Monet and Architecture at London’s National Gallery

Between 9 April and 29 July 2018, the National Gallery in London is hosting an exhibition which will be special for all lovers of French Impressionism, devoted to ‘Monet and Architecture’. No less than 77 canvasses are assembled, ranging from celebrated works from the gallery’s own holdings to rarely viewed paintings loaned from private collections.

The leitmotif is, as the title suggests, architecture, and the paintings’ locations vary from coastal scenes integrating humanity and nature to the fully-fledged modernity of Paris and London. Present too are Monet’s impressions of Amsterdam, Venice and Rouen cathedral, and his well-known ‘series’ orientation is not neglected. The scenes are captured with light effects corresponding to the different seasons, from glowing summer to the depths of winter.

The catalogue, compiled  by Richard Thomson, includes all  the paintings from the exhibition and more. It is rare indeed to be able to view so many of Claude Monet’s works at a single sitting, and the National Gallery is to be congratulated on this enterprise.


Rewriting songs, LGBT/gender and Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has contributed on numerous occasions to collective albums, especially of the tribute variety, but he breaks new ground with his participation in a new collective mini-album (consisting of six tracks, three performed by women and three by men, and available on-line and on vinyl), entitled Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined, and consisting of jazz and pop standards with their lyrics rewritten for gender in LGBT-friendly fashion. The songs are offered by the issuing company, MGM Resorts International, as suitable for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Dylan performs, in the retro mode familiar from his recent albums of vintage material, a rewrite of She’s Funny That Way, a song written by Neil Moret and Richard Whiting in 1929 and recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1938, now rebaptised He’s Funny That Way. The other performances are: Benjamin Gibbard, And I Love Him (original: the Beatles, And I Love Her); Keke Okereke, My Guy (original: the Temptations, My Girl); Kesha, I Need a Woman to Love (original: Janis Joplin, I Need a Man to Love); St Vincent, And Then She Kissed Me (original: The Crystals, And Then He Kissed Me); and Valerie June, Mad about the Girl (original composed by Noel Coward as Mad about the Boy; best-known version by Dinah Washington).

In the past song lyrics have often been rewritten when the song is covered by a person of opposite sex to the author or original performer. Dylan’s own Mama, You’ve Been on my Mind was covered by both Judy Collins and Joan Baez as Daddy, You’ve Been on my Mind; Leonard  Cohen’s Ballad of the Absent Mare was recorded by Emmylou Harris as Ballad of a Runaway Horse, even though the song is in is third person and about a steed. The intention, conscious or otherwise, behind such transformations was no doubt to avoid any suspicions that either the performer or the song’s author might have gay or lesbian tendencies.

On this album the rewritings work in the opposite direction, to open up the songs’ emotional potential and permit their adaptation to a possible LGBT context. A Beatles classic like And I Love Her is thus no longer a hymn exclusively to heterosexual love, and comes over as just as moving converted into And I Love Him. The performance of He’s Funny That Way fully partakes in the atmosphere of the project, and it is gratifying to see Bob Dylan, after a long absence from direct social intervention, allying himself once more with a progressive cause.

For more, see:

Jim Farber, ‘Bob Dylan Sings about Gay Love’, New York Times, 5 April 2018



From 22 to 24 March 2018 I had the pleasure of participating in the 5th CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF INTER-AMERICAN STUDIES, held in Coimbra (Portugal):

The programme was extremely varied, featuring sociology, political science, literature and more, and the plenary speakers ranged from the President, Josef Raab (University of Duisburg-Essen) to Prof. Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Universities of Coimbra and Wisconsin-Madison). The official languages of the conference were Portuguese, Spanish and English.

My own paper, ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Carlos Fuentes’ “Aura”: the fantastic and the feminine in inter-American dialogue’, was a contribution to the round table ‘Poe and (Post)Modernism(s): Across the Americas, Over to Europe’. The other contributors were Margarida Vale de Gato (University of Lisbon) and Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan (University of Valladolid). In my paper, I trace the similarities and differences between two of the most important texts in the fantastic genre by authors from the US and Mexico respectively. The paper was well received and the round table concluded with a stimulating debate.

The paper (revised) is on-line at:


Del 22 al 24 de marzo de 2018 tuve el placer de participar en el Quinto Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Estudios Inter-Americanos, celebrado en Coimbra (Portugal):

El programa fue muy variado, abarcando sociología, ciencias políticas, literatura y más, y entre los oradores plenarios se pueden destacar figuras como el Presidente, Josef Raab (Universidad de Duisburg-Essen) y el profesor Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Universidades de Coimbra y Wisconsin-Madison). Los idiomas oficiales del congreso eran portugués, español e inglés.

