art

Potpourri for $200, Alex

potpourri

A grey, opaque endless skyline seems about right.

Like most, these past days have been a mixture of anxiety, stress, anger, and shame (and some more words; please insert your favorites). Besides our electoral PTSD we’re all dealing with from the past year and a half, the onslaught of the rapid and flawed news cycle can make anyone’s heart explode.

Hyperbole aside, it’s been rough days. For the time being, I’m generally staying away from the news, letting my eyes scroll over my newsfeed. Somehow I’ve become more tolerant of inane articles about technology (read: Wired). These briefly distracted me from the racists and bigots who are being given powerful positions and platforms.

For a while, consuming books and television felt hollow and frustrating, writing useless. I have no doubt that others feel or have felt this way recently. So, I leave you with internet potpourri for a momentary mental health break.

 

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Édouard Manet Illustrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven

A friend who knows my reading proclivities, emailed this my way. And how delighted I was when I saw it. I hope other Edgar Allan Poe fans will enjoy, too. In a French language edition of The Raven translated by Stephane Mallarmé, black and white illustrations by Édouard Manet accompanied the text.

Raven_Manet_D2

You can also view more here.

Brain on Books

So busy. So very, very busy. Barely able to read a lick of text. I do hate when everything gets chucked to the side. I don’t feel very much like myself when I’m not reading or writing, and there has been way too much of that lately. However, I’ve been getting back into a routine and I’m writing writing writing (excitement!). Sadly, though, I’ve become one of those people that doesn’t read. How is that possible?! (wait, let me backtrack, I have been able to listen to a few books via audiobooks).

How does one unplug their brain? The galleys are stacking up and the publicists are chomping at the bit. While I try to figure out how to unplug my brain from the Matrix, I leave you with this photo of a skull on a pile of books. Odd, yet somehow fitting.

skull on books

The End of the End of Everything by Dale Bailey

end of the end of everything

 The last time Ben and Lois Devine saw Veronica Glass, the noted mutilation artist, was at a suicide party in Cerulean Cliffs, an artist’s colony far beyond their means.

If you’re unfamiliar with artist/writer gatherings, the good ones usually include loads of booze, that one über-pretentious person, personal crises and looming entropy. This is all captured in Dale Bailey’s novelette/short story, “The End of the End of Everything.”

Ben and Lois Devine are invited by their close friend to an artists’ colony during the summertime. Ben is a poet, who readily admits that he is mediocre, but squeaks by doing the MFA circuit. He’s had a few publications, but doesn’t expect people to know him or his work.

They are unaware that the daily evening parties are actually suicide parties where guests mingle at a Gatsbyesque grotesque soiree not short on small talk, overly long readings of writers’ works, and finally, with the suicide of one of the guests. Their deaths are quite brutal, but somehow Dale Bailey has made them a work of art that exceeds their own assumed pedestrian output. The idea of art for art’s sake is repeated throughout, a rhetorical device that becomes even more realized when Ben meets the “mutilation artist,” Veronica Glass (her name, alone, invokes an image of an unreal and severe individual).

Anytime she bumps into him, Veronica continues to ask Ben how he will end his life. The poet is reluctant to the whole idea, even with the impending “ruin” that seems to be swallowing up the world around them. The term is used to elicit images of a battered world, but also to isolate the artists’ colony even more. Every day, ruin seems to roll closer, dispatching anyone who goes into it. The world feels suffocated. It’s almost as if the colony, which is aptly named Cerulean Cliffs, hangs on the edge of where earth meets the sky with any wrong misstep sending you over and into the abyss.

Somehow Bailey is able to write a story that feels more like a painting. The entire time, I felt like I was staring closely at a canvas, observing the individual brushstrokes and captivated at how they appear like textured expressions making up a whole. Even when Ben sees in person the type of art Veronica Glass creates, I couldn’t look away even though imagining it reminded me of all the layers of my own skin and the complicated system that lies beneath.

This is one of those stories that I hope to come back to again, so I can take in the rich and destructive world Dale Bailey has created. Part of me would like to see this as a novel, but I wonder if in doing so would negate the overwhelming feeling of anxiety and the richness of this grotesque situation.

