Category Archives: Features

The Dark Knight Rises impressions.

Here’s a probably longer-than-usual impressions/review piece (not that I do too many of these anyway) for The Dark Knight Rises. I watched it in an IMAX theatre in the afternoon on opening day.

Will avoid spoilers as far as I can.

Some Things I Liked

  • Not a Box of Chocolates: That is, you always know what you’re going to get with Christopher Nolan as far as spectacle and showmanship go. The opening sequence may not be quite as intriguing and dramatic as the robbery in The Dark Knight, but it does set the tone for the rest of the film in its sheer vastness and wow factor. Nolan thrives on the huge set-pieces, and The Dark Knight Rises does not disappoint.
  • My City of Ruins: Sometimes it feels as if the trilogy is more about Gotham City than it is about Batman. It has always been something of a superficially decent city trying to keep itself from falling apart. That threatening underbelly finally spills out and enters broad daylight here. I’m not sure I would call it a joy to watch, but seeing it come to life was basically one of the more enjoyable things in the movie for me.
  • Bane: I thought the whole Bane narrative was for the most part well done, with an engaging background/origin story that rendered him both fearsome and attractive as a character. (With things that complicate this even further late in the film.) On film, Tom Hardy pulls off the role with aplomb and conjures all the menace he possibly could behind that mask.
  • Wayne: One of the biggest issues I had with The Dark Knight was how the limited Bruce Wayne and Batman moments basically made Batman looked shallow and something like a caricature. In this picture, Bruce Wayne gets a lot more screen time and does have his fair share of drama, and that was a definite plus for me.
  • He Should be so Lucky: Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is just delightful to watch, and certainly offers something substantial to balance out the more grrr-rawr-argh brand of masculinity that the rest of the picture is so interested in.
  • Kung-fu Fighting: I’m thinking it’s because they weren’t out-and-out action sequences and were meant to showcase the body in space and the physicality (both in terms of excess and struggle) of both Batman and Bane, but the fight scenes were rather more coherent to watch in this one.
  • The Die is Cast: Sure, it kind of was to be expected, since many of them are returning actors in the series, but the cast (for the lead characters, at least) turns in a great performance. Apart from Hathaway’s charming Catwoman and Hardy’s Bane, Michael Caine has what I think are two of his best moments in this series here, while Gary Oldman is as impressive as he has always been. (Morgan Freeman doesn’t exactly have the most expressive of roles in these Batman pictures, but he does do what he can with it.)
  • Mythological Figures: In spite of the change in setting, the leaning-towards-realistic tone, and Nolan’s pursuit of his own filmic and political agendas, the Batman mythology has been cleverly worked into the pictures through all sorts of little details in the trilogy, and this is more in evidence here than in the preceding entries.

Some Things I Didn’t Like

  • The Devil is in…: I watched this with a friend and I wouldn’t say that we’re the most picky people where plots (and plot holes) are concerned, but some quick discussions shortly after the film threw up so many questions (and not the right kind, mind you) with regards to the plot that it became rather analogous to our porous Gotham City. Without giving anything away, it just felt as if the Nolan Brothers didn’t take care of the details as much as they should have. Very often, I found myself asking, Why is this here? Why would you do that? How come it didn’t do this? How is this even possible? I’m definitely no stickler for realism and believability, but some things just felt poorly explained, highly implausibly, or just plain carelessly written.
  • I am not the Batman: While Bruce Wayne got his screen time, Batman just didn’t spend very much time being Batman. Setting aside the fact that this isn’t exactly the Batman from the comics (World’s Greatest Detective and all that jazz), Batman just didn’t do too many Batman things. Since The Dark Knight, the films have seemed to abandon the more distinctive qualities of the hero (fear, theatricality, etc.), which would otherwise distinguish him from other random superdudes. The problem is exacerbated because Batman spends a lot of time hiding behind technology like some glorified James Bond.
  • And Then We Came to the End: I found the ending disappointing because it was a bit of a convenient thing that didn’t see any great big fight or struggle or self-enlightenment come into play. This was especially so because it is the end of a rather long trilogy of pictures, and to not see Batman punch things, use his skills, struggle against some big bad was all rather… short on gratification.
  • Let’s Talk Politics: The film’s politics are certainly not for everyone, but the more troubling issue as far as the movie itself goes is how the politics can dominate the picture and get in the way of the entertainment. I wouldn’t call this a major issue, but it was something of an irritation.
  • Why so Serious?: Nolan’s Batman movies have all been rather super-serious. This one cranks it up a notch, I think, and there are one or two moments where it can seem a bit hilarious. You know those moments.

And a Bunch of Mixed Feelings

  • IMAX: Okay, this isn’t about the film but I guess mixed feelings is the place to put it. The IMAX was great, visually, especially after that rather disappointing theatre when I watched that Spider-Man movie. All that high-tech sound was a bit loud for me though, but I think it was just me.
  • Epic: I didn’t put this in any of the sections above because it didn’t seem fair to like or dislike this aspect of the film, but the movie basically has something of an epic structure, which is fine given the pomp and grandiosity that it wants to conduct itself with. However, it also means that there isn’t any of that level of engagement that we saw between the (for lack of better terms) good guys and bad guys in The Dark Knight. In that picture, the Joker would do something, and Batman and the cops would react, and then the Joker would do something else, and it would just go on in this back-and-forth manner. Here, you just get Bane and his friends doing their thing and everyone else not being able to even put up a fight for about 80% of the film. This makes it all rather less exciting, and also contributes to that gratification issue I mentioned with regards to the ending.
  • That Dog Chasing Cars: A related issue, perhaps. Part of what made The Dark Knight more successful for me than Batman Begins was watching the Joker’s whole “plan” develop. It was one of the most enjoyable things in that film. Moreover, the Joker’s final gambit wasn’t some conventional destroy-the-city plot, and its resolution had pretty much nothing to do with saving the day. In Batman Begins, we kind of get a generic superhero plot, with a fancy doomsday weapon, some convenient kill-switch mechanism, and a competent if entirely predictable resolution. The Dark Knight Rises has a plot that falls somewhere in between, though it does lean closer towards Batman Begins. There is something of a clever plot, but I didn’t care for it in the same way I cared for the Joker’s “schemes”. And, perhaps for a few good reasons (including the fact that this is the last film in the trilogy), The Dark Knight Rises opts for a safer conclusion as well.
  • The Symbolic: Before watching this movie, I was concerned that the whole Batman as an icon/symbol thing would be so overblown that the film would turn out silly. That wasn’t quite the case. In fact, it almost seemed like they played that down a bit too much. Having built up the whole idea that Batman is needed as some kind of symbol for Gotham’s people, it didn’t feel as if the people were actually all that interested. Very few of them save for a few children, Detective Blake, and a maybe one other character or so really needed Batman as that icon. In Gotham’s darkest hour, what they really needed was apparently for Batman to save the day again.
  • That Batman Face: You know, the one he has on all the time. I think it doesn’t help Batman’s case, but I find it hilarious and it’s also one of my favourite parts of all three movies. Same goes for the voice.

