Sunday, October 31, 2010

Photographs from October Country: Sam Jury; Michael Kenna; Gail Olding

[Sam Jury, "Disjecta Membra 6"]

[Three from Michael Kenna, "Silent World" series]

[Two from Gail Olding, "Flunkus Mortati" series]

We've arrived at the harvest home, crossed the wet earth, watched the birds fly with Uncle Einar. We're arranging the feast for the visitors on All Hallow's Eve. We're deep into October Country, "that country [as Ray Bradbury says] where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay."

Others have sent back postcards from this liminal country. To see some of these, visit:

Olding's website here.

Kenna's website here.

Jury's website here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: A jizai okimono of a dragon; Amy Leach on a dragon's last thoughts

Bonhams offers at auction (in London, November 11th) "a fine, rare and large iron jizai (fully articulated) okimono of a dragon; Myochin School, Edo Period, 18th/19th century
Realistically rendered with a long serpentine and undulating body, forged with numerous hammered scales joined inside the body with karakuri tsunagi, the leg joints, head, mouth and ears each constructed of moving parts, unsigned; with wood storage box. 137cm (54in) overall length."

Canary & Lobster fell in love with this powerful beauty. To enlarge the picture and learn more, click on the Bonhams site here, and enter "jizai okimono" in the search panel (upper right of screen).

Here is more from Bonhams about the piece:

"Of all the categories of Edo-period artefacts eagerly collected outside Japan for the last century and a half, articulated animals have the least trace of documentary evidence concerning their origin and development. Even the Japanese word for them, jizai or jizai okimono, appears to be a post-Edo term. [...]

According to Harada Kazutoshi, Special Research Chair at the Tokyo National Museum, the earliest-known jizai okimono dates from 1713. It is not clear for what purpose they were made, or from where the complicated manufacturing techniques originated. [...]"

Canary thinks the jizai okimono are the equivalent of death-masks or funerary puppets, honoring a dragon who once lived regally among humans. Maybe the living dragon's memories are stored within the okimono, are stirred to life when the construction's hinged limbs are moved.

And what might those memories consist of? Who can say, who has not recently conversed with dragons? But Amy Leach offers some ideas in her essay "Complexions," published in the Autumn, 2010 issue of The Gettysburg Review:

" 'To whom, then, does the earth belong?' said the dragon as he was being slain. 'Sometimes it seems to belong to dragons; at other times to dragon gaggers. Sometimes it seems to belong to the hot harmattan wind . . . then to the descuernadragones, the wind that dehorns dragons . . . and then to the doldrums. Sometimes it seems to belong to the slaves, when the sea parts to let them through, and sometimes to the sea when the sea does not part. Now to the siskin finch and sablefish; now to smitheries and smelteries. Perhaps the earth is neutral, like a bridge between two cities, traveled on but possessed by no traveler.' Such are the behindhand ponderings of a doomed dragon."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Matinee: People Live Still in Cashtown Corners

Wickedly atmospheric trailer for People Live Still in Cashtown Corners by Tony Burgess (Chizine Publications, fall 2010).

The trailer was directed by noted Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald (Pontypool).

For more information, visit Chizine Publications's website (full disclosure: they published my novel, The Choir Boats). Click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Midweek Meditation: Kodomo ("Concept 16"); Mary Frey ("Imagining Fauna")

[Kodomo, "Concept 16" from Still Life, 2010]

After you listen to Kodomo, click here for photographer Mary Frey's "Imagining Fauna."

A Barn Owl stares right through you...mouth askew, a squirrel holds a nut...a crow is a egret poses in shadow...odd edges of very fine feathers...

Relics of a subtly altered past...inside a bell jar that fell through a worm-hole...

