Category: the arts

Michael Christian Martinez: The Wounded Dancer (Olympic Poetry)

By Kwame Dawes
For skater Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines

We skaters arrive wounded, limping, the aches—
beneath the skin you will see the terrible
brutality of what we must do to our bodies.

Ice, we know, is cold, a sharp pain of brittle
light—but ice is hard, it will not give,
it bites back, before melting sardonically.

I leap, torque and flow, my mind whispers,
flight is lifting the weight of the world,
And there are no white rose petals to land upon.

Here in these humid islands, the mall owner
is kind to build a rink, but he thinks the ice is smooth
as glass, slick, even. He would not know

the bubbles and fissures of the uneasy ice,
the physics of crystals, and the way the ankles
twist and contort to hold a smooth line—

come closer, turn off the muzak, listen
to the crunch and yelp of the ice breaking
away against the steel’s bite, and hear the pop

of my bones and the wheeze of all tendons
before the leap—hear the deep grunt
of anticipation as I lift, the body already

alert to the blow of my landing—and only
for that small moment, of clothes flapping,
in the miracle of the second turn; only

then, when the dizzying of lights spinning,
colors hurled at me, in the second of lift
and the yank downwards, only then

can you call my body smiling—then comes
the brute ache, of landing, splintering ice,
ankle howling, such painful, painful beauty.

woody’s woes

Considering how long and how often it has happened, Western culture should find it easy to separate art from artist — to judge a particular work of art apart from the behavior, even reprehensible behavior, of its creator.

The ongoing tragedy of filmmaker Woody Allen and his family suggests maybe it’s not so easy anymore, especially not when everyone and their wacky brother can weigh in on social media. That in turn could affect how Allen’s peers judge his latest Oscar-nominated film, Blue Jasmine, and its Oscar-nominated stars.

the women, especially, are out in full force.  read The Dylan Farrow case and the power of internet 

Yes, you do have the usual clueless old white dudes who are content to recycle the same old sexist slurs. The nuts-and-sluts defense lives! … though in this case it’s being used against Mia rather than Dylan.

But what’s wonderful is that we’ve also heard from women like Ann Friedman,Amanda Marcotte, Katie McDonough, Jessica Winter, Emily McCombs andNatalie Shure. They address the case from different angles, but the one the thing they all have in common is that their writing is grounded in their experience as women, their utilization of feminism as a tool of analysis, and their commitment to challenging rape culture myths.

Back in the 1990s, you never saw very many female opinion columnists writing about these issues — not in most mainstream media outlets, at least. In liberal magazines like The Nation or Mother Jones you could enjoy Katha Pollitt or Molly Ivins, but even in those places, women’s voices were badly outnumbered by men’s. That so many vibrant feminist writers now have platforms on web outlets is a wonderful thing.

woody sure is getting a beating.  barbara walters tried to vouch for him in The View as a loving and caring father, but wow was she was pounced on.  like joyce carol oates twitted after: One might as readily step into the spinning propellors of an airplane as to engage in publicly ‘discussing’ Dylan Farrow/ Woody Allen issue.  oates herself got flak for tweeting : Though Woody Allen has been much denounced, very likely many of his denouncers greatly admire Nabokov’s “Lolita.” No contradiction? and In the Woody Allen case, as in cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the remedy is for the victim to bring suit against the abuser.

to my surprise, even dissident feminist and art scholar camille paglia, who is known to take up the cudgels for men on certain issues, says she is inclined to believe dylan’s letter.  just the same this essay she wrote for Newsday back in 1992, published in Vamps and Tramps (1994), resonates.

Woody Allen Agonistes

Two weeks ago, the discreet twelve-year relationship between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow exploded into public attention in a media firestorm of charges and countercharges. Day after day, screaming headlines documented the revelations: Allen had filed for custody of the couple’s three small children; he had been accused of molestation of one of them in Connecticut; he admitted a sexual liason with Farrow’s adopted Korean daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, whose age has been variously reported as nineteen or twenty-one.

After an initial period of confusion, most sensible people seemed willing ot suspend judgment for the moment on the child abuse charge, in the absence of hard evidence. But on talk shows and in the print media, there was a thunderous chorus of condemnation of Allen for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Family therapists, feminists, and church-going conservatives called it callous, lecherous, incestuous, decadent. Woody Allen, one of feminism’s great white hopes for the ideal “sensitive male,” had flunked out. The lovable nerd was just another leering Nero.

This controversy is a perfect thermometer for taking the temperature of the American psyche. Twenty-five years after the sexual revolution, what have we learned about ourselves? Practically nothing. Contrary to feminist propaganda, we have not found the answer to any important sexual issue. In fact, as the century ends, we have barely begin to pose the questions correctly.

