Guest Post, Matthew Felix Sun: Unlikely (Anti-)Heroes as Artists

As an artist, I am naturally drawn to literature depicting artists: historical or fictional, painters, sculptors, composers, writers, and craftsmen of all trades. I am drawn to their struggles for inspiration and perfection of execution, to their achievements or failures, and to their intriguing techniques.

There have been some fine examples of fiction that depicts the foremost artists of their time. Perhaps the best known, recent novel in this category is Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, on the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Other works in this vein include As Above, So Below by Rudy Rucker (Pieter Brueghel), Rembrandt: A Novel by Gladys Schmitt, and The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone (Michelangelo).

Opening windows to fascinating worlds or processes of beloved artists, these fictions prove endlessly engaging; if there are any shortcomings, perhaps they lie in the authors’ attempts to present the broad historical fabric in which an artist was active, which sometimes interferes with dramatic arc or character development.

Those who seek more uninhibited imaginations might turn to novels on fictional creative characters, especially those engaged in unique and unforgettable trades; or even more fascinating, to books on well-known real-life or mythical figures not previously associated with any artistic ambitions or endeavors.

Recently, I have read several books in that last category, which have inspired this post. They were Oedipus on the Road by Henry Bauchau, Darker Muses: The Poet Nero by Dezső Kosztolányi, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind.

In Bauchau’s retelling, the exiled, blind Oedipus, accompanied by his daughter Antigone, embarks on a spiritual cleansing and a journey in pursuit of self-discovery. Oedipus launches an improbable career as a sculptor, culminating in sculpting a huge relief of wave on a cliff.

Oedipus started modestly by moulding clay figures or carving branches, giving his creations poetic names such as “The Stone’s First Smile” or “There is a Spring”. He soon fixated on a cliff and was determined to reveal the waves that he perceived, despite or perhaps because of his blindness, beneath the stone surface.  He installed himself “at the top of the headland,” listened to “the waves crashing against the cliffs and the cry of the seabirds. … something has begun to open up inside him and periodically the sea appears in all its fullness, yearning for him to abandon himself to it or be consumed by it.”

“Sometimes he slips and cuts his hands. It is almost a pleasure to mark the cliff with his blood for the wave is there as well as within him.”

He carved one oarswoman, modeled on his daughter Antigone “how Oedipus sees her, how he wants her to see herself”, “a vibrant, determined beauty, suffused with confidence,” while Antigone carved another oarsman as Oedipus, “as he was before that time, the savage boy – conqueror and victor”, without blemish and relieved of his fate.

His struggle was mighty and meaningful.

On the overhanging rock the wave curves back, twisting under the pressure of its own weight and falls, as Oedipus wanted it to, plunging back into the sea.

The wave, dark at its base, becoming lighter as it rises, spring up out of the sea. … Nothing can stand up to it. It is about to fall back into the vast trough but the boat gets there first and uses the power of the wave and the gap it has created to project itself forwards … guided towards the port by the blind man of the sea, … sending out a message of hope to all sailors.

Kosztolányi’s Nero, soon after his ascendency to the Roman throne, suffered from a feeling of purposelessness in life. His mentor, the poet Seneca, unwisely turned his attention to poetry. Consequently, the talentless yet committed young emperor “himself had no idea how or why it happened, but suddenly he began to write. Line after line he wrote, Greek hexameters which flowed precisely. But upon reading them aloud, he began to feel less confident. He weighed the lines in his mind, tested them, made corrections. Now his mood was black and desperate like that of a murderer aiming himself for an ominous deed for which, should he fail, he must pay with his life.”

He wrote and re-wrote and invited critiques from Seneca, a seasoned courtier, who praised Nero’s efforts and cemented the emperor’s ambition and self-confidence, which outstripped his artistic self-doubt. Eventually, however, the populace came to see Nero’s banal efforts as buffoonery and travesty, the insecure poet-emperor became intolerant, and so commenced his downfall.

In contrast to the sculptor-king and the poet-emperor, the protagonist in Süskind’s Perfume was an orphan without status, but engaged in an unusual artistic career. The young Grenouille, endowed with extraordinary olfactory sense, installed himself in a struggling Parisian master-perfumer’s workshop, and invented countless superior perfumes for his master while perfecting his own skills.

