Sunday, October 04, 2015

American Sniper

Last night's film was "American Sniper." All credit to Bradley Cooper who gave an Oscar level performance. I want to write about the film and NOT the story it is based upon. The film is flawed in the worldview it presents. Perhaps it is not the responsibility of the film to ask whether going to war in Iraq made any sense at all after 9/11, which we now know had nothing to do with Iraq. The film often plays with the idea of good v. evil. There is enough ambiguity to allow one to conclude that war itself is evil. But the thrust of the film in its portrayal of people, Iraqis and American soldiers, is that Americans are good and Iraqis are evil. Never mind that the Iraqis were defending their country from foreign invaders. A hint of something vaguely sympathetic to Iraqis comes in a shot of a photo of one of the Iraqi fighters as an Olympic medal winner. But that's about it. And one Iraqi who helps the Americans (but wants $100k for doing so) is shot mercilessly by other Iraqis. Not a single American is ever portrayed as doing anything wrong-- they are all heroes. So the film turns from art to propaganda no matter how powerfully and tragically the Bradley Cooper character is portrayed. An opportunity to be honest and make a more meaningful film about the war and this soldier was thereby lost. 
Nonetheless, despite itself, the film shows in gruesome detail the horror of the war itself. We are not left thinking a hero died for a good cause. His death is as senseless as that of all the soldiers lost in the war, Iraqi or American and the thousands upon thousands of civilians who got in the way of our aggressive force. The Iraq invasion is never justified in any way, and the "savages" were not the enemy; they were us.

I've taken the time now to read some of the reviews. Again, I find Cooper's performance incredible and Clint E's direction lacking. This review gets much of what else I thought:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Making the World a Better Place

" there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Once, when I was coming down from an LSD trip, I looked around the stark room I was in above Habersham Street in Savannah. The house had a turret the interior of which was included in the apartment I was visiting. With the blink of an eye, I could make the room look lovely, cozy, its aesthetic including some posters and pretty pictures on the wall. Yet, blinking again, I could turn the room I was in into a dark cell, a shabby, dirty, dusty room inhabited no doubt by bugs and vermin. The contrast made me laugh at first, confirming John Lennon's song that "Nothing is real; and nothing to get hung about."

After a long day of strange experiences, one that gave me an understanding of idealism; that is, that all is mind and the mind's perceptions, I was too  fatigued to take the changing vision lightly for long. In an epiphany, I understood that I could see everything of importance in the same shutter of light and dark. The intimate relationship I had at the time I saw with the same duality: on one hand years of shared experience, sexual fulfillment, travels, mutual friends, even mutual lovers. Yet, on the other, there were fights, jealousies, frustrations, sexual and otherwise. I saw the dark at the end of the bright corridor.

Over the years, I have insisted on mindfulness, by which I mean that perceptions are more fundamental than matter or other constructs. Alfred North Whitehead called this revelation the awareness of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, namely, thinking such well worn ideas, concepts, and constructs are more real than what they explain. We assume the atoms we can't see are more real than the table we assume to be made up of atoms. This is a danger not only in science but also religion and other areas of thought and understanding.

Religion itself is a good model for seeing the duality of things. Like the simple room I was in, religion can be seen as a source of great good, giving us art, compassion, mystical ecstasy. Look at the humanitarian deeds of many religions, helping the poor, feeding the hungry, providing shelter and hope. Blink, and what appears are tortured women accused of witchcraft, so-called heretics burned alive, the wholesale destruction of civilizations and the rape and genocide performed by numerous religious sects and powerful, mainstream religions on non-believers or even people with a slightly different interpretation of this or that religion.

