Review: The Chalk Circle by Tara L. Masih, Ed.

13561800This polished collection of prize-winning essays is a result of a call the editor Tara L. Masih placed in 2007 for intercultural essays dealing with subjects of culture, race and sense of place.  Masih is a dedicated writer and editor whose work (herself a Native Indian American raised in New York) is deeply concerned with intercultural relations.  The Chalk Circle collection reflects many complex issues of this seemingly shrinking world and its many cultures.  Through arranging the particular essays into comprehensible chapters – each dealing with a different issue, Masih shows keen insight in intercultural relations and what it means to be “the other”.

The mere fact that the authors are people of different backgrounds inevitably supports the mosaic design of the collection, but is by far not the only element of diversity.  Topics vary from sense of place, self-identity, war and race, to encountering “the other”, being “the other” and spirituality, all while being neatly arranged into seven easily manageable topical “bites”.  This collection is an extensive what-if game that authors play with both the reader and themselves: what if things had been different?  What if circumstances changed?  What if roles were reversed?  What if identity is more complex than we think? Read More

Review: Karate Chop by Dorothe Nors

41otnj0t5kl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The short stories in Dorothe Nors’ collection Karate Chop speak to the depths we lock away inside ourselves.  Together they form a brief but profound exploration of our interior lives under modernity; a sweeping survey of our own unspoken inner landscapes.

As I read this book I could not help but imagine a stone well.  I felt something a little cold, and endlessly deep.  I pictured someone boring a hole through solid bedrock.  I thought of water rushing where no one could see it.

Dorothe Nors writes beautiful prose.  Maybe that is where we should start. Her text feels cultivated, honed.  Pruned to perfection.  Nors is a writer that knows how to craft a sentence.  No part of it seems out of place.  Every word adds to the overall effect of its respective narrative, and the fact that the arc of these narratives feel largely unstructured, almost improvised—Nors actually drafted the entire collection over the course of two weeks—makes their obvious precision on a sentence-by-sentence level all the more impressive.  There is abundance here, but no mess. Read More

Review: Empty Streets by Michal Ajvaz

Empty_Streets_AI_cover
Courtesy of Dalkeyarchive.com

Michal Ajvaz’s Empty Streets is less a novel than it is a 500 page torrent of ideas, a wild outpouring of pure imagination.  This is a love letter to the strange and unexpected; part-detective story, part-excavation of a city’s long buried dream life.  Like the mysterious symbol that lies in the center of its multiple branching narratives, it seems to spill in all different directions at once.  This is an aggressively bizarre work of fiction, one that seems unconcerned with traditional modes of storytelling.  It runs the gamut in terms of narrative form and style, sending the reader spinning from one story to the next.

It’s a wild, often unwieldy book, and all the better for it.  I can think of few dreamscapes in which I’d rather spend my time.

The novel begins with what is effectively a frame narrative.  Our narrator is a nameless author struggling his way through an ungovernable case of writer’s block.  One day, in an attempt to avoid the writing that torments him so, he goes for a long walk that takes him through a local rubbish dump.  He accidentally steps on a wooden object half-buried beneath the mess, some kind of carving in the shape of a double trident.  Immediately the object stirs something in our narrator. He is beset with questions he can’t answer.  What’s this strange artifact?  Could it be a tool?  Some kind of abstract artwork?  Where did this double trident come from, and what, if anything, does it mean? Read More

Art: Roni Horn, Discovering the Identity in Multiplicity and Dichotomy

Courtesy of wmagazine.com
Courtesy of wmagazine.com

I love the idea that no matter how obvious something could be, or transparent, there is still room for doubt. It is really interesting that transparency is not as transparent as you think.

These words of Roni Horn rang in my ears like a discovery of a hidden cabala.  Within the walls of this contemporary art museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands, I experienced a journey of identity, ambiguity, and singularity through recurrent colours, words and photographs.

There is a harmony between Horn and her minimalist art.  Born in 1955, New York, where she still lives and works, she combines photography, sculpture and language.  She creates a vivid glance to her life whereby I also get a glimpse of mine.  Her questioning about the concept of identity leads me to explore along with her my own identity.  Her androgynous look, with sharp blue eyes is in perfect accordance with this exploration.  “When you see your reflection in water, do you recognize the water in you?” (2010) she asks in ‘one of the destinations of your journey’ through shapes, colours and words.

