Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Lone Man and His Play

* Edouard Manet, Music in Tuileries

(Always more of a struggle it is to employ a substantial to represent something abstract. Instead of displaying a vignette of an afternoon alfresco concert, Manet’s Music in Tuileries seems to me more like a delineation of how the music travels and sizzles amid the immaculately-dressed crowd. To judge on the whole the music played must be more Romantic than Baroque, the many expressions adopt such leisurely enjoyment that are unmistakably characteristic. The music seems to have its bewitching hooks too, for the barely distinguishable throngs in the centre and at the rear end, they are so enchanted with it that they eventually sozzled under its spell.)

He loves the city he lives in. Still much of an alien of the city, he only moved to the place three years ago and has yet familiarized with his surroundings or talked unerringly in its accent. Nevertheless the city is the place he is ready to call home, with its wild provisions of epicures, dilettantes, connoisseurs, dandies, braggadocios or sheer amateurs like him. In a staggering contrast with the city he last inhabited, this one is rid of any small-minded bumpkins or parochial feudalism but instead offers the greatest taste of art, literature, music, film and other cultural heritage. For an aspiring playwright and some-time inveterate reveler like him, the city is buzzing with unceasing joy and excitement. There is a play that has been harboured for long in his head and is planned to be finished within days. Before setting to write his play he has the ritual to read a poem or two. Borrowing a snippet or a stanza of the poem or not he can feel a flush of spring reaching down to the very end of his tingly spine- he thus calls that inspiration.

His play is to process in unison with a fantasy he has in mind. He has no knowledge at all with the commonest music theory, but every time he sets to write something the ringing of music always materializes before the formation of words. He admits those intricate music notes elude him, but as his fingers trigger inadvertently, a grand symphony begins. Thus here starts the playwright’s blueprint of his yet-unnamed play that weaves together the story and the music.

[Variation 1: The Parting Kiss]

The opening of a story can disguise itself so much that readers will often mistake it as a tragic ending. The play ruthlessly dashes all details of a beautiful romance, but instead this scene is focused solely on the last goodbye of our hero and heroine.

For the occasion, any elegiac music or moderato masses will do. This scene should progress almost like a silent film, with any motion or emotion little to be discerned. He and she stand upright facing each other. Her lips tremble somewhat but her eyes exude determination. She is to leave him, yet he is too numb to express his sorrow, anger or consternation. She turns and leaves a kiss on a nearby tree, presumably the object bearing most of her memory when she finally departs. She thence departs, uttering not a single word to him, whose face is an unspecified mixture of nothingness. Slowly though he raises his forefinger, as if by wiggling it slightly he can summon his own play, or, to be precise, a duo dance mocking a morbid style of a pair of dying swans. To divorce is to enter the grave together only with the souls parted. Only that she is gone.

[Variation 2: The Tree, the Sole Company]

She is gone but the tree before him seems to be approaching. Forestalling the action he approaches the tree himself. The background music becomes intense, as the cello spearheads several discordant yet distinctive notes. The whole scene should be made unnerved by his hesitant steps; he walks to the tree as if he was propelled to meet the judge of his fate. As soon as he catches the sight of the imprinted kiss any sign of suspicion dissipates. Just by touching the fading mark he can virtually feel her presence like little bells gently teasing him. So agonizing is the tease that on the spur of the moment the last trace of the kiss might be wiped off. Now the thumb ready to execute becomes hesitant. The looming music returns before he suddenly circles the trunk with his arms. The whole earth quakes with the intermittent echoes of dire reluctance.

[Variation 3: Despair and Engulfed by the Swirl of Memory]

The world answers him not. How he wishes the earth will burst asunder and there spring up a merry-go-round. Neither he nor she indulged in such childish play, but the swirling accompanying the fairy-like jingly music best represents a giddying romance between the two. The background music asserts its incandescent levitation. He pricks up his ear to hear the far-away sound. With much effort those sweet notes still fail to filter through his ears. What he eventually savours are the trails of them that traipse around barely perceptibly; penetrable almost like faces touching a screen of fine silk. Something velvety at length dissolves.

