What Would Lynne Tillman Do? (8 page)

Weber sometimes foregrounds Baker’s music in sessions or gigs, or uses it as ironic background to enactments or interviews. Baker sings “Just Friends” as an ex-lover talks, in close-up, about their relationship. Weber “wanted to make it seem, with all the close-ups, that the viewer was in the front seat. You look back and see Chet in the car.” Baker’s in that car or in a restaurant, haunting the film as he haunts the women who loved him. They talk about his charm, his unreliability. His children, now grown, say they hardly ever saw him. In one scene, the camera pans across Baker’s mother, children and estranged wife while he sings “Blame it on My Youth.”

The camera pursues Baker, who usually ignores its gaze. Nodding, his eyes frequently closed, he sits uneasily in the frame.
Let’s Get Lost
studies its subject but is just as much something to be studied, chasing as it does its elusive object of desire. At the end of the film, Weber asks him, “Will you look back on the film as good times?” It’s an uncomfortable moment. Weber suddenly exposes his own need. Baker comes to attention and looks steadily at the camera. “How the hell else could I see it, Bruce? Santa Monica. That scene in that hotel . . . in the studio. On the beach. It was so beautiful. It was a dream. Things like that just don’t happen. Just a very few.” As much as anything else, it’s his comment on the movie he’s in, a movie that achieves its intensity by looking for, and at, a man who spent much of his life getting lost.

Earlier in the film, a young man begs Baker to sing to people who might never hear him again. “I’m not dead yet,” Baker answers. But he’s dead now, having met an end that his friends might
have expected and feared. Weber says Baker never got to see any of the footage. In May 1988, his body was found on a street in Amsterdam. The police say he committed suicide or fell out of his hotel window.

D is for Dictionary


[ap-pa-tist] n. A well-adjusted enjoyer of food, frequently used in reference to women, occasionally men. A person with a healthy desire to eat; a person who does not worry excessively about food intake; a person who does not diet constantly; someone who enjoys food thoroughly and in moderation.

[kat –ful] adj. A human being whose behavior is reminiscent of a playful or contented cat.

Catfeasience, catfeasient
[Kat-fee-zens/zent] n., adj. Willful, arbitrary and malevolent behavior reminiscent of a cat who scratches furniture, doesn’t use the litterbox and is generally incorrigible, as in, If he continues to curse me at parties, his catfeasience will force me to leave him. As an adj., she carried herself with a catfeasient air that drove many away.

Hateless [hate-less] adj. Constitutionally, genetically, or environmentally incapable of severely irrational or violently negative reaction. In the past, derogatively connoted, see: Pollyanna, idealist, idiot. Today, it is considered that one who is hateless may be a secular saint. Very rare, as in: Nelson Mandela is basically hateless.

[hi-pur-khon-dree-a] n. The state of feeling physically sound; an experience of total, thorough well-being, one in which a person has no physical or psychological complaints; a condition in which one feels superhealthy or superfine; an overabundance of health; in extreme cases, hyperchondria may indicate delusion, but the person will not want to acknowledge a problem.

[in-ter-gaz] v. A look which passes between two people or more that occurs in passing or during intense moments; a visually understood look of instant recognition; a quick appraisal; a fast acknowledgment between sympathetic equals, as in: During dinner, his nephew and niece intergazed and decided not to approach him about their father, his prodigal brother.

[ghel-ee-row-ree-vur-sul] n. A gender reversal or role adaptation; primarily domestic; a gendered adaptive variance; an agreed-upon gender variation, as in: He takes care of their children, she goes to the office, but their jellyrollreversal is no compromise. Probably a combination of two terms, bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) and jellyroll (a donut-like pastry whose center is filled with jam). During the 1970s, Americans sought words and expressions for new living arrangements. It is believed that
was first used by a musician, who, in the late 1970s, upon noticing a man in an apron diapering his daughter, retorted, A jellyrollreversal.

