bramwell on netflix


reflections on black swan

i bought black swan today on blu-ray.  there’s something i’ve been thinking about since mr. mcg and i saw the film in the theater.  the simple conclusion of my musings is: hey… there’s a buncha shiny surfaces in this here movie!

the – relatively – more thought-out conclusion of my musings comes from the first 20ish years of my life spent, in one way or another, dancing:

90% of a dancer’s life is spent in front of a mirror.  mirrors are floor-to-ceiling in every dance studio in the world.  this in no great revelation.  dancer’s need to see what they are doing and how well they are doing it.  but here’s the thing…  to a dancer, the mirror is not merely a source of reflection, but a tool and, peculiarly, a means of dissociation.

most people look in a mirror to confirm or affirm the reality of their ‘self’:  this is what i look like with my hair down.  this is how my clothes fit me.  i have more freckles this summer than i did last summer.

when a dancer looks in a mirror, she sees something outside her ‘self.’  there is certainly a correlation between a dancer’s physical self and her mirror image, but it is not definitive.  the dancer knows that if she angles her torso a bit further downstage and softens the bend in her elbows, the reflection will follow and she – the mirror dancer – will improve her body-lines and the accuracy of her movements.  the mirrror image is informed by the dancer’s supernatural ability to control her body, but it is not the dancer herself.

through the mirror, a dancer in the corps de ballet sees how she is a part of the whole.  she uses it to lose her individual identity for the betterment of the choreography, the company and the performance.  a soloist sees how she is apart from the whole and how the singularity of her performance is about the perfection of individuality.

but, i dare say, very few dancers look in the studio mirror and exclaim to themselves, “hey, look!  i have more freckles this summer than i did last summer.”

it seems to me, then, that a story about a dancer spiraling into pathological dissociation should be chock-a-block with pretty, shiny surfaces.

am i reading too much in to the symbolism and meaning of the film?  probably.  do i care?  not a bit.

how to begin a book…

and – perhaps – how not to end it.

i give books 50-100 pages to hook me.  if i’m not invested by 100 pages, i’m not going to read the book.  i own too many to waste my time with a book that may not ever suit my fancy.

the somnambulist by jonathan barnes had me hooked by page 2.  here’s why:

Be warned.  This book has no literary merit whatsoever.  It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre.  Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.

It is all true.  Every word of what follows actually happened, and I am merely the journalist, the humble Boswell, who has set it down.  You’ll have realised by now that I am new to this business of storytelling, that I lack the skill of an expert, that I am without any ability to enthral [sic] the reader, to beguile with narrative tricks or charm with sleight of hand.

One final thing, one final warning: in the spirit of fair play, I ought to admit that I shall have reason to tell you more than one direct lie.

What, then, should you believe?  How will you distinguish truth from fiction?

Naturally, I leave that to your discretion.

count me in!  it’s like the old brain-twister about the two men standing side-by-side, one claiming “i always tell the truth” and the other claiming “i always lie.”  which do you believe?

the narrator, through his self-awareness and -deprecation and his seemingly impossible omniscience, manages to portray both himself and god through his storytelling.  (just ask him.)

the story that unfolds is at once ridiculously fantastical and potentially plausible.  barnes creates a world in which outlandish characters and circumstances seem unquestioningly apropos.

my great problem – and, apparently, that of many others – is the ending of the book.  in the last few chapters, dei ex machina veritably fall from the sky without warning or precedent.

some reviewers have suggested that perhaps barnes got bored with the story or that his editor enforced an unreasonable deadline for the book. in an interview in 2008, barnes noted that he polished up the english edition for publication in the states.  had he been displeased with the ending, he surely could have “fixed” it for the american edition.

so… what gives?  could the peculiarity of the ending of the book be a reflection of an author that hasn’t navigated the landscape before heading out on his literary safari?  or, has he found a bizarrely appropriate way to unravel the sanity of his narrator?  after all, we were warned about the merits of the writing, the story and the characters by the narrator himself in the first two pages of the book.

[if anyone has read this book and has an opinion about the ending, i’d love to hear it.]