Tabula Rasa

Reviews & Other Ramblings

Nos Cortaron La Luz

Nos cortaron la luz, porque el tarugo del Chino perdió el dinero que le dio mi má pa’ pagarla. Nos cortaron el agua también porque allá afuera andan arreglando el drenaje y que Hay que esperar a que seque el cemento, patroncito, dice el señor; que No más dos horas. Eso dijeron hace tres.

Así que no hay luz, ni agua. Y pues ni internet. Y como el teléfono es d’esos modernos, pues no jala porque no hay luz. En la casa vivimos varios — ocho pa’ ser exactos — y siempre hay un ruidero todo el día pero hoy que nos quedamos sin servicios parecía como si no hubiera nadie… sólo el silencio y el temor de que pronto se hará oscuro. Todos andaban mudos, no sé si del asombro; como conejos encandilados, como si de repente hubieran viajado en el tiempo a alguna época muy antigua en la que no había ni luz ni internet ni agua ni nada. Los celulares tienen batería todavía pero la apechugamos como una reserva de pan en pleno apocalipsis porque luego llega la noche y ¿qué hace uno? de por sí la hora de la comida estuvo bien tensa y hasta todos terminaron antes porque nadie quería usar el celular así que lo único que se podía hacer era concentrarse en comer o mirarle la cara al otro. Y ‘ora tú, le dice mi má a la Peque, ¿qué te pasó ahí? No nada, le contesta la otra toda nerviosa. Cómo que nada pero mira no más el méndigo moretonsote que traes… Ay de seguro fue el desgraciado de tu novio, verdad. A la Peque se le llenaron sus ojos de lágrimas. Después de un rato confesó que se lo había hecho el cabrón de su novio desde hace una semana, pero nadie se había dado cuenta hasta que se fue la luz y les hizo ver mejor las cosas.

Después de un rato salí a preguntarle a los señores que andan arreglando el drenaje que si ya pronto vamos a tener agua que ya acabamos de comer desde hace una hora y lo trastes están todos sucios y las pinches moscas ya nos enfadaron. Yo creo ya en una hora más, patroncito. Pos ojalá porque si no la Peque se va a tener que ir a trabajar sin bañarse; es mesera en un bar usté cree pero ya no lo entretengo don pa que termine pronto. Sí como no, me dice el don muy amable pero yo no quería su amabilidad, yo quería que le apurara que esta vida rústica, contemplando y añorando la civilización desde la ventana, no es pa mí, ni pa mi familia. A ver si mi pá consigue un préstamo para poder pagar la luz mañana… Chino tarugo… Pero no le digo tarugo por haber perdido el dinero, porque eso es no más una mentira que le dijo a mi má para que no se espantara. A la hora de la comida, después de lo de la Peque, el güey confesó que lo usó para pagarle a su novia un aborto porque no usó protección — Chino tarugo — tarugo pero bien buena gente eso sí por apoyar a su novia que ella decía que no quería ser mamá, no todavía. Yo creo que cuando dijo eso fue cuando mi má entendió y se compadeció de los dos, más de la novia porque dice que esas clínicas luego son de mala muerte y ninguna mujer debería pasar por esa situación como si estuviera cometiendo un delito. Qué van a saber los hombres, dijo, del cuerpo de una mujer y de dar vida si lo único pa lo que son buenos es pa quitarla. Nunca la había oído hablar así y nunca la había visto llorar, no frente a mí. Fue el silencio el que hizo que el Chino y ella desahogaran sus gargantas.

En fin, ya es de noche y la negrura y el silencio ya no son tan sofocantes. Ahí’stá el celular pero no sé qué hacer, no sé en qué gastar el cuarto de batería que me queda. Uno diría que entre más opciones haya más fácil debería ser escoger, pero no, es todo lo contrario. Así que me entretengo en oír a la Peque, que acaba de llegar del trabajo, llorar en la cocina; a mi má decirle a mi pá que mañana se van al ministerio a arreglar lo del moretón, y mi pá le contesta que su compadre le paga mañana un dinero que le debía y con eso paga la luz. Al final sólo se escucha el lavabo en la cocina gotear: plic, ploc… plic, ploc; y me imagino al silencio como un anciano cansado de su jornada laboral, sentado en la cocina, mirando las gotas caer. Plic, ploc… plic, ploc.

I dreamt it felt like my mother had died

I dreamt it felt like my mother had died.
Neither did I see nor hear nor knew at all,
but I dreamt it felt like it.

I ran through the unfamiliar streets
Of a city I thought I was supposed to know.
There was my sister as well as her friend
As well as mine. We ran and I was last.
I was carrying my mother’s favorite fruit:
a pineapple but it was heavy as boulders.

