on doris lessing's "the golden notebook"

at one point in doris lessing’s the golden notebook, a male character says to the narrator, anna wulf, regarding her one novel: “meretricious, that’s the word I would use, if asked.” if the complexities presented in this book can be in any way distilled (they cannot), then some attention should be paid to this brief bit of dialogue. 

in this remendous and excursive novel, what primarily struck me was how, in the relationships between men and women, the word “meretricious” refers to both the way thinking women are afraid of being perceived (largely by men) and the way they in turn consider and disregard (a considerable number of) men. lessing, writing from the mecurial rise of women’s liberation, created the formidably intelligent female character who was stricken by the contradictions between demands from the “sex war”, and a woman’s personal inclinations of love, self-doubt, weakness, neediness, and all those other symptoms modernity was meant to change. conexisting with this myriad is this fear of posterity, or inanity, or madness. thinking women are intensely self-aware to the point of being vulnerable to insanity. there is no linearity, only discursion. we do not have the luxury of assuming importance; it seems that at least, in vulnerable states, we battle meretriciousness.

it has been over fifty years since, and little has changed in this web of inverse and obverse axioms by which a woman is meant to live by. in reading the golden notebook I felt occasionally shocked by what anna was willing to admit to herself— the pliant attitude towards a toxic male presence, the submissiveness in sex, the willingness to cook and make coffee on demand! it is all that the contemporary feminist constitution obliges one to reject. yet in a woman’s internal dialogue why must we dissuade such thoughts, and would it not be unfounded righteousness for the voyeur to pass judgment on them? the assignment of a hierarchy to a woman’s emotional life is, in fact, an acting limitation to liberation. all these methods that have been invented for women to doubt themselves, their value, and here we are using these weapons against one another, against ourselves.

the love of men is threaded throughout the various narratives of this book. love, and hatred, and dependence, and pity— it is a wonder that such a book exists, congregating all the terrifying ways the liberated women must face her world. all the patterns and tropes and tired routines that threaten a wildly living soul. all those ferocious dichotomies that turn truth into charade, turn rawness into stereotype. the threat of superficiality. anyone who reads the book carefully will understand why lessing refuted the caption of a feminist novel. it is art beyond agenda, and it is redemption, a record of greatness for those titans that populate our world, those thinking women.

Whether unconsciously or by intent, the writer chooses subjects, adopts a tone, considers an order for the release of meaning, arrives at the rhythm, selects a series of appropriate sounds, determines the diction and measures the pace, turns the referents of certain words into symbols, establishes connections with companionable paragraphs, sizes up each sentence’s intended significance, and, if granted good fortune because each decision might have been otherwise, achieves not just this or that bit of luminosity or suggestiveness but her own unique lines of language, lines that produce the desired restitution of the self.
— william h. gass

"catastrophe and the power of art" at the mori art museum

add color painting: refugee boat ( 1960/2016-2018)   yoko ono

add color painting: refugee boat (1960/2016-2018)
yoko ono

the role of art in catastrophe is not necessarily a moral one— the artist knows the futility of reason or beauty or even thought in the face of pain. it is a point of disillusionment for any artist who is aware of the world around them; this notion of how dare I. how can I. when we awake enlightened of meaningless horrors, the preoccupation of art affecting the universe can seem unbearably narcissistic.

there is nothing moral about painting a starving child, or photographing a city block masticated by floodwaters; there is no fine justification for art. we may look upon the work—the monochromatic mural of ai weiwei or the photographs of the world trade center imprinted upon puzzle pieces by christoph draeger—and understand their message. we receive their intentions and are touched by it. we can—or some may even say, must—use our work as a method for our advocacy, but even if their resonance is measurable, it is ultimately an ambiguous and diluted force against the evils we combat. 

odyssey  (2016/2018)   ai weiwei

odyssey (2016/2018)
ai weiwei

sunrise at the world financial plaza. new york, september 2001  (2018) christoph draeger

sunrise at the world financial plaza. new york, september 2001 (2018)
christoph draeger

but in the aftermath of disaster we are left with our humanity. whether it be our own pain or the empathized shocks of another’s pain, it is necessary to reinstate the self, the emotive, uncaptured, living self upon the land that cruelly continues. as we see from the kobe artist horio sadaharu, the work he created after the devastation of his hometown during the hanshin-awaji earthquake kaleidoscopes in the vivid and maddening strokes that glare upon the pages, furious and ruinous. pools of black overwhelm the collapsed urbanity, concrete snapped like matchsticks. the calamity is here, yes, but so is the artist. he has been reborn a witness. it is a creation in collaboration with the pain, and no— not everything has been overcome, not everything has been forgiven, but something has emerged from the self, and it declares itself, triumphant.