In 2015 it is shocking to me just how far the duality extends. Take President Obama. The litany of his misdeeds and horrific acts bringing death to innocents, turns into praise for his humanitarianism, his championing civil rights and efforts to improve the lives of the lower and middle economic classes. I suppose the monist would add up all the actions and achievements, weigh the pros and cons, and come up with a final judgment. For me that is not possible. There is no quantitative or qualitative scale to measure his actions, for I perceive Obama as a leader trying to make the world a better place, whatever his shortcomings and failures. I also perceive him as a man who wants to preserve capitalism, to maintain the status quo of our oligarchy in which the powerful few hold the most power and wealth. Unlike Aristotle, I can hold two contradictory viewpoints at the same time.

Yet, to act, we all must subjectively make decisions. I decided that night beneath the turret to see the room as comforting. The faces staring from the walls changed their grimaces into smiles.  That is what the optimist does, chooses to see the good side of life, the beauty in the world. At some point, however, this is not possible. Perhaps a Buddhist monk can achieve enlightenment and a subjectivity unbeaten by the woes of the world. Most of us cannot, and I'd say, should not. Indifference is its own kind of immorality, ultimately selfish and narrow-minded.

Since my perception is what is most real to me, it is easy to enjoy a fall day, look at leaves changing, take a walk, and forget the devastation being caused by global heating. I can choose not to read or watch the news reports, the scientists' warnings, the suffering elsewhere than my own colorful path. To be clear, I am a hedonist, one in the tradition not of Cyrene but of the Epicurean Garden, akin to the ethics of Bentham and Mill. I want the greatest happiness for the greatest number, including number one, myself. At times I am mystified that such happiness eludes us, that there is war, famine, hatred, and crime. The Earth could provide for all of us, if only we had the sense to stop overpopulating it with humans, if we worked to live in harmony with the rest of life on the planet, and ceased destroying each other and our habitat.

Thus I return to duality. Humanity itself I perceive is both good and bad. We are not so much Yin and Yang, as we are like Shiva and Vishnu. The latter creates and the former destroys, with other dazzling traits and treats.

As an intellectual hedonist, I have done little to make the world a better place. My teaching, with its accomplishments and failures, shares the duality. While I have opened the minds and hearts of students to new realms of experience, promoting the subversion needed to shift students from the path well worn to a more individually, self-made one, I have also been lazy and given up on those less creative or more inclined toward materialistic success. I have sought good perceptions and avoided unpleasant ones, as much as possible. I have seen my friends and family, lovers and colleagues in the same way I witnessed the duality of the room in Savannah. Every good and joyous set of perceptions gives birth to a negative, painful set of perceptions. The same with aging. There are advantages and benefits of being elderly; so too there are disadvantages and debts. My view of death is that it is similar to sleep, to being unconscious, as close to the perception of nothing at all as possible. Nothing, as Epicurus would have it, to fear.

Where does this view of reality lead  when it comes to person-hood? Is there an underlying identity, or are we nothing more than a bundle of sensations, an incoherent series of disconnected perceptions and ideas made from those perceptions? To what degree can we determine for ourselves what sort of person we are going to be? How many of us have set out to become the good person we admire and want to be? How many of us have become the bad person we didn't want to be?

Here our earliest perceptions come into play as our memory collects and imprints the most intense of those experiences upon our consciousness and our subconscious. The perceptions we have today are shaped by those of our childhood; in other words, the bundle of sensations, ideas, thoughts, feelings, and what we see is colored, conscious or subconscious, by the perceptions that came before. Our experience of love is shaped by the love we experienced from infancy on. Our ability to reshape or escape past experience is limited. Here imagination and empathy play a major role in  our ability to evolve and experience existence anew.