Courtesy of depont.nl
Courtesy of depont.nl

The journey begins in a long, time-warping corridor, with a 70 meters long wall on one side, on which her famous work of photographic series A.K.A (2008-2009) takes place; while small rooms resembling minimalistic caves accompany on the other side.  This highly successful installation creates a sense of a wormhole, where step by step, Roni Horn’s “selfless” self-portraits of various ages are paired on the wall, and they guide me while I go in and out the small rooms.  All the artworks are in a concordance, part of a whole, like chapters of a certain story.  In these rooms, the installation consciously helps to create the unity with all of her artworks.

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Art Review: Outside[,] the Frames

In the Chaillot neighborhood of Paris on Saturday mornings, there’s usually an outdoor “marché” along Avenue President Wilson between the avenues d’Iéna and Marceau.  It’s a quintessentially French affair filled with wines, cheeses, meats, poultries, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as a sumptuous variety of prepared foods.  The smells are intoxicating and the event is always lively and full of good cheer.  My husband and I knew it was not likely to be open the morning after the terrorist attacks in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, but we went anyway just hoping to be around others and not be so isolated within the confines of our apartment, in [fear] [sadness] [resignation] [(all of the above)].

2015-11-16 14.37.06As we suspected, the marché didn’t take place, but still feeling the need to be out, we headed down President Wilson.  We came to the Palais de Tokio, alongside which there’s a staircase that leads down to some streets adjacent to the Seine.  Having just recently moved to this neighborhood, we hadn’t noticed this area before and went to explore.  Directly at the bottom of the staircase is Rue de la Manutention which after a short block ends in Port Debily on the Seine.  There is a small bridge there called the Pasarelle Debily that crosses the river and leaves you in front of the Museé de Quai Branly.  The Quai Branly is a promenade along the south bank of the Seine, very close to the Eiffel Tower, where we discovered an outdoor installation of photography called We Are Family. Read More

Book Review: Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

Written by Brazilian theologian, Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor opens by reminding its readers of a somber reality—mother-earth is sick.  This diagnosis is not due to some geophysical phenomenon ordained to destroy our terrestrial homeland from its deepest innards beyond the stratosphere.  Contemporary, western notions of progress have long skirted our holistic entity—animal-nature-earth-cosmos—in favor of gilded economics and politics, fast-tracking the devastation of life-sustaining elements.

 

9781570751363Boff explains how Liberation Theology provides a religious inspired antithesis to a hyper-capitalist state of affairs benefitting, first and foremost, an elite minority class.  He proposes that the same socioeconomic malfeasances jeopardizing life on earth are also responsible for plunging hordes of humans into a state of perpetual suffering and poverty.  This is the point where his two distinct arguments—ecological awareness and poverty—merge.  Modern (consumerist) civilization, defined and promoted by a conglomerate of western nations, has proven to be a predatory archetype that disproportionately extracts the fruits of mother-earth, debilitating and throwing off-track her perfected equilibrium.  Also, the same human hand of modernity has created a world where a poverty stricken majority must contend for scraps left by an elite, wealthy minority.  According to Boff, this antisocial panorama is the result of individual and collective disassociations to nature, a failure in creativity by modern societies to nurture people who view themselves as being parts of a greater whole.  No longer treated with reverence and care, the world beyond the human body, inevitably, decays rapidly.

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Eliot’s: Prufrock & Other Observations (Part 1)

T.S. EliotPrufrock & Other Observations is a thin volume of T.S. Eliot’s first poetry collection, which is perfect in is own way because what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up in quality.  The poems are difficult to understand and they require close reading, contextual information is certainly helpful, too.  The difficulty is not necessarily pretentious – depending on your definition of what constitutes pretentious literature – but a result of several influences on Eliot.  This early collection is influenced by the French Symbolists, particularly the poetry of Jules Laforgue, whom Eliot borrows heavily from in terms of technique and subject matter.  But the influences go further, the philosophy of Henri Bergson on space and time, as well as by Ezra Pound’s and F. S. Flint’s Imagism.

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Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe

Hopes and ImpedimentsWhere does one begin with the mesmerizing writings of Achebe?  Perhaps with his magical formula:

Simple English + Intellectual Insight + Close Analysis = Beautiful Writing

I think this sums him up, not only of this essay collection, but of his fiction as well.  The 14 essays that make up Hopes and Impediments are primarily from reviews first published in well-known literary magazines or lectures given at universities.  The style is so accessible that even at 170 pages, the book is a quick read.  It would be an added bonus to be interested in African literature or on any of the authors discussed in the reviews, but this is in no way a prerequisite.

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