Silences, shattered dreams, and a dysfunctional inter-racial family

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‘You should have married someone like you’, they shot at each other.

James brings to the marriage and their progeny the experience of a misfit in a homogeneous society. Marilyn projects onto their daughter her own failing career as a doctor because of two unexpected –if not unwanted- pregnancies. The result is a dysfunctional family whose parents’ frustrations constitute a heavy burden for their offspring.

Narrative temporal jumps stimulate the reading. An omniscient narrator using free indirect speech and strokes of stream of consciousness explain each character’s emotional turmoil leading us readers towards an ambiguous ending.

We also talked about the interracial issue of Chinese-Americans in the 60’s and 70’s in the US, and some of our members shared their own experiences.

If you want to know more about the novel and our ideas, here is the podcast:

 

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The Voyeur’s Motel in Osaka

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The Voyeur’s Motel: A non-fictional novel about the work of a self-made sex researcher?  The chronicle of a deranged egomaniac’s lucubrations? Gay Talese presents us this peculiar character, Gerald Foos, who spent more than two decades peeping into his various guests’ sexual lives. Last Sunday we discussed about the veracity of the stories  throughout the book; about the moral implications of Foos’ behavior and our complicity as voyeur-readers; about Talese’s role as Foos’ diary’s editor; and about many more things included in this podcast:

 

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Friendship can be a full-time occupation

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‘This man has a gift for friendship’, Scott Fitzgerald tells Thomas Wolf in Genius, a movie about Max Perkins, editor at Scribner’s Publishing House in the 20’s and 30’s. This real character helped many writers, including the mentioned two and Hemingway to get their novels published. Usually the ones who end up filling the lists of History of Literature are only the authors, while those thoughtful and intelligent readers that are editors fall into oblivion. Jude Law plays the character of Thomas Wolf, a man who lives to write, but who also makes his life worth of being told, in terms of experiences. He constantly creates real material for his long and poetic novels. Extremely intelligent, drunken, promiscuous, it was his fate to die at 37 out of a myriad of tumors inside his extremely productive brain.

Genius focuses on the relationship between the two men, writer and editor, like father and son, friends, and the hard work of editing a book that is to be readily consumed by readers. An editor can be the genius who makes a writer successful and his work a Bestseller -that’s the Japanese title for the film-, but also the evil who cripples an original masterpiece, as Nicole Kidman, playing Wolf’s lover, holds it against Max. That fight between spontaneous creativity and the constraining structure of normative language is inside each of us every time we grab a pen, we start pressing keys on our computers or we swipe our finger along the cell-phone’s display.

Poetic debris in a Brazilian junk room

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“When I go to the city, I feel like in a luxury living room. Back in the favela, I am just abandoned furniture in a junk room”: Carolina María de Jesús’ diaries starting in 1955 became a media and literary success when journalist Audálio Dantas “discovered” her in the favela and had her writings published as Quarto de despejo (Junk room) in 1960. For the first time in Brazil, a black favelada was able to produce and sell a poetic text about her daily routines and her dreams. Her diaries and poems with literary intentions and reflections about life and society focused on her endurance to get food for her children and the social relations in the favela.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, a German documentary from 1971 about her life was shown at Instituto Moreira Salles in Gávea, Rio, followed by a conversation between the above Audálio and professor Marisa Lajolo. Were Carolina Maria’s diaries real literature if such concept exist anymore? What was the suspicious reception by the elitist literary society of the time of an outsider’s success if not a reflection of the impermeable Brazilian society condemning class and race to an illiterate junk room? Things have changed in the last 50 years and now the Academia maintains a broader and more including idea of art, but society keeps on seeing moradores de favela as disrupting elements in a personal and desired imaginary of a middle and upper class white Brazil.

What a strange sensation is to attend an 18-minute documentary in German with Portuguese subtitles and real but older and already successful Carolina Maria de Jesús playing the role of herself when picking paper 15 years before from trash cans on the streets of São Paulo. A voice in off reads her diaries; and images of the favela and their dwellers alternate with the late poet’s comments about the changes in her life after the publishing of her books.

Here, some extracts of her writings and an audio:

31 de maio Sábado – O dia que quase fico louca porque preciso arranjar o que comer para sábado e domingo […] Fiz o café, e os pães que eu ganhei também. Puis feijão no fogo. Quando eu lavava o feijão pensava: eu hoje estou parecendo gente bem – vou cozinhar feijão. Parece até um sonho! … Ganhei bananas e mandioca na quitanda da rua Guaporé. Quando eu voltava para a favela, na avenida Cruzeiro do Sul 728 uma senhora pediu-me para eu ir jogar um cachorro morto dentro do Tietê que ela dava-me 5 cruzeiros.