Have I strayed from my main theme? Have I not, in writing about the unconscious aspect of life, gone way beyond perceptions and the duality I find they embody? There is a thought, exploited by the Coca-Cola corporation, that positive thinking and expression makes the world a better place. Focus on the positive. Show photos of smiling faces. Feel love for your fellow man (and woman). My perception of all the smiles and expressions of love is that most of them are inauthentic. We cover what we suffer with pretense that all is well and that our lives are jolly. "Smile; and the world smiles with you." What nonsense. Does my smile make a pelican dying in oil sludge from an Exxon spill OK? When I stop to think about it, smiling in the face of such misery all over the planet becomes sadistic. Should I thank some god that I am having pleasure while most of the planet is in pain? How appalling it is to hear people who have survived some catastrophe thank god that they survived, oblivious to those who didn't; as if some god could favor this or that person to another that god lets die. As a hedonist, I love my pleasures when they come, but I do not want them at the price of the pain of others. Again, good old English utilitarianism strikes me as the just view.

Jean Paul Sartre wrote that Hell is other people. He showed how insidious that can be in his play Huis Clos. Heaven too is other people at the moment of ecstasy and in the arms of love. My perceptions of reality are inseparable from my perceptions of other people. Following the duality of the Savannah room, there are moments of unity, synchronicity, and enlightenment in perceptions; just as there are disharmony, confusion, and contradiction.

For now, I'll conclude with what I find to be a passionate, perceptive insight of James Salter,

"There is no complete life. There are only fragments. We are born to have nothing, to have it pour through our hands. And yet, this pouring, this flood of encounters, struggles, dreams...”

Photograph I made of a fountain in
 San Miguel.


Monday, July 06, 2015

Gay Marriage

June 26, 2015.  SCOTUS affirms the Constitutional Right to Same-sex marriage. 
Darryl's and my marriage is officially ratified and legal in Georgia and the entire U.S.
Here are some recent posts on Facebook and two earlier Blog entries on marriage...

White House lit in rainbow colors after Supreme Court marriage ruling

A Big Thank You to Andy of Apres Diem for some complimentary champagne to go with our dinner and our Raspberry Chocolate Cake on the eve of our trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. His is the best place in town for a celebration of marriage equality.

The Definition of Marriage
     Saturday, October 11, 2014

Our marriage in Provincetown
August 2004

Whatever you think of traditional marriage, the expansion of the fundamental right to marry to gays and lesbians is a powerful and moving affirmation of our human rights, giving legitimacy and recognition to same-sex relationships and the love that heretofore dare not speak its name. Heterosexuals may not always realize just how much this means to us, because they have never had to "come out," never had to pretend to have feelings other than those they already have. Seeing gay relationships praised, celebrated publicly before family and friends, and having *all* the considerable legal benefits, is nothing short of breathtaking, awesome, and a wonder to behold.

From the October Rally we attended in 2014:

Yesterday, Darryl and I attended the Marriage Equality Rally at Atlanta City Hall. It was a gorgeous, breezy, autumn afternoon in Georgia. Here are my photographs from the rally that included the presentations of a host of speakers.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Pope Francis

It is refreshing to have a Catholic Pope decrying the greed and destructive impact of capitalism. It is good to have a Pope who has an advanced degree in chemistry talking about the damage of man-made global warming. The current Pope is in harmony with Christian teaching about helping the poor. Love the Earth and love thy neighbor; isn't that a worthy message we must applaud this Pope for preaching? 

How can we praise his educated, even enlightened, stand on the climate and on capitalist greed and damage when underlying his stand is the hypocrisy of the church on the same issues? One of the major causes of environmental problems in the world is over-population. Similarly, over-population is a chief cause of world poverty, of starvation, of the suffering of millions for whom there are insufficient natural resources. 

How can an educated and humanitarian Pope not see that the demand of the church to eliminate birth control is endangering the lives of millions?  The Pope should reverse this medieval call to have more babies in an over-populated world. It is the church that contributes to starvation and poverty by discouraging family planning and simple birth control. Given his promoting of this mandate, the Pope undermines his own claim to care about climate change and poverty.

