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Hilton Als on writing – The Creative Independent
"Your essays frequently defy traditional genre. You play around with the notions of what an essay can be, what criticism can be, or how we are supposed to think and write about our own lives.

You don’t have to do it any one way. You can just invent a way. Also, who’s to tell you how to write anything? It’s like that wonderful thing Virginia Woolf said. She was just writing one day and she said, “I can write anything.” And you really can. It’s such a remarkable thing to remind yourself of. If you’re listening to any other voice than your own, then you’re doing it wrong. And don’t.

The way that I write is because of the way my brain works. I couldn’t fit it into fiction; I couldn’t fit it into non-fiction. I just had to kind of mix up the genres because of who I was. I myself was a mixture of things, too. Right? I just never had those partitions in my brain, and I think I would’ve been a much more fiscally successful person if could do it that way. But I don’t know how to do it any other way, so I’m not a fiscally successful person. [laughs]

[an aside in italics:

"I was struck by this quote:

“I believe that one reason I began writing essays—a form without a form, until you make it—was this: you didn’t have to borrow from an emotionally and visually upsetting past, as one did in fiction, apparently, to write your story. In an essay, your story could include your actual story and even more stories; you could collapse time and chronology and introduce other voices. In short, the essay is not about the empirical “I” but about the collective—all the voices that made your “I.”"]

Do people ever ask you about writing a novel?

No. I could try, but It feels like a very big, weird monolith to talk about your consciousness as an “I” without being interrupted by other things. That’s what I don’t understand. That it’s just “I” and the world as I see it, when there are a zillion other things coming in. Fictional things that I’ve written I’ve not been satisfied with because I didn’t put in the real life stuff, too. So maybe I should just go back and do that. But I don’t think that one exists without the other for me. Fictional worlds are interesting, but real life is impossible to ignore."
hiltonals  writing  fiction  boundaries  genre  genres  criticism  format  invention  howwewrite  virginiawoolf  words  nonfiction  storytelling  emotions  breakingform  form 
february 2018 by robertogreco
The Black Excellence of Kahlil Joseph | The New Yorker
"Joseph draws very little distinction between his commercial work and the art that he produces on his own. A true auteur, he displays his particular sensibility in pieces ranging from a commercial for the British telecommunications company O2, starring Gary Oldman, to “Wildcat,” a short film about black cowboys in Grayson, Oklahoma. Joseph often shoots in black-and-white, which emphasizes the blackness of his subjects’ skin. His actors and models sit staring at the camera, iconic in their stillness. Or he observes them in slow motion, walking away from the camera, as if they were tired of being seen. A master of sound, he allows the dialogue and the music in his movies to drop out and then return at unexpected moments, creating a sometimes heart-stopping juxtaposition between what we hear and what we see. It’s as if Joseph’s visual world were a vinyl record, complete with scratches that make the needle skip, thereby changing the flow of things."



"Like his parents, Joseph attended Loyola Marymount, where he studied film and other subjects. (He never graduated.) It was a course on Asian cinema that changed his life. Viewing the work of unconventional contemporary masters, such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose films can cut from one narrative to another and another, without foregrounding or explanation, helped release Joseph from Western ideas of how to tell a story. Instead, he began to ask himself what story he could tell from his perspective, and his community’s. Black life and black culture weren’t linear; they had been interrupted too many times by violence, prejudice, disaster, and compromise. And there was the flip side: the juicy originality that emerged from those bad days and funky nights. How best, then, to create on film a black aesthetic that represented the hope, the highs, and the losses of a twenty-first-century New Negro?

To learn more and to share what he was discovering about his medium, Joseph got in touch with other male artists of color, such as the director and cinematographer Arthur Jafa. Then, in the mid-aughts, he was hired as an assistant to the black photographer and filmmaker Melodie McDaniel. Working at the Directors Bureau, a commercial and music-video production company in L.A., Joseph learned on the job: he shot behind-the-scenes footage and interviews for Sofia Coppola (whose brother Roman had founded the bureau), and filmed B-roll for that artist of disjunction Terrence Malick, while absorbing what McDaniel had to impart: the importance of representing the black world and the female world in ways that were free of ideology.

From the start, Joseph drew on distinctly American and African imagery to produce work in which faces and bodies were the narrative. When he made music videos, the songs were used less to support the visuals than to provide a frame for them to bounce off or dismantle. In “Until the Quiet Comes,” a 2012 piece that he made for the experimental d.j. and musician Flying Lotus—Kara Walker included it in “Ruffneck Constructivists,” a significant show she curated at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, in 2014—we see several of the motifs that Joseph would revisit in “Lemonade”: the suspension and play of time and the fractured narrative, slow, illusory, and true."



