Sometimes a work of art does not present itself so that we know who it is about. Maurice, by E. M. Forster, seems to be about Maurice Hall, and then it seems to be about Maurice and Clive Durham together, and it is only later that the reader discovers the novel is about Maurice, and about Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder. This is important because Maurice isn’t about failure between Maurice and Clive but about success between Maurice and Alec.
The Law of Desire, by Pedro Almodovar, seems at first to be about Pablo, the director, and his love for Juan, and it is only late in the movie that it begins to be apparent that Law of Desire is about Pablo and Antonio and what they can learn from each other, which happens in the final minutes of the film. Again, it’s not about failure, it’s about triumphant success.
The Skin I live In seems to be about Dr. Robert Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas, the doctor who runs the research institute trying to develop an artificial skin, but it is only in retrospect that it becomes clear that the movie is about Vera Cruz, played by Elena Anaya, and that the “skin” which Vera lives in is the artificial skin of gender and that the movie is “about” her discoveries and not about the doctor’s madness.
All this is to say that we have to discover things slowly. The Dancer from the Dance, by Andrew Holleran, which seems to be about Anthony Malone, the principal dancer in this particular dance—Lower East Side and Fire Island in the seventies—is only apparently about the beautiful dancer whom everyone fell in love with. The book is really about the world that Malone inhabits, the dance nobody can separate him from. And it is also to say that we ought to understand these works of art slowly. And not rush. Or jump in, because long after Malone has walked into the bay, men are still writing letters trying to determine what it all meant, and Paul writes the concluding lines of the novel: “No, darling, mourn no longer for Malone. He knew very well how gorgeous life is—that was the light in him that you, and I, and all the queens fell in love with. Go out dancing tonight, my dear, and go home with someone, and if the love doesn’t last beyond the morning, then know I love you.” It is the dance that we have to see and not the dancer.