My sister had my mother’s French dictionary,
which, dropping the pineapple, I snatched.
“Tu ne comprendras jamais!” I exclaimed.
Then I ran, faster and faster and I was finally first.
I ran, faster and faster, but I was still lost.

When my sister reached me I stopped,
Turned back and saw our friends’ pitiful faces,
as if witnessing dementia and grief themselves.
I turned around and saw a bookstore;
it was the one wherein Mother bought Wuthering Heights.

“I’ll be near here, but don’t follow me please!
I’ll be near here, but get lost already!”
I said to my sister.

I ran and I pant then I halted at a store.
There I saw my mother’s dress.
It was white like an angel’s and I could even hear a chant.
Then I remembered.

Then I remembered, still dreaming,
That I was an only child,
That my mother didn’t speak French.
Then, where was I?
Who where those people back there?
Why am I lost?
Who died?

I dreamt it felt like my mother had died.
Neither did I see nor hear nor wasn’t sure at all,
but I dreamt it felt like it.

Quicksand

Time’s an eagle
flying in circles,
freely, swiftly,
above the quicksand
where I’m stuck.

Its trace is
an ouroboros of
bad choices and regrets;
love lost and naught regained;
a serpent that chokes
yet swallows anyhow.

Sand that looks like gold
but feels like minute razorblades
—galore as the thoughts
that keep me awake at night—
cutting me deep through my pores
until this muddy substance
swallows me completely.

No harm; just the ceiling coming down.
No hope; just another dawn.

Review: ‘Death in Venice (& Other Tales)’ by Thomas Mann

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“What do you mean, Diotima,’ I said, ‘is love then evil and foul?’ ‘Hush,’ she cried; ‘must that be foul which is not fair?’ ‘Certainly,’ I said. ‘And is that which is not wise, ignorant? do you not see that there is a mean between wisdom and ignorance?’ ‘And what may that be?’ I said. ‘Right opinion,’ she replied.”
— Plato. The Symposium (trans. by Benjamin Jowett).

Fuzzy Logic is a paradigm often applied to Artificial Intelligence, though its applications may vary. It’s a kind of logic that was introduced in order to contrast boolean logic, wherein a variable’s value is strictly either 0 or 1. Therefore, in fuzzy logic a variable may fall in the range between 0 and 1, showing a more accurate approach on how, in the real world, things are (or at least should be). For example: according to some, a 400 page book may be mildly long, but for others, it may be slightly long, whereas for someone else it may be short. We classify things this way, in fuzzy logic, not just as either black or white, big or small, zero or one, right or wrong — and not even completely heterosexual or completely homosexual, in regards to sexuality. Thus, it shouldn’t be a scandal that a straight man feels attraction towards another man (age aside), like it happened to Thomas Mann in 1911 when he took a trip to Venice where he met Władzio: a boy who inspired the writer’s subject of beauty, his Phaedrus, his god, his literary inspiration and fascination. Whereas Mann wasn’t actually as absorbed as to stalking the boy throughout the Piazza di San Marco, he certainly was compelled by him, according to his wife. So one may say that this did happen. On the other hand, bringing back my introductory efforts to state that emotions aren’t ruled by boolean logic, Death in Venice is often regarded as a beautiful approach to queer literature — beautiful as we scarcely find in great classics — even though the author thereof isn’t exactly queer.

Mann transferred his experience in Venice to Gustav von Aschenbach, a 50(-ish) year-old writer and widower, who after an opening scene decides to take a trip to clear his mind in order for his work to bloom again. The aforementioned opening scene is that of a mysterious man in a cemetery and Aschenbach’s lugubrious omen and sudden decision to go to Venice; and from this point on one falls under a sort of sombre ambience and an ill spell that won’t leave the reader until the final paragraph. Many things happen, delightfully described, but as for the main thread, at his arrival at the hotel, and more precisely, at supper, Aschenbach meets Tadzio, a young boy who catches his attention immediately and its then when the plot begins to unravel into a deadly and dreadful ending. Mann keeps symbolisms constant and fate also plays an important part, as when he intends to leave Venice due to health issues, his luggage keeps him from doing so. He also makes allusions to greek mythology, especially Plato’s Symposium, relating Aschenbach and Tadzio to Socrates and Phaedrus in a reverie of sorts and exposing the greek philosopher’s ideas of beauty, love and the god thereof — that is Eros, who resides in the loving rather than the beloved. Also, Mann, in my opinion, tried to un-taboo the love between two men whose ages are disproportionate using Socrates’s ideal of love and to remark that there’s nothing despicable about the beauty of the senses that resides in youth drawn to the kind of beauty that is rather spiritual and resides in maturity — that love as we know it is rather fuzzy than boolean, and it is always beautiful and somewhat artistic. The dark side of it lies in the abuse and the excess of this passion, when it becomes dangerous not only to oneself but also to the beloved, having both well-beings at risk, like Aschenbach did keeping the truth about Venice to himself, in a frenzy and feverish delusion that his love for Tadzio was still pure.

