ARTS AND LETTERS: The Sequel
A fragment from Isolate Flecks: An Anatomy
FIFTH IN A SERIES:
Parts 1–4 published in the Brooklyn Rail, February – May 2012
A poet and critic of minor gifts, Silvio Artifoni moved to Williamsburg after jazz musicians and painters had consolidated, but before developers, architects, and graphic designers arrived.
Before he was disappeared, Artifoni’s father was an investigative journalist who founded Ruptura, a legendary weekly on politics and letters. His mother, who was Jewish, survived torture and imprisonment, worked with Fogwill at Tierra Baldía, and edited Lamborghini’s Poemas, along with Bonfati’s Carné de un gaucho malvinesco (1982), Montenegro’s Fechas claves de la Edad Media (1983), and Anglada’s Odas para gerentes exitosos (1984).
In the period leading up to the dictatorship, Artifoni no longer a toddler, the family on his father’s side split politically, partly along generational lines, and was soon much reduced in number.
Of the survivors, many chose not to have children.
Artifoni understood something of what it must have been like for Jewish Jews. A chosen one. Carry on the race. Argentina no Israel, however. At 22, with a B.A. from UBA—his senior thesis on aesthetic categories in Kant—he started an M.A. at the New School. Critical theory. Didn’t know downtown was already moving to Brooklyn, but soon found out. Started writing for Página 12’s suplemento cultural on Sundays.
The most gaucho of gauchos.
Pace Edmund White, it was still a great time to be young and gay. For a short while. Then it became monotonous and expensive.
When he met Myles Crawford-Nanetti at ZuZu Jefferson opening at Myles’s gallery, Artifoni had been dabbling in art criticism, working on his poetry—settling into a mediocre middle style, leaving behind the juvenilia of youth, busy sawing off corners, dulling edges, flattening out lines—writing a novel called Rompepelotas, composed of interlocking short stories about gay men—mostly Argentines—in New York, Paris, and Buenos Aires.
He would soon drop all that—wisely, in my opinion—to start his Ph.D. on the history of sexuality in Buenos Aires from the 1940s through the 1970s, the latter being the decade of his childhood. It was to be a genealogy. He didn’t like to talk about it except with other Foucauldians.
Shaved his head, wore a goatee. Cryptic and oracular in speech.
Why he hated Marguerite Garza: the enduring nationalism of exile.
After dating for something like two years, Myles and Silvio bought an overpriced if extensive loft in East Williamsburg, rents near Myles’s gallery having pushed them out to the next frontier.
Artifoni, however, should not be conflated with Crawford-Nanetti. Horse of a different color.
A three-stage process: first Myles Crawford-Nanetti, Monk Mulligan, McClintick Sphere; then Artifoni, Leo Kaufman and Catalina Arbelaez, ZuZu and Duncan McKinnon, Vance and his entourage; then Shorty, me and Carm, and so on. They paved the way—as did my Colombian business associates, but that’s another story—we mopped up.
The sequence is geographic:
The sequence is economic: renter-owner-landlord.
The sequence is demographic: young and single/not-so-young still single, co-habiting and/or married, married with kids.
A bit schematic, but still. Clockwork.
I sympathize with Myles about marriage. Not sure that’s what Foucault would have said, but I sympathize. Especially given that we’re talking about Artifoni. You’ll see what I mean.
As I said to him once at a party for the Bridge, “Vulgar Marxism explains close to 90 percent of what goes on in the world. That’s why I follow the Groucho Tendency.”
Hard to get a laugh out of the guy.
I had to read a lot of Foucault, and to listen to lots of Foucauldians in seminar, to learn that. I give it to you free, as I gave it to him. If you calculate the cost of graduate school, even including grants and stipends and parental contributions (poor Liz: it was always just beyond her means; my father already sick), you’re talking about a considerable sum. Compound interest.
Why Artifoni and I can’t stand each other. He’s four or five years older than I am, but I’ve been where he’s headed. Plus he’s rich. Not like Lincoln Gom, but owns several properties in La Recoleta. Doesn’t like to talk about his work with me even though I’m the obvious candidate at these parties. I don’t see why he has to change the subject every time I mention it. I know what he means by archaeology.
