dorian gray is gay (and edward larson betrayed us all)

dorian gray as portrayed by hurd hatfield in the 1945 movie

dorian gray as portrayed by hurd hatfield in the 1945 movie

I’m re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I do every so often. In a scant few pages are packed philosophy and idolatry, a cautionary tale, a revelation of adoration, an abundance of clever wordplay, all wrapped up in gorgeous prose.

The book also was infamously used as evidence against Oscar Wilde during his trials. Using books as legal stichomancy is disreputable; but if certain passages were selected to condemn him, others can be pulled to defend him, and perhaps all artists.

In the story, Basil Hallward tells Lord Henry Wotton that he doesn’t want to show his painting of Dorian Gray at an exhibition because he’s put too much of himself into it. Basil says he has unintentionally revealed his artistic and personal worshipful admiration of Dorian, things he especially doesn’t want Dorian to know. If others were to see it, “…the world might guess it; and I will not bare my soul to their shallow, prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope.”

Basil goes on to say that artists should put nothing of their own lives into their work, and that art should not be treated as a form of autobiography. But of course we all do to some extent. Wilde did, too.

In order to create something beautiful and meaningful, revelations will occur. Some things can be cleverly concealed with a bit of creative manipulation, but artists will uncover parts of themselves, it’s inevitable. And, it’s intentional. Artists want to generate stories as experienced through their personal lenses. They create the path, and we navigate using our own perception. Neither has complete control of the exchange, and that’s what makes art beautiful, and imperative to human experience.

Those who hold nothing back willingly subject themselves to scrutiny, but the audience has the responsibility to scrutinize with the expectation of no absolutes, and refrain from censorship and misapplications. Without the synergetic relationship between art and audience, there can be no meaningful exchange.

As for those who try to use art against the artist, against others, and for dogmatic gain, they reveal an ugly image not of the artist, but of themselves. An idiot extracts what they please to uphold their own beliefs; a philosopher takes the opportunity to question beliefs. Why pander to ignorance, even to save judgement? At times, there may be little solace in knowing your own heart and head, but there is great dignity. In the end, that is what Wilde exemplified, and it has made him a champion as well as an artist.

prurient poppers: poetic prose

john clare, painted by william hilton in 1820

john clare, painted by william hilton 1820

Poet John Clare (1793-1864) was committed to asylums for the last 24 years of his life, diagnosed with insanity caused by an addiction to poetical prosing. So naturally, I’m quite fond of him.

He was definitely depressed, with no money, six or seven kids to feed, and a powerful thirst. He also claimed he was Shakespeare and Lord Byron, so the diagnosis perhaps wasn’t incorrect, but the suggested cause is ridiculous. He wasn’t thought to be much in his own time, but later (because of course it’s always later), when his original work was restored to him, he became considered an important poet of the 19th century.

He’s one of those nature-loving romantics and big on rhyme, though he gets extra points for using odd, archaic, dialectic words, like rhyming lost with tost. I don’t even know what context he’s using, because he “lives with shadows tost” could simply be tossed, or the Gaelic word for silent, or a sort of Latin-y, French-y mash-up meaning early or soon, or the Polish definition, toast. Tossed shadows, silent shadows, early shadows, shadows of toast. It’s probably not that last one, though I’d like to think so.

He reminds me of an ersatz Thomas Hardian Jude, a poor, moderately literate romantic who dared to reach for things considered outside his wheelhouse. In fact, his work was edited, dumbed down to appeal to the ladies who lunch crowd, who had adopted him as their pet. His “slang,” saucy expressions and political statements were considered more than could be accepted from a common poet. Was, in fact, what made him common. He was allowed to have humble origins, that’s partly why he was such a charming little bauble pass around. He wasn’t allowed to express his experiences, because that’s not charming, it’s untidy. This censorship could be what kept him from receiving the recognition he was due in his own time, and is perhaps what pushed him over the edge. Unable to publicly reveal himself in his writing, he began to babble out loud, and sealed his fate by spewing things such as, “Why, they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet. All the vowels and all the consonants, and brought them out through my ears!” Madness? Sounds like poetry to me.

Prose is communication, poetry is art.

I came across that opinion quite a while ago, and have been pondering it off and on ever since. I think it’s a load of tost. Once again, someone tries to banish prose to the realm of conventional transmission, negating any attempt to experiment with sentences as a means of something more than directing the way down a straightforward path from point A to point B. Circuitous routes – that’s something we’re not supposed to attempt. Remain staid, remain undemanding, remain obscure. “Why, they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet. All the vowels and all the consonants, and brought them out through my ears!” Poetical prosing. It’s dangerous stuff, it’ll drive you insane.

Personally, I enjoy a little insanity.

“a way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” What a fantastic playground that creates!

“imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it a description nor an evocation of objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but moves it—It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the indestructibility of matter and of force, it creates a new object, a play, a dance which is not a mirror up to nature but—.” But what? But what, but what, but what? Go ahead, finish that sentence in any way you choose—the author left it up to you.

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train…” Well that’s candidly evocative, yes?

“Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods.” That’s lovely, that is.

If this demonstrates an addiction to poetical prosing, I willingly commit myself.

Quotation 1 from “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce Quotation 2 from “Spring And All” by William Carlos Williams Quotation 3 from “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs Quotation 4 from “Winter Woods” by Truman Capote

the old romantics

Since Saturday is Valentine’s Day, let’s talk romance, shall we?

turner had a thing for turbulent seas and turbulent landscapes sprinkled with a few idylls, just for confusion's sake

turner had a thing for turbulent seas and turbulent landscapes, sprinkled with a few idylls, just for confusion’s sake

Romance as in the period of Romanticism in philosophy and art that came about out of the French Revolution and Industrialization. Yes, the French Revolution and Industrialization. I didn’t know that.

I didn’t know much of anything about Romantic art and literature, only that it involved Keats and the Shelleys and Turner and, apparently, Goya? None of which appeal to me, so I had little reason to explore it. However. I came across a three-part documentary on the Romantic period (1800 – 1850), and found it completely fascinating. It’s called, funnily enough, The Romantics, and the three parts are Liberty, Nature, Eternity. It’s written and presented by Peter Ackroyd, a well-known critic of English history and culture. Oh, and includes some very good looking actors playing the roles of Keats and Shelley, and David Tennant is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who shows up first and was a big plus for me. He’s what kept me watching for those first few minutes, and by the time his role was finished, I was completely sucked in.

And now I come to the part in which I’m asking myself why the hell I’m writing about a documentary on the Romantics, apart from the flimsy excuse of Valentine’s Day? Well, because I love it when something unexpected shows up to pull at me and interest me in something I previously gave little thought to. True love, that is. Because everything is so much more complex than it may seem on the surface, and finding that out is fun. I found out The Romantics weren’t just some flopsy poets and painters fluttering by, leaving soppy poems and strange paintings in their wake. It’s an entire movement, which, for the time, was completely radical. Dangerously so, to the powers that be. Atheism, cynicism, protest and drug experimentation and free love – it’s all here, and it all stems from huge changes that were happening in Europe, Britain, and yes, the United States, too. It was a sort of domino effect brought on by the masses being fed up to the eyeballs by the gentry, and taking matters into their own hands, for good and ill, along with and followed up by advances in science and technology and a whole new aesthetic. The jail sentences for daring to think differently, and simultaneously for the inherent guilt of privileged birth; the slaughter of thousands by the very convenient and efficient new toy, the guillotine; the renewed appreciation for nature brought on by industrialization, the sorrows of child labour and people used as cogs in the machines – it’s all pretty intense, and it begets some intense responses from the thinkers and artists of the period.

goya just freaks me the fuck out

goya just freaks me the fuck out

I joked about the actors, but really, they play a helpful role in enhancing all of these things for the audience, not through tepidly role-played days in the life, which doesn’t happen, thank god (or rather thank Ackroyd) but by offering quotations from the words and thoughts of the time. Romantics are kind of tittered at today, foisted off as fodder for adolescents in the throes of hormone rages, but it just isn’t so. Wordsworth and Coleridge and Blake and Diderot pointed out some pretty egregious pitfalls in the roads mankind were taking, and thanks be to them for it. Who else but the thinkers and poets and painters do such a thorough and graphic job of reflecting back the failings of human nature? And the triumphs, too, because of course it wasn’t all blood in the streets and soot covered children. It was progression.

This is a most brilliantly done exploration of a time that abruptly and sometimes violently pushed society forward, right into the place we now find ourselves. It’s helpful to know how we got here, and perhaps gives us a glimpse of, or at least an inkling about, where we’re headed.

i sing the body electric

Whitman-leavesofgrassI recently watched a wonderful biography of Walt Whitman (American Masters). I knew beforehand about the significance of his lifelong work, Leaves of Grass, but I didn’t know anything about Whitman outside of what he presented through his poetry. He is the inspirational icon we all need, and this is why.

He came from a lower middleclass background, with little to inspire hope for something more. His father had big dreams, but became more and more bitter and unbalanced as he continually failed to fulfil them. He wasn’t a good example of perseverance and grace in the face of setbacks. But it didn’t discourage Walt. He maintained his own visions of success, incredibly lofty ones.

As a young man, he marched into the middle of New York with the idea of changing the world through his poetry. What? Really? Who the hell thinks they have the ability, much less the opportunity, to change the world through verse? Walt did. And though it took a lot longer than he had hoped, he did end up making a huge impact. Perhaps not world-changing, but certainly inspiring and thought provoking and incredibly forward thinking.