Here is Frey on her creatures:

"Photography invites us to pay attention. It describes with economy, precision and detail. It enables us to stare, scrutinize, and become voyeurs. Taxidermy allows us to do the same. Its complete replication of an animal’s stance, gesture and look provides us a way to study and comprehend its existence. Yet I find that these animals, often portrayed in suspended animation, seem simultaneously strange, ghostly and beautiful. Their gaze is both familiar and unknown. I intend this work to move beyond what is merely seen to the territory of the imagination, where what is remembered and known is transformed into something new."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: The Acacia Trilogy by David Anthony Durham

David Anthony Durham's Acacia Trilogy is one of the most important projects within speculative fiction at the moment. (The first book-- The War with the Mein-- came out in 2007; the second-- The Other Lands-- in 2009; the third is due out fall, 2011; all from Random House). Having mastered the tropes of epic fantasy on his first time out (Durham won the 2009 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer), he is exploring in the Acacia series the intent and self-mythologies of slavers and the impact of enslavement on a global-societal scale. Acacia is world-building as a means to sophisticated, ambitious ends, the use of fantasy to comment on social relations and to imagine alternative power dynamics in our own world-- without resorting to allegory or sermon. Acacia thus belongs to the lineage that includes Plato's Republic and Timaeus, Campanella's City of the Sun, Johnson's Rasselas, besides Persian Letters, Candide, Diderot's Supplement au voyage de Bougainville, and so on down to Orwell.

Acacia is especially powerful because Durham's narrative style is understated, leanly descriptive, matter-of-fact. (Reminds me of Steinbeck, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sinclair Lewis). He understands that the real story is in the mundane details underpinning and connecting all the surface events. Call it the fictional equivalent of Annaliste deep history a la Braudel or Wallerstein. Without slowing down the quick-paced intricacies of the plot, Durham makes the bones of his world visible.

For instance (from The Other Lands, pb version, pg. 166):

"It was so much worse than when she had last been here. Even then, two years ago, the northern Talayans had been complaining about the lack of rainfall. [The Empress] Corinn had thought their fears exaggerated. To her eyes the fields looked like...well, like fields of growing plants, rows and rows of short trees, fields of golden grasses. She understood that this apparent bounty was achieved only because the staple crops that required the most most water had already been replaced by sturdier varieties. [...] Not so, as the scene before her eyes now confirmed. It was a vision of devastation, as full of death as any battlefield. ...withered trees stood naked of leaves or fruit, blackly skeletal...some grain crop glittered as if the stalks were silvered strings of glass, ready to shatter underfoot. [...] The irrigation channels were completely dry, their beds cracked."

Another example (also, The Other Lands, pb, pg.222):

"The trio traveled inland and together explored the region for several days. The area's loamy soil produced bountiful crops of sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and massive turnips the size of a man's head. Unlike the plantations of northern Talay or the state-run croplands of the Mainland, the region was too rocky to be sectioned off in a grid pattern. The land was irregular, broken by hills and stands of recalcitrant short pines, and not suited to mass labor forces. Instead, small family farmsteads patchworked the area, as they had for centuries. And, as had been the case for centuries, these farmers were forced to pay such a large portion of their crops into the empire's coffers that they little more than subsisted from their labor and their land's bounty."

Such descriptions could be from Defoe's Tour Through The Whole Island of Great Britain (1726), Arthur Young's travel accounts from Ireland (1780) and France (1790), and particularly Cobbett's Rural Rides (1830). Or from the countless surveys, reports, and descriptions of pre-emancipation plantations in the Caribbean and the American South.

Durham takes the reader, with unadorned prose, into the heart of a relentlessly inhumane system. He is a master of the mysterious detail that freezes the heart when its meaning is revealed. For instance, we learn that the wooden slats shipped to the quota-plantations on the Outer Islands are for cribs, in which thousands of kidnapped children will be reared for a life enslaved.

He knows that Acacia's horrors are rendered all the more horrible for being described so clinically. Some of the enslaved children literally have their souls snatched and embedded in the bodies of their owners. Others are physically deformed and remolded to suit their master's whims, to "belong" (as it is called) within the owner's clan. Some fight and die for their masters, others work the fields that produce the poppy-like drug used to pay for fresh slaves...completing the circle of their damnation.

The quota cull evokes the miseries of Goree and Elmina, the soul-eating machine on Lithram Len calls up the horrors of Sullivan's Island. Reading the Acacia novels, one reaches for Gilroy's The Black Atlantic, for Du Bois, Orlando Patterson's Slavery and Social Death and his Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. One turns to Ernst Moritz Arndt's History of Serfdom in Pomerania and Ruegen (1803), to Lampedusa's The Leopard, to accounts of mezzadria sharecropping systems throughout pre-industrial Italy, and so on and on...