Maybe he didn’t think the joke was funny. Could be his ego. You know that joke about Argentines and their egos, right? Anyway, I like Myles better than Silvio. Everyone does.
Careful. Remember what happened with Liz. Could get in the way of storytelling. Try talking to Artifoni about being a rentier intellectual, like me.
See how that goes.
Following ZuZu Jefferson’s opening.
Dramatis Personae: Silvio Artifoni, Myles Crawford-Nanetti.
Pero ¡che! ¿Cómo es posible que un pibe que no conoce la patria, que en realidad ni siquiera es argentino, cómo es posible que un pobre pelotudo recién salido del colegio, que no es nadie frente a Borges, a Arlt, a Cortázar, a Puig, a Piglia, a Pauls…
No, pero no exagerés. Te pasaste con Pauls. Estás exagerando ya.
¿Ya, pero cómo es posible que nos hace esto? La puta madre que lo parió. ¡La gran novela que soñamos escribir! Estamos podridos, che.
Es tan argentino como yo. O como vos, sino más maduro.
Sí, pero me querés a mí, no a él. Vivís conmigo, no con él.
Muy bien. Sí, yo te quiero a vos, Malachi es un amigo lindo pero no tan lindo como vos. Pero ¡ya! Dejate de joder. No sé qué te pasa últimamente. Estás como insoportable.
No, no sé, el pibe no me convence, no me convence. Hay algo como fingido, como forzado, no sé. Como un chico que cree que un partido de colegio es igual que el mundial, como una falta de discriminación entre los distintos niveles que…
No, no sé qué te pasa con Malachi Moore, me parece una obsesión enfermiza la tuya. Moore es uno de los mejores jóvenes escritores del mundo. No de Argentina. Del mundo. Es un fenómeno. Y es un buen chico, como un chico de barrio, sin aires ni pretensiones. Se nota que lleva mucho tiempo fuera de Buenos Aires. Quiero decir que es un pibe sano.
Mirá vos. Deben beatificarlo, San Malachi. Me suena, che, me suena.
No seas infantil.
No pero ¿leíste la entrevista en Caballeros Ilustres? Mis putos caballeros ilustres.
No, ¿a qué horas, Silvio? Si apenas tengo tiempo para leer a Moore, a Pauls, a los gringos. Aunque no he podido con Ulysses, che, no he podido.
Paciencia, mi vida, paciencia. El proceso de iniciación es largo y lento.
Pero leí la entrevista en The Bridge y me gustó.
Pero Moore es un voludo, che, la entrevista es una basura, más chico del barrio tu mamá.
¿Por qué lo leíste entonces? ¿No te parece algo perverso?
No, pero ¿cómo iba a saber? No tenía cómo saberlo. Por eso lo leí: para saber que es una basura.
The Bridge: Malachi, you were born in Argentina, grew up in Caracas and Barcelona, and went to college in Dublin when Putas Ilustres…
Malachi Moore: Yes, those are the basics of my short biography, but it’s Putas Ilustradas, not Putas Ilustres.
TB: Right. So I understand you’re living in Brooklyn now?
MM: Mostly, yes. I travel this once great land in bad decline.
TB: What do you like about America so far?
MM: All the dead Indians. Lenapé myths. Louis Zukofsky. Urban archaeology à la Arcades. Hart Crane. The immigrant proletariat.
TB: What are some of your favorite American places?
MM: Panamá, Sonora, Santiago de Cuba.
TB: I meant in the U.S.
MM: I know what you meant. I don’t like cars or planes. I take bikes, trains, subways, sometimes buses. So I travel a lot in the city, especially Brooklyn. Sometimes I get out to Jersey, when they invite me to Princeton. But until I go Greyhound coast to coast, the rest of the country is a place I visit in my imagination. With the help of writers.
TB: Which American writers do you like?
TB: Which writers from the U.S. do you like?
MM: I know what you meant. First, who cares about which writers I like? Is that what your readers want? A laundry list? I already gave you one. Second, who cares if they’re from the U.S.? Is that what matters most about them? No one reads Borges’s essays and criticism anymore.
TB: Wow. And I thought you were the one being interviewed! Anyway, let me try another tack. Are there any writers from the U.S. that you really like now?