[lib-a-rul] adj. Cool; hip, able to chill; free and freedomloving; uninhibited and unrestricted, as in: The guy is a liberal dancer. Or, Yo, that’s liberal!

[mul-tah-tid-ien] adj. Many events or things that occur over and over, usually in a day. Regular repetitions that are accepted in a day, as in: I was used to the multitidian phone, but now there’s the cell.

[plen-ti-tood], plaintitudious [plen-ti-tood-i-nus] n., adj. The sense of an action or act that, performed daily, is fulfilling to the actor in its regularity; a sense that ordinary routine is sufficient, as in: The plaintitude of breakfast consoles me.

[pro-tem-pur-ee], protemporaneous [pro-tem-po-ran-ee-us] n., adj. An advocate of the new and passing; a person who is not fixed in attitudes or habits; of a group who supports and extols the passing whims and fancies of its day; at its extreme, bordering on anarchy, as in: She follows no dictates that I can discern, her protemporaneous style is too fast for me. Not to be confused with contemporary, which emphasizes a blending into and with one’s time. Closer to atemporality, in flavor.

[soo-doe-istl] n. One who supports falsehood and falsity in all things; one who is always false; a person incapable of telling the truth; one who believes in the superiority of lies, as in: Donald Rumsfeld’s portrait, like Dorian Gray’s, is hidden in a room, a wreck, since it is that of a mean, persistent pseudoist.

[soo-pa-re-flek-shun] n. The state of pondering a thought; a condition of introspection; the most intense kind of
thinking in which thought mirrors thought, as in: At times like these, Gwen insisted, her superreflection caused a kind of vertiginous insight.

[soo-pah-tid-ean] adj. An annoying excess of mostly unwanted events that occur daily, as in: It would be one thing if there were fewer of them, but supertidian right-wing talk show hosts infect my radio even when it’s not turned on.

[un-skrip-tiv/ly] adj., adv. A description of behaviors, attitudes, and ideas that have a unique and independent cast; generous attitudes that appear to come from nowhere; unbiased thinking; a desire for openness and intelligent communication. Unscriptive acts were first noticed in the 1950s, in experiments with LSD. In current usage, unscriptive talk and acts are not related to drug-taking, as in: Bill Clinton, at his very best, discoursed unscriptively about history, reproductive rights and race relations. But George W. Bush is, to the country’s chagrin, never unscriptive.

E is for Etel and Eggleston

A Conversation with Etel Adnan

In the late 1980s, I was phoned by poet and critic Ammiel Alcalay, who urged me to hear Etel Adnan read the next night at the Graduate Center. He told me Adnan was an Arab-American poet, playwright and painter, born and raised in Lebanon. Since he had never urged me to attend an event before, I decided to go. The lecture hall was filled. I remember Edward Said and his wife were in the audience. Adnan took her seat behind a table at the front, and, from the moment she began reading, her passion, great intelligence and sensitivity to language and form felt palpable. It was a rapturous night, during which I said to myself, I’m so glad I came. Imagine if I’d missed this.

Adnan writes about exile and place, women and men, war, nature, paying homage to the beauty, complexity, and even the horrors of our lives. She is a philosophical poet, whose range is extraordinary. She the author of, among others, the acclaimed novel
Sitt Marie Rose
, which was translated into ten languages, including Urdu and Bosnian, and the epic poem,
The Arab Apocalypse
. Her paintings have been exhibited internationally and are included in various museums and collections. Adnan’s plays have been produced in San Francisco, Paris, Caen, Argentina, Dusseldorf and Beirut, her poetry set to music by composers such as Gavin Bryars, Henry Threadgill, Tania Leon, Annea Lockwood,
and Zad Multaka. Her latest books are
In The Heart Of The Heart Of Another Country
The Master Of The Eclipse

After I heard her read that night, I made contact with her. I saw her twice in NYC, when she was on her way to Paris. I phoned her there a couple of times, and we maintained an infrequent correspondence. I read her books. Her partner, Simone Fattal, who is the publisher of the Post-Apollo Press, always sent me her new books; and Etel always signed them affectionately. Having the chance to talk with Etel Adnan for Bidoun, at length and in her home in Sausalito, was a gift.

