Category Archives: Reviews

José Saramago’s Sexy Punctuation

Ricardo Reis

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

by

José Saramago

 

Forgive me, José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, for what most interested me in your novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis: its punctuation. It is not that I have anything disparaging to say about the rest of it or am exercising discretion as one might when praising a fat lady’s bikini in lieu of what the apparel cannot hope to conceal. I have no dietary recommendations lurking and fighting their restraints in the back of my mind. And so do not take it as a slight that I am not particularly moved to comment on matters more literary and how these speak to your arguably more substantive writerly concerns. To me it is not a small matter that your work moves me to focus rather upon your strategy of commas and periods with no recourse to the other available marks of punctuation. The advancement of the possibilities of literary expression is what it accomplishes, moving the reader to greater alertness (why, indeed, can one not write, as do you, Unknown to him he has a sign stuck to his back, a paper dangling from a safety pin, Beast of burden for sale, no one has asked the price so far, even though they taunt him as they pass, Are you such a beast that you don’t feel your burden. Or. To exemplify again. You said the reason you didn’t come back was that you were annoyed, It’s true, Annoyed with me, Not so much with you, what has annoyed me and left me feeling weary is all this going back and forth, this tug of war between memory that pulls and oblivion that pushes, a useless contest, for oblivion and forgetting always win in the end. No quotation marks, no dashes, semi-colons, question marks or unnecessary full stops, all these implicit in the sense of what is said, quite like how we comprehend each other when we speak, quite like our distant literary forebears who were oral, think Homer for one stand-out.) Both reader and yourself feel to be more and more liberated, sensible of the mind’s operation, you become intimate with yourself and we with you. In addition is the inextricable thrill we have in the increasing claims of creative freedom and new territories that await. Let me offer my gratitude for the faith that you have in your readers’ capacity to intuit your scribed intentions without flags and semaphores, your trust in intelligence. To further your enterprise, for this reader, at least, a mere few spaces between thought and its qualifications would work. As for capitalization, not unlike a bikini upon a shapely form, it designates beauty and, if not wholly necessary, should remain.

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A Warrior Poet’s Hard-Won Epiphanies

Short Verses

Review

of

Kurt Brindley’s

Short Verses & Other Curses
(Haiku, Senryū, & Other Poetic, Artistic, & Photographic Miscellany)

 

A Warrior Poet’s Hard-Won Epiphanies

 

Self-made and/or naturally insight-endowed, Kurt Brindley has the soul of a poet; further, he has the soul of a warrior poet. He makes passing reference to the martial tradition that has also been a part of his life in the poem “If I Were A Samurai:”


I would know

when to bow
and when to ignore
when to speak
and when to be silent

when to eat
and when to fast
when to think
and when to meditate
when to advance
and when to hold
when to strike
and when to parry
when to kill
and when to die

All writers — the serious and the not-so-much — inevitably find themselves in a battle, as often as not Biblical in proportions, for the human soul, their own as it happens. (The New Testament’s words along these lines — Ephesians 6:12 — are more reminder than news.) Although drawing upon the culture of ancient Japan, the lines also resonate with those of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. Certainly, the outcome of this inner struggle determines how writers view themselves or what they have made of themselves by means of their literary endeavours. They have dared to partake of forbidden fruit whose concentrated energies fuse words together in a manner guaranteed to produce light endlessly in recipient minds.

Here is what is at risk when one trespasses upon this discipline:

the moment is nigh
when once self-evident truths
succumb to madness

Writers task themselves to pursue and to lay down truth that is hard-won in the full confidence that it will “receive its pardon.”

what must be endured
before the blossom unfolds
heaven only knows

Here the epiphany has come through relentless struggle; its visitation is in the nature of grace.

Paradoxically, the greater the responsibility one assumes, whereby it claims to embrace all, the lighter becomes the burden and the meditative being can declare it to be lyrical in experience.

nay, the setting sun
’tis we, a reflective we
who settles the day

The cynic may argue that it is all a matter of raw assertion — empty metaphysic — but a literary Coriolanus will flash his body’s reminders of battles fought to the incredulous:

the blood turns not red
until the wound has occurred
truths are bound by scars

And, no matter the devastation,

still, the sun rises
still, the wind blows, the trees sway
still, I live to thrive

Giving voice to our most indomitable attitudes of being, the poet has strengthened and enriched us, and, sometimes, simple logic leads to profound reflection:

If we are all of the same matter
Then mustn’t we matter all the same

In addition to his warrior spirit, it is a Rabelaisian welcome that has made Kurt Brindley’s web-site www.kurtbrindley.com a much trafficked gathering spot. He never fails to rejoice even in complaint, giving every evidence that he knows what could be instead of what is. “’Tis the warden found within/That keeps us from our freedom.”

