives away again, therefore keeping the dark nostalgia by one's side is the only way to bear the past.

Which brings me to the last part of my exploration: creating space for beautiful, flawed, human Black and Brown men. How we need this space, and it is done here on their own terms. We do not want a space for the White Idea of a Black Man. We want to know that our crazy bunch sons, brothers, fathers, cousins can have a hand in being beauty's father (104), and Perdomo confirms it (although some of us already knew it, just to be clear; this collection just paints the knowledge in technicolor letters). Glory be to "A brother named Jose…[who] will tap out a happy hour blues with his rolled-up/Daily News (81). Thank you Brother Lo, who "was a story master, a library without a card, a cuento" (79). Let us remember that these men "practiced [their] lives in lobbies & layaway, ganders & goofs" and they "were god bodies…had God in [their] bodies" (101). We want to remember the wicked humor, the honorable struggle, the ritual and spiritual. Perdomo sublimes the memory into a vapor that we can breathe and feel, one which I hope will cause more of us to understand what is lost when someone is lost. However, it would be a mistake to think that the work romanticizes Perdomo's experience. No, there is great warning against forcing young men to scrap for cash, or juice, in this way. There is no way one can read this text without coming to that understanding. The reader is left wishing that every crew member had taken flight like Papo/Skinicky, if only to see each one of them dance to make a point (5).

All the words dance on the pages of The Crazy Bunch. It is a text I will be able to read over and over for years because of the unique language but also to help understand my own upbringing in a similar hood, Chicago's Logan Square of the 1970s and 80s. I know these crazies. I still think of the ones who disappeared and wonder if they made it. Part of me feels as if I found them on these pages, and it hurts to admit that this map shows me that everyone's story had a different ending.

Bio: Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta is an associate professor in the English Department of the City University of New York-BCC, where she teaches creative writing and Latinx literature. Her articles, short fiction, and poetry are published widely. She is the editor of the anthology Latina Outsiders Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge, 2019), which features over 30 Latina contributors from throughout the U.S. 

Grandmother’s Red Carpet Review for Pearls on a Branch

Grandmother’s Red Carpet Review, Pearls on a Branch Compiled by Najla Jraissaty Khoury Translated by Inea Bushnaq

Grandmother’s Red Carpet
Review, Pearls on a Branch
Compiled by Najla Jraissaty Khoury
Translated by Inea Bushnaq

There is a popular contemporary genre of retellings of the canonical fairy tales: take a narrative known by the entire population of former children and reframe or rewrite the structure of the tale in order to fundamentally alter our understanding of the normative assumptions that lie at the core of the stories we tell. Hundreds of ‘feminist fairy tales’ have been published since the mid-20th century, rewriting classic stories like Cinderella or Snow White to allow the women in the stories to be more than a passive object of the desire for the prince who sweeps them out of poverty or mystically prolonged dozing. The recent film The Lure (2015) provides a starkly feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid as a punk rock horror-musical set in a seedy Polish nightclub in the 1980s, drawing out the injustice of the sacrifices asked of women conforming to society to gain the love of human males only to be betrayed by those very men.

In another mode, novels like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked provide a focus on female villains in fairy tales – Maguire’s novel takes the story of The Wizard of Oz and shifts the narrative to focus entirely on the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West, in order to draw into question the trope of the evil woman dedicated to monstrous evil and ask why so many unmarried women in fairy tales are painted as evil anyway!

While this genre of ideological reframing the canon has a great deal of value – it’s good to question stories defending patriarchy or racism or feudal orders! – I sometimes get a sense that these collections are produced so that there can finally be stories for a marginalized population to see themselves in. And this project of refitting classic fairy tales into non-patriarchal, non-western-centric fairy tales is troublesome for two reasons: 1 it assumes that the stories which have been judged problematic can be saved by prudent editing and 2 it fails to ask what stories the marginalized communities have been telling themselves. For if a marginalized group doesn’t see itself recognized in the mass popular culture, they don’t just sit at home in silence. They turn around and tell stories themselves. Instead of working to save stories which might not be salvageable, storytellers and adapters would do well to remember they are creating art for living and breathing communities, and sometimes there is more value in asking your audience what stories they are already telling themselves, rather than assuming a gap of mass popular representation is paired with a lack of narrative representation overall. If no stories are being written for women or non-white audiences by Hollywood or Broadway, then what stories are being told by those women when the evening winds down and people need entertainment, when children play with dolls or toys, or when disparate communities start to form over new modes of mass communication less limiting than film or television production? How might those stories be captured, if no one is putting them on a stage?

A joyous example of an artist/archivist carrying out this work of cross-cultural recording and interpretation is the happy publication in English of “Pearls on a Branch” (2018, Archipelago Books), a set of oral tales from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, collected by Najla Jraissaty Khoury and translated from the Arabic by Inea Bushnaq. Khoury began her work during the Lebanese civil war by touring refugee camps and rural communities, asking her interviewees to tell stories they remembered being told as children. Khoury and a theatrical troupe she founded – the Sandouk el Fergeh, or Box of Wonders – would then perform these stories exactly as delivered by her elderly storytellers, travelling throughout the Levant, even as the civil war raged from 1975 to 1990, bringing these stories to camps of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese refugees, performing them with shadow puppets when the only stage available was a canvas and a lantern. Eventually Sandouk el Fergeh closed down, but rather than let that be the end, in 2014 she selected her favorite 100 stories to publish in book form, in order that the works she and her collaborators had collected and brought to life could be shared with a new generation of listeners and storytellers.

These stories, nearly all centering on young girls figuring how to make their way in a patriarchal world which often treats them unjustly, are excellent examples of a popular culture produced and delivered from below. Khoury describes realizing after several interviews that there were some stories which would be told quite differently if men or children were in the room. As she writes “certain stories told by women were for women only” (12). Khoury asks whether this was a way for women to assert their presence and independence in a deeply patriarchal society, particularly before the middle of the 20th century, when these stories were first told to the majority of Khoury’s interviewees as children. As Khoury describes it, at this time –

“Women, once their housework was done, were confined…to their homes. The men could go out to the coffee house to hear the Hakawati, recite the old epics before a strictly male audience. The women visited each other and told stories; stories in which men are dependent on women who are sharper and more intelligent than they are, where women become the true heroines if only through their patience in the face of oppression” (13).

In these stories, adventurous young girls defy their fathers who have unjustly locked them in rooms to keep them from marriage and run away to seek their fortune outside of the home, but even demure girls who do not make such dramatic gestures show determination and wily scheming to attain their desires. As Khoury writes – “In a society where the men dominate, women use 1001 wiles to assert themselves.”

These dynamics of feminine agency within a patriarchal society show most clearly in the title story – “Pearls on a Branch”. In it, the young princess Husun Kamil (Loveliness Perfected) seeks to marry a nearby king, named Lulu Bighsunu (Pearls on a Branch). He refuses her request in such an insulting manner that she immediately steals out into the dead of night, sells herself as a slave to Bighsunu’s household, and grows close enough to make small bets over the playing of a game. If Husun Kamil wins, she can make one request. The first night, she wins and ties Lulu Bighsunu’s hands together until morning. The next night, fascinated by Husun Kamil, Lulu Bighsunu asks her to come to his chambers and serve his dinner. Husun Kamil comes at his request, but as she peels an apple over his palm, she intentionally cuts into his hand. She rushes to bandage his wound and then leaves the city without saying another word. When Lulu Bighsunu does not find her, he searches everywhere he can think of, until he unwraps the bandage, revealing a letter placed directly over the wound –

Lulu Bighsunu will not be coming to sit at Husun Kamil’s hearth?

The first night with her belt she tied your hands

And let you sleep as if on firebrands.

The second night she cut your palm and made it bleed

You’ll never be the one that Husun Kamil needs.” (94)

Aroused but humiliated, Lulu Bighsunu goes off to seek his own revenge by asking Husun Kamil’s hand in marriage, only for Husun Kamil to be told when she arrives that he will in fact be marrying someone other than her! She bows her head and seemingly accepts this and reenters Bighsunu’s household as a servant. But when Bighsunu directs Husun Kamil to sleep with his black-skinned servant Saiid, Husun Kamil, in order to avoid this sexual activity with a man not of her own choosing, demands that Saiid complete impossible tasks which he 1 cannot finish before morning and 2 will not be able to describe to Lulu Bighsunu without Bighsunu assuming the job was carried out.  The first night she asks Saiid to separate out an enormous bag of white and black beads into black and white piles. When Lulu Bighsunu asks how his night went, he can only say “as God is my witness, my Master, between black and white, I was up all night!” When Husun Kamil orders Saiid to fix an unfixable door, Saiid can only report to his master “By God, it was push and pull, push and pull, hour after hour, my Master” (99). Husun Kamil tricks her way into Lulu Bighsunu’s bed, with the aid of Bighsunu’s other wife, and gives birth to a child so beautiful and so obviously Bighsunu’s son that he is forced to overcome his need to dominate Husun Kamil, since she will obviously come out ahead of any further battles! He agrees to marry Husun Kamil and they live “happily to the end of their days” (104).

These events begin when Husun Kamil asks her father to bring back “Pearls on a Branch” on the advice of her maid, even though she does not know what the phrase means. Her father does his best, but when this object asked for as a gift turns out to be a human male, and this male immediately insults her and refuses to come to her, her pride demands she work and scheme until she has acquired this Pearls on a Branch , even if she has to go out herself into the wide and treacherous world. She becomes a slave and works her way to become Lulu Bighsunu’s wife, leaping up and down the economic hierarchy of his kingdom. Husun Kamil does not simply beat Lulu Bighsunu at games of chess and wit, she grows familiar enough with his servants and his other wife that she can make bargains or demands without them telling Lulu Bighsunu what’s been really going on. She proves to be a master of spycraft and intrigue without ever acting in a way which would give her opponent and desired husband any evidence of acting shamefully.

There are other stories in this collection which do not provide as many opportunities for clever ploys for young girls. In the story “The Sun Her Mother, the Moon Her Father”, a young girl born with the sun for a mother and the moon for a father is courted by the king’s son. She finds him pleasant and accepts his offer of marriage, but her aunts warn her as she leaves to join his household – “Because he is the king’s son you have to maintain your own position. Don’t say one word to him until he mentions your mother the sun and your father the moon” (47). She follows this advice and the king’s son puts her through terrible trials trying to get her to speak to him, but until he recognizes her descent from the sun and the moon, she speaks not a word! Of course, he does so, after overhearing this secret from some enchanted tableware, and when she immediately runs to his side we are told that “he kissed her and she kissed him” (52). She takes the demure silence demanded of women in so many spheres of the world of the story’s original listeners and turns it into a means by which to sustain her position as an equal of her husband. The girl is in a position of legal and cultural weakness, but as every good reader of Clausewitz or Sun Tzu knows, there is strength and advantage in even the worst position!