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“The End of the End of Everything” is available for free on Tor.com and can also be acquired as an e-book for .99 cents. As always, I am delighted by the publisher’s chosen artwork. Perhaps, it is odd of me to say that I want a blown up version of it, because of the subject matter, but New York-based Hong Kong artist Victo Ngai’s cover art is phenomenal.

short story may

No Rest for the Writer

the-day-after-1895

weary reader rest
not for too long when you pick
your head up rejoice

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In celebration of National Poetry Month and in response to Time For Poetry, a haiku by this tired writer and reader who is trying to muster up some stamina for two book reviews that are due to editors soon (books I still haven’t finished reading) and trying to look at my own manuscript with its final 10,000-20,000 words being narrowed in on. I can’t help but feel like this perfect Edvard Munch painting.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

 

This week’s topic for the Weekly Photo Challenge is “Street Life”: a place reveals itself on its streets, from pedestrians strolling during lunch time, to performers entertaining tourists on sidewalks, to the bustle of local markets, and more….

A few years ago, I used to work up in Harlem on 125th Street. It is an area that is very busy, yet, also abandoned. There wasn’t much going on outside of my office building except the big construction pit on the north side of the street, the daytime mugging I once saw, and Bill Murray in a baseball cap standing outside the office. It is a strange intersection of bustling and abandonment, an active ruin. One summer, I decided to take my camera with me. I wanted to document the city streets and the people who pounded the pavement on 125th Street, which is also home to the Cotton Club. It is an area of greys and steel, but also one of bright colors in unexpected places.

**Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a recommended reading list at the bottom. This is a literature blog (I hope!).

Harlem, 125th Street

Cotton Club

Harlem, 125th Street

Recommended Reading List for Harlem, 125th Street
  • Jazz by Toni Morrison; Harlem in the 1920s + jazz music
  • Invisible by Paul Auster; about ten blocks south of the Cotton Club, a tragic event takes place to snowball all of the novel’s characters
  • Open City by Teju Cole; roaming the streets of Manhattan
  • Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney; 1980s hedonistic NYC told in second-person
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolffe; racial tensions run high in 1980s NYC
  • Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger; we could argue over who the true phony is, but regardless this book captures Manhattan streets of the 194/50s

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Unfinished Masterpieces

I recently watched the 2012 BBC documentary program, Unfinished Masterpieces with Alastair Sooke.* The host begins with the eternally frustrating predicament of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the Charles Dickens novel that was never finished, because Dickens famously died during the writing of it, leaving very few clues to the intended outcome of the narrative. Biographers, historians, and artists have endlessly tried to anticipate Dickens’ wishes by both speculating about the novel’s unfinished portion and even going so far as to invent possible endings in different mediums like theatre, radio, and film, as well as boldly attempting to finish the task of writing the novel.

Alastair Sooke also looked at other unfinished works and pondered the reasons behind the unfinishedness of these respective works. Like Dickens, Jane Austen also has an unfinished novel, Sanditon, which was left incomplete because of her death. A dozen “continuations” have been penned, all trying to capture Austen’s specific voice and her intended path for the remainder of the book. When Sooke separately asked a handful of complete strangers which they would rather have, all chose to stick with Austen’s original unfinished work.

The program also took a look at works that might have been purposefully suppressed by their creators. For example, the famous portrait of US President George Washington, which is the basis for the image on the $1 bill, was left unfinished by the portraitist Gilbert Stuart. What started off as a difficult portrait, the fact that it was unfinished was a financial benefit to Stuart, who sold replicas for $100 a pop. The notoriety of its incomplete presentation might have been more lucrative for him than otherwise.  This, of course, is reminiscent to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s explanation for his unfinished poem, “Kubla Khan.” He purports of wild inspiration from an opium haze and begins writing the famous poem when he is suddenly interrupted; when he returns to the poem, all inspiration is gone and “Kubla Khan” remains unfinished. Perhaps, the story behind it is more exciting than having an actual completed work.

There are other works that Sooke investigates including newly discovered poems from English poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was known for his WWI poems that captured the horrors of the war, but whose unpublished poems have a tinge of romanticizing. This conundrum of including them in Sassoon’s canon is questioned. Perhaps, the poet didn’t feel these were up to snuff and didn’t intend them to see the light of day, beside being out of step with his known views. This idea was reminiscent of other writers (who were not featured in the doc) like Franz Kafka, who famously asked that all of his documents be burned and left The Castle incomplete with the final written line ending mid-sentence and David Foster Wallace, who upon his death left an incomplete manuscript and notes on his computer. This was all gathered together by his widow, agent, and other literary folk to become The Pale King.