Nothing is more bizarre, more ticklish, than a relationship be-tween two people who know each other only with their eyes—who encounter, observe each other daily, even hourly, never greeting, never speaking, constrained by convention or by caprice to keep acting the indifferent strangers. They experience discomfort and overwrought curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatis-fied, unnaturally stifled need to recognize and to exchange, and they especially feel something like a tense mutual esteem. For people love and honor someone so long as they cannot judge him, and yearning is a product of defective knowledge.

Death in Venice is doubtless an incredible masterpiece, not only because of its lyrical and delightful prose and because it challenges the reader to bring down the barriers of taboo down, but also because of this sense of personal approach that makes a great work great: that is, the writer’s ability to touch and kindle our souls — like Mann himself wrote:

“But even on a personal level, art is, after all, a more sublime life. It delights more deeply, it consumes more swiftly. It carves the traces of imaginary, intellectual adventures into the features of its servant.”

The rest of the stories are magnificent as well — not as engrossing as the Venice but still worth reading in order to appreciate how most of their characters share the same artistic, obsessive and solitary nature of Aschenbach; like Tonio Kröger: a literate young man who struggles with life in the arena of literature; or Spinell, a lonesome writer in a sanatorium, found in Tristan, the novella that would later develop into The Magic Mountain. Overall, there’s bleakness in Mann’s world, but then again, there is always beauty to be found in the bleak.

Thomas Mann captivated me literarily but also personally, and part of me died with Aschenbach in his efforts to reach beauty, taking my memories and experiences as nourishment. In dust I became and I shall float by the ill weather of Mann’s Venice, eternally tracing beauty and love, to which, I think, I’ll eventually approach by the way of literature.

“Never had he felt the pleasure of words more sweetly, never had he knowm so deeply that Eros is in words as in the dangerously delicious hours when he sat at his crude table under the aiming, with his idol in full view, the music of that voice in his ears: he was modeling his little essay on Tadzio’s beauty, forming that page and a half of exquisite prose whose purity, nobility, and quivering emotional tension would shortly gain the admiration of many.”

Review: ‘As I Lay Dying’ by W. Faulkner

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About a year ago a friend of mine got me this job in which I had to work for some sociologists who made researches about Mexican immigrants in the US. Basically, my job was to transcribe their recorded interviews, which I personally found pretty enjoyable — it was like listening to all those life stories, sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes a blend of both. So the task was entertaining and the pay was good. However, like any job, it had some difficulties at first. I got to realize how significantly communication can differ from spoken to written, with all the words we mispronounce, the structures we shorten and the grammar we defy, which is basically the beauty of how language keeps changing; but for me, it was puzzling at first trying to find a way to make some sentences readable for the researches who would later read them, and to know what punctuation mark would suit better. That’s when I realised about the importance thereof. I think the people I worked for were quite satisfied with my job and I was grateful that such an experience helped me see some of the importance that resides in language itself. Language: our means to express things, to bring ideas into a general understanding, to tell something: events, messages, stories that become masterpieces of literature, &c.

Now, to talk about literature is to try to pour all the water of the sea into a sand pit (borrowing St. Augustine’s metaphor for the Mystery of The Trinity). But one of the literary styles I like the most is what’s known as stream of consciousness: a device that depicts the human mind and the way it constructs sentences — sometimes long, sometimes short; sometimes they’re ramblings, sometimes they are brilliant aphorisms built on experience. We see that in Proust’s subtle and delicate prose; or Joyce’s, raging and cunning; or Woolf’s, rhythmical and alluring. Then comes Faulkner, playing with words and sentences no more than we often do, unconsciously and fluently. We let words come out and in such a process we disregard by times whether we construct a sentence or rather deconstruct it. This may be a hard task while reading a novel, since we are used to straight plots, a strict grammar and a coherent syntax. I’m not saying such stories are bad, not at all, but we usually don’t speak premeditatedly in real life; instead, while telling excitingly something we digress so much and sometimes we disregard the due arrangement of words, and just like everybody has their own handwriting, thus everybody has their own pronunciation and their own language idiosyncrasies. Now, imagine what a stream, nay, a torrent of consciousness results when a whole novel, such as As I Lay Dying, is narrated by many different people — sometimes a child (a perfectly portrayed innocence), sometimes a lonesome woman, sometimes a so-called queer young man, sometimes a wrathful son, or even a regretful minister. It’s a mess, definitely, but, alas! what a delightful mess brought from Faulkner’s pen to the whole world; while the fact that the author never changed a word of his manuscript and wrote it in six weeks, only naturalises the ambience in this work.

In Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying words rise in rebellion, making it a hard reading experience, but it pays off, it really does once you get used to it. Sentences bring grammatical protocols down and they drag the reader throughout the whole book through their own way. While a conventional prose would take you by the pavement, Faulkner’s takes you by the gravel. The point of arrival is the same, though: the Bundren’s tremendous vortex of love, rage, sex, life, family bonds, solitude. You may have a chance to catch your breath in the surface intermittently, but you’ll eventually be sucked in by its engrossing effect and experience their emotions quite vividly. It’s such a passionate work that makes me feel passionate about literature……… Sho. It’s a durn masterpiece! Aint it?

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.

Film Review: “Young Man at the Bar Masturbating With Rage and Nerve” by Julián Hernández

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In 21 minutes Mexican filmmaker Julian Hernández introduces Christian Rodríguez to the viewer. However, it’s the former who actually introduces himself from the very first frames: from his pseudonym, his skin color, his body type; but he also brings to the table his rate: $1,500 per hour. Therefore, if the title of the short film hadn’t already rung a bell, this little preface may tell us what this is going to be about: sex — at least partly.

Christian goes on with an overview of his life: his origin — a little town in the Mexican provinces; his childhood — describing himself as an extremely effeminate, obviously homosexual child. Thereupon he relates what growing up as a young gay man would be later; what it’s like to endure insults but at the same time having to cope with one’s sexual identity all by oneself in a close-minded and conservative society. Just picture it. If it’s a tough task in the big cities, how do you think it is in such small parts of the world? He relates this, however, with such fluency and, well, it’s not humorously, but he doesn’t play a victimized role either; he is rather the testimony of overcoming, something that didn’t occur to him just suddenly but by moving to other parts of Mexico, widening his experiences, following his passions, and, well… just living.

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So this short film is partly about sex and sexual identity but there’s still one very important remaining part which makes of this film, in my opinion, a beautiful movement in itself. I’m talking about dancing — dancing as entertainment, as art, as expression, as the means to earn a living. Thus, Christian states his fervent love for dancing, though not in a professional way, he says, until the time when he moved to Mazatlán to pursue his studies and heard on the radio about some dancing contest (which he wins, by the way). It’s then when one of the judges of the contest invites Christian to work as a dancer at the hotel where the event took place. “That’s when everything begins for me,” Christian says. While he narrates all of this we can see some kind of class he’s giving — and he certainly is such great dancer, if I’m asked! It happens in a plain, small and dimly lit room at a gym; but Julián Hernández’s vision renders vividness and colorfulness to the cinematographic experience through the music, the dancing shoes, the intermittent shots of the rapid movements of those cheerful bodies as if celebrating human anatomy.

This is when opportunities start coming from everywhere and Christian is invited to work as a professional dancer. ‘Professional’, what a word and how struck he was by it. Nonetheless he makes up his mind about attending an audition to which he was invited. Albeit concurred, he wins the contest and he’s given an opportunity to professionally begin his career, not as a dancing-man, but rather as a dancer. Like in the above paragraph, while this narration takes place, a reverie of sorts shows up, wherein our now professional dancer runs a captivating performance to some sort of Ligeti-like atmospheric piece of music.

Subsequently, Christian moves to Mexico city, being 22 years old and with a made-up mind about waisting no time and getting to build a great career. Intermittent reverie frames take place once more and Christian performs for his audience once more. Unfortunately for him (and many others) art is simply unprofitable, and that’s when dancing and prostitution blend. The bright side, I think, would be that Christian takes it pretty well, claiming to have no other vice than sex, just many people are weak for alcohol or cigarettes. His habits and procedures as an escort are depicted quite faithfully and we can even witness (fictionally) how a young man hires Christian for his birthday, for which the latter gives him a ‘nice present’ — that is a striptease that ends up in casual sex and a shower. Intertwined with this brief episode, we get to know more details about Christian’s secondary profession.

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Lastly the viewer is ushered into a gay bar in Mexico city where Christian performs live at a bar — a performance which seems to include some sensual movements, including that of a fictitious masturbation (fictitious, as far as we know). He finally expresses his love for it, for his two vices in an ideal mixture for him: dancing and sensuality.