In “Sitt Yadab”, a young girl named Yadab respects her family and her teachers so very much that when she sees the Sheikh who teaches at her school is in fact a horrifying ghoul who eats small children in the dead of night, she tells no one as this would be disrespecting her teachers! The ghoul tries to trip her up by coming and asking her if she saw him eating children, because if she speaks against her teachers he will be able to eat her up next. But she is not fooled and even when the ghoul threatens to eat her family’s cows, her family’s camels, or her parents, she says only that she saw her teacher “preparing tests/To help his students do their best” (191). She runs from her hometown, but wherever she goes the ghoul follows and eats her loved ones when she does not admit that she saw her teacher eating her classmate. She marries a prince and bears two children, but the ghoul appears and, after she refuses to admit what she saw, eats her children and leaves a mark of blood upon her lips. Yadab’s husband locks her in a prison cell as the killer of her own children, and in this cell she grieves and cuts marks in a Stone of Patience with a Knife of Sorrow procured on a Hajj from Mecca. As she cuts into the stone she cries out all the sorrows she could not admit to the ghoul without disrespecting her teacher. After an entire night and day of weeping and declamation in total isolation, her ritual attains its purpose:

“the ground at her feet split open and the Sheikh appeared. He addressed her with these words:

‘O Sitt Yadab, no human has existed

Who defied my orders or strength resisted

Until your patience and your tears

For the first time in all my years,

Sapped my strength and conquered me!” (199-200) 

Whereupon her entire family, its camels and cows, her children and everyone else the ghoul had consumed throughout Yadab’s trials all appear in Yadab’s small room, and the ghoul disappears back into the ground. The prince hears about the magical commotion, everything is revealed, and Yadab is reinstated as princess. Her wedding celebrations are renewed to allow her parents to celebrate and recognize this second beginning, and the couple “then lived together in happiness and peace” (201). This is a didactic story, firmly advising young women to respect their elders and their teachers, but the lesson is pushed to such an extent that in living according to the maxim “respect your teacher”, Sitt Yadab allows her parents and children to be eaten by a ghoul. This requires a deep and abiding subjective fortitude in the face of literally inhuman attacks. The quiet, abiding patience of Sitt Yadab is evidence not of a blind unthinking adherence to a schoolbook lesson, but rather of real subjective courage as she upholds the virtues she demands of herself in a hostile world.

These three women, Husun Kamil, the daughter of the sun and the moon, and Sitt Yadab, are active members of their society, toying with and becoming masters of the deeply patriarchal rules they must live within. They turn deeply unfair requirements of silence and obedience to their own advantage, whether that advantage be a desired sexual partner in the case of Husun Kamil, mutual respect as an equal of her husband in the case of the daughter of the sun and the moon, or a meaningfully life defined by ethical virtue in the case of Sitt Yadab. And this is all done without explicitly decrying the injustice or arbitrariness of these customs and orders.

Given that these customs and laws are so much a part of the worlds of these stories, some readers might well wonder whether these stories will be unintelligible to an American without any grasp of 20th century Lebanese history. I can tell you this is of no concern. The translator Inea Bushnaq has rendered these tales in an English which echoes the prose of most children’s stories in this language without erasing either the Muslim faith of the storytellers or the Jinns and Ghouls of Arabic spirituality. The stories leap from raucous comedy to delicate melodrama to truly frightening moments of horror; stories filled with astounding magic and talking animals exist side by side with tales featuring nothing more surprising than a young girl who stands for what she wants in the face of masculine petulance. Additionally, there is another entry-point into this collection for the wary American child - many of these stories will be immediately recognizable the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel or Snow White, shifted and translated into Arabic audience. The Snow White figure, placed into a mysterious sleep by her jealous step-mother, is protected here not by 7 dwarves, but rather by Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, and must sleep until a virtuous sultan speaks a magic phrase to wake her from her slumber. The sultan marries her as his wife and live joyfully together, causing the wicked step-mother to become so angry that she bursts into a thousand pieces! If the stories here require some moments of translation on the part of the listener, we should remember that stories always have. Even the most isolated of rural communities or marginalized populations have taken stories from other cultures or more powerful groups within the same community and reworked them to fit their own needs.

But the crowning glory of this collection, as well as of the translation by Bushnaq, lies in the farshehs - a rhymed framing device placed before the prose stories in the book. Readers of English fairy tales will be familiar with the phrase “once upon a time”, which tells us that we will now be hearing a story in the half-pretend world of King Arthur or Mother Goose. These tales have an Arabic equivalent which begins most stories proper – the wonderfully conceptual “It was or it was not” – but the farsheh, a word referring to a pillow brought into the center of the living room at the end of the day to create the sleeping space, is a luxurious sequence of rhymed puns, filled with nonsense words and goofy images mixed together into an opening movement to a night of storytelling. The farsheh sometimes primes the listener to what the story will be about, but often is nothing more than an occasion to revel in the talent of the storyteller as the community gathers around to listen to the story. As Khoury describes it in the beginning of the book, “the purpose of the farsheh…is to catch the listeners’ attention and announce that they are heading into an indeterminate elsewhere. ‘This is what the story will lie upon,’ says the storyteller” (13). Bushnaq’s rendition of “The Sun Her Mother The Moon Her Father” reads:

It happened or maybe it didn’t.

Let us tell stories that amuse and delight.

Even if we sleep a little later tonight

Some on pillows stiched with pearls and coral rings;

Some on pillows full of lice and crawling things.” (43)

Whereupon the story begins. Bushnaq describes the farsheh in her introductory text as “the equivalent of a red carpet rolled out for the stories about to be heard” (17). In this book, most of the farshehs are less than six lines long, but when these stories were told live, storytellers could go on at astonishing length, until they nearly ran out of words to rhyme! These tales come to us fully prepared with a joyous and unmistakably oral poetic form attached, whose entire purpose is to ease the audience, whether they be children or adults, whether they speak English or Arabic, into the world of the story, that glorious zone of indeterminate existence found directly between “it was” and “it was not”.

As always, when reading a collection of such charming folktales, I feel a temptation to rhapsodize on the imagination of these un-Disneyfied narratives, to ‘go back’ to this rural life filled with linguistic invention and rustic virtue. But this desire to return to a perceived ‘simple’, ‘rural’ life is itself a failed engagement with Khoury’s work! By holding this book as the answer for the ideal set of stories to sell to feminist parents, I’ve asked precisely the wrong question. Instead of proclaiming  Khoury’s collection of intergenerational oral tales as the True Feminist Stories to be stamped as the Official Children’s Literature of the Modern World, we should be following the example Khoury and her interviewees have set us.

What stories are told in your worlds that are not being translated or transcribed or recorded, whether because of a lack of time or a perceived lack of interest in the wider audience? Instead of taking the massively distributed narratives from the wider culture (blockbuster films, animated television shows, etc) and retooling them to represent marginalized populations or promote liberatory ideals – I repeat that these are worthy goals in their own right! – we should take Khoury’s text as a prompt to look for the stories which are already being told by those marginalized populations! Ask your family members and the strangers around you what stories they tell themselves and their children. Ask yourselves!

Certainly, for anyone born in the United States in the last century, the films of Hollywood and the books published by British or American publishing houses have been the major prisms of childhood narratives. But as hegemonic as these narrative structures have been, anyone despairing at the lack of popular engagement in the creation of stories and ideas would do well to look in the odder reaches of the internet, where entire communities form around fandoms of just about every novel or film or television show imaginable. These fandoms gather to write criticism and get to know each other, but most of all to retell the stories under discussion, drawing out minor characters or utterly revamping the world of the fiction to fit communal needs and desires. We live in perhaps the most absolutely mediatized time in the history of human civilization, with our every interaction taking place via some multinational corporation or other, whether as the foundation of our imagination or the medium of its communication, but the blossoming of fan-fictional and communal narratives online provide a profound counterargument to the idea that there are no new stories being told or no new storytellers taking the time to tell them.

This is not to say that corporate control over our popular imagination isn’t a threat to the emancipatory powers of storytelling, or that stories can’t ultimately disappear. Khoury’s project of collecting these stories took place in a time of massive displacement and exile, as the stories here and the peoples telling them through generations were passing into new, less coherent forms of communal being. Most archival projects only come about as to respond to an imminent threat of informational dissolution, to grab hold of some body of culture before it is gone. Khoury herself, since 1997 has been working with the NGO Assabil Libraries to establish and expand public libraries throughout Lebanon, to create institutions working against the disappearance of popular culture.

On one level, this erosion of narrative memory is nothing more than the basic experience of living as a finite being in a finite world. Every story will pass away, just as every storyteller will pass away. But on another, this erosion is a reminder that this does not have to be the end. Erosion is the experience of time, yes; but if you experience it then you are still alive, and so can still pass your story on! If you do so, along with a farsheh and its power for opening the intimate theatrical space of communal storytelling, then perhaps another audience unused to such a generous experience of narrative might be brought to its unique joys. Perhaps this story will be the one that future audience needed to hear!

And if you don’t have a story to tell, ask yourself whose stories you have never heard. If you treat them with respect and show you are an earnest listener seeking only to translate for the good of the story, they will love to tell it to you, as there can never be too many librarians asking for stories in this war-torn world so driven to forgetting.

Review for Problems by Jade Sharma and the House Stark Women

Photo: ‘Problems’ by Jade Sharma

Photo: ‘Problems’ by Jade Sharma

As soon as I saw episode 4 of Game of Thrones, I came across Jessica Chastain’s tweet slamming it with the sentence: “a woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly.” I agree with Chastain’s statement, however I also do not feel that Sansa Stark’s character construction glorifies rape and abuse as a tool to empower women. When the young Lady of Winterfell tells the Hound that, “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life,” I immediately thought about Nietzsche’s quote: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.Game of Thrones presents a violent world from the very first season, where both genders (think of Theon Greyjoy’s brutal emasculation), have to navigate a survival of the fittest. This is the same gut reaction I had while reading Jade Sharma’s ‘Problems,’ that was published a few years ago in the USA and was just released in my country, Italy. Perhaps, being a European who was lucky enough to live for a while in New York, I had the chance to nurture my personal matriarchal ideals from both cultural perspectives.

Feminist historiography is important to deconstruct patriarchy, but we should aim for an inclusive world where neither gender prevails on the other. This can be achieved by reminding ourselves that in fiction, as much as in reality, both men and women can either be frail and be destroyed by tragic events, or embrace a combative spirit to emerge as phoenixes from their ashes. Along these lines, Jade Sharma, presents this crude reality through her female protagonist. ‘Problems’ unveils the story of a troubled heroine who is overwhelmed by drug abuse, but seems to fight like a warrior through a world of perdition she has chosen to helm.

The Indian-American author introduces us to Maya, “a thrifty, generic brown” woman full of self-destructive complexities. She has a low self-esteem and is a lymphatic bulimic, heroin junkie and is addicted to a zillion other drugs. Maya is also an unrealistic writer and bookseller, who is married to an alcoholic and has an affair with a professor who is over sixty years old. The literary style adopted, for this harrowing coming-of-age tale, is a stream of consciousness that is fiercely physical, both from a lustful and scatologic standpoint. The way the writing flows almost seems to be taken from a stand-up comedy stage: it’s sardonic, irreverent, raw and current with millennial psychology.