“Meet Me In The Courtyard/Where The Blood No Longer Flows” — one of the final poems in this most admirable collection — speaks (the reviewer will presume to say) to the spirit of transcendence that ever renders humanity “sacred in our time.” Our time is no different than any other in being one of bloody execution.

The one regret that came from having downloaded this book is that a hard copy would have enabled going back and forth with ease and delight, choosing and balancing poem against poem. It is frustrating to be unable to satisfy more gracefully the need to experience again and again the individual contents that have given pleasure, insight, and the companionship of profound thought of a type that can only be poetically rendered. As the Bard himself would say,

when all is perfect
less even just one thin thread
nothing is perfect

That’s the trouble with all things virtual. So far.

__________

Here the Literary Is Numinous

The Drawing Lesson (Trilogy of Remembrance, #1)The Drawing Lesson by Mary E. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here the Literary Is Numinous

“If we have a sense of the mystery of life, we know there is far more than just this apparent world. But whatever lies beyond eludes our grasp. We sense its presence, but cannot rationally understand it — much less prove its existence. It teases us at the fringes of our perception.”

Multiple strands weave the tapestry of this book. To draw one of these from the finely woven whole …

The darkest narrative thread in The Drawing Lesson addresses the direction of the arts — specifically visual — that stubbornly persists from the beginnings of the past century. Mary Martin has a quarrel to pick not only with the claims of relevance but also with the assertions of cutting edge significance in so-called modernist art that has grown rather long in the tooth since figures such as Duchamp and the art world of the time proffered a moue to the aesthetic achievements of the ages and, in his case, came up with a soiled urinal, and then a moustache and goatee upon the Mona Lisa in their stead. Today’s touring giant rubber duck represents the perhaps inevitable infantilization of such soulless efforts. A case can, of course, be made that the challenges posed to artists by the incalculable horrors of the previous century could very well have them adopt the foetal position or, taking the human spirit into account, the teenager’s rebellious angst — one of the more enduring cultural achievements both in film and music of these times, not to mention in literary works such as The Catcher In The Rye. On this latter note of the verbal arts, the Biblical flood or plague of vampire and zombie novels would bear witness to the present self-indulgence in the writing world. It would seem that the powers of creation can but quail before a century of holocausts German, genocides Cambodian, Rwandan, and nuclear — to name just a few.

In a world where anything goes, it will happen that some carefully thought out anything might very well hit the mark with lasting force. Witness the Chinese performance artist who covered himself in honey and fish oil. Here I am, he proclaimed to his government, willing to feed these humble flies in this wretched toilet and yet you will do nothing in face of the nation’s millions of female infanticides.

It is something of an irony that the hero of The Drawing Lesson — referred to as “the artist”, whose art is firmly in the traditions of the past (“the Rembrandt light … seems to come from within the painting itself rather than from outside”), wins England’s coveted Turner prize. Work recognizably in the spirit and accomplishment of the eponymous William Turner has of late received little acknowledgment of this kind. Stretched canvas no longer proves worthy of the prize. The artist’s nemesis Rinaldo, whose conceptual work again ironically is apt today to be favoured but in the novel is not — feels himself overlooked for the sake of yet another rehashing of the lyrical and “numinous” — haystacks and sunlight — whose homiletic bias present so-called rational times had long felt to have given the lie to.

“For Rinaldo, only the inner world of the mind, independent of the visual, was worthy of exploration. Wainwright’s winning the Turner was a joke — a slap in the face to all contemporary artists.”

“[He] would have said that those forms, that light meant nothing — they were nothing but the random product of millions of cells dancing a meaningless dance in his brain.”

Rinaldo proves, unexpectedly, to be something of a salvation for the artist who recognizes something in his antagonist’s nihilistic passion that he must deal with in his own life (“the collision of … serenity and horror”) and that his art as well needs to engage for him to move forward.

“Emotion, he thought, is what makes us human.”

Ms. Martin’s bold reintroduction of concepts of the divine and one’s muse into the making of art is a welcome change in our secular times. In the words of the artist,

“‘If you are open and believe that the divine infuses everything in the cosmos, you see this light everywhere and in everything.’”

“‘Some quality, an essence, within the muse is like a candle flickering in the dark, illuminating everything in those rooms.’”