MM: Yes. The dead ones. But I’m pretty impressed by the reach of the Brooklyn mafia. They get the nominations, the prizes, the grants, the publications, the money, the fame, the jobs—just kidding, most of them struggle like the rest of us, but you have to admit, it’s pretty upscale here. Worse than Dublin. I forget which of these publishers is dedicated to “reversing the gentrification of the literary world,” but that’s like fighting real estate developers by squatting. My point being that this is as gentrified as literature gets.
TB: Point taken. Something similar at work in the art world.
MM: My theory? Gaddis was right. JR? There you go: a writer from the U.S. Are we finished?
TB: Apparently, yes. Thanks for talking to us.
MM: It wasn’t my idea. Monroe Jefferson told me I need to do all of these kinds of things now that I’m here. So thank him.
TB: Any final thoughts?
MM: Yes. Poetry makes nothing happen.
Myles Crawford-Nanetti: father of British Argentine descent, mother’s family originally from Reggio Calabria; both ERPistas, father disappeared when Myles was 14. Raised in Mexico, D.F., and Barcelona by his mother who taught romance languages and literatures at UNAM and la Universidad de Cataluña. Met Bolaño in the D.F.—one of his mother’s students in Bellas Artes—again in Barcelona. Same age. But they never had anything to talk about other than Crawford-Nanetti’s mother. Big Ben they called him, fur breaking out everywhere except his neck and head, both of which were shaved. Cue ball. Sweet, unless he was talking about bad painters, stupid curators, shitty critics, crappy galleries.
Following ZuZu Jefferson’s opening.
Tra-La-La on Bedford and North 3rd.
Dramatis Personae: Carmen Melville, Monk Mulligan, Myles Crawford-Nanetti, Silvio Artifoni, Malachi Moore, McClintick Sphere.
Continue bombing wedding parties and funerals. To win the hearts and minds of the oppressed masses thirsting for freedom in the benighted desert lands that gave us mathematics and Mohammed. Wise use of resources. Botero could paint the weddings and funerals exploding.
Yes, well Señor Mulligan, you know Botero paints the horrible things of imperialism in the Muslim countries, but not our atrocities in our country, which you and he support.
Hold up, hold up. How do I support them? And how does Botero? Explain that to me, young lady.
With your tax dollars. You pay the taxes, yes?
Yeah. Else I go to jail.
This is consent. You pay for Plan Colombia as the taxpayer. And Botero is what we call a godo hijueputa! A fascist asshole. Never pays the taxes. Like Jaramillo, who teaches at Harvard now. Chuzadas I! Falsos positivos II!
An art cemetery, Carmenza, a fucking art cemetery. Which we presently inhabit. A reflection in light of this fine occasion. Hat’s off to ZuZu.
Yes, a cemetery, yes, okay, but we try our best to keep our artists alive, Myles. When are you going to write the book? The life and death of Williamsburg. How the hipster took over. Did you see the new book? I think x+y2=fun published it in conjunction with Inflected.
In the spirit of Cervantes, I will write the book of our life and times in the glory days when I have a banking and real estate fortune like Richard’s—dating back to the Bay Colony’s several centuries of splendor—to fall back on; or until I meet a generous patron of the arts. Of the sort that no longer exists. Meantime I shall keep the columns coming. Pray for another stint as a visiting professor at Tisch, enjoy the free whisky at openings. No, seriously, maybe when I’m done with the whole Dublin business, dear. The time has to be right.
Time? Out of joint. Weddings and funerals. The endpoint of aviation. Did you hear about the dub bands from Dublin this weekend?
Yeah, tomorrow’s Bloomsday, so it’s Slug Willard, Dignam’s Funeral, and Molly B. Goode. Then Friday, Deadalicious, Mallone Dies, and Snámh-dá-én. I guess they wanted to make it all-Irish rather than just Joyce this year.
Myles, have you no love for Dublin and the bards it has spawned and spat out like so many seeds or shells in the briny windspittle of its silverflecked tides? I thought critics were better read than actors, but apparently—Anyway, people will be reading parts of Ulysses between sets. You won’t have to do any work.
Okay, Malachi. You’re right. I should probably go. See if anyone interesting from Dublin comes. I hear Joyce is big there. Like popular, even with painters and dealers and critics. Everyone reads him. They hate Bono, apparently.
Joyce is big, like Borges in Buenos Aires. U2’s a Dutch band. Tax purposes. Dutchmen from Dublin—cunts! Not invited to dub Bloomsday in Brooklyn. Cut their fuckin’ throats. Did you see the Gucci ad for saving Africa, him with the little lady getting off the Cessna they never flew? In a place they’ve never been to? Down the rabbit hole, cunts. Pass Go, collect $200,000,000. Off with their fuckin’ heads.
Tough talk tonight, then, Malachi? Too much Chandler and Chester Himes?
We are masters of the género policiaco, like Himes. Or Chandler. You too are argentino, Myles, and you will never escape this fate. Evasion is useless.
Borges is overrated and so is Joyce. Don’t talk to me about those jokers. Or García Márquez. Fuck them all. In each of their orifices.
I agree completely with you, Myles, well, I don’t know what happened with Joyce and Borges, but in my country we have come to hate that dirty old man with the mustache and his sad prostitutes and—how you say it—his jhookers, yes, I wish he had not lived to tell it! If he had stopped when he got the Nobel, okay, but no, he comes to the Festival of the Vallenato, he is a friend of the oligarchy in Valledupar, he takes this fake old-fashioned train from Santa Marta to his hometown, Aracataca, which is run by paracos who used to work for el Señor, he gets off for a photo-op and maybe she returns back to her island near Barú in her helicopter. Like Disneyland. Massacres? Sorry, ehh, I forget. Or maybe I just never learn it. Who knows? Like the bananeros in Cien años de soledad. Just me and my mustachio, you know, with a gun and a guitar. The man is without shame. A sad self-parody. Most of our writers betray our people and thus themselves, like most of our painters and musicians and filmmakers. Juanes? He is just an entertainer, I know it. But oh! Jhow I jhaaate him! He is so—Jhow do you say—sleazy. Greasy. Like Elvis. I mean: with his talk about peace and his paisa folklore and his parlache. Sony and Tony Matola. All the gusanos in Miami.
Don’t look at me. I merely mentioned Botero. Maybe Dermot Trellis will appear. You can hang with them, Malachi. Peers in letters, stouts, and porters, am I right? And Shorty Andrews, a man of many talents. Self-publicity in particular. Right over there. Arty Irish dub bands. Arty indy Irish in English: Kings’ lingo. The Queens’. What you have in common.
Too young to be relevant, as you know, Mr. Sphere. Those days. My father and the rest, flying out of airplanes. La muerte de Perón. Isabelita, Lopez Rega, belleza, belleza. Operación independencia. Don’t look back. I’ll catch the next wave before you see it coming. Lock it up with pretty verbiage that you may confuse with oleander or hydrangea if you listen closely. Nothing more and nothing less. Like insurance fraud: a victimless crime. The language of a race the acme of whose mentality is the maxim: time is money. Why I switched to English: infinitely poorer than Spanish. Norman Yoke my blessing. Had to rid myself of excesses and excrescences and epidermic infirmities. Preferential option for the poor: for the poverty of the language of a race the acme of whose—Time’s money: the maxim. The acme of whose mentality.
I see the method in it.
What he said, ma’am. A method.
I’m sorry, Señor Sphere, can you please explain me your meaning? I don’t understand.
Señor Sphere. I like that. Mi querida señorita, I mean that he is not mad by any means. Wise beyond his meager years, yes.
Older painters and critics found her more entertaining than standard fare. Everyone in the big-box stores in Chelsea now except Joe. Had been for years—a flood of departures after 9/11.
She never slept with painters or critics—at least I don’t think so—even before she got pregnant. Most were gay anyway. She knew that unlike in Colombia, where gay or straight, you have to give it up to get anywhere, she could gain more traction from being my wife in Brooklyn, even though I’m nobody.
Knew one thing from another.
As they say, una cosa es una cosa y otra cosa es otra cosa.
A soft snort, a chortle, dreads firm under his cap. Or were they Irish? Dad a maritime trade union radical, wartime strikes, 1950s militance. His mother? Afro-Baptist with a degree from Teacher’s College at Columbia.
Monk Mulligan grew up in Harlem, ten when the Panthers made their presence, then moved to Williamsburg; his mother’s friends were black artists and musicians. Monk headed downtown. Still a teenager when he saw McClintick Sphere play with Cecil McBee and Sonny Murray.
Sphere on violin.
Hard to tell any of it from the paintings, of course. Which Carm would love to feature, but Monk’s happy with his man in Chelsea. Being with his grandkids in Fort Greene. Proud of his daughter, who teaches architecture at Pratt.
Still, the pull of the old days, when Billyburg had yet to blow.
He was a native.
McClintick Sphere spent the second half of the 1970s and most of the 1980s in temples and monasteries. Where possible, touring East Asia after the fall of Saigon. Said he needed to walk without instruments, sit in silence, hear anew after all the bombing, and learn something by listening. Looked a little like one of Keith Carradine’s masters at Shaolin. Except black.
Moved to Williamsburg in the days when Crawford-Nanetti was homesteading, no heat or hot water, wearing Carhartt’s sold out of boxes from the back of trucks to guys in the building trades, artists living in work spaces. No grid to be off of yet, just Puerto Ricans and dead industries.
Long walks down empty streets.
The coke dens at 4 a.m., of which Sphere was unaware.
Sphere still a ghost. People knew he wasn’t dead, and the younger musicians revered the Impulse records with Henry Grimes in Paris and Stockholm, but when he left, he never sent word.
In Williamsburg he felt the energy of the old Lower East Side. First time since the Tompkins Square Park riots he dug anything in New York.
Sphere and Monk made for each other.
Who and what’s left?
Need to narrow this down. Wrap it up.
My subject position: how I locate myself with respect to the multiple, shifting yet overlapping and contested sites where bio-power is produced and circulated. Not to mention consumed.
Just kidding. That’s the sort of shit Silvio Artifoni would say if he was willing to talk shop with me. His loss.
Leave me, my brother and sister, my nieces and nephews, and especially my childhood out of it. Leave that to Liz and her memoirs.
Friends from Berkeley—why bother? We don’t keep in touch. Weird how high school friendships hold and college friendships don’t. Wonder why that is.
A disturbing thought: I may have to disguise this at some point if I want to publish it. Make it less roman-à-clef-ish.
Cloak it in the timeless garb of lit-er-a-ture. Say it’s about the universal human condition.
Opening #1: Did I mention that we all lived in the same dorm? All of us except Duncan McKinnon.
Opening #2: Duncan McKinnon was the only one who didn’t live in Merrill Hall.
Opening #3: Since he didn’t live in Merrill Hall, if it hadn’t been for the unexpected success of Inflected Press, Duncan McKinnon wouldn’t even be in this story, except as ZuZu Jefferson’s husband.
I could have had her marry someone else. Then blame Malachi Moore. Anyway, enough about Duncan McKinnon. I’ll spare you his backstory. Or get to it later. Wonder if they teach this in writing workshops. Maybe ask Ben Marcus next time I’m up at Columbia. I had a dream about that, actually. His door closed when I walked in. Monroe Jefferson’s name was on another door, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
Invisible. I read in x+y2=fun that Monroe Jefferson thinks it’s the great American novel.
No argument from me.
Following ZuZu Jefferson’s opening.
Dramatis Personae: Silvio Artifoni, Myles Crawford-Nanetti.
No, pero es indiscutible, che, Moore es un voludo, habla de Gaddis como el gran escritor norteamericano, cuando Ellison es lo mejor que ha producido Estados Unidos, igual que Hendrix, campeón mundial de la guitarra. Por ejemplo.
Que no me vengan con el género, la raza—me cago en la leche, ¿entendés? Me cago en Toni Morrison, en Marguerite Garza. Ya te dije, para mí, Ellison es el Borges o el Joyce de los gringos, o sea la piedra angular de su literatura, igual que Whitman, Melville, y Pynchon, ¿entendés? Y las escritoras gringas.
No pero mirá a Emily Dickinson, por ejemplo.
A Marianne Moore, a Mina Loy. A Djuna Barnes, a Jane Bowles, a Grace Paley; las gringas son tremendas escritoras, ¡che! Tremendas. Me parece que no las celebramos lo suficiente.
No pero ¿cómo que no las celebramos? Hasta el cansancio, me parece. Nosotros traducimos a Ann Beattie, a Siri Hustvedt, a Jennifer Egan, a Marguerite Garza, cuando no las reseñamos, les damos una nueva vida en las letras rioplatenses. No definitivamente, vos y yo existimos en planetas diferentes, en galaxias distintas. Si no fuera por Alfonsina Storni y Alejandra Pizarnik.
Pero tampoco somos marido y mujer, así que dejate de joder. No tenemos que estar de acuerdo en todo. Yo ya sé los nombres de nuestras bellas escritoras, que no me insultés. Marguerite Garza, por ejemplo.
Pero ¡ella no es argentina! Lo decís a propósito para molestarme. Puede que ahora vive en Buenos Aires con su marido, el pobre pelotudo Sivak, definitivamente un talento menor, la verdad es que ¡ella es gringa, no es argentina! Igual que el boludo ése. Malachi Moore. Que también debe ser judío con un nombre como ése. Pero no es argentino. Son más bien una especie de turistas. Impostores. Es una especie de turismo literario. La culpa la tienen mayormente las imprentas españolas.
Pero vos ¿de dónde sacas tanto peronismo literario barato, che? ¿Y en qué momento te volviste un puto antisemita de mierda? Me tenés podrido, que los judíos, que los españoles, que los gringos ¿qué sé yo? Pobres víctimas nosotros. Pero acaso la AAA ¿eran gringos? Es como si globalización no existiera para vos, como si quisieras ser un letrado como Pound o Celine, da asco, como si Borges.
Ya sé, ya sé qué me vas a decir boludo, como si Borges no hubiera dicho que nuestra cultura es toda la cultura occidental.
Todo lo que hagamos con felicidad los escritores argentinos pertenecerá a la tradición Argentina [….] Por eso repito que no debemos temer y que debemos pensar que nuestro patrimonio es el universo.
Ensayar todos los temas, y no podemos concretarnos a lo argentino para ser argentinos.
Porque ser argentino es una fatalidad y en ese caso lo seremos de cualquier modo.
O ser argentino es una mera afectación, una máscara.
Muy bien, pero es en serio que estoy preocupado. Bastante preocupado, che.
Cualquiera podría pensar que somos marido y mujer.
Ya pero si casarse ya no es ningún delito, yo no veo el problema. Me tiene sin cuidado en realidad.
Pero no somos marido y mujer.
Está bien, Myles, está bien. ¿Pero qué te pasa, por qué te ponés así? Tan pesado. Te volviste tan pesado, y no lo digo por gordo, ¿eh? Un fundamentalista radical, de los que se oponen al matrimonio porque es una institución hetero-burguesa. Sos insoportable últimamente. Pero de verdad insoportable. Debes volver a psicoanálisis, por tu bien y por el bien de esta pareja. Y te lo digo en serio ¿eh?
¿Por mi bien? ¿Y ahora además de anti-semita te volviste amigo de los curas, los mayores pederastas del mundo? Campeones. Los brasileros de la pedofilia. Vuelvo a psicoanálisis cuando comencés a madurar y cuando dejes el fascismo criollo. Y un poco de respeto para los mayores. ¿Te imaginas lo que hubiera dicho tu adorado Foucault sobre el matrimonio gay? Yo me lo imagino perfectamente, tal vez de viaje, de profesor visitante en Brazil o EE.UU., ¿qué sé yo? sonriente. Tal vez limpiando sus lentes. Con tono burlesco. No entiendo los que apuestan al matrimonio, diría. Si el SIDA no es la cura para los delirios del matrimonio, ¿qué diablos es? ¿Te lo imaginas?
No, pero definitivamente, Myles, estás podrido ya. Podrido por dentro, che. Necesitas ayuda profesional. Con esas cosas no se juegan. Un poco de respeto para el maestro, por favor, que en paz descanse. Por favor.
Estoy quemado ya. Me quemé.
FORREST HYLTON is an Associate Professor of History at the Universidad de los Andes, and the author of a bi-lingual novel, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, along with several books on Latin American history and politics. Beginning in September 2012, he will be a post-doctoral fellow at NYU's Tamiment Library, where he will be completing research for a book entitled 'Doing the Right Thing': Labor, Democracy, and Organized Crime on the Brooklyn Waterfront During the Cold War.