Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Thought Through My Eyes": Epilogue, Part 1


"Everything that terrifies others delights me, the fears and phantasms that others commonly carefully repress are to me so many fresh sources for my critical intelligence, but one would have to be far more foolish than I to try to analyze the complexity of my intentions and motivations. I who live them am far from understanding all about them! Fortunately, there are still my works which, subjected to the most objective examination, allow some of the truths I have been dredging up from the depths to come through."
-Salvador Dali (The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali, p. 141)
At the top of this post is the cover for the presentation/paper I delivered at the James Joyce Conference two weeks ago. The drawing is from Salvador Dali's book The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (which features prominently in my study) and it was put together by my girlfriend's dad, Luther, a highly talented graphic designer. The talk that I gave in Pasadena was just a very basic overview of the material in the paper. The full version is available in a 17-page booklet format with color images so if you'd like one of those just let me know and I can mail you one.

The essence of my paper is an analysis of Salvador Dali's The Temptation of St. Anthony showing that the material in the painting bears a striking resemblance to the symbols and structure of Joyce's first novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Then I go on to explore whether Dali ever explicitly acknowledged any Joyce influence (or vice versa) and what this interpretation of the painting means, concluding with a look at Jacques Lacan's role as "shoelace" tying together Joyce, Dali, and my new interpretation of the painting.

What I'd like to do here is present some of the left-over material that didn't make it into the final version of the paper and also (in Part 2) discuss the meaning of the title which, unfortunately, I didn't really get to touch on at all in the paper. In the interest of graciously acknowledging all of my sources, I will also go through most of the books and scholarly stuff I used in my research (this will be Part 3) and point out some of the material one should seek to study if they have any further interest in this stuff.

Image drawn at the top of a chapter in Dali's book The Secret Life.
So, in analyzing the painting, the first thing I looked at is that tiny image in the very center amid the elephant legs showing what appears to be a parent with child and, as I tried to show, this is Dali himself as a young child, an image of his earliest memories and experiences. What I didn't get to mention is that this is a frequent motif in Dali's paintings from around this era (1930s-40s), as you can see from these examples.

Atavistic Ruins After the Rain (1934)
And (as in the St. Anthony painting) much smaller, barely visible here:
Geological Development (1933)
The Ambivalent Image (1933)

Here are a couple more instances of this motif appearing, this time in two of Dali's works that incorporate the elements from Jean-Francois Millet's Angelus which Dali became obsessed with.
Archaeological Reminscence of Millet's Angelus (1935)
The Architectonic Angelus of Millet (1933)
The Angelus
As a child going to school, there was an image of Millet's The Angelus hanging on the wall just outside the classroom door and young Salvador would stare at it until it was branded on his brain. As you can see, he was prone to incorporate this image or its likeness into his work. In the 1930s, when penning numerous articles and essays on his developing paranoiac-critical method (one of which I've published on this blog before) he composed a paranoiac study of The Angelus in which he asserted a whole new and different meaning behind the painting. One of his assertions was that the man and woman in the scene (to the right) are standing over the buried body of their child. In 1963, the laboratory at the Louvre actually x-rayed the original painting and saw that there was originally what looks like a casket at the mother's feet but it had been painted over by Millet.

Unfortunately, there's no way to x-ray The Temptation of St. Anthony to see if my interpretation of it is accurate but I did confirm that the meanings I perceived within the painting were apprehended, witnessed, or "thought through my eyes" in a process exactly like Dali's paranoiac-critical method. I did manage to magnify and zoom into some of the smaller elements in the painting and the autobiographic aspect of my interpretation is, as I've showed, justified by just taking a look at the images in Dali's wonderful and illustrated autobiography entitled The Secret Life of Salvador Dali.

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hot as a Texas Summer

With a few lengthy but unfinished posts clogging up the pipeline, I might as well take a break and talk a little bit about the Mets and my first live baseball experience of 2011.

I went to sleep last Friday night undecided on whether or not it would be worth driving a total of 7 hours by myself back and forth to Arlington to watch the visiting New York Mets play the Texas Rangers on Saturday. When I awoke Saturday morning I couldn't recall my dreams but there were baseball images, players, scenes, thoughts left over in my mind and I realized my unconscious mind had made the decision for me.

I quickly prepared some long-drive materials (music, snacks, directions, places to eat on the way) and hit the road. After over 3 hours of driving through a boring flat landscape, I got closer to Arlington and was driving on single-lane roads through farms with haystacks, horses, and cows. Finally I saw the huge ballpark's castle-like outer walls. As I approached, I was confronted by an imposing, enormous bulb that looked exactly like a spaceship had landed and settled in the grass. I later realized it was the gaudy new Dallas Cowboys stadium.

