The poet, curator and artist shares an extract from his essay Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving (Or, a Foundation for Artful Intervention). An interview with the author will be released in the coming weeks
Music is a vehicle for perceiving. We demand music. The music of the soul connotes the body, thought, intervention, silence. We can’t be the speakers of our bodies; we’re already spoken for. We instead tune into, smile upon, the parcels of ourselves that are beaten up by historicity. To live, thrive, we don’t demand to not be beaten up. Instead we wield our beaten selves in the arms of the rest of our bodies. Sit up proud, happy. We made it here today. Go on.
Wow, it’s incredible to be drawn-out, to read ourselves from outside within the art of peace, freedom. If we embrace living in clarity and knowledge, then it behooves us to receive our social landscape more fully. What attributes do we project onto experience? Do we perceive that being alive is embraceable? Do we take refuge in what we know, using this refuge as a free space from which to receive each other? Is there a suggestion, here, that others might not see that we come from what we know? That others might not even see how we come from what we know?
Romantic encounters create a self-reflective sense. Our lovers have a Blackness we ourselves would like to have, actively strive toward. Further lovers embody the Blackness of ours we’ve tried to repress. In either case, our encounters with romance bring us into intimate contact with our joining, susceptibility. Submission and dominance get played out in different arrangements, depending on our relationship with our sexual partners. The reflexive meaning of submission and dominance: what it means to be dominated changes depending on our relationship with our partners: our relationship with their position, who they channel down through the centuries, their position in relation to us. Submitting to our lovers is submission to their Blackness. We reconcile to let those attributes take precedence over our own. We reconcile, to be dominated by our ancestors and, in a consensual sexual relationship, embrace being dominated by them. Or, we dominate our partners, and our own Blackness prevails.
What materialises when our lover has attributes that shuffle us into vulnerability? Vulnerability is complete and presents us with the momentum needed to receive. We have those defence mechanisms, our angels. We try to save ourselves from insult. Our defence mechanisms are sophisticated, useful. It isn’t wretched to try to recover our bodies from harm—it’s smart! But the mechanisms we use to cover ourselves are often outdated, causing us harm. We’re sabotaging our bodies. We don’t know when we’re doing it. We can’t be honest.
Our orientation to life is to the detriment of our unvoiced desires. Soul is an appearance, a glimmer, a smile. If we’re patient, we get to its essence. Our souls bring revelations to the surface in order to foreground information they deem primary to our survival. Do we have the nerve to listen? Are we ready to drive with trouble? The negative emotions are there to talk with us. Their negativity is what signals that we should pull inwardly, into slowness. So far as negativity gives positivity meaning, the negative emotions are not wretched, not to be resisted. On the contrary, resisting negativity proliferates it by authorising it to go undealt with. Unprocessed pain manifests through unconscious behaviour. Resisting negativity, refusing to perceive it, means it proliferates. It’s been authorised to go undealt with. It transforms, phase-changes, metamorphoses, joining the ecosystem of our life, though remaining mysterious, even alien, to us. Do we ever think about why we dream of controlling our bodies? Do we think through what we’re afraid of: resurgence, uncontrollable stories passed through, seated in us, or do we think through unrequited love?
We’ve never understood what myths really are. We know what a story is. We know a story is told across cultures, temporalities (and inside a culture, across its generations). But what moves a myth, generates the scale of its reach? How does it generate meaning for a culture as a whole? The men, the myth, the legends? There’s no style or method of walking around that will not pull out some sort of ancestral translation from our bodies. I walked down to the parking garage and it was cold. I had washed my skin with cold water that morning.
We can get aroused by art. Art as Blackness, as recreation. Is valuing Blackness the parallel of possessing it? We possess Blackness in greater or lesser degrees. To the extent to which we value those Blacknesses, we voice our ancestors.
Among folks in public, who have nothing to do with each other, somehow, small synchronicities, repetitions, are materialising. They are echoing each other, mirroring, and bonding. We are the joint apparatus of our bodies, labouring in tandem to keep us free, to help us survive. When we’ve built up a reservoir inside our bodies of mutual perceiving, we are able to tolerate the sense of being wrong ourselves. We don’t fight what is materialising in us; we consent to our situation first. We labor to enrich our situation from a place of mutual aspiration.