"Although Knowles has allowed Joseph’s version of “Lemonade” to be shown in museums, she hasn’t approved his screening it in other contexts. Black excellence, however, can’t be stopped, and, in a way, Joseph could not have created a work as personal and powerful as “Fly Paper” without first having made “Lemonade.” “Fly Paper,” which was inspired by the black-and-white tones of the Harlem photographer Roy DeCarava, doesn’t so much recycle themes from “Lemonade” as incorporate them: there is the split between what we can see and what we can’t; there are all those lost spirits, like Keven Davis and Noah Davis, literally cut into the here and now. The dialogue is minimal. We see a black-and-white shot of an older black man, Bob Fosse’s great star Ben Vereen (who happens to be Karon Davis’s father). Vereen observes the black bodies coming toward him on a street in Harlem. “I went out to take a walk,” he says, and the journey begins. Vereen climbs a flight of stairs, and at the top we find a younger man who dances his way along the walls, as Vereen strikes an attitude, walks as if he were dancing, dances while he walks. Later, there are scenes of today’s Talented Tenth: the singer Lauryn Hill in an improvised jam session; the writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts at a shoot with the comedian Alzo Slade. We’re behind the scenes of the movie we’re watching. The past cuts a swath through the reality of the present: a shot of Keven with staples in his head after surgery, Noah walking in the park with a friend. The sun is setting. Where have all these figures, all the love, gone? Joseph is playing hide-and-seek with his legacy, so much black excellence gone but ever alive. The past resonates in the present: Ben Vereen and his phantom younger self; Keven Davis and his son.

Joseph concludes the film with a reference to another genius of the interrupted narrative: the documentary director Chris Marker, whose “Sans Soleil” (1983), is an urtext on film as fragments, film as journey. In “Fly Paper,” after the parade of disparate lives bound together by aesthetics, politics, belief, and love has ended, the screen goes dark. The world has stopped. The excellence is gone. But the blackness onscreen is as rich and textured as skin. And that’s when we hear a woman, in calm voice-over, quoting from “Sans Soleil”: “If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.”"
kahliljoseph  hiltonals  2017  film  art  lemonande  beyoncé  chrismarker  terrancemalick  apichatpongweerasethakul  srg 
november 2017 by robertogreco
Junot Diaz & Hilton Als Talk Masculinity, Science Fiction, And Writing As An Act Of Defiance | Literary Hub
"JD: I’m not jumping to some conclusion about some abstract culture. You and I come from backgrounds where people were echo chambers for a lot of the cultural, racial sort of defaults. People would say wild things explicitly, and I thought it would be such a lame thing if my characters weren’t half as frank as my uncles.

HA: Like one of the tías grabbing one of the characters’ balls by way of introduction.

JD: I’ve gotten emails about that from dudes I know, who say, “Dude, my aunts grab my balls, too.”

HA: It takes a village.

JD: It takes five genders to raise this particularly malevolent form of masculinity that we tend to produce so efficiently. You could take two people, who look identical in skin color, and my mom can distinguish them at the molecular level, and say, “That motherfucker’s lighter.” All the vocabulary we’ve lost in America to talk about race is omnipresent in the Caribbean. We’ve lost so many words to talk about race, we don’t even have a conversation about it, we have lost it. Yet, in the Caribbean, there are more than twelve words that I can come up with to describe people’s skin color, at least in the neighborhood where I grew up in. In some ways I think that is useful, because it helps when it comes time to approach the question of privilege. People don’t claim amnesia. Some can think my uncles are super-backwards because they didn’t go to Ivy League schools, but they don’t cop to any of that ridiculous liberal amnesia. The sort of thing that translates into statements like, “Oh, it’s not race, it’s class.” I think you can’t have class without race. It’s called colonialism. Some people come right off the bat and say, a guy is ignorant. My uncles would never make those claims, but rather say it’s about black people. But I find that level of frankness, even if it’s considered regressive and messed up, a better starting point than the constant illusion of the sort of liberal moment that we have."



"JD: I think for most straight men, the problem is not that we don’t have women worthy of us, the problem is that we have women ten times more worthy than us. But coming back to your question, in general, whenever I read about people of color as artists I think it is so overly simplified. We tend to be reduced to the cultural element. Like somebody will trot out a Spanish word to describe our thing . . . How many reviews have I got where a non-Spanish-speaking person will put out a Spanish word to attempt to describe what I do? It’s like watching people who can’t dance salsa trying to do it. Or we’ll be reduced to simplistic visions that say that in these works of art, this artist is talking about this crucial moment, or about the problem of race. They’ll use these terms that mean nothing, because they don’t want to approach what exactly a person is getting at in their work. If white artists were discussed along racial terms as often as people of color, we would be a better country. I never see a white dancer discussing how their whiteness impacts their dance. The first question out of an interviewer’s mind when they talk to a white artist is never if they have experienced racism. But as an artist, I must say it’s incredible the amount of times these questions come up, and when they ask me, I’m always ready to ask back, “Have you been racist lately?” Now, one of the best things about art, as anyone who’s studied a Victorian text knows, is that the future comes faster than we imagine, and there is a future coming up, of young artists and young critics and young scholars, who are thinking in ways that make the current conversations about our art look incredibly reductive."



"HA: You touch upon this idea of what’s coming up and we’ve had several conversations about time travel. You’ve said that one of the reasons why you loved science fiction by people like Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany is because they were talking about time travel, and that literally you have gone from a slave culture to talking to hundreds of people at the Strand Bookstore. How does that happen? Being one or two generations away from the characters in your books, who are living below subsistence level, how does that affect you as Junot?