The question of whether we should finish something or bring to the masses an unknown work once the creator dies is debated and Sooke presents authorities with equally good arguments. Would The Garden of Eden really be a novel Ernest Hemingway would have written himself or could it only be imagined by editors after his death? Kafka wrote that he had an idea for the ending of The Castle, but who knows if it would have still been the same by the time he got there. He leaves the novel mid-sentence and incomplete, almost a perfect final note to a book so concerned with bureaucracy and never-ending frustrations. Sassoon’s poetry could have been just for himself, an attempt at a new form that didn’t quite fit with his other poems or maybe, they were simply something he was not proud of. Thus, choosing to let them go unpublished.

A whole other dilemma–the one of continuing a series–I shall leave to the documentary, but I’ll give you this small bit. Think of the long-dead novelists, Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose characters–James Bond and Sherlock Holmes–are still appearing in new releases, albeit, by different authors. What an entirely different conundrum. For some reason, we are ill-at-ease when it comes to the unfinished. We like wholes, a feeling of sturdy completeness. Although, I do not count myself among them, this might be why so many people had a hard time connecting to Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an EndingPeople generally dislike ambiguity and residing in the liminal.

Have you seen this documentary? Are there other famous incomplete works out there? It seems like a strange debate that I find myself on both sides of. I’m curious if anyone has additional thoughts.

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*The 50 minute program can be watched in its entirety on the BBC’s website here; I don’t know how long it will be available, so step on it.
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Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Abandoned. The creator shows a photo from Berlin that is excellent and writes: “I’ve always loved wandering inside and taking photographs of abandoned buildings. Ruins are fascinating: in these physical spaces, the past, present, and future are one, and time becomes fuzzy.”

I am currently working on a piece of writing that deals a lot with abandoned places, especially ones that are right in front of us, but somehow are forgotten or overlooked, hiding secrets and history. I once wrote a post titled, “Cities That Inspire Us For all Sorts of Reasons,” which included two photos relevant to this topic. Below are my photos of the block around the corner from where I stayed during my last bout in the former GDR city of Leipzig, Germany. I come back to these photos of the abandoned schoolhouse often and have even written a story about it.

Places, spaces, and how we relate to them in fiction and writing is a top fascination of mine. I thank you for indulging me and if you want to see some more excellent abandoned photos, look at the Doublewhirler photo-blog, where they have captured some haunting images of the graffitied bobsled run from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.

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Friday Picture Book

I planned a book review and everything for today, but it’s just not happening. So, in honor of yesterday’s post about images and visual art, I’m putting up a few of my own photos for enjoyment, criticism, and ignoring. If you are in the mood for other blog photo cruising, may I suggest: Doublewhirler, Helen McClory @Schietree, photo of the day @National Geographic, and Stuck in Customs. If you have any tips on other blogs of the photog variety, please leave them in the comments section.

Wellcome Images Virtual Collection Unleashed

This week, London-based Wellcome Images released more than 100,000 digital images for free. The historical images range from photographs, etchings, sketches and more, and are in super high quality. I dare you to stop yourself from looking through the centuries-old medical and science illustrations depicting all of the horrible maladies that befall the human anatomy.

The dance of death: Death finds an author writing his life. Colour lithograph by Edward Hull.

This is good news for bloggers, researchers, and lovers of all things interesting and old. I recommend you take a stroll through. You can search through Wellcome Images collection with the added ability of saving favorites to your ‘lightbox.’ Also, I’ve included a few other selections of sources for images in the public domain that you can use to spruce up your blog or gaze at longingly.

Resources…

  • WikiPaintings.org | a collection of fine art. “The project aims to create high-quality, most complete and well-structured online repository of fine art.”
  • Archive.org | huge collection of work including images. “[A] non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access… to historical collections that exist in digital format.”
  • Project Gutenberg | besides it immense collection of public domain texts, Project Gut also includes original etchings and illustrations when possible.
  • Public Domain Review | articles & spotlights highlighting the interestingness of works in the public domain. “[It] aims to help its readers to explore this rich terrain – like a small exhibition gallery at the entrance of an immense network of archives and storage rooms that lie beyond.”