Mi ponencia, ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Carlos Fuentes’ “Aura”: the fantastic and the feminine in inter-American dialogue’, se integraba en el marco de la mesa redonda ‘Poe and (Post)Modernism(s): Across the Americas, Over to Europe’. Los otros participantes eran Margarida Vale de Gato (Universidad de Lisboa) y Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan (Universidad de Valladolid). En mi ponencia, analizo las semejanzas y diferencias entre dos de los más importantes textos en el género fantástico de autoría estadounidense y mexicana respectivamente. Fue bien recibida, y la mesa redonda terminó con un debate estimulante.

La ponencia (revisada) se ubica en línea en:




This blog has now reached 100 000 visits! This video celebrates the occasion!

Esta bitacora ha alcanzado 100 000 visitas!! Este video celebra la ocasión!

Chronicler of turbulent times: Salman Rushdie’s THE GOLDEN HOUSE

Salman Rushdie, The Golden House (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 370 pp., ISBN (hardback) 9781787330153

The Golden House is Salman Rushdie’s thirteenth novel and eighteenth book. The Indian-born, today US-resident writer was aged 70 when he published it, and it is now almost three decades since the global polemic over The Satanic Verses, his fourth novel, marked him down as controversial for life. The new novel catapults him into the Trump era and finds him engaging novelistically with a number of the critical issues of our time.

It would be a mistake to see the Rushdie of today as an ‘Indian writer’: he has been too long out-station. His more recent work is the product of globalisation and cultural hybridation, of a chronicler of our epoch who ‘belongs’ in no single place. The Golden House, while set mostly in New York, reaches back in part to Rushdie’s origins, narrating the chequered fortunes of a wealthy, Manhattan-resident migrant family, the Goldens, originating in Bombay/Mumbai (as it happens of Muslim background, though religious issues play almost no role in the novel).

Generically, the new novel is notable in its author’s canon for totally eschewing magic realism, the genre of which Midnight’s Children, his second novel, is considered a textbook exemplar to rival Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad. Rushdie’s more recent efforts include the fantasy-imbued The Enchantress of Florence (2010) and the One Thousand and One Nights pastiche Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015), both magic realist and neither of them among his most successful creations. I have argued elsewhere ( – blog entry of 22 December 2005) that Shalimar the Clown from 2005, which uses magic realism only sparingly, may actually be Rushdie’s best, or at least best-written novel. In The Golden House, it is realism that rules. The novel is narrated in the first person, not by a member of the Golden family but by a neighbour and associate of Belgian origin, named René and aspiring to the status of film director (though other characters get to speak in the first person via the device of embedded monologues).

Meanwhile, the most prominent characteristic of Rushdie’s writing in this novel is allusiveness: much as in his rock-era novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1997), whose photographer narrator, Rai, René in some ways resembles, the text is imbued with quotation and allusion from multiple cultural sources, indiscriminately of high-culture, low-culture and hybridated provenance, drawing on literature, visual art, comic books, Indian epics, popular music – including, as I have noted elsewhere ( – blog entry of 14 January 2018), a fair crop of Bob Dylan references – and, above all and with an intensiveness without precedent in the Rushdie canon, cinema. Indeed, there are passages bristling with allusions to the likes of Federico Fellini, François Truffaut or Luis Buñuel that look like nothing if not the monthly programme of the onetime Cambridge Arts Cinema, a venue avowedly oft-frequented by Rushdie in his days as a King’s College undergraduate. Among other things, this novel must surely be read as its author’s tribute to the cinema, a summa of the seventh art – and be it added, not in exclusively Eurocentric or Western-oriented fashion, for among Rushdie/René’s cast of directors we also find Japan’s Akira Kurosawa and Bengal’s Satyajit Ray.

The narrative is structured around the lives and deaths of the three adult sons of the protagonist, the fugitive ex-Mumbai businessman known as Nero Golden. Those sons (all given Greco-Roman names which they later distort) are, respectively, Petronius (Petya), diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Apuleius (Indianised, in a Satyajit Ray allusion, as Apu), a fashionable painter, and the youngest, Dionysus, who reduces his name to D. All three Golden scions come to a problematic end, Apu on a visit to India and Petya and D in Manhattan. Apu is eliminated by Mumbai gangsters; Petya falls at the hands of irrational violence in its American guise, victim of a mass shooting by a crazed gunman. It is D’s fate, however, that lies closest to a preoccupation at the heart of this novel, namely its author’s response to a number of the controversial cultural and ideological issues currently facing Western society.

