#IStandWithJKRowling: My Thoughts

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

I wanted to share an opinion on a hashtag I saw, which was popular with the interweb. I’m talking about the #IStandWithJKRowling, and it especially referred to her comments about trans women not being real women.

I’m not sure why she has been so vocal and passionate about this issue and I’m all for freedom of speech. I really believe that people should share their views no matter how controversial within a democratic system. But I equally think that said people should be prepared to take whatever backlash results from their statements.

That’s why when Rowling along with other public figures like Margaret Atwood and Noam Chomsky and 150 more people got together and wrote a letter denouncing the “restriction of debate,” I was in favor of it.

It’s also why, I don’t understand how the concept of freedom of speech has been appropriated by the Western World’s alt-right, like I don’t understand how apparently they have appropriated words like boogaloo.

Frankly, what Rowling has been talking about is quite dull to me and I haven’t really explored it fully. I mean, I’m a punk at heart and I just don’t like any types of labels. If it was up to me, if you feel like you’re a woman then you’re a woman. If you feel like you’re a man, then you’re a man. If you feel like you have every gender or no gender, that’s fine.

So, when it comes to the legal systems and human rights, I’m not sure about any of that stuff. But if I was the president of the world, this would be my ethical standpoint on these matters.

As far as the hashtag itself is concerned, while I was born at the right time to grow up with the Harry Potter saga, there was nothing about it that particularly excited me. I tried reading the books and found they just didn’t draw me in. And I even watched the movies but couldn’t get past the first three. It just wasn’t my thing.

Obviously, Rowling is upsetting a lot of her biggest fans with her behavior. Members of the LGBTQ community actually drew on them for a sense of empowerment about who they were. All this, of course, raises the question of once again, whether it is possible to separate the art from the artist.

What I believe is that everyone has a dark side and opinions about life that we disagree with. This includes artists, simply because they are human beings.

The Problem with Major Bookstore Chains

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

When it comes to literature, it is commonly believed that people read less nowadays. That myth has been debunked and the rise of ebooks, Kindles and so on have actually made accessibility easier.

Now, I’m a paperback guy when it comes to books, so I don’t really factor in a virtual experience as far as reading is concerned. It doesn’t work for me. So, one of the things I like to do is I like to visit bookstores, often to the point where I buy more books than I have time to read. I know there may be people out there listening to this who feel what I am saying.

The thing I have noticed is that bookstores in general are a tricky thing. If you go to the mainstream ones, their selection is not so impressive. I more than likely do not find the books I am looking for.

I’m also not surprised by anything that particularly catches my eye. It’s a lot of mainstream stuff, a lot of celebrity biographies, a lot of populist philosophy, a lot of books about cooking. There are some big name authors out there but only a handful are really prominently exhibited in those major bookstore chains.

This is not a new trend. In Galway, Ireland, the major bookstore is Eason. But I hardly ever remember buying a book there. I would usually go to Charlie Byrnes of Keane’s, though the latter was a bit further away from the city center. And most of the time, I would favor second-hand books, also because I used to be really, really broke.

Actually, what I liked to do is at the time, they would randomly stack books outside the store and I would close my eyes and randomly pick out a book from the 1 euro baskets. I would walk to the counter not knowing what I picked up, pay it and then see. Even if it sounded like the dullest, most uninteresting thing ever, I would make myself read at least the first chapters and try my best to get through the whole thing. That’s how I made so many great discoveries, read some really challenging books ever from an early age.

One time, I was embarrassed to walk to the counter with an adult book titled Amour, Amour by Marie Claire de Villefranche, and so I noticed what I had picked out before the counter. Instead of paying for the book, I was so embarrassed, I just walked off stealing it. I wasn’t caught but I guess the thrill of reading a pornography book was enhanced by the fact that I had stolen it.

All this to say that during the week, news was announced that 150,000 WHSmith jobs could be lost. When I lived in London and when my mother lived in the UK, that’s when I would occasionally visit one of their stores. Then, of course, I used to buy copies of Sight & Sound magazines at some airports there. But again, they’re overpriced and their selection of books tends to be pretty dull.

Of course, I feel for the people who risk losing their jobs. I really do. But I read a tweet reflecting my sentiments on the situation that stated: “I do wonder if the drop of customers at WHSmith is less to do with COVID and more to do with reducing the magazine and book and stationary stock to stock massively overpriced chocolate bars and bottles of water no-one ever wants.”