The scent of his first perfume for the master, “was so heavenly fine that tears welled into Baldini’s eyes. He did not have to test it, he simply stood at the table in front of the mixing bottle and breathed. The perfume was glorious. … It was something completely new, capable of creating a whole world, a magical, rich world, and in an instant you forgot all the loathsomeness around you and felt so rich, as at ease, so free, so fine. …”

Grenouille’s dream was to capture and preserve a most glorious scent of a young girl he encountered. “But of course this unique scent could not be used in a raw state. He must set it like the most precious gemstone. He must design a diadem of scent, and at its sublime acme, intertwined with the other scents and yet ruling over them, his scent would gleam. He would make a perfume using all the precepts of the art, and the scent of the girl behind the wall would be the very soul of it.”

In his obsessive efforts to obtain similar scents, he would steal toward a series of muses/victims and hammer them to death, suddenly and instantaneously, before fear could interfere with their wondrous virginal scents.

Then, he would seal the body with scent-absorbing oiled-linen, “not a slit, not a hole, not one bulging pleat was left through which the girl’s scent could have escaped. She was perfectly packed. There was nothing to do but wait, for six hours, until the gray of dawn.”

Grenouille fulfilled his artistic dream, creating the most glorious scent out of his fine, gruesome collections. Yet, due to his personal flaw — he was without a scent himself, therefore, in his own mind, without any presence, and meaningless — he used the angelic scent he created to lure a crowd of people, in a fit of mad love, to consume him — literally, in a horrifying orgy of cannibalism.

These fables demonstrate artistic struggle in multiple ways, with successfully realized art or not. All point to the conclusion that abandonment, total commitment, obsession, and being possessed — even bleeding for one’s art — is the prerequisite for artistic fulfillment.

As a painter, I have experience many artistic struggles: for inspiration, to execute my ideas, to succeed in the frustrating business of marketing. I have also worked on pieces featuring creative characters — painters, musicians, dancers, or sculptors — finding myself drawn to sympathize with these characters, and to empathize with their struggle as my own. But to do justice to my figures’ inspirations and struggles has not been easy. Due to the limitations of painting and drawing media, my works were the visualization of only momentary snapshots of artistic processes, without the deep analyses and temporal unfolding that novels are able to render.

One of my paintings, titled Encounter, is an interesting case in point. It depicts a young man, in a nocturnal light, meeting a bronze bust of a young boy. A wave of emotions reveal themselves through the young man’s posture and facial expressions. The subject can be seen as a sculptor who unexpectedly sees his creation in a new light, or the Muse facing a creation he inspired. In the single moment depicted in the painting, the artist/muse was possessed by the creation.

Indeed, the key for an artist to succeed is to be possessed!

Encounter Oil on Canvas 36" x 48" Completed in 2001 © Matthew Felix Sun www.matthewfelixsun.com

Encounter
Oil on Canvas
36″ x 48″
Completed in 2001
© Matthew Felix Sun
www.matthewfelixsun.com

Intern Highlight: Kimberly Hutchinson


Nonfiction Editor Kimberley Hutchinson is a junior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University where she is pursuing concurrent degrees in Women/Gender Studies and English (Creative Writing, specializing in Fiction) with a minor in History. After graduating in Fall 2013, apart from establishing herself as a writer, she plans to attend law school and ultimately aspires to have a career in human rights law and constitutional law. This is her firs
t semester with Superstition Review.

 

Click on the link below to hear Kim share her previously published poem with us.

Kimberly Hutchinson

Intern Highlight: Zari Panosian

Fiction Editor Zari Panosian is a junior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University where she is pursuing concurrent degrees in European History and English (Creative Writing). Her one-act play, Late, was selected as part of the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company’s Pandora Playwriting Festival and the Pandora Showcase in 2010. In addition to her passion for writing, Zari has aspirations to attend law school upon her graduation in 2013. This is her first semester at Superstition Review.

In the link below, Zari shares one of her strongest influences and inspirations.

Zari Panosian

Meet The Interns: Mary Richardson

Mary Richardson is a sophomore at Arizona State University and is a student of the Barrett Honors College. She is pursuing a concurrent major in English Literature and European History. She is also a Fiction Reviewer for ASU’s Lux Literary Magazine. Her career aspirations are to work in editing/publishing or to be a professor.

1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

I am the Reading Series Coordinator for the magazine, which means I organize readings events that display the works and talents of selected writers/poets.

2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?

I’m really interested in publishing as a career possibility. Also, literature and poetry are very enriching for me, and I appreciate that this internship is centered around these subjects.

3. Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

I spend a majority of my time running, doing yoga, reading, or writing. It’s also very important to be with my close friends and family.

4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?

I would be very interested in the Content Coordinator position once I have more experience.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.

Wuthering Heights has long been my favorite novel. I’m very intrigued by Emily Brontë’s use of language to present and develop the characters. I’m also interested in how she delves into the concepts of time, memory, and human nature.

6. What are you currently reading?

I recently began One Hundred Years of Solitude.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

I really enjoy writing short stories. Right now I’m in the process of brainstorming a new one.

8. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see myself continuing my current hobbies and interests, while also pursuing new ones. I hope to be part of a community that appreciates the same aspects of life as I do.

Melissa Pritchard discusses Superstition Review reading and other works

On November 8th the Superstition Review Reading Series will feature Melissa Pritchard at Arizona State University’s Tempe Campus. Her reading will take place at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union’s Pima Auditorium. Pritchard has published several books such as Phoenix: A Novel, Late Bloomer and Devotedly, Virginia: The Life of Virginia Galvin Piper. She has also published her essays Finding Ashton and A Woman’s Garden, Sown in Blood in O, The Oprah Magazine, and The Collagist 4, respectively. I had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming reading and Pritchard’s latest novel The Odditorium.

Superstition Review: How is The Odditorium different from your other works?

Melissa Pritchard: The Odditorium is a collection of seven stories and a novella. Most are based on unusual or enigmatic historical figures, all look at the ways architecture exerts subtle or unsubtle pressures on human consciousness. So they are different in those ways from most of my previous stories. More than half of them do not approach narrative in a traditional or conventional way. I experiment in one story, “Watanya Cicilia,” with a pastiche of historical documents, songs, research and fiction, contrasting the Wild West Show and the real, genocidal story of the West. “The Hauser Variations,” based on the life of Kaspar Hauser, a German boy kept in an underground dungeon throughout his childhood and then mysteriously released into a second tragic fate, is based, in terms of narrative strategy, on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In another story, “Patricide,” two sisters meet in a haunted hotel in Richmond, Virginia, its courtyard said to be a place where Edgar Allen Poe once played as a child. In this hotel, one of the sisters goes mad. So I was less interested in the traditional structure of plot and expected emotional release than in ethics, history, architecture and the effects of these upon both historically based and purely imagined characters.

SR: What has in been like working with Bellevue Literary Press?

MP: We are in the earliest phases; I accepted their offer to publish The Odditorium in January, 2012, and had a lengthy phone conversation with the publisher, Erika Goldman. I was so impressed with her aesthetic understanding of the collection, her excitement over the departures I had taken in terms of subject and form, I became convinced this was the proper home for these pieces. The BLP website is terrific, too, as is their history with Bellevue Hospital and New York University’s Medical Center. They publish elegant books at the nexus of art, science and medicine, and only publish two fiction titles a year. One of this year’s fiction titles, Tinkers, by Paul Harding, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, resulting in a flurry of attention for the press, with articles and interviews in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and other media venues. It’s a tiny press operating out of Bellevue Hospital, and they do terrific work. I come from a family of surgeons, doctors and nurses, and have always been fascinated by science, medicine and the history of medicine, so this could not be a better place for this book, as a number of the stories deal with medical histories, issues and questions.

SR: How has your time at ASU influenced your writing?

MP: Because my time to write is limited, I have to be disciplined. Sometimes I find it quite difficult, having time and energy to both write and teach. A fragile balance at best. On the other hand, teaching keeps me awake to current trends in literature, to remaining relevant to students year after year, and I am blessed to work with some incredibly gifted students, both graduates and undergraduates. I always say my students teach me in equal proportion to what I teach them. At least I feel that. Also, ASU has always been tremendously supportive of my outside work–traveling for research, traveling to conferences, traveling for reportage or for humanitarian work, which I also do. I am extremely grateful for the university’s support.

SR: What are you most looking forward to as the Superstition Review reading draws near?

MP: I have a background in theater, in acting, so I always love reading my work aloud in a public setting…for me, it is as close to performance as I come these days. I love an audience and I love hearing the piece I’ve chosen come alive in the room, seeing the reactions of the listeners, answering questions afterwards. It is truly a wonderful exchange. This past summer at The Glen, a writing workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, part of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA Program, I read my collection’s title story, “The Odditorium,” to a full house. It is a comic piece about Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame, and other audiences have responded with laughter and lively commentary afterwards. This audience was dead silent. The room was dark, I couldn’t see anyone. I kept reading, on and on, by the little glow from the podium light. Afterwards, no one even asked questions! I was horrified, sure I had failed, sure the story had been a failure…I wanted to crawl under a carpet had there been one. What I found out later, was that the story had gone over so well, people couldn’t react, they went silent–stunned. I won’t repeat the praises I later heard, but then I became overwhelmed the other direction–was my story really that good? So one never knows, and one always doubts. Also, I’m always a little nervous before a reading, hoping it goes well, that I don’t disappoint people who made the time and effort to come to my reading when there are dozens of other things for them to do….I am also always scared no one will show up, and thrilled to pieces when they do. Finally, I’m looking forward to meeting all the staff and interns at Superstition Review. They’ve even managed to arrange to have copies of A Public Space #11 mailed from New York to be available for sale on the night of the reading. (I’ll be reading a story, “Ecorche, The Flayed Man,” from that issue.)

SR: What are you currently working on creatively?

MP: I’m in between three pieces right now…a non-fiction piece about my miniature dachshund, Simon, a speech about Sr. Airman Ashton Goodman and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project that I will be giving at the Air Force Institute of Technology in December, and a novella set in 19th century Florence, Italy.

SR: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

MP: Read voraciously. Read the best work you can find. Read what interests you. Be observant. Practice empathy and compassion. Know that what you write ultimately reflects who you are. Write every day, even if only for an hour and be humble in your practice while aspiring to greatness. Be gentle with yourself, and always reward yourself in some small way after a writing session. Leave the writing at a place where you are eager to return the next day.

 

Matthew Gavin Frank discusses “Warranty In Zulu” and other projects

Superstition Review was pleased to feature Matthew Gavin Frank’s poems in our very first Issue. Recently I had the opportunity to correspond with Frank to discuss his latest published work, Warranty In Zulu. Frank has published several poetry manuscripts including, AardvarkSagittarius AgitpropFour Hours To Mpumalanga, and 6 X 6. His prose has also been published in Blue Earth Review, Plate Magazine, Brevity, Transfinite, and elsewhere.

Superstition Review: How is Warranty In Zulu different from your other works?

Matthew Gavin Frank: Warranty is far more research-based than my previous collection, Sagittarius AgitpropWarranty began as a project to engage the ways in which the exhibits of South African museums and galleries have changed since the fall of apartheid in 1994, documenting how the “landscape” of the South African art scene has changed in style, substance, and accessibility with the socio-political landscape, with the aim of uncovering a larger statement about the interaction between politics and aesthetics.

SR: What has it been like working with Barrow Street Press?

MGF: Risking overstatement: heavenly. Barrow Street is wonderfully hands-on when it comes to the editing process, design, lay-out, etc. They’re very involved, continually offering feedback and suggestion, which contributes to the rare, essential dialogue between writer and editors (who, in the case of Barrow Street, are brilliant writers themselves). The experience of working with them will likely save me a crap-load of time when it comes to self-editing future manuscripts before submitting.

SR: What was the most difficult part about writing Warranty In Zulu?

MGF: Avoiding “othering” or “exoticising” the various cultures of South Africa. In order to aid in this, I felt I had to immerse myself in the country via research and travel, many-handed observations. After numerous trips to South Africa, my wife’s homeland, and her family’s country of residence, the project became laced with the personal, the various narrators herein (many inspired by unofficial interviews, casual conversations, and folklore) engaging issues of history, identity, confused observation, the nature of healing, irrational fear, irrational love and the collision between insider and outsider voices. While not every poem in the manuscript is set specifically within South Africa (most are), each struggles with similar thematic strains.

SR: How have your life experiences (such as working the Barolo wine harvest) shaped your views in your writing?

MGF: I’ve been incorporating things from my own life into the work, more than I have in the past. In the past, I always had a great time wearing masks, playing the asshole, protecting myself. But lately, I’ve been finding greater fulfillment in taking a risk, meaning: being honest. Or more honest at least. This desire ignited at about the same time I began to feel a draw to return to the Midwest, my roots, after wandering and traveling quite a bit. Both desires can, I think, be leashed to my mother’s recent illness. In 2006, Louisa (my wife) and I had just, on a road trip (after leaving Tempe), landed in Montpelier, Vermont, and decided we wanted to live there for a stretch. On the day we were to sign our lease, we received a phone call from my sister in Chicago telling us that my mom was sick. We fled Vermont, returned to Chicago for a year, lived in my parents’ house, and took care of the family while she battled illness (and won, thankfully). This infected my writing with the honesty I mentioned earlier. Does this mean I’m being merely confessional? Attracted solely to the Midwest and the actual? It’s complicated, but no way. As if to balance this, I’m presently working on a series of short essays based on photographs I took in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a poetry manuscript based on couching the bad joke in verse. Its working title is “Your Mother.”