So, in that more general sense, I think most people who have caught the first two movies will be reasonably satisfied with this movie. My Didn’t Like section probably makes it all sound really bad, but the truth is it is still an entertaining if somewhat over-ponderous way to spend an evening or afternoon, and while not the highest point in the series, does certainly have its moments.

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WKLC’s Summer List 2012

Yeah, it’s that time again where I offer a summer reading list of sorts, but also some bonus material in music and movies. Some suggestions for the sweltering months of the year.

In lieu of that crappy title I used last year, I’ve decided to just condense title to “Summer List”, which sounds slightly ridiculous, but who cares. Again, we’ll be having a mix of old and new. Okay, here we go in no particular order:

Books

The Hour of the Star
Clarice Lispector
Trans. Benjamin Moser
New Directions

This year, New Directions are releasing four new Clarice Lispector books, one of which has never been translated into English before. This makes it an especially great time to revisit what has commonly been called her masterpiece. As if there was ever a not-great time to do so.

Satantango
László Krasznahorkai
Trans. George Szirtes
New Directions

Probably one of the biggest releases of the year, László Krasznahorkai’s first novel has just been translated into English by George Szirtes. A strange, intoxicating blend of dark humour, flashes of the apocalyptic, and dizzying displays of literary genius.

Antigonick
Sophokles’s Antigone as translated by Anne Carson
Illustrated by Bianca Stone
New Directions (US), Bloodaxe Books (UK)

I’m midway through Anne Carson’s reimagining of Sophocles’s Antigone as I write this. It is a startling sort of thing, thrusting the canonical text into a decidedly less-than-conservative frame through Carson’s fascinating translation and the use of Stone’s illustrations. I am also struck by the physical nature of the text/book (which should not be surprising, given the nature of Carson’s preceding work Nox), especially in terms of the tactility of the pages; the translucent sheets on which the illustrations are printed; the hand-lettered, almost comic-book text; the deliberate arrangement of the words; and so on, particularly as it is juxtaposed against the text’s basic nature as performance.

Oops, my comments have run pretty long so I’m stopping here.

Mourning Diary
Roland Barthes
Trans. Richard Howard
Hill and Wang

Yes, more death in summer. Mourning Diary is somewhat a strange book, even for Barthes readers. A collection of short notes written after the death of his mother, it is an assemblage of Barthes’s thought on death, mourning, and grief. It is also the portrait of a man coming to terms with loss without the hope of succeeding. A staggering book.

Scars
Juan José Saer
Trans. Steve Dolph
Open Letter

Sometimes people ask: Daryl, what sort of stuff excites you? Well, they don’t really ask that. I was lying. I just wish they would. Then I would have a reason to pull books like these out of my pocket. And I’ve lied again. I don’t keep books in my pocket. But everything else is true.

All-Star Superman
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Frank Quitely
DC Comics

There are basically two kinds of Grant Morrison-as-writer. In one sort, he goes all-out down the histrionics path. Sometimes this results in a real mess. And sometimes this results in a real fine mess. I love that Grant Morrison. I also love the Grant Morrison that does stuff like All-Star Superman, the one that puts together a classically incredible comic book while also hanging onto his own thematic concerns, but in a subtler fashion. Whenever I’m trying to convince someone how great superhero comics can get, All-Star Superman springs to mind.

Guadalajara
Quim Monzó
Trans. Peter Bush
Open Letter

The simple fact is that more people have to read Quim Monzó. Thankfully, there seems to be a move to translate more of his work into English of late, so that non-Catalan English-language readers (like yours truly) get more and more to cheer about. And for those who have no idea who he is, start here.

Pandora in the Congo
Albert Sánchez Piñol
Trans. Mara Faye Lethem
Canongate

Are you in the mood for some adventure? Well, even if you aren’t, you have to check out  Albert Sánchez Piñol’s wildly imaginative, superbly entertaining, and genre-defying book. It’s a fairly long book, but I remember breezing through the pages because it was all just so entertaining.

The Drop Edge of Yonder
Rudolph Wurlitzer
Two Dollar Radio

The Drop Edge of Yonder is the trippiest Western I have ever read. Funny and dark in turns, and sometimes both in the same instant, it exudes a deep absurdity and also betrays a rich imagination. Zebulon lives.

Music

Bloom
Beach House
2012

My favourite album thus far this year is by the good people who were responsible for my favourite album of 2010. Beach House’s Bloom is deeply rooted in their preceding work, but somehow manages to take it into new territory, and the result is a quite sublime new album.

Strange Mercy
St. Vincent
2011

Some things take you a bit of time. Last year, I was having difficulty deciding on my favourite album of 2011, but it’s become a lot clearer half a year removed from then. That album is St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, and there’s never a bad time to revisit this remarkable effort.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
David Bowie
1972

Ziggy Stardust is 40 years old. There is an anniversary edition of the record if you’re thus inclined, one in a series of what feels like several anniversary releases, but I suppose it is in a way a testament to the continued relevance of the album. Even to this day, the album thrills and enchants quite like no other.

The Eraser
Thom Yorke
2006

This is not the best loved of Radiohead-related music. I remember the reviews being somewhat middling when it first came out. Today I’m here to say, who cares about those reviews. This album is great. It’s certainly grown on me since its release, especially in the last couple of years.

Pet Sounds
The Beach Boys
1966

I don’t think I need to say anything about this. I’m including this especially for the folks who are catching them when they make their trip to Singapore in August. And for those who won’t be able to, because you should treat yourself to some Beach Boys in case you feel left out.

Film

Lost Highway
Directed by David Lynch
1997

Of Lynch’s loose trilogy (it is one in my mind) of Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, Lost Highway has always received the least amount of love from me. I don’t know why that is. I really love the film, but I suspect the later two pictures just became a lot more important to me due to a series of coincidences and so on. That’s why I’m watching it again this summer, and you might feel like doing so too.

