Escaping the Prism... Fade to Black: Poetry and Essays

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Even when the political commentary shows signs of being deeply trenchant, the aesthetic remains the same. Can they please come out from the umbrella of instinctive anti-Orientalism long enough to accept their own Orientalist dismissal of the largely quotidian—and not all that culturally specific—nature of our lives? Hanif was supposed to be our reprieve from all this.


He inverted the model: nothing was too serious or too grand to make fun of. The aesthetic of Exploding Mangoes was firmly black comedy. Where English might have impeded his delivery, Hanif fashioned sentences with the jumpy, inverted rhythms of South Asian English vernacular. Nothing was too depraved, no character too unafraid of amorality.

Ten years later, and three largely peaceful democratic elections later, the book more than holds up for its grim view on the Pakistani military. And for the first time, he moves squarely from satirizing to proselytizing. Unlike in his previous novels, Hanif seems desperately to want to imbue his characters with more intelligence than the reader initially believed.

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And sometimes he very nearly succeeds. It is also undoubtedly Hanif at his most serious and tragic. Hell hath no fury like a grieving mother, Hanif is telling us.

When the action begins to speed up, one realizes that almost every character—with the possible exception of Ellie, who never redeems himself—sounds exactly like Hanif himself. Particularly Mutt. This is a polemic, Hanif seems to be warning us near the end, not a playground. We get it. Drones, bad. America, bad. War, bad. Refugees, sad. Anything else? Hanif does have something of an answer to that, at the very end—specifically, in the last five pages—and it is, quite simply, glorious. Hanif finds a new rhythm—an operatic rhythm interestingly, Hanif has in fact written the libretto for a new opera, Bhutto.

Gone are the serrated edges of his prose; what you get instead, in three clean slices, are alternate endings. It is, after all, just a matter of reading five pages over and over, though it is unlikely any strict determinations will be found. So: anything else? Yes, Hanif answers in those clean five pages at the end of the novel: everything else. But what about the reader who, like Momo, has delivered a verdict well before then? By Jose-Luis Moctezuma. Wikimedia Commons. How does one picture or dramatize the writing of poetry? Is the labor of poetry—the abstract, nebulous, and invisible activity that occurs somewhere between the body and the page—an action or emotion which can be captured in pictorial or cinematic form?

Two recent films, one on the life of Emily Dickinson, and the second concerning an historical moment in the life of Pablo Neruda, seem to propose different solutions to the enigma of how to represent such seemingly unrepresentable states.

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Are there two more different, yet universally famous, poets than Dickinson and Neruda? Dickinson, by contrast, lived in relative obscurity, published almost nothing in her lifetime, remained aloof from political engagement, and would have bristled at the idea of a crowd. As directed by Davies, A Quiet Passion exemplifies this contrast between the public celebrity and the solitary figure from the very opening of the film. We see a group of young women facing, in a counter-shot, a stern-looking instructor who glares at them, a Christian cross authoritatively placed on the wall behind her.

How dreary — to be — Somebody! Choosing neither side, and contradicting the strictures of the evangelical authority, Dickinson chooses to follow her own lights. I read this shot as an allegorization of the invisible labor of poetry, the necessary and silent rituals of contemplation that feed into the fabric of lyric thought.

For each extatic instant We must an anguish pay In keen and quivering ratio To the extasy —. For each beloved hour Sharp pittances of Years — Bitter contested farthings — And Coffers heaped with tears! As a young woman, Dickinson is presented as favoring a primarily indoor life in which she routinely gazes outward and ponders complex, enigmatic thoughts that only become visible to everyone else in the hundreds of poems and poetic fragments that she would write down on multiple surfaces: stationery paper, parcel paper, letterheads, fascicles, the pieces, bits, and scraps of paper that Dickinson wrote on, collected, and extended into her correspondence.

Is he a Communist spy, a mole in the house of government? If Dickinson chooses a solitude that rewards her with mystic and resonant silences, Neruda attempts to fabricate some sense of personal integrity in the eye of a political vortex that threatens to consume him. In another scene, we find Neruda performing for a crowd of friends and admirers during a bohemian house party, and he recites his most famous poem while cosplaying in the garb of Lawrence of Arabia.