Peace proceeds from contentment; trust that the desired result does arise. We’d like to be replete immediately, to get rid of what we hold to be our negative attributes. We can’t get along with being flawed; we can’t bear the view/idea that we can’t fix our flaws right this moment. We’re not who we dreamed to be. We don’t authorise the cycle of undergoing: checking our bodies with judgment, rush, and anger. Can we tolerate the vision of our own failure? Be careful of smoothing over what is the field of failure, meaning, the place of unimaginability, and beyondness. Inside our bodies is the source of our creativity, rooted in the field of failure.
We serve our bodies with a clear, kind, wet, responsive disposition. If we’re impatient, we should practice not having views. If we’re too startled, we should practice acting on our views. Do we have to be successful when we struggle? The puzzle of it all is when we “get what we dreamed of”; it doesn’t seem satisfying. What we dreamed of is much more complicated.
Art is the way we proceed across time, the puzzles we read in each other. What does it take to shuffle, to forge a soulful connection? Are situations of conflict driven by personality flaws? By the inner intervention of personality flaws within each? By the resistance of Blackness to a kind of Blackness which it deems nonconsensual? By the drive to cover up what reads as not okay, incomplete—that’s to say, the ideological? Be a reinforcement or re-embodiment of the Blackness we wish to read reified in experience. This is, after all, a Blackness that gathers around itself.
We continue to feed the myth of our bodies to our bodies in order to survive. Who are we? We can get closer to the answer to this question when we hear out what drives our hurt.
This text is an extract taken from Music is a Vehicle for Perceiving (Or, a Foundation for Artful Intervention), written by Anaïs Duplan and published on Topical Cream on 1 December 2021
Authors Mia Couto and Julián Fuks reflect on their respective roles in the Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, founded by Rolex to foster communication and development across the arts
The unique relationship between mentor and protégé has been crucial to some of the most significant developments in art and science. Plato’s dialogues with his master Socrates, for example, laid the foundation for much of Western philosophy, while Humphry Davy’s mentorship of the young, impoverished Michael Faraday ensured he had the education and experience to go on to invent the electric motor.
Founded in 2002 by luxury watch brand Rolex, the Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative seeks to continue this rich tradition by pairing and supporting a new set of mentors and protégés across dance, film, literature, music, theatre, visual arts and architecture in each two year cycle. With previous participants including the architect Sir David Chipperfeld, the director Alfonso Cuarón and the composer Philip Glass, the initiative has helped to enrich the dialogue between artists of different generations and cultures, as well as to revive the essential relationship between the mentor and protégé.
In literature alone, it is clear that the programme has played a pivotal role in developing new talent. Naomi Alderman, for instance, who was the 2012-13 protégé, and whose mentor was the celebrated writer Margaret Atwood, this year won the world’s leading prize for English-language fiction by women. Also this year, the 2010-11 protégé, Tracy K. Smith, received the highest honour for poetry in the United States of America, having been appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Here, some of the latest participants in the programme – Mozambican writer Mia Couto and Brazilian author and translator Julián Fuks – reflect on why they became involved in the programme and what the roles of mentor and protégé mean to them.
The Mentor – Mia Couto
The main thing I can pass on as a mentor is to not be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes beauty is born of failure and without mistakes we wouldn’t have life. Young writers are so obsessed with writing well, but nobody really knows what writing well involves.
I chose to work with Julián specifically because he wanted to explore other territories and to change his practice. Our approach to writing is completely different. I’m driven by beauty and a passion for characters, characters who are far away from me. In Julián’s case, he is the character. He thinks before he dreams. These differences make a good combination in our roles as mentor and protégé. Julián and I speak the same language and of course there is both a familiarity and some sense of foreignness, but that allows us to venture deeper into our relationship.
I don’t necessarily see the role of the mentor as someone in a superior position, with more knowledge to pass on. Nobody really has any experience when it comes to writing; it’s just a process of beginning over and over again. Instead, what is useful for the protégé is in gaining insight into the processes of a more seasoned writer. I wanted to show Julián the early stages of my writing process: my hesitations, fears and my corrections.
