In Traffic. The 20.

I’m moving slow enough to see
A robin standing on the shoulder
Beside the cars, head twisted so,
One eye staring up to the sun,
Another staring down to salt, 
grey dust and asphalt. Hit,
It stands, caught for a moment
On two legs—for just one moment— 

Then it falls on its side
Never to move again.

Interpreting Art

Today the Beav and I took the train into town to see the Alexander Calder show at the MBAM.

What struck me at the show, and what I’m posting photographs to try to show, is the way the curators lit the sculptures to highlight and specify the complexity in what could seem like folk art or fairly imposing abstractions.

Shadows as interpretive tool.
“Performing Seal” and it’s shadow

The show was comprehensive. In addition to the various mobiles, there were examples of juvenilia, early paintings, early wire sculptures, and an early silent documentary showing Calder in his Parisian studio making a wire portrait. There were also scale models of late, monumental works like “Three Discs” on l’île Saint-Hélène in Montreal.

Yet despite its scope, the show was also small enough to be manageable. The beauty of the objects wasn’t overwhelmed by the scale.

Self-portrait with sculpture and the Beav

The Stone Sky

By its end, this trilogy reveals itself to be nothing less than a deep thinking through of the historical consequences of racism and its relentless transformation of the world day-by-day, year-by-year into something worse. The corruption is familial, it is sexual, it is social and political, it is climatic. 

The fantasy here is not that a wrong can be righted, even if only allegorically. The novel doesn’t right the wrong.

No, the fantasy is the idea that with courage, sacrifice and love, on-going destruction can be halted and the wound staunched long enough, to leave room for people of good will to begin the hard work of building up something better from the ruins.

What I find most political about this fantasy isn’t the representation of characters who are women and brown and queer, as powerful as that clear commitment to their visibility and their stories is. No, I think it is the hope that (and the confidence that) enough people will want to stop the destruction and that they can do so, even though the work required will necessarily begin with and take as its materials a world made a wasteland by the horrors of the past.

Johannes Cabel: The Necromancer

It’s been awhile since I’ve read something, liked it for the first few chapters, but then chapter by chapter liked it less and less. This book is like that.

Johannes is not a pleasant or endearing character. His brother is, but he’s very much off-stage for long stretches of the action. And story-wise, the book is essentially a series of self-contained “bits” or set pieces that are wrapped up in the end with a few long final chapters suggesting just enough character growth to justify a happy ending.

None of which is necessarily a problem. Lord knows I like plenty of deeply risible claptrap. And this book is better than that.

It’s just that it’s a book that plays to a particular taste. You’re either going to eat up the constant winks, nods, puns and, most importantly, Johannes’s Victorian Gothic posturing or you are going to find them dropping like bricks, one by one and page after page, onto your last nerve. 

The Obelisk Gate

The second book in The Broken Earth trilogy shifts the narrative in ways that I found disorienting for the first half of the book.

In part this was because—as was the case in The Fifth Season—narrative point-of-view is so central to the effect the book is aiming for. Again the principal point-of-view is a disorienting second person and it’s used to put identity—who is speaking? to whom?—and my efforts to “identify with” on centerstage as questions. By the end of the book, I’d finally clued into the fact that in being constructed as challenges, these concepts were also being thematized.

I was also slow to catch on to the new narrative stakes. Narrative lines established in the first book seemed to have faded into the background here without me having a good sense of what was taking their place. With the point-of-view holding me at arms length from the characters, my uncertainty about the direction of the story initially made for shaky (pun intended) reading.

Only once I was past the mid-point had I settled back in enough to catch on to the true source of my problems: the scale of the story had changed dramatically. What I’d understood as a of coming of age fantasy—a young country woman is brought to town, educated, discovers she’s important—wasn’t. Or at least it wasn’t simply that familiar story and resemblances to it were a distraction. The stakes here were social, historical and philosophical and the narrative was reaching for and attempting to establish the cultural resonances that support strong allegory.

I’ve already read The Stone Sky as I write this, so I should probably go ahead and admit that this second book in the series remains my least favourite. But seeing how successfully the final book arrives at the deep allegorical force this book is building toward makes me admire this one for all the work it does to make that final triumph possible.

The 12 Days of Deadwood

November and December years ago, I was watching Deadwood and trying to find ways to express how incredible the script was to people who were put off by the profanity. I decided to post a series of quotes from the show in the days leading up to Christmas and to pattern them after the carol: “on the first day of Deadwood, Bullock said to me…” The series was a hit.

It was the early days of Facebook though and I posted the quotations there. Later when I’d moved off that platform, I copied the series as a single post on this blog. I never really liked the results, but I wanted to save the series somewhere.

Well this year, I’ve decided to unpack that post and run the series again. So starting tomorrow the quotations—with a couple updates to lines I didn’t love the first time around—will pop up, one per day, until Christmas morning.

Enjoy.