‘Problems’ is fraught with sharp thoughts, that obviously pertain to those struggling with addiction, but also to people pondering upon the challenges of intersubjectivity. For instance Maya brings to the readers’ attention the weariness that can come out of an unhappy marriage when she says: “Seeing the same person so much it makes you not see them at all.” She also struggles with body appearance when she declares: “Age is meaner than death,” and reminds us all, how conflict sometimes can be a trigger for people craving for attention, when she admits: “I can’t handle not having someone around to tell me I look hot or get mad at me or just acknowledge my existence. It’s like, what’s the point of being alive if no one is there to see it? If there’s no one to disapprove of my behavior, then why bother doing it?

Those who have pursued a career in the arts, moving to New York City, without necessarily being addicts will definitely identify with Maya’s reflections on the subject matter: “You live in New York, and you’re cool. You have an apartment in the East Village, and you call yourself an artist. But after a while, you forget what it was you were excited about. There is nothing here for you. You feel like a sucker every day paying fourteen bucks for a pack of smokes. You take stock of your resources, and you don’t have anything. You call yourself an artist, but you work fifty million hours a week just to sleep in a room where only a bed fits. You go to bars where you can sit down or hear anyone talk. You’re a hipster in New York City. There are a million of you, and it doesn’t matter that you believe you’re talented, because no one cares and you’re only getting older. The thing you didn’t realize when you were fourteen and thought Kurt Cobain was God was that not every weirdo with an ironic tee from Urban Outfitters makes it. There are a lot of people in their sixties, toothless, broken and poor, who have stories of almost making it. At what point do people hear ‘loser’ when you say ‘artist’?

Our narrator truthfully grasps the struggles of living that New York artists have to confront. She equally dissects mercilessly and authentically the life of a junkie: “One of the greatest myths of addiction is that it’s interesting. It’s the most boring thing anyone could ever do. There is a slight glamour in the beginning, a feeling of doing something wrong, of indulging in a weird world populated by ghosts who used to be struggling musicians but don’t make music anymore, or writers who need write. And then your whole life is getting high and being numb, and there’s absolutely no reason to leave your bed except to get more money. Your life becomes a triangle of elemental needs: get money, get drugs, get home. Dope is a tease. It makes you not want anything else. There’s no freedom in the end, it’s just another jail.” Maya, besides the profound observations also manages to be humorous about life in rehab, venting out: “Sometimes it feels like you are being punished, and the real program is to make you so miserable that you don’t try to use or off yourself again because you may fail and have to come back. That’s pretty much the lesson you take away: next time kill yourself properly, or don’t try.

The conclusion of this psychotropic chronicle is summed up with Maya’s query: “When did I confuse hedonism with lousy old self-destruction?” But whether we have addictions or not, the ultimate lesson Maya teaches us is to embrace the hardships knowing that the ebb and flow of life will knock you down, only to teach you to stand up again and not give up. As the book beautifully ends: “You will feel waves of sadness and you will let them run through you because that is what they are: passing waves.” To stay in line with Game of Thrones our Maya seems to adopt Arya Stark’s mantra to the question “What do we say to the God of Death ?”… “Not Today!

Interview with Academy Award Pixar Producer Jonas Rivera Reveals The Magic Of Toy Story 4

There is a child-like spirit in all of us, perhaps that is what makes the Toy Story franchise so popular, with kids as much as with adults. These Pixar motion pictures remind us about the importance of integrating our youthful spirit into our everyday life.

Someone who knows how to do so exquisitely, through his storytelling is Academy Award Producer Jonas Rivera. He joined Pixar animation studios in 1994 as an intern, working precisely on the very first Toy Story film, and eventually worked in all subsequent Pixar films, becoming Up’s producer in 2009, the Oscar-winning animated feature film. In 2015, Rivera collaborated again with director, Pete Docter, for the film Inside Out, which won an Oscar for Best feature-length animated film and candidate in the Best Original Screenplay category. More recently he played the role of producer in the Disney-Pixar movie Toy Story 4, that allows the character of Woody to find new purpose.

Photo: Jonas Rivera (Academy Award Pixar Producer)

Photo: Jonas Rivera (Academy Award Pixar Producer)

The fourth segment of the Toy Story saga provides new insight to what it means to boldly confront your unique calling. The floppy pull-string cowboy doll has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his owner, whether that is Andy or Bonnie. So when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky, declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost girlfriend Bo Peep. After years of being on her own, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road, fail to fulfill her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they are worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that it is the least of their worries.

After a preview of some clips from Toy Story 4,I sat down with Jonas Rivera to talk about the upcoming Pixar animation:

Photo: Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 4

Photo: Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 4

Question: The content seems very much for an adult audience rather than children, to whom is this film addressed to?

The film is really for us, we never really thought about making films for kids, we want them to love them, but we somehow act like kids at Pixar, we have a world that is very child-like and yet we love movies from around the world. I think a lot of that seeps into the filmmaking at Pixar. But our job is to make it work for everybody. There are some dark moments in the movie, but there is also a lot of comedy and humour. Honestly I use my kids to test the films, I have three children, aged 13, 10 and 7, so it’s a good spread and I can see what sticks out for them and what they understand. Kids always surprise us at Pixar, when we are screening our films. There was the same concern with Inside Out whether it could be too esoteric or philosophical or emotional. I found that kids understood it better than adults, which is always a joy and a reminder that the audience is smart and will go with you. In Toy Story 4, when we meet Gaby Gaby, we play a little record and that is the music from The Shining, that children may not be familiar with. Kids won’t know there are also echoes of Sunset Boulevard in the film, but they’ll get that a certain place is scary and you shouldn’t go in there, and that is all you need. So we just make sure it works on multiple levels.

Question: In these franchise sagas it is always difficult to find a reason to continue, what was the trigger that encouraged to make Toy Story 4?

When we started we realized we didn’t want to make another film unless there was a deeper reason to tell a story. Toy Story 3 had such a nice ending, that we did’t want this to feel like another adventure and we just tagged on. The thing we talked about most is character, so all the adventures that Woody has had, those are just the plot, but thinking about the character we were inspired in continuing Woody’s story beyond Andy. Woody has done everything correctly and has landed in a successful way, but yet feels unfulfilled, that felt interesting to us and worth chasing down and dramatizing.

Question: As regards the restyling of Bo Beep, I read there was some controversy regarding some animal activists who had asked to remove the crook that she uses to grab her sheep, I wanted to know how your reaction at Pixar was?

We have a great group of young women, two directing animators, our head of story, one of our story artists and one of our character modelers and a few others who call themselves “Team Bo.” They basically kicked the guys out of the room — including myself — and they wrote up everything about Bo, how she would hold herself, stand, and dress. They didn’t want her to fall into any stereotype and build a unique strong character. We heard about the animal activists, and we had to make sure she was recognizable from the past and left the crook that she used to move around and traverse the world. We never see her using it as a shepherdess might have, we were aware of it but our version of Bo Beep is harmless, plus she is a toy. In a certain level, even a comment about animal rights just says that people care about these characters, and this world and that it somehow feels real to them. We don’t want to make anything that’s offensive and we never will, but even that is an example that it is meaningful to people, so we just do our best and do what’s right and tell stories with characters that relate to people.

Photo: Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 4

Photo: Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 4

Question: At Pixar you stage emotions in a majestic way, when you hire new people how do you make sure that they have enough heart to work for you?

Ed Cantwell, who is the President and one of the founders, always said that he looks for people over ideas. If someone comes in who has a very great idea, that is less valuable than someone who could have the potential to have multiple ideas. I think Pixar is not a perfect place, but I think it does a pretty good job at seeing potential in people. I’m an example of that, I came in with nothing and worked really hard, and it’s a place that rewards that. Pixar has built a place for people with a common goal, we love movies, we love animations, we grew up loving the Walt Disney animated films.

Question: Toys can have a very strong influence on children’s minds, how do you think you can deal with the future of the Playstation movement, do you think you’ll make a film about traditional toys versus video games?

We played around with that idea, and I think it’s a great theme. When we began to think about the character for Forky, we pondered upon how something that could be very primitive could acquire value, as well as what could distract a kid from the traditional toy like a computer. In my life I’m a very analogue person and try to provide old fashioned toys for my kids, whether that seeps into the Toy Story world I don’t know. There is a short film [Toy Story That Time Forgot] where there is Bonnie who goes to the house of her friend Mason and her toys encounter his new Battlesaurs video game. Bonnie ends up tossing the toys into the room to join Mason in playing with his video game console. So we’ve used it in the universe a little bit, but there is the opportunity to go more, because there is a truth. You walk into a kid’s room and find him on an iPad and you feel bad for the toys.

After working for so many years at Toy Story, how has your relationship with toys changed, do you feel guilty in giving them away, considering you have kids?

Oh my God! Yes! It’s awful, I tell you I feel terrible when we do, I feel like I’m betraying my job in someway. It has given me great cause. I realize how less these films have seeped into my life, it’s so funny, it’s a great question! I think everyone feels that because of these movies, and there’s less toys thrown away because of these, so I feel proud because of that, I guess. Thank you.

From Behind a Kitchen Window: A Review of Memory for Forgetfulness

Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 (Literature of the Middle East)  by Mahmoud Darwish (Author), Ibrahim Muhawi (Translator), Sinan Antoon (Forward) ISBN-13: 978-0520273047

Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 (Literature of the Middle East) by Mahmoud Darwish (Author), Ibrahim Muhawi (Translator), Sinan Antoon (Forward) ISBN-13: 978-0520273047

I was first exposed to Mahmoud Darwish through an Israeli-Palestinian Literature course; his poem “In Jerusalem” was the first that I read. The poem, whose narrative voice perhaps transcends between sleep and wakefulness, chronicles his journey through the epochs of Jerusalem. As he wanders, remembering and not remembering the pathways, the mysticism of Jerusalem seeps into his narration. He expresses his love for Jerusalem, for its holiness, and his love is undying—even if he is displaced from those walls. It was with this eye, already exposed to the hypnotizing writing and familiar themes of Mahmoud Darwish, that I dove into Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982.

It is one of Darwish’s most notable works, and for a reason. It was first published in March of 1995, masterfully translated by Ibrahim Muhawi. Its newer edition, published in May of 2013, includes a forward by Sinan Antoon, offering an extensive introduction to Darwish’s previous works and the historical context from which he writes. This collection of essays—really, a set of prose poems—reflects on Darwish’s experience during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In a meditative rendering, the collection touches upon the political and historical dimensions of the Palestinian exile, and particularly on “Hiroshima Day” during the Lebanese Civil War: witnessing the barrage of Beirut in August of 1982. Through recurring symbols of death, coffee, wakefulness, and memory, Darwish explores fear during conflict: a sentiment which is, as he recounts, constant, pervasive, and disturbingly routine.

