Posted in Miscellany

The Rambler on the interview

In a post-industrial age, when the mingling of classes in streets is a norm, and social mobility is a reality in a society, the stories about royal families become reality period dramas that seem to give them a status that fuses the capriciousness of greek gods with the glamour of Hollywood celebrity.

When I saw twitter’s promotion of Oprah Winfrey’s Harry and Meghan interview, I thought no wonder they were sought-after media darlings, living Romeo and Juliet, and something to talk about when things looked bleak and boring. And I honestly feel no qualms about them being a subject of gossip or the tabloid because they live in public eyes, albeit they most clamor for the privacy of their lives. Otherwise, what is the absolute need to broadcast their stories on a central television station at prime time? (No YouTube, please, in respect of their royalty.) Oprah Winfrey, who now seems to have replaced Barbara Walters’ seat, looks fit to the royal couple pleading for upscaled sympathy from the American public unfamiliar with the constitutional monarchy and possibly slightly partial to the name and images of monarchy without knowing them well.

To put the wedding story of Prince Harry and Actress Meghan Markle on a par with Cinderella story is to ignore the fact she is from a privileged class in the States with expensive private education and parental support. Despite Princess Diana’s aristocratic family background, people sympathized with the lonely Diana because of her doe-eyed, ever muliebral innocent beauty that looked impossible for debauchery. By the same virtue of beauty fused with sensualness of exotic charm, the American actress/model Meghan charmed Prince Harry, who would even venture to Hesperides’ garden to bring her a golden apple should she request. And now Harry lives in the Golden State, the land of his Helen, with a face launching waves of media coverages.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that beauty tames the savageness of brutes and allays the hardened souls of criminals. Oscar Wilde added that a beautiful woman is the subject of conversations wherever she goes. The lovely Meghan beaming with sparkling amethyst eyes adorned with apricot cheeks reminded me of a modern-day Helen of Troy. After all, Helen’s prodigal beauty saved her from her first the ireful sword of her first and lawful husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta to whom she betrayed the slain Paris’s brother Deiphobus, her third husband. Despite vehement feminist catchphrases brandishing anti-sexism, beauty is still a woman’s privilege to achieve social escalation in work and an undefeatable power to purchase indemnity for all faults and foibles.

In addition to the claimed blackness of Meghan’s heritage, the media seems to shoehorn it to fit her estrangement feeling in the procrustean bed to a histrionic degree because one cursory glance at her wouldn’t strike her as a black woman at all. I honestly think that if a woman is beautiful, then where she comes from does not matter. In fact, I feel something is not quite right when someone in her position keeps playing a race card as a chance gambit to muster her retinue against the criticism raised by her unwilling participation in royal attendances and cavalier attitude towards learning the royal manners, which appear antithetical to her carefree American spirit hard to domesticate.

Call it an acrid narrative of a woman who juggles the daily affairs of life with what she has. Or you may say it is the usual cynical delusion of reference to those who got it all out of passionate envy burned in a fury. Yet, the interview appears to be nothing but their formal excuse for their present life, public proclamation of their still regal sovereignty warning people not to speak ill of them, which is probably directed to the ordinary whom they regard as meddlesome. Well, then let them be whoever they want to be. Playing Romeo and Juliet’s roles in a public theater in long-run shows will only lose favor with the audience, especially with Romeo now being well-stuffed, looking like a rich American, and Juliet still looking fabulous like a luxurious Beverly Hills demimonde.  

Posted in Poetry

The Masques of Ben Jonson

He was Man of Infinite Varieties
In the Craft of Words with Masques:
A High Priest of Poetry of Delphi,
A Prefect of the Ancient Knowledge,
A Thespian of Comedy and Tragedy,
A Hercules whose Might was Pen,
An Odysseus in Search of Truth,
A Pretorian of Classical Precepts
With the elevated Heart of Passion
And the exalted satisfaction of Reason
Whose Brilliance of Star Outlasts
The Celebrity of Instant Comets.

Posted in book review

From the top of Mount Sinai to the shore of the Planet: ‘Charlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon’, by Marc Eliot – book review

Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last IconCharlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon by Marc Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The movie stars, along with other celebrities whose livelihood is predicated on physical attributes, are not my usual figures of admiration. A biography or a memoir of personality, especially a film star, with an ostentatious narrative of “Rag-To-Riches” or “Angst-to Enlightenment,” is not a read I delve into, nor a mental pacifier to appease revolting boredom. In consideration of those mentioned above, it is a deviation from my staple reading sustenance that I read this biography of Charlton Heston by Marc Eliot to my liking and that I resolved to write about it to my surprise. After all, who would have resisted reading the elevated version of the Vanity Fair offering insightful glimpses into a story of the epochal screen face in the backstage?