Sud Pralad, or Tropical Malady
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
2004 

Tigers, shamans, romance, what’s not to like?

I had Apichatpong on the list last year, but you can probably never have too much of Apichatpong anyway.

The Illusionist
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
2010

I have probably recommended this a few billion times. I don’t even remember if I did so last year in the same feature. Directed by Sylvain Chomet, this delightfully animated film features a script by the late, great Jacques Tati.

Marnie
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1964

Hitchcock’s arguably underappreciated film stars Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery was recently mentioned in somebody’s “top 10” list on the New Yorker. (I really have a bad memory, especially for things like these.) It made me want to watch it again, so, here it is.

Pierrot le Fou
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
1965

Ah yes, let us remember a time when Jean-Luc Godard was not making beautifully-filmed but extremely slow feature films; when the director did not adopt the perfume name of JLG; and when we could still see Anna Karina in the theatres. Man, I wasn’t even born then.

And that’s it. I hope this helps with the summer boredom!

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Valentine’s Day Public Service Special Feature.

Hello youse. It’s Valentine’s Day. Well, at least it’s Valentine’s Day in my part of the world. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have nothing to do! (If you’re not like me, you’re probably struggling to put together a love letter. Well, struggle no longer. Let Alain de Botton and Jeanette Winterson give you a little help!) I know just how you feel — cold, sad, and brutally shut out from the semiotic system!

So, for us outsiders, stragglers, Othered aliens, I offer the illusion of participation in the hegemonic discourse. Specifically, I offer cultural texts that will arm you with the necessary… romanticism and wonder if you’re the optimistic sort: sadness and self-pity if you’re the Hamlet sort.

Sure, you could go all Camus Rebel Mode and attack the artificiality of this silly day. You could ignore it and pretend nothing’s going on too. Well, this post isn’t meant for people like you. This post is meant for people who like to feel sad about themselves sometimes.

Besides, the only way to defeat the enemy is to know the enemy first.

Fiction
The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares

Adolfo Bioy Casares, "The Invention of Morel", NYRB Classics (Source: The Book Depository)

I always, always tell folks that The Invention of Morel is one of my favourite literary love stories, if not the favourite outright. The issue with it, of course, is that it can all seem rather creepy and very pathetic. That’s really all I can say about it without giving away the plot to the precious few who have yet to read it. It’s an unnerving love story, but it is beautiful in its own twisted way, and one that will stay with you for all of your life.

(Also a quick read, so you can actually finish it on Valentine’s Day.)

Philosophy
A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes, "A Lover's Discourse", Vintage (Source: The Book Depository)

The most obvious thing that Barthes’s incredible volume offers you is a perspective — or even a few perspectives — on love. The cliche is that it’s a book that will change the way you think about love comprehensively, but it’s one of those cliches that’s actually very true. This is the work that introduced me to new ways of thinking, new areas of exploration for my own writing, and new hope against an idea — that of love — that made less and less sense to me.

This also makes good ammunition against the hegemonic discourse. Charge!

Poetry
The Smoke of Distant Fires, Eduardo Chirinos

Eduardo Chirinos, "The Smoke of Distant Fires", Open Letter (Source: The Book Depository)

[7]

to summon forth fire and not be burned that’s the second
exercise first i saw her feet i was tired feeling really
sleepy that’s a lie i wasn’t tired didn’t feel sleepy at all
the party had ended and seeing her feet made me so happy
that’s how it all began the decision to kiss her to travel together
through europe to start a family we danced until dawn
i told her you will be my poem but she didn’t say a word

Excerpt from “Exercises for blocking out the rain” (Ejercicios para borrar la lluvia), trans. G. J. Racz

Music
Father, Son, Holy Ghost
, Girls

[“Vomit” via YouTube]

Father, Son, Holy Ghost is an album about many powerful things, but it also is a fine collection of love songs. All sorts of romantic love are described here: the self-deprecating kind, the gentle and innocent kind, the young and flamboyant kind, the obsessive kind, and the sorry-I-messed-up kind. The enterprise of Girls, to me, is built upon an exploratory bent that looks to stretch the pop vernacular to its very limits of expression, but they are also masters of an art that lies in more familiar territory: the love song.

“Come into my heart,” sings Christopher Owens, his voice calm and subdued in the midst of the escalating emotion around him, and in the tension between the two is an expression of longing far more lucid than any in recent memory.

Film
Millenium Actress
, Satoshi Kon

[Clip via YouTube]

This was the film that first convinced me of Satoshi Kon’s brilliance. And it probably is my favourite Satoshi Kon movie to this day. I could go on and on about it, to talk about its metafilmic qualities, its remarkable use of narrative, its references and influences… But really, Millenium Actress is, at its heart, a love story. And what a fine love story it is. I’m just going to quote Kevin Williams in his Chicago Tribune review: “It’s animated, but it’s human and will touch the soul of anyone who has loved deeply.”

Right then, go get ’em!

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Chapter One.

[1]

I wrote my first post for this blog promising very little. I think that was a good strategy.

[2]

A year ago, I started up this page with the idea that I would use it to share links and news of interest. A year. I didn’t quite think it would make it to a year. I was entering this half-thinking that it would peter out in three weeks and I’d shelf the idea for some other stage of my life. I’ve been blogging for a while now. I know the cycles that these projects can assume for me.

[3]

No, I’m not about to get all sentimental. But it is the birthday of Who Killed Lemmy Caution?, and I figured that in lieu of being extremely creative or extremely concise, it wouldn’t be so bad to have a look at what went well and what didn’t go so well in our first year.

We’re doing well, in a sense. We survived. We’ve had a good go at being diligent with postings, without this blog being (let’s be honest) a huge priority in my life. We’ve covered a reasonable range of stuff, if I dare say so myself, ranging from the more serious to the more eclectic. I mean, honestly, we even shared news about Jeffrey Eugenides’s vest.

We’re not massively popular. No way. We average somewhere between five to ten views a day. That can feel like a bit of a letdown sometimes, but other times, it’s called exceeding expectations.

So in a way, we’re not doing all that bad. Not superb, but not bad.

[4]

A look at my tag cloud tells me that my favourite topic appears to be Radiohead, followed by Bob Dylan, Samuel Beckett, and David Lynch in that sort of order. Also in the conversation are Roberto Bolaño, Björk, and James Joyce. I didn’t predict this sort of skewed representation (towards music) at the start, but I suspect most of it is down to the fact that I cover a smaller group of musicians as compared to writers. This is somewhat verified by the fact that my most popular category remains Literature (145 posts), with Music in second place (102 posts).