The essays are war-ravaged, recreating the violence of a city under siege from behind Darwish’s kitchen window. It is hauntingly mundane, illustrating a ‘day-in-the-life’ of an individual during wartime; as he yearns for his coffee, his “morning silence,” (7), he evaluates whether the walls of his home will protect him from the bombshells. As he listens to the morning birds, awake at daybreak, he wonders “for whom do they sing in the crush of these rockets?” (9). Thoughts of death for Darwish, for a man encumbered by the normalization of war, are thoughts as commonplace as his morning coffee, as the 6am bird songs. It is this normalization - the disturbing interweaving of uncertain death among regular elements of life—that makes this collection so unsettling.

I thank God everyday that I’m unfamiliar with the distresses of war. Moreso, as an Israeli, much of the Palestinian narrative is muffled behind distortions of emotion, of cultural sentiment. On both sides, there is an overwhelming tendency to approach the conflict through biased eyes. When such a conflict involves family and identity, it’s easy for personal narratives to overpower those on the opposing side. But that’s why reading work like this is so deeply important. Beyond understanding from the standpoint of an Israeli, this work offers all readers insight behind the walls of Darwish’s kitchen. It translates experience - a distinct kind of suffering - across all borders, regardless of perspective. The reader is called upon to question the extent of their awareness, and to regard the experiences of those living in one’s periphery. I would argue that that’s the point of this kind of work, this striking, scarring poetry. The transmission of experience. And though I pray I’ll never be burdened by the normalization of war, never be wrought by fears of falling rockets as I brew my morning coffee, I am grateful to consider these burdens through Darwish’s haunting readership.

On Image, Steve McQueen and Renegotiating our Relationships with the Dead

I’ve considered very much the business of curating family photo albums. It’s a messy affair. We consider, when framing an image, how that moment integrates into an ongoing narrative. A narrative often devoid of a reliable narrator. This isn’t to suggest that we are with the intent to manipulate, but it is to suggest that how we prioritize the representation of memory is predicated on a nostalgic sentimentality. Nostalgia operates as colors for which we use when painting the empty spaces of our memory. Each brush stroke, a sensation that we prescribe to a smile, a kiss or the tears swelling in the eye of an unknown pallbearer. If you’re Black and you’ve sifted through a family photographic album, you know the inevitable page turn to the photograph of the man, or woman, in a casket. Maybe you know them, and your relationship to them, or maybe you’re unaware of where they fit in the gumbo that is your Black folks. Regardless of whoever that person may have been, in life, in this visual compilation of your familial lineage, they are positioned in the same context as the living. Their contribution to memory is immortalized, just as your parents’ wedding or your nephews’ first birthday party. If I’m inquiring how that photograph arrived in its place, I’m asking what was the intent in curating the photographic album. And If I am directing that question at someone with the same face as I, then I am acknowledging our collective obsession with death. Death and the curation of our dead.

Photo: Steve McQueen

Photo: Steve McQueen

I will continue to use the term curation, given that there is an artistic language required to successfully narrate the history of man through still imagery. In the interview with Kass Benning, artist John Akomfrah comments on the morbidity of Black artistry, specifically film-making. “I think necrophilia is at the heart of black film-making. Not in the literal sense but in a postmodern sense in which people are invoking figures, there is an act of feeding off the dead….There is a kind of level morbidity which I think people have to realize in the quest for identity.It is a morbid business”. Whomever undertakes the task of curating a Black family photographic album is of the same obligation as the filmmaker and considers their responsibility to aesthetic. For the Black family photographic album curator, as Akomfrah may agree, it is the assumed responsibility to a digestible aesthetic, of the dead, for the consumption of the Black voyeur. We, as observers, are in effect voyeurs,  when turning the pages of these photographic albums. We imagine the inner thoughts, and private lives, of the unknown faces in each photograph and all within the frame we imagine as a stage where these lives interact. Even if we, ourselves, are the subject, in the frame, we remain ignorant to the interior of other bodies surrounding our own. Thus, we apply stories to the faces, of others, and the process of memorializing concludes with an achieved sentimentality that allows us to accept the narrative, of the album, as a functioning record of our emotional histories. We do the same for our dead. We craft stories about whomever lay, embalmed, prepared for burial to fit into the puzzle of affections that are the surrounding images of the living. Often, their exploits are shrouded in mystery. The keys of discovery, of which, are locked behind the conscious of an unidentifiable source, generally our elders, who’d rather let unresolved matters of shame, guilt or frustration decompose with the corpse, of the dead, than find resolution. But, it matters not how the person died, nor how they lived, only that we must long for them, in death, in the same as we long for the memory of baby showers and family reunions.  I do not mean that we wish for their presence, but our affections for their lived experience, even if we are absent this knowledge, must be merciful. We must be kind to our dead. This I agree, but am not without concern.

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When looking at the work of British visual artist, Steve McQueen, there is a gentle, albeit brutal dissection of the present, informed by the past, most notably, his early installations which saw him attempt to memorialize, with moral rigor, African and African Diasporic bodies having been morphed  by space-time. In a published collection of still frames, from McQueen’s installations, Carib’s Leap (2002) and Western Deep (2002), the former find’s McQueen, and long time cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, documenting the meanderings, labor and destitution of Grenadians along the shoreline of the same beach where, in 1652, Caribs, of Grenada, committed mass suicide. The act itself, of the Caribs throwing their bodies onto the rocks below what is now regarded as Carib’s Leap, has become historicized as a measure of defiance against the then French sponsored genocide of the indigenous Kalinago, or Carib population of Grenada. McQueen has little desire to curate memory here, instead inhabiting the station of witness. The history of atrocity is explicit and requires little from imagination. The dark bodies and faces are tethered to something historic and bear little room for one’s imprint of imagination. Jean Fisher, author of Imitations of the Real: On Western Deep and Caribs’ Leap, contends the point. “In Caribs’ Leap the Caribs are absent in actuality; and yet, we could say that they remain as a virtual past co-present, perhaps in the memory of an obscure image-thought floating in limbo until tricked into consciousness; or, as a displacement , in the way the African descendants re-inhabit the space-time of the island, doing what Caribs presumably always did when they weren’t being aggressed by colonialists - hanging out on the beach, attending to their boat’s, dying. Time passes, and yet is simultaneously strangely immobile.” And it is here, in the immobility of the unseen, as Fisher suggests, that McQueen reimagines the experience of nostalgia.

McQueen’s evocation of sentiment, and memory, is uncannily married to the origin of the word, nostalgia. Nostalgia finds its origin in two Greek root words, nostos and algos. Nostos translates to the English phrasing, returning home, and algos translates to the English term, pain. This is to suggest that McQueen’s narration of space-time, as a witness, requires a morally rigorous excavation of the historic and the prevailing legacies of trauma to procure the equitable  memory of the viewer. For McQueen, the only way to establish a truth, especially of death, is to reveal the often disturbing components of that truth, in an effort to embrace the veracity of truths delecation’s. To discover a prevailing truth in that final act of the Carib’s, one must acknowledge that which led them to that cliff and the troubles which would befall their descendants, in order to properly, and justly, preserve the memory of their deliverance-in-death.

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I am in no way indicting anyone for soliciting pleasure through the photographic image. I cherish the familial, and familiar, joy associated with exploring, from cover to cover, the family photographic albums stored away at my Grandparents’ South Carolina estate. I adore the images of my mother’s adolescence, my many cousins’ arrival to puberty and the discovery of relational details I hadn’t observed prior. I find myself engrossed with the motions, the positions of bodies embraced, the humourous posing in preparation for being immortalized by the lens. But inevitably, I’ll turn to find that body in a casket. It never summoned of me, inquiry about my relationship to lineage. The encounter is an unsettling one and not for the reason that I was in view of death. I remain disquieted, in fact, due to the image’s distance from death. There is rarely context and the body is an often ahistorical one. The remains are only that-remains. But death is something of reverence, fear and fetish for the sons and daughters of humanity's’ greatest injury-the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We are in a transgenerational tango with the grim reaper and it reflects in our lyric, our food, our sex, our delights and our sorrows. Thus, It would behoove us to renegotiate how we, familially, memorialize our dead.  Addiction, abuse, brutality, disease, poverty, medical neglect and other harms have contributed to the demise of so many whose deaths are trivialized only to include the body in it’s burial state. What of the truth in their names or of their tales? We cannot honor the memory of the dead without unraveling the veil’s of our shame given the conditions of global Blackness. We are ashamed of our lineage, familially and historically. We loath succumbing to the condition of the victim, but as with the final act of the Caribs’, as Fisher describes, “Death here is liberation: a turn towards immortality through a return to a generative signifier, the ocean, which must have been as important to the sea-faring and fishing Caribs’ as it was to the later African survivors of the Middle Passage.” The stories of our dead may not read as melancholically robust, or worth some triumphant mourning song, but they are knitted into the same fabric as any other story of the Black body in death. A sole Polaroid image, of a body, embalmed, is mere erasure of the unseen. I do not suggest capturing, in documentary form, the precise details of the every day, but if we are to appropriately memorialize our dead, we must consider the intent for which we memorialize, and document, their lived experiences. All that isn’t seen in the pages of our photographic albums, pictures along our walls or spoken with their names on our lips. If we do not, their deaths remain hollow and our narrative; disempowered. As McQueen suggested, responding to an inquiry about the agitation of Black audiences towards the production of 12 Years a Slave,  during an interview at the Walker Art Center, “In order for one to go forward, we must embrace that shame and master it, in order to move on, just as other groups have done within their unfortunate pasts. It’s a must.” McQueen's appeal, I do concur. We are storytellers, only our tales serve as archive of, as we know but may not admit, great horror. To neglect any detail is to maim our histories and to be complicit in assuring we amount to solely decaying bone and tissue. That, more than mastering the memories of our deceased, is damning the dead.

Russian Dolls: We’ve Only Just Begun

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Netflix, Season 1
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett
Created by: Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, Lesyle Headland
Reviewed by Jade Sharma

For a lot of people life consists of repeating the same self-destructive patterns. That girl who can’t permanently shake the doucebbag who everyone can see treats her like garbage. The guy who lets some girl string him along, uses him to build furniture from Ikea, ditches him for anyone else, but picks him back up anytime she feels like it. We kinda know when we don’t see a friend for a long time that means they’re probably using again. Instead of lecturing the people around us, we listen patiently as they share their litany of reasons of why this time it was different, and we hear the words: This is the last time. One of the lesser known clichés of addictions is that relapsing is part of the nature of the disease of addiction. But for the person who is in the cycle it really is always different. The idea that it’s laziness or weakness that leads us back is offensive. We’re not idiots.. Yes, we know how it seems but the truth is always complicated. And it all looks easy to the outsider but even when we are brave and end the cycle, we have to deal with the messy parts of life that are harder to solve like loneliness and emptiness.