“‘… if you still retain some sense of mystery and imagination, then you are certain there is something beyond this external, dimly perceived world. That is the other. Sometimes you find it in yourself, sometimes in another person, and sometimes just out in our daily world or in a dream.’”

“‘The only proof that it exists is the fact we spend our lives seeking it. It’s that longing, that yearning that is the inspiration for all creativity.’”

One might even detect the nihilistic and the numinous performing a delicate dance within human consciousness:

“… was there any single truth or simply a myriad of individual momentary truths? Perhaps life was only a fragile tissue of conjecture.”

A single experience of the numinous can prove sufficient to guide a life and, eventually, redeem it as comes with the discovery of a few lines written by a recently deceased father who preferred to devote himself to his roses than show an interest in his writer son:

“When I was young, I saw in a dream
A golden castle covered with roses,
Not in the sky, but deep in the woods, here on earth.
It told me the meaning of all life and the universe.
Tears ran down my face — for it was only a glimpse
Which never came again.”

In addition to these metaphysics, Martin can write one hell of an uncomfortable dinner scene, in Venice no less.

It might be argued that Rinaldo is a straw man easily knocked down and that many instances of conceptual art have great significance. While this might be so, it is also true that much of it produces the opposite effect. Today, a used couch found on Craigslist is deemed worthy of exhibition. An artist’s soiled, detritus-strewn bed commands million-dollar figures. These instances plucked from a self-replenishing harvest go far beyond giving pause. In the general public and among many in the arts, eyes roll and stomachs churn. Catch the response on video and submit it to the Turner committee!

The Drawing Lesson accomplishes its push-back against nihilism by having the artist not commit apostasy when faced with his own limitations and not refute personal vision when another’s concept offers little more than a scrawl across its artefact. Instead, he engages and thereby adds another tenet to his quiver — “Only by enraging the status quo could one ever create new art.”

View all my reviews

Shimmer: A Faerie’s Tragic Tale by Claudette Melanson

Shimmer
In the Great Tradition of Hans Christian Andersen

Short is always better when it comes to children’s stories and they come into their own when all is story and character and to the point. (Children – adults should learn from them – have no patience for writerly self-indulgence.) Claudette Melanson’s “Shimmer” is in the great tradition of Hans Christian Andersen. A tale of star-crossed lovers it is also Shakespeare for children.

When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid

theliteraryreader

When Everything

When Everything Feels like the Movies

Review by Paul Xylinides

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Review of When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid

by Paul Xylinides

From Intimations of Literary Immortality to Recollections of Marlon Brando

Sometimes this book reviewer’s inclination is to throw up his hands and simply quote the entire work under consideration. Since that simply will not do, copious references will have to serve instead as a means of securing a potential reader’s commitment to adding Raziel Reid’s novel to their inner library. Winner of Canada’s Governor-General’s Award (2014) for Children’s Literature, When Everything Feels like the Movies transcends age categories in the same manner as does Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and also marks a new level of maturity in today’s literary culture of a significance perhaps last seen with the judicial acceptance of Lady Chatterley’s Lover of all books.

“I would’ve gone down for a pair of…

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Dismantle The Sun by Jim Snowden

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Review of Jim Snowden’s Dismantle The Sun
by
Paul Xylinides

The Deus Is Neither Ex Machina Nor In Machina

“Someone had to die for Hal Nickerson to live in the house that he and his wife Jodie bought for a song seven years ago.” (p.7)

So begins this dry-toned, cool, and detached novel with a line and a sentiment that prove to be something of a mantra for its main protagonist and a lynchpin refrain for the narrative arc. In the world of nature — in the world of man — something has to die for something else to live. Some persons — the Nickersons — include this in their ample proof of the non-existence of a beneficent Creator, while others — the fundamentalists — attribute the state of the cosmos to original and ongoing sin. Both take it all very personally. Hal Nickerson’s atheism in conjunction with that of his wife informs all of his sensibility while providing a certain distance from the most basic issues of life and death, love and hatred.

