Friday, July 31, 2015

Here is a list of every damn book you haven't read

Pop culture web site published one of those lists that are intended either to shame you for being culturally deprived or boost your self regard a hint by being a hipster who is in the know. It's click bait , of course, and it me this time with their head line 10 Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them). The awkward alliteration of "Really Read" took me aback a might, as it is sing- songy rather that snappy and confident in the qualifiers being deployed . Had they used the phrase "actually read" instead of the unconvincing break-room enthusiasm of "really", we might have a headline worthy of bookish subject. No matter.   I haven't read most of them, to be honest,  but in my defense I'll say that I never cultivated a taste for science fiction novels, which dominate here. I had the teen age fascination with rocket ships, monsters and super heroes , of course, but good lit classes in high school and college course work changed my tastes, my preferences for the style and kind of books I would be attracted to. I do love science fiction movies, of course, but over all I just can't get behind the work. I did, though, enjoy Neil Gaiman's work American Gods , think highly of William Gibson's stripped down cyber punk, and , of course, fancy some Philip K.Dick some of the time,with William Burroughs as an entree for all of them

Contrary to the articles findings , most people I know who are readers (and they are legion) are quite believable when they tell me they they've read Nineteen Eighty Four. It's not a long novel, the story is not especially dense, and the argument the novel embodies, that governments are wont to contrive excuses for wars , always in the name of grand causes and great tradition, as a powerful means of fooling a populace and so enabling the State to maintain and extend their power over them, is not opaque.It is unobscured by metaphor. It is the least fuzzy-think  of all novels that one should read. The genius of Orwell was his refusal to claim the villainy of the State against Winston Smith, the protagonist, was the doings of a political apparatus of the Left or Right.  Totalitarianism is evil and foul from whatever direction it comes from. All the same, it's amusing for to remember that there were Libertarian and Marxist study groups around the campus of the university I attended, and I happened to take a long look at the reading list for each. Sure enough, Nineteen Eighty Four  was on both rosters, left and right, and both were convinced that Orwell was on their side. Neat trick.

Infinite Jest is another matter. It's a book I got about three hundred pages into before setting it down forever , less because of it's difficulty and massive amounts of incidental information and more the fact that David Foster Wallace's seemed to be less in having each sentence and each paragraph they form advance plot, characterization and give both experimentation and exposition a frame work toward a satisfying whole than he seemed intent on exhausting the limits as to what each individual sentence, as a unit of meaning, could be exploited. The trick was in keeping his structures grammatically sound and artfully appending his nominal subjects with digressions that come seemingly from nowhere at all. I thought this approach worked well, even with brilliance,in his shorter works, like the story collection Oblivion, and his his travel collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again . Offensive though it may sound, there is an art of getting to the point in due time, and DFW's briefer pieces give you a better concentration of his wit. 

Gravity's Rainbow is something I definitely read and allowed myself nearly a year to complete. No one should lie about having read this, especially to those who have. It's a difficult book, it is funny to an amazing degree, Pynchon is a fantastically gifted prose writer and a superb mimic of the styles of other authors, and none of it comes to the reader easily. It's an attractive notion that literature should be entertaining, distracting and not at all difficult to mine for subtler implications or Moral (more often than not reaffirmations of convictions and fuzzily remembered bromides that haven't been seriously interrogated in quite some time), but there are pleasures out there from imaginations that have no intention of co-signing a potential audiences hackneyed cosmology. Maybe they don't know how.  And many of us have lost patience with the time it takes to experience something that resonates beyond the mere thrill .

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

some words about the art of Jill Moon

Jill Moon, a university professor, painter, set designer, glass artist, and doll maker who passed away this July, was a painter of distinct style and approach who hadn't been given a great deal of critical notice during her too-short life. This would be due in large part, though, to the fact that she retired from public life soon after she left her teaching position in set design and art history at Cornell. She did some design work for the theater, but she had no showings that I can remember. She willingly pursued anonymity that was her right. Jill didn't stop making art, however, and indeed her productivity was prodigious and prolific. Jill Moon's otherworldly figuration was a marvel. She was a dear friend of mine for the better part of thirty years and change, and it was my good fortune to "see her in action" as she took to the canvas with her paints, brushes, and assorted implements. Jill had a sense of how to bring the incongruous together and make it do work as if the disparate details--a fairy in a pope's Miter, leotards and a polka dot skirt, a red/green/orange trout standing upward blowing blue bubbles, a rainbow-crested dandelion waiting patiently for the fairy and the fish to notice its glorious impersonation of an umbrella--belonged in the same space. 

Poet Wallace Stevens' had a theory of the Supreme Fiction, that space between imagination and the real world that it's about to work upon, where the notions, ideas, imagery is worked out, arranged, finessed as though being fussed upon before going out the door for the business day, but always without explanation to justify their visualization or placement before the eyes of the observer. This was the sphere where there were no secrets, only matters you hadn't discerned yet, or explanatory narratives to connect her figures with a cogent suggestion of what makes sense in the reality they were brought into. 

There was a painting Jill had done for a show of hers at UCSD that featured small, mischievous devils scattered about the color-saturated straits of a particular portrait. Someone asked her what they were and she explained, laughing so slightly, that "...they were devils playing with the other things in the painting. I painted them because I like them. What they mean is private. Actually, I'm not even sure if I know what they mean..." 

I wouldn't doubt that at the time, Jill would have to create something that would contextualize the leitmotifs and tropes and her use of a flat style for a critical appreciation to be applied and calm those minds that demand how the contents of paint operate as a critique of how we live. Still, in the moment of creation and long afterward, she was taken with the joy of creating this space where instinct, dreams, mystery, and ominous ritual, combined in the odd and angular ways that fit Jill's idea of allowing forms to migrate, mutate, associate as they may.  

I remember Jill, in one of those graduate student bull sessions at the Pub following an art show she had been featured in, reflecting on the ideas of Derrida and deconstruction and the insight that because meaning is not fixed in a text, whether be it a book, painting, movie, play, saying that she gave her art over to the idea of play. "I don't think art needs to be about anything," she said firmly. I don't recall what she followed that declaration with. Still, I do recall many a conversation that artists can only be responsible for making the art and making sure that the pieces they introduce to the world have their own integrity, on their terms.  "What the painting means isn't my job," she said at one point, "that would kill the happiness someone else could have creating their own meaning and sharing it with others." Jill was taken with the idea that art had no commitment to reaffirm or even threaten an audiences' shared cosmologies; the artist wasn't required to speak to how the world does or does not work or dwell in the joys or depressions that art lovers might project on the campus. 

The poetic analogs are obvious, I think, the first being Ars Poetica by Archibald McLeish.

Ars Poetica

By Archibald MacLeish
A poem should be palpable and mute   

As a globed fruit,


As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone

Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless   

As the flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time   

As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases

Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,   

Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time   

As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:

Not true.

For all the history of grief

An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love

The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean   

But be.