there is the question of who “owns” the right to create on the basis of a disaster. is it only the victim? would anything else be considered exploitative? but that notion undermines our capacity to know one another. it dangerously perpetuates notions of property upon the universals of shock, loss, anger, grief. that is not to say that there does not exist work that is exploitative, but that work stemming from empathy should not be invalidated. trauma is not a legacy, and though there are ways to steal it and to tarnish it, there are no limits to its effect. one of the foremost functions of art is to provoke conversation, and one cannot have a conversation without response. 

from  “earthquake landscapes”  (1995) horio sadaharu

from “earthquake landscapes” (1995)
horio sadaharu

regardless of justification the need to create is indefatigable, and that is a relief. paul celan affirmed; “there is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a jew and the language of his poems is german.” it is an impossibility to be free from the desire to speak, and it is a certitude to which we must give thanks. how much I have learned from those who have conceived from catastrophe. how I have felt myself change. perhaps the ripple that has touched me has failed to further social transformation, perhaps it has failed to serve a purpose, but the movement that has transpired from one mind to another is a force nonetheless. the determination that culture should survive is not narcissistic; it comes from knowledge that the arts are a formidable construction of the world experienced. things did not simply happen; we lived through them. a muteness would be agonizing; it would be lethal.

we make art so that we may remember, so that we may have catharsis, so that we may speak in the name of justice or sympathy, but ground into the foundation of those sentiments is one, pure brightness: the declaration of our consciousness. as jack behar said;  “we have been strangely exhilarated to contemplate a world in ruins in which all that is left is the wayward ego matched to a future it must create out of nothing.” disillusionment will continue, but alongside the conviction that we must not leave ourselves in crisis. it is not nothing. 

a song out of tune

by octavio paz

The day is short,
                          the hour long
Motionless I retrace its steps,
climbing its minor calvaries,
I descend on stairs made of air,
and am lost in transparent galleries
--but I don't find me,
                                and I don't see you.

The day is short,                                
                          the hour long.
I see my stubborn hand that writes
its circular words on the page,
I see my shadow on the page, I see 
myself falling through the hour's blank center
--but I don't find you,
                                 and I don't see me.

The day is short,
                          the hour long.
Time drags on, hides, and peeks,
time is buried, clods of air,
time sprouts up, a column of air,
it bashes my forehead, scrapes my lids
--but I don't find me,
                                and I don't see you.

The day is short,
                          the hour long.
I walk through lots and corridors and echoes,
my hands touch you and you suddenly vanish,
I look in your eyes and suddenly vanish,
the hour traces, erases, invents its reflections
--but I don't find you,
                                 and I don't see me.

The day is short,
                          the hour long.
There is a seed asleep in time,
that explodes in the air with a burst of syllables,
it is a word, and it speaks without speaking
the names of time, yours and mine,
--but I don't find me,
                                and I don't see you.

Names are fruit that ripen and fall;
the hours immense, inside itself it falls.

Essentially all this is crude and meaningless. . .as an avalanche which involuntarily rolls down a mountain and overwhelms people. But when one listens to music, all this is: that some people lie in their graves and sleep, and that one woman is alive. . .and the avalanche seems no longer meaningless, since in nature everything has a meaning. And everything is forgiven, and it would be strange not to forgive.”
— anton chekov, "themes, thoughts, notes and fragments"

letters from maine

by may sarton


Yes, I am home again, and alone.
Today wrote letters, then took my dog
Out through the sad November woods.
The leaves have fallen while I was away.
The ground is golden, while above
The maples are stripped of all color.
The ornamental cherries, red when I left.
Have paled now to translucent yellow.

Yes, I am home again but home has changed.
And I within this cultivated space
That I have made my own, feel at a loss.
Disoriented. All the safe doors
Have come unlocked and too much light
Has flooded every room. Where can I go?
Not toward you three thousand miles away
Lost in your own rich life, given me
For an hour.

                      Read between the lines.
Then meet me in the silence if you can.
The long silence of winter when I shall
Make poems out of nothing, out of loss.
And at times hear your healing laughter.

keep reading

thank you, dr. christine blasey ford

it’s a warm, wind-full saturday night in tokyo. I’m watching the news and op-eds come in regarding brett kavanaugh’s nomination to the supreme court. most are factual, stating susan collin’s assent or kavanaugh’s inevitable confirmation. some are solemn and reluctant, asserting that despite the outcome, dr. christine blasey ford’s revelation and testimony were not in vain. some are bitter, pronouncing the darkness of this current time. it is impossible, at this moment, to think of anything but dr. ford’s face, her voice as she sat in front of the world, and spoke her truth. truth that has, in the past, been stifled into a screaming silence. been broken amidst tears in a therapist’s chair, been revealed in the dark to a friend, by millions of women.