I entered the Ballpark in Arlington through its centerfield gate and the place was packed though surprisingly pretty easy to maneuver around. I picked up a scorecard and searched in vain for a pen to use. In the process, I didn't come away with a pen but did encounter the strongest Texas accents I've ever heard.  The game had already begun and when I peeked out at the bright emerald expanse there was Carlos Beltran standing at third and the Mets had already tacked on 2 runs before recording an out (Beltran had brought in both runs with a triple). It seemed my long drive would be rewarded with, at the very least, a competitive effort from the New York nine.

When I reached my seat in the middle of the right field grandstand, it was already 3-0 Mets and the sweaty crowd around me was getting annoyed. In a row of 16 seats I had to maneuver past everybody to sit in the 8th seat and I sat next to a lovely woman who was at the game with her family, she even let me borrow her pen (a pink "girly pen" she warned) to keep score for the whole game and we chatted it up through the ebbs and flows of the game.

Here's the view I had:


The Mets went down quickly in the 2nd inning but then knocked in another 3 runs in the third to take a commanding 6-0 lead. I was jubilant after my team's aggressive start but I was also by this point soaking in (literally, it was around 100 degrees) my surroundings and having old memories of admiring this park on television over the years. It was infamous for "it ain't over til it's over" kind of games because the sweltering Texas air allows the ball to fly out of the park easily. Sure enough, Mets starter Jonathsn Niese gave up back-to-back homers the next inning and the big lead was cut to 6-2. Then came the 6th inning.

I've been going to Mets games for about 10 years now and there were a few years in NY when I managed to get to about 10 games a year. I can't remember ever witnessing as unrelenting an offensive onslaught as they executed in that 6th inning. The first 8 batters of the inning reached base before an out was recorded. By the end of the inning they had blown the game open with 8 more runs, making the score 14-2! I literally could not have imagined a more satisfying performance from my favorite team.

With the game essentially out of hand, I decided to get up out of my seat and walk around the premises a bit. I ended up sitting at the very top of the stadium, up in the last row deep in left field. I could see off in the distant horizon the cluster of towers that make up the city of Dallas and, to the west, a smaller cluster making up Fort Worth. Beyond the ballpark walls I could see the domed top of the Cowboys stadium gleaming. To my right, a cowboy with sunglasses was guzzling a Coors Light with crushed cans of the same scattered around him. Way down below, the Mets closed out a big victory and I sat for a moment pondering the vastness of Texas. The ride home was unbearably bland and filled with lonely farmland as I stared in stupefied surprise at some of the rural flat emptiness in the vicinity of one of the planet's largest and most expensive super stadiums.

*   *   *

Over the years, when I would play baseball video games and watch nationally televised ballgames, I had always looked upon the Ballpark in Arlington as one of those really cool stadiums with its own unique characteristics and game-altering aura but I could never picture it as an actual destination for viewing a game. I could never picture myself ending up in the heart of Texas watching a baseball game (where the crowd actually sung "Deep in the Heart of Texas"!). Now, here I am and there I was.

Having ticked another ballpark off my list, I've been considering other parks that I may or may not end up attending in the future. I find it hard to envision a scenario where I would end up seeing a game in Detroit's Comerica Park. I have never been to the city of Detroit and don't foresee myself going there in the near future although, with it's rich musical history (and my current favorite musicians present there), there's always a possibility I'll stop by.

After laying two consecutive whoopings on the Rangers, the Mets now find themselves in Motown facing another first place American League team, the Tigers. With my personal favorite AL team, the Oakland A's, tanking yet again this year I'd been searching for another junior circuit squad to root for and I've developed an interest in this Tigers team. As I discussed in my team previews, they are built to be a very top heavy team but so far this year their lineup has gotten strong contributions from hitters not named Miguel Cabrera. I loved the Victor Martinez signing and V-Mart is hitting as well as ever (.336/.385/.498 AVG/OBP/SLG) but they've also seen catcher Alex Avila come into his own as a major league hitter this year (at the age of 24) putting up perhaps the best offensive season by a catcher in all of baseball. The other surprises are Brennan Boesch (136 OPS+) who most analysts expected to collapse after his sudden ascent last year and the former failed prospect Jhonny Peralta who's having a career year (.311/.360/.531) at the age of 29. Their only problem is that, other than those five guys, nobody else has hit even close to the league average. (It also bothers me to see manager Jim Leyland continue to pencil in three of his worst hitters atop the batting order while putting all five of his legit sluggers further down.)

Peralta, who'd always been considered a poor shortstop for a lack of range (he was even moved over to third base while still with his original team, the Cleveland Indians), seems to be holding his own out on defense and speedy sophomore centerfielder Austin Jackson is covering the vast Detroit middle pastures more than adequately as well so their defense remains reliably solid.

In the rotation, Justin Verlander has been one of the best pitchers in baseball and the Mets will have to face him on Thursday, but the rest of the staff hasn't been all that good. I expected young righty Max Scherzer to take a big step forward this year but he's kind of been treading water thus far.  The bullpen has some good arms on the back end (including one of my favorite new ballplayer names, Al Albuquerque) but they've also got some ridiculously bad walk rates on that staff. The closer Jose Valverde walks nearly five men per 9 innings and there are two other relievers (Albuquerque and Daniel Schlereth) walking over six batters per 9. 