JD: And how do you narrate it? I always think of that question. I’ll sit at the Christmas table next to my grandmother, who basically grew up in a proto-medieval—comes from an almost slavery background in the Dominican Republic, working as a tenant farmer, in a terrifying kind of subsistence. I’m squinting at her with one eye, and then I’m squinting at my little brother, who’s U.S.-born, a Marine combat veteran, who sounds like someone turned the TV to the Fox channel and broke the dial. And I’m thinking, how do we create a self that takes both of those people in?

HA: You’ve catapulted yourself, through artistry, into another realm, so how do you physically and emotionally take it?

JD: It’s really helpful to assemble selves not always deploying realism. Realism cannot account for my little brother and my grandmother, but Octavia Butler’s science fiction can. Samuel Delany’s generic experiments can explain them. I read his book and that range is present, not only present, but what is unbearable about trying to hold the two together in one place. So it helps not to have realism as the only paradigm to really understand yourself.

HA: Is the story “Monstro” a move towards a surrealism that explains things better?

JD: I wouldn’t say it’s an advance. It’s more a trying to see what would it look like if I was more explicit about not using realism. With Oscar Wao I obscured how little the genre of realism is deployed in the novel. I sort of hid it. Someone can read Oscar Wao and be convinced it’s a realistic novel, with a couple eruptions. Now I wanted to see if it’s possible to get similar effects without obscuring the pedigree. I felt like Oscar Wao was like an octoroon cousin of yours, who doesn’t pass for white, but won’t deny it when people treat him real well. I wanted to take the drag off, and see what happens."



"JD: I always did fiction and I always wanted to write. When you’re young, if you’re aware of your parents’ infidelities, your cosmology starts with this concept that your parents are real big liars. My cosmology begins with this constant deception. So of course I wanted to write about deceivers, people who were wearing masks, and for this purpose fiction felt more useful. As a kid I was that literal, thinking I lived in fiction, so let me write it. It started there, and it seems it’s going to end there. I was always terrible with essays, whether they are confessional or critical, because in that form the whole thing can’t be a lie. My idea for an essay would be to write about a book that’s never been written, or to draw a completely ridiculous conclusion, and then when somebody checks the footnotes . . . I think in fiction, I can lie on multiple levels, which is always what my family felt like. I felt at home.

HA: That essay sounds Borgesian. But looking at your first collection, were there stories that were just a sort of working out before you got Drown?

JD: Certainly, I had so many absurd stories. I still hadn’t mapped out what it meant to be living in central New Jersey. We were one of the first Dominican families in the area and we grew up around a predominantly African-American community, with some poor whites, most of them Irish immigrants. I couldn’t figure out how to scale a family that existed in this really dense Dominican world at home. I had siblings who were black, who didn’t look like me, who weren’t, like, Terrorism Act bait. They looked African-American and I couldn’t figure out a way to scale it. I was reading so many New York writers describing the Latino experience in a really urban setting that my first stories sounded like I was living in NYC, which is a very different world.

HA: Who were you reading?

JD: People like Edward Rivera, who wrote Family Installments, probably one of the greatest memoirs. If you want to know how I wrote my first book, read that, because I just completely copied that book. I also read some of the most classic folks, such as Nicholasa Mohr—even though she was writing about Paterson, it still had a much more urban edge—or Piri Thomas. In my first thirty or forty pieces of writing, a character was always robbing a bodega. It was so stupid. I was an embarrassment to myself. I started out writing film scripts, and before, you know, I jumped to fiction, but even then, I wanted to do a kind of film scripts. So my first few years I was doing scripts, and those were even worse than anything anyone can imagine."



"
HA: One of the things that beats beautifully in Drown and all your work goes back to this idea that if you’re an artist, the hardest thing to survive is the people you come from. And the people that you come from are the stories that you tell. Often. Can you tell us a little bit about your family reaction?

JD: That is a really honest question and recognition. Most of my friends had to protect their parents and the rest of us from their ambitions. A childhood like mine meant that you could not openly air your ambitions to people because it would have been an enormous threat. When I think about it, I guess my family’s situation was always a heartbreaker, regardless how my career turned out. The family dynamic internalized all the craziness of growing up as an immigrant. Immigration is difficult as it is, but the worst way to take it on the chin is to turn it against each other.

HA: Right.

JD: It’s weird, my immediate family gets together almost never, and when we get together, it’s always like a heartbreaker. There’s all this kind of awful stuff: who’s not talking to whom, how some brothers live in California, as far away from the family as possible. And I’ll be honest, I think my family barely … [more]
junotdíaz  hiltonals  2016  sciencefiction  scifi  race  racism  sexuality  masculinity  gender  octaviabudlet  samueldelany  edwardrivera  nicholasamohr  pirithomas  families  immigration  gabrielgarcíamárquez  dominicanrepublic  power  oscarwao  narrativevoice  shuyaohno 
march 2016 by robertogreco

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