Adolfo Aranjuez is an editor, writer, speaker and dancer. He is currently the Melbourne International Film Festival’s publications and content coordinator, and Liminal‘s publication editor; previously, he edited Metro and Archer. His essays and poetry have appeared in Meanjin, Right Now, Screen Education, The Manila Review, Cordite and elsewhere.
How are you looking after yourself during this time?
I’m very much a hermit at heart (though, by now, I’ve mastered the art of fake-extroversion), so being stuck at home hasn’t been too concerning for me. What has been concerning is the escalating reality of global collapse, and the repercussions of this on the micro level, such as acts of aggression towards racialised groups or increasingly overt classism in the punitive targeting of lower-socioeconomic areas. Which is to say: guilt and a quiet sense of dread have been my major struggles at this time. It feels not-right to simply push on with my own life, knowing that life itself has changed dramatically (and, for some, even deleteriously).
So ‘looking after myself’ has meant learning how to look out for others: balancing my comfort and continued productivity – which I know some are struggling with at the moment – with contributions to stuff going on around me. On an intimate scale, I’ve been trying to be a more present loved one for my family and friends; more expansively, I’ve upped the political valency of my recent pieces, cranked up my justice-oriented ‘infiltration’ / ‘sneaky subversion’ work and deepened my investment in community initiatives I’m part of. (All while taking moments to breathe, eat and sleep better, and dance.)
Can you speak a little about your creative process while writing?
I’m primarily an essayist and critic, so I get to access a completely new topic (or, at least, a new dimension of a familiar topic) each time I write. This, for me, means wading in with abandon until I’m neck-deep in research before doing anything else. I adore this process of intellectual immersion – the factoid rabbitholes, the textual time-travel, the excursions into an issue’s multitudinous sides – and, while not much of the info smorgasbord I mine ends up in the resulting work, this step does help to ground my thoughts, instil nuance and calibrate my focus.
From there, I form an outline of the piece, turn my too-many dot points into too-long prose, reread, cut down, finesse, put the piece away, [insert non-writing activity here], reread, prune, finesse, etc. At each stage, I find that it’s not just my message that becomes crystallised, but also the intricacies of word choice, euphony, rhythm.
Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your art/writing? Are you creating or absorbing, or both?
(Coincidentally, here’s one I prepared earlier! I was commissioned by Adelaide’s MOD. Museum to create a dance + essay piece on this very topic.) To give you a teaser, though, my answer is that I’ve committed myself to combating the inertia of lockdown through constant movement – not just literally, in the context of my dance practice, but also in the proverbial sense of challenging my creative and critical paradigms, taking on writing and other projects that lie (slightly) outside my comfort zone, and, yes, even consuming texts that I wouldn’t ordinarily. (I recently watched my first ever non–Apichatpong Weerasethakul Thai film – a trashy blockbuster comedy – and it was brilliant!)
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
My work is driven by, on one hand, an unquenchable desire to understand the world (its origins and mechanisms, its tensions), and, on the other, a hope for transformation – especially when the stakes are societal. This two-pronged preoccupation with is and ought has been around since my childhood (thank you, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, which I binged at the age of nine!), and manifests, for good or for bad, pretty much whenever I write. So I’m terrible at gun-for-hire jobs, because I can’t help but complicate – no, that has negative connotations; ‘complexify’? – themes, even in something as simple as promo copy. It’s why I never really just write about, say, a film, but the various cinematic lineages it forms part of, or the milieu it’s sprung from, or the zeitgeisty conversations it adds to. It’s perhaps also why I’ve never written a thinkpiece, as this would demand of me a singularity of message – almost a deliberate donning of blinkers – that I probably wouldn’t be able to do. (It’s why these Q&A responses are over the requested word limit.) I like to write outside of myself, even when the personal is involved; I like to seek recourse to perspectives and possibilities beyond what’s in front of me.
Which artists are you most intrigued by at this current point in time?
Given our current context, I’m particularly drawn to artists who explicitly connect their creations with community. Despite what we may like to think – the rhetoric we feed ourselves so as to elevate what we do and why we do it – art doesn’t necessarily ‘do’ anything, so I’m excited by artists who ensure that the stirrings of the heart and the mind (and the ego) that they enable reverberate tangibly, into the material and political. Some local folks that come to mind here include groups/organisations like the Karrabing Film Collective, the Sweatshop movement, L2R Dance, Big hART, Bus Stop Films and 100 Story Building, and pioneering artist-activists like Amrita Hepi, Bhenji Ra, Jax Jacki Brown, Mama Alto and Maya Newell. Formal experimentation, singularity of vision, the pushing of boundaries – these are all very exciting, sure, but aesthetics and abstraction fall away when the art demands ten thousand feet of cognitive wall-climbing.
And, lastly, on a lighter note, what’s your favourite book-to-TV / book-to-film adaptation? Or is there a book you’d like to see adapted into a TV show / film?
Picnic at Hanging Rock. The Gothic film is a key title in the Australian New Wave, and it’s easy to see why: director Peter Weir masterfully captured the at-once sublime and sinister quality of land that’s soaked up genocidal blood; human alienation from nature; wistful, almost ethereal ennui; lost innocence; displacement; sacrilege; denialism. Novelist Joan Lindsay, of course, deserves credit for having provided Weir with these narrative elements in the first place – but mostly I commend her for the wild final chapter of her manuscript (eventually edited out of the finished work), which (over)explains the young women’s infamous disappearances through … actually, go google it and find out for yourself.