[5]

I don’t like to make promises with these blogging things. They’re like New Year resolutions (although it is appropriately the Chinese New Year): You either make them to fail or to succeed all too easily. That said, one of the things I would like to see in the future is more time spent onwriting long-reads of a sort. So far, I’ve taken to calling these Features. I haven’t had great success in producing a lot of content like this (actually, I only had four for the year) for a few reasons. Chiefly, I don’t make any money from this, and because I do have a lot of other work in a number of other places, it often becomes difficult to prioritise writing at length for this blog. Another reason (excuse, what-have-you) is that I didn’t plan to do so initially. The plan was simply to share stuff about the things that I like or love, and anything else would be a bonus. Having not planned for it, I had no consistent way of making it work.

And a third reason: we didn’t gain as much traction as we would have liked. I would have loved doing interviews and the like, but it’s simply not feasible at this stage of the blog’s life.

No promises, as I said, but I hope to do more of this in the future. I won’t be doing serious criticism like I do at school or anything as yet (that would probably be a tad optimistic) but I will try to write more in the way of impressions, special features (like last year’s Summer Reading List), event coverage, and maybe one or two surprises. I don’t think the blog will gain a tremendous amount of traction in the coming year, but if it does, it might also make talking to various people easier, thus giving us more content.

Another thing I would like to do is to live up to a promise that I made or an intention that I had a year ago. I’ll try to bring a bit more attention to the arts and culture scene of Singapore. My own fields of interest definitely do not aligned 100% with the arts in Singapore, being concentrated more usually in Europe, Latin America, and China, but there’s lots of good work in these parts that I should definitely be talking about more.

[6]

Happy birthday, WKLC. And to all the people who’ve stuck with us, it’s no luxury cruise liner, but here’s to even better times on our little drunken boat.

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Year in Music, Class of 2011

No, I don’t like lists. I don’t like making them (it’s a lot more work than it looks) and I don’t usually like reading them. Nevertheless, I find that a yearly music list is useful for remembering the year in culture given how much music actually gets released these days. It also gives you something to read during the Christmas break.

It’s not a best-music-of-2011 list and more of a favourite-music-of-2011 list. The idea, of course is that they should overlap in the right areas.

In an attempt to avoid some of my disagreements with the idea of lists, I’ve put my favourite albums on mine in no particular order except the alphabetical one. However, I’ve used a three-tiered system with a crappy academic metaphor in order to give a broad differentiation with regards to the music that I liked (Second-Upper!), the music that I loved (First-Class Honours!), and the music that was significant/important (in my view, of course) while being both of these things (Dean’s List!).

Right, let’s not waste time and get right into it.

Dean’s List

Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls

[“Vomit” via YouTube]

Eschewing the emotional complexity of Broken Dreams Club for something more direct and intuitive while also preserving the richness and thoughtfulness of the EP, Girls return with an album that furthers their enterprise in exploring the limits of the pop vernacular. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is both a statement that the band understand their own magic and one of the year’s highest musical achievements.

The King of Limbs, Radiohead

[“Bloom” via YouTube]

From the swirling and gigantic opener “Bloom” to the shimmering “Separator”, The King of Limbs unfolds within a carefully-devised two-part structure. The first is eerie, skittering, surreal, and ramps up the tension before the ethereal “Lotus Flower”. The second is restrained, rich, and melodic, unwinding the work of the first half into its resplendent conclusion. A divisive album among critics, but definitely one of the year’s great albums in my view.

Let England Shake, PJ Harvey

[“The Words That Maketh Murder” via YouTube]

Our history of violence isn’t a new topic, butit isn’t every day that it is handled with such maturity and grace. The pop music vernacular is perhaps supposed to be limited in scope and impoverished in expression, but as Polly Jean Harvey has (and in a different way, Girls have) shown, it’s capable of saying much more than it has a right to.

Strange Mercy, St. Vincent

[“Cruel” via YouTube]

Fresh, assured, catchy, and sometimes deeply unnerving, Strange Mercy negotiates a difficult tension between the more straightforward aesthetic pleasures of popular music and a highly complex emotional terrain with incredible dexterity. (And just listen to that guitar on “Cruel”.) I can’t wait to see what she thinks of next.

w h o k i l l, tUnE-yArDs

[“Doorstep” via YouTube]

When I first heard “Bizness”, it was something of a revelation. w h o k i l l is a brilliant conjunction of atonal melodies, complex percussion, and an inventive use of loop effects with a magnificent voice to top it off. But the album is far more than the sum of its parts, an endlessly thrilling creative journey that tackles themes of nation, society, violence, and ugliness.

First-Class Honours

50 Words For Snow, Kate Bush

[“Wild Man” via YouTube]

Like some of the other musicians on this list (Cass McCombs and the Weeknd), Kate Bush released two separate records this year. This second album of new material is striking, and sees the musician fully at ease with her own craft. Restrained, carefully balanced, and ultimately haunting, 50 Words For Snow shouldn’t be missed.

Anna Calvi, Anna Calvi

[“Suzanne and I” via YouTube]

In my own fiction, I had dreamed up a singer with a larger-than-life image, an immense stage presence, a darkly operatic take on rock music, and a hint of androgyny. Early this year, I discovered someone quite like her in Anna Calvi, and I’ve been in love ever since.

Biophilia, Björk

[“Crystalline” via YouTube]

Also a divisive record for the critics, Biophilia was touted as a multimedia art project during its release. Specific to the album, however, I am of the opinion that this is among some of the most beautiful music that Björk has produced. (This album was really close to making the Dean’s List, but I had to be picky, so it missed out very narrowly. Not that it’s any less of a brilliant album, though.)

Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes

[“A Shrine/An Argument” via YouTube]

It was difficult to imagine how anyone would construct a follow-up to the rather excellent and ambitious Fleet Foxes back when that first album surfaced. Not a problem. In Helplessness Blues, the band manages to sound new and exciting without dismantling the sound they had established in their debut. The result is memorable and grand, and a fine musical adventure.

Nuestra, La Vida Bohème

[“Radio Capital” via YouTube]

While technically released in 2010, this album gained traction on the international music scene only after its North American release in 2011. (A couple of award nominations certainly helped.) A delightful blend of the Ramones, the Clash, U2, and a whole host of other influences, their music is thrilling, danceable, and thoroughly entertaining.