[Variation 4: The Sun Rises and Stares]

The rising beam skims from one corner to another, like radars that scan every line and crack of the house, leaving no nooks unrummaged. Finally home, what happens when a man is finally lone. The house is emptier and its figure made formidable. He feels like an alien in this house, and so as the house to him. He is an intruder, as if every object in the house he touches will turn into particles; as if the house itself is as well lumping the blames on him. Our hero stands there irresolutely.

The playwright fails to add a final fifth variation and feels every possible score ill-fitted for the fourth variation. Staring out his net-like window he feels his city expand itself abnormally vast, so much so that any gauche ones will be pushed to their exclusion. He is still the alien in the city he loves.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Dummy and I

* Irina Ionesco, Untitled

(It is hard to pick a more uplifting one out of Irina Ionesco oeuvre. Sacrilegious or not those pictures seem to most viewers, the well-known fact of the photographer casting her own daughter in several provocative shots will certainly rankle. The world in Ionesco’s photography is the chilling and bleakest folk tales that are recklessly mistaken for the perfect bedtime stories. Glamours, however, can still be conjured from the characters’ vampire-esque or mummy-like portrayal. Dressing glamorously as many other characters, the little girl stands coyly beside the furnished table. Mr. Rabbit with his back facing the viewers- a tale-like tea date between the two endearing ones suddenly turns into an unfortunate interval of a jilted love.)

I carefully dress my dummy before setting out our venture. Such venture has become a quotidian matter, but what it has gradually grown into is something that, like a sudden inpour of sunbeams, befuddles me initially and thus nudges me out of my own age-old house. My dummy and I will loiter about the vicinity, showcasing our enthralling ability of presenting a farce. Those rounds of repartee seem, to the riveted eyes of the audience, more like a revelation of my ingenious skill in ventriloquism.

Little do the people notice that such is far from any crafty tricks of ventriloquism, but the dummy actually speaks itself. If only the raggedness of the dummy’s manufacture did not contribute to some slight dullness of the jaw’s motion, the dummy can articulate each word fairly accurately. My companion is thus, without doubt, possessing a soul that makes it contrary to its wooden veneer. Quite a wily soul, too, in hindsight. Stories of the dummy’s wrongdoings can be rattled off like lists; stories that only I bear the witness and confidence; stories that all people are uninformed of their background. I can recall once when the dummy asked me to place him on the trunk of a tree when we passed by the beautiful garden. I did what he told without a shadow of incredulity of the dummy’s underlying intention. After thoughtlessly exposing itself to winds and sunshine, the dummy resolved in ogling at the approaching knots of well-dressed ladies. A whimsical idea blighted my companion’s mind to electrify the ladies of its furtive presence, so another command passed down on me to chop the trunk right when the ladies walked past. My conscience rumbled tumultuously beneath my servile reaction, which saw me calculating the time and distance needed so half the trunk could land successfully on a handful of pretty heads. We both succeeded anyhow, I forgot to include the time required for the trunk to break, therefore an interesting scene was presented with the dummy poising itself miraculously on a droopy trunk, and the ladies beamed at us and lauded our performance when passing by, completely unscathed for certain.

The dummy since then has scolded severely of my failure to coordinate, while I continue mulling over any well-elaborated scheme to end its life. The relationship between my dummy and I, if anyone was yet informed of our history or was interested in knowing, is far from the hackneyed love-hate between rivaling siblings. True that I do see and feel for the dummy as my flesh brother, but the deception, known only to us, renders our vaudeville a labour of love that seems almost impossible to extricate. The dummy will stare straight into my eyes when I am plotting in my head some vicious masterplan, and chuckles, “You sure know you are not here without me.”

I begin to suspect my dummy’s unwillingness to play my dummy. I am made to bear its interminable ramblings whenever my sedentary activity intrigues my companion so, but when being outdoors the dummy insists dropping his jaw and staying mute, doing sheer justice to its temperament and the materials that made it. Regardless of how hopelessly I beckon it or beg it through telepathy not a single word is uttered. Our audience at length cut down their frequency and then grows sparse. People leave disapprovingly before a trail of shrill, most diabolical laughter is within their earshot. The dummy sniggers also when we are home, without much avail of the day, sniggers even more uncontrollably when it sees my desolation. I keep my calm and bide my time.