There are many erotic scenes in the film, but I think it’s not that hard to watch for someone who isn’t used to it. It’s not more explicit than any other contemporary pop music video that many regard as normal these days. On the other hand, speaking of so-called normality, there are many films that are supposed to be made for a straight public to help them understand the kind of sexuality that resides outside the pale: either homosexuality or transsexuality or bisexuality; but my point is that such tags as “gay-themed films for straight people” would be unnecessary if more people gave a chance to films like this. Of course most of this kind of projects’ public are gay people: those who can relate to it, people who look for their spot in the history of art. But it’s not exclusive whatsoever to them. This film, for instance, is a magnificent way to get to know about something we’re not offered quite often; and instead of being prejudicial, we have the opportunity to realize what’s behind all of it. This film works as a lens to see life through someone else’s eyes while Hernández is only rendering the eyeglass. Because personally, albeit its shortness, few lengthy queer film have ever made me think of it as a proclamation of homosexuality, specially in Mexico, and of the struggle of making a living through art, regardless of the artist’s sexuality. Unlike Julian Hernandez’s previous work, this is not slow-paced, but it’s rather like a flashing daydream; unlike his previous films, this is not an event in someone’s life, but a whole life told in a picturesque play of colors and movements; it’s told in 21 short and worthy minutes.

Review: “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

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“The horror! The horror!”
— Heart of Darkness

Have you ever tried any meditation technique? Well, just last year I began to make some research about it. What I found was truly compelling, so I decided to try some of the exercises I read about, which I still practice sometimes on my spare time. There’s a great gamma of those techniques and regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, all of them have one and only purpose: to help he who puts them to practice. Personally, they helped me cope with some issues, such as anxiety and insomnia; but, truth be told, there are some things — intrinsic, I’ve come to think — that seem to cling to the deepest regions of my being — dark things, perhaps. I’m no expert on the subject — in fact, I hesitated about  bringing it up — but from what I’ve learned, all these techniques basically help you with introspective issues by tracking their source. In this inner and spiritual journey you may find virtue but you may also find what Conrad chose as the title for this tale: a heart of darkness.

Either the title means the core of an unknown region or a symbolism for a corrupted human’s soul and mind, it provides the reader with a general idea of what he’s about to encounter. For me, it seemed at first like a simple story about colonialism written in a plain narrative. The error! The error! Conrad is truly a master of prose and he’s often regarded as a venturer in the modernist wave. It may be true, if we think of such a literary movement as something related to Proust or Woolf or Joyce, who wrote their masterpieces based on a fluent stream of consciousness that emerges from a simple object or idea. Thus Conrad introduces the reader to Marlow who relates a story of his days of youth to his mates — a story which is basically the whole tale. Furthermore, just like the modernists aforementioned, Marlow’s descriptions of the scenarios, his thoughts and reactions to the events that shape the plot are very insightful; the author’s label, nevertheless, rests in the sombre yet alluring way in which all of this is written. The outcome: a skilful, contrasting blend of a portrayal of the exotic external and the shadowy internal. (And I’ve come to think the sun and the shadows play an important symbolism in this tale.)

“… No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life–sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence — that which makes its truth, its meaning — its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone… .”
— Heart of Darkness

Overall, Marlow’s anecdote is about him joining, out of his aunt’s influences, an ivory trading company in Africa and the dark affairs that occurred to him therein. So from the moment the whole process begins with Marlow being examined by a doctor and the latter asks him  ‘Ever any madness in your family?’, you get involved in an increasing tension and suspense that won’t decrease until the ambiguos climax of the story which is marked my the famous words ‘The horror! The horror!’ And even afterwards, in Marlow’s last meeting, there’s something melancholy yet gloomy and uneasy about it.

“Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets.”
— Heart of Darkness

Most of the psychological thrill in the story is aroused because of the second main character: a certain, enigmatic Kurtz. From the moment he arrives, Marlow’s told about this personage’s grandeur and his sound methods, to the extent that all the hubbub about him makes Marlow form an a priori image of him so that Kurtz goes from a name, to an image, to a place (that is the station where he dwelled), to an ideal, and lastly, to the personification of the man behind all of it.