SR: What are you currently working on creatively?

MGF: Well, the Oaxaca book, tentatively titled, SELF-HELP, MEXICO, deals with the aftermath of living in my parents’ house in suburban Chicago for over a year, helping my family during my mother’s battle with cancer. Louisa, and I, struggling to rediscover our footing as a married-couple-in-love, fled to Mexico. Our search for ourselves, our sanctuary, our relationship, took us from the wild crowds and violent social protests of Mexico City, to the culinary jewel of Oaxaca City, and finally to a tiny indigenous Zapotec village in Oaxaca’s Sierra Juárez mountains. The manuscript, which is still in-progress (I’m hoping to finish my final tinkering before 2010 ends), is fusing the narrative storytelling techniques typical of memoir with historical and folkloric research, becoming a series of sort-of lyric essays, and situating the sense of loss and confused search of one particular young married couple within a larger socio-cultural context. In this village, we discovered an unlikely band of U.S.-American expatriates of various demographics, on grappling journeys of their own, contributing to a community both unique and ubiquitous in its quest for some version of fulfillment. I’m going to go back to the “Your Mother” project after I’ve finished SELF-HELP, MEXICO. My nonfiction book, POT FARM, about my work on a medical marijuana farm in Northern California will be coming out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2011 or 2012.

SR: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

MGF: Travel. Eat things that scare you: cock’s combs, for example. Force perspective onto your life. Allow your memory to distort things. Write a lot, even if it’s crappy. Read a lot. Be vulnerable. Allow the act of writing to play various roles in your life: mother, father, son, daughter, lover, pet goldfish. Argue with all of them, even though you love them. I will not say, be persistent. I swear to you: I will not say it.

 

Meet the Interns: Tabitha Gutierrez, Advertising

tabithagutierrez_0Tabitha Gutierrez is a senior majoring in Business and English Creative Writing.

Superstition Review: What do you do for SR?

Tabitha Gutierrez: At SR, I am in charge of advertising and getting the word about SR out to the public. I write press releases/newsletter providing updates about upcoming readings, submission periods, etc. as well as pursue ways of gaining advertising.

SR: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

TG: I heard about Superstition Review through an email from the English department regarding internship possibilities. I selected SR as my internship because I felt like a student run magazine was new and interesting.

SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?

TG: I especially enjoy the artwork. Being an English major, I read multiple works from various authors daily. However, I have always loved art and find that the art included in SR makes a nice change.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal? Talk about him/her.

TG: My dream contributor would be Tim Burton. Although I am obsessed with his movies, I absolutely love his artwork that he does. He has albums filled with art for movies and characters that are truly unique. Also, I think that any stories submitted would be different and fun.

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

TG: I think that it would be interesting to work with art selection. I would love to view and compare different works of art and discuss how others view it as well.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

TG: I am most excited to see the results of readership. I feel like an increase would reflect a contribution that I did in advertising.

SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?

TG: When I was younger, I really loved the Diary of Anne Frank. Although sad, I felt like it was the perfect combination of history, youth, nonfiction, relatability, etc.

SR: What are you currently reading?

TG: I cannot put the final book of Twilight down. I already read the series but loved the last book that I had to read it again. I know it is a sensation but I find a real art to the way it is written.

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

TG: I usually get distracted by YouTube. Not matter your mood, you can always find something to fit your desire. If I am in a funny mood, hilarious pet videos always keep your mood up. Or, if I am in an artsy mood watching people sing and try to get there name out there can be inspiring.

SR: What would be your dream class to take at ASU? What would the title be and what would it cover?

TG: My dream course at ASU would be a Next Step class. I think that faculty focus so much on the transition into college, getting classes, and your overall freshman year, but barely focus on your Senior year. I wish there was a class that explained the best way of breaking into career fields, what to really expect, realistic salaries, etc. How are we supposed to base degrees and majors on something so unfamiliar?