And I’m talking about WH Smith here but this is something that extends to the cultural sector at large. It’s like when you watch an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, and you see that these restaurants are in financial dire straits and in order to save their restaurants, instead of focusing on the quality, they try all these things that just cheapen them like early-bird specials and a menu that is too big, microwaving food and all that stuff.

In other words, what I am getting at is that WHSmith, but also arthouse cinemas and even museums and other art institutions are in dire need of a more tasteful curation. Maybe a long-term plan that works on a wider diversity and quality control.

Maybe the collapse of WHSmith will lead to the rebirth of independent bookstores and if that happens, it may be the best thing for cultural development. Of course, if it happens, I wish the thousands of people who will lose their job all the best.

THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 21 (RADIO SHOW)

Welcome to THE ART MOVEMENT, a radio show about arts and culture, where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed. The show is hosted and produced by globe-trotting arts presenter Matt Micucci, and features plenty of music, interview clips and thoughts on current events.

Listen to episode 21 via one of the players below.

Download the full radio show here.

In this episode:

  • The sound of the planets
  • Trans-genderism and Virginia Woolf
  • Are people reading less?
  • Are tourists harmful to artworks?
  • What Pablo Picasso told the Nazi Gestapo.

and more, plus lots of music.

5 Clips from THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 19 (RADIO SHOW)

Here are five clips from the latest episode of my radio show, THE ART MOVEMENT, the weekly radio show hosted/produced by arts presenter Matt Micucci. The show revolves around art and culture, and where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed.

(To listen to/download the full radio show, scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Why is Franz Kafka so celebrated and what is the meaning of “Kafkaesque”?

How Diego Velázquez gifted the Infanta Margarita Teresa with immortality.

Who was Emmett Till?

A Joaquin Phoenix-narrated animal rights documentary sparked a hostage crisis crisis in Ukraine.

What did Pablo Picasso in Cannes after the Second World War?

Lots more where that came from! You can listen to the full epsiode of THE ART MOVEMENT (including the music) via the player below.

Download the full show here.

Franz Kafka and the meaning of “Kafkaesque”

A partial transcript of Episode 19 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

…Earlier I mentioned that I am on a Kafka-high, which prompted me to finally visit Franz Kafka. I have read most of his stuff and am currently reading a collection of short stories titled Meditation that I had never come across before but is absolutely modern and superb. And that is because Kafka is one of those timeless writers, despite the fact that he was born well over almost 150 years ago.

Personally, I can say that he is one of the authors I best identify with both on a personal level and in terms of work output.

Today, he is one of the best-known authors of all time but when he was alive, he would never have guessed. Very little of his was published in his lifetime and it was only shortly after his death that he gained that recognition that he so rightly deserved. So much has been written about Kafka and yet, the nature of his works is so compelling that it doesn’t take a genius to know that so much will continue to be written about him for as long as there will be humanity to populate this planet.

But what is it about him that is so compelling? I can only give a brief overview of what it is that is so fascinating about him and because, like I said, so much have been written by esteemed scholars, I will try to illustrate the essence of the power of his works based on what I understand of what I have written of his and read about him.

This can all be encapsulated in the word “Kafkaesque,” which is part of our vocabulary, and is a term that describes a feeling of being powerless against a higher authority of some kind; when we’re bullied, humiliated and mocked by society, when we feel like we don’t fit into a group or even our own families.

In Metamorphosis, Kafka represents the shame he feels for his own body and sexual urges, and concludes that it’s probably best if he were squashed like a bedbug. At the beginning of The Trial – which I commonly refer to as one of my favorite books as I do The Castle – the protagonist is accused of being guilty out of the blue and for no reason, and as the tortuous narrative progresses, he too progressively begins to believe that he is guilty.

A lot has been said about Kafka’s own insecurities, the origins of which is believed came from his troubled relationship with his own father, to whom he wrote a painfully honest, heartbreaking letter that he allegedly never read but has since been published. And as I am reading Meditation, I am noticing all the more just how observational Kafka was but also how forward-thinking he was.

This is a collection of eighteen short stories by Franz Kafka written between 1904 and 1912. It was Kafka’s first published book, printed at the end of 1912. It sold poorly, like anything Kafka published in his lifetime, but it is absolutely wonderful. And these short stories are kind of just simple reflections on life, existence and the way people relate to each other, understand their roles within society and even think of their own selves.

The opening story, for example, is “Children on a Country Road.” The protagonist of the story is an 8-year-old girl and to me a lot of it is about how gender roles are defined within society. In another story, “The Sudden Walk,” he illustrates a reawakening of the human mind and humanity’s longing for friendship and love.