Some may not be fond of Conrad’s way of portraying all of this, specially when Marlow’s, and actually all white characters’ ways are somewhat tinted with white supremacy. However, as the story moves forward, and specially when Kurtz finally enters the scene, the writer’s viewpoints become clearer. In my opinion, Kurtz fall is a fascinating depiction of what would happen — nay, what happens, for this did happen to Conrad himself — what happens when Man loses what he knows as civility, clearing the way for his most concealed passions and all those feelings he casts away out of social norms. For some, this timeout of sorts, this chance to be away from their routines and get to know a new culture, it could be a chance for introspection, to focus on one’s mind, like it is done while meditating. However, Kurtz reaches his blackest shade: his heart of darkness. Thus he begins to gain power amongst the natives, but as this happens his greed grows too, so he begins to abuse of his authority towards them, who now see him as some kind of deity.

“Better his cry—much better. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory!”
— Heart of Darkness.

Lastly, when Marlow returns to civilisation, everything seems to him so dull compared with the passion, the rage and perhaps the freedom he witnessed in Africa, which helped me understand Conrad’s stand towards colonialism, civilisation, and most importantly, humanity.

“I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew.”
— Heart of Darkness

The copy I read also includes three more tales: An Outpost of Progress, Karain: A Memory and Youth: A Narrative. They were a superb introduction but I don’t think any of them was as magnificent as Heart of Darkness, in spite of their own greatness. They have many points in common, specially Youth, and all of them are written flawlessly and the feeling of uneasiness and horror(!) is well preserved, but Heart of Darkness was certainly the grand finale for this book, and, hands down, one of the best tales I’ve ever read.

“A man may destroy everything within himself, love and hate an belief, and even doubt; but as long as he clings to life, he cannot destroy fear: the fear, subtle, indestructible, and terrible, that pervades his being; that tinges his thoughts; that lurks in his heart; that watches on his lips the struggle of his last breath.”
— An Outpost of Progress

Review: ‘Metamorphoses’ by Ovid

116503Metamorphoses is an epic poem written by Latin poet Publius Ovidius Naso, also known as merely Ovid. It’s compounded by fifteen books that narrates this author’s perspective of the world, from the Creation of it to his days in the Roman Empire through a recollection of fantastic myths about transformation, either out of prayer or punishment, but always by divine intervention. It is important, however, to take into account that often, when Ovid refers to these deities, throughout his epic verses, he’s actually making allegories about the Roman rulers. He depicted the deeds of those who had power over those who weren’t through a transference towards the pagan myths that were very well known in Rome. He basically conveyed how that great nation worked in former and current days, in which peace just began to flourish.

Personally, when I read Homer or Virgil, I’m astounded by their works, but I never felt as connected with them as I feel with Ovid’s magnum opus. I would say that this is due to the fact that I do not relate to metaphors on homecoming, war or pagan rites; but ultimately Ovid does the same: he used the art of literature to denounce and to enhance life. However, for me, Ovid’s subjects span several fields and issues that still concern us these days. Trust me when I say one will hardly ever read a better written poem that includes rape, abuse of power, injustice and stalking in perfectly constructed verses. But do not think Ovid’s only goal was to narrate deviousness and how to get away with it: he shows the sorrowful aftermath. See for instance how many occurrences of suicide happen in this collection of myths out of heartbreaks, the death of a beloved or after divine punishment.

There are several humorous episodes all along the book, but there are also others that are quite touching (at least for me). I remember Narcissus’ for example, whom I used to think of as a despotic and egotistic being, but who’s actually rather innocent and somewhat pure. There is also Hermaphroditus and how after Salmacis’ rejection, intend of rape and caprice lost his virility by union to the latter. Or Daphne, who to after being stalked by Apollo, prays for her beauty, cause of her sorrows, to go away, being thus transformed into a laurel tree. We find also Iphis who was born a girl but it’s treated as a boy, her sexuality concealed, just because her father threatened her mother to kill the newborn if it wasn’t a boy. Iphis then falls in love with a woman who intends to marry, but she suffers because secretly finds herself amidst a sorrowful trial due to the claims of lesbianism as something unnatural. However, after divine intervention, she’s finally turned into a man, happily married. And see Caenis too (another one of my personal favourite myths), who is raped by Poseidon and as a reward is granted a wish. So she wishes for her sex to change, being thus turned into Caeneus who would later be mocked at in fight against a centaur because of his change of sex: people believed his strength would be rather null because of his womanly origins. So my point is that Metamorphoses is filled with contemporary issues, specially those concerning gender identity. We often find news about women harassed by men, the latter claiming to be victims of the former’s ‘provocative’ beauty, like Daphne thought of herself. We find men or women coping with gender dysphoria who have to live through it out of fear of rejection or sometimes death, like Iphis. Little did the author of this book think about his work outliving people’s incomprehension about human nature being out of humanity’s hands.

However, the myths mentioned above are only a few: the diversity found in the book is really vast. Ovid made an outstanding job with his epic poem recounting human nature and how it can be transformed. According to him, we all change; we are like a river that never stays the same. He closes with a flourish in Metamorphoses’ final book that tells the teachings of Pythagoras as a treatise on the art of peace. As stated by him, there’s no reason why people should feast in the death of another being. He denounces the pagan practices that pointlessly take an innocent life for a sin that they didn’t commit. He, overall, teaches the reader how precious life — any life — is.

“Our bodies too, are always incessantly changing,
and what we were, or are, is not what we will be
tomorrow…”

Even before Book XV I knew this was, without question, one of my favourite books. But after the book in question, I think this is one of the books I’ll try to keep rereading for the rest of my days to remind mysel that change is normal, that life, regardless of its form, matters; and this will, hopefully, stick to my mind for a while.

Review: ‘The Waves’ by Virginia Woolf

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“Things have dropped from me. I have outlived certain desires; I have lost friends, some by death […] others through sheer inability to cross the street. I am not so gifted as at one time seemed likely. Certain things lie beyond my scope. I shall never understand the harder problems of philosophy.”

I opened the book, hoping to find a distracting and entertaining novel that could take me into oblivion and make me forget what I’ve been through lately. It began in a very particular prose — a literary experiment perhaps. It’s a day that begins with the sun and the birds and the trees and the waves — everything starting off. It’s a very long day that passes unaware of its way through time. It’s life what begins. So I want to keep reading and get lost, to blend into the pages whose sound as they turn is as the very waves’. But I’m rather found in so alluring a prose that my whole persona begins to unfold. Thus, my life, sown in the soil of memory and watered by Woolf’s lovely words, flowers.

“I do not know myself sometimes, or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me what I am.”

This is the kind of writer who knows how our minds, our hearts and our souls work: she knows what being a human is like. I feel it’s impossible to express what it made me feel, specially since I’m not good with words; so perhaps only through osmosis I could do so. It’s hard for me to describe something I don’t even have a name for. Not even in a phrase notepad like Bernard’s, filled with logs from a lifetime, I would find the exact term. But I remember it made me feel like the time I saw Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which I’ve been trying to recommend to almost everyone I’ve come across; unsuccessfully, for every time I try to articulate something concerning it, I fall mute. Then I try to recall some of its quotes. “The nuns thought us there were two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace.” Why, that’s pretty much like The Waves. Virginia, however, seems to make her own way in-between.

These, Bernard, Neville, Louis, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda, are true human beings: craving for a soulmate; loving, raging; feeling passionate, cast away, desperate, solitary, jealous. I’m them and they are me. They turn my insight towards my own self, whom I had long ago forgotten, since I, like Bernard, focused of changing and adapting my being according to whomsoever approached my interpersonal space, like a chameleon that needs to camouflage in order to survive. Percival, on the other hand, is the outward insight. He’s the fictional incarnation of all this year’s sorrows. He’s the friend I lost, for whom I grieved and wept and sobbed and ached. But he’s also the friends I lost to pride; who now won’t talk to me because I decided to dwell in isolation instead of reaching out for help. He’s S. whom I met and whom I fell in love with: a one-way toxic love — and yet he’s also the brightness kindling my soul when I see him. Percival is the beautiful memories of my dearest friend who passed away. He is, overall, the outward sensations that weaken me and make me feel vulnerable, anxious and desiring — and nonetheless,  sentient and somewhat enthusiastic — what, therefore, gives my consciousness the awareness of existence.

“I condemn you. Yet my heart yearns towards you. I would go with you through the fires of death. Yet am happiest alone.”

I’m all of them and they are me. We play along, just in different scenarios. Yet I feel I have a special connection with Neville. It pained me what pained him, and so many remembrances awake in my mind, suddenly, as a rush as I read his woes. It’s about Neville and Percival, then the person he compares to Percival after the latter’s gone. I try to shout out and explain how much attached I feel to this particular part of the story. I do so when I meet with a friend. “You are not S.”, I thought, as Neville would have said. “Even though both of your names ressemble, you are not S. Both are, however, miscreants towards me; specially as my love for you grows larger and larger. Your faces look alike each other with those feline eyes that captivated me and still turn my mouth to stone, like Medusa, every time I try to utter a caring word, perhaps a poem by T. S. Eliot. But you are not S. You are not as learned as him. You don’t understand what I talk about when I read aloud from The Waves and say that “the poem is only your voice speaking.” But you listen to me and will try to understand my twisted character anyway. And yet, in foolish tantrum I’ll still crave for S.” It was this name I try to hide — S. — what had been ringing in my mind all day in a solo. But now Virginia comes and accompanies it with a phrase — in both senses of the word: wordily and musically. She’s playing her own String Quartet.