At his press conference two weeks ago, Woody Allen said there is “no logic” to falling in love. This ancient wisdom about the Dionysian irrationality of our emotional lives is documented in the earliest Greek and Roman love poetry. It is a great spiritual truth sadly missing from the ugly, clumsy ideology of current feminism, which is obsessed with social-welfare cliches of oppression, victimization and “care-giving.”

Woody Allen is an artist. To whom does he owe ultimate responsibility? Since Romanticism, we have expected the artist not to celebrate God, king, family, and established values but to break taboos, to explore his or her deepest, most socially forbidden self. Though his films have weakened recently, Allen is one of the central analysts of contemporary American manners and sexual experience. It is outrageous that therapists, bystanders, and pundits of every stripe have used this painful crisis to strike hysterical poses of moral superiority over him.

Picasso, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Madonna, Robert Mapplethorpe: during the past decade, each of these important artists has been denounced by holier-than-thou groups, from feminists to the Moral Majority, for their unsettling themes or bohemian lifestyles. This provincial American abuse of artists must end. Neither art nor the artist will ever conform to bourgeois decorum or tidy moral codes. Originality is by definition rule-breaking.

Allen’s films, like Bananas, Love and Death, and Annie Hall, often show the comic inadequacy of words, reason, or good intentions to deal with the storminess of sex and love. In Broadway Danny Rose, he himself plays a gentle, earnest, compassionate bumbler overwhelmed by a flamboyant, vengeful Italian firecracker, wonderfully portrayed by Mia Farrow.

Farrow seems to have carried this unexpected flair for Italian theatricality into her present life drama, in which she has managed to exert maximum power while deftly avoiding overt public statements. Dispatching a host of adult and pint-sized proxies as skillfully as Shakespeare’s volatile Cleopatra, Farrow has fused Puccini heroines: she is both the pining, abandoned mother, Madame Butterfly, and the tempestuous, jealous diva, Tosca, who uses any weapon that comes to hand.

There has been an undertone of perversity or kinkiness in Farrow’s sexual personae from the start of her career. Her May/December marriage to Frank Sinatra still astonishes. Who can forget the first yacht-deck photo of the hard-bitten casino roue next to the androgynous gossamer waif? (Sinatra’s ex, Ava Gardner, snapped, “I always knew Frank would end up with a boy.”) In Secret Ceremony Farrow played a delusional girl-woman projecting a homoerotic incest fantasy onto a very patient Elizabeth Taylor. In Rosemary’s Baby she fought for her pregnancy against the forces of darkness and oddly nosy neighbors on Central Park West.

Motherhood is a far more complex phenomenon than the current brand of neat-as-pie yuppie feminism admits. Motherhood may unleash primal instincts for possession and territoriality beyond morality. Hovering vulturelike over the whole affair is Farrow’s dowager queen mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, hurling Junoesque thunderbolts at Allen (in her words, an “evil” man) from her stronghold on the West Coast. Farrow’s sprawling, multiracial household is in its own way tribal and matriarchal.

Allen is being impugned as an “immature” satyr with a Lolita fixation, like those other small-statured collectors of nymphets, Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski. The pursuit of youth and beauty has also been an integral part of highly accomplished gay male life for centuries. Allen has the right to seek his muse wherever he may find her. The quiet, dreamy Soon-Yi, paternalistically trashed by the bleeding-heart commentators as “helpless,” “passive,” and “naive,” may represent simplicity and emotional truth to Allen. Such insights, even if transient, are priceless to an artist.

Is it incest? Legally, no. Psychologically, yes. But incest is a universal theme in a world mythology that we have never come to terms with. Doing the research for Sexual Personae, I was stunned at the frequency of incest in Romantic literature. And incest permeates the two greatest plays ever written, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality is a century old, yet it remains unabsorbed. Most parents could not function at home if they fully accepted their children’s sexuality. Our horrified fascination with the Allen/Farrow scandal comes partly from our own repressions. Similarly, the child-abuse witch-hunts focusing on day-care centers in recent years are baseless hallucinations, eruptions from our vestigial Anglo-Saxon puritanism.

Woody Allen’s love life began in the shadow of the potent Jewish mother, then evolved through brunette and blonde shiksa goddesses to an Asian Mona Lisa. Thus it is ironic that he who moved so far romantically from his Jewish roots should still end up accused of incest. Like Oedipus, he could not escape his fate.