Russian Doll is about 36-year-old Nadia, who is stuck in a loop, re-living the same day. This isn’t a grungy hipster version of Groundhog Day. Russian Doll has bigger existential fish to fry than finding how to give love another chance. Russian Doll does a good job of showing us the messy complicated parts of life but packages it in a tight well-written narrative that moves at a good pace.

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Russian Doll starts in the bathroom. Where we find Nadia (played by Natasha Lyonne in all her androgynous, sarcastic, ranting, glory. Side note: Lyonne is one of the creators.) in front of the mirror. She swings the door open and we find a refreshingly diverse hipster wonderland as her best friend Maxine (played by scene-stealer Greta Lee) exclaims, “Sweet Birthday, Baby.” Nadia, after bemoaning mortality, and asks whether women have mid-life crisis, urns to the party goers “to make some decision.” She decides to have meaningless sex with a pretentious douchebag named Mike, whose mouth is constantly expounding opinions, illustrating that too much Académie can be a bad thing. Nadia’s first death is being hit by a cab. As a viewer it’s jarring to see a character to get hit by a car and then cut to the next scene to find her standing in a bathroom, completely fine, like someone who wasn’t just hit by a car. But that’s we get used to in Russian Doll and what becomes even comical: like the montage of scenes where she seems to die every single time she tries to get down the stairs.

The first thing Nadia does is to figure out what the hell is going on. The earie part of the show is Nadia does what most people would do in her position: sharing what is going on with her friends and getting frustrated when they don’t seem to take her seriously. How frightening/maddening would it be to try to get the people around you to believe you, as you go through this, totally terrified and alone.

Her first theory is that is must be the drugs but after a few deaths, her investigation, confronting the dealer, is that the only thing laced with the joint is anti-depressants and ketamine (which she first blames as the reason as she swears she has never done ketamine, only to be reminded by Maxine that she had actually done ketamine) which ends the drug theory.

After finding out that her party is being thrown in what used to be a Yeshiva school, the next segments, finds her investigating the clumsy idea of something religious/supernatural/has to do with ghosts that is thankfully short and concludes with Nadia turning to a homeless guy that lurks throughout the show, named Horse, who probably is the key to something but somehow, for me, this is the part that drags in this show. I don’t care about Horse and it seems both heavy-handed and nonsensical that Horse, a random homeless dude in Tompkins Square, could hold answers. He doesn’t but he does take up too much screen time to not hold some importance that I’m not interested enough to investigate.

Then we have a phase where Nadia parties, does whatever drugs or drinks are in front of her, and dies in whatever way, taking a break from trying to figure anything out. That’s what there is to love about this show: the pacing is great. I love how though it meanders it still manages to stay compelling.

So, as much as we’re with Nadia we also find relief when she finds a fellow being who is also stuck. After death has gotten to just be a normal part of her routine, she finds herself on an elevator that starts to plummet to the ground and Nadia says to the guy next to her, who is not freaking out either, “Didn’t you get the memo?” she asks, and tells him that ‘We’re all going to die.” He responds, deadpan, “I die all the time.” This new turn in the narrative is a welcome one, we are relieved that finally Nadia isn’t alone in her loop, and that the narrative is extending past just Nadia and her world.

While Nadia’s been agonizing in her loop and trying to figure out what has been causing it; Alan (Charlie Barnett) has been finding comfort in his loop. He likes knowing the rhythm of what’s going to happen but Nadia messes all that up. But Nadia also jars herself and Alan back to figuring out how to get out of this.

They team up, going through each other loops and meeting back at Nadia’s party after they die. They figure out that the very first death, the first night, they actually ran into each other which leads them to the theory that neither of them was supposed to die. That somehow this leads to the universe catching a virus, leaving both Alan and Nadia in this loop.

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Russian Doll ends in what could look like a heavy-handed  mantra to reach out and save each other, as the key to ending the loop turns out to be that Nadia intervenes on Alan’s first night so he doesn’t jump off a building because his girlfriend dumps him and Alan stops Nadia from being hit by a cab, this corrects, or as Nadia sees it de-bugs the universe, and we finally see our characters break free from their loops and move forward.

When Nadia and Alan are both in their loops we see them meander through, following different paths, to find the same outcome: They wake up from their deaths in the same place. This metaphor of being stuck in the same loop, is how a lot of us feel, like someone hit the pause button, and like Nadia, we may spend some time dwelling on the sofa doing nothing until something jars us awake, and we look for answers on how to break free. This is where the metaphor ends. Sadly, the solution to breaking free in real life isn’t ever an universe-bending puzzle with the solution lurking in some obscure part of our world, like a random person in Tompkins Square, or someone going through the same thing but lies in our boring selves (like the title Russian Doll, where going inward to find replicas of the self) to make the steps out of the rut by doing real work that wouldn’t be entertaining to watch. There is something to be said that having real friends to be present to do the dull work of listening to us and doing things like taking a walk with us, or going to a movie to calm the agony of making the hours go by, slowly, stepping forward, one step at a time, or as they say, one day at a time, until we are free and can then investigate what plagued us to find solace, again, and again, in the same self-destructive tendencies.

Back to Russian Doll: The series has been green-lit for another two seasons. Where exactly does a series go, after it’s untangled an extensional crisis and what exactly could be in store for our characters with a-dozen-or-so deaths behind them? Russian Doll has created a feat for itself, it’s hard to imagine what Easter eggs of wisdom will emerge in the narrative space it’s created once life goes back to normal.

Gregory de la Haba Brings His Totem Poems & Wailing Reef Project To Monte-Carlo

The role of the artist is not merely to record history for future generations, but to enlighten society on the issues of our time. There is an artist from the Big Apple, whose origins go all the way back to Emerald Isle, who lyrically conveys sustainable tidings in his most recent exhibit.

Gregory de la Haba is a classically trained painter, writer, author, publisher, cum laude graduate of Harvard University, and Curator-at-large at Geuer & Geuer Gallery in Dusseldorf, Germany. Furthermore, the New York artist with his wife, Teresa, owns and operates the oldest bar in New York City, McSorley's Old Ale House, which encapsulates the authentic spirit of Ireland in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Marina Roeloffs Von Hademstorf, Gregory de la Haba, and Kira Roeloffs Von Hademstorf in front of The Three Muses of Monte Carlo (back wall)

Marina Roeloffs Von Hademstorf, Gregory de la Haba, and Kira Roeloffs Von Hademstorf in front of The Three Muses of Monte Carlo (back wall)

Throughout his artistic examination of current issues, Gregory de la Haba, has explored the ancient and sacred structure of the totem as theme while taking his love for the sea and the surf culture that surrounds it, as cue to create a new body of work that is primordial yet modern, familiar yet dashingly fresh.

The exhibition TOTEM POEMS that opened on April 18 in the Monegasque gallery META, located on 39 Avenue Princesse Grace, features de la Haba’s new sculpture, assemblage, and photo collage. This art show continues a tradition that began at META in 2018, with the OCEAN ART WEEK, to homage the sea. The gallery also showcased the conceptual and interactive Wailing Reef Project by Gregory de la Haba. This work references the abundance of plastics found in our waterways in the form of two totems reminiscent of bleached coral reefs — when the algae that lives on the coral dies —and all the reef’s magnificent color dies with it — leaving behind lifeless, white limestone beds.

Autumnal Moon _ Horizontal Waves Totem Lune Automnale _ Ondes Horizontales Totem Size_ 8’3” x 2’ x 3” Material_ Foam, Fiberglass, Resin, Paint

Autumnal Moon _ Horizontal Waves Totem Lune Automnale _ Ondes Horizontales Totem Size_ 8’3” x 2’ x 3” Material_ Foam, Fiberglass, Resin, Paint

The Vernal Chorus Totem Installation Le Choeur Vernal Homage to the Legendary LA Artist John Van Hamersveld 3 Panels (Photos) each 8’x2’ One Totem_ 8’3”x 2’ x 3”

The Vernal Chorus Totem Installation Le Choeur Vernal Homage to the Legendary LA Artist John Van Hamersveld 3 Panels (Photos) each 8’x2’ One Totem_ 8’3”x 2’ x 3”

Gregory de la Haba brought his creative pursuit to a higher level, by allowing guests to have a proactive role in the fruition of his artwork. Visitors were invited to scrawl their 'wishes and dreams for and of the sea' on brightly colored Post-it paper and to be like algae, colorful, and to bring their color to the work, to embed their dreams, wishes and light to de la Haba’s unique and masterful Bleached Coral Totems.

The artist’s statement was born out of his metropolitan life, observing the abundant consumption of waste in a big city, as he explains: “New Yorkers throw away on average about 25 pounds of garbage a week. That translates into almost 14 million tons of garbage being generated annually by nearly nine million people. Each day, over seven thousand sanitation workers with their thousands of garbage trucks pick up this waste from homes and offices where its brought to transfer stations around the city before being dispersed––by train and barge––to landfills and recycling plants across the United States and as far away as China. Garbage is big business. It also exacts a great, damaging toll on our environment. According to Oceana, the non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring our oceans, an estimated 17.6 billion pounds of plastics alone find their way into marine ecosystems every year. That's equivalent to one full, plastic-laden garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean every minute. That’s insane. And little wonder that while taking a stroll on a small stretch of beach in Queens I can fill up a buckets' worth of plastics in ten minutes. And here began the impetus for the 'Wailing Reef Project'.

The META Gallery, couldn’t be a more fitting venue for his inspirational work, since in ancient Greek 'meta' means beyond. This name truly epitomizes the gallery’s intent to serve as a platform of openness, freedom and elevation. TOTEM POEMS is an ode to this quest, as Gregory de la Haba’s artwork is bringing awareness of the damaging effects our societal habits have on our precious oceans and marine life. The power of creativity may lead the way to constructive change, as Gregory de la Haba says: “A collective cry just might help. It sure as hell won't hurt.

Frida at the Brooklyn Museum: Appearances Can Indeed be Deceiving

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Though I love and greatly admire Frida’s work, I’ve never actually seen it in person. When I heard of this exhibit, I was really excited - I love the idea of a more personal engagement with this monument of an artist, especially because it allows a glimpse into work you can’t easily find on the internet.

This latest exploration of Frida’s legacy is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum. Titled Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, the show is comprised of more than 300 of Frida’s personal items that were found in a somehow unexplored bathroom (??) in La Casa Azul, the artist’s former home which now operates as one of Mexico’s most popular museums. These items were discovered in 2004 and have been shown in Mexico and London. This, however, is the first time that the items are being shown in the United States. I unfortunately have no pictures of the exhibition as photography was forbidden.

Frida is one of those artists who has been elevated to the realm of myth and near sainthood-- or as we say in late capitalism, Frida has become a brand. You can find her on tote bags and keychains, she’s been immortalized as a much-protested Barbie doll (not enough unibrow), there’s a whole Hollywood biopic about her, and she even cameos in a Disney movie, “Coco.”.