“He will forget me. He will leave my letters lying about among guns and dogs unanswered. I shall send him poems and he will reply with a picture post card. But it is for that that I love him. I shall propose meeting—under a clock, by some Cross; and shall wait, and he will not come. It is for that that I love him. Oblivious, almost entirely ignorant, he will pass from my life. And I shall pass, incredible as it seems, into other lives; this is only an escapade perhaps, a prelude only.”

After the loss I experienced I prayed and cried, in an incessant effort to put myself to sleep, to forget and not to think. “Take me, Lord, somewhere nice. Blow me away like the wind in The birth of Venus.” Always looking for an answer to enlighten me. And even though I haven’t found it yet, The Waves by Virginia Woolf was for me an embrace in this questioning and this search for meaning. I felt its words lit a fire within me and warm my soul and my mind. I could swear I tasted them as I read every night and fell in a soothing somnolence — not the kind that makes one feel tired, but rather the one that acts as a motherly and sweet lullaby. For how long I’ve been trying to pour my heart out in conversations in which I’d let my mouth run like a fool, getting no more answer than a condescending empathy that only made me feel as remote as Rhoda or as full of hatred as Susan. Then I prayed again, but this time I thanked God for The Waves, for Virginia Woolf, for the share of sorrow, for literature.

 “Come, pain, feed on me. Bury your fangs in my flesh. Tear me asunder. I sob, I sob.”

Film Review: ‘Mil nubes de paz cercan el cielo. Amor, jamás acabarás de ser amor’

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“A thousand clouds of love fence the sky. Love, your being love will never end”, is a Mexican film directed by Julián Hernández that I have watched three times in my life. The first two times I did I was very young and I liked it very much indeed, but I couldn’t fully understand Julián’s perspective for his film. My mistake was, perhaps, that I thought it was merely about homosexual love, but it goes beyond that: it’s about the perils of it, regardless of any sexual orientation, and the despair it can drag you into.

We are introduced to Gerardo, a young gay man who lives in Mexico city, who spends his time wandering around his neighbourhood and cruising with some guys he meets, sometimes at the pool bar he works at, sometimes in the street. However, cruising, for must of the gay men he meets, it just means sexual interaction and nothing more; while for Gerardo, on the other hand, it seems to mean attachment: a chance to find someone who cares about him. Some of this men actually pay him for having sex, something that only enrages the young man even more. So one day he meets a guy whom he falls in love with, starts dating but suddenly this mysterious guy disappears, leaving only a letter in which he claims he’s afraid he might hurt Gerardo if their affair keeps going. Suffering a tremendous heartbreak after this, and having no address or any phone number where he can find his lover, he begins to wander more and more, looking for him until he gradually starts looking for ways to fill the void the man left — that usually means ways to slowly destroy one self.

In his wanderings, Gerardo meets several people — from family to total strangers. His mother reproaches him for leaving school and his family just to be an independent man who hasn’t settled yet. His sister supports him and feels compassionate towards him. She, being pregnant, talks to her brother about her plans for her baby and how she would like him to be learned and wealthy. For Gerardo, however, this doesn’t seem to matter. When his mother gives him money (as well as the men he has sex with do), he rejects it, telling her that’s not what he needs. He looks in men for love and they give him money; he looks for his mother for love and she does the same. It must be tiresome at some point.

Then he meets a woman whose lover also left (showing that not only homosexual relationships are base), and she describes her despair so heartrendingly, who says he will eventually forget his heartbreaker:

“Don’t worry. Nothing lasts: neither happiness nor sorrow. Nay, not even life lasts long. One day you’ll wake up and you won’t remember him… I don’t want to forget though: I want to remember everything; every minute, every second of it, forever.”

Nonetheless we’re shown afterwards how she hasn’t given up and, furthermore, begins to give herself up to hysteria. And there’s also a man Gerardo meets, who says the main point is not to be lost in hatred, that the main thing is to look above, up to Heaven, for we are nothing but God’s the King of kings.

So in his quests for his lover, Gerardo runs into people who hurt him, who reject him, who tell him to settle once and for all, who feel empathy for him, but after all, those kind of affairs end up destroying, or at least changing something within us. Like in the last photograms, we may keep walking, then stumble, then try to go on and finally fall.

The style is beautiful and insightful, close to what consciousness works; the acting is worth watching and the few pieces of music in it are quite memorable. Beyond the fact that I somehow saw myself in some of Gerardo’s scenes, I think this is an utterly underrated film that gives me hope for Mexican cinema.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through to get to be with you.”