The Pope also spreads hate. Oh, it is a subtle thing, the way the Pope encourages prejudice against gay people. In some ways the "God hates Fags" religious fanatics are more honest. Pretending to love the sinners and hate the sin, the Pope fights for inequality in a more insidious way. In a sort of Ozzie and Herriot fantasy, the Pope preaches about heterosexual couples as if abusive fathers, divorces, and the reality of single moms or orphans don't exist. Study after study confirms that gay parents are as loving and beneficial to the lives of children as straight couples. Yet the Pope says gay parents are unfit and he wants to contribute to their being unfit by denying gays the right to marry. That this is church doctrine is no excuse for his promoting inequality and misunderstanding. That he knows better in his heart makes his preaching all that more hateful and immoral. Here he should at least remain silent.

There are far better progressive leaders in the world for us to hear. In the world of the spirit and religion, turn instead to the Dalai Lama or Bishop Desmond Tutu, neither of whom spreads bigotry of any kind. Follow reason, not superstition. 

I've included  articles below for consideration.

Jack Miller

1) On the Pope:

2)  Desmond Tutu:

3) The Dalai Lama:

Monday, June 01, 2015

Call Me Jack

Call Me Jack (What's in a name?)

Jack in Hilo
Photo by Dar

Having a name is odd. Our first bit of identity is chosen before or right at the moment of coming into being. Why don't we get to create it later, the way we do our religion-- Oh wait, most of us get immersed in that right away too. Yet, the latter is easily enough altered, not stamped on our birth certificate, forever.

So, call me Jack, the name my parents gave me. Call me a Savannah boy, since I was born there and lived there until I went to college. That's how one starts, right? The colleges certainly are an essential part of my identity-- here's the list: U.Va., Sewanee, Tulane, Emory University are the major ones. Left Va. for Sewanee in order to change majors (math to philosophy) and for reasons of love and sexual identity. Degrees? B.A., M.A., M.Ln., 
Ph.D. in Philosophy (Tulane). My Doctoral Dissertation was on Philosophy of Art

 and My Master's Thesis was on D.H. Lawrence, whose homes I visited in Taos, NM, Hampstead Heath, north of London, Land's End in Cornwall, and Lake Chapala, Mexico.

In the areas of literature and philosophy my interests range from Shakespeare to the Beats, and from Plato, Descartes and Berkeley, to the existentialists, especially Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Oh, there are others too: from the Romantic poets to Michel Foucault. And that doesn't even touch on the art and artists I love...

I've had a the long career in teaching and librarianship: Two universities, two art colleges, two high schools, and the High Museum of Art along with other oddities like Law Librarian at the Georgia State University Law School. Teaching for 17 years at the Atlanta College of Art was especially rewarding. During those years I wrote articles and reviews for Art Papers, and other publications. I met wonderful students who are still making art today. Kara Walker took two of my classes. And many students and colleagues are now among my Facebook friends.

It was also during this time that I collected much of the art I now own, the Larry Connatser paintings, for instance, and the photographs of my friend Paula Gately Tillman. I also own Hogarth engravings and a work by Aristide Maillol

Since the age of 18 I have kept journals. My first trip to Europe in 1970 was as formative as any college course. I spent three months there, writing Journal 5, traveling by Eurail pass, soaking up art and history as never before. This blog is testament to how much I love Europe and have continued to bask in the culture and civilization there. Seeing the world and other cultures has always been an inspiration vital to me.

Japan 2013

This is not the place for the history of my relationships and the back and forth I did, like the train trips in Europe from country to country, across the landscapes, bodyscapes of sexuality.  I was every inch a Hippie in the 70's and thank Dionysus for it. Savannah, New Orleans, Mexico, and San Francisco (where I lived on Russian Hill), with frequent jaunts to New York and New England, were my playgrounds and home during the 70s. Those were the days of meeting Allen GinsbergW.S. Merwin, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti-- the time when I met the wonderful actor and my close friend, Joseph Mydell.

