What do I want to know? I want to know what Edwin Denby knew.
Sitting in a used bookstore tonight browsing his dance writings, that’s what I wanted; but what he “knew” was something beyond “Dance” in particular. There was some groundwork in the senses, in the affective brain, that preceded history and technique.
There’s something Pedro Almodovar knows beyond “filmmaking” too, and “Bad Education” made me think that if poetry—someone, anyone’s poetry—can’t do what that film did, then I don’t want to write poetry anymore. It didn’t break my heart the way “Talk to Her” did, but it dove into complexity and dashed itself to pieces and surfaced whole. As an intellectual feat, that’s more than “experimental” American filmmakers seem capable of. (Spike Jonz, I’m looking at you.)
An offhand comment at the beginning (“There’s nothing less erotic than an actor looking for work”) seems to have nothing to do with the story that transpires, then evolves into the secret key to a cautionary tale about artistic ambition. That’s the satisfying part; it’s also the unsatisfying part, since the motives of the characters spring from will not love. In “Talk to Her,” a radiant beauty is restored to life, and possibly innocence, after a violation that ends in the suicide—keenly felt—of someone we’re supposed to despise, and can’t; this welter of contradictory emotion works with the cerebral satisfaction of good cinematic technique to cause, finally, the selfsame tears for two intense pleasures. How now, poetry?
Edwin Denby is sympathetic toward the “anti-intellectual” view of ballet; in a way, isn’t it enough that beautiful bodies, male and female, are set in motion amidst fine music and backdrops and glamorous audience? Isn’t that what draws one in, and didn’t Denby himself read Shelley’s “Adonais” with rapt pleasure as a child before he could understand the meaning of the words? Rather than anti-intellectual, why can't we call it pre- or meta- or sensory-intellectual?
What would a really great anti-intellectual poetry entail anyway -- what thrills, what voluptuousness, what blind risk-taking? Wouldn't YOU read it?
(Was Zahara singing “Quizas” a kiss blown to Wong Kar-wai? It plays over the long montage in “In the Mood for Love” where the lovers part, almost meet, and miss each other over and over. It is a light, even slight, song. Perfect cover for devastation.)