As rational nonbelievers they try to live as much in accord with the laws of nature as they perceive them. Their aforementioned house had been designed in the clean spare fashion of the architects Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright:

“The cold inhumanity of Bauhaus fit well with Lloyd Wright’s desire to build in harmony with nature because Upper Michigan was a frozen despairing waste six months out the year.” (p.8)

Hal is, however, less enamoured of their choice than is his wife who was responsible for much of his intellectual liberation from a fulminating preacher parent (“away from the One True Faith” – p.17). Not without some trepidation he also yields when, laid low with a fatal disease and in an apparent bow to human biological needs, she sets up a liaison for him with a female acquaintance. Absent an emotional component, her strategy proves ineffectual (“She wore some kind of perfume, I think. I’ve got all the windows open trying to get it out.” – p.12). What raises his libido is a more immediate and youthful promise of satisfaction as seen in this example of accomplished prose:

“A thin young woman just inside the doorway wriggled out of her drab grey parka as Botticelli’s Venus might have if Botticelli had lived out his productive years in Upper Michigan. This auburn-haired temptation wore a brown threadbare sweater and blue jeans; she was like the Hope Diamond wrapped in butcher paper.” (p.29)

When he does fall in love with one of his students who is, ironically, immersed in the belief system of her own fundamentalist father, both Hal and his wife Jodie find that they are confronting existential issues with little more than theoretical assertion:

“We are a product of our minds. We’re what our minds do. It’s probably worthwhile to try seeing things that way.” (p.184)

“Jodie chuckled softly, ‘And you say you lack dignity. To think I’m afraid of a life without you. Who the hell are we, Hal? Can you please tell me who we are?” (p.323)

On more than one occasion Hal poses the same question to himself, the most climactic being when caught in flagrante delicto with his young student:

“His life was in danger from a fat man in pajamas who seemed to be deciding who he’d like to kill first. These things did not happen to the Hal Nickerson he knew or recognized. He must be someone else. Who am I, he asked, that the world talks to me this way? (p.309)

A work such as this — replete with ideas, and drawing upon a broad range of literary and philosophical references — would perhaps do well in places to heed the poet Blake’s advice regarding the folly of generalization and take more care to avoid statements such as the following:

“To wish someone long life was to wish despair upon them.” (p.74)

This sentiment might be understandable if one were, say, no more than a student of Shakespeare’s tragedies — particularly the demented world of a Lear — and somehow have missed the redemptive perspectives of a Leontes (The Winter’s Tale) or a Prospero (The Tempest), fashioned in the Bard’s ultimate maturity. Snowden’s erudition is not narrow. The human spirit alone deserves more.

At one point in the story’s unfolding of Hal’s sensibility, we are told,

“The degree to which his attitude changed with his blood sugar level was one of the first things to convince him that his consciousness wasn’t separate from his body.” (p.105)

With this interconnectedness, the question remains to be addressed as to the implications of the reverse. It would seem, as Hal falls out of love with his dying wife, that only one answer is possible, and it comes as a kind of revelation — however secular — when something other than material intervention brings his wife back yet again from the brink of death. She shows little sympathy for his having placed his affections elsewhere — apparently something other than pure biological necessity is at work for both of them:

“… I need you in the same way I need oxygen. You are the only person who could ever break my heart, and while my mother thinks I owe my life to prayer, I think I owe my life to you.” (p.300)

This is not unlike the experience visited upon Shakespeare’s romance figures whose relationship to their children (Perdita in The Winter’s Tale and Miranda in The Tempest) transforms their tragic circumstance.

Ironically Hal finds himself in the same dilemma as his fundamentalist parent who says at one point about his second wife,

“I care more for that woman … the one you called my whore, than I could for a thousand of you.” (p.225)

Hal thinks similarly of his own new passion:

“The same burning hand that wrote mene mene tekel on a wall wrote this on every atom of every molecule of every chromosome in every cell of his body.” (p.157)

Suggestive of just how much believers and nonbelievers have in common, he often has recourse to this kind of biblical reference or religious terminology in order to describe his experiences (“… It was not a force that could be resisted without terrible damage to the soul — Hal hated to be mystical about it but could think of no secular way of expressing the idea.” — p.255) Both camps find it impossible to entertain a relationship with someone not possessing similar views. Neither seems to quite understand a universe of complete freedom one of whose infinite possibilities may very well be the creation — “invention” — or discovery of a human soul:

“The thing most fearsome about death was that it threatened to erase all we knew and all we were. It was this fear that led to the invention of the soul in the first place.” (p.106)

Is it fear alone or do we feel that promise within ourselves? Is this the greatest challenge that drives us as a species? Despite all our learning and advances, each individual, it appears, needs to start at the beginning:

“‘I’m trying to figure out who I am,’ Hal said.” (p.166)

At times Hal comes close to endorsing a metaphysical sensibility in addition to his rational paradigms:

“They lived … as a universe of two, and as long as that was so, every lunatic word ever spoken in support of mad passion was as sensible as Euclid’s most delicate proofs.” (p.169)

However,

“A man’s life is a closed system, subject to the laws of thermodynamics and a guaranteed victim of entropy in all its loves and interests.” (p.252)

He labours under the assumption that a God would have created a different kind of universe:

“A while back he’d read a story of a star in Pegasus that stripped its innermost planet of 10,000 tons of surface material and atmosphere per day.” (p.305)

Snowden sprinkles his character’s bleak reflections with what is always redemptive — humour especially in the darkest moments:

“‘Things could be better,’ Hal took a bite. It tasted so good he felt instant depression at the knowledge that the universe, his life, and this sandwich were all finite, ‘This is a good sandwich’.”

The title Dismantle The Sun comes, of course, from Auden’s famous poem of loss “Stop all the clocks …” also quoted in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. However, in both movie and novel, the bereaved do find that they can love again. The nature of the love itself will have to answer what this imports for life’s greater issues. In a desperate attempt to restore the feelings that have died in the face of his wife’s long-drawn demise, Hal acts in recollection of his father’s words:

“‘Son, you just make the gestures and the feelings take care of themselves. The spirit just comes over you.’ Hoping that for once his father knew what he was talking about, Hal grabbed Jodie’s frail, bony hand and clasped it tight.” (p.323)

It is always something of a mismatch when intellectuals critique the fundamentalist religious hucksters in society who maintain patently refutable positions. The phenomenon is not unlike watching an adult stoop to argue with a child as to the non-existence of Santa Claus. In the end, of course, intellectual might cannot undermine the human drive to transcendence whether its ultimate means be through science, religion, or a combination of the two. Really the only excuse for the Richard Dawkins, Bill Mahers, and Julian Barnes of the world for their publicly engaging in this manner would be in order to dislodge such archaic beliefs from the substantial hold they maintain over large segments of society. In a parallel to the Pauline injunction,

“Put on the whole armour of God … For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” — Ephesus (6:11,12)

Jim Snowden takes up the same cause in Dismantle The Sun where he draws upon a broad grounding in the humanities in order to marshal the forces of human reason and scientific evidence against the primitive fundamentalism that has made little advance and, in some quarters, become more horrific in its positions since biblical times. While his sympathies would appear to be firmly in the atheist camp, there is no lack of integrity in his presentation of its shortcomings before life’s mysteries. Consummate writing does justice to this compelling, sustained, and acutely resolved drama.

Lion and Leopard by Nathaniel Popkin

Lion and Leopard

Review of Nathaniel Popkin’s Lion and Leopard

by

Paul Xylinides

Art in the Bosom of a Real God

It may very well be that Nathaniel Popkin’s novel Lion and Leopard requires more than one reading in order fully to appreciate its argument. Certainly the discerning reader should have no trouble recognizing the quality of its painterly effects that so thoroughly complement the subject matter of this passionate work. Whoever seeks out literary writing for its own sake will not be disappointed. Nathaniel Popkin is a writer’s writer and possesses the prized capacity to render the essentially poetic not only in accessible but also in original phrases and images:

“Thin clouds, pink on the underside, blue-grey on top and black on the edges, stretched above the yellow fields on either side of the road.” (p.33)

“… cattle the color of boiled sugar.” (p.70)

“… the white hot flesh of the inside of an orange peel.” (p.103)

“Trees were black silhouetted against the sky, rose-stained by the vanishing sun.” (p.188)
To evoke the poetry of the everyday world is the most efficient and compelling means the writer has to restore the distant past. Not merely to record but to breathe life into vanished times it is necessary to present a world that reflects the sensibilities of the times. Somehow these sensibilities inform that world and are certainly our sole access to it. To do them justice the language must needs be transcendent in the same manner that life transcends death, the present transcends the past.

Rather than adopt the omniscient author’s point of view, as of one looking through a microscope, Popkin chooses the much more reliable perspectives of his individual characters to give integrity and variety to his scenes of early nineteenth century America. It is a methodology that allows him to bring all of his compositional talents to bear. One character says of another on first meeting:

“Krimmel’s face was thick and heavy, as if swollen, and his hair, which carried the light like clear maple resin, drifted down to rounded shoulders.” (p.13)

By this means we are introduced to the one who sees his role as an artist to be transformative and revolutionary. Krimmel, the European immigrant, aims to counter what he terms the “literal art, transcription and pedantry” that has taken hold of the country’s nascent cultural identity. “There is no wonder,” he says of its essentially conservative sanctification of the past and faithful rendering of surface:

“You can’t paint a man by magnifying every detail.” (p.88)

According to his listeners, as he spoke, “His eyes faded in the brightening sun. When we turned to bid him goodbye, they seemed almost white.” He would appear to have both an artist’s inward vision for the possibilities of his craft while overwhelmed by all that he saw and that demanded to be made known.