Today, I am married to a man, my life partner Darryl Gossett. We have a nexus of relationships with others. Our travels and life together fill many of the pages of this Blog. He is a talented editor and writer. We are on the cusp of transition to new places after living in our home in Atlanta 18 years. My aim now is to shift from critical writing to more creative writing, such as my "Art Memo" and several reviews in The Gay and Lesbian Review, Worldwide, (another link to the essay is Art Memo; and to my most recent review, Alfred Corn's Miranda's Book). I continue writing poetry, short stories;  and to create a photographic vision in sync with my writing, Poems and Short stories: Apricocks and 4 Way.

But enough about me...

Here's to my friends and loved ones: 

To the chief intensity: the crown of these
Is made of love and friendship, and sits high
Upon the forehead of humanity.

Keats-- Endymion.


note: The first of these was written 10 years ago. Quite a lot has happened since then; but the vector is the same. The photographs of the people in my life (above) reveal much, confirming Sartre's and de Beauvoir's views of the importance of   Le Regard...

Saturday, May 30, 2015


From the heart of the Japanese Aesthetic, an appreciation of  age, imperfection, and what is transitory in life and nature. 

The Silver Pavilion   

From the Utne Reader: 

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.
Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

More Thoughts on Allen Ginsberg

Some comments on Alfred Corn's thread on Ginsberg still getting "likes," including my photograph of him in New Orleans.

Profile Pictures

Allen Ginsberg

Alfred Corn
 October 11, 2014

You, Carolyn Holmes Gregory, Nicola d'Ugo, Pam Uschuk and 64 others like this.

Alfred Corn Allen Ginsberg, liberator.

October 11, 2014 at 11:02am · Unlike · 5

Carolyn Holmes Gregory Amazing eyes on the youngish Ginsberg here.

October 11, 2014 at 11:04am · Edited · Unlike · 4

John L. Stanizzi Oh yes, Carolyn. No doubt about it. Amazing.

Jack Miller Loved spending time with him. A man with an array of fascinating moods.

October 11, 2014 at 11:31am · Like · 4

Alfred Corn Mercurial. Hermetic. A psychopomp leading down into the unconscious.

October 11, 2014 at 11:32am · Unlike · 7

Jack Miller Songs of innocence: Photograph I made of Ginsberg having breakfast with a child in New Orleans.

October 11, 2014 at 11:35am · Like · 6

John L. Stanizzi amazing photograph, Jack.

October 11, 2014 at 1:13pm · Edited · Like · 1

Chard DeNiord The look of awake.

October 11, 2014 at 11:49am · Like · 4

Rafiq Kathwari Guru...everything is holy. ..

Jesse GlassI see Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski where I used to see Dryden, Hardy's poems, and even Blake. I think we're way way over-Ginsberged and way, way way way over Bukowskied and most definitely under-Coleridged and under-Donned. Marianne Moore is missing too from most bookstores. To tell you the truth, I don't want to read any more letters between Allen and Jack and Carolyn about what's shaking in Neal's pants. How many volumes did they write on that subject alone--it seems like zillions, and how many editions of Jack Kerouac's notebooks and just discovered novels, plays, sketches, and (coming soon)--games, and gum balls must we be treated to? And why are these in the poetry section? Then there's crops of thin volumes by rush-to-publish-me junior writers with blurbs like patent medicine labels. Is it my imagination or were bookstores offering a wider--and to my mind better-- selection in the poetry section (this side of Gift Book Kahil Gibran) 30 years ago than they are now?

October 13, 2014 at 5:20am · Edited · Like · 4

Alfred Corn Just remember, Jesse, that Ginsberg revered those authors you cite, too.
October 12, 2014 at 12:42am · Like · 3

Jesse GlassHonestly, my comment doesn't address Allen, whom I, like everyone else, found to be generous in spirit, especially with the young, and it really doesn't address Bukowski--whose writing doesn't appeal to me at all-- but it does address the bookstores--even many university bookstores that I've come across when I travel overseas. You would think that Allen Ginsberg and Robert Frost and Bukowski were the only poets America has produced. Oh yes, it also produced William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac's latest just discovered $30.00 wonder in hardback. I mean, I like the Beats, but I don't like a whole shelf of Ginsberg and friends and nothing much else.