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) was an American actor whose impressive performances as Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” conferred upon him armigerous status in the show business. But do not let the screen persona cloud his real-life persona as the author, a close confidante of the Hestons skillfully and fluidly relates in the book. Heston was a smart businessman, as well as a controversial figure whose political stance shifted from democratic liberalism to republican conservatism as he rode along the crest of tidal waves of time. It was Heston’s modus vivendi in adhering to his set of values and principles in the ethos of times that he believed would keep him alive and purposeful until his sense and faculty of mind would permit him. He had a reasonable degree of the screen star paranoid, which dictated the livelihood and selfhood.

In addition to the life of the Hollywood titan, the intelligence about the movie business, the cast, and behind-the-curtain tidbits related to the films Heston starred is a bonus gem of the book. For example, the reason that the west coast became the capital of the movie industry was that Thomas Alba Edison, President of Motion Picture Patents Company, expelled the prurient nickelodeon movies produced mainly by the Jewish moguls from New Jersey and New York. There is more to it. Orson Wells’s chronic bouts of erratic behaviors; Sophia Lauren’s general tardiness on sets; and Richard Harris’s perspective on Heston as being irrevocably stuck-up are amusing introspection on the personas of actors and actresses that do not seem too surprising. I believe that they played off the gleam of their real personalities in the guise of the fictional characters on screen.

This book is a comprehensive, well-written book that tells about the star of the silver screen whose roles in the movies are so monumentally remarkable that his tale of life is worthier than any of Hollywood scandals or paparazzi pictures showing celebs in lousy appearance. The contained passion from the phosphorescence of his blue eyes, the arduousness of his forward chin, and the powerful torso made Heston as the perfect Pygmalion that even the most stubborn director cannot oversee or denigrate. He was one of the few actors whose laconic flatness worked up internal aspects of the characters through voice and a minimum of gestures that did not come across as a flamboyant flair of or a lack of method acting. For this reason alone, this book is worth reading.

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Posted in book review

‘Coal Black Mornings’, by Brett Anderson – review

Coal Black MorningsCoal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Albert Einstein once said, “There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.” That said, the story of Brett Anderson, the founder and lead singer of English rock band Suede from London, has a polyphony of vicissitudes woven by multiple strands of existential life experience and innate artistic sensibilities which seems to give him a status fused with the wisdom of an Orwellian thinker and the suaveness of a modern day troubadour in a stylishly insouciant way. Now, on his second calling as a writer, Anderson in Coal Black Mornings tells a story of his family and himself without “the usual coke and gold discs” in such a way that it strikes the hearts of the ordinary and underlings alike who feel a burden of existential needs on their shoulders that smother their creative spirits and ambitions.

Anderson traces the long and winding road that led him from a childhood as a sentimental boy from a poor but culturally sophisticated family. A poverty of material comforts was reconciled with a wealth of artistic sensibilities and intellectual proclivity inherited from his eccentric taxi-driving father whose saint was Franz Liest and his quiet and beautiful painter mother who used to make clothes for him and his elder sister. He evokes the grim, bleak, and dreary scenes of very real urban poverty in which a lack of money can make you feel debagged and insignificant, but he does not hold grudge against the discomfort of such poverty because it became a part of his inspiration for his music that empathizes with the feelings of others in distress. Anderson charts the wandering romance of loneliness and creativity in an existential reality where his wings of artistic aspiration were often clipped by chains of subsistence. It’s a literary catalog of his ongoing journey of life, a personal treaty on the depth and breadth of his life so far, which the author wants to dedicate to his son who will continue a saga of his beloved family.

This is a heartfelt, sincere memoir of an artist who tells it all about himself in hope of chiming the bells of emotions of readers whose life stories share the same elements of existential life when they collide with ideals and dreams that are universal in kindred spirits all around the world. Coal Black Mornings is a literary kaleidoscope of one man’s vicissitudes of life, many of which illuminate the glory of being beautifully misfit in materialistic society. Anderson said that this book was primarily written for his son and that any form of public accolade would be a bonus to him. He was right because the book told me that I wasn’t alone and that I am not alone by feeling misfit. Here we come, the beautiful ones.

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Posted in book review

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls WilderPrairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A really good biography by a really good writer about someone fascinating reads like a good novel full of intriguing characters, events, and places. In the peculiar alchemy of literature, such biography creates a literary chiaroscuro, an iridescent interplay of light and shade alloyed in the alchemy of words laced with an internal rhythm of the words that delightfully flavors otherwise flat discourse of nonfiction. On top of this magical incantation, all-around erudition of a writer cognizant of the historical and social contexts armed with exhaustive scrutiny into the subject is the Rosetta stone that consummates the performance by contextualizing the subject’s motivation, actions, and vicissitudes of life that is all very much like a plot. In this regard, Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires about Laura Ingalls Wilder, a prodigious American literary heroine enshrined in the great American literary pantheon, fits into such definition with gusto.

