‘True Impressions’ – the essential necessity of art

Art, books, fiction, Life, literature, society

paulcard

 

‘And art and literature – what of them? Well, there is a violent uproar but we are not absolutely dominated by it. We are still able to think, to discriminate, and to feel. The purer, subtler, higher activities have not succumbed to fury or to nonsense. Not yet. Books continue to be written and read. It may be more difficult to reach the whirling mind of a modern reader but it is possible to cut through the noise and reach the quiet zone. In the quiet zone we may find that he is devoutly waiting for us. When complications increase, the desire for essentials increases too. The unending cycle of crises that began with the First World War has formed a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible, strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an immense desire for certain durable human goods – truth, for instance, or freedom, or wisdom. I don’t think I am exaggerating; there is plenty of evidence for this. Disintegration? Well, yes. Much is disintegrating but we are experiencing also an odd kind of refining process.’1

 

 

This paragraph of wisdom was gleaned from Saul Bellow’s lecture in 1976, and encapsulates some of my recent thinking.  I both applaud and deplore the recent breakthrough in technology , bringing the immediate and the virtual to practically every home or person via internet and smartphone.  I am aware of the changing awareness it provides me – the gratification of satisfying curiosity quickly and easily , whilst simultaneously eroding my capacity for concentration. I am a gadfly, settling momentarily for bites of informative , entertaining distraction rather than entering into a thorough investigation of one area of interest.  That is possibly character led – I have never been the model for applied intelligence, but even within my own modest parameters I feel an unease at how I limit my attention to reading matter in particular. And yet the other side of the coin gleams attractively – the range of newly discovered channels of information is thrilling. I watch video of life on earth previously undreamt of in even my mother’s generation, introducing whole facets of human and other strands of life that can only inspire further exploration and discovery. The vast multitude of available paths is itself discombobulating – sometimes paralysing. It can be both inspiring and frightening, to be open to so much possiblility can overwhelm and freeze , halting the desire to progress. So I cheer the idea  of Bellow’s ‘quiet zone’.  I know that we are so much further on too, than when this was written- forty years is after all, a lifetime to some. We are experiencing a world in flux -it has ever been thus – and still we need to champion the Arts as a way of life, one which explores, enhances and illuminates the human condition.  It is not only in the world of the novel that the ‘individual’ is petrified – never more than now has our species depended on the interconnectedness and the application of that knowledge of interconnection in order not only to flourish, but to survive , both in a literal and a metaphorical sense.
We grow our technology at a rate that imperils our planet and ourselves. We grow our technology in order to save the planet and ourselves. Both are versions of the same reality. We choose, as individual human beings how to behave, both individually and collectively. Some of us choose our governments to act on our behalf, some are less fortunate, but all of us are responsible for the reality we choose.

Saul Bellow’s lecture discussed the value of literature in exposing the ‘true impressions’ to ourselves.  It is as prescient today as it was then;

‘The value of literature lies in these intermittent “true impressions”. A novel moves back and forth between the world of objects, of actions, of appearances, and that other world from which these “true impressions” come and which moves us to believe that the good we hang onto so tenaciously – in the face of evil, so obstinately – is no illusion.’

It is the artist’s gift to show us what is generally unnoticed by us.

The march of technology will continue to move us through different method of exploring that creative expression and I have no problem with that. When I thought about it, the popular mass of human beings on the planet have not enjoyed the easy access to books for that long, perhaps reading is only part of a creative journey to be taken by a comparative few. Perhaps the experience of being human and expressing paradox and complexity will follow different routes of expression, but express it we must. As Joseph Conrad explained, and Saul Bellow related:’ the novel tells us that for every human being there is a diversity of existences, that the single existence is itself an illusion in part, that these many existences signify something, tend to something, fulfill something; it promises us meaning, harmony and even justice. What Conrad said was true, art attempts to find in the universe, in matter as well as in the facts of life, what is fundamental, enduring, essential.’

The lecture can be read or listened to in full via the  link in the citation.

Citation:

1 ; MLA style: “Saul Bellow – Nobel Lecture”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 11 Feb 2016. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1976/bellow-lecture.html&gt;

Please do not reuse the images on my site without prior permission.

That which ‘hath no parts….no magnitude. ‘a.k.a Euclid’s point

Art, books, fiction, reading

John Banting

” Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions.  They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own.  They turned pain, which is natural, enduring and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which  is  human, brief, and eternally elusive.  They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse , an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity”

It has taken me to page 189 to find a passage that sings.  This is a trial of a book, and I am channelling my resilience in order to discover nuggets such as this.

I have found one more so far – and one that is amusing me .  The link to my own life dilemna is that of finding an engagement present which has more meaning to the recipients than a token of splendid hope for a future of wedded bliss.  I have found my ideal gift in a tableau written by Bolano in which his character re-enacts one of the ready made artworks by Marchel Duchamp. He hangs up a geommetry book on a clothesline in the garden “letting the wind go through the book, choose its own problems, turn and turn out the pages”     Marcel gave this instruction to his sister in law as his wedding gift and in turn she made a painting of it, calling it ‘Marcel’s Unhappy Readymade. Duchamp said it amused him to bring the idea of happy and unhappy into readymades and include the actions and consequences of the elements. So Bolano is referencing the ideas of a surrealist artist , one who said

“What is the solution?  There is no solution because there is no problem. Problem is the invention of man – it is nonsensical” .

And yet it is possible the book Duchamp chose for his readymade artwork was Euclid’s Elements, