Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Street Stories with Gbenga Akinnagbe @ Rutgers-Newark

Gbenga Akinnagbe

Two wonderful colleagues of mine, my English department chair Professor Frances Bartkowski, and Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and Associate Professor of Sociology Sherri-Ann Butterfield, decided last year to co-teach an undergraduate course revolving around the former HBO series The Wire. The five-season series was one of my favorite TV shows of the last decade and one I blogged about a few times in the past. But nothing I have written about the series could compare to the fastidious, thoroughly engaging interdisciplinary approach Fran and Sherri-Ann are taking in introducing this richly provocative program to Rutgers undergraduates.

As part of their class, they invited to campus actor, activist and entrepreneur Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played one of The Wire's profound villains, Chris Partlow, to speak not just to their class, but to the larger Rutgers and Newark communities.  Rutgers-Newark's College of Arts and Science Departments of English and Sociology and the Paul Robeson Campus Center: Office of Service Learning and Student Development sponsored the Washington, DC-native's visit.

Akinnagbe spoke about his upbringing as a Nigerian American, some of the struggles he had encountered over the years and how wrestling helped him in multiple ways, including gaining a scholarship to Bucknell University, his career as an activist, and how he has gone on to participate in civil and social activism, both in the USA, where he has been active in opposing the New York Police Department's racist "stop and frisk" policy, and overseas, including with Occupy Nigeria. He also talked a bit about current projects, including his recent work as a producer of multiple films in 2013, among them the documentary Children of the Wind, and the feature film Newlyweeds (2013), has received a lot of industry buzz.

Akinnagbe patiently answered questions, many of them about his preparation for and the effects of playing Chris Partlow, whom he deemed a "sociopath," as well as his roles in programs like Graceland, for over an hour, never flagging and frequently and smoothly shifting from seriousness to humor, all while providing a richer picture of who he is and many of the things he's been up to. I asked him about balancing acting and activism, and he responded that he was still trying to figure out how to do so, but he is not giving up on lending his voice, time and platform to causes he believes in. Afterwards I expressed my wish that he and some of the other members of The Wire reconvene on another project that would allow them--like Seth Rogen's film repertory--to display their talents on screen, and he said that some of the actors do appear in Newlyweeds, but that he would love to do more projects bringing them all together. I hope it happens soon! Many thanks to Fran, Sherri-Ann, Mr. Akinnagbe, and everyone else who made his visit possible.

Fran Bartkowski and Sherri-Ann Butterfield
Sherri-Ann with Gbenga Akinnagbe

Gbenga Akinnagbe
One of the Rutgers-Newark
students with Akinnagbe
after his talk

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Samy Moussa & Daniel Kidane

Not long ago, via Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc blog on Arts Journal, I saw mention of two young art music composers I'd never heard of before, Samy Moussa (b. 1984-) and Daniel Kidane (b. 1986-).

Samy Moussa
Moussa is a native of Montreal, Canada, and studied at the University of Montréal, in the Czech Republic, and at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München, as well as with major contemporary composers including Magnus Lindberg, Salvatore Sciarrino, Pascal Dusaupin, Peter Eötvös, Matthias Pintscher, and the maestro Pierre Boulez. He has collaborated with a number of Canadian and European orchestras and ensembles, and composed two operas as well as a number of chamber works. In 2010 he became Music Director of the INDEX Ensemble in Munich.  In 2012 he received the Bayerischen Kunstförderpreis for his conducting with the INDEX Ensemble and this year won the Composers’ Prize 2013 from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation. I saw his name mentioned in conjunction with the Lucerne Festival, at which Pierre Boulez commissioned a new orchestral work from him, to premiere in 2015.

Here's a short piece from the Ernst von Siemens foundation on Moussa, whom it calls "the hedonistic composer." (?)

Here are some videos of Moussa's work:

Ernst von Siemens Foundation clip on Moussa

Moussa's "Kammerkonzert"

Moussa's "Cyclus for Orchestra," (2007) performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada

Daniel Kidane

Kidane is British, studied at composition at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, followed by the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, after which he attended the Royal Northern College of Music, receiving a BMus (Hons) and a Masters. Several British orchestras have premiered his works. The Manchester Camerata selected his piece "Feuersturm," a musical evocation of the 1945 bombing of Dresden, Germany, for its 2010 season. This year the London Philharmonic Orchestra's Leverhulme Young Composers' program selected him for a 2014 orchestral premiere.

Kidane has a Myspace page featuring a few of his compositions, most of them from 2008 and 2009, when he had just finished his undergraduate studies.

Here are a few of Kidane's compositions, a number of which are available on Soundcloud.

Daniel Kidane's "Temporal Decay," courtesy of the London Chamber Orchestra

Kidane's "Piano Trios" (including "Flux and Stasis" and "Carceri"
Kidane's "Metamorphosis for solo cello"

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Banksy in NY (October 2013)

UPDATE: October 23, 2013: It appears the police, no fans of Banksy, may have shut him down, even if temporarily. Today on his Better Out than In blog, he notes that his art piece has been "cancelled due to police activity." Oh boy....

Once upon a time the artist known as Banksy was an unknown graffitist and tagger whose visual-verbal social and political commentaries, popping up in unexpected places, thrilled fans, sparked furious speculation about his identity among fellow taggers and artworld cognoscenti, and enraged police (and some of his peers). That was then. These days, Banksy is a renowned and acclaimed money-making commodity, the star of several documentaries, an artworld fixture, and so mainstream that earlier this year he publicly announced a monthlong "artists [sic] residency" in New York City, titled "Better Out Than In." His stay has included his expected graffiti pieces as well as work in other media, including a multimedia, sonic traveling caravan called the "The Sirens of Lambs" (a van driving through the streets of New York, featuring stuffed animals bleating); conceptual art and performance (a Banksy art table along the art vendors' strip outside Central Park, where he had a vendor sold all his works anonymously for $60 each); and traditional paintings-on-canvas, like the ones below, a collaboration with the Brazilian graffiti artists Os Gemeos, which are hanging outdoors beneath a High Line Park train trestle on W. 24th Street, until the end of today, adjacent to the main Chelsea art gallery district.

Guard at Banksy paintings, 24th St.
The guard and both paintings

Initially I was a bit agnostic about Banksy's visit, because while on the one hand I have followed his work for years, I also felt like these pieces would--and they have--involve a bit of chain-pulling, forcing people interested in the work to traipse around the city's five boroughs to find his offerings (or miss them, as with the Central Park art show) before building owners, art patrons, other artists, or the cops destroyed them. That's exactly what has happened. Some pieces have been painted or sanded over. Some have been defaced. And many have been mobbed, as was the case at the public installation at W 24th Street. In anticipation of this, Banksy stationed guards--I heard that initially there was just one, but I couldn't get any of the guards there, who were polite but not especially friendly, to confirm this--to facilitate crowd control and ensure that the paintings not only were not damaged, but also not carted off. I saw on Gothamist that by midday, when Banksy had posted images of the installation online, the area already was drawing sizable throngs, but I wanted to see this piece in particular since it was a collaboration with artists I also admire, and it wouldn't involve too much of a journey, so I decided to wait until the early evening, when the dinner hour might thin viewers out. It was a good choice; there was a crowd, and I had to wait for about 15 minutes until a group of about 40 people in front of me were allowed past the yellow tape, but after that, I was able to enter, view and photograph the two pieces, and leave. 

The painting on the left was mostly Banksy, enriched and tagged by Os Gemeos, while the right was the inverse. I liked the ironies of each graffitist's additions to the canvases, which visually conveyed the idea of standing out in a crowd, but also signified a gesture toward (in terms of contiguity and medium, as well as the semi-private gesture of the guards and yellow tape) and against (a public, outdoor, free display, open to the elements) the multi-billion dollar élite artworld just steps away (or rather, all around). That they also appeared to serve more as backdrops for Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and similar social media sites goes without saying; I noted several people not really even looking at the paintings, but rather quickly posing themselves in front of them and once they had their shareable shot, they were gone. This exhibit, perhaps more so than some of the others so far, also represented in material form the trajectory of Banksy's career: a politically oriented public artist working in a medium now embraced and celebrated by many of the very people, institutions and systems that once ignored or scorned it and him. Not everyone is a Banksy fan, though; the New York Police Department is allegedly still trying to find and arrest him. Good luck with that!

The crowd outside Banksy paintings, 24th St.
The crowd outside the Banksy-Os Gemeos exhibit
The crowds near Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Looking into the space
People taking pictures near Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Posing near related graffiti
Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Before the next wave of spectators enters the space
Banksy painting, 24th St.
One of the guards
Banksy painting, 24th St.
Another guard, in front of one of the paintings
Graffiti near Banksy paintings, 24th St.
Graffiti on one of the walls
Mural, 24th St.
A nearby mural (across 24th St.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Random Photos

These last few weeks have been very, very busy. I sometimes don't know if I'm coming or going. A few photos from various journeys here and there.

Halloween display
Halloween display, West Village
Pensive young man, HB Light Rail
Handing out flyers
Handing out flyers, Midtown
(of course it was the cap that got me)
Tourist bus
Tourist bus, Manhattan
At Timothy Stewart-Winter's talk @ NYPL
My Rutgers colleague Timothy Stewart-Winter's
talk, "Race and Sexual Politics in the AIDS Crisis,
1981-1996," New York public library
Timothy Stewart-Winter's talk @ NYPL
During Timothy's talk, he showed a "phone zap" flyer
featuring annotations mentioning "Dan  (Savich? Savage?) [Savage]"
Jimi Hendrix street art, JC
Jimi Hendrix graffiti, downtown Jersey City
Harvest from the garden
Some of the recent garden harvest
On the subway
On the subway
Arranging candles in the window
Arranging candles in the window, Chelsea
Nearly empty gallery
Near empty gallery, West Village
Artist Ike Ude
Artist and publisher Iké Udé, Chelsea
Filming commercial, downtown JC
Filming a commercial, Jersey City
Haircuts, at night (Chelsea)
Night cuts, Chelsea
10th Avenue
Street vendor packing up, 10th Avenue
Pierre Toussaint banner, St. Patrick's Cathedral
Pierre Toussaint banner, St. Patrick's Cathedral
Shilling for a beer garden
Shilling for the ubiquitous beer gardens, Manhattan
DJ at H&M
In-house DJ, H&M, 51st Street

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Will Schutt & Christine Schutt Visit Rutgers-Newark (Writers@Newark)

On October 8, fiction writer Christine Schutt and her son, poet Will Schutt, read as part of the Rutgers-Newark Graduate MFA program's Writers@Newark series. Christine Schutt is an acclaimed fiction writer, with two short-story collections, Nightwork (Knopf, 1996) and A Night, A Day, Another Night, Summer (TriQuarterly/Northwestern UP, 2005); and three novels, Florida (TriQuarterly/Northwestern UP, 2004), a National Book Award fiction finalist; All Souls (Harcourt, 2008), a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist; and most recently, Prosperous Friends (Grove Press, 2012). I was familiar with her in part because of Florida and because she visited Northwestern during my time there, though I was away on the date of her reading. I was not aware of her son's poetry, however, until I saw his name on the poster for the reading, and even then, I did not dip deeply into until MFA program director Jayne Anne Phillips invited me to introduce him. Both writers read beautifully, Will from his award-winning collection, as well as from new poems, and his mother from her most recent novel. It was a honor to meet and hear both of them.
Here is my introduction for Will:

To compare poetry to portraiture is hardly original, but we might still note that we do not always equate seeing, looking, and thinking--writing--with action, painting's physical labor. Yet poetry by its very nature is a form of action, of shaping, a poeisis, always, entailing mimesis and more that may not be captured in that mirror we hold before nature's complex and ever-changing face. Will Schutt's poems hover in that "middle ground," to use his phrase, between sight and act; they engage and reproduce this tension in their onward-rushing, page-zigzagging lines, and their calm, patient arguments.

"Remembering is nice," Schutt says in "Beach Lane," but the excellent poetry we find in this volume requires more, requires a voracious seeing, akin to hogs devouring a hillside, as Schutt memorably metaphorizes in "Wild Hogs," transformed into verbal art. It demands that Schutt "put everything into it," as his lyric speaker, quoting his father, says in "American Window Dressing," a poem whose title, like many in this collection, embodies this paradox.

Schutt successfully enacts this generative tension, through his attentiveness to the visual, with a painterly precision--

 I go on
looking at the bright bathers as they step
out of the ocean to towel off
with their bright, Testarossa red towels
-- from "Wild Hogs"

--and to the aural, for he is aware, as a poet who quotes rock lyrics and imagines the sad music accompanying his parent's faltering relationship, which he hears by analogy, in glimpsing a snapshot of Peter Lorre and Lotta Lenya, that if a picture can convey more than a thousand words, sound engenders worlds as well:
   I stood eyelevel
with row after row of ducks, like smoker's
lungs, in the restaurant windows
off Confucius Plaza--thick tar up top
swizzed into brown and rose gold.
A metal sling dug under their wings
ended in a hole the heads were put through.
-- from "American Window Dressing" 

Schutt's poems picture not only the privileged middle-class spaces he has inhabited, but what exists just on the peripheries, at those edges these poems are not always ready to view or listen to, but nevertheless try to. More, he is a poet interested in history, and its contiguous connection to the present; in images, in anecdotes, these poems summon the past as a way of entering the present also. The metonymic relationship this empowers gathers form and force through the poem's care with observation, the poet's exact music.

Schutt's meticulousness carries over into his translation work, represented in Westerly by a series of poems that form the volume's center. He brings into English selected short poems by mid-century Italian writers--Sanguinetti, Merini, the great Montale--who too struggle to resolve the quandary posed by the struggle between the eye and the hand, the ear and the heart. What charges the stasis and conditionality of these poems is the fact that they are not mere thoughts, but poems: to write is to act, as Schutt demonstrates throughout.

Will Schutt is the author of Westerly, which was selected by judge Carl Phillips for the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets, one of the most prestigious prizes for American poets under the age of 40. A graduate of Oberlin College and Hollins University, Schutt has published poems and translations in Agni, A Public Space, FIELD, The New Republic, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Stadler Center for Poetry and the James Merrill House, he currently lives in New York City.

Copyright © John Keene, 2013. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Quote: David Joselit

David Joselit
(Yale University)

"In museums then, art links vast amounts of capital to individual creativity and cultural identity. This particular format performs two profoundly important ideological tasks. First, museums "launder" the assets of elites by transforming their private accumulation of art into public benefits for the "people." In other words, museums appear to democratize the uneven distribution of wealth that results from late capitalism's high-risk finance industries. Museums themselves speculate on art in many ways--based on not only its literal value but also its many derivatives such as real estate investment, the proliferation of satellite museums or galleries, traveling exhibitions, souvenir merchandise, online retailing, expensive in-house restaurants, rights and reproductions, and publishing. Perhaps most profitably, art world institutions depend on art's capacity to attract investment from wealthy individuals and corporations as well as government patronage."

-- Copyright © from David Joselit, After Art, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013, p. 86. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Re-Thinking" Literature @ NYU

As part of my preparatory remarks before my reading at Naropa University, I noted a "horrible" conference I'd attended only a week before. I also invoked the same event during my comments at the &Now Festival at the University of Colorado. In both cases I mentioned only that the conference took place at New York University. I didn't elaborate, but that's in part what a blog is for, isn't it? The international conference I was referring to at both events was "Re-Thinking Literature," and it ran from September 19th through the 21st this fall. Oxford (New College) faculty member Donatien Grau and NYU professor Tom Bishop were the organizers, and nearly 20 writers, critics, scholars, academicians, and theorists spoke over the three-day gathering.

So what was my beef? You probably know what's coming. In three days of pontificating about "literature," the conference featured not a single author, scholar or theorist of color, from the US or overseas, on a single panel, nor did a single panel or panelist, as far as I could tell, directly address or discuss literature by non-Europeans or non-Euro-Americans. Not one. Why? I don't know. It was not as if this French-slanted conference, one of whose organizers is a professor in NYU's French department, had no colleagues who could conceivably participate. The esteemed writer and critic Assia Djébar was, until a few years ago, a professor of French at NYU, as was the historian Sylviane Diouf, and among the NYU French department's current faculty there is J. Michael Dash, a major scholar of Francophone Caribbean literature, with Manthia Diawara, the scholar, critic, film-maker, and former head of NYU's Africana Studies department an affiliate. And that's just NYU's French department. (I can't speak about Oxford's faculty.) Perhaps he asked all of them, or one of the (m)any other faculty members of color working in and around literary studies in (m)any of NYU's other departments, whether they wanted to participate, and perhaps they all said no. Perhaps they all were busy.

At the "Re-Thinking Literature" conference, NYU
Shelley Jackson (l) and Ben Lerner at the podium

But say they were not. One might then argue that the organizers intended that the conference, which included papers and conversations on a range of topics, including the relationships between literature and: art criticism and installations; religion; affect; cognition; and textualities, to name just a few of the topics, be primarily about what they saw as literature, which is to say, mostly European and Euro-American literature, unmarked by anything beyond and occupying nothing not somehow captured by the unnamed, unacknowledged and unacknowledgeable signifier of whiteness. I mean, it stands to reason that when one says the word "literature," a Platonic abstraction, one means only, can only mean, the literature of Europe and (some parts of) European America, no? Yes? So be it. But then why not just call the conference "Re-Thinking Euro-American Literature" or "Re-thinking Elite/High Literature by White People" or something similar, since the organizers made it clear that the vast corpus of literatures by everyone else across the world did and does not matter? There is privilege, there is entitlement, there is blindness, there is arrogance, and there is the expectation that because you have told yourself and others for centuries that you--or certain ones of you--are all that matter, that's all that's supposed to matter.

I should add that after a day of this stuff--and a report, by a friend, who attended and was aghast at the rambling mess served up by the conference's opening night speakers--I had had enough of what I have encountered for much of my adult life. I left them to their intellectually and hermetically sealed white room. It very well could have been the case on the final day, which I did not attend, that, even if all the speakers--and I should be clear that I do respect and admire the work of many of the participants--were white, perhaps one or several of them did look and speak past the self-constructed wall of Euro-American literary comfort, to acknowledge that there was and is quite a bit of other very vibrant work, in literature, literary and cultural criticism, philosophy, translation, etc., out there not centered on or produced by Europeans and Euro-Americans. If so, great for them.

I do wonder if any of them asked themselves why there were only white people on the panels. Did anyone verbalize this to Grau or Bishop? Did they see this as a problem and even mention it to each other? The audience certainly was not only white. If no one did ask such a question, I do wonder, what would lead them even to the threshold of doing so of their own accord? At any rate, my adult experience has been and continues to be that when it comes to the literary and the academic literary world, this sort of thing, a kind of de facto aesthetic and critical apartheid is still too prevalent.  Sometimes there are one or two tokens, or a panel in which all the people of color are bunched up together and only expected to talk about certain expected things. It's this way still in various pockets of American society, including popular culture. And in any case, as I noted about the "Re-thinking Poetics" conference at Columbia University a few years back, it represents a particularly perverse irony in a city like New York, the most diverse in the United States. Some "re-thinking" really does need to occur, but it's not just about literature.

That said, I did hear one talk I found quite intriguing, by Ben Lerner, whom I approached afterwards and briefly chatted with. I specifically noted the conference's whiteout cast to him, and he agreed it was not good. (I did not expect him, as an invitee and panelist, however, to say anything to Grau or Bishop, but perhaps he did.) Ben's paper was titled "Virtual Ekphrasis: Fiction as Criticism and Curation," and explored the idea of the novel--as opposed to poetry, a genre in which he has distinguished himself--as a curatorial site, a space "in which you can embed other artworks," and a "testing ground for aesthetic experience." An introduction of sorts both to his first novel, To the Atocha Station, and his forthcoming one, his talk was full of insights, but it circled around the key point that in "speculative" fiction, and not just in the commonly understood science fictional sense, you could write about "artworks not yet realized" or, to go further, that were and are "unrealizable."

As one example from the canon, he cited Henry James's famous story "A Madonna of the Future," a narrative about an artist producing a blank canvas (and which I thought of as I assigned John Ashbery's famous sestina "The Painter" as part of my fall undergraduate class's poetry component). This James story is often thought to dramatize the tyranny of artistic influence and resulting failure. In Arthur Danto's reading of the story, however, the philosopher and critic views James's character's Theobald's artistic production or lack thereof as a masterpiece, and a curator version attempts to convince the artist that his work is a harbinger of later artists like Robert Ryman, Alexander Rodchenko, Kasimir Malevich, and Robert Rauschenberg, and that what appears as failure in one age harbors potentiality for the future.

Ben linked this concept to contemporary novels written in the current moment of the "postmedium," which is to say, after the stability of particular media as we've known them, and also to our current aesthetic and social ontologies, where the status between art and life often blurs. He identified Rachel Kushner's National Book Award-nominated novel The Flamethrowers as exemplary in exploring this unstable status. In Kushner's novel the main character, Reno, is deeply interested in the artist Tony Smith and his idea of abandoning art in favor of situationism, experience. Kushner describes Reno's experience of temporality at times as a "trace of a trace of a trace," but Lerner was especially interested in the novel's depiction of her attempts to collapse art into life, and the links with 1970s art and earlier precursors, including Italian futurism and industrial design, via the figure of T. P. Valera, and the Valera bike--which occasioned, though Ben didn't discuss this, a prickly review from motorcycle enthusiast Frederick Seidel--which entailed entangling and collapsing art into life. Kushner, he said, organizes her novel around the dream of dissolving the line between art and life. Unlike recent works by Sheila Heti or Tao Lin, however, it doesn't stylistically or generically collapse the distinctions but virtualizes them.

As part of the Q&A portion, I asked Ben a question about the limits of liberal discourse, particularly in the face of incommensurable, globalizing alterities and competing rationalities--ideas I've been writing through a bit myself in my current fictional projects and thinking about after reading some of David Palumbo-Liu's critical work--and the novel's capacity to address and possibly resolve this crisis. He responded thoughtfully by talking about the relationship between novels and politics, though he did not really answer whether the contemporary American realist novel, so favored by the publishing industry and American literary culture-makers, could do what Palumbo-Liu has argued certain works, by writers such as J. M. Coetzee and Ruth Ozeki, have managed to. His talk nevertheless really got me thinking about questions of representation and futurity, the imagination and the possibilities or impossibilities--challenges--of depicting the possible, in art, and that, I guess, does entail "re-thinking literature," which ultimately did make attending the conference, for all its limitations, worthwhile.

At the "Re-Thinking Literature" conference, NYU
Camille Laurens (l), Tom Bishop (center), and Jean-Pierre Toussaint (at podium)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

UPDATE: Alice Munro (1931-) was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature for her "mastery of the contemporary short story." Brava! As I wrote below, she is one of the best writers today, and as the Nobel Committee notes, has achieved utter mastery with the short story form. 

Alice Munro (AP/Peter Morrison)
If you haven't read any of her fiction, you can find some free online examples here on Open Culture. Among these, "Free Radicals" and "Runaway" are favorites. One of her earliest stories, "Boys and Girls," is also available at the link.


According to the Swedish Academy, tomorrow it will announce the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. Every year, usually a week or so before the award announcement, I post my annual blog entry about this award and the writers I hope will win, in the process tossing around a few guesses and suppositions, before concluding that no one I would be championing would be considered. (I have read that if one is a literature professor one can officially nominate writers, but I also think this comes with the proviso that one must be invited to do so, literature professor or not, by the Swedish Academy. I am officially a literature professor, among other things, but I would want to chance harming the possibility that a writer I admire might be cooled out because an unknown was writing letters on her or his behalf.)

Haruki Murakami

Last year the literature award went to Chinese fiction writer Mo Yan, someone whom I don't think I'd ever mentioned. I don't read or speak Chinese and cannot vouch for Mo's work at all, though the English translations do not appear to elevate it, at least in my opinion, outside the ordinary.  The year before that the poet Tomas Tranströmer received it. I repeatedly broached his name, in 2005, 2006, and 2009, not so much because I was a huge fan of Tranströmer's, but mainly because it kept popping up in online shortlists, he was a widely known and internationally renowned poet, and he was fairly prodigious in his output. 

Not that that matters; some Nobelists (T. S. Eliot, Elias Canetti, etc.) have produced relatively little, while others (Doris Lessing, J. M. G. LeClézio, etc.) have produced quite a bit. Quality is not the same thing as bean-counting; ultimately it should come down to the sustained quality of the work, though Alfred Nobel, a multimillionaire dynamite executive, stressed idealism. This has kept a few potential Nobelists away from Stockholm, though given some of the recent winners, like Mario Vargas Llosa, a politically conservative author whose works include a great deal of controversial material, and Elfriede Jelinek, one of the most unreadable fiction writers of the late 20th century whose novel The Piano Teacher is a model of anti-idealism, it's probably fair to say that the Swedish Academy is not following the letter of Nobel's will. (Which is a good thing.)

Ladbrokes' betting agency annually draws up an odds list of potential winners. I've cited these before too. Topping this year's list is Haruki Murakami, a leading Japanese writer and one of the most inventive contemporary novelists. Japan's Nobelists include two quite original figures: Yasunari Kawabata, the 1970 winner, whose prose demonstrates almost gnomic compression and who committed suicide not a few years later; and Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 winner, who primarily writes about his developmentally disabled son, though he has managed to transform this narrative constant in several works of great originality. Murakami, whose work can be divided into more straightforward realist fiction (Norwegian Wood is an excellent example of this) and work that incorporates speculative elements, sometimes very successfully (the stories in The Elephant Vanishes and After the Quake exemplify this, as does his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), and he has written several masterpieces, as well as extremely ambitious giant works that demonstrate a writer of tremendous skill and daring, so the Nobel Committee could do far worse.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Also high on Ladbrokes' list are Canadian Alice Munro, one of the best short fiction writers of the late 20th and early 21st century (and a huge favorite; whenever I have the opportunity, I teach her work); Svetlana Aleksijevitj (Alexievich) a Ukrainian author and journalist whose work I once assigned in a "Situation of Writing" course some years ago at Northwestern; Joyce Carol Oates, about whom I'll say nothing, out of decency; Peter Nadás, a Hungarian novelist whose books look enticing but which, at least the ones I've seen translated, are as large as my living room; former Swedish Academy member and playwright Jon Fosse, who probably should not be rated this highly; Ko Un, the highly ranked Korean poet whose name is a perennial (and whom I featured in my poetry month posts a few years ago; Assia Djebar, the very gifted Algerian feminist author who used to teach at NYU and became the first woman of Arab descent, I believe, to gain a seat in the Académie Française; Thomas Pynchon, an author I once avidly read and enjoyed, though I have not been able to bear his more recent work, but who would at least have to emerge from hiding in plain sight, I surmise, to receive the medal and speechify if he were honored; Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, the great Kenyan fiction writer and thinker who would be a first for his country and Eastern Africa below the Sahara; and Adunis, the highly lyrical Syrian author who also would be a great choice for a number of reasons.

It very well could be any of these writers (please, Swedish Academy, not Joyce Carol Oates if you are going to pick an Anglophone fiction writer; you have Munro and countless other authors to choose from, so please, just don't do it, and if it must be an American writer, there are so many others who don't just churn books out, but actually have created art), or some writer who is far lower on Ladbrokes's list, like Nuruddin Farah, or Yves Bonnefoy, or Michel Tournier, or Duong Thu Huong, or Leila Aboulela, or Juan Goytisolo, or Mia Couto. Any of them would be very deserving. (They also have Junot Díaz, Jonathan Franzen, Shyam Selvadurai, Bob Dylan, Maya Angelou, and other unlikely winners--this year--in the mix too.) 

Several authors I always advocate for--Wilson Harris, Jay Wright, Adelia Prado, Maryse Conde, Kamau Brathwaite, etc.--are not even on Ladbrokes' list. Then there are writers that I am completely aware of who very well could emerge as top choices. Herta Müller strikes me as someone along these lines, but certainly there are many others. Perhaps they will surprise us all and give a joint award, something that should have happened more often, so that Nicanor Parra and John Ashbery, or Alexander Kluge and Ama Ata Aidoo, or Prem Ananda Toer and Elena Ferrante, an author whose work engraves itself on the inside of your consciousness. Another good choice among younger authors would be Alain Mabanckou. He is really one of the best Francophone and African authors writing today, and each of his last four books has been very good to exceptional. (Broken Glass is, I think, the finest of them.) In general poets and dramatists are selected less frequently these days, it appears, though this could be either genre's year. The streak of Europeans also ceased last year, so that's something too. And then there are newer literary genres; will the committee decide to do something radical and award the prize to a graphic novelist? Someone working in hypertext, since this year's Chemistry prize went to three researchers who work heavily with computers. I doubt so, but I guess we will see. 