Anton Chekhovich Chekhov’s ‘Two’ Sisters at Microteatro

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Mourning the dead and having them constantly in our memories is what makes us, among other things, different to animals. But when that peculiar human custom is just an excuse to not fully live your own life, it becomes a serious problem. That’s what Chekhov intelligently shows in his plays and what witty José Ignacio Tofé, playwright of Microteatro’s piece Las dos hermanas, parodied. We have two sisters, whose father disappeared in a snow storm months before and plan to keep the mourning until the body is found. The younger sister wants to marry, but the elder one, guardian of the archaic and atavistic practice, tries to slow down her plans forever and ever in a vicarious masochistic fashion. Because of the absurd of the plot and the hyperbolic performances, this is a comedy, and quite a funny one. Actress and scene director Silvia de Pé playing the sexually repressed and mystically sanctimonious sister, and fresh and full-of-life Ana Villa as the younger one, refer to each other with their complete unpronounceable patronymic-included names and keep a hilarious tension until the end, a foreseeable but liberating turn of the screw, exactly the opposite of the genius Russian playwright, who most times leaves the audience with a bitter emotional aftertaste, stripping characters of their concealing frustrated masks.

“Bajo 30”: youth is not bliss

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The other day, a presentation of a short-story and fragment-of-novel anthology written by authors under 30 took place at the bookstore-winery Tipos infames, in Madrid. Nowadays, most of the books collecting stories by presumably a generational group of writers, is more a marketing idea than a real entity with common literary interests, influences, themes, style and final product. And, in the end, as Guillermo Aguirre, one of the YOUNG writers said, literature is something written by a guy in underpants at home to be read by another guy in underpants at home (let’s change the male-oriented “guy” for the more politically correct “person”), and he is not interested in more; neither am I, but here I am, surrounded but twenty-many and thirty-few happy literary wannabies talking about political and cultural power and forgetting to address their own texts, as if that question were something banal. In the anthology, apart from a few jewels, like poetic and experimental Juan Soto Ivars’ text, or Cristina Morales’s perfect example of autofiction in the line of Vila-Matas, with an ironic criticism of extreme and nonsensical feminisms, many of the rest in the pack look more like an useless and uninteresting exercise of style promoted by a writing school’s teacher, funny stories by cool guys imitating the beat generation or even children literature; not the real content and stylistic literary pieces that you expect to find in really promising authors. Two other passable ones are “Romperse”, by Aixa de la Cruz, the story of a vigorexic young man vomiting blood after extensive bulimic episodes, and the unpretentious and well structured “Delfines” by Aloma Rodríguez, in which the narrator recalls her grandfather’s funeral intercalating her memories from the past with him.

Literature and film in Anna Karenina

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-What an extraordinary example of the possibilities of Cinema!- I think while watching 1967’s Russian Anna Karenina’s adaptation into film.

Leaving aside obvious questions such as ellipsis of secondary stories and deeply philosophical dialogues, this film proves that even only with images, the emotional effect in the watcher can be close to the one in the corresponding novel’s reader. There are three scenes when this is absolutely true: the first society dance, with Kitty feeling anguished and disoriented; the horse race, which almost makes Anna faint; and the final suicide’s setting, Anna throwing herself to railway (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s a well-known old classic). Constant and irregular camera movements, playing with the focus, shot changes, extreme close-ups, transposition of images, the same way Kenneth MacPherson started doing it in 1930 with Borderline.

In this personal movie by Aleksandr Zarji, Tolstoy’s novel’s words are successfully transferred into images and sounds in a harmonic illustration of intermediality.

The invisible collection: from Saxony to Bahia

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In 1925, Austrian Stefan Zweig wrote a short story called “The invisible collection. An episode of the Inflation Period in Germany”. Many years later, escaping from Nazism and the War, he would travel to Brazil to write his famous Brazil, land of the future, and to eventually take his own life in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 1942, disenchanted with the human condition.

Initially in the same mood, 2012’s Brazilian film A coleção invisível’s main character, Beto, must deal with a traumatic event in his life and a sense of guilt and impotence. His search for old and valuable drawings in the countryside in Bahia parallels Zweig’s antique dealer narrating the story of a blind collector, the same one Beto struggles to meet. More developed as a character in the film than the short story, improvised art-dealer Beto fights against himself in a spiral of self-destruction; leaving Salvador for Itajuipe, a small village in the cacao lands, will show him things he had never seen before.