Second-Upper

Finally, a look at some of the other music that I enjoyed this year, but couldn’t quite find the space for above. Unfortunately, I can’t afford as much (ahem) real estate to these entries, but note that they’re all wonderful albums and you certainly stand a good chance of finding something to love in here. One man’s meat is another man’s wagyu beef.

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German Literature Month: Impressions of Klausen

Klausen
Andreas Maier
Translated by Kenneth J. Northcott
Open Letter Books, 2010

When I was thirteen, I took German classes. It was part of the third language programme that they had going here. I took classes for about two years or so. I’m ashamed to say, however, that my brief education in the German language did not manage to linger in my leaky brain. (I remember about twenty words, and that’s about it.) My education in German-language literature, philosophy, and theory, however, would slowly gather some momentum over the years, and various German writers and thinkers—Sebald, Lind, Adorno, Rilke, too many to name—have come to matter to me over time. So, when German Literature Month was announced by Caroline and Lizzy, I figured I’d do my best to take part.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to participate in any great capacity, but I did manage to fulfil a personal promise to read one German language book in the month, and have now managed to write a bit about it too. You’ll just have to make do. Also somewhat unfortunately, I have to admit that I undertook the reading via translation, which is kind of cheating for an event like German Literature Month, but I guess it’s really how you interpret the term.)

I chose to take on a book in my not-very-short queue. Klausen is Andreas Maier’s second novel, and I think picked up quite a bit of attention back when it was first released.

This isn’t a review as much as it is a collection of impressions from a moderately-paced reading of the book. It is my first Andreas Maier book. That may surprise you because I suggested including it in your German Literature Month earlier. Stay with me. It may make sense by the end. (It will not help that I’m writing this in the middle of the night over in my part of the world, but I’ll do my best.)

To summarise the plot of Klausen in a ridiculously simplified manner, a bomb goes off (eventually) in the quaint town that the book takes its name from. If there is a central character, then it is that of Josef Gasser, who becomes something of a prime suspect for the incident. However, no one seems able to know what happened, even if everyone can say exactly what happened.

Klausen, therefore, is a book that tries to interrogate the possibility of locating truth. Well, I’m sure that’s a really reductive way of talking about it, and it’s about plenty of other things too (politics, cultures, philosophy, art-making, and so on), but that to me seems to be the main thrust of the book. To that end, the structure of the novel may be its biggest achievement, a complex assemblage of half-truths that are simultaneously revealing and muddying. Klausen is thus primed in a how-it-came-to-be manner, unfolding in a procedural, tick-tock manner that attempts to account for the crime in an insistently indefinite manner.

I have to say that there is great craft in this. The skill required to assemble the individual parts in such a manner is plain to see. Maier doesn’t betray any sign of Second Book Syndrome as far as this goes, tackling the rather ambitious technical design with confidence and verve.

That said, I found the book alienating—and not in a good way.

As far as the writing goes, the back cover blurb suggests that Maier draws on the likes of Saramago and Bernhard, and I’ll take its word for it. The influence is plain to see even through the translation, with the fairly distinctive punctuation, the huge paragraph, and the indirect speech. Yet, Maier seems to lack Saramago’s poetic sense, exceptional wit, and enormous compassion, as well as Bernhard’s manic intensity, dizzying flourishes of prose, and searing psychology.

But that’s not all that Maier’s novel lacks. It also lacks any strong characters. That is, I could never quite care for the characters. Characters are something that I’ve always figured to be a matter of personal preference, yet I will say that there is the way in which the book is written seems to contribute to this. The gossiping narrative style never helps, mainly because it floats freely from character to character in a superficial way (that is, on the surface of people as gossip tends to be). The effect was twofold: I never paid attention to anyone very much because the narrative never seems very committed to anyone, and I constantly felt at a distance to the unfolding plot. In a way, I was an outsider to the little town of Klausen. I was an invisible tourist in a strange town.

In this sense, Klausen’s greatest character, perhaps appropriately, is Klausen itself, which is an achievement to some degree. Nonetheless, I didn’t find it enough to keep me as engaged with the novel as I would have liked. There were pockets of humour and moments of sympathy, but they were never quite sufficient to make me want to invest in any of the (numerous) characters.

An additional effect I observed, which may or may not be related, was that the novel felt strangely inertial. In a sense, the novel always feels like it should go someplace, but it never seems to do so with any real commitment until the ending stretch (when you first see a mention of Heidegger, I believe). It certainly didn’t help the characters to be so deprived of a strong investment in drama.

There is one last aspect of the novel that I found particularly alienating. For a book concentrating on the nature of truth and the frayed ends of communication, Klausen’s tale necessarily problematises the issue of narration. The narrative is, after all, a communicative form, and Klausen’s narrative therefore faces certain issues that parallel those that it attempts to tackle.

Recently, I’ve had to do some work in Othello. One line that stuck with me from something I was reading said this of the Moor of Venice’s romantic rhetoric: “Once the narrative form possesses the event, once it becomes subject to the inevitable process of selection and reduction, it becomes a fiction” (Cohen 89). To take it in a slightly oblique direction, the fictional is naturally embedded in narrative forms. In that sense, the obvious route to take for Klausen, it seems to me, is to acknowledge the problematic narrative form.

Maier seems to consider this for a moment when he writes an extended section discussing a painting called “A View of the Town of Klausen”.  It is, I think, the one occasion when he most directly foregrounds the process of constructing art. Yet, he doesn’t pursue this in that particular direction.

What I was left with in the remainder of the novel, it seemed, was actually a strong sense of trustworthiness in the narrative. That is, I always felt as though I could believe in the reportage of the narrator, that because the impaired truth was concentrated solely within the acts and words of Klausen’s inhabitants, there was a degree of completeness in the narrative itself: as long as I stuck with it, I’d be able to figure it all out.

It’s troubling to me because it feels to me as though Maier is apparently doggedly reluctant to shatter the frame that he has so carefully constructed. Klausen is a puzzle, and if you work within its framework, you might get somewhere. But in this manner, I felt like an outsider to the inhabitants of Klausen in a second way. If I couldn’t trust fully what they were going on about, I could still trust the form of the narrative. I could still take comfort in the fact the form was intact, and that created (for me) a sense of disjunction between the themes that were being described and the form that was being used to describe them.

