Friday, January 23, 2009

Spaces, Places, Paintings in Books, Part One

I'm inspired a lot by things I can't do, like paint, make movies, or play music. I'm inspired by doctors, journalists and firefighters too. By soccer-players, prostitutes and soldiers.

(With that in mind, I fully intend to learn the piano again, take up ornamental cartography, start playing soccer again and finish a screenplay.)

Painters, musicians, and filmmakers pop up a lot in my stories, and I seem to make many references, especially, to paintings and movies, as if stories can be considered as verbal paintings and word-films just as easily as they can be called pieces of creative writing.

The painting above is by the Greek-Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico.
He's one of the earliest painters I remember really liking. And then I discovered Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and Francis Bacon.

I tried to paint once. Really. Maybe I'd just get stoned, put on the Cowboy Junkies, sit around naked and play with my acrylics when I should have been doing my algebra homework but I tried to paint, I really did. Instead of succeeding, I think I just absorbed some painterly aesthetics in my early poetry and prose. (Much of my early poetry has been destroyed, along with all those Uma Thurman photos. But I remember my poems were more or less token, teenage surrealism, shot through with "shocking" juxtapositions, sort of like the famous sentence in Lautreamont's Maldoror that became a model for surrealist writing: Lautréamont describes a young boy as "beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!")

Final word on my failure as a painter: I was always better at map-making but I'm terrible at reading maps. Most of you can testify to my poor sense of direction too. I guess being disoriented is more fitting for my temperament.

Anyway, De Chirico had a revelation one day that concerned the metaphysical beauty of Roman piazzas. This I just learned, but always thought his paintings seemed like subconscious renderings of the piazzas I spent a lot of time in during my short trip to Rome and Florence. Certain images resonated afterwards: the chaos of the marketplace or the fact that ruins nonchalantly rubbed shoulders with modern convenience stores, or the dark, twisting thoroughfares and the rain whipping across the cobblestones and the boiling water tossed on the plazas and the crazy, death-defying cab rides and the oh-so-sultry statue of The Ecstasy Of St. Theresa.

We stayed in a more native quarter of the city, Trastevere, and although our apartment was robbed, it was a good trip because I was forever getting lost in the labyrinthine streets and plazas of Rome.

Right now I'm working on a short story, or possibly a novella that is both about a man who is hiding out in Rome and about his youth in a dingy coastal town (think Venice meets Santa Cruz) where he lived in a crumbling apartment complex that had a courtyard-like plaza in its open-air center.

In this story, I'm trying to capture a sense of decay, of haunting, of lostness, and ruination by making a place as fully-fleshed as a character.

One of the recurring problems and/or opportunities I will be exploring in this blog is how to create imaginary spaces in books.
And how books too are their own imaginary spaces, becoming cities, worlds, labyrinths in their own right.

But back to my rough story: Rome, for my doomed narrator is like a holier mirror of the beach-town he used to live in, back when he courted the cornsilk-blond marine biologist who witnessed her mother's murder but who's in love with the stand-up bassist who, himself, is also having an affair with the lumberjack who isn't really a lumberjack and who has the word DOXA tattooed on his forehead. But those are just ideas so far. Sort of based on people I knew, loved or lost.

One of the visual inspirations for this tale comes from a pretty squalid and notorious place that a lot of my friends lived in back in Santa Cruz, La Bahia (above.)

Although I never lived there, I attended many parties there and was always half impressed and half repulsed by its hip squalor. I was more taken by its beautiful, hacienda-like architecture as well as its lovely inner courtyard that was so conducive to reverie and melancholy and chainsmoking and fretting about love affairs gone south.

Finally, a third recurring place/image in my mess of a story, a place that one of the main characters often travels to on strange errands is Buenos Aires which, actually, reminded me a hell of lot of Rome. Rome meets Mumbai, I've heard it described.

So this story is one of the first ones I'm writing where many different, yet resonant spaces are important to the mode and tone of the piece. It is written as something of a collective, thinly-veiled requiem for people loved and lost, but also a fantasy of paranoia and melancholy that is contingent on the places in our lives. Places that become magnetic because of what happened there, who loved, fought and died there.

I'm interested in how other people conceptualize space in literature, or just space in general. Especially cities. I think this will require a part two and part three.

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