Chekhov and a histrionic bear at Centro Ruso

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Even Anton Pavlovich Chekhov’s ‘minor’ plays entertain us and create a place for reflection, in the case of The Bear, around the themes of mourning and gender roles in love. Popova is a young widow who shuts herself away inside her house and reaffirms her intention of remaining ‘dead’ at home for the rest of her life after her husband’s death; seven months have passed and she dreams of military parades with handsome officers courting her. A creditor’s sudden arrival agitates the widow in unexpected and contradictory ways. Smirnov, played at Centro Ruso by a brilliantly histrionic  Germán Estebas from Teatro de Cámara Chejóv, is a rough experienced man, desperate for collecting what he is owed, but he suffers a not so unexpected metamorphoses: from a ‘bear’ (I guess you need to know Russian culture to take it as an insult) to a gallant suitor. The comical scenes implicitly give way to contesting society about mourning widows’ hypocritical old costumes (there are exceptions in literature, of course: Hamlet’s mother only waited one month to marry her brother-in-law), acting against their real desires; very praiseworthy, by the way, Elena Nikonorova-Petrova’s performance in Spanish and her showing of the character’s dissonance of words, acts and thoughts. The superb dialectic discussion between both characters, part of which I reproduce afterwards from Project Gutenberg, leads ‘misogyny’ to encounter a strong Russian ‘poetic creature’ and to become her slave, always in the context of a ‘chivalric’ romantic love structure.

 

 

SMIRNOV. [Teasing her] Silly and rude! I don’t know how to behave before women! Madam, in my time I’ve seen more women than you’ve seen sparrows! Three times I’ve fought duels on account of women. I’ve refused twelve women, and nine have refused me! Yes! There was a time when I played the fool, scented myself, used honeyed words, wore jewellery, made beautiful bows. I used to love, to suffer, to sigh at the moon, to get sour, to thaw, to freeze…. I used to love passionately, madly, every blessed way, devil take me; I used to chatter like a magpie about emancipation, and wasted half my wealth on tender feelings, but now—you must excuse me! You won’t get round me like that now! I’ve had enough! Black eyes, passionate eyes, ruby lips, dimpled cheeks, the moon, whispers, timid breathing—I wouldn’t give a brass farthing for the lot, madam! Present company always excepted, all women, great or little, are insincere, crooked, backbiters, envious, liars to the marrow of their bones, vain, trivial, merciless, unreasonable, and, as far as this is concerned [taps his forehead] excuse my outspokenness, a sparrow can give ten points to any philosopher in petticoats you like to name! You look at one of these poetic creatures: all muslin, an ethereal demi-goddess, you have a million transports of joy, and you look into her soul—and see a common crocodile! [He grips the back of a chair; the chair creaks and breaks] But the most disgusting thing of all is that this crocodile for some reason or other imagines that its chef d’oeuvre, its privilege and monopoly, is its tender feelings. Why, confound it, hang me on that nail feet upwards, if you like, but have you met a woman who can love anybody except a lapdog? When she’s in love, can she do anything but snivel and slobber? While a man is suffering and making sacrifices all her love expresses itself in her playing about with her scarf, and trying to hook him more firmly by the nose. You have the misfortune to be a woman, you know from yourself what is the nature of woman. Tell me truthfully, have you ever seen a woman who was sincere, faithful, and constant? You haven’t! Only freaks and old women are faithful and constant! You’ll meet a cat with a horn or a white woodcock sooner than a constant woman!

POPOVA. Then, according to you, who is faithful and constant in love? Is it the man?

SMIRNOV. Yes, the man!

POPOVA. The man! [Laughs bitterly] Men are faithful and constant in love! What an idea! [With heat] What right have you to talk like that? Men are faithful and constant! Since we are talking about it, I’ll tell you that of all the men I knew and know, the best was my late husband…. I loved him passionately with all my being, as only a young and imaginative woman can love, I gave him my youth, my happiness, my life, my fortune, I breathed in him, I worshipped him as if I were a heathen, and… and what then? This best of men shamelessly deceived me at every step! After his death I found in his desk a whole drawerful of love-letters, and when he was alive—it’s an awful thing to remember!—he used to leave me alone for weeks at a time, and make love to other women and betray me before my very eyes; he wasted my money, and made fun of my feelings…. And, in spite of all that, I loved him and was true to him. And not only that, but, now that he is dead, I am still true and constant to his memory. I have shut myself for ever within these four walls, and will wear these weeds to the very end….

Race, stage and video tapes in Brazilian ‘Miss Julie’

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As in a mirror house and playing with the audience’s senses, Brazilian theater company Vértice de Teatro mixes video and stage, characters and actors. Two sliding screens and a hand video camera depicts and interfere with the story jumping from one diegetic level to another, from video to performance, from Strindberg’s story rewritten for nowadays’ Brazil to the refusal of actors to keep on playing repulsive but cathartic roles for themselves. There are constant interferences of the camera on the stage, and actors saying – [Cut!] or addressing the audience in Spanish and making fun of themselves or crying. And behind all the technical apparatus and the dilemma of which of the video scenes were recorded and which ones were live, we find the racial issue, the story of the white rich girl infatuated with a black servant and perpetuating centuries of bondage, a connection à la brésilienne with the original story by the Swedish playwright, but with an improvised ending.

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