The issues evoked include extremisms of both right and left. On the right, Rushdie tackles the gun lobby, the ‘Gamergate’ scandal, and above all, the rise of Donald Trump, thinly disguised as ‘the Joker’, whose campaign rumbles in the background. René laments apocalyptically: ‘after the election the Joker – his hair green and luminous, his skin white as a Klansman’s hood, his lips dripping with anonymous blood – now ruled them all’ (p. 348). On the left, the novel weighs in on identity politics, including transgender issues and their impact on language, and on the trend towards campus censorship.

D’s partner, Riya, works at a (fictional) Museum of Identity, herself as an Indian-Swedish American having no one identity. The narrative charts in detail how D becomes gradually aware of his transgender identity and eventually commits suicide under multiple pressures, as well as Riya’s ambiguous reaction to his death and partial forswearing of identity politics as she resigns from her job. The portrayal will not necessarily please the transgender community, but this is a novel, not a tract, and there can be no doubt of Rushdie’s openness to engaging with the issue. Rushdie also wrestles – and directly so, as writer – with the controversial question of transgender pronouns. An associate challenges D: ‘You should think about pronouns … If you’re giving up he, who steps in? You could choose they‘ (p. 111). Rushdie/René chooses the strategy of referring to D in his earlier stages of transition as parenthetically masculine ([he], [his]) and at a more advanced stage as italicised female (she, her); nowhere is resort had to invented pronouns like ze, though their existence is mentioned. Thus we have sentences like: ‘I still used the male pronouns when I thought about [him], though that felt increasingly wrong, and so as a gesture towards [his] ambiguity I put them in square brackets’ (p. 246). The chosen strategy may work on the page, but would not be reproducible should the novel be read from live.

Rushdie said in 2015 that ‘we are living in the darkest time I have ever known’ (, specifically with censorship in his sights. His new novel appears at a time characterised, notably but not only in the US and the UK, by increasing rejection in ‘liberal’ circles, especially academic, of that very free speech of which Rushdie has been an icon for three decades, and also by the practice of ‘sensitivity checking’ (i.e. novelists submitting their manuscripts for ideological approval by presumed representatives of minority groups), a trend which we may presume he has not followed. The Golden House engages with the campus censorship issue only once, but in an eloquent paragraph whose examples could all or nearly all be shown by research to refer to real cases.

The paragraph revolves around René’s parents (who would both be killed in a car crash), old-school academics who find themselves shocked at the new student generation’s rejection of free speech. The examples include cancelling a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it might offend transgender students, banning of Pocahontas costumes at Hallowe’en, no-platforming of apostate Muslims because ‘their views were offensive to non-apostate Muslims’, and ‘their colleague on TV with a twenty-year old female student screaming abuse into her face from a distance of three inches because of a disagreement over campus journalism’. The ‘apostate Muslims’ allusion might appear to target Rushdie himself, but in fact relates less to him than to other lapsed Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who are not welcome on campuses. In terms that might recall Winston Smith’s recoiling from Oceania’s totalitarian generation of children in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, René chronicles how his parents note with despair that young people have become ‘pro-censorship, pro-banning things, pro-restrictions’: ‘how did that happen … we’re beginning to fear the young’ (pp. 28-29).

With almost three decades having passed since the outbreak of the so-called ‘Rushdie affair’, The Golden House, and indeed all of its author’s work, stands as an emblem of intellectual and artistic freedom. Now as in the past, Rushdie is not afraid to tackle difficult issues head-on. Meanwhile it is not easy to be sanguine about the prospects for writers and the arts. If one looks back from 2018 to 1989 and the fatwa, yes, it may be concluded that Rushdie himself survived (and went on to build up a massive oeuvre), and so did The Satanic Verses (no Western country has banned it). As to whether artistic freedom will survive, the jury is out.

Note: This review was revised on 26 September 2018.

Bob Dylan and Salman Rushdie – Dylan allusions in Rushdie’s ‘The Golden House’

Salman Rushdie is known to be a long-term Dylan admirer (indeed, Dylan is even quoted in ‘The Satanic Verses’), and in 2017 effusively welcomed the songwriter’s controversial Nobel Prize in Literature. I have been following Rushdie’s Dylan allusions, across a large part of his fiction and non-fiction, for some time, – notably with reference to his rock-era novel ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’:

and now bring the matter up to date with the Dylan harvest from his latest novel, ‘The Golden House’ (I did the same for the preceding novel, ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’, on this blog – entry for 9 October 2015 –  at:

‘The Golden House’ (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), set mostly in New York, is a novel of contemporary life in which the Indian-born author addresses a whole range of current issues, from the rise of Trump to transexuality and identity politics. Despite Rushdie’s fame as practitioner of magic realism, it is written entirely in realist mode, with a first-person narrator who is an aspiring film director. As is typical with Rushdie, the text is shot through with cultural references, to books, films, songs and more, straddling high culture and mass culture, and amid this throng of allusions I am pleased to locate half-a-dozen, explicit or implicit, to Bob Dylan, in what is Rushdie’s first novel since the Nobel conferred a new gravitas on Dylan the songwriter.