The allusion is appropriate: soon to be forced into exile, Neruda is as much a foreigner in his own country as he is a poet dressed up in the costume of diplomat-cum-adventurer. While Neruda, with the help of Communist party members, plots his clandestine escape from Chile to Argentina, Peluchonneau traces his every step, only to fall one step behind the poet who leaves clues and calling cards for the bumbling detective. Let me give you some advice. The solution is to kill us all. Kill us. In this regard, the dreaming up of a police detective who Neruda outwits at every turn seems particularly uncomprehending of the realities of other communists in Chile less fortunate than the grandstanding poet.

As public or as private figure, the poet writes lines in the way one washes dishes, smokes a cigarette, or breathes in the air at Machu Picchu. The framing is intended to invite us into the labor of her writing, and yet, similar to the shot of a young Dickinson gazing outside, her thought process remains occluded to us. This chain of actions seems to link the scripting of the poems to the primary moment the film opened with, in which Dickinson refutes the Christian rigidity of her schooling and its false certainty for the communal solitude of sunlight, the vista of an open window, and a steady and cautious agnosticism.

Dickinson answers to no one but to her own labor. Still from A Quiet Passion , dir. Terrence Davies There is a notable lack of conviction in the transmission. Is it the medium-specific anxiety over how to represent poetry? Or maybe New Englanders in the s just talked that way?

Escaping the Prism ... Fade to Black

In other words, the film itself must be the poem, and neither A Quiet Passion nor Neruda manage to convey the intensity of the poetry of their subjects because there is, as is customary with most biopics, far too much attention lavished on the mythos and figurality of the authors themselves. The only narrative guidance we are afforded are a series of voice-overs by Anna Magdalena played by classical pianist Christiane Lang , who describes the composition we hear, the setting for its first performances, and the circumstances surrounding the composition.

The film is less bio and more pic —the labor of making is introduced here as a spectacle of bodies and instruments harmonizing in a carefully unfolding instant. We see the notes on the page, we see the hands play in real time, and somehow this tells us more about Bach and his milieu than a conventional biopic would. One scene comes to mind. Matthew Passion. The tightness of the composition suggests historical accuracy: the players are compressed to the left of the shot, in what looks like the narrow raised section of the choir, the orchestra cascading across the chancel like a garland of voices and instruments strung along the ridge of a massive yet concealed organ.

Bach himself is hardly the center of attention, and Anna Magdalena, like many of the characters in the film, is only a conduit for the music.

In the compressed shot described here, Bach lies in the background to the right of the shot, hardly visible in the eye of an unmoving yet resonant vortex. What we do see of him are his arms rhythmically waving up and down as he conducts an assemblage of faintly swaying bodies that communicate their passion into voices and instruments that are themselves focused and stationary bodies that communicate remoter abstract frequencies.

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet The distantiation from the subject of choice, Johann Sebastian Bach, is increased through this double distance. Played by the eminent Dutch pianist, Gustav Leonhardt, Bach is never given a voice other than through his wife and his works: he himself, as narratological object and cultural icon, hardly ever speaks or becomes a figure of dialogic exchange. Bach is merely a point of contact, a focal point around which musical situations, genres of performance, congregate, rehearse, and perform. The music precedes and buttresses him—he is hardly there, except in the costumes, instruments, and sounds that Straub-Huillet carefully craft, assemble, and direct.

Depicting the life of a musician has a singular advantage: play the music, only play the music, and you get the gist of the work. Instantaneous reproduction, instantaneous understanding. Reviewed by Kirsten Ihns. And then suddenly Orlando has a diner in it, has cloud cover, cannot be snowed in. For example:. Here, as elsewhere, Simonds works to multiply charge her recurrent forms. These lines also make apparent how much Simonds is able to generate a propulsive movement within the long line, even with nested clauses and repeated simple conjunctions, without resorting to a fully realized anaphoric rhythm.

What are the limits of fantasy? To what extent is a kind of emotional reality or intensity possible without true purchase on material circumstances? Ultimately, despite the sometimes jarring way Orlando thinks through its questions, the book is a pleasure to read—its language is wild, innovative, lush, joyous.

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These are fast, exciting poems—they inject complex sinuous sentences with something approximating the hectic teenage aesthetic of the internet, where everything is immediate, brightly colored, unbearably intense, referentially-inclined but with an ever-diminishing attachment to a referent , maybe a joke, deadly serious. This review appears in Chicago Review Reviewed by Abhishek Bhattacharyya. McAdams shows the great diversity of positions held within the Comintern prior to arriving at this decision.

Few had read the seminal works of their political forefathers.