I’m not sure if I’ve made this sound overly negative. I didn’t mean it that way. I didn’t dislike the book, in fact. Instead, I felt curiously distant from it, as if it insisted that I stay calm and objective and removed. I’m not sure if that was the intention. And as I said earlier, I did after all suggest that you put Maier on your German Literature Month reading list, and I stand by that suggestion. I heard good things about him prior to reading him. And more importantly, I read up about the book and expected an… interesting experience. It didn’t disappoint me in that way.  Surely, this isn’t a book for everyone, me included. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a shot. Try it on the basis that it will be a somewhat distinctive experience, whether or not you enjoy it.

Klausen is technically very neat and in that way all rather accomplished. I have to say that it didn’t work for me, though. Sometimes I feel like I must have missed something, and maybe if I come back to this book in a few years, it’ll begin to click. For now, though, it’s going onto the bookshelf to await a future reread (if I ever get to that). Meanwhile, I would love to hear various other opinions on the book, as it’s the kind of book that I think must have elicited quite different responses among its readers.

Cited

Cohen, Derek. Shakespearean Motives. Hampshire, Macmillan: 1988. Print.

Maier, Andreas. Klausen. New York, Open Letter: 2010. Print.

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Filed under Features, Literature

Summer Reading (And More) List 2011

It’s summer, and always a good time to plan a reading/watching/listening list. Here are some suggestions that you might want to consider. I’ve got books, music, and film: something for everyone!

Books

alphabet, by Inger Christensen
Poetry
2001
Originally titled Alfabet (1981)
Translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied

The common wisdom is that something gets lost in all translations, and that poetry stands to lose more than fiction in this regard. (I take my personal stance on this from the great Nicanor Parra–that is, the idea of anti-translations: since true translations are impossible in principle, the task of a translator is to reinterpret.) Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that you can always find something in good poetry, and with that frame of mind, I recommend this brilliant collection by the Danish poet Inger Christensen. With masterful control and brilliant imagery, this is moving, frightening, and ultimately inspiring poetry.

Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Memoir
2010

Patti Smith is awesome. No one can ever change my mind on that. This book quite nearly matches her overall awesomeness. A poetic memoir focussing on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, the book brings with it such sincerity as to approach purity. To put simply, it is a book that reminded me of the possibility of beauty in each of us.

Small Memories (or Memories of my Youth), by José Saramago
Memoir
2010
Originally titled As Pequenas Memórias (2006)
Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa

A very different kind of memoir, this covers the late Nobel laureate’s early years in his distinctively fabulist and grandfatherly way. Beyond being a testament of his extraordinary abilities as a storyteller, it is also a fascinating book full of humour, compassion, and a characteristically deep and nuanced appreciation of life.

Ghosts, by César Aira
Fiction
2009
Originally titled Los Fantasmas  (1990)
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews

César Aira is a sort polarising figure in the world of contemporary literature. Supporters point out his amazing imagination, his at times truly remarkable powers with language, and the juxtaposition between the complexity and brevity of his novels. Critics, on the other hand, are often able to point out certain fatal flaws in his writing. Sometimes he seems completely frivolous, and sometimes he leaps into banal pseudo-philosophical litanies, and the like. Always a different fatal flaw.

For me, he is special simply because I can’t think of anyone else like him in this day and age. For the uninitiated, don’t think of his writing the way you would with other writers, and don’t think of his novels as traditional novels. Go in without those expectations and you may just find yourself rewarded with some of the most imaginative writing in contemporary literature.

The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler
Fiction
1953

Arguably the greatest of the Chandler books (though we could have a debate on that all day), The Long Goodbye is so good that it hurts. Philip Marlowe returns in a mystery that involves a drunkard, a war, a 5000-dollar bill, and of course a dangeours woman. It’s always a good time to read some Chandler.

Stitches, by David Small
Graphic Novel
2009

This autobiographical graphic novel is one of the best books I’ve read recently. At its heart is the story of throat cancer and how the author literally lost his voice. Affecting, Kafkaesque, and gorgeously illustrated, Stitches is an example of the graphic medium at its very best.

City of Small Blessings, by Simon Tay
Fiction
2009

I read less local fiction than I would like to, but let me just say that we could do with more writing like this. Simon Tay’s excellent novel deals with themes of time, modernisation, generation gaps, love, and loss.

The Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, by Javier Marías
Consisting of: Fever and Spear (2004); Dance and Dream (2006); and Poison, Shadow and Farewell (2009)
Fiction
Originally titled Tu rostro mañana
Consisting of Fiebre y lanza (2002); Baile y sueño (2004); and Veneno y sombra y adiós (2007)
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

The longest book on this list (well, technically three books, but a collected edition will be out this year), this is the main course on my own summer reading list. Marías’s sprawling literary project, translated by the ever-brilliant Margaret Jull Costa, features a translator–what else?–embroiled in a spy-novel plot.

Five Modern Nō Plays, by Yukio Mishima
Theatre
1957
Translated from the Japanese by Donald Keene

I’m not the biggest Mishima fan (not in the sense that I have no interest in his work, but that I think you can always find someone who is a bigger fan), but I absolutely adore his theatre work for the way they make seemingly outmoded forms appear so relevant and refreshing again. The five plays collected here reinterpret the Nō form while preserving a respect for its traditions and rules of engagement.

Film

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, directed by Werner Herzog
1974
Originally titled Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle

Werner Herzog’s classic film about the German legend of Kaspar Hauser was my first ever Herzog film and one of my permanent favourites. A lyrical and philosophical film, Herzog presents a mystery of a man through a series of striking images, and leaves us to ponder the relevance of his struggles and his dreams to our own lives.

Still Life, directed by Jia Zhangke
2006
Originally titled 《山峡好人》

Jia Zhangke is one of the best directors working today, and Still Life shows exactly why. Stately, melancholic, and gorgeously photographed, the film is centred around a coal-miner in search of his divorced wife and a nurse in search of her husband against the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam development. Among other things, it is a meditation on the infringement caused by human presence in the immensity of nature, the tragedies and blessings of modernisation, and the struggle to preserve the most basic relationships in the face of these forces.

Millennium Actress, directed by Satoshi Kon
2001
Originally titled 千年女優

This film is vintage Satoshi Kon, who admittedly didn’t direct too many projects but was nevertheless one of the greatest directors to grace the anime industry. Millenium Actress is a post-modern look at the constructedness of our lives (through the lens of film, in this case) and also a love story that will move even the stone-hearted. It encapsulates a good portion of the genius of a director who continues to be a great creative influence in my own work and was simply gone too soon.