In sum: read the Acacia novels, pay attention to Durham. He is not only a gifted storyteller, but a practitioner of speculative fiction as a moral science, a corrective to willful ignorance and the deliberate effacement of memory.

For more on Durham, click his website here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Evening Meditation: Dragon on Mt. Fuji; Seriously Deep

[Suzuki Kiitsu, "Rising Dragon & Mount Fuji," oil painting, first half 19th century C.E.; click on the image to enlarge]

[Eberhard Weber, "Seriously Deep," from Silent Feet, recorded 1977]

Why does the dragon ascend the mountain?

Will she reach the summit, to speak to the wind?

... on her silent feet...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: KAHIBA; Gossart

[Jan Gossart, The Deposition, c. 1520; oil on panel; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg]

[Gossart, St. Anthony with a Donor, c. 1508; oil on panel; Galleria Doria-Pamphilis, Rome]

[Gossart, Jesus, The Virgin & the Baptist, c. 1510-1515; oil on panel; Prado, Madrid]

[Gossart, St. Luke Painting the Virgin, c. 1520-1525; oil on panel; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna]

["Rejoycing" by KAHIBA, 2008]

A gentle river, filled with one- and two-masted tall ships, the great black-backed gulls patrolling the marina and promenade, wings outstretched in a mild blue sky...the grace notes of summer's out-procession...

(The German-Swiss-Austrian trio KAHIBA plays music to fit the season in-between, a Mitteleuropaische village dance tune with jazz overtonings, lively as we bring in the gourds and beans, with the saxophone reminding us of winter to come.]

Fabulous show opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC last week: Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance. As the Metropolitan describes it:

"The first major exhibition in forty-five years devoted to the Burgundian Netherlandish artist Jan Gossart (ca. 1478-1532) brings together Gossart's paintings, drawings, and prints and places them in the context of the art and artists that influenced his transformation from Late Gothic Mannerism to the new Renaissance mode."

(For more on Gossart from the Met, click here, then scroll down second item on the left. For Roberta Smith's strong review in the New York Times, click here.)

One of the most deliciously exhausting shows we have seen in years, overflowing with embellishment and detail. The oil paintings transport the viewer with their vivid and innovative colors (not least the polychrome wings of Gossart's angels), the flesh you are certain you could touch, the folds of velvet and satin that you are certain you can see shift and rustle. Deborah said Gossart was "drunk on architecture," that we can "almost smell the fresh air" emanating from his paintings.

Gossart is a genius at expressing religious passion-- not through anguished faces and gouts of blood-- but through composition, gesture, and the contours of the flesh.

As impressive as the oil paintings are, Gossart's ink/chalk drawings draw a viewer into a teeming, ornamented world that repays close inspection. "The Conversion of Saul" (from the 1520s) is a thunder of horsemen, "The Lamentation" (also c. 1520s)a quiet study of grief.

The show at the Met is large, and includes not only many of Gossart's master-works on loan from collections across the world, but many smaller pieces rarely seen. I especially liked the sketches of "standing warriors in fantastic arms," with their wildly bouffant sleeves, exaggerated plumes and epaulettes, their encrusted breastplates.

The show runs through January 17, 2011.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: The Queen of Elfland's Drummer, at Cabinet des Fees

Cabinet des Fees (and its offspring, Scheherezade's Bequest and Demeter's Spicebox) is a must-read if you love fairytale, folklore and myth, especially as reworked, re-configured, and re-imagined for modern times.

Last week the Cabinet des Fees blog featured a longish piece by me entitled "The Queen of Elfland's Drummer."

The essay starts this way:

"Music is a compass and pass-key to Faerie. We keep an ear cocked hoping to catch the notes of “a far distant post-horn across the silent, starlit land” as von Eichendorff put it…sometimes we are fortunate, most times we are not. Still, we persevere, seeking ever the chords to both express and guide our Sehnsucht. The kind of music is irrelevant – any and all kinds can take one beyond the fields we know (music of whatever sort poorly played is, of course, another matter altogether). Many conveyances, the same destination…"

To read more, and to add a comment to the blog thread (oh, oh, please do!), click here to the CdF main page and scroll down to find my essay on the left-hand side.