In a moment, I will read one of the stories by Kafka, “The Rejection,” which is a story that illustrates just how modern Kafka feels but also his incredible satirical wit, which is something that I feel makes him so appealing, at least to me, as I am a great believer in the communicative power of humor and wit.

Download the full radio show here.

A trip to Prague Castle

A partial transcript of Episode 19 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

My love for Prague has been reignited over the past several weeks, as I was forced to remain with the outbreak of the pandemic. At first, I was far from happy about the whole thing but now, I feel like I couldn’t have been stuck in a more beautiful city and I have been treasuring these last few days that I have here, as I am most likely going to be flying out of here on the third of August, unless something happens.

Nonetheless, for the past weeks I have been saying that Prague has been one of the places that responded the quickest to the outbreak and as a result, things never got so severe here. In fact, for about two months now, businesses have reopened and these include museums.

So, after a while of being reluctant about leaving the house, I decided that I might as well take in some of the sights and museums. So, last week for example, I told stories about visiting several museums in the city and since then, I ticked another landmark that I had never visited, strangely enough. Prague Castle.

Now, the Prague Castle is a must-see for anyone visiting the city. It’s a complex. A beautiful complex built in the 9th century that is a must-see for anybody visiting this city. Prague castle was the seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia. Today, it’s the official office of the President of the Czech Republic.

It’s also incredibly vast and varied. The Guinness Book of Records acknowledges it as the largest ancient castle in the world. And what did strike me was the wide variety of architectural styles that can be admired within it.

There’s the Old Royal Palace and the Vladislav Hall, which combines Late Gothic with elements of the newly arriving Renaissance style; the St. Vitus Cathedral, which stood unfinished for centuries and as such, is like a schizophrenic blend of Renaissance, Gothic and Art Nouveau; and then there is the small-scale small-scale architecture of the little houses of Golden Lane, among other things that I won’t list there for time’s sake.

Actually, the reason why I decided to finally visit the Castle was that I have been on a Franz Kafka high as of late. I have read most of everything he wrote in his life and think about him a lot everytime I find myself in his hometown. Kafka himself lived in one of the little homes of Golden Lane. More precisely, he lived in house number 22 with his sister Ottla in 1916-1917.

The house itself is tiny, so much so that it’s almost hard to imagine two people living there. So, he didn’t live there very long and now, the little house is a souvenir shop. I bought a Kafka notepad and a little postcard because I just felt like I had to buy something Kafka-related.

In any case, it’s kind of a thrill being there for a fan like me, also because I am sensible to spaces. While he was there, he wrote some short stories for the book A Country Doctor and found inspiration for his book The Castle, which he would start writing in 1922 and would not be published in his lifetime.

If you do decide to visit, you should know that you can walk around the castle for free and aside from the spectacular architecture, you can enjoy an amazing view of Prague from above that alone is worth your climbing the steep steps that take you to the castle.

Some areas of the castle are restricted, which means that you need a ticket to visit them. These include some of the cathedrals and Golden Lane before 6 p.m., when all the houses and little shop inside them are open for business. But after 6 o’clock, Golden Lane is open too. I didn’t have time to visit the restricted areas because they are locked up by 6 p.m. But I do think that getting a ticket would be well worth the price.

LOLA CLOQUELL – Matt’s Art Chat #27 (PODCAST)

For the new episode of the Matt’s Art Chat series, I reconnected with a friend of mine from my London days. Lola Cloquell is a poet and a writer, as well as a literature enthusiast, currently based in Martinique.

In this interview, we talk about what it’s like to live on such a fascinating island as well as what its art scene looks like. Cloquell is currently contributing to cultural fabric also by organizing a regular series of literary events, named Café Littéraire, which you can find out more about by visiting its Facebook page, https://bit.ly/2Zg4eJT.

MATT’S ART CHAT is a series of podcast conversations about the arts with creators, curators and art lovers from all over the world. The series is hosted by arts presenter Matt Micucci.

Also available on PodBean and IHeartRadio.

Elizabeth Bishop and the art of losing

A partial transcript of Episode 15 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, click here.

Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite poets. A fascinating writer with a unique way to describe things that revealed a unique perspective of the world around her, she was also a tragic figure who once famously told the poet Robert Lowell: “When you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived.”

That is why in “The Fish,” as she describes the exterior of the title animal, she is able to do so in defamiliarizing terms, alienating the reader from the natural world and making us consider the creature as a predator, prey, food and external object.

In fact, in her poetry we often see the exploration of the idea that humanity is either separate or a part of nature, shifting between these two perspectives seamlessly. This fact alone reflects her own alienation, which may have had something to do with her sexual identity.