Graham Mummery Allen Ginsberg, a great soul.

October 12, 2014 at 6:00am · Like · 1

Jesse GlassI'm under no illusion about the role of the almighty dollar in all of this: the Beats are popular and are hyped to the young. To chain bookstores I suppose it wouldn't matter if it were toothpaste as long as it sold, but I'm wondering what has brought about the decline in selection among bookstores in this widely bruited time of diversity. My opinion is that book jobbers have stopped reading along with almost everyone else.
October 12, 2014 at 6:42am · Like

Jesse GlassAnd personally speaking I found that the Beats were best when they were writers you read in City Lights editions and Evergreen Review--they were edgy and raw then, and tonic to the spirit, but now that Allen Ginsberg & Co. are so mainstream that one finds them stocked not very far away from Christian Classics and the latest Harlequin Romance it strikes me that some of their thunder has evaporated with the change of context.

Alfred Corn Well of course there is commercialization/commodification of everything in our culture, Jesse. Allen helped us to see that.

October 12, 2014 at 11:03am · Like

Jesse GlassAlfred, I think I've lost touch with the feeling of America's culture being my culture. I live in Japan and have been here now for a generation. When I do return to America I have a "stop-action" sort of encounter with what I see in the present and with what I recall from the past. You're exactly right about Allen Ginsberg addressing the American tradition of commodification of everything. The irony is that the Beats have now become a giant, money-making industry themselves. The continual discovery and publication of more Kerouac writings mined from a manuscript collection that has been wrangled over for years in the courts is one aspect that continues to amaze me: every Kerouac scrap will eventually find publication not I think, because of the beauty of the work, the interest of the writing, or even that it will add in some way to Kerouac's legacy--and I do love his best writing--but for money. Actually, I don't think that Allen would have disapproved of any of this because he himself was out to sell Naropa and the Beats in a very business-like way on the last two occasions that I saw him. It was: here's the brochure, kids, and now here's me. I've always been conflicted about this for the very point you make, Alfred. Weren't the Beats against all of this? Wasn't this the great Moloch that Allen condemned in Howl and elsewhere? In addition, even among the other Beats--like the wonderful Diane di Prima and her powerful work--they tend to be cast in the shadows of this same big whirling machine that is now set in motion grinding out $20.00 bills. This Moloch.

October 12, 2014 

Jesse Glass: Finally, as a reader--and back to the bookstores--I've noticed the difficulty of obtaining good editions of writers as basic as Poe from Amazon and elsewhere. It's always the very very old editions that have been turned into print on demand specials. But oh well.

To be continued?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Miranda's Book by Alfred Corn- A Review

An Essay on Alfred Corn's second novel, Miranda's Book.

A Novel about Writing a Novel

Miranda’s BookMiranda’s Book
by Alfred Corn
Eyewear Publishing. 323 pages, $20.