This sorry episode in the showbiz chronicles has much to teach us. Don’t send your Valentines with a Betty Crocker stamp. Cruelty and brutality lie just beneath the surface of love. Intimacy and incest may be psychologically intertwined. Power relations may generate eroticism. Perhaps – bad news for sexual harassment rules – hierarchy can never be completely desexed.

At his press conference, Woody Allen looked haggard and rumpled, like a graduate student flushed out of an all-night study session. In giving anguished testimony about the mystery, compulsion, and folly of sexual attraction, he has recovered and renewed his cultural status: the artist as scapegoat, illuminating our lives through his own suffering.


not a santi bose

on page 55 of the catalogue of Leon Gallery’s “MAGNIFICENT September Auction” (tomorrow, AIM Conference Center) is listed a painting attributed, and wrongfully, to Santiago Bose.  read his daughter Lille’s blogpost:  Is it Art, or is it Fart?


Caparas vs Almario: Round 1

By Katrina Stuart Santiago

The truth is, it is nothing but funny, at least to me: what the f is wrong with these National Artists?

And I do mean both Carlo Caparas and Virgilio Almario, going at it on cable television, in an interview that both of them seemed unprepared for. Caparas falls back on meeting up with Almario “sa kanto,” at the same time that Almario screams in exasperation: “Sinipa rin ako sa gobyerno nung naging National Artist ako!”

I say: what a shame. To the National Artist award as an institution, and to the national discourse on culture, both. Because there was nothing intelligent or decent about that conversation, which had nothing to do with what it is that either of them are National Artists for. It has everything to do with how messed up we are about culture in this country, and how we are in over our heads most of the time.

That goes for these two National Artists, going all Round 1 on us on television.

The ghost of Gloria

The truth is, I also do not care for having (had) Caparas as National Artist; I don’t think he deserves it just yet, I do think there are other comics creators who deserve it ahead of him. And yet it is also true that the National Artist Award, as an institution, has always been put into question by the fact of presidents adding to the list of names that the NAA Jury submits to Malacañang.

Say, Fidel Ramos creating the category of Historical Literature to include Carlos Quirino in 1997, Joseph Estrada adding his friend and composer Ernani Cuenco Sr. in 2000, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo adding Alejandro Roces and Abdulmari Imao in 2006. And yes, GMA’s addition of four names to the NAA Jury’s original four: Caparas, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Pitoy Moreno and Francisco Mañosa in 2009.

Now it is said that the latter was utterly unacceptable because GMA also dared do what no president had done before: remove someone from the legitimate NAA Jury list, that is, Ramon Santos.

Had she not removed Santos from that list, would this case against those four additional names have been brought to court? If we are to believe National Artist for Literature Almario, the answer would be yes. Because that case was all about saving the NAA, asserting that it is an institution that no President can meddle with in the way GMA did.

Which is what way exactly? Apparently the way of adding four names unilaterally, and deciding against the list submitted to Malacañang by the NAA Jury. The Supreme Court decision in favor of Almario et al says:

“ manifest disregard of the rules, guidelines and processes of the NCCA and CCP was an arbitrary act that unduly favored respondents Guidote-Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno,” and as such “The conferment of the Order of National Artists to said respondents was therefore made with grave abuse of discretion and should be set aside.”?

This of course begs the question: so four additional names is grave abuse of discretion, but an additional one, or two, isn’t?

Almario would say: nilakad ‘yon eh. Which is to ask, too: so the Ramos, Erap and GMA’s 2006 additions to the NAA Jury list weren’t “nilakad”?

At the very least, I expected that the SC’s nullification of GMA’s choices would also mean that Santos – the person she removed from the legitimate NAA Jury list – can finally be given the award he so deserves. But alas, he will not join the other National Artists for 2009 – Lazaro Francisco, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz and Manuel Conde – because according to the SC, “the President had the authority to alter or modify or nullify or set aside such recommendation or advice.”

In effect, while the SC has decided against GMA’s decision to include Caparas et al in that 2009 list, they respect her decision to exclude Santos.

Which is to say this: if the goal is to prove that the NAA is about a credible jury and process that decide on who deserves to be part of this elite roster of artists, then the continued exclusion of Santos is still about the ghost of Gloria hovering over this process.

Caparas’ bark, Almario’s bite

The notion that this SC decision now rids the National Artist Award of politics and politicking is naïve at best. There is nothing apolitical about the NAA, at all. For one thing, it is a government-conferred award; for another, its process is one that’s within the cultural institutions of the State. It is imbued as such with the questionable practices of government in general, and government’s notions of culture in particular.

