An interview

… art of introspection …

… how do you look at yourself? … what grammar is there for that, besides Freud?

Proust: the best company you could ever have…

He doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know – … you rediscover something you already knew… never quite formulated, never grasped

Proust and teenage boys (reading him)… – after all, it’s about them!

Aciman, on Proust

Listening to Andre Aciman being interviewed by Christopher Lydon – on his novel Call Me By Your Name now famous because of the movie, the way he intended to capture how two people fall in love with inhibitions, how time passes, ebbing slowly, the way reticence and expectation play a central role – was a magnificent way to spend the past hour. In the interview, Aciman slowly describes way his own growing up in Alexandria in a family that was so similar to Elio’s parents, to their openness and support, their careful permissiveness – the way he is trying to provide a sense of how our own knowledge of ourselves unfolds at moments when we go from nothingness to absolute obsession with another person.

He mentions something that is intriguing: he ended up writing a story about the love of two men, one of them 17 years old, the other one 24 – and perhaps this gay perspective happened to give the novel a sort of internal timing that would have been very different had it been a story between a 17 year-old boy and a 24-year old woman (Aciman says he himself as a teenager had many girlfriends who were much older than he was – he seems to have very fond memories of his own infatuation for much older women – he says “it was just perfect” and he certainly communicates a longing many of us may relate to). However, the sort of reticence, of slow unfolding, of inhibition, that seems so crucial in the novel (and is so beautifully captured in the movie) was probably more natural because of being a love story between two men.

There is also the age question – Aciman says “look, I never think about such things; as a 14-year old I was in love with women in their 20s”. In the movie the difference in age is there, but also a fundamental respect of the differences of age. The 24-year old student, much more experienced in life than the 17-year old Elio, responds extremely carefully to his infatuation.

Alexandria (and formerly Istanbul) figures in the background. His father’s attitude, his boldness and at the same time his carefulness in dealing with people, the openness and fluidity of the general sexual conduct in that city – all that is an essential part of Aciman’s background, of his sophistication and attention to human variations.

I particularly appreciate Aciman’s reluctance to allow other people to label him, to classify him as “L”, “G”, “B”, “T”, “S” or whatever. He describes how in many ways people seem now to be rediscovering something that was already there all the way along, in places like the Alexandria of his early youth before exile, in families like his: he says the labelling is just “not enough” for him, for his novel. He calls upon the richness, the incredible variety of our human experience, and how our time has the paradox that people are on the one hand very open about their sexuality and at the same time brutally constraining – allowing the world to divide them in what in the realm of food would be pescatorians, vegans, etc. – losing so much in the process.

The interview lands a few times on Aciman’s loving description of his own father, whose boldness combined with extreme tactfulness inspires the father figure in the movie. His father’s attention to the shape of an ankle or a shoe of a woman passing by on the street, his incredibly sensitive approach to life.

Few interviews manage this sort of empathy between the subject matter, the writer being interviewed and the general tone.

Another intriguing point: Aciman describes how he was stuck for a summer in New York wanting to be in Italy, stuck writing another novel – when he imagined the house, the place – and somehow himself being there and also arriving to the house. Both Elio and the American visitor Oliver seem to be reflections of Aciman’s own persona. In this sense the game of reflections of love between a man and … himself – himself through a different lens, at a different time seems to explain part of Aciman’s own taking up writing the novel, and then the urgency of the writing (apparently it only took him three months or so to finish!).

Here, some pictures of today’s afternoon in Chía – rain, the neighbor’s dog Amapola, the curtain.







Panels in NY – looking forward to next week

Graduate Center

Looking forward to two panels – one conducted by Roman Kossak, the Math Panel (Friday April 5, 1:30 pm), with Alex Gamburd, Etienne Ghys, Rosalie Iemhoff, Dusa McDuff, Grigor Sargsyan, Marjorie Senechal, myself and Hugh Woodin…

and the Art and Math panel (Thursday April 4, 1:30 pm), conducted by Juliette Kennedy, with artists Kate Shepherd and Dan Walsh, philosopher Juliet Floyd, mathematicians Grigor Sargsyan and myself, art historians Riika Stewen and Hanna Johansson!

More info here.


(Image above from the NYPL Digital Gallery.)

On this day in 1792, Percy Bysshe Shelley — enfant terrible of English Romanticism and husband of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley — was born in Sussex, England. 

Shelley was a hippie before hippies, a vegetarian before it became a fad, a soul-searching atheist, a free lover who left a small but deep trail of broken hearts, and one who cared acutely (though a bit naively, being born into landed gentry) for the working class during the cruel early years of the Industrial Revolution. And, as you can see above, he was an unrelenting doodler: spirited, haunting sketches rim the pages and margins of his many notebooks.

Next February, the NYPL, in collaboration with the Bodleian Library of Oxford, will mount an exhibition exploring his life and work entitled Shelley’s Ghost. Until then, we give you a leaf from an 1813 edition of his first major poem Queen Mab, marked with Shelley’s own revisions. 

Happy birthday, Bysshe! 

November 2009 – entering Stockholm on the ferry from Riga


Looking at this (by now old) picture taken in the morning, arriving on the ferry to Stockholm, makes me feel depleted of self, yet fulfilled.

This was an amazing visit to New York and Pittsburgh. More on the mathematics later. At this point, I am exhausted and very happy about going back to Bogotá tomorrow. This was an intense visit, with long hours and few distractions. I enjoyed it all the more. Met in a couple of evenings some really interesting people, though.


We will move to a new apartment, in the upper part of Chapinero, next week. Really happy about this! (Was a slow process – first looking for a new place, long – then finding it and slowly waiting until it would be finished, long long – then making it look the way we want, with a nice open kitchen, etc. – a really time consuming process)…

At Gagosian in Chelsea. Anselm Kiefer’s new series of paintings and installations (Next Year in Jerusalem). Incredible contrast between the high quality (depth, layers) of the paintings and the obviousness of the installations. Unfortunately, the installations did not allow see many of the paintings in a decent way.