You’ve made a killing. Going with your lover to retrieve a portfolio of art, you somehow manage to bring about the death of someone you dislike, someone the reader will no doubt dislike. What do you do? Call 911, or head out with your hot new lover on the open road? Fortunately for us, Miranda chooses the latter action.
         Alfred Corn’s second novel is an olio: one part On The Road, two parts existential examination of life, with a dash of Iris Murdoch. One character’s choice leads to an inevitable clash and transformation of another. As novels go, Miranda’s Book employs a rather complex form to tell its tale. It is in fact a novel within a novel, but with a twist. 
We learn early on that a book called “Miranda’s Book” is being written by an accomplished African-American writer living in Brooklyn. His niece is in prison. Why she is there and the justification for her fatal actions are the subject matter of the book he is writing, a book to which we as readers are given privileged access. Mark Shreve is the writer and he appears in his own novel as Uncle Matthew. His niece is Marguerite and her fictional name in his novel is Miranda.
         Not only does the novel within a novel provide us with a detailed, exquisite account of Miranda’s journey through three countries and her mental processes and feelings along the way; it also presents the author, her uncle, who has his own feelings and views about what led up to the killing and his niece’s flight after the deed. Consequently, Uncle Mark Shreve is as much on an existential quest as his niece, Marguerite, the Miranda of his novel.
    If all this sounds too convoluted to be readily grasped, it isn’t. The chapters describing the uncle/author’s point of view, misgivings, and thoughts about the ethics and the æsthetics of what he’s doing blend with the primary story, giving it an added dimension. In one of the uncle’s self-analysical chapters, he recalls Gore Vidal: “Gore, for his part, ridiculed me even to my face, saying I was a pathetic closet case who wrote about heterosexuals with no firsthand knowledge of the subject.” Is this true, or do we believe Shreve’s rebuttal? Are we reading about Shreve’s reflections, or author Alfred Corn’s?
         Furthermore, when we read, for instance, that Miranda is on a long flight enjoying a novel by Trollope, we are simultaneously aware that it may be the real-life uncle who has read Trollope, not the real niece, Marguerite, in the fictional form of Miranda. One of the mysteries the reader is left to ponder is the degree to which what happens in the novel within the novel, Miranda’s Book, is true to the niece he is defending. Miranda is always also her uncle, the writer. As he says himself, “I could hardly tell Marguerite’s story without bringing in my own.”
         Add to the mix that Miranda is half Jewish and half African-American, while her uncle is a well-to-do, highly intellectual, gay black writer living in Brooklyn, and you see how rich this novel is in its exploration of culture and love circa 1990. What is it like to be half black, half Jewish, and married to a bore of a WASP? Miranda early on sees the emptiness of her married life. Her husband is self absorbed, possessive, and cheating on her while nonetheless controlling her life. First engaging in her own affair with a bisexual man, Miranda ultimately leaves her vile husband and his mistress for art and Guillermo, a handsome, artistic Latin lover. Having broken from her husband and his ego, Miranda finds her own interest in art and love again. Meanwhile, she attends the opening of the controversial show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs in her hometown of Cincinnati. Public discussions about Mapplethorpe and censorship, æsthetic ruminations by both Uncle Matthew and Miranda, and the ensuing trial that acquitted the gallery of obscenity charges all reveal more about Miranda as she embarks on her journey.
         The novel within a novel takes us to Canada, the remote woods of Maine, New York, Ohio, and finally Mexico, where Miranda experiences the Day of the Dead. The reader is lavished with Alfred Corn’s poetic vision of San Miguel de Allende and the enchanted town of Pátzcuaro with its mystical lake high in the Sierras, where the veil between the living and dead is diaphanous. All along the way, Miranda’s character evolves and grows. Her revelations and her epiphanies coincide with the insights of her uncle both in and out of the interior novel. The uncle, living in Brooklyn and writing his novel, becomes so interesting that we begin to hope for a third novel about Mark Shreve.
         In the mind of her gay uncle, a writer and cultivated man, Miranda confronts dilemma after dilemma. She looks at herself critically, realizing at times that she has had a privileged existence, more than enhanced by the generosity and the rescue by her uncle. Have her circumstances corrupted her? Is she the modern version of a liberated woman, or someone who deserves to be in prison? Is her uncle successful in defending her? Has she even committed a crime at all? If you’re looking for a novel with huge, archetypal characters making sweeping philosophical conclusions, as in Dostoevsky, or the paranoid and surreal visions of Kafka (also mentioned as among Miranda’s books), this may not be the novel for you. If you want a thought-provoking book filled with adventure, one that is expressed in poetic, evocative language, including some provocative sex scenes, and if you want a book that contains quandaries concerning life choices, justice, and ethics, not to mention a look at the creative process of writing itself, then by all means visit the pages of Miranda’s Book.
Jack Miller is a teacher and writer based in Atlanta.