..First Glyph

February 12
5 p.m.

I feel no need to express anything here; no impulse, really, literary or otherwise, to make this entry. I make this entry simply because I sit alone in a rather nice restaurant and a woman at a table across the dining room keeps looking at me pathetically, as if I were a lost pet, or some cold stray cat caught shivering on her windowsill. Partly the mood of this restaurant is responsible, I guess-- not the sort one usually scribbles notes in, or reads in, or dines alone in; and partly the mood of Mexico itself--filial Mexico, familial Mexico, this land of compadres and compañeros, of acquaintances that forever surround one. And I guess a man alone really is a kind of pathetic thing. Abandoned there. Waiting. A target. Vulnerable. At the mercy of whatever dangers might lurk beyond the door, or charge through it. A social lot, we are. For this reason, I think. Social because we're afraid. We want the protection of numbers. Protection from that unknown something beyond the door. But protection also from our own introspections, our own insecurities. And here is the great self-deception, the great self-misleading. For we are all alone. Always. At our source we are all alone. Always. Even in cozy restaurants. Even surrounded by friends and family. These chatting, flirting, laughing people here about, for example; these surrounded by their chatting, laughing, flirting fellows-- each is still alone--with his own introspections, with her own insecurities, with his own intentions, with her own past. They just forget they are alone. That's all. Or seek to forget it. They blur their aloneness with the distraction of conversation, with some gregarious banter, with a convivial toast. They are no different from me, no less pathetic. They just hide from their aloneness a little better, that's all. That woman does not see me as a cold stray cat, as a lost pet, really. What she sees is herself as this cold stray cat, as this lost pet. This is why she looks at me so pathetically. She cannot imagine herself sitting here in this restaurant so vulnerable to the dangers without, so unbuffered from her own inner pains. Anyway, having someone look at me so made me fidget. Then, with the fidgeting, I began to glance about nervously. I reached into my backpack as a reaction, and pulled out a handful of looseleaf. Not from any literary impulse did I do so, not from any compulsion to express anything. I guess it's just my form of protection.

Sometimes to appear more self-possessed through such exposed moments I silently recite to myself poetry. I'll recite Shakespeare; or, a fragment of Herman Hesse's Stages; or, some lines from Don Quixote; or, others. I stop fidgeting during these mental recitations. And I think it blunts the lonely edge of my eyes. My sight turns inward to seek and hear the words. This inward looking, I think, is the difference between lonely eyes and eyes that are merely alone.

The nearby cinema was not screening Romeo and Juliet this afternoon. I thought I saw it advertised on the marquee yesterday as I zoomed past in a taxi. Disappointment. I craved to see Romeo and Juliet. I could not see Romeo and Juliet. I considered seeing it in Wichita, but was too intent on guarding every penny for this trip. I tried to see it in Veracruz, but the showings there were all sold out that Friday night. I saw this latest film version right after its release, in Tucson. I intend to see it again.

The trip to the Siqueiros museum was worth it for two of the paintings I saw there and part of a video. The video showed Siqueiros painting the portrait of the Russian poet Yevtushenko. I liked the intensity of Siqueiros' face as he worked. I liked the obvious openness in Siqueiros as he worked. The openness seemed complete: less as if he were painting, and more as if some transference were taking place from the subject, through Siqueiros, to the canvas. The canvas in its final form, however, was abstract. Abstract enough to demonstrate that this transference I seemed to witness was not one photographic. So what then happened? An objective image of Yevtushenko did not transfer through Siqueiros to the canvas. I think now the word transference misses the mark. I want to use now the word interpretation. I want to say Siqueiros interprets Yevtushenko. But his openness was so complete in the video. And his painting was so spontaneous. And interpreting is a very conscious thing, I think. And while the video showed Siqueiros in a kind of heightened awareness, it was not one over-controlling, not one over-deliberate. He did not seem to determine the image as much as let it flow through him. Maybe I should try the word filter, or filtering. Maybe Yevtushenko is transferred to the canvas through the filter of Siqueiros. Hmm. This suggests that what we see then when we look at Siqueiros' portrait of Yevtushenko is not Yevtushenko so much as it is Siqueiros. And the backwardness of this conclusion begs the question: Which then is the art? Is the art the finished object--the portrait of Yevtushenko--or is it the process that created the object--the filtering of Siqueiros? For what we see really is Siqueiros' filtering, not Yevtushenko's image. Watching Siqueiros paint suggested to me that the portrait itself is just an evidence of art. And that art itself is the process of its creation. Art is not the vision accomplished as much as it is the vision being accomplished. Accomplished it is static, inanimate. As it is being accomplished it is dynamic, alive. The dynamism, the life-- Siqueiros' filtering of Yevtushenko's image--is the art. The static and inanimate--the portrait of Yevtushenko--is just evidence that art happened. Maybe what the greats do then is merge these two aspects. Maybe in the work of the greats we are able to see somehow the act in the evidence, or they fuse the evidence with the act. Maybe this is what seems to give high art consciousness. We see the dynamism, the life of it, the process. We see art in its true whole form, even while only looking at its footprint.

I'm going to buy a newspaper now and a bottle of bottled water and go back to my hotel room and rest.

8:15 p.m.

The newspaper was satisfying. La Jornada. I've always liked La Jornada. It leans to the left politically. This means it is more critical of the government. From such leftist newspapers you get more real information in Mexico. Newspapers that support the government do little more than reproduce press releases and, for color, throw in a couple of quotations. They heel the power players like spoiled dogs. Unomasuno is another good leftist newspaper. I'm quite familiar with Unomasuno. I wrote a graduate paper based on some of its columns. I wanted to know how the Mexican left reacted to the failure of Marxism in Eastern Europe. That "failure" did not prove Marxism unworkable, the Mexican left expounded back then, for that "failure" was of a system that was not genuinely Marxist. Old idols die hard.

And then Siqueiros' portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. The curator set the work in a niche. On the ledge before the niche small white votive candles had been burned. The candles were vari-shaped and amorphous, their waxes having spilled over the ledge, having run down the wall. And this before an image painted in all reds and blood-reds and blacks on a background of cream. The presentation was gripping--and intriguing since Siqueiros was rather anti-clerical. Maybe the curator was drawing attention to the obvious respect Siqueiros showed to Jesus in this painting, to Jesus the man.

The other painting I really liked was "El Grito," or "The Scream." The title conjured before me Munch's famous work. But Munch's work is haunted and eerie, like something out of the unconscious, while Siqueiros' painting, forceful and plastic, addresses more the emotion of the scream, or, really, the violence of the act of the scream. It reminded me of that central figure in Picasso's Guernica. A woman holds in her arms a dead child, her head thrown back, howling in agony. This is the kind of scream Siqueiros painted. Three feet by maybe two feet, the shoulders and head of the woman are the sole subject of the work. White and black and burgundy perfuse it. Circular movement defines it. But all the color, all the composition and movement bring the eye back to a single inescapable point: The flaming red of the woman's pointed tongue.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers