Seduced by the Goblin King: How we fell in love with David Bowie

Almost everyone I know was affected emotionally in some way or other by David Bowie’s passing two months ago. My colleague, case Dr. James Penner, prosthesis had an article published by the LA Review of Books on January 2nd in which he reviewed two books that I understand were released around the same time. You can read it here: David Bowie and the 1970s: Testing the Limits of the Gendered Body

He organized the event (for which the flyer on the left was for), in which he and 3 other professors (myself included) opened a conversation with the public by giving our personal and academic perspectives. This took place at the Richardson Seminar Room, in the College of Humanities, UPR RP.

After thinking it over and over, I decided to talk about Labyrinth, having learned by asking around that it wasn’t as popular with everyone as I imagined. Perhaps I was misled by most of my friends and the entire internet. In this decade, there’s Buzzfeed posts like this one, tumblrs such as Labyrinth Confessions, tumblr theories like this one, along with other virtual shrines across decades, if you dig. It’s not difficult. Because Jareth still constantly pops up in my life, I thought this was true for almost everyone. Well, guess what I found out? It’s not. It’s only so important to a certain group of people (the ones who give a little jump or widen their eyes when you mention it) – the ones who watched it as children and discovered David Bowie first, as Jareth.

window

Before I continue, I want to make a disclaimer in the form of a list:

  1. I’m posting the paper in its entirety, so please, if you go through it all, consider that I’m addressing a crowd. It’s not so much a “paper” as much as something meant to be heard in a span of 15 to 20 minutes while playing video samples as background.
  2. I skipped some lines and elaborated in between, so if you attended, it’s not exactly the same.
  3. I will use gifs whenever possible, even if unnecessary.
    crotchety
  4. There are summaries of scenes because I do not take for granted that everyone has watched the film.

Seduced by the Goblin King: How we fell in love with David Bowie

underground

From the music video for “Underground”

Labyrinth is a fantasy film for children directed by Jim Henson released in 1986 which, in its time, was considered a flop. However, for many people of my generation, Labyrinth was how David Bowie, already a prolific super star with a respectable repertoire, was injected into our psyches. I chose to talk about this film because, recalling the many conversations I’ve had throughout my lifetime, it seems that Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth, is the only one of his artistic personas that seduced some of us as little children. Also recalling conversations I’ve been having since my teens, Bowie was the rock star crush that we never really got over. I think this is why some of us were inconsolable the morning we found out. Our childhood crush had left us. On January 12th, the online magazine Fusion published an article by Nona Willis Aronowitz titled “David Bowie’s sexy goblin king in ‘Labyrinth’ taught us about lust.” In it, Willis quotes several people she had interviewed on the subject, confirming that the phenomenon of a generation of children becoming infatuated with a magical, somewhat evil (yet impossibly charming Bowie) with big hair is widespread. The Goblin King was, for many of us, an object of desire in our childhoods before we even understood what any of it meant.

what a dick was

Tumblr. Of course.

For some, watching Labyrinth over and over led to our fandom in later years, so that we would discover one of the greatest artists still alive in our time. Others would not, but would remember him as that strange character with “the pants” in that movie with the puppets. Either way, Jareth and David Bowie are inseparable by association. Had Jareth been played by anyone else, the Goblin King would not have had such a profound appeal, an appeal to which his original songs contribute immensely. The music is by Trevor Jones, but the songs with vocals were written and performed by David Bowie. The characters’ dialogue is simple enough for a child. Bowie’s lyrics, however, were perplexing, recalling it from a child’s perspective. Whenever David Bowie was singing, it seemed like the scene was a moment of truth, which I could not entirely figure out, but felt like I could almost touch it. For example, when the opening credits begin and Bowie’s “Underground” plays. There was a shift in perception then:

No one can blame you (Phew! He understands.)

For walking away (Why would anyone, though…)

Too much rejection (But she’s fine…)

No love injection (Oh, come on…)

But down in the Underground (Uh huh…)

You’ll find someone true (Man, I wish I had a baby brother so David Bowie would come in through my window…)

If you’ve watched the film before, you know what those lines are all about, and it’s dangerously exciting. The Goblin King will be summoned by 15 year-old Sarah, played by Jennifer Conelly. She will pronounce an enchantment she learned from a storybook, hoping, not knowing that Jareth would materialize in her room and that the act would bind her to a pact: by pronouncing a line in the correct order: “I wish the goblins would come take you away; right now,” Sarah has made her wishes become real.

Jareth’s goblin lackeys snatch the baby, she immediately regrets what she has done, and the adventure begins. The only way to recover baby Toby is by defeating Jareth, making her way through his very difficult and trap-laden Labyrinth, and into his court, while he tries to seduce her into staying with him. But she does not. That, I realized watching the film when I was older, was one of the reasons why I watched it so many times. I always hoped for an ending where she would stay with Jareth, because, why not?

castle

In the middle of that dirty castle with not much to do and a bunch of ugly, funny, little goblins (presumably other baby siblings since “only forever”), was David Bowie, the Goblin King, in all his glittering glory.

Willis Aronowitz comments in her article that “Labyrinth and Bowie achieved something unusual: They respected the existence of children’s sexuality if not on a conscious then on an elemental level.”

What I will analyze, which Willis Aronowitz did not explore, is first, why appealing to children’s sexuality is something only David Bowie could pull off, and second, how it happens.

smile

Willis talks about her own experience: “David Bowie was almost 40 by then, but to me, Jareth was ageless, genderless, species-less; he was free from real-world dynamics that may have made his toxic love for 15-year-old Sarah creepy or abusive. He was sex and power distilled to its purest form, and not in a macho, Prince Charming sort of way.” I asked one of my friends to sum up her feelings about David Bowie in Labyrinth; she responded that her interest in his music came when she was older, but that at 10 years old, Jareth was “the unreachable epitome of the bad guy without being crass or gross.” Like my friend Diana says, he was not crass, but often childish, and not gross, just odd.

I found an informal article on someone’s personal Angelfire website (woah) called “Through the Labyrinth, And What Sarah Found There” by an author with the alias Freya Lorelei, which is a sequence of analyses of mostly sexual symbolism in the film. In the last section, she talks about Jareth as paradox, a godly being with limited powers that may be Sarah’s “own invention” as a result of an Electra complex:

            Since she is so young, her fantasy man is tinged with hints of androgyny. Possessing a feminine build, ruffly costumes and lots of eye makeup, Jareth is threatening, yet not overly so. He is sinister, but ultimately unable to back up his threats. “You have no power over me.” Most very young girls tend to like men that are slight and delicate in build, because they themselves resemble girls, which is familiar and comforting. Sarah, being emotionally immature, conjures up this sort of man. However, due to the aforementioned Electra complex […] he is far older than her, and clearly sexually mature.

Jareth’s physical traits as described by Freya Lorelei also describe David Bowie; even if by the late 80s his then-current image was less flamboyant than a decade earlier, androgynous or outright feminine-looking Bowie were in the collective consciousness and part of pop culture. Electra/Oedipus complexes aside, for a very young person, being infatuated with a pop star is as safe as Sarah’s dream. Electra/Oedipus complexes considered, being older has a Freudian allure.  David Bowie is easily anyone’s fantasy man.

fallingBut how did David Bowie crawl into our little-kid dreams, making a permanent home in them? In many ways, Sarah’s trials in the Labyrinth resemble the way Lewis Carroll’s Alice own struggles in the Underground and the world through the Looking-Glass, stories many children came to know through several film adaptations before reading the books. The Alice books are still universally liked 150 years later, and one reason is because even though for most it appears to fantasy, it plays on the familiar (dream content – the characters and images are all distorted part of real Alice’s waking world) and the mysterious workings of the unconscious. It’s also very fun. If we appreciate Labyrinth in that same light, it might explain why some children (now grown) love Labyrinth.

nothing right

Alice and Sarah aren’t the most likable heroines at first, being stubborn and sometimes arrogant. But both characters awaken from their fantasies a little wiser.

In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud says the language of poetry is the language of dreams. Like poems we read and discover something new when we read them years later, something that resonates inside us that we may or may not pinpoint, so do Alice and Labyrinth. They are full of imagery and symbolism that can be reread and rediscovered time and again.

What’s at stake in both Alice and Labyrinth is the main characters’ power and reassertion of self in a world that is all their own (notice all the images in Sarah’s room, like the Escher poster, the toys, even her dog, Merlin, who in the dream is Sir Didymus, another dog’s, “steed”). The Labyrinth and the creatures there are not foreign to Sarah, she knows them all, even if she does not seem to recognize them. Taking this into consideration, we can conclude that the adventure is an elaborate dream. Sarah does have a photograph of her real mother in her room next to a man who happens to be David Bowie, after all…

I didn't make this image.

I didn’t make this image.

By the end of their trials, Alice and Sarah are “the babe with the power.” Alice and Labyrinth are about a child’s darker, more selfish nature, something which many childhood films and fairy tales don’t address; for this reason, some of us were enthralled. Add David Bowie’s otherworldly looks, smooth voice and catchy synthpop songs, and I think that’s the formula.

On the darker side of childhood, Alice’s two adventures in each dream world are anxious, always bordering on becoming a nightmare; she has lost nothing material, only sometimes her memory, identity, patience, temper and finally, her breaking point, when she loses control. By the end of each dream, it’s the nightmare’s climax, where she very nearly realizes she is only dreaming by recognizing and thus regaining her power. She awakes from Wonderland shouting “you’re nothing but a pack of cards!” and from Looking-Glass, grabbing the small Red Queen, a game piece, yelling, “I’ll shake you into a kitten, I will!”

Sarah has two similar almost-waking states during which she regains power: the first, after she dances with Jareth at the masquerade ball, enthralled, but then drifting from him as he watches in disappointment and with longing, unable to communicate.

msk gif

“As the pain sweeps through, makes no sense for you. Every thrill is gone, wasn’t too much fun at all. But I’ll be there for you-hoo-hoo. As the world falls doooown.”

 

mirror shatter

She breaks through the ballroom mirror and walks into a wasteland where an old hag opens a door for her, into her own bedroom. She falls into her bed and hugs her teddy bear, sighing “it was just a dream!” Shortly after, she opens the door thinking she’s home, but she finds the same dream-wasteland as before, recalling her purpose, which is to rescue her brother (her prime object of desire). Sarah manages to enter the castle, where Jareth tests her in an Escheresque scene, passive-aggressively begging her to love him. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one.

In this instance, again she is lucid. She begins to remember and recite lines from the story she knows, finally yelling “You have no power over me!” In that instant, Jareth becomes an owl and the scene transforms into Sara’s living room. She finds that baby Toby is safe and sound.

hypno

One way in which the Labyrinth dream world differs from Alice’s is how the ruler of the kingdom and antagonist is an equally attractive and repulsive, alluring and intimidating, male of whom she is object of desire (and vice versa).

Sarah’s own object is her goal: to recover her brother. The drive may be her feelings of guilt, having condemned Toby when she enunciated the charm; it may also be the fear of being responsible for losing her brother, thus losing her father’s trust and possibly, love. In the same manner that the Alice stories manifest a little girl’s unconscious working out anxieties and making sense (or non-sense) of her waking world, Labyrinth deals with a teenage girl, still a child, whose unconscious is sorting out more mature, emotional issues that develop when growing up:

  • social responsibility. While Sarah bonds with creatures in the Labyrinth, Alice does not truly befriend Wonderland and Looking-Glass creatures. Sarah, on the other hand, keeps the same close friends throughout the dream-story and is loyal to them.
  •  sexual impulse. Sarah may or may not have a crush on her mother’s boyfriend, but in the dream, she must constantly refuse Jareth and reaffirm that he is the villain. She cares for her little brother, after all, and wishes not for him to become another one of the king’s goblins. She chooses Toby every time, in spite of Jareth’s overwhelming, frustrated, entitled and threatening promises of love.
FEAR ME gif

k

In other words, it’s a young girl’s sex dream without there being explicit images of sex.

I know.

I know.

In her article, Freya Lorelei lists a thorough catalog of imagery in the context of Sarah’s reality throughout the entire film that reveal sex everywhere.

Some of the most obvious are Jareth/David Bowie’s very tight pants; the crystal balls he carries, rolls or throws in front of Sarah; and the cane he waves about in “Dance, Magic.”

cane

This traces a power play in matters of desire, a real desire Sarah might secretly have, but wishes not to address.

sarah

“…uuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh…”

Another possibility is not denial, but being unaware. Dreams are funny that way. Whichever it may be, the dream reveals a selfish, somewhat ugly aspect of human desire, if we look at it under a magnifying glass. In “The Function and Field of Speech in Psychoanalysis,” Lacan says the following:

Man’s freedom is entirely circumscribed within the constitutive triangle of the following: the renunciation he imposes on the other’s desire by threaten­ing to kill the other in order to enjoy the fruits of the other’s serfdom, the sac­rifice of his life that he agrees to for the reasons that give human life its measure, and the suicidal abnegation of the vanquished party that deprives the master of his victory and leaves him to his inhuman solitude.

All of the above are represented in the dynamics between Sarah and Jareth, both to the other, and are therefore a reflection of one another. They are both other to one another so, as for the first point of the triangle, both impose renunciation on the other’s desire. Both are martyrs in a figurative way: Sarah for her brother, and Jareth for Sarah, apparently. Finally, both are vanquished, although it seems that Sarah is the victor. Sarah has escaped the labyrinth alive with her brother intact, giving up what we can only assume is a mortal lifetime with Jareth that she may have been tempted to choose as an option. Jareth appears after her return as an owl in her window, and flies away in abnegation. It seems that Jareth is the serf, but it also seems like roles could be reversed easily. They are both a threat to one another, impose their own desire upon the other, and renounce the other’s desire while each being both subject and object of desire. However, it’s a mirror-reflection in a looking-glass world, as Jareth is Sarah with her mother’s boyfriend’s face.

Willis ends her article with, “In death, essential but tiny corners of a celebrity’s life often become bathed in a spotlight they’ve never known before. To us, that corner is the goblin king’s castle.”

To the other “us,” we never waited for his death to spotlight him as Jareth. We never waited at all, as we hoped he’d live forever.

glass bubbles

 

On the Subject of Alice

I still get questions about it, case and I still love to talk about it. I wrote my MA thesis, “Jacques Lacan Read Through the Looking Glass: Reflections of Subject, Self and Desire in Lewis Carroll’s Alice” in 2010 under the direction of Dr. Michael Sharp (English Department, Humanities, UPR RP). This would be the first time sharing any of it, and it’s only a tiny bit of it, because it’s over 100 pages long, so here’s just a teensy little piece of the shortened version I presented last September (you can read about that here).

If you’re curiouser, then, well, find me. Or find it at the Richardson Seminar Room in the College of Humanities. Or La Lázaro.

Lacan and Carroll share stylistic traits. The most outstanding is their fascination with the possibilities of language.

Artist credit pending

Artist credit pending.

In that respect, they have similar projects, though their didactic purposes differ. In the introduction to How to Read Lacan, Slajov Žižek, Lacanian expert, says that “the most outstanding feature of [Lacan’s] teaching is permanent self-questioning” (5). Alice repeatedly experiences self-questioning when, once in her dream worlds, everything around her becomes increasingly more difficult.

In that respect Carroll, like Lacan, obligates the reader to decipher meanings or come to their own conclusions using Alice’s point of view. In both Wonderland and Looking-Glass, Alice confronts dilemmas that Lacan contemplates, which makes them suitable for drawing connections, the purpose behind my analysis.

Alice’s character is an imaginary_symbolic_realexample of a human subject coping with society, its rules of behavior and communication (these belong in the symbolic order), her perceptions of self (in the imaginary), and her expectations, motivations and emotions (pertaining to the Real).

Alice’s character in the Wonderland book is that of a subject facing society, or social symbolic, confused and thirsting for meaning. Wonderland is Alice’s waking world distorted, where confusion is accentuated more than her enjoyment. Wonderland is very much structured like Alice’s waking world because, as a dream, it is based on it. What is true in one world can also be true in the next, realities sometimes overlapping, so Alice expects events to take place as they do in her waking world. When her expectations are contradicted, she is confused to the point of annoyance or distress. This is because the real Alice has already entered the signifying chain as a little girl in Victorian English society.

Credit pending

artist credit pending

Alice is reborn as a grown child into Wonderland, crawling into and then falling down the rabbit-hole, a reversal of the natural process of being born. What makes her entrance into the dream reality traumatic is the fact that she, unlike a newborn child, has already learned the behavioral codes, the language and the logic of her society, making it hard for her to interpret signs that have different meanings in Wonderland. Let’s examine Alice’s first attempt at communicating in Wonderland.

Her experience is comparable to that of an infant’s entrance into the signifying chain (learning language).

 

by Jasmine Becket Griffith

Jasmine Becket Griffith

Once down the rabbit-hole, her first conversation with someone else is with the Mouse that swims by her in the pool of tears. What motivates Alice to speak to the Mouse in the first place is not uninterested polite conversation, but her desire to get out of the pool so she can carry on her journey towards the garden. She approaches the Mouse saying “O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool?” (24) But the Mouse does not speak to her, and taking note of this, Alice supposes it is because “perhaps it doesn’t understand English” (25). She babbles on, thinking he might be a French mouse, repeating a sentence she has learned in her lesson book, “where is my cat?” – soon realizing this may have been a mistake. When she says aloud “I quite forgot you didn’t like cats,” (Carroll 25) the mouse finally reacts. Alice’s attempts at communicating with the Mouse at this point seem much like that of an infant who is learning its parents’ language. The infant babbles until it gets the parents’ attention and hence, whatever it is it desires. Luckily for Alice, the Mouse does, after all, speak and understand English, but Alice needs a confirmation to be sure they are communicating.

Alice learns that though they speak essentially the same language, there is a difference in codes. To Mouse, cats

Henry Rountree

Henry Rountree

signify something vile. This incident is somewhat like that of a child who innocently repeats an offensive word without the purpose of offending and is told not to say it again. Thus, Alice submits to the language of the other (in this case, the Mouse), by agreeing and understanding that the topic of “cats” is not proper. The Mouse submits to the language of the Other, which is the language of Mice and Mousekind. The signified of “cat” is predetermined by Mice in the same manner that problematic, offensive words and topics are predetermined by culture rather than a personal experience. Alice wants to communicate effectively, so she keeps on correcting herself and trying hard not to offend. She changes the subject of conversation from cats to dogs, only succeeding in upsetting it once more. She enters the Mouse’s language system when she promises not to speak of cats or dogs again. But, being new to it, forgets and mentions her cat Dinah, and, proudly, her ability to catch mice and birds. Her company – the mouse and birds when the pool becomes an ocean- all leave her, and this makes her feel “very lonely and low-spirited” (40). The result of a misunderstanding causes Alice great distress. She is trying to learn their code, but has not fully grasped the conventions. This very same scenario can take place when, for example, a child may innocently speak of subjects that are unsuitable for the dining table, not to offend, but because he or she has yet to conform to codes of etiquette.

rose-garcia-A-Caucus-Race

Camille Rose Garcia

Performative actions also bear significance in culture, and are generated and perpetuated by the Other, preceding us and generated by some authority. One example is the ritual of the Caucus-race. This consists of running around in a something approximate to the shape of a circle indeterminately. The Dodo is the authority, since he dictates the rules. His posture reminds Alice of Shakespeare, who in Alice’s world, commands literary authority. When the Dodo yells “Stop!” one bird asks who has won, and he replies that everyone has. Another bird asks who will give out the prizes, and the Dodo points to Alice. Alice is obligated to produce a prize, so she looks in her pockets and finds a box of comfits, luckily containing one for everyone, except herself. The Dodo then asks her to produce a prize for herself, so she again reaches into her pocket and finds a thimble. She hands the thimble to the Dodo, who presents it as a prize back to Alice. The whole thing seems absurd to Alice, not organized or logical. She takes a cue from the animals and, trying to be proper, acts seriously. The comfits and thimble are worthless objects, but their value is assigned by the manner in which they are presented. Understanding the meanings of the exchanges of actions and objects is a requisite of becoming a link in the signifying chain of culture.

Alice’s repeated misinterpretations and being misinterpreted are what define her in Wonderland as a stranger, or an other. When she does not understand something, it is only because she cannot. Her slightly different language accentuates Alice’s otherness. Our world only makes sense to us because we learn to, by subjecting to it and thus becoming a part of it.

 

Works Cited (here)

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There. Connecticut: Konecky & Konecky, 1999.

Žižek, Slavoj. How to Read Lacan. New York: Norton & Company, 2006.

I’ve also embedded my PowerPoint presentation below, which will make little sense without me talking on and on in the background (unless you’ve thought these things over yourself)… Enjoy.

 


Remembering Alice Through the Ages

Yesterday I gave a talk at the English Department in Humanities, rubella UPR RP, about David Bowie’s character Jareth in Labyrinth. I won’t go too much into it right now, because it will be my next post, but wanting to share that somewhat informal paper led me to want to post about this one. As I was writing about the film’s appeal to a certain group of people, I couldn’t help thinking about the many similar elements between the film and the Alice stories.

In September, I was part of a panel at the Alice Through the Ages conferences in Homerton College, the college of education at the University of Cambridge. Last summer, I only mentioned the possibility in passing, as I was unsure about whether or not I would be able to go, and I really, really wanted to. The funny thing is, I wrote my last post from Cambridge when they posted the Utopística video interview and I didn’t even mention it.

This was 6 months ago, and I still get excited when I talk about it. I met so many wonderful (of course), brilliant people, a handful I am now fortunate to call friends. Homerton was the most appropriate of places, a beautiful garden with fragrant flowers in bloom.  I wanted to attend every conference (as many of us did), but there were too many going on at the same time. In short, it was all perfect and one of the happiest times of my life.

I am about to post an excerpt from the actual paper. Having mentioned this event before, I felt an update on what happened was owed to the imaginary followed of this blog. I’ll exhaust anyone who cares to listen when they ask, I don’t intend to do it all over again to you, imaginary readers. Lots of things happened, all great, and the panels were fascinating. We all hope for an anthology with our essays, because having met, we are so curious to read the papers we missed. So here’s a gallery in place of an enthusiastic re-telling. I’ve left out the ones with other humans in them (except for Mary Galbraith as The Duchess in the mirror… oh, and that little girl), because I didn’t ask for permission to post them outside of social media, which is semi-private.

Looking Glasses and Neverlands I said I wasn’t going to, but I have to share one funny story. In the elevator to our rooms, I complimented a very friendly lady’s violet curls, and we giggled. What I didn’t know at the moment was that she was Karen Coats, whom I used in my research and quoted in my presentation (click the image on the left). A fellow speaker in my panel introduced us, he was friends with her and warned me she would be there, which increased my irrational anxiety.  She hadn’t arrived then, though, but it still made me very nervous. I got to spend time with her the day after the hair incident, along with a few other people I ended up loving on a human level, besides the intellectual admiration/fandom. This was but one of the many, many highlights.

 

This post is a sort of colorful introduction for the next, which was what I thought I was writing when I started. “A brief introduction,” I thought, “I’ll confirm that I did get to go and I’ll post an excerpt, done.” I had been meaning to do this earlier… but I rarely have a moment to even wash my hair lately (yes, since September – I do wash my hair, though – which is why I don’t write blog posts) so I’m taking advantage of tonight (hi, Santurce es Ley) to post some content before it’s already been a year since. #adjunctlife

 

 

Lineup for what’s left of 2015

The wait for Zuleyka’s book of short stories, Sparks, is finally OVER. Editing this book was my main (to not say only) activity during July, so I appreciate everyone who put up with my cranky scowls, and understood my declining what seemed like really fun invitations. This is the first book I edit that is not one of my own (secrets just keep on popping up, don’t they?), but I treated the project with the same obsessive drive that I would have one of my own, if not more so. (For sure I did, actually.) Our artist friends joined in and provided us with varied, unique styles that make this book absolutely loveable.

Are you interested?

Illustration is one of many by Pamela Katerina

Illustration is one of many by Pamela Katerina

 

You can now purchase it from the subVERSE site directly by clicking here.

It’s only about $15 including shipping (give or take, US and PR).

I am also hosting a giveaway at Goodreads that anyone can enter, as long as you’re a member.

It will be available at bookstores, eventually, as we gather more funds for printing costs. We need to give copies to our illustrators, which is why those pre-orders meant SO MUCH (thanks again). And regular orders do, too! With one purchase, you allow us to print yours and 1.5 more.

A book presentation is due, I’ll be announcing it everywhere as soon as it’s scheduled.

 

 

Anthology of Puerto Rican Sci Fi

This is what’s next.

You may remember a call for submissions we hosted a few months back.

David Caleb Acevedo, José Román and myself made our selections, now David Caleb and Pabsi Livmar are helping me out with editing the texts. This is a project I really look forward to completing, because it’s yet another kind of collaboration I’ll be taking part in for the very first time.

And also, THE TEXTS. There are poems, short stories, novel fragments, essays and comics from authors we know, ones we just discovered, were fans of, are new fans of, are our talented friends (or all of the above).

For my English-only followers (that I fantasize about having… are you out there?), the anthology is Spanish only. We hope to maybe not do this for the next. And it’s exclusive to Puerto Rican authors because, well, we thought it was necessary.

We are pushing to release this in about a month… I hope I don’t have a nervous breakdown in the process, since I’ll be teaching meanwhile. I might.

We would like to be somehow involved in this:

There’s more info out there, Google it if you’re curious or if you’d like the specifics.

I attended to all the conferences I humanly could at the UPR last year, it was such a success. I got to meet science fiction authors from Puerto Rico, elsewhere in the Caribbean, and Latin America. I’m sure you can relate, authors are some of the best quality, fulfilling people to know and talk to. Usually.

I left with arm-fulls of books and a head full of memories.

If I can manage to push out Ciencia Fricción by then, which I think is possible, we will most probably be involved.

If not, I will have been killed by the co-editors, but the book will be on the margins anyway.

You’ll see.

 

 

 

Friends have asked me about what I’m working on myself. I always have ideas that run on their own, and suddenly grow claws and scales and wings, and they twitch and scratch from inside my skull until I have to process and mold them into something tangible. But nothing tangible for the moment, only intangible.

 

Alice Through the AgesThere’s news that are either spectacular or tragic, only right now, I don’t know which it is – but will find out in two weeks or less.

Close friends know about it, most people don’t, but Lacan Read Through the Looking Glass (my MA thesis directed by Michael Sharp) was accepted to the event on the image you can appreciate on the right.

If all goes well, I’ll be presenting and representing at Cambridge.

Because I’m working class, on an adjunct professor’s salary, you might understand what I’m getting at…

… needing to say no more… if you catch my drift…

In the meantime, I’m adapting a lengthy text (that somehow, friends and mentors have actually enjoyed reading, bless your hearts) into something fun, a pretty Power Point presentation with pictures (alliteration accidental).

What I’m waiting on is for money to… well, fall from the sky, to put it simply (but not after having offered up blood sacrifices, offerings, chants and prayers to the corresponding gods – and it hurts).

If it doesn’t happen, well… I might cry in my room. For days, maybe weeks. And patiently wait for the next lifetime when Lewis Carroll’s Alice turns 250 or 300, when the economy or transportation as we know it has drastically changed for the better, or when I am born elsewhere (and somehow managed to write a thesis on the same books… getting carried away, maybe, but no, not really).

Fingers crossed.

About that day I presented Daniel’s book…

In March I was invited by my friends, Daniel Pommers and Miguel Pruné (associated with their individual books, collaborations, nd tons of other publications) also known as Gato Malo Editores, to present Daniel’s book of poetry, Que Así Sea (which you can google to read lots more about it, or check it out locally at bookstores – or HERE).

This picture is just for fun:

This is the first time I present a book (surely not the last), and my experience was both intimate and alienating. Mostly alienating at first… repeatedly I asked Daniel, “Me? Are you sure…?” because our styles and backgrounds are somewhat different. Then the doubts, “what if I’m getting this all wrong…?” – which is fine, when you don’t personally know the author, or if the author is dead in a literal sense. But then, inclusive… reconstruction of a person and his literary work through deconstruction.

I read this is front of a crowd of mostly his friends and family, whose expressions were quite difficult to read. But he smiled the entire time, so I suppose my analysis wasn’t too off.

Considering this will otherwise be lost forever in a sea of digital documents, I’m sharing a shortened version of it here… and perhaps, to awaken some curiosity in you and motivate you to go look for it and read it!

It’s in Spanish, by the way. I suppose you’ll notice that… (Also: No accents on account of not understanding shortcuts on Windows8. I suppose you’ll notice that, but I do know my rules, please don’t be mistaken.)

You can read more about the event on this link.

Links related to the boys:

Photo by Abram Fuentes. I missed the joke.

 

 

 

Que Asi Sea de Daniel Pommers

 

 

[…] en principio, es evidente que es el hombre en efecto quien da su sentido a la   palabra. Y que, si posteriormente las palabras se encuentran en el común acuerdo de la comunicabilidad, es decir, que las mismas palabras sirven para reconocer la misma cosa, es precisamente en función de relaciones, de una relación de partida, que ha permitido a esas    personas ser personas que comunican.

(Jaques Lacan, Seminario: Real, Imaginario, Simbolico)

 

“Articular

no es suficiente”

 

(Daniel Pommers: Epílogo)

 

           Que Asi Sea. No hace falta ser una persona religiosa para comprender esta declaracion: Que Asi Sea, el deseo de lo que se acaba de pronunciar, como una encantacion magica (“y Asi Sera”) o, Que Asi Sea (“y Asi Es”), tu lo has dicho, eso es asi, asi es la cosa, has pronunciado verdad. Considerando estos significados, el titulo cumple lo que promete. El sujeto (ser social y voz poetica, el “yo” que narra o declama en primera persona) de Que Asi Sea es uno que a menudo se desplaza y se disuelve en su entorno. En otras palabras, al leerlo, podemos fundirnos, como si articulara por nosotros, como si afirmara lo que todos estamos pensando.

(Amen, hermano.)

Simultaneamente, es individuo que articula, en poesia, observaciones y vivencias subjetivas. A traves del poemario, domina una inquietud del individuo, sea el primero (el yo que tambien soy yo) o el segundo (el que yo que es él, Daniel Pommers). Sin embargo, no son meras quejas y observaciones: en muchas instancias, Pommers nos acerca un espejo al rostro, a veces diplomatica y cariñosamente, en otras, forzoandonos los parapados, para que podamos apreciar que nos hemos convertido en cucaracha. La frase “Que Asi Sea” a menudo es un sintoma de una enfermedad cultural/social, utilizada popularmente como afirmacion de la negacion. En otras palabras, wishful thinking, el que se da cuando la religion se utiliza como muletilla, como instrumento para librarse de toda responsabilidad en el pasado, presente y futuro. Como dice Pommers, “Articular no es suficiente.” Se me miro al espejo de Pommers y no veo que he sido convertido en insecto (el yo simbolico, el sujeto en sociedad), viendo en su lugar una imagen integralmente humana que, en el mundo material, es feliz, (el Yo imaginario), no me identifico (ese/esa NO soy yo) y al fin, se trata del otro. Pero si se articula de manera estrategica, articular, si verdaderamente existe comunicacion entre ambas partes, aunque no es suficiente, es un comienzo.

“A buen comienzo

se le debe trazar

el apetito infinito de caminar

de rumiar los años.” (Pommers 134)

El comienzo es la esperanza de que, aunque habiendo revivido escenas desagradables (internas o externas), Asi Es, pero podria ser diferente. Creando consciencia a traves del espejo, contemplando nuestra realidad (sujeta y subyugada, abyecta o abnegada), podemos comprender que Asi No Debe Ser/ no tiene que ser. El poema Justo (p. 59) por ejemplo, ofrece una posible solucion: el reinventarse. Y el reinventar una sociedad comienza con reinventarse el individuo, con abandonar muletillas materiales o espirituales, y pensar para encaminarnos hacia la resiliencia.

Las incomodidades de Pommers en Que Asi Sea, en algunos poemas, son manifestados en actos de violencia (sintoma). Agresion fisica o verbal hacia el otro, donde el yo aparenta defenderse del mundo, cuando en realidad, la infelicidad profunda emana de lo mas profundo del yo. Por ejemplo, el poema Desorbitados (p. 49) bien expresa el concepto de la pulsion de muerte: la repetecion de una accion que produce sufrimiento y a la vez, satisfaccion[1].

El poema no necesariamente se trata de un individuo aislado, sino del sujeto: la autodestruccion del sujeto puede tambien ser una via, hacia la evolucion (o como lo llamaria Miguel, la mutacion). Al destruir a los demas, yo me destruyo. Mi violencia hacia los demas, tanto como el amar a los demas, es un reflejo de lo que se origina en mi interior: “(…)en la culminación del enamoramiento amenaza esfumarse el límite entre el yo y el objeto. Contra todos los testimonios de sus sentidos, el enamorado afirma que yo y tú son uno, y está dispuesto a comportarse como si realmente fuese así.” (Freud)

Que Asi Sea re-liga en el sentido de que unifica sujetos que hablamos el mismo idioma (que nos comunicamos porque conocemos los significados de sinificantes particulares, como por ejemplo, La Winston Churchill y Luis Muñoz Marin). Aunque a menudo incluye el mas alla que esa un poco mas alla de lo inmediato (El Caribe), se trata de un sujeto puertorriqueño – sujeto enfermo que, como ha aprendido, calma el sintoma con remedios temporeros. Lacan dice,

[…] Para sintetizar diremos con Saussure, que ‘el sujeto alucina su mundo’ ; es decir que sus ilusiones o sus satisfacciones ilusorias no pueden ser de todos los órdenes. Evidentemente él va a desviarlas hacia un otro orden que el de sus satisfacciones, quienes encuentran su objeto en lo real puro y simple. Jamás un síntoma ha calmado el hambre o la sed de un modo duradero, si no es por medio de la absorción de alimentos que les satisfagan, aún cuando una baja general del nivel de la vitalidad pueda, en los casos límites, ser la respuesta; por ejemplo: la hibernación natural o artificial. Todo esto es concebible sólo como una fase que no podrá, ciertamente durar, si no es con el riesgo de arrastrar daños irreparables.

El sujeto puertorriqueño de Pommers, en muchas instancias, es uno que busca saciar necesidades (o, tratar sintomas de su malestar), confundiendo las ordenes (real con simbolico, o real con imaginario[2]) y por lo tanto, superando necesidades fisiologicas o psicologicas cuyos resultados son de poca duracion. (Antidoto Fiesta, p. 38)

Todos somos ese sujeto, en muchas instancias a traves del poemario, las tres partes incluidas. De cierto modo, hay un nivel palpable de religiosidad en Que Asi Sea. El microcosmos (el yo) proyecta el macrocosmos (“todos somos”). El otro no figura algun lugar en el “nosotros.”  En el sentimiento oceanico nos fundimos, liquidos, con ilusiones de eternidad en la forma de pequeños destellos: en la purificacion de las llamas que permite un nuevo comienzo. (Postapoca, p. 104)

Pommers consistentemente rechaza la fe y la falsa ilusion, pero promete para todos esperanza real: “Mejor preparado. Mejores dias vendran.” (De la Muerte por Rendimiento, p.52)

En conclusion, en Que Asi Sea, Pommers articula un pais, una cultura, para ordenarla. Nuestro presente en tiempo y espacio, construido sobre y arrastrando rastros del pasado, mediante la articulacion, el lenguaje, como un intento de hacer ver, cuestionar, evaluar y concluir. Pommers crea un orden de deseo, pasado y futuro: Que Asi Sea (asi es y asi sera) – palabras que fulminan y, como encantacion magica pero no ingenua,“abren camino a la posibilidad, al renacimiento, la ambicion y la cognicion”. (Miguel Pruné)

Lacan, sobre el orden simbolico del lenguaje, comenta: “lo que hay que significar, a saber, las cosas hay que acomodarlas, dándoles un lugar.” Pommers nos obliga a contemplar recovecos incomodos del presente invita a un futuro donde aun se puede gozar.

———————————————————————————————-

[1]           Lo que en el sentido más estricto se llama felicidad, surge de la satisfacción, casi siempre instantánea, de necesidades acumuladas que han alcanzado elevada tensión, y de acuerdo con esta índole sólo puede darse como fenómeno episódico. Toda persistencia de una situación anhelada por el principio del placer sólo proporciona una sensación de tibio bienestar, pues nuestra disposición no nos permite gozar intensamente sino el contraste, pero sólo en muy escasa medida lo estable. Así, nuestras facultades de felicidad están ya limitadas en principio por nuestra propia constitución. En cambio, nos es mucho menos difícil experimentar la desgracia. (Freud)

 

[2]           La reversibilidad misma de los problemas neuróticos, supone que la economía de las satisfacciones en ella implicadas fueran de otro orden e infinitamente menos ligadas a ritmos orgánicos fijos, aunque determinando ciertamente una parte de ellos. Esto define la categoría conceptual que resuelve este tipo de objetos. Es justamente aquello que estoy en vías de definir: lo imaginario si se acepta y reconoce todas las implicaciones que le son apropiadas. A partir de ahí es muy simple, claro, fácil, de ver que este tipo de satisfacción imaginaria no puede ser encontrado nada más que en el orden de los registros sexualeso las discrepancias entre las ideas y las acciones de los hombres son tan amplias y sus deseos tan dispares que dichas reacciones seguramente no son tan simples. (Lacan)

 

 

 

 

Poetics of Dream Translation 3

This was the last part of my conference, see during which a handful of people from the audience shared recurrent dreams.

Rene Magritte – The Explanation

When I translated the dreams in that chapter of SLF, nurse which were collected years later for the book, my only intention was to write for the sake of writing. I have a habit of reflecting upon my dream content to better understand my current state of mind in my waking life, so this exercise of writing down dreams was a way of doing so. Since I had been publishing them online, friends and readers reacted to them, which was a source of positive reinforcement. I never expected, however, to be explaining any of them.

About dream analysis, Freud says:

The first thing that becomes clear to the investigator when he compares the dream-content with the dream-thoughts is that a tremendous work of condensation has been accomplished. The dream is meagre, paltry and laconic in comparison with the range and copiousness of the dream-thoughts.

The dream, when written down fills half a page; the analysis, which contains the dream-thoughts, requires six, eight, twelve times as much space.

As you have probably observed, the time it took me to explain only 3 aspects of the dream sequence “Daisy” and “Recollection” took nearly as long to have narrated the events in their entirety.

Literary analysis of poetry will probably result in “six, eight, twelve times as much space” as well.

Dreams, if you are able to remember them, are an excellent source for creative material. As a writer, you are able to exploit, through writing them down (or write based on them), what Freud calls the dream-content (what you perceive with your senses) and your condensed dream-thoughts (what you felt and thought in reaction to the dream-content). Both dream-content and dream-thoughts, as played out by your unconscious as you dream, are fragmented, disjointed.

The act of re-arranging this puzzle, to join the loose ends, is the act of translation. As with all translations, original meanings might be lost, but new meaning will be gained, and perhaps even deeper levels of meaning will be revealed through word choice.

magritte

The words we choose to name what we see might be clues to what we were really dreaming about – though wordplay and puns, homophones or homographs, or even rhyme. Language structures our very way of thinking, so the relationship between images and language does not go in only one direction.

As an example, I will quote Freud re-telling a dream to illustrate this point, that “one scarcely finds a dream without a double meaning or a play upon words.”

Photo credit unavailable

C in a dream sees a girl on the road to X bathed in a white light and wearing a white blouse.

The dreamer began an affair with a Miss White on this road.

After translating your sequence of dream images to words that are comprehensible to yourself (as well as your potential readers), you will probably have achieved effective poetic prose. By effective poetic prose I mean a combination of words that conveys sensorial experiences as well as emotions with minimal explanations about their particular symbolism (which is what “good” poetry should do – though it’s a matter of opinion).

And if you aren’t a writer, you have poetry within you. Some people might think dreams are a waste of time discussing or even bothering to remember, but the exercise if recalling, wording and sharing what we’ve dreamt can help us cope with the frustrations or questions that bother us in our waking lives. Dream interpretation, which is almost identical to literary interpretation, has much to teach us about ourselves and those around us, but only if we are aware. Like an oracle, or like Shelley’s figure of the poet as a prophet, dreams allow us to look inward and relate to the world outside our minds, therefore providing glimpses of the unknown.

We may never fully understand it, but, as we look out into the ocean and up the sky, there is a promise in all that is uncertain.

Poetics of Dream Translation 2

This part had lots of digressions, discussions and explanations, as well as examples Freud used in The Interpretation of Dreams, tons of Magritte’s paintings (more that I included here), and some passages from SLF. If you’d like to know more, I encourage you to go forth and google (and refer to SLF).

Photo by Angel Huertas

 

Now, why call it “translation” and not transcription? Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of language as a social agreement: there is nothing natural about it. We learn it growing up as a means for communication, but there is a wide gap between sensory perception and language.

From Introduction to General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure

From Introduction to General Linguistics by Ferdinand de Saussure

Rene Magritte – Collective Invention

 

Signifiers (words, whether spoken or written) are common among members of society, yet signifieds (meanings or conceptual images) are subjective.

Rene Magritte - Clear Ideas

Rene Magritte – Clear Ideas

 

The process of becoming overwhelmed by sensory images is very similar to recalling dreams, or to dreaming itself.We normally have little to no control over what we dream; we might enjoy a dream, or we might be shocked or disgusted by it.

Henri Fuseli – The Nightmare

 

If we decide to tell someone about a dream we’ve had, we normally have to really try to put events in order, to make sense out of a sequence of sensory images that would otherwise not make any.  We might also change the events as they occurred because they are too disturbing to recall.Most of the time, objects and characters in our dreams are not recognizable, yet, when awake, we try hard to associate them with images from our conscious memory, sometimes changing the memory of the dream altogether.

Henri Fuseli – Queen Katherine’s Dream

 

The prose pieces in the second chapter of SLF are not, as you may have noticed, by definition, stories.  They are poetic prose, because situations and conflicts are hard to determine. Like many poems, they exist out of time and space because they consist, mainly, of metaphors.  They are all dreams recalled while I was awake, and they were my best attempt at weaving pieces of images together so that they would have some kind of logical sequence (for my readers as well as myself).The process of writing poetry and writing poetic prose are not too different: they are both a recollection of visions, through sensory perception, that need some kind of conversion from image to text.  Sometimes intentions and thoughts (in other words, ideas) were unclear when recalling the dream, in which cases I had to consciously add details that were not provided in the dream itself.

For example, “Daisy” is followed by a separate text, “Recollection.”

In the dream “Daisy,” which happened so many years ago now, I still remember my thoughts and emotions in the dream. In my dream, the girl was the embodiment of the flower…

The naked girl was a daisy, not visually, since she had a human(esque) shape. But the images of a daisy and this girl were simultaneous. As I transcribed the dream, explaining this seemed like too much trouble for the reader, so I settled for similes involving different flowers as an attempt to be understood. There is no signifier for the actual dream image of a girl-daisy, so translation through logical language (the similes) seemed necessary.

However, in retrospect, perhaps the girl’s lack of emotional expression had a lot to do with her being a plant. A fresh, cheerful looking daisy communicating no empathy whatsoever. And also the fact that plants are naturally naked…

In that same dream, I was suffering anxiety upon learning that “my image was to be desecrated” – I know much deeper, psychological interpretations may be given to this dream, which may be completely valid (though I don’t remember what I was experiencing in my life when I had this dream)… but my main association upon remembering the dream, then and now, was related to computers and, possibly, web design and the attachment I had to my html files.

pixelsss

The line: “every fiber of my flesh was disintegrating, blinking horrifically in pixels of colors I could only see in codes. […]” in this context, sounds less horrific… but the truth is, as a teenager, I spent hours upon hours a day designing personal websites that, at that time, I considered works of art. Dreaming in codes, (black letters, numbers, and symbols on a white screen) was commonplace and sometimes frustrating. I had lived the nightmare of losing all my files once, where the screen became pixelated and in the color codes in the “story” (yellow, cyan, fuchsia, black, white and red – I don’t need to check the codes I wrote in the text because I remember very well what this screen looks like).  It happened when I was 15 (it was my mother’s computer, but it was I who sat in front of it hours on end) and I have avoided that (living) nightmare ever since.  It seems like a trivial thing to worry about, but the nightmare is a symptom of a real trauma. In this dream, my work on my computer and my vision of self were one.

In the next dream, “Recollection” – which is possibly the same dream, a nightmare from I did not wake, but slipped from and into another sequence.

It is a reconciliation of a lost identity with a regained one. One of confusion that does not depend on concrete evidence, but on memory, even if a faulty one. Whether or not the poets I mentioned were actually mentioned by name, and whether or not the poetry I recited was poetry I had memorized from my waking life and not dream-babble, is irrelevant.

And whether or not these anxieties, the specific ones I mentioned about a computer breaking down and losing all files, hence losing one’s created identity, as well as the ones the dream sequence suggests – persecution, being lost and obliterated, then regaining composure and recalling identity in a particular way, reveal anything about me as a writer or person, should also be irrelevant. I like to think the images are about a universal experience among human beings, no a particular experience based on a memory. However, in the same way we decode symbols in poetry, we decode symbols in dreams: images not obviously tied to their literal meaning, but a meaning extracted through an exercise of subjective association. 

In Freud’s words, “That which is obviously the essential content of the dream-thoughts need not be represented at all in the dream. The dream is, as it were, centred elsewhere; its content is arranged about elements which do not constitute the central point of the dream-thoughts.”

To put it another way, we must decode and make an effort to interpret – to translate – what sensory images paired with emotions, as remembered from our dreams, mean to us (or to your psychoanalyst). Then we re-code them in language (thus, translating).

Rene Magritte – The Lost Jockey

 

As I mentioned before, what is important in dream interpretation is not so much the physical aspects of the dream, but the psychological relationships with these aspects (either of the reader, or the dreamer).  Much like considering Magritte’s titles when we look at his paintings. The image is secondary to the title, which gives the image an entirely different dimension, open to interpretation. In this case, the image is the dream content and the title, the dream thought.

Rene Magritte - The Entrance

Rene Magritte – The Entrance

Poetics of Dream Translation Part 1

From The Poetics of Dream Translation. In this first part, I’m explaining why the dreams in SLF are not short stories, but should be interpreted as poetry, given the similarities between dreams and poems in structure, content and language. I mean… in a nutshell.

As many of you might be aware of (or perhaps not), many of the pieces in the second part of Stars Like Fish are what I call “dream transcriptions.”

The subject of the creative process has come up often after the publication of Stars Like Fish.  In The Poetics of Dream Translation I will explain the process I engaged in while transcribing dreams, as well as the similarities between dream language and poetic language.

First off, to help clarify the difference between writing and interpreting both genres , I will compare narrative fiction to poetry.

Writing narrative fiction is one process… in order to write a narrative, we must first imagine a situation, a conflict, a main character with a unique personality. Then, we involve our character in the conflict, and have him or her struggle, resulting in an outcome. Although sometimes characters (and maybe even the plot itself!) take on a life of their own (when we, as writers, become them as we write), there is still a formula to writing narratives that we must take care to follow.

Poetry, on the other hand, if we choose to write in free verse, is free of formulas.

Its structure is a series of images intended to move the reader; it reveals meaning through symbols more often than narrative does because it consists mainly of symbols. A poem may be one extended metaphor or a series of metaphors.

In order to compare the effects and intentions of narrative versus those of poetry, I will quote Percy B. Shelley’s Defence of Poetry:

A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the image of all other minds. The one is partial, and applies only to a definite period of time, and a certain combination of events which can never again recur; the other is universal, and contains within itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or actions have place in the possible varieties of human nature.

In other words, poetry speaks to us in a universal language (that of symbols), and its content is not limited to time and space. We relate to poetry regardless of the century, geography or society we exist in.

My creative process of writing poetry usually consists of being overwhelmed by a feeling (any feeling at all) then sitting down, whether with paper and pen or in front of a keyboard, and writing what I see through my mind’s eye or what I feel. Sometimes feelings come to us as images only, and we must try our best to transcribe, or rather, to translate them.  Some poets have a good idea of what they want to write poems about before they do. As a habit, I usually don’t, and most of the time I don’t even realize the meaning(s) of what I’ve written until I feel that the poem is finished and have re-read it.

As an example, I’ll read you a poem I wrote last summer:

non-text 

there is a notion that words couldn’t catch

only an image that haunts, that plays back

like a silent film,

in pieces

like colors on a palette of memories

(and melodies)

painting over in shades that cannot be reproduced

not exactly

there is a notion that couldn’t be translated

couldn’t be worded

couldn’t be recognized,

(not if you heard it)

it looks like a spatter,

like the silence of night

reflected on rolling

waves of dark light

it flickers

it is

(and it isn’t)

never the same

like the shore

like paint…

What I was feeling at the moment was manifest in images. The source of these images, of course, is memory, but my individual experience is beside the point, because it is as much about my actual life experience as it is about the experience of writing the poem itself.  Writing poetry can sometimes become a half-dreaming trance, where we do pay attention to the mechanics (such as cadence, rhyme, or alliteration), but the focus is usually sensorial.

This poem was an example of writing based on memories of images used to convey emotion. In a similar way, dreams are not necessarily derived from events of the day, or any given moment. They are sensory images that may date back to our early childhood or recent events, which may be recalled from an actual lived experience or a vicarious one.  For instance, images from a movie, photographs or the emotions of a character in a novel.  Perhaps we might even dream of songs we’ve heard before but don’t even like. What we dream is beyond our voluntary control, but comes, undeniably, from our own consciousness. I will quote Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams to illustrate the difference between waking and dreaming consciousness:

[…]  the distinguishing characteristic of the waking state is the fact that its psychic activity occurs in the form of ideas rather than in that of images. But the dream thinks mainly in visual images, and it may be noted that with the approach of sleep the voluntary activities become impeded in proportion as involuntary representations make their appearance, the latter belonging entirely to the category of images.

So, as dreams metaphorically speak to us through sensory images to interpret later, so does poetry. Poetic language is one to be decoded by the reader. The experience of reading and interpreting poetry should not always take into account the poet’s ideological intention. Language and symbols (sensory images) are subject to individual interpretation, which is why I prefer readers not to attach my personal experience or intentions to the dreams in Stars Like Fish, but their own.

Why Stars Like Fish?

Since I’ll probably never be using this introduction again, I’m sharing part of the conference I gave at the UPRH last October, for everyone’s pleasure – of this sort of thing pleases you. 

Credit unavailable. If you know the artist, please send a message!

 “Why Stars Like Fish?” is a question I am asked very often, not only by people who are looking for clues before reading it, but also some who have already read it entirely. I’ve probably been unfair when answering to both, with replies such as a very secure “well, if you read it I’m sure you’ll get it” – or the distressed and insecure “really, you read it and you didn’t get it?” 

When naming the book, I never gave it much thought. Images of stars and fish are recurrent in my writing, and they share many similarities in their symbolism. I suppose I overlooked the fact that “Stars Like Fish” is a poetic line in itself, one that invites interpretation (whether a conscious or unconscious one).

For those who expect an explanation on how stars are in any way like fish, or how fish can be possibly be similar to stars might be disappointed. Yes, there are stars in the book as well as fish, but there is never a direct comparison.

Before I make my best effort to explain my title choice, I’d like to show you this illustration by one of Prof. Carmen Torres’ students, Michelle (whose last name I don’t know), who was kind enough to let me keep it.

I was excited to see it for many reasons: one, to know that by means of your own creativity you have bonded with a stranger who has reacted through art. We are all inspired by other artists, but we rarely get to connect. Having the opportunity to see an interpretation of your work in an entirely different medium provokes a feeling of togetherness and communication, even if it’s based on a title alone.

A second reason is that, having this self-created complex that “nobody gets it” regarding my title, this student helped me get over my anxiety because, when she showed it to me, with intense emotion I thought “SHE GETS IT!”

I would like to analyze Michelle’s  watercolor as an answer to “Why Stars Like Fish?”

It’s a reversible image of creatures in water and outer space. You may look at it from one angle or another, and its meaning is unaltered (in the same way stars like fish or fish like stars are interchangeable).

But what is the meaning?

Does a starred sky ever meet the ocean’s edge?

From our human perspective, it does. As residents of an island, we might take visits to a shoreline for granted, but we’ve all noticed the horizon, the line where the ocean ends and the sky begins (or vice versa).

Under a dark night sky, however, this line is almost impossible to isolate.

Michelle’s illustration shows both sky and sea, almost blending into one another, but not quite. She painted white dots in the violet space, and colored stars in the blue one. The stars in space resemble stars as we see them, tiny white dots against a dark background. The stars in the sea resemble starfish, or anemone. In a sense, through linguistic signs (not considering definitions), there are stars in both sky and sea.

Now I’d like to focus on the characters: a mermaid and astronaut are looking into each other’s eyes, yet, they’re not touching, but waving at each other.  Where do they meet?

I really had to give this some thought. What seems obvious to me is quite difficult to word, because I’ve never thought of it in words, until this moment, but in metaphor.  We are beings of the earth… the sky and the sea, whether we have a scientific understanding of it or not, are realms beyond our reach. Humans may visit these spaces, in suits that allow us to temporarily adapt, but we cannot naturally experience them.

Hence, sky and sea are where we look to for solace, for a promise that there exists what we cannot grasp: origin and flight, a beginning where there is an end, birth and death (and an afterlife), which is why the sky and sea are elements in creation myths around the world. There are fish in the ocean and there are stars in the sky, so much we know… more than we can count, because we simply cannot.  Stars are born and die as often as fish do, as our own lives are ephemeral… but we manage to live on our own, relative time, as we look beyond the horizon, beyond our atmosphere.

So, how are stars like fish? They inhabit the unknown, and are symbols, in Stars Like Fish, of what we can see – but cannot fully comprehend.

On occasion, we might see stars reflected on water. In our dreams, we may see fish floating in the sky with other impossible objects.