On an even more superficial level, the NAA is actually embroiled in this glaring inconsistency: on the one hand the laws say the NAA Jury “shall advice the President on the conferment of the Order of National Artists,” which does give the President the opportunity to refuse the advice; on the other hand, the NCCA’s published guidelines for the Order of the National Artists state that “The list of awardees shall be submitted to the President of the Republic of the Philippines for confirmation, proclamation and conferral,” which presumes that the President will merely act on the advice of the NAA Jury.

Caparas is holding on to the fact that his awarding was borne of a presidential prerogative, that he is mere recipient of an award that GMA had the right to give him; Almario insists – and the Supreme Court agrees – that this was not merely about the president’s prerogative, as it was about disregarding the process and rules of the NAA itself.

Given how they are holding onto two very different sets of rules, on that fateful morning when Caparas and Almario treated us to round one of this bout, it was clear how half the time they were shadow boxing, throwing punches in the air, not really hitting each other.

Unless of course we are to consider Caparas hitting the NAA as institution, given articulations that were in many instances en pointe, to which Almario responded without the critical backbone we would know him to have.

Say, when Caparas asks the rhetorical questions: “Ano ba ang nakahihigit? Yung prerogative ng Presidente o reklamo ng maliit na grupo? <…> “Gaano karaming National Artists ang nanggaling sa grupo nila, sa barkada nila? ‘Yan ang maling proseso, na halos lahat ng nagiging Pambansang Alagad ng Sining galing sa hanay nila.

The right response would’ve been for Almario to talk about this presidential prerogative versus the process of choosing the National Artist for any given year. The right response would’ve been to talk about patronage politics, how it can only play a part in the NAA process which Almario holds sacred, and how it might be disavowed, too, by this process of selection.

But all Almario could talk about was how the proclamation of Caparas was an act that messes with this process: “Parang binababoy nila yung buong proseso. Para bang ngayon, kung masusunod yung kanilang ginawa parang walang kwenta na yung maghirap ka sa deliberation. Pumunta ka lang sa Malacañang, maglakad doon at pwede ka nang maging National Artist. That is not honorable, I think.”

I’d throw in the question of why it might be held honorable that Santos’ exclusion by GMA be respected, but not her inclusion of Caparas etal., but that might be to rain on Almario’s parade, having won this case and all. Then again, the critique of patronage and barkadahan is a valid one for all of local culture, and it would’ve been great to hear Almario talking about how NAA deliberations are affected if not informed by it, but how institutions like this one persist and survive because these have a function because these have value.

Instead all he says is, “Mina-malign niya lahat ng National Artists dahil lang sa sa kanyang sama ng loob. Bakit di n’ya patunayan na magkakabarkada lahat kung ‘di kinuyog siya ng lehitimong artist at manunulat?”

It was clear by Almario’s tone that he was beyond all these, he was beyond this discussion and wasn’t really quite giving it the time of day, even as he agreed to be part of this very public bout. This might also be why Caparas could go on and on about how Almario was just envious of him, and how this is about who and whose works are more popular, on a national scale.

Almario dismisses these and says that the case wasn’t about Caparas’ body of work, as it was about the way in which he was given the award. And yet, in the the 2009 speech he wrote on Caparas and his assertions about popular literature, Almario asserted that the idea of writing “to entertain the masses” is the most “despicable purpose of writing <…> as filthy and as evil-smelling as the capitalist motive of profiting from anything sold.”

(“Aliwin ang masa”? Ito ang isang karima-rimarim na hangarin sa pagsulat. Kasindumi at kasimbahò ng motibong kapitalista na pagkakitahan ang anumang ibenta.”)

Isn’t Almario already drawing the line here, between popular literature and culture, and the literary and cultural establishment? Isn’t it that when Almario says there’s such a thing as “legitimate artists and writers” he is in fact also saying that there are artists like Caparas, and then there are artists like him and the other National Artists?

This kind of distancing is exactly all that Caparas needs to throw some punches that actually hit Almario, the NAA, and the cultural establishment. Because after he takes on the questions of patronage and the discrimination against popular culture, Caparas goes on to question Almario’s role as a member of government vis a vis his being National Artist, hitting at the cultural establishment’s rarely discussed dysfunction. That is, what happens to our notion of the artist – of the National Artist – when artists and cultural workers themselves become government employees that police culture, and who will have their hands tied when it comes to speaking about the more critical political issues of the day?

What is a nation when artists, declared National and otherwise, are indebted to, and colored by, the prevailing discourse of government?

Caparas says of Almario: “Tingnan mo, alagad ka ng sining naglilingkod ka sa gobyerno. Isipin mo, kung alagad ka ng sining dapat may kalayaan ka, na walang sumasakop sa iyo.”

Round 1 goes to Caparas.