In fact, solitude was almost a way of protecting herself in an era where queer love was still very much frowned upon, if not downright illegal. Bishop was born in 1911 and as a child, she lost both her parents and was molested by an uncle. She discovered her love for other women relatively early but hated labels so, much like she resented defining herself as a poet, she avoided being labelled as a lesbian. Both, however, were proof of her own deep insecurity as she longed for constant encouragement from others.

We know of two of her meaningful relationships — one with the Brazilian architect slash landscape designer Lota de Macedo Soares and the other with Alice Methfessel, a younger woman who loved her until she died. In a letter to fellow poet Adrienne Rich, who inspired by the rise of the feminist movement of the 60s had left her husband and come out as a lesbian, Bishop wrote that she too longed to follow her path and write more openly about “the situation of woman.”

One of my favorite poems ever is “One Art.” I take great comfort in it. The poem was written in 1976, in the late stage of her life, and it’s almost as if she were looking back and all she is able to see is a succession of things big and small that she lost.

What I also love about it, and I am not sure whether this has been pointed out in any significant way, is that if you — like me — are into reading poetry out loud, the meaning of the poem changes according to the tone with which you choose to interpret it. If you read it with fiery determination, it is reassuring. If you read it quietly, it is full of contemplation.

JOHN MARX – Matt’s Art Chat #25 (PODCAST)

For the new episode of MATT’S ART CHAT, I interviewed visionary architect John Marx, who is responsible for developing Form4 Architecture’s design vision and philosophical language. John recently published a major new work titled Études – The Poetry of Dreams + Small Fragments, which features 84 watercolors and 40 short poems.

Order Études here: https://amzn.to/2CFFC4k

MATT’S ART CHAT is a series of podcast conversations about the arts with creators, curators and art lovers from all over the world. The series is hosted by arts presenter Matt Micucci.

Balance of actions and contemplation: The Lesson of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello

A partial transcript of my episode 14 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the show.

“…Speaking of thoughts, I was expressing earlier some thoughts about how information overload is a real thing in the contemporary world that creates anxiety but also that anxiety can prompt us to empowerment. Specifically, the type of anxiety I am speaking of is free-floating anxiety, generalized anxiety having no apparent connection to any specific object, situation, or idea.

I see it as the emergence of concerns and fears about things that we didn’t know existed within ourselves but existed, and had been repressed and were perhaps a root problem of unhappiness or frustration.

In fact, in 1947, Talcott Parsons wrote that free-floating anxiety essentially originates from large reservoirs of repressed aggression that exist but cannot be directly expressed. Pardon my ignorance, but the way I see it, this is further proof of the fact that free-floating anxiety is essentially a huge psychological bundle of potential energy.

Now, by the same degree, I also believe that not everyone has the strength, power or will to use this potential energy to their advantage. Further proof is shown by the way in which free floating anxiety is present in so many art works. For example, film noir was a movement that was almost entirely constructed out of the anxieties related to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationalities that particularly defined the World War II era.

We also see it in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and this is the example I will use to describe my thesis. Now, Hamlet is one of the most famous plays ever written but for those who are not familiar with it — and there is no shame in that because I’m sure you know things I don’t know — the story of Hamlet revolves around the ghost of the King of Denmark, who tells his son Hamlet to avenge his murder by killing the new king, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius.

Significantly, Hamlet feigns madness but rather than acting upon the free floating anxiety caused by the ghost of his father’s revelation, aka the information overload, he spends much of his time contemplating death rather than acting upon his plans to seek revenge. Thus, Hamlet is a tragedy and famously, almost everyone ends up dead.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that the opposite occurs in Othello. While Hamlet is an intellectual, more a man of words than deeds, Othello is a Moorish nobleman but also a military man whose success in battle is a natural instinct. Thus, he acts without thinking. So, being far more given to action than deep thought and free-floating anxiety, he kills his wife Desdemona upon slight suspicion and realizing his mistake, he takes his own life.

In the case of Othello, the information was supplied by a false friend. But in Hamlet, the exchange of information is more explicitly important. The poison with which Hamlet’s father — the King of Denmark — is killed is ear poison. And when I was a kid, I thought it was unusual. But there’s a reason for that. In fact, the major motif in Hamlet is the idea that words cannot be trusted and can corrupt an individual’s thinking or actions as they enter through the ears. So, it’s also an exploration of the difficulty of attaining true knowledge.

And the lesson of Hamlet but also Othello, by both ending in tragedy, is that true knowledge and righteous acts are achieved through a balance of contemplation and action.”

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!