it is banal to speak of one’s own sadness or rage in response to something like this. and it’s heartbreaking. it’s enraging, that the gates of the supreme court have been opened for a man of such subpar control and open partisanship. it is a familiar feeling, this sense of immense injustice that has become an everyday affair in the trump administration. it is a strong enough hand to bow our heads and turn us forcefully away from that wreckage of a country, the united states. it is an aggressive enough affront to the rights and dignity of women for us to disavow the nation and its offensive pretenses of morality.  this spectacle, this vitriolic, spitting statement on the part of brett kavanaugh and its shameful, dystopic result, is what makes so many of us, foreigners, people watching from the outside, feel terror, and desolation, and the guilty, twisted relief of not being american.

what I want to say is this: the results of the kavanaugh hearing is a synecdoche of forces that have always been in conflict, in politics and in other battles, fought on uncountable fronts, of what is right, and what others falsely believe to be right. it is not a matter to be denigrated by that thoughtless term, “he said, she said”. it is an embrace of the violent. it is hegemonic insurance. it is an exploitation of the pain of others. it is an open contempt of democratic values. it is an act of the war that sectarianism inevitably breeds. the world gives us so little reason to think that truth and justice always outlive the cruel, but I am still young and (perhaps) foolish enough to believe in goodness. in dr. ford, and in so many others, supporters, allies, protestors, politicians, people around the world who watched and felt the sadness, felt the rage, I was once again reminded of goodness, and bravery, and honour.

I read the words of june jordan;

“American existence twists
you finally
into a separatist.”

Elegy with Apples, Pomegranates, Bees, Butterflies, Thorn Bushes, Oak, Pine, Warblers, Crows, Ants, and Worms

by hayan charara

The trees alongside the fence
bear fruit, the limbs and leaves speeches
to you and me. They promise to give the world
back to itself. The apple apologizes
for those whose hearts bear too much zest
for heaven, the pomegranate
for the change that did not come
soon enough. Every seed is a heart, every heart
a minefield, and the bees and butterflies
swarm the flowers on its grave.
The thorn bushes instruct us
to tell our sons and daughters
who carry sticks and stones
to mend their ways.
The oak tree says to eat
only fruits and vegetables;
the pine says to eat all the stirring things.
My neighbor left long ago and did not hear
any of this. In a big country
the leader warns the leader of a small country
there must be change or else.
Birds are the same way, coming and going,
wobbling thin branches.
The warblers express pain, the crows regret,
or is it the other way around?
The mantra today is the same as yesterday.
We must become different.
The plants must, the animals,
and the ants and worms, just like the carmakers,
the soap makers before them,
and the manufacturers of rubber
and the sellers of tea, tobacco, and salt.
Such an ancient habit, making ourselves new.
My neighbor looks like my mother
who left a long time ago
and did not hear any of this.
Just for a minute, give her back to me,
before she died, kneeling
in the dirt under the sun, calling me darling
in Arabic, which no one has since.

to the light of september

by w. s. merwin

When you are already here 
you appear to be only 
a name that tells of you 
whether you are present or not 

and for now it seems as though 
you are still summer 
still the high familiar 
endless summer 
yet with a glint 
of bronze in the chill mornings 
and the late yellow petals 
of the mullein fluttering 
on the stalks that lean 
over their broken 
shadows across the cracked ground 
but they all know 

that you have come 
the seed heads of the sage 
the whispering birds 
with nowhere to hide you 
to keep you for later 

who fly with them 

you who are neither 
before nor after 
you who arrive 
with blue plums 
that have fallen through the night 

perfect in the dew

There is a peculiar quality about being alone, an atmosphere that no sounds or persons can ever give. It is as if being with people were the Earth of the mind, the land with its hills and valleys, scent and music: but in being alone, the mind finds its Sea, the wide, quiet plane with different lights in the sky and different, more secret sounds.
— elizabeth bishop, "on being alone"


there is the same high ardor
of rhetorical sunsets in sicily as over martinique,
and the same horizon underlines their bright absence,
the long-loved shining there who, perhaps, do not speak
from unutterable delight, since speech is for mortals,
since at the end of each sentence there is a grave
of the sky’s blue door or once, the widening portals
of our disenfranchised sublime.

from derek walcott’s 34: at the end of this line there is an opening door


by bartolo cattafi

My love, don’t believe that today
the planet travels on another orbit,
it is the same journey between old
pale stations,
there is alway a sparrow flitting
in the flowerbeds
a thought grown stubborn in the mind.
Time turns on the face of the clock, it joins
a trace of the fog above the pine trees
the world veers into the regions of cold.
Here are the crumbs of the earth,
the embers in the fireplace,
the wings,
the low and busy hands.