Adelia Prado

As I type this, I have on the table beside me a novel by the late Robert Bolaño, one of the great figures in contemporary literature, who wrote more and better and far more original work than many people on Ladbrokes' tally, but who died too young--too early--to merit consideration. He joins the ranks of quite a few major authors, writing since the Nobel Prizes were first awarded, who were completely overlooked, including Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Marianne Moore, César Vallejo, Xavier Villaurrutia, Raja Rao, Jorge Luis Borges, and many more, were totally passed over, for various reasons. I think Philip Roth is going to join this group too, though who can say? I used to think it might be the great Mozambican writer José Craveirinha, one of the finest in his language and a major figure in African poetry, as he had already received the Camões Prize, the most esteemed award for a Lusophone author, and published quite a bit, but he passed away in 2003. There is the problem of translation, of course, but perhaps someone will bring the most deserving authors' work into Swedish, or English, as I once read that most of the Academy members do read English. (In Craveirinha's case, I hope to rectify that one of these days.) 

On a final note, ccording to the Nobel Prize site, the most popular literature laureates, in order, are John Steinbeck, Rabindranath Tagore, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Seamus Heaney, Gabriel García Márquez, Winston Churchill, Pablo Neruda, William Golding, and Albert Camus. The site unfortunately does not clarify what "popular" means. Sales? Website hits? Queries? Books about them?  Does anyone know?

Monday, October 07, 2013

23rd Annual Jersey City Artists Studio Tour

Somewhere in my long lists of posts on this blog there lies one about my participation years ago in one of Jersey City's annual Artists Studio Tours. I am not sure what I named the post or what labels I tagged it with, since repeated searches of this blog have turned up nothing. I'm pretty sure, however, that I did blog about one (was it 2009, the one fall between 2000 and 2012 that I was here? before? after?), and that I posted pictures. Where they are among this blog's many posts, though, I can't say.

So I will just note that recently, I went to my first Artists Studio Tour in a long while. For whatever reason (the Hurricane? being out of the loop?) I missed last year's version, but I did receive advanced notice about this, and moseyed over to the Powerhouse Arts District (i.e., gentrifying-again downtown), where a number of artist buildings and studios are located. There was a kickoff celebration on October 5 at the Tenmarc Building on Communipaw, not far from where we used to live, but I missed that, just as I missed the closing party the next day down at 150 Bay, another major arts spot. Between the two, however, I did explore into some of the studios, starting at the Warehouse Café and proceeding on foot to as many spaces as I could.

JC Artists' Studio Tour
A party and performance in one of the studio spaces
Along the way I received a free T-shirt, saw quite a bit of affordable art (some of it so economical I almost didn't believe the prices), met a few friendly artists and art lovers, and reconnected a bit more with the local arts scene. With 75 spots (some with up to 10 or more artists) spread out of the city, the tour will require a bit more time--two days, very comfortable shoes, a little bag to hold art if it's affordable and appealing--next year. Below are a few photos from the tour.

A DJ, at my favorite JC café, Warehouse Cafe
Warehouse Café, with DJ
An amazing studio, JC Artists' Studio Tour
In one of the sizable studios
An amazing studio space, JC Artists' Studio Tour
The rest of the studio/loft space, with handmade
furniture and art objects
Photographs, JC Artists' Studio Tour
A photography exhibition around the corner
One of the signs alerting people on the tour
to an exhibit inside
Outside one of the artists' buildings, JC Artists' Studio Tour
140 Bay Street
Inside a studio, JC Artists' Studio Tour
In one of the studios 
Inside a studio, JC Artists' Studio Tour
People speaking with one of the artists
One of the walkways, with Ribbons of Hope Exhibit
Ribbons of Hope exhibit
Ribbons of Hope exhibit at JC Artists' Studio Tour
Ribbons of Hope exhibit
(mine is one of the illegible blue ones)
A band at JC Artists' Studio Tour
A band performing in one of the studios
JC Artists' Studio Tour
Another studio
JC Artists' Studio Tour
Artist Jonathan Wolf (at right)
JC Artists' Studio Tour
A piece by artist Chantal Lamour
(those are painted eggs)
Looking out over part of downtown JC
The view from one of the windows
(the towers in the rear are the old Jersey City
Medical Center, now a condo cluster)