Though her legacy has been explored and exploited in various ways and to various degrees, outside of the pervasiveness of Frida the brand, she remains a compelling artist because of her depth - a queer disabled communist feminist Mexican painter whose work grappled with the complexities of identity.

The thesis of this exhibition is that Frida’s multicultural assemblage of clothing was a revolutionary approach to identity construction. Though the exhibition attempts to contextualize exactly what about Frida’s approach was so revolutionary, it drops a lot of points in this argument without substantively connecting them and leans on Frida’s reputation rather than the strength of curation. In doing so, it inadvertently contributes to indigenous erasure, and completely glosses over the complexities of racial identity in Latin America. I actually found this exhibit quite offensive, especially because Frida is the introduction for many gringos to Latin American racial identity.

I’ll limit my analysis of the problems with this show to two major points. To begin, the exhibit didn’t substantively question and frame how Frida’s identity construction was informed by her elite status.

Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s German expat father. He changed his name from Wilhelm. Similarly, Frida changed the spelling of her name to make it less German.

Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s German expat father. He changed his name from Wilhelm. Similarly, Frida changed the spelling of her name to make it less German.

There’s mention of Frida’s German expat father, but no substantive analysis of how Frida’s attempts to formulate herself as Mexican are deeply influenced by the caste systems imposed by the Spanish in the wake of native colonization and genocide. In a nutshell, being mixed, or Mestiza, as Frida was, comes with a fair amount of material and cultural advantages. To be clear, there are class stratifications even in mestizx identity, and Frida was part of the elite. One of these material advantages, which the exhibit completely glosses over, is that Frida had indigenous maids. She acquired a fair amount of the clothing this exhibit celebrates from her maids, yet the exhibit primarily highlights the indigenous clothing and textiles that (elite) friends gifted her from their travels.

Frida’s maids would have been subject to stigma for wearing the same clothes that Frida wore to make a statement of national pride, a statement so authentic and bold it has made her a beloved figure of Mexican identity.

Rosa, a working-class mestiza woman in Puerto Vallarta who made a quesadilla so delicious I ate it three days in a row. Check out her apron - Frida is a beloved figure.

Rosa, a working-class mestiza woman in Puerto Vallarta who made a quesadilla so delicious I ate it three days in a row. Check out her apron - Frida is a beloved figure.

Though the exhibit has films of indigenous women, there is NO analysis or reference to the caste dynamics in Mexico, and this, in turn, makes the function of those films tokenizing. They show and celebrate indigenous women as symbols with no substantive engagement with the social context they existed in. To make this legible to an American racial context, this is almost (but not quite) like celebrating a slave-owning woman for her revolutionary uses of cotton that slaves picked, and then playing cute videos of the slave women to provide context.

My other huge problem with the show was about access to the work. In order to access the exhibit, you must reserve a ticket for a particular time, and you are only allowed to view the show for a limited amount of time. The exhibit then opens into a gift shop. I can’t help but think of how deeply ironic this is and how Frida, the communist, would take this display of her legacy.

My overall take? The curators at the Brooklyn Museum are attempting to make Frida legible to the white gaze, as opposed to challenging the white gaze to reconsider and grapple with the complexities of racial identity in Latin America, which is an incredible opportunity to deepen the racial dialogue in this country.

There are few Americans who make the connection that the brown skin of many (but not all) Latinx people indicates some kind of colonized indigenous ancestry. This is an overall problem with engagements with race in the United States - there is still deep fear with talking about Black/white racial dynamics, so much so that the indigenous genocide that enabled the growth of this country is rarely spoken about. As a result, there is no overarching analysis of how indigenous erasure in the States is connected to indigenous erasure in Latin America.

We are currently in the midst of a border crisis, where racially mixed people of indigenous and African ancestry (there were Black slaves in Latin America too!) are being displaced due to the US’s exploitation of Latin America’s resources. Migrants are literally being rounded into concentration camps in a continuation of the genocide this country is founded on.

Claudia Patricia Gonzales, an indigenous Central American who was shot point blank in the head as she entered the United States in 2018. She was unarmed.

Claudia Patricia Gonzales, an indigenous Central American who was shot point blank in the head as she entered the United States in 2018. She was unarmed.

Beyond this enormous conceptual oversight, which I find utterly depressing, I find this exhibit especially disappointing because the Brooklyn Museum has been making concerted strides in its engagement with the local community, which is seen most tangibly through its First Fridays, when the museum is open in the evening for an all ages party.

I interacted with this exhibit twice. The first time, I got a ticket and walked through during my allotted time slot. The second, I went to the Brooklyn museum’s First Friday with a couple of friends. I love First Friday because it’s an opportunity to interact with art in a non pretentious way, and because it attracts a much more relaxed and all ages crowd. We were slightly tipsy and running up and down the stairs, giggling and taking selfies and moving from room to room, concocting elaborate conspiracy theories about the why the Egypt ward was next to the Jaden Smith exhibit. We tried to go into the Frida exhibit, but all the doors were locked (you can at least watch Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico, which complements the show).

When writing this review, I spoke to a few people who saw this show at La Casa Azul and had nothing but praise. Not having seen the show in Mexico, I can’t help but think that Frida being curated by people who have more understanding of the cultural context from which she emerged would create a better show.

As this exhibit stands, I can’t really see it doing much other than validating the wanderlust and appropriative impulses of culturally confused and conflicted spectators. And for all her faults, I still think that Frida is an important figure with a lot to offer. Frida is so well-known and regarded that the curators could have used this show to challenge casual art viewers. This is a tremendously wasted opportunity. The title of the exhibit is honest, at least.

Next Steps for Bigger Thomas: A Review of Native Son

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This is not your Richard Wright’s Native Son. In a sampling and remix world, director Rashid
Johnson and screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks jacked the novel for some beats to spin out an HBO
special. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You take great, ready-made source material
whenever you can find it. Goethe did it with Faust, Faulkner with Light in August, and Lerner
and Loewe with My Fair Lady. Norman Loftis drew liberally on Wright’s novel to frame his gritty
film Small Time. Of course, these artists did not choose to title their adaptations The Book of
Job, The Gospel of John, Pygmalion, or Native Son, respectively. But Johnson and Parks, in a
fairly bold move, drastically alter the material yet retain the tag. Is the result a bowdlerized
artifact or an admirable departure? Probably both. And the tension will just have to do.

Although set in contemporary Chicago, the outline of the first two-thirds of Wright’s novel remains clear. Bigger Thomas, mostly called Big (Ashton Sanders), is a disgruntled youth who lands a job as a chauffeur with the Dalton family. He experiences shame when forced to hang out in the ‘hood with Mary Dalton (Margaret Qualley) and her boyfriend Jan (Nick Robinson), accidentally smothers Mary to death with a pillow, places the corpse in the furnace, and eventually goes on the run from the law, dragging his girlfriend, Bessie, along in the process. But this fugitive is not the racially overdetermined, inarticulate victim of Wright’s novel. In fact, he quotes Du Bois regarding double consciousness, reads Harold Cruse on black intellectuals, and peruses Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. He listens passionately to Bad Brains and Beethoven, uses words like stereotypical, understands what Luddite means, and diagnoses certain people as having a slave mentality. He even quotes the Roman poet Juvenal, panem et circenses (bread and circuses, the means to control the masses), which he says is the only thing he remembers from school. Big has received the Baldwin-Ellison makeover. He has loads of dimensionality and charm, what both critics wished he possessed. Yet, for all his cerebral qualities, seventy-nine years after the novel, he flubs a pivotal scene. He can’t say to Mrs. Dalton, “Come get your drunken daughter, yo. I helped her up the stairs, but I’m out.” Instead, he pitifully implores Mary to be quiet and explains that he doesn’t want to lose his job. Of course, jobs are crucial, but the drama pales in comparison to the novel. In that text, Bigger fears for his life. The 1940 scene that Old Bigger acts in doesn’t work in Big’s 2019 world.

The killing of Mary Dalton begins the “Flight” phase of the film, which ends with an unarmed Big, not a threat and at a standstill, being gunned down by policemen---surely a nod to tragic and all-too-familiar contemporary scenarios. Viewers will notice that the film’s demarcations---“Fate,” “Fear,” “Flight”---are a shuffled version of the sequence in the novel---“Fear, “Flight,” “Fate.” Ironically, this suggests that modern Bigger is doomed from the start. His beginning is his end, and he provides some garbled commentary on fatalism along the way. In contrast, it is in the “Fate” section of the novel, which he journeys through fear and flight to arrive at, that Bigger expresses self-discovery. It’s a horrible revelation: “But what I killed for, I am!” As a product of Wright’s existentialist questioning, Bigger embraces murder as a positive act. This links Wright’s novel to works such as Albert Camus’s The Stranger and Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. It is a long and winding road to Bigger’s conclusion. We have to put up with some lengthy speeches by a lawyer and the prosecutor as well as discourse concerning religion. These are features of the novel that often are criticized. But Big has patience for the philosophical unfolding, though the filmmakers do not.

The premature conclusion also omits the brutalization of Bessie (Kiki Layne). The Jerrold Freedman version in 1986, starring Oprah Winfrey, made the same omission. In the novel, to free himself of his girlfriend and now coerced fellow fugitive, Bigger bashes her with a brick and throws her down an airshaft. This is the key scene because it is the one that casts Bigger beyond redemption in the eyes of many readers and accomplishes Wright’s goal to transcend the sentimental feel of his earlier work. It also clinches his thesis: oppression will breed inexplicable eruptions. Violence against Mary is accidental. Murder against Bessie is intentional, not to mention the rape. She is a blues figure, and we don’t miss the significance of her name. Moreover, critic Edward Watson extracted some of Bessie’s dialogue in the novel and demonstrated how it breaks down into blues lyrics. He argued, “Native Son is one extended blues the spirit of which is particularized in Bessie. Wright chose Bessie, perhaps because of another soulful Bessie, and, perhaps, because she is the only black woman in the novel who could sing of broken hearts and broken dreams, of Fear and Flight and Fate; of a life full of ‘just plain black trouble.’” Naturally, it’s understandable if the filmmakers don’t want to get as tragically blue with Bessie as Wright does. She’s practically helpless in the novel. But to erase her suffering or minimize it---she’s a striving college student in the film---misses an opportunity to explore deeply the effects of oppression through her eyes or song. The film also minimizes a leftist critique in general as well as Wright’s criticism of “do-good” liberals. Jan refers fleetingly to “one percenters,” but is more serious about getting high than doing political work. This is certainly not the committed Jan Erlone of the novel. Furthermore, it is implied in the film that Mr. Dalton could own the Thomas dwelling, but the novel is explicit that Dalton is a slumlord who owns the building on Indiana Avenue in which Bigger lives at the same time that Dalton is giving him “a chance” on the other side of town.