Bob Dylan is mentioned by name twice (pp. 12, 27) as a former – if ‘long gone’ – resident of the part of Greenwich Village where the Golden family (the book’s main protagonists) live. There is also a reference to the famously demented Dylanite A.J. Weberman (p. 35) and his habit of searching through his idol’s trashcans.

Next, we are told that one of the Golden family, Petya, a young man diagnosed with high-functioning autism, boasts among his achievements that of knowing Dylan lyrics by heart, and proves it by reciting in its entirety one of Dylan’s longest songs, ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’. It is not the first time Rushdie has cited this song: it also makes a bow in ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and ‘Fury’. Here, Petya is said to recite it ‘as reverently as if it were a companion piece to [John Keats’ poem] “La Belle Dame sans Merci”‘ (p. 44), with Rushdie thus weighing in, it may be a shade late in the day, on the ‘Dylan vs Keats / popular art vs high art’ debate that at one time wracked the Anglophone academy.

Later, Petya engages in a melodramatic twelve-hour one-person walk across Manhattan, at which point the text exhibits a number of embedded quotations from Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – uncredited, but too many to be anything but deliberate (again, Rushdie has quoted from this song before, in ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’). The narrator imagines the walk proceeding with ‘the sound of a tambourine at each footfall’: then come an explicit reference to a ‘tambourine man’ and the phrases ‘the haunted, frightened trees’ (p. 201), ‘far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow’, and ‘to dance. Beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free [Rushdie’s punctuation]’ (p. 202), all straight from a Dylan song which Rushdie may be reading as invoking the kind of parallel reality into which his afflicted character Petya retreats.

A final Dylan reference, again uncredited, appears in the run-up to Petya’s death at the hands of a demented gunman, when the narrator retrospectively asks: ‘Was I the only person in the Golden house that day who heard the beating of fatal wings, the proleptic sighs of the guilty undertaker, the slow falling of the curtain at the end of the play’? (p. 281): the ‘guilty undertaker’ hails straight from of the first line of Dylan’s ‘I Want You’.

Once again then, in ‘The Golden House’ Bob Dylan is numbered among the multiple textual influences on Salman Rushdie’s writing, and receives his due from a major literary chronicler of our time.

Note added 2 February 2018: I have now given ‘The Golden House’ a full review on this blog – entry for 1 February 2018.



It may come as no surprise to students of Edgar Allan Poe to learn that a book-length study now exists on the translation worldwide of the Boston-born author’s most celebrated poem, ‘The Raven’, but a few eyebrows may be raised by the authors’ affirmations concerning the cultural importance worldwide of Poe’s declamatory gem, with its headcount of translations at 700 and rising.

The book, published in Brazil and downloadable at:,

is a multilingual project combining an expository portion in Portuguese with international bibliographical information and translations in their original target languages. The authors suggest that ‘The Raven’ is in all probability ‘o texto poético mais traduzido do mundo’ [‘the most translated poem in the world’], and may even be ‘o poema mais seminalmente intermidiática da história’ [‘the most seminally intermediatic poem in history’] (p. 11). Details are:

Helciclever Barros da Silva Vitoriano, Sidelmar Alves da Silva Kunz and André Luis Gomes, Mapeamento mundial de traduções do poema ‘The Raven’ de Edgar Allan Poe: Um estudo preliminar (1853-2017) [‘A world map of translations of the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: A preliminary study (1853-2017)’], Brasilia: Universidade da Brasilia, 2017, 516 pp.

A summary of the research behind this volume was offered as a paper at a conference in Brasilia in November 2017:;revistaintercambioA;paginas;index

The book offers a detailed bibliography of translations of ‘The Raven’, running to at least 45 languages, also including criticism on the translations where it exists. The languages most strongly represented include, as is to be expected, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Russian, but also present are Arabic and Chinese, as well as Corsican, Basque, Albanian, Vietnamese, Latin and many more. It concludes with the full texts of a goodly number of translations in the public domain in multiple languages.

This book will most certainly prove an invaluable reference for the future study of the inexhaustible subject of translating Edgar Allan Poe. I also note that it frequently and favourably mentions the 2014 multi-author study Translated Poe, edited by Emron Esplin and Margarida Vale de Gato (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Lehigh University Press / Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield), to which I am pleased to be a contributor (see entry on this blog for 29 October 2014).