Charade, directed by Stanley Donen
1963

Starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, this immensely entertaining film is at once suspence, romance and comedy in the finest tradition of Hitchcock. A wonderfully lively script, two stars who are certainly very easy on the eyes, and an excellent grasp of suspense combine to make this a great summer film.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
2010
Originally titled ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ

Last year’s winner of the Palme d’Or is a film both elliptical and strange. Centrally dealing with the character of Uncle Boonmee and his various ambiguous past lives, this film trades in beauty, horror, humour, and mystique. Most of all, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film resists easy interpretation or classification, and it is in this open-endedness and complexity that we may find its greatest beauty.

Music

Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), by Janelle Monáe
2007, 2008 (special edition)

O Janelle Monáe. It is sometimes hard to believe that you aren’t really a cyborg girl with your multitude of irresistible talents. Having released her excellent first full album last year, let’s take this summer to take a look back at where it all started. A wonderfully strange mix of Motown and science fiction, this EP is the perfect introduction to the work of an incredible musician.

Modern Times, by Bob Dylan
2005

The third in Dylan’s later trilogy, Modern Times exudes the poise, composure, and venom of a master of the craft in his late years. Injecting new life into apparently outdated music genres (much like Mishima and theatre), drawing upon–who would have thought?–Ovid, and performed with utter clarity, Modern Times is a monument in modern music.

Symphony No. 9, performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker and conducted by Claudio Abbado
Composed by Gustav Mahler
2002

Probably my favourite of the Mahler symphonies, this particular interpretation is really quite good, though we too could debate this all day. In any case, if you’ve never heard Symphony No. 9 before, there’s no excuse. And if you have, well, there isn’t one either.

w h o k i l l, by tUnE-yArDs
2011

My favourite music discovery of the year so far (though Anna Calvi comes a close second), my first exposure to the music of tUnE-yArDs hit me like a gust of wind. Compelling from start to finish, the music here is a powerful statement of individual expression.

A Night at the Village Vanguard, by Sonny Rollins
1957

Probably one of the greatest live albums of all time, this record manages to capture the magic and intimacy of one of jazz’s true masters.

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One more, Bob.

[1]

A few years ago, I read an interview with Thom Yorke. I think it was in a copy of Rolling Stone that I found in the bookstore. In it, Thom made one fact very clear: Bob Dylan can really sing. I believed that too. I believed that from the moment I heard–believe it or not–his set on MTV Unplugged. It’s one of my earliest memories of listening to Bob Dylan. It was released in 1995; I was all of nine years old then. I don’t know exactly why I got my hands on it, but I did. Bob’s scratchy voice didn’t make much sense to me at first, and the fact that I was nine was of no help because the lyrics probably flew right past me. But when I got to what I still think of as the climax of the album–“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” followed by “Like A Rolling Stone”–and it all clicked.

Part of what made “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” work for me was that I could understand it. Here was a man waiting to die, bleeding, gun in his hand, and crying out for Ma. In my melodramatic nine year old mind, that made the most sense out of all the songs on an album that included “Dignity” (one brilliant rendition of it, I might add) and “Desolation Row”. It was performed with masterful clarity, delicate melancholy, and an honest sense of desperation. Every now and then, Bob’s voice went into a primal whine, the sound of a man who really could see death over his shoulder. To think about it now, it wasn’t the simplistic melodramatic fear or sadness that I had had in mind. It was far more complex, and far more evocative, far more… well, mature. My discovery excited me.

The version of “Like A Rolling Stone” may not have been the greatest performance of it ever, but I adored it then. I still love it today, for the simple reason that when I first heard it, it was magical to me. It was the first time I had ever heard such a song, both mean and uplifting at the same time. I didn’t even think that was possible. When he asked, How does it feel?, it felt as if I had asked it. When he castigated this ambivalent figure with, You never understood that it ain’t no good/You should never let other people get your kicks for you, it felt like those words were mine. And when his voice soared going into one of the choruses, I knew that Bob Dylan could sing, and that became a secret that I would keep with me as I proceeded to dig out as many of his old records as I possibly could.

[2]

I went to the Timbre Rock & Roots Festival last night with a deep sense of paranoid uncertainty. I was going to see one of the great artists of my canon: Was I going to regret it when I found the man never quite matching up to the myth? Everyone had been having a go at him since his performances in China: Had he lost it? There was always a faint sense that something could collapse, that an illusion was going to be dismantled, or that time and politics had robbed even the greatest of men.

[3]

My parents never thought that Dylan could sing. How could this sometimes death-drawl belong to a singer? Why does he sound like he’s talking in long stretches? Is he a nascent rap star whose style was a form of droning lyricism?

My mom didn’t have any idea who he was; she speaks primarily Chinese and that was a main factor in her quite different cultural exposure. My dad had heard of him, but this was and still is a far cry from his world. Whatever it was, Bob made no sense to either of them. I was disappointed then, but not quite as disheartened to realise that it wasn’t just my parents. Most people around me, friends and family, seemed to think the same way. You have to remember two things: I didn’t have the people who had any reason to be interested in him, and I was young and didn’t know how to pursue these passions as effectively or aggressively as I can now.

That’s why Bob had to stay my secret for so long. I was something of an impressionable adolescent (who wasn’t?), too fragile to get into a fight, and yet too eager to shatter. Over the years, however, I had to defend my love of the likes of David Lynch (“His pictures just don’t make sense.”), Grant Morrison (“Comic books?! You can’t be serious!”), José Saramago (“Too fabulist, too humanistic, and too unliterary.”), and Dhalgren (“Science fiction?! You can’t be serious!” and “This isn’t proper science fiction!”). Oddly enough, I discovered that it was comparatively easy to defend Bob Dylan. Blame it on the Internet. There was such a huge community out there that I didn’t find it hard to do so anymore. In fact, in a way, Bob Dylan became one of the few I would no longer have to defend.

[4]

On the night, Bob emerged on stage wearing a subdued suit and a hat. His voice was just like it was on the recent records, only even less mellifluous (if that’s possible), yet richer, more resonant, and as the night would prove, more versatile than it seemed to be allowed to be on the albums.