You’ve written that you can never separate experience from theory.

We don’t just speak out, we order our thinking. If you call that theory, you can’t escape it. If one means, rather, that one speaks with pre-decisions, that this is my way of speaking, I will conform everything to that style and approach, it is not only bad, but it also doesn’t work. It is why, sometimes, my work seems to go in many different directions. It could be harmful, but I can’t do otherwise. But to do that doesn’t mean not to have direction in one’s thinking or to be lost. I want to accept things as they come and see what to do with them.

One’s own experience of the world might always fall into a category or theory one believes.

I accept contradiction when it happens. Today I may say something philosophical: if I can talk of the idea of Being separated from objects, then I can also say there is no Being outside manifestation. One month later I might write its opposite and be aware of it. That doesn’t bother me, because I seek new connections. Of course, you must have some few points of reference in your life.

War is a enduring point of reference for you.

I have become politically nonviolent. I’ve reached the point that, for myself, it is right. I will not compromise that. On other matters I feel a kind of absolute, if we can use that word. I do not accept the sexual abuse of children. But I have very few of those absolutes. Everything else is in flux.

I admire various kinds of writing, if I feel there is an intelligence behind it, that the language is closely handled, in whatever form the writer chooses.

I don’t privilege one approach to another. I don’t privilege it within my own works. Some people are prisoners of the decisions they make.

It’s fascinating in
Sitt Marie Rose
, your novel about the Lebanese Civil War, which started in 1975, the varieties of style and forms you chose. First, what does “sitt” mean?

Sitt is an Arabic word, used in Lebanon and Syria mostly, and Egypt, to mean “madam”; it’s not formal. A girl of five years old in conversation can be “little sitt so-and-so.” Sitt can also be for married or single women. It’s a colloquial way to address a woman. It carries some respect.

How did
Sitt Marie Rose
come about, when did you write it?

I wrote it before the end of 1976. The event it’s based on occurred in early ’76. The Christian Phalangists kidnapped a woman whose real name was Marie Rose. People immediately recognized her when the book came out.

You wrote it in French.

I was in Paris and had read in
Le Monde
about Marie Rose Boulous’ being kidnapped. I knew she was already dead. I became upset, wanted to write it down; as you are a writer, you know one discovers through writing matters that wouldn’t occur to you otherwise. I wanted to find out—all cultures include violence—which forms the Lebanonese culture has taken. We don’t know any human group in history that hasn’t been violent. I don’t believe any nation is better than any other on that score. But what attracted me to this violence was my knowledge: the young men who kidnapped, tortured and killed her, I had grown up with them. I knew Phalangists, and she was Christian too. Through her they wanted to teach a lesson to the various factions. People use religion to excite people and send them to war, like Bush with
the word “democracy.” It’s dogma misuse. The Phalangists were, in their minds, defending Christian values, but in fact they were defending their power against the Muslims. There are orthodox Christians in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon. The majority of Christians in Lebanon are Catholic, so they had links with Rome, and the French, a Catholic nation. The French created a place where these Christians would have their own country—after World War I when the big powers carved up the Middle East. But if everybody were Christian, the new country would have been too small. So they included territory inhabited by Muslims. This is the key to the Lebanese problem—the Christians of Lebanon say, and it’s true, the country was created by the French for them. But after two generations, the Christians found they were no longer a sizable majority. Today they are not the majority. It’s the source not of hatred but of the antagonism in Lebanon.

Your novel shifts and flows, from politics with its varied discourses, through voices and styles. One of the brilliant inventions is the deaf-mute schoolchildren.

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