His first edition of Leaves of Grass was a small collection of poems, self published, with an irreverent full body sketch of Whitman in plain clothes and an almost cocky stance as the first visual. It was a “here I am” presentation that went directly opposite of the usual portraits of poets in their best clothes, and looking dignified in a cameo sort of way. It was a proper warning for what the reader could expect.

His poems gave the same full exposure to the workings of the human animal, mind, body, and spirit. There especially was a great focus on the body, the beauty of its functions, and how cleverly bodies fit together to precisely express what it is to be emotional, sensual, physical. And he didn’t hold back on claiming the same sensations, the same achievements of physical fulfilment between a man and a man. Whoa. In 1855, that took some great big balls. But if anyone was packing, it was the poet of the people, Walt Whitman.

The sheer force of the sensual experiences that he put forth – sensual in every possible connotation – brought tears to my eyes. Because how does a person live so boldly, so all-embracing, so fully engaged with the world? It would tear me apart to attempt such a thing. But his full-on embrace was the driving force behind his belief that he could be the Great American Poet, that he could put an end to the ills of mankind, including slavery, through his words. That he could so beautifully express love in all its varieties, and the sensuality of the grass beneath our feet, and the sky above our heads, and how fortunate we are to be surrounded by innumerable opportunities to engage our senses.

If that isn’t the world-changing model of how we should grab on and experience life – not just as observers, but as wholly committed participants… why finish that thought? It unequivocally is.

to be or not to be

How do we feel about author information? Authors are like painters and sculptors and filmmakers – they are not inseparably joined to the art, not physically. Not knowing who the artist is doesn’t detract from the significance of the piece. And I argue that at times, it’s preferable not to know. The freedom to be completely absorbed in the experience without intrusion. Yes, sometimes the artists are the intruders.

Does it matter that Caravaggio was an asshole or Truman Capote a sly little drunkard? Perhaps. Perhaps not. At least not at this point. Were Caravaggio alive today, we might have another view of his destructive, murderous temper. Distance can seal the gap.

And then there are the instances of a work being enhanced by the physical presence of the creator. Music is like this: people are interested in the performance, not just the music. Popularity of singers and bands often are not judged on the quality of work, but the allure of the presentation. If paintings and books were judged on the attraction of the artist, how many works would be rejected?

Truman Capote’s sensual author picture on the back cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms is what threw that genius of a writer into the spotlight. His work was worthy of attention, but the come hither look of the young author is in part what made the public, well, go hither and read his words. Would his popularity have been affected had it not been for that debut photograph? I’d like to think not. But soon his work was overshadowed by the troubled man beyond the pages.

Henry Miller, who was unmistakably a complete ass, became more charming once I saw an interview with him as a much older gentleman, that took place in his bathroom, of all places. Is he still an asshole? Yes. But now he is a forgivable asshole.

I had both condemned him and forgiven him long ago when I read his words. Words that made me want to slap the piss out of him, and also drew me in to worship. I wanted to lick those words right off the pages, no matter how tainted they were.

So does it matter? Are there forgivable and unforgivable sins? Is there a line to be crossed, a curtain which should be kept drawn? Pay no attention to the artist behind the art. The magic is in the meaning.

writing is self abuse

I’m having a real fight with this third novel. Funny thing is, it’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve undertaken to this point. If I can pull this off, it’ll be a personal triumph. But oh, it’s driving me mad.

There’s much less structure to the underpinnings, I’m looping makeshift constructions around things as I go along. Makes me feel giddy, all of this brazen rule breaking. I just hope I end up with something that others will enjoy as much as I do.

It’s no surprise I wound up here – my favorite authors didn’t write in properly structured prose. I love going off the rails with them, adjusting to their rhythms and being shown a completely different view from sometimes crazily tipped angles. It’s enough to make you dizzy – but we love that, don’t we? We love the amusement of the ride.

I am nowhere near the levels of skill so seemingly easily tossed out by Henry Miller or Kazuo Ishiguro or Jean Paul Sartre. (I couldn’t find anything that gave a good description of The Reprieve, but the whole Roads to Freedom trilogy is remarkable.) I am no possessor of the ballsy bravery James Joyce showed when he said ‘fuck it’ and wrote in the poetic hum and private language of his characters. But god, it makes my mouth water. It’s like looking at the bent and swirled and pulled apart images of Picasso, or the layers upon layers of freeflow drips and spins of Jackson Pollock. To do that with words…. Yeah. That’s a mindgasm, right there.

But now that I’m into it, allowing my characters to drag me this way and that and running after them, trying to structure all of their actions – it’s tough. It’s fricking hard, it leaves me in little writing eddies of kinetic catatonia. Goddamn, it’s fun. I just hope I come through with a bit of sanity intact.