We exchanged material at its raw stage, which was useful for both of us. The relationship of the mentor and protégé can be reciprocal, and in many ways Julián is also my mentor. He is a good judge of what is excessive, for example. I’m a poet as well as writing prose, and sometimes I write with too much poetic freedom. He helps me to know when to stop, which is just as important as knowing where to start.
The Protégé – Julián Fuks
A writer should always be attempting to transform themselves. I thought this programme was a good opportunity to become a different kind of writer, to become more creative and poetic, and Mia is the perfect person to help with this. Although there are differences in the way we write, we are similar in the way we relate to the world ideologically. I was born in Brazil during my parents’ exile from Argentina and Mia was born during his parents’ exile from Portugal. Brazil and Mozambique are very different countries, but because of colonisation and the fact that we are both linked to Portugal, there is some common identity.
At the beginning of my relationship with Mia, I was used to writing in a very obsessive and rigorous way, trying to bring precision to every sentence, every paragraph I wrote. But rather than developing this, I discovered that Mia doesn’t have this kind of control; as he says, most of the time he doesn’t know where he is going. He kindly showed me his first drafts, which often look nothing like his final work, and showed me how I could loosen my control, to free my writing from my meticulous processes. It’s something you could only do with such an accomplished writer and someone with so much experience.
I don’t think I’ve ever thought about having a mentor before I was approached for the programme. When I began to write, I just wrote and tried to learn from reading; there weren’t really any schools or teachers for writing. But then working with a mentor is not a simple process of teaching; it’s much more than that. It becomes a different type of experience, another way of looking at things. Creating this dialogue between writers has been important not only to exchange visions of literature, but visions of the world.
This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.
The Rolex Arts Weekend – featuring public events, including world premieres, with the programme’s participants, including Mia Couto, Philip Glass and Sir David Chipperfield – will take place in Berlin on the 3rd and 4th February 2018.
Style and substance sit shoulder to shoulder in Terry Newman’s new book, which examines the personal styles of 50 literary icons from Joan Didion to James Joyce
“Style is character,” Joan Didion famously wrote. The American writer, whose output is peppered with references to the cultural significance clothes, was talking about the tendency to view someone’s work as a reflection of their person. Specifically, she was writing about her young daughter’s desire to meet Georgia O’Keeffe after seeing her paintings. “She was assuming that the glory she saw in the work reflected a glory in its maker, that the painting was the painter as the poem is the poet…,” Didion tells us.
This is a common, almost instinctive, assumption about artists, wherein the politics of personality and style reign supreme, but is to a lesser extent applied to the literary world. It is telling then that Didion, the well-dressed woman, has become inseparable from her sharp, stylish prose.
London-based fashion journalist and writer Terry Newman takes this idea one step further in her new book, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore, which details the relationship between the writing and wardrobes of 50 iconic authors. Ahead of its release, Newman sheds light on the book below.
On the inspiration behind the book…
“I have only ever been interested in two things: books and clothes. When I started thinking about writing a book, it seemed to me that writing about what authors wear would be interesting. When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader and authors themselves were just as interesting as the books they wrote. I was always fascinated by the characters behind the books.”
On style versus substance…
“People sometimes feel that the clothes can be superficial and I have to say, when I sat down to write this book, I thought, perhaps this is a mad thing to do, to talk about such amazing writers and analyse them as per their clothes. Then I realised that is just not how I feel about clothes.
Clothes reveal intense amounts about people; about their character, about their purpose, about their emotions. It seemed to me, to find a little bit more about these authors that I love, that looking at their clothes was a really obvious choice. It can be as revealing as talking to somebody. I can’t talk to Samuel Beckett because he is dead, but looking at his clothes gave me a glimpse of his personality. When people refer to clothes as being superficial, I think they are missing the point.”
On what she learned…
“What I found was that my premise was correct. As I started researching, what was most interesting was all of these authors had a style, they all had this uniqueness. But also the way they wrote about and used clothes in their literature was similar as well. They are all magnificent writers, all of them to a greater or lesser extent use clothes as a way of illuminating character. From James Joyce right through to Tom Wolfe, not one of these authors have dismissed clothes as being superficial in their work. What I feel about clothes, almost all these authors feel. They are important and interesting.”