There is an old pendulum in my house with which the ticking grows unbearably louder when the world retreats to its quietude- such is an equilibrium that should not be disturbed. Or, to be more precise, I forbid anyone to disturb the encompassing noiselessness, save only the ticking of the pendulum. The dummy is dumb enough to make its snigger parallel to the rhythm of the ticking. A subterfuge is thus most fortunately granted, be it too rudimentary or not, and I keep my last trace of patience as I wait motionlessly after forty-one ticks. I break my dummy eventually. I even make sure that its mouth is split and fractured so that no word of evidence can be uttered.

I stare into the mirror after finally retrieving my long-lost freedom. My heart is not in its proper place; I can feel the steady pulsation between my gnawing teeth, but truthfully my heart sinks even lower. Every particle of me resonates with an encore that is robbed of its salient sound. I almost imagine I am dreaming when I next see the sight, of my mouth extending and splitting into a sinister contortion. Before I even notice and check myself I am uttering out those words, “You sure know you are here without me.” I can finally hear him now.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Earth

* Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers (1849)

(Courbet’s paintings seem eternally be covered by a layer of dusts- such effect is highlighted when the subject matter is some labour that engenders dusts- breaking stones. Long being assumed a Realist but unarguably weathering from the Romantic School, Courbet ingeniously shrouded the unideal in a vaguely idealized veneer- while one man refuses to face the viewers and the other has his hat rim closely down to the nose tip- neither of them is granted the permission of unfolding his facial expression. The hide-and-seek relation between the objects and the viewers forms a rather mystified sensation to the latters. At any moment the stonebreakers motion can seem stealthy, while something hideous seems to emerge anytime out of those piles of stones, like smoke.)

Due to a minor, inconsequential injury I am temporarily-handicapped and confined to a wheelchair, facing a window that opens up a view of every best moment of the altering seasons. These days reading is superfluous, especially when one’s mind is so bent upon an unlikely speedy recovery, and a final liberation of limbs, of the whole body. Thankfully, in such involuntary moment I still earn my unfettered heart, which records in notes everything that passes through its witness. It is until this moment do I realize how a pair of miraculously keener eyes acts as compensation for my invalid situation. Every motion and object, living or not, fails to filter out of my notice. My eyes then begin to draw in a panoramic scenery despite how flatly the window is obliged to paint the outdoor picture. It is often within the most beautiful pictures, the ones that I most appreciate, that a raven can be seen splitting across the sky, mocking apparently in some indecipherable language, and advancing behind are crowds and lumps of thickening clouds.

The picture I snapped that day was not further from the usual ones I saw on the other days- a barren open field occupying almost the majority of one’s vision, gloomy trees embellishing the thin line of horizon, pale sky fusing with menacing red topping it off. A pair of young lovers invaded the peacefulness and with their reckless lovemaking an imperturbed mundanity was at length penetrated. You could always tell when the surrounding was baffled, or at least, aware, of such intrusion- the sparse grass gave a slight jerk, trees darkened their leaves as if armours were well-donned, but the sky remained immobile, and it was during then the first time I heard the caw of a raven, although its whereabouts was still invisible to me. Neither was the bird’s fleeting form visible to the couple, for their fondling and huddling proceeded on notwithstanding.

It is always possible that the blandest wind should resort to mindless violence when the patience for its humdrum nature becomes intolerable. I could smell in the air that something was going to happen; something ominous was imminent. The gentle cooing of the lovers soon amplified itself into heated arguments, and when words were proved ineffable for unleashing their belligerence, physical force set in. I would spare the details of what atrocious scene I then witnessed and wrapped up the incident by concluding that the girl disappeared with the boy, apparently a victor but with a defeated look on, stole away and eternally out of my eyeshot.

What was so grotesque of such incident was the close resemblance with one I witnessed, or, more or less encountered, a long time ago. I had long divined such memory was put behind or laid dormant under some inviolable field. My forgetfulness was not deliberate, for whenever I mentioned the past incident to anybody who should be relevant, those reckless ones would always reassure me that such and such things never took place before. The sound and colour of the memory soon wore off; its shadowy present no longer haunted me, and its existence, no longer an issue to be doubted or questioned.

