Thursday, April 27, 2006


"The sound of the tango is the sound of a rose weeping in the sunset", he writes. "It is a carnal wound, one that requires all the agility of our youth to stitch it up again. All dance is ephemeral, but the tango, for all its dramatic frenzy, is doubly so, because underlying it is the eternal languor of violins. The tango is a flimsy fabric, flung proudly about, to hide the nakedness of the evening's despair."

He looks up from his typewriter. In the time it has taken him to write this paragraph, the light has got worse. The sound of his wife washing up in the kitchen fills the room with its clanging. Far away the traffic of the city sighs like an abandoned mistress.

"Have you noticed how no one ever smiles when they're dancing a tango? This is because the very idea of pleasure is anathema to the dance. Laughter is the enemy, because it could detract from and destroy the sexual seriousness involved. If the tango is not to collapse into the ridiculous, it must maintain at all times its air of being in deadly earnest. As with all true art, absolute authenticity alone makes the illusion possible. A well danced tango is a ritual, a sacrifice. To laugh during it, would be like laughing in the middle of a sacred rite. "

He reaches for another cigarette, discovers it's the last one in the pack. He'll have to go down to get more. He tries to remember how long the shop stays open. He had better go soon.

"There is a sense in which every tango is a battle, fought between a man and a woman, with the dance floor for a battlefield and sex their only weapon. That is what all this flashing of limbs, all this feint and parry of gestures adds up to. Who wins in this battle is unimportant - surrender can be as much a victory as control - what matters is only the racing rhythm of the heartbeat that it leaves you with. It's as though the dance were practise, as though the dancers were merely sharpening themselves against each other - like knives rubbed together until the sparks fly from their blades - preparing themselves for other, more desperate battles to come. Precision is everything in the tango, its fundamental grammar is that of stab and thrust and plunge, because it is the only way to puncture the swelling roundness of the music, its ripening sorrow."

Is he being a little too over the top here? He reads over what he has written. It does seem a bit, well, florid. He shrugs. It's probably what they're looking for. The true Latin spirit. He grimaces, then writes on.

"Many people have accused the tango of being too grandoise, too exaggerated. 'Why do we need all this fussy play-acting', one North American critic writes, 'when we can savour instead the simple yet sublime grace of the ballet'. To think this is to miss the very point of the tango. The ballet is founded on an idea of transcendence that the more down to earth tango simply does not believe in. At its heart, the philosophy of the tango is a faith in the overt and the overdone. If we live our life in these grand gestures, the tango seems to say, then surely the end, when it comes, shall arrive with a flourish. If we cannot hope for salvation, we can at least ensure that we go out with a bang."

In the apartment, the radio coughs like an old radiator. A quick burst of static announces that the news is next. As the dusk gathers, he pushes his chair back, takes one last drag on his cigarette, stares unseeing at the scarred surface of his writing desk. He is remembering a time when the curfews were still a daily feature, when it was still possible to get shot going down to the corner store for a loaf of bread.



Chronicus Skepticus said...

Great post, Falstaff.

dazedandconfused said...

whoa, this one was weird...almost like one of those Murakami ones...

Cheshire Cat said...

Liked the last line, but found the title mysterious.

Anonymous said...

abrupt ending...but awesome description of the tango.

The Man Who Wasnt There said... for as literary aspect goes like most of your posts this one is impeccable. And almost non pareil. But really how much do you personally subscribe to?:|
'transcendence','salvation','faith','ephemeral' ..what do they 'mean' exactly?:| (I am glad you didnt use 'spiritual' and mystical :p )

drifting leaf said...

'Who wins in this battle is unimportant - surrender can be as much a victory as control - what matters is only the racing rhythm of the heartbeat that it leaves you with...'

beautifully written...
that is true for life too...this is how i try to live...

Falstaff said...

hmr: Thanks.

d&c:errr..what murakami ones?

cat: thanks. No mystery to it. It's presumably the title of the piece the man is writing. More generally, it's just the title I started the post with and was too lazy to change.

anon: thanks.

girish: how much do I subscribe to? Very little. If you're looking for my point of view on the tango in that piece, the closest you'll come is probably the line from the North American critic - give me ballet any day. I sat through an hour and a half of a tango performance yesterday feeling mildly bored and wondering whether it was just me or the dancing really did look like one of those martial arts movies. Which is why I situate the description of the tango itself with this fictional other.

leaf: Thanks.

Anonymous said... of your finest posts...wonder why hasnt dreamworks still found you or for that matter any of the major publishing sure can give a few of the so-called famous contemporary writers a run for their money...
between..couldnt fit in the last part of the post in the overall context...was it to just keep the readers guessing or???

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