As I type this, the Mets are in the middle of yet another offensive outburst with two grand slams against the Tigers already and 13 runs total. I imagine they'll probably continue the streak of making pitchers cry tomorrow when they face lefty Phil Coke who, despite having a birthday within one day of my own, kinda sucks. I'd be surprised and delighted if the runs continue to pour in against Verlander, though.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Retrospective Arrangement of Thoughts

Dali's "architecture of eternity" sketching
It's about time I resuscitate this blog after nearly a month of silence. My absence was due, as I've frequently mentioned, to the completion of my paper on James Joyce and Salvador Dali as well as the visual presentation material that I delivered to a group of about 25 people this past Thursday morning at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. My paper, entitled "Thought Through My Eyes: A Portrait of the Artist as a Dali Painting" was well-received; everybody seemed to enjoy it and I got plenty of positive feedback from folks. Having not endured public speaking for nearly four years, I somehow managed to avoid spontaneously combusting. In fact, I think I did pretty well.

The Joyce Conference overall was fun, though a bit mentally taxing (which is to be expected). Everybody I met was very nice to me and the whole group of Joyceans were very welcoming and appreciative that a young, non-academic like me was there to present my work. I did feel a little bit out of place at times, especially since most people would ask "so where are you from?" upon introduction, expecting to hear what university I teach (or go to grad school) at but not only am I independent of any university, I've also bounced around three time zones the last three and a half years. So, my answer was always complicated. Nevertheless, I made some friends and had a good time with everyone, getting to hang out with folks from all over the globe (Denmark, Australia, UK, Canada, Japan, to name a few).

One of the more interesting individuals there was an Australian named Jaya Savige who, as I realized earlier today from Googling him, is an award-winning poet attending Cambridge University on a full scholarship. One night, while gripping a glass of some sort of hard liquor, he told a memorable story about confronting Bill Gates on capitalism to the point where the bajillionaire Microsoft man accused him of being a "Stalinist." The story becomes all the more comical when you read that Savige is in fact a Gates Scholar, receiving the rare $100K scholarship grant to attend Cambridge for free.

Throughout the four day conference, the most captivating things I witnessed were:

1. Adam Harvey's mind-blowing performance of the Mookse and the Gripes story from Finnegans Wake, reciting with great dramatic emphasis the entire 15-page selection from memory. As far as I know, it was the only thing in the conference that achieved a standing ovation.

2. Actress Fionnula Flanagan's recitation of the short story "Counterparts" as well as the discussion afterwards. The Dubliners story, about a man who slips out of work for a quick beer, gets berated by his boss, gets drunk after work, loses a barroom arm-wrestling match and then beats up his son, was emotionally striking and she performed it extremely well. Afterwards, the white-haired (but beautiful) Irish woman discussed how important the story is to her because of the realness of it, mentioning "the sickness of my nation: alcoholism," and reflecting on why she feels it's the greatest short story ever written.

3. The closing ceremony, an outdoor dinner in the middle of a beautiful old Spanish-style villa on the campus of Caltech (right underneath the windows of a room where Albert Einstein lived for a while) in which two old songs that appear in Portrait and Ulysses were sung. I had never really thought I would enjoy hearing these old songs but the magical alchemy of the evening managed to lift me off the earth momentarily. Particularly, the song sung acapella (and with no microphone) by Patrick Reilly of the CUNY Graduate Center entered me into a trance, the undulating tones of human chords making me feel as though my beating heart were a uvula dangling alone in the universe amidst the entire vibrating energy of existence. Yup, it was that good. (The song is an old ballad called "Love is Pleasin', Love is Teasin'.")

4. Some of the academic papers I enjoyed were: Jeffrey Drouin's talk on Joyce as "The Einstein of English Fiction"; Benjamin Boysen's takedown of Jacques Lacan entitled "When the Psychiatrist Needs a Psychiatrist"; Tim Martin talking about Ulysses as an elegy; Mark Osteen on the "Handiwork of Portrait"; and Sheldon Brivic's paper on "Ulysses and Badiou" even though I didn't know who Badiou was and still don't (Brivic was just really interesting to listen to).

It is often sporting events that mark historical points in the constellations of my life experiences, time markers, helping me reach back and remember the specifics of past autobiographical events. This wonderful return trip to Cali certainly had that: I watched the Mavericks capture the NBA Finals inside the hotel bar drinking a brew with a new pal from the University of Alberta, and then sat next to a table full of black-and-yellow-clad cheering Bruins fans in a restaurant when they won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Certainly a memorable time. I'll probably have much more to say about it soon and I'm working on some more posts about my Joyce-Dali paper (which I printed in a monograph booklet, contact me and I'll send you one) as well as a bunch of other writings to come.
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