The ugly cry—proudly, defiantly.
- Man, being a beat poet must’ve been pretty far out if you were a man—I mean, the drugs, the politics, the … roads, and the being on those roads. But what if you weren’t a guy? Lynnette Lounsbury writes, “I loved the beat generation and the men in it. I loved how they shared themselves with each other and their readers, generously. But I always had, and still have, the sneaking and sinking suspicion that there would have been no place for me in that world. There were no Scarlett O’Haras in the beat world. There were women, certainly, but they felt like cardboard cut-outs, something to move around, admire, shift gently out of the way when necessary. In fact, the only women Kerouac and Ginsberg seemed to genuinely respect were their mothers … I found the beat women as outsiders in offside compendiums, as afterthoughts and even instigators, but rarely as the orchestrators and creators of their own place in literature.”
- Advice for famous artists: take photographs, too. It can’t hurt. Ellsworth Kelly did it, and a new show demonstrates the degree to which his pictures influenced his canvases: “The images remain resolutely tethered to the formal concerns of his paintings, illuminating far more about his evolving thoughts on art and abstraction than they do about the time and place in which they were made … Most of the earliest works in the show, all taken in the seaside town of Meschers, in Southwestern France, are studies of timeworn surfaces: the weathered side of a barn, its boards haphazardly cobbled; a mismatched patch job in a wall, where the celestial mottling of old stone is interrupted by utilitarian brick; the side of a striped canvas beach cabana, mended enough times that it looks like a Japanese boro blanket … In both his photographs and his shaped canvases, Kelly was engaged in building an idiosyncratic visual alphabet, with each letter chiseled down to the bedrock of form, color, and scale.”
- And advice for novelists: keep it snappy. I don’t got all day. Cynan Jones advocates for the very short novel: “Great short novels stay in the mind as objects, whereas, often, novels are ornate boxes with objects inside. Equally valid, but a different thing altogether, with a different mechanism of engagement … For years after my first short novel, The Long Dry, came out, and even though it worked, length was the chief reservation from publishers. They wanted a ‘full length novel’ … Well, as Beckett said, in response to criticism that his play Breath was short: “All of my works are full length, some are just longer than others.” It’s extraordinary that the term ‘full length novel’ still abounds. If the novella exists, purely based on length, then the novellissimo must exist … Anything that will hold a heavy door open should be a novellissimo; anything that can be used to right a wobbly table, a novella.”
- One of the main reasons I never cry, apart from an ill-advised inclination toward rugged stoicism, is that it fucks my face up. I look bad. But I see now that I should let it rip. The concept of the “ugly cry” comes, especially for women, with a shameful subtext: “American culture nurtures a robust association between our emotional expression and shame. We’re warned against tearing up in professional settings … We imply that untethered grief, by virtue of its excess, does not hew to the cultural expectation that beauty be placid and symmetrical, fundamentally unthreatening. Sometimes the very notion of the ugly cry seems, more than anything else, an inside joke: What woman has not been schooled in the doctrine of Western patriarchal standards of beauty? We know when we have transgressed—when we have become more than men can fathom … The hysterical woman’s power—for power she does possess—lies in her refusal to cry inside the lines, and from her dismissal of a westernized emotional doctrine that condemns passion as excess.”
- In Ciro Guerra’s new film Embrace of the Serpent, Nathaniel Rich sees a skillful departure from the norms of what he calls “jungle quest films”: “There was a boomlet of jungle quest films during the eighties and early nineties, not all of them set in the Amazon, reflecting a dissatisfaction with what Jimmy Carter called the ‘moral and…spiritual crisis’ of modern society. The heroes of these films come to the jungle with predatory or utopian intentions, only to discover the folly of their ways. The plot tends to resolve with the explosion of a forest-clearing project: a river dam in The Emerald Forest, a logging road in Medicine Man, a missionary camp in The Mosquito Coast … Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, a finalist for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars, features the familiar fever-addled explorers, of vigilant jaguars and snakes baring their fangs, long pans of the jungle canopy, and indigenous tribesmen imparting portentous wisdom (‘The jungle is fragile; if you attack her, she’ll fight back’). But the film is strange enough to resist the worst of the old clichés, which is to say it resists moral certainty.”