The remembrance was rekindled years later, now in my most restrained situation. I again resulted in executing what I did years before- when the man forced his sweetheart down unto the ground and tried to dig a hole with her already droopy head, my voice of alarm and astonishment went along with his motion. Deeper and deeper the man persisted shoving down the lifeless corpse, while my voice also persevered. Together we effectively laid hidden under the earth the objects we once possessed, and resolved not to think twice about it, and that went effectively too.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Renovation

* Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers(1875)

Having witnessed the appalling Floor Scrapers, it is rather hard to imagine the painter would conjure up such a poignantly beautiful rainy scene two years later (Paris Street, Rainy Day). Nevertheless it is from the former painting that an answer is given of why Gustave Caillebotte seemed to straddle between Realism and Impressionism, but was never really belonging to either school. The Floor Scrapers is by no means idealistic, but also seems somewhat coy in comparison with the curt-spoken realism. The matter-of-factness is the only sentiment the viewers can procure from. Labourers scraping the floor- Caillebotte made no hints of effort or any intention to highlight their pain of slaving away, or to concoct a romanticism to trumpet such unconventional topic. The only supposed “embellishment” the painter made was the angle the scene was taken- the slightly slanted view unintentionally prolongs the floor, the real beauty then lies in how the light gleams through the window and eventually positions at the workers’ naked backs and the floor. A truly impressionistic beauty Caillebotte at length created.

Last night I dreamed I went back for the first time the place I came from, leading by a Ghost who was inexplicably cryptic of his former identity, or even a name. Or it was not a dream at all, for I awoke the next day to the blurry sight of my mud-stained feet, which pointed to the doubtless evidence of a late night wandering. The Ghost was equally mute with the reason of such untimely expedition, only that it lulled me into action in the most ineffable manner. I felt as if I was being mind-controlled.

Details are spared for my encounter with the Ghost, and my subsequent reaction, which, I can now only reveal, not without some horrors and jerks. I was by no means, however, utterly astonished. I will start with my first glance of the town, after so many years when I left it, half stealthily and half reluctantly. The town poised like one from a black-and-white photographic book, one that informs its readers the aftermath of an atrocious war. Objects were robbed off colours, only tinges of yellowish-green or greyish-beige were visible if one scrutinized them closely. The sparse colours leaned upon whatever that drooped, the pipe, the leaves, the broken tiles, as if a painter was decidedly unsatisfied with his monochromatic painting and thus hastily added some colourful taints in a swish. I remembered the town as one ever-shrouded by a veil of mist, but that heavy layer was now unfolded, and everything was barely laid before my eyes. I could have felt the town’s every whispering and every pulse, but in reality it seemed miles away when you could easily behold with your eyes.

The town was made conspicuous with exclusion of people. Yes, where had all the folks gone? The Ghost answered me not but pointed his near-pulverized finger toward an old factory. That factory was already deserted in my days. The Ghost and I went in and saw the scene which I had seen every day when I was young- a little dancer swirling and twirling to the music inaudible to us. The ripples she created with all those incessant rotations kindled an illusion as if the angels from Heaven were also in participation, hence the golden and red sparkles that were constantly before our marveled eyes. A sacredness besieged the little dancer and ensconced her securely with the encompassing holiness, therefore nobody never really accounted her appearance, or if she really looked as harmless as her dance. The Ghost dissented and determined we should go, despite how I feared I would lose the little dancer forever if I went away once. The little dancer would never disappear, the Ghost told me plainly, nor was she ever lived.

We then proceeded to the house where a renowned miser family lived. The family had always dined in their basement, for fear the food would be stolen following by any untoward invasion. Thanks to an immortal myth that ran through the family history, that those misers could unfailingly allay people’s variety of fears, the family was never short of its flowing adoration. I saw the plates still lying on the rusticated table and wondered whoever last worshipped its occupants. Perhaps it was the family’s last meal, the Ghost replied.

I was henceforth afraid to raise again the question of the town’s desertion. Something traumatic must had happened here. Something huge and tragic, brought along with the wind and rustled through in self-same fashion, had left the town dangling there like a baby deprived of its parents. The Ghost admired the town’s engulfing silence nonetheless, and gently implored to linger around longer. I lent my slippers to the Ghost and went home alone, barefoot. Tenderly I cooed myself again to sleep, determinedly forgot anything that I witnessed or divined. Tomorrow I woke up and would deem it a bittersweet dream.

I awoke with heart heaved with nostalgia and longing. I also found an uncanny resemblance between me and the Ghost, who, until I left, still refused to give me its name.