Krimmel has come from Vienna; taught by a group of artists, the fittingly named ‘Nazarenes’, he brings their gospel with him:

“Don’t speak to your subject, let it speak to you … A picture … isn’t a treatise … it seduces.”

“…let the landscape [first] seduce you.”

“…a successful picture leads the viewer into the scene, rather than bringing the scene to the viewer — or even telling him what it’s about.” (p.16)

“…making a picture starts with the eyes and not with the pencil.” (p.126)

The purpose of art is not to expose “some ugly truth” or, by the same token it might be argued, some beautiful truth but, rather, to reveal “possibility” and “the unknown” — qualities most appropriate for a young country, including Europe with its recent upheavals, in the throes of establishing its identity while ridding itself of the obfuscating claims and impositions of history’s entrenchments.

As one considers the mission he has undertaken — “To change the direction of art in America” or, in other words, “To give it new breath” — one can sympathize with its grandiosity when viewed from Tolstoy’s perspective that historical change is the product of innumerable individuals who choose for their own purposes to engage in altering the world. Where the Russian writer was using as his example those who enlisted in Napoleon’s armies and thereby made history, the cultural historian will appraise America’s contributions to the arts from the perspective of the countless artists, writers, and composers who took upon themselves to produce idiosyncratic work, spontaneous in nature and yet with a deep attunement to equally exploring sensibilities. It would not be too generous to maintain that each one of these original artists, rather than being tempted to commemorate the passing scene and its deeds, saw the work as an ongoing revelation:

“If a picture captures what is latent in a scene, it can grow in the imagination of the viewer. If a picture shows only an object as it is without even hinting at all that might be, it is dead in the imagination.” (p.130)

… whereas the establishment artist who cannot help but perform as a mouthpiece for the powers that be “paints to make us better citizens” (p.139). Intended to reflect the significance of the fledgling nation’s deeds, his work,

“…made portraits of the heroes across the political spectrum — from Tom Paine to Gouverneur Morris — and put them in a gallery as the American Pantheon … This is the original imprint of art in America: as commodity and as institution, like the treasury, in service of the nation.” (p.138)

To increase the “moral imperative” of the art work, such an artist toys with devices that will magnify detail in a manner precursive of future photographic realism. He considers making his figures life-size for purposes of greater authority. The striving is ever toward a humanly minted apotheosis:

“Religion, not as theology, but as the visceral reality, must … be reflected in art.” (p.150)

Yet, as the black prostitute whom Popkins ironically enlists to remove the sanctimonious mask says:

“So many of them become shameful and angry when I show them the path to God.” (p.158)

Art as an instrument of inquiry and revelation must propound a countering vision to the religiosity of America’s warring interests:

“Our souls are in the bosom of a real god, one who doesn’t spend half his time inventing suffering and the other half weeping for it.” (p.225)

“If we don’t destroy the brutality within us it will destroy us, the dream of America dissolved in the bare anger of becoming America.” (p.253)

It is not only by means of the aforementioned human frailties that Popkins reveals his subversive sympathies. He casts a similarly grounded eye upon the inevitable transactions that come into play in the course of any artist’s engagement with the world:

“I went into the greenhouse. It is winter and yet the pea vines are insistent. In my hand was a short roll of twine in case any of the spindles needed tying to the trellis. For a moment I was arrested by the beauty of the flowers, glistening white in the early sun, a touch of purple, a heat about them that can only be compared to that otherworldly sensation produced during fornication …” (p.295)

Popkins ends with a culminating painterly flourish and a deeply narrative irony that inverts the biblical unfolding of revelation. Where the Christ figure advanced the spiritual values of the Old Testament Jehovah, here, instead,

“… with the sun setting, like a sheepherder the son drove the father up the path to [the] … mill. The pink that seeped across the sky darkened the lines of the clouds so that it appeared a giant semi-translucent wing of a dragonfly, with its intricate map of veins, was covering the world.” (p.341, italics mine)

Potential readers are urged to avail themselves of Lion and Leopard and draw, from its full breadth, their own exegesis of this exquisitely rendered passage.

___________