With all the ideological losses, then, that one can associate with the film, what recommends it? I assume there is much because the most frequent summation that I have encountered is that the movie is interesting. This is the most non-descriptive description in the English language, so I take the comments to mean that the film draws interest or, in business terms, adds interest. This makes sense. The cultural text Native Son, which includes the novel, previous screen versions, theater renditions, and assorted scholarship, has been commendably expanded by a deft, visually stunning, well-acted portrayal of modern times. The film does things that Wright could not do: explain the relevance of his work in 2019, capture a poignant twenty-first-century encounter with racism, and mediate current (to us) conversations about black identity. You don’t come across much postmodern blackness in Wright; the green-haired, punk-attired, disdainful-of-hip-hop Big drips with it. One of his cronies, who had previously called Big a clown, judges him to be not a “real nigga” but a “pussy oreo.” This prompts Big to thrash him and then ask heatedly, “Am I Black enough for you now.” What he wears, listens to, and kicks ass for, he is---at least in part.

Unlike the novel Native Son, which barely makes mention of any, music, as suggested, is central to the film both as subject matter and, of course, as soundtrack. Big, whose mother describes him as a special boy who always did things his own way, constructs much of his identity through heavy metal and classical, some of which we hear. In the car, Mary asks him what kind of music he likes; he promptly turns to a radio channel playing rock and then quickly to a channel broadcasting classical. Shortly thereafter, he attends with Mary and Jan a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which he describes as a “true fucking masterpiece.” None of the musical transitions seem jarring. They match the images of an unfolding life: Beethoven in the concert hall, popular music in the longue, party music at the party. Perhaps the most marvelous musical moment occurs at the end. We hear “Cristo Redentor,” trumpeter Donald Byrd’s 1964 classic, playing from the moment the police arrive through the closing credits. This is a crucifixion-to-ascension sequence, the spirit of the Christ-like Big now hovering above us.

As indicated, Big’s complexity makes him an anti-Bigger. But he also paradoxically and essentially still is Bigger. He was born with “black guilt,” that peculiar donation of white supremacists: We hold it in our minds about you and thus it is so. Big then gets physically convicted, welcomed by bullets to the end that he had coming. But he lived among a new generation of talkers and critics, and that, with all said and done, is a good development. Johnson and Parks have not adapted the novel Native Son so much as they have elongated it. Big did not need to be awakened by an alarm clock at the top of the morning, as Bigger needed in the novel. Big was mainly awake and astute, though experiencing lapses in judgment, as he took us on an important tour of some of the repetitions that occur in Old Bigger’s afterlife.

- Keith Gilyard

The Tethering of Classes in Jordan Peele’s Us by Cherish Pierre-Louis

Jordan Peele’s Us has taken the media by storm perhaps more than his debut blockbuster film Get Out. Peele’s use of satire throughout the film leaves the audience to feel one out of two things: Enlightened or Confused?
- The movie Us begins with a young Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) peering at a tv screen that displays the Hands Across America campaign in the late 80’s, when approximately 6.5 million people held hands across the United States for fifteen minutes.

Jordan Peele uses a memorable event in the United States and creates a film with the abbreviation and gives the audience migraines. He shows us the irony in unity in a world where our President is Donald Trump. There is a scene where Adelaide’s doppelganger s Red tells Adelaide in Us that they are “Americans ,Tethered together”. But is there more to it than that?
- The idea of being tethered is repeated all throughout the film. Red tells Adelaide that they are “tethered together” numerous times. Besides the tethering being seen in the Hands Across America Campaign, there are other moments where the tethering is emphasized.

Red refers to herself and her people as “Shadows.” Shadows are soulless and dark. They are our outlines but what makes them truly shadows? Red, dressed in a red jumpsuit and wielding golden scissors, explains to the audience that they were created by a powerful faction to control the population, but the project is abandoned and so are the doppelgangers. They are forced to fend for themselves in abandoned underground tunnels and copy every single movement made by those on earth above.

If we were to compare Peele’s film to modern day civilization, we could see the “shadows” as the less fortunate. The idea of one group of people being above another is shown literally in Us; we see it amongst our people as well. Those who are fortunate live their lives in ignorance and bliss while those that are unfortunate must live off their scraps. They must get the bud of all the decisions made by the fortunate.

Another identification of the “tethered” might be those who are incarcerated today. This theory was taken from the fact that the doppelgangers are adorned in orange jumpsuits and are living someplace where they are boxed in. Those incarcerated also connect with the ideology of the “forgotten” in Jordan Peele’s Us.

Jordan Peele’s film set social media on fire. Fans were enraptured with the usage of Jeremiah 11:11 all throughout the movie. “Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them”. This biblical verse explains Jordan Peele’s breakdown of Us. Peele tells Empire’s Chris Hewitt that the film is about the monster within us. The idea is that the hero is simultaneously the villain in this film.

The film’s soundtrack further intensifies the idea of the conflict with the self. In the beginning if the movie we hear Janelle Monae’s “I Like That,” Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleur” and “I Got 5 on It” by Luniz. These songs play on Adelaide and Gabe’s ride to their vacation home, and Adelaide snaps her fingers to the song, off key. The last scene of the movie where Adelaide goes toe-to-toe with Red is the most chilling of all. We realize that the tethered has no rhythm and that Red is not in fact a part of the tethered. The tethered remix to “I Got 5 on It” plays in the background of their encounter. This composition is composed by Michael Abel and features Michael Marshall. The orchestral track gave the film a haunting and unforgettable effect.

According to Slate______, Composer Michael Abel’s goal with the track list was to try playing instruments that don’t belong together, creating a sense of dissonance that speaks to the scenes where the tethered fight those they are tethered to. This helps to amplify the horror and the sense of violence within the film. A true horror, thriller masterpiece.

Mayakovsky Maximum Access: poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky translated by Jenny Wade

Review by Peter Bushyeager

Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky is a giant of 20th century literature who defined “literary rockstar” decades before the term existed. He starred in films, propagandized relentlessly for the Soviets, and ended his own life in 1930, feeling betrayed and exhausted by the Revolution he had so passionately espoused. His persona and life story are dramatic, but far more compelling is his poetry, which is vividly brought into the 21st century thanks to Sensitive Skin Press’s Mayakovsky Maximum Access.

The bilingual volume offers 24 of Mayakovsky’s best-known works ably translated into English—and with copious notes and an essay— by Jenny Wade. Mayakovsky Maximum Access is not a dry, scholarly book, although Wade’s keen scholar’s insight shapes it. She has obviously lived for some time with Mayakovsky’s work and has a graduate degree in Russian Literature, so she has in-depth knowledge. But she’s not simply a source of information. She’s also an enthusiast with a well-tuned ear for translation who wants to share and enhance an appreciation of Mayakovsky’s achievements. She makes sure that the hallmarks of this poet’s oeuvre— irrepressible passion and energy, pugnacity, melancholy, wit, and poetic innovation—come through loud and clear.

Deck the night with weddings of bygone days.

Pour gaiety from body to body.

Let no one forget this night.

Today I will play the flute—

my own backbone.

—from “Back Bone Flute”

Wade’s approach brings “Back Bone Flute,” one of Mayakovsky’s longer poems, to life. I’ve read this poem before in versions that weren’t quite as immediate as hers, and although I knew the poem was inspired by his intense, troubled love affair with Lilya Brik, I was missing many nuances that Wade’s nimble translation and detailed notes bring to the fore.

Rather than the usual symbol for poetry—a lyre that, in ancient tradition, orders the forces of nature—Mayakovsky chose the flute, Dionysus’ instrument of passion and madness, for his central image. His choice of “backbone” echoes contemporary Osip Mandelstam’s lines from “The Age,” where the poet “must bind together the broken vertebrae of two centuries” and “bind together the joints of nodular days with a flute.”

The opening stanza of “Backbone Flute”:

To all of you

who I love or have loved,

watched over by icons in the cave of my soul,

I raise my skull, filled with poetry,

like a chalice of wine before the table

matches perfectly with the final stanza, which appears after nine pages of linguistic and emotional twists and turns:

Color today’s date a holiday.

Come into being,

Magic equal to the crucifixion.

You all can see—

I’m nailed to the paper

with words.

Wade succinctly summarizes the symmetry in this way: “the chalice/the cross; the skull overflowing with poetry/the paper to which the poet is nailed.”

Wade’s commentary helps us realize that this poem, although passionate and a bit unhinged, is quite carefully considered and calibrated. Her notes also include the backstory of the poem’s creation, which adds a special edge. Lilya Brik, the subject of the poem, dutifully reviewed and blessed each ardent stanza as it was written!

Mayakovsky Maximum Access highlights each stage of the poet’s high-wire life. Alternating between all-embracing, seemingly grandiose declamation; outright propaganda; and desperate, pathetic loneliness, Mayakovsky’s writing was always ready to generate intensity.

In the beginning, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution; his innovative, iconoclastic spirit and aesthetic seemed to dovetail perfectly with Soviet politics. “Khrenov’s Story About Kuznetsk Construction and the People of Kuznetski” is one of his better propaganda pieces. It celebrates the heroic construction of a Siberian industrial city. Structured around the echoing chorus “Four years from now we’ll have a garden-city,” the poem talks about the Siberian cold and other hardships, and ends with the confident “I know there will be a city. I know a garden will bloom, when there are people like this in our country, our Soviet land!” The poem was recited to the workers to motivate them to continue construction despite having their hands frozen to frigid iron scaffolding. From all reports, it was highly effective.

Ultimately, however, Mayakovsky lost faith in both communism and his practice as a poet, became alienated and isolated, and committed suicide. “About Trash” presents his disenchantment.

Bourgeois threads have tangled the revolution.

… Better

to twist off the canaries’ heads

so communism

is not beaten down by canaries!”

“Unfinished”, his final sequence of poems, summarizes his state of mind in a poignant, understated way.

the sea goes away again

the sea goes away to sleep

As they say the incident is closed

love’s boat has crashed on convention [. . .]

Look how silent the earth is

Night has laid a starry yoke on the sky

In hours like these you stand and speak

to centuries to history and to the universe [. . .]

I know the power of words. It looks like a trifle,

a petal fallen under the heel of a dance,

but a man in his soul, his lips, his bones

—excerpts from “Unfinished”

Mayakovsky Maximum Access earns pride of place in my collection of Mayakovsky translations. For those familiar with his work, it offers added insight and a fresh immediacy. For those new to his poetry, it provides a concentrated selection of some of his best works, accompanied by commentary that humanizes Mayakovsky’s accomplishments by placing the poems in a clear context. This book is a key addition to the Mayakovsky canon for English-speaking audiences.

“Edmond,” Alexis Michalik’s Love Letter to Cyrano de Bergerac

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a French novelist who lived during the 17th century and inspired the most notorious play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The love triangle between the shy, poetic and large-nosed Cyrano, his less articulate friend Christian and the charming Roxane, has been staged across the globe and adapted for cinema several times; as well as reworked into operas, ballet and other literary forms.