The band opened with a mixture of newer songs–including a remarkable rendition of “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”–and classics–even if they were comprehensively reworked, such as a version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” that took me by surprise. This pattern would continue through the night. To put it in a procedural fashion, it was a rootsy, groovy band that trusted in its ability to dive into a blues shuffle, American folk, and tuneful pop with effortless brilliance and genuine relish.

I only have scattered memories of the night. Music-wise, I remember an excellent performance of “Tangled Up In Blue”. And I actually believe that the rocking variation of “Highway 61 Revisited” is better than the one found on the album. Through the night, the band entertained, surprised, and charmed with its sincerity and technical mastery. Bob himself led the charge with his quite unique charisma. He felt his way into the concert quickly and bit into each song with gusto. The audience bought it with equal readiness.

Behind him, his silhouette was projected onto an enormous black banner. And night fell.

[4]

Cigarette smoke, dancing, and lots of beer–I remember thinking, I don’t even drink.

Perhaps one day this will prove to be a Proustian moment of some sort for me.

[5]

One of the two main highlights of the night for me (on a night full of highlights) was a complete reinvention of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna’ Fall”. As with all his complete reinventions, this surprised me at first. It wasn’t quite the folk-styled protest song of the Sixties. It was melodic and soulful rearrangment that seemed to allow Bob a lot more performative space. I believe that it wooed me–and the rest of the audience, I should think–in a way that wouldn’t quite have been possible with the original arrangment. It was subtler, richer, and had more breadth for emotional complexity. Whether or not he was our prophet, he certainly was our poet. That is, there is more to poetry than words on a sheet. There is poetry to be found in music, and in performance, and the debates about whether or not Dylan is truly a poet in the traditional sense of the word for all I care–last night affirmed that he was a poet nonetheless to me.

The other big highlight was the finale of the set before the encore. “Ballad Of A Thin Man” ran the whole gamut of the emotions; Bob evoked righteousness, bitter condescension, fragile anger, and a deep world weariness with probably his most outstanding performance of the night. His voice was alternately an evocative growl, a measured wheeze, a deep bellow, and a explosive bark. It was a performance that will certainly stay in my mind for a long time to come.

[6]

He left the stage after that. It went dark. It took a while but the band returned to the chants of, One more, Bob. There seemed to be little doubt about what they would play then.

I never quite would have thought I’d hear supposedly five thousand Singaporeans spontaneously singing, How does it feel?/To be without a home/Like a complete unknown/Like a rolling stone, at the top of their voices. This doesn’t even happen at the National Day Parade.

[7]

I’d like to think that Bob hasn’t changed–or perhaps, given that the whole idea of “Bob Dylan” has always been about change, it might be more accurate to say that I’d like to think that he hasn’t changed in a way to become the antithesis of what he seemed to be in the Sixties. I have to admit that the mostly rather scathing reports of his performances in China were always at the back of my mind. Would I have been happier if he didn’t perform “Like A Rolling Stone”? Have I become so cynical as to be unable to view a performance of it as anything but a crowd-pleaser?

[8]

Was he any less of a conformist for resisting our labels of “voice of a generation” and “prophet” and “poet”?

[9]

For the record, I was one of the first to shout along when the song hit the chorus. I couldn’t resist.

Maybe it was the fanboy in me, all too glad to be in the presence of one of his heroes. Maybe I remembered what it was like when I got to this song on the MTV Unplugged album and finally understanding something that I would treasure thenceforth. Maybe I saw the preciousness of human connection, that we were all in his tall shadow, under the sound of his voice, and with words that we shared. Maybe it was because I’d also like to think that having watched people I know and love slowly seem to turn a bit bitter and a bit cynical over the past few years, I knew I had to trust what I felt. Or maybe it was the rush of blood that tends to accompany the recognition of genuine art.

Maybe it was all of these things, and not just.

[10]

Over the years, I’ve had something of–lack of a better term and all that–a love-hate relationship with art. Art of various sorts. I invested a lot of effort and time into an intellectual understanding of art. In the past few years, however, these endeavours have tended towards the anaemic for me. The more I’ve tried to identify and define, the more I’ve tried to put things into any systematic or interrogative understanding, the higher the risk that I will feel removed from it all. Of course, I have none of the insightfulness of Sontag, the eloquence of Barthes, or the intelligence of Bazin, and that arguably accounts for a good part of the my failures to properly examine art successfully in this mode. It has always been a struggle for me to hang onto things that matter to me against the tools that are available to me.

Recently, however–that is, these past few years–I’ve negotiated this better. I find myself being far more of an intuitive than an intellectual person where this is involved. Art that engages me, art that matters to me, art that leaves me with a voice with which to speak or without a desire to, tends to resist easy labels such as technical brilliance, beauty, and artistic accomplishment. All my attempts to describe what I look for in art have ended up in failure. (Being quite averse to embarrassment, I tend to ignore the possibility of an impaired linguistic aptitude and to blame the insufficiencies of language instead.) Therefore, and unfortunately, the best I can offer are the vague and ever-ballooning terms of heart and soul.

For example, the writing of Cortázar matters to me not (mainly) because of its inventiveness, his structural innovation, and his linguistic brilliance, but rather because it possesses facets of a culture, captures the human soul like no other, and is best described as a pulse, perhaps the pulse of living. The music of Radiohead speaks to me not purely on melodic sense, or catchiness, or guitar solos and riffs, but on the stark soundscapes and emotional spectra conjured. Art Spiegelman is a mighty fine artist and a master of the form, but his work resonates on levels so far removed from those that I barely ever have the time to talk about the technical details.

The point is, it’s not always been easy living with this vague, unscientific, and non-institutional love of art. But sometimes, some people make it so easy. Last night, in an hour and a half, Bob Dylan brought with him all the technical things you’d expect him to: master showmanship, instrumental wizardry, and a voice both incredibly experienced and performatively gifted. Yet, these are just the bells and whistles. What we truly got last night was music revealing and enabling our persistent search for human connection; songs that spanned eras and emotions alike, from the mean to the beautiful and ever shade in between, recalling memories as they made new ones; and a performance to keep close to the heart for all the years to come.

Things are not necessarily beautiful in their transience, but some transient things certainly are.

[11]

I can still vividly see people holding hands, in embraces, cheering, clapping, waving, as Bob closed the set with a melodic rendition of “Forever Young.”

It was the first time I had seen Bob live. The way these things are, with constraints geographical and temporal, it is with more than a hint of resignation that I admit that it may very well be the last as well. But never say never, as they so optimistically put it.

So instead, I’ll say, One more, Bob. One more.

d

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