2019-02-08

sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
New moon over New York from the Hell Gate Bridge, the crescent as golden as the pointillist skyline below. You can see the old moon in its arms like the skyscrapers around their windows. I am on my way back to Boston.

I had a wonderful time reading last night at McNally Jackson Williamsburg with Carrie Laben, Fiona Maeve Geist, and Teri Zin, moderated by Farah Rose Smith. No one had brought the same kind of fiction, but all of it played well with each other, black metal noir and toxic relationships and Lovecraftian families and demons in exile; everyone had the same kind of ideas about real horror being history and other people, but we all had different ideas of what we liked best in fictional horror. I read three poems and "Where the Sky Is Silver and the Earth Is Brass" and managed not to cough during my own performance, which meant nothing about the rest of the evening. I explained that I was doing my best to avoid the fate of a consumptive poet in a garret and the American medical system was not helping by prescribing me the next best thing to laudanum and my fellow panelists promptly inundated me with suggestions for purple drank. I left the very fine bookstore with copies of Jean Améry's Charles Bovary, Country Doctor (1978) because there it was after three months of not finding it in Boston, Barbara Comyns' Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954) on recommendation of Michael Cisco, and Christopher Soto's Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color (2018) because I opened it at random and got Allyson Ang's "Wet Dream." Afterward people went more or less around the corner to a German restaurant called Radegast, which does not explain to me what a crooner band was doing there. I liked them right up until the point when they played "Show Me the Way to Go Home" and then didn't. I do not have a social media link for the friend of Michael's who let me mooch a ride back to Park Slope where I was staying with my mother's cousins, but having comprehensively run out of steam by that point in the night, I appreciated it. Jason Stack got photographic evidence of all of us.

I did not get as much sleep as I hoped because I spent half the night coughing (I read the Comyns; it was great; if you put Angela Carter, Henry Green, and Stella Gibbons in a blender you would not get this novel, but this novel would think it was funny), but I got up around noon, drank a lot of hot water, collected my possessions into a backpack that was slowly assuming the dimensions of a small imaginary country, and I went to the Guggenheim and I saw "Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future." I had wanted to ever since reading about her work in the fall. Her paintings really need to be seen at size. They look like nothing being painted in 1907, when she began the series of ten massive abstracts that greet the visitor on the first level of the exhibition that spirals up and around the museum's walls into a complementary installation by R. H. Quaytman that I found intellectually fun but nothing like the breathtaking, painstaking weirdness of af Klint herself. You would believe her as a psychedelic artist of the 1960's, with her vibrantly colored geometric forms that seem to double as flowers or corals or parts of the human body, subatomic particles and galaxies, fossils and flying saucers, often annotated in a tendrilly combination of Swedish and af Klint's personally devised code. Dust-violet, squash-yellow, pond-green, slate-blue, lily-pink, egg-white, dune-orange, void-black. Things like orchids, things like Klein bottles. Logarithmic spirals and alchemical symbols. Her engines were science and spiritualism; while she maintained a parallel, bill-paying career of landscapes and portraits and other representational art, she painted her abstracts to adorn a never-built temple which she had conceived with four other female artists who called themselves collectively, simply "the Five." A taijitu-like image of a black and a white swan meeting at a horizon-line of monochrome sea-sky recurs across multiple canvases, ever less figuratively, until the birds are a spoked wheel of petals half white, half black, overlaid into a collage of other, equally compressed signifiers. They look like mathematical diagrams for another universe, biology textbooks from another dimension. Even her most conventionally occult images—black and prismatic pyramids beneath a gold-leaf sun—look like things you might actually see in a vision, not most artists' idea of visionary work. Angels at the heart of great zodiacal planets. Spermatozoic squiggles of primordial chaos. A translucent cube transfixed with rainbows like a mille-feuille is described as "The creation of matter from light." She had a Mondrian period before Mondrian did, precisely squared and stacked grids of limited palette, or maybe that was her anticipating Rothko, with sharply contrasting bands. Late in life she began to work in watercolor rather than tempera or oils and these smaller, ostensibly more delicate works are no less assertively uncanny, caves and storms of roiling color, rose, lapis, pandan, a cool and branching blackness silver-looped with light. It feels like archaeology, a language no one else speaks anymore. Or didn't speak yet. She forbade her abstract work to be exhibited until twenty years after her death. The rest of the world had to catch up with her. So I stared at that for about an hour and then I wandered off into a side gallery and found Robert Mapplethorpe and I looked at some of the abstract artists whose names are better known than af Klint's and I collected my backpack from the coat check and headed downtown to meet [personal profile] ladymondegreen at Russ & Daughters Café. I am told it came into existence about five years ago, at which point it proceeded to have existed for about seventy-five years on that spot complete with pickle signs and glass jars of old candies. Their borscht came hot with chunks of beet and carrot and a swathe of dill on the top, a thick slice of pumpernickel on the side; their cherry shrub was twangy with balsamic vinegar and Szechuan pepper. We split a pile of fish, melting lox and paprika-edged sable and smoked trout and robust sturgeon and salmon roe with which I garnished basically everything. I get that there are people who put onion and tomato on their smoked fish, but why get in the way? Cream cheese, sour cream, done. It was superbly delicious and also nice to see a person whom I usually encounter in a sprinting-between-panels fashion at cons. We made it to Penn Station just in time to catch my train, which was then predictably late. I am enjoying the Améry just as much as I thought I would. The love of fictional weirdo losers is a hill I respect dying on.

I realized that I think of cities much in the same way I do families: sometimes the one you're born to suits you, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes you have a good relationship at a distance, sometimes it changes. New York isn't the city I was born to, but for my parents' sake and my grandparents' it seems to like me. Last night when I had a ride it rained vaguely, this afternoon on foot was bright and twisty as spring. I didn't get lost and I could walk where I needed. I expect to crash as soon as I am no longer moving, but I like the city I have been moving through.

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