However the young director Alexis Michalik, through his theatrical background and experience behind and in front of the camera, brings to life a witty and enthralling ode to the author of Cyrano de Bergerac and his creative process.

Michalik’s first feature film, Edmond, is set in Paris in December 1897, exactly when the young French playwright was struggling for inspiration. Thanks to his admirer, the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, Rostand meets the most famous actor of the moment, Constant Coquelin, who insists on acting in his next play and having it debut in just three weeks. But Edmond has a wife and two children to take care of, many bills that are due, and most importantly he has yet to write the pièce. However he eventually finds his muse who will inspire the famous ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’

Director Alexis Michalik sublimely retraces Rostand’s use of verse, creating parallels between Edmond’s mundane activities and his poetry. The entire film is paced by rhyming couplets, with references to the classical alexandrine form, whilst homaging the great legacy of the Académie française. Michalik’s approach in intertwining the biopic with the fictional work, reminds of John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, but in this case the focus is on the genesis of the most famous story of the French Theater.

Michalik, who is also a stage actor and playwright shares some similarities with Rostand: they both had their first theatrical success at 29 years old. The contemporary metteur en scène turned réalisateur, notwithstanding his extensive career as a performer, did not choose to keep the role of Edmond for himself, casting Thomas Solivérès to play Rostand. Michalik opted for a cameo as Rostand’s rival: Georges Feydeau — who was much more successful than Rostand during the 19th century and was also known for being unsympathetic. By playing this role Alexis made a humble choice, mocking his position as an acclaimed author.

Olivier Gourmet performs majestically as the actor that Rostand cast to play Cyrano, Constant Coquelin; and the flamboyant Clémentine Célarié makes a stupendous Sarah Bernhardt. Lucie Boujenah is gentle and courteous in portraying Jeanne (who will inspire the character of Roxane), and Alice De Lencquesaing intensely embodies Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde, who is torn between jealousy and the demeanor that is required by the spouse of a writer of that time.

This film powerfully conveys the elements of dramedy of the original play, through the suave original score composed by Romain Trouillet. The music instills raw authenticity to the historical narration, making it a universal parable about an ambitious artist tackling with the turmoils of an ordinary man. The experience that is left with the audience is the desire to go back and read the original text and discover the nuances of the French hero par excellence: a man without beauty and ambition, but who placed his feelings above anything else…and with great panache.

With Edmond, Alexis Michalik enacts a magnificent cross-fertilization of the arts. He lyrically brings to life a work of metafiction in which theatre acquires a new dignity through motion pictures and where all the world is much more than a mere soundstage.

Glenda Jackson Reigns Supreme as a Gender-Blind King Lear

Review by Katherine R. Sloan

George Bernard Shaw declared that “No man will ever write a better tragedy than King Lear” and, according to many, he was absolutely correct. Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century masterpiece deals with tragedy in its most intimate form and is, at its core, about human failing, the unrealistic need for complete love and the quest for power. What is so unsettling are the crimes committed within a family where something akin to solidarity should exist but, to our appalling dismay, fails. Recently in previews for over a month at the Cort Theatre, King Lear officially just opened on Broadway April 4th and is a most exciting spectacle because of its lead actor: Glenda Jackson. Having Jackson play the role of not simply a man but the king—and one of theater’s greatest parts—is a gender role reversal perfect for 2019 (she brought the role to life two years ago at the Old Vic in London).

jackson as lear.jpg

After coming out of a twenty-plus year retirement and a career in politics, Jackson’s acting chops are just as compelling and captivating as we remember from her stunning films of the 1960s and ’70s. According to The New York Times she is still the “mightiest of them all.” Her performances in such films as Women In Love (1969) and A Touch of Class (1973) (both of which garnered her Best Actress Academy Awards) remain in the imagination as paradigms of daring female energy. Now that she’s 82 years old, Jackson possesses an even more palpable essence of power and prowess. Instead of a uniquely feminine energy, she brings a ferocity to Lear that is without gender and, ultimately, human. When she takes on a Shakespearean role we have complete faith in her vision and understanding of the part: we feel her greed, wrath, madness and, in the last minutes of the play, her heartbreak. As Jackson recently expressed while promoting the play, the ultimate tragedy of King Lear is the realization of love only when it’s too late (Lear dies of a broken heart upon holding Cordelia’s dead body in his arms). With over 1,000 lines, it’s staggering to behold Jackson’s boundless vitality and seemingly effortless projection of some of the finest sentences to exist in the English language.

Under the direction of Sam Gold (Hamlet for The Public Theater, Othello for the New York Theatre Workshop) with original music composed by Philip Glass and costumes designed by the legendary Ann Roth, this version of King Lear has classic, well-honed talent on display along with a great deal of inclusion and modern touches. Russell Harvard (who plays the Duke of Cornwall) is deaf so the use of sign language is employed throughout and, other than Ms. Jackson as Lear, a second male role is played by a female actor with Jayne Houdyshell as the Duke of Gloucester. Roth’s costuming choices add a wonderful flair of sophistication as Jackson dons smart tailored suits and shiny patent leather loafers (until Lear descends into madness and is dressed in torn pajamas and a garland for a crown) while Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Law & Order: SVU) has tattoos on display as Goneril. The women all wear trousers and full-on pantsuits with tunics as short dresses paired with high-heeled boots instead of corsets throughout (although all three daughters wear more traditional, jewel-toned regalia during the first scene where Lear divides his kingdom among them).

The second most rewarding performance is given by Ruth Wilson (The Affair) as she, per tradition, portrays both Cordelia and the Fool. Her Fool is extremely reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp with a Cockney accent and, upon watching, is a delight as she has the energy and physicality of a teenage boy. Wilson’s Fool supplies comic relief but, as we discover later, also has a great deal of depth and is not foolish at all. On the contrary, Wilson’s Fool is quite brilliant. One of the directorial liberties taken by Gold is that he seems to be letting the audience in on the secret that, yes, Cordelia is the Fool.

glenda jackson and fool.jpg

This is never blatantly stated and no direct theatrical evidence points to the fact that these characters were written as one and the same by Shakespeare but that they are simply played by the same actor out of convenience (as they share none of the same scenes) although Lear does state, upon seeing Cordelia’s dead body, “And my poor fool is hanged.” This utterance serves as more than a hint that Cordelia is the Fool in disguise and that Lear knows this. In this production of Lear Wilson (as the Fool) removes her wig and reveals to us her true identity as that of the King’s daughter, Cordelia. This decision by Gold adds another layer to Cordelia’s steadfast, genuine love towards her father thus making the Cordelia/Lear relationship deeper and her subsequent death even more poignant and tragic.

This production of King Lear has all the Shakespearean elements that make going to the theater awe-inspiring, frightening and exciting. With the epic storm scene where Lear literally rages against the natural elements, a deceitful and carnal affair between Edmund (Pedro Pascal of Game of Thrones fame) and the two malevolent sisters, extreme violence (the scene where Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out is wonderfully done but not for the faint of heart) and death, there is never a minute where action and raw entertainment coupled with superb language are lacking. All of these happenings are just as Shakespeare wrote them but are modernized to be even more salacious at times (there’s a satisfyingly raucous sex romp between Edmund and Goneril) while some aspects are almost an afterthought (as Regan—played by Aisling O’Sullivan—is poisoned and dies in the background). The most overwrought part of the play comes at the end when Cordelia is hanged and, justifiably so, but, if just for a moment as she’s lowered onto center stage with a noose around her neck, it seems that, although very effective, this could have been done with a bit more finesse and subtlety.

Shakespeare is not easy-going theater: one’s ears must remain pricked throughout as tensions run high and complexities grow ever higher. One of the most refreshing aspects of true art is its ability to reflect the most intense, beautiful and terrifying characteristics of life and what it means for even the most powerful among us to be proved fallible. In his 1816 poem On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again John Keats writes of delaying his own writing in order to enjoy one of his greatest inspirations and, in the last line, states: “Give me new phoenix wings to fly at my desire.” This implies that Keats hoped for a more effective way of writing poetry and that King Lear was a work of art that could provide him what he needed in order to continue creating. Upon seeing King Lear on Broadway the audience is rewarded not only with one of the greatest spectacles ever written for the stage but, with Glenda Jackson as the lead, one of the most impressive and exhilarating portrayals of Shakespeare’s tragic king.

You’re Never Too Old to Blush (An Excerpt from a Memoir by Steve Cannon)

You’re Never Too Old to Blush (An Excerpt from a Memoir by Steve Cannon)

CHAPTER ONE (Spring, ‘62)

I arrived in New York from England in the spring of 1962. Existentialism was in the air and so was the theatre of the absurd. John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and Shelagh Delaney’s Taste of Honey was all the rage in England. In the downtown theatre scene, Harold Pinter, Eugène Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett were the talk of the town. It was also true for the three-penny opera with Lotalinia, Bobby Daren and Louis Armstrong singin’ “Mack the Night.”

Reggae Rock Movement

Reggae Rock Movement

Reggae rock exists as a subgenre of reggae that started in Southern California and rose to popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bands like Sublime and Slightly Stoopid became the leading forces of the reggae rock movement, whose lyrical focus on consciousness, love, and daily struggles incorporates elements of punk, rock, hip-hop, and root reggae. Artists within this genre were able to cultivate a movement that is both a reflection and combination of all these elements.

Alassio Wave Walking: a burgeoning tide-march born from female vision

Alassio Wave Walking: a burgeoning tide-march born from female vision

In the mesmeric Italian region of Liguria, a new sport has made its way through the waves, thanks to the empowering initiative of two women, one working in hospitality and the other engaged as an avid surfer. Maddalena Canepa and Lorena Rasolo have imported to the enchanting Alassio a competitive physical activity that was founded in 2005 in Northern France and introduced on the Côte d'Azur in 2014 by Sophie Chipon, a Professor at the Sorbonne, who felt the urge to enhance her coastal city with a new sport that is now expanding across the globe.

Sarà il caos — It Will Be Chaos, Exclusive Interview with the Filmmakers

Sarà il caos — It Will Be Chaos, Exclusive Interview with the Filmmakers

Partners in life and in filmmaking, Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo, have always made documentaries that would spread awareness on social justice, human rights, the environment, and the arts. Their most recent work, It Will Be Chaos (Sarà il caos) is an HBO documentary, in Association with Film2, that depicts how life in the South of Italy is thrown into disarray as refugees arrive by the thousands.

The Global Acclaim of an Arabic Poet - A Review of Adonis: Selected Poems

The Global Acclaim of an Arabic Poet - A Review of Adonis: Selected Poems

In an interview aired by the Louisiana Channel, Adonis recounts memories from a simple childhood. “There was no school in the village,” he reflects on his first home, a poor Syrian farming town. “There was no electricity either.” He sketches a portrait of an uncluttered life: one without cars, or high-tech gadgets, or formal education. What he had, he testifies with a wistfulness intrinsic to his work, was his culture. “And the essence of the old Arab culture,” he asserts, “is poetry.”