I first came across this book from an article about The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, a significant achievement award in Children’s literature, from The Los Angeles Times a few months ago. The award changed the name into “The Children’s Literature Legacy Award” because Wilder’s allegedly stereotypical attitudes toward people of color were considered to be not in harmony with today’s social core values of inclusiveness, integrity, respect, and responsiveness to the epochal changes. In defense of Wilder’s works, Fraser argued that her works were products of her life and that the reception of her books should be more complicated than we might hastily believe based upon the cursory reading of her books as social or historical contexts. It was this very argument that piqued my curiosity about Wilder and her biographer Fraser. As someone who always inclines to someone whose views and attitudes are dauntlessly unreconstructed and intellectually provocative, I wanted to know more about the accused and her public defender. Hence, Prairie Fires is a testament to its quality that sheds light on the myths and misconceptions on the literary world of Wilder and her fascinating self.

To many of us, Wilder is most well known by A Little House on Prairie, also translated into television firmament by Michael Landon in many a language, making it a kind of household name in everyday life. I remember watching it with the unforgettable leitmotif music that rendered the ambience of a story of a pioneer family with none other than faith, charity, hope, and themselves on the Great Plains. Notwithstanding a streak of fictionality laced with idyllic romanticism portrayed in the TV show version, it was this very ambience Wilder cherished the most and delineated in words despite her seemingly perpetual struggle against impoverishment in the epochal changes of economic climates of her time. She was something of a pioneer troubadour who sang the chaste and rustic beauty of the wild prairie as well as the acuteness, coarseness, and strength of a pioneer spirit found in her beloved father. Through a series of poverty after poverty, struggle against struggle, and hope against hope on the life of the open prairie, Wilder was already in training to become a great writer.

It is one of Fraser’s literary finesses that she alludes to “prairie fires” as a metaphorical means for illustrating Wilder’s queasy and passionate character that ultimately spurred her on to writing professionally at a relatively late age in her life. Wilder’s circumstances pushed her into a reluctant lifetime position of a breadwinner and caretaker, making herself to the hostage of Fortune. Her stoic, matter-of-fact manner belied overwhelming fear, dismay, disappointment, and grief as a result of taking a vow of self-denial against her feisty feminine self. All of her aborted dreams and hopes and projections smothered under daily duties that life demanded by a succession of misfortune and became her pant-up fury that metastasized into the fiery images of prairie fires, real or phantasmal.

Fraser is also excellent in providing us with very intriguing information on Wilder’s inseparable relationship with her writer daughter Rose, who is also believed to influence her mother to write professionally. Rose was a very complicated woman whose literary talent seemed to be prevented from blossoming into full fruition on pedestals by her endless windy rage and self-doubt. She loved her mother and father dearly for sure because whatever money she had earned from writing was a munificent largess to them in the forms of a house and other apparatuses. Moreover, it was Rose who induced Wilder to write about her dramatic life that ultimately resulted in A Little House on Prairie. And yet Rose was also always out of reach of her beloved parents. She loved independence, living in the New York City and Europe with a penchant for cultural sophistication and extravagance, measuring herself against the burgeoning careers of her peers. But even her foibles are pathetic and sympathetic in Fraser’s punctilious portrait of Rose colored by the language she employs from her arsenal of words and narrative skills that guard Rose from misconceptions.

The paramount achievement of Fraser in this biography is her flawlessly lucid contextualization of Wilder’s philosophy of life, her viewpoints society, and most importantly, her backgrounds of the oeuvres in the context of regarding the epochal social and historical changes of her time, all of which are gleaned from her comprehensive research into the relevant subjects and her impressive erudition fascinatingly laced with her acute feminine sensitivity in the magical play of the words. In fact, her knowledge on the 19th and early 20th centuries are so impressively and naturally incorporated into the discourse of Wilder’s story that you come to an understanding of Wilder like never before and appreciate her oeuvres in the canon of American Classics by exonerating  the accused from being a jingoistic provincial “white” writer. Rather than pontificating the blind idolization of Wilder, Fraser serenely but efficaciously narrates the facts of the controversial author and her meritorious achievements both in life and literature in an expense of will, belief, and truth, producing a mesmerizing biography of a riveting character in literary Americana.

The book does succeed in shedding light on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder by recasting this famous American literary figure in a candid way which none other than Fraser could have possibly done on the topic with her magistral knowledge of Wilder armed to the teeth with thoroughly exacting research on historical and social resources with utmost solicitous attitude and sweet tenderness. For this very reason, Wilder’s books should read as a classics not as a historical textbook of the bygone era whose zeitgeist irks the populace of this modern time. Literature is an art, and therefore its value lies in Art for art’s sake. We use the real to perfect the ideal, and the real encompasses anything – including our foibles and idiosyncrasies – we deem worth sublimating into beauty, which is what art is all about by appealing to our senses, the pleasure of reading something beautifully profound, evocative, and enduring. In this regard, Wilder was and is an artist making the beauty of life out of the reality of life. All this makes this book an enjoyable and illuminating read with Fraser’s irrefutably magical alchemy of words and consummate storytelling skill devoid of expression of infelicity and authoritativeness. This is a canonical biography of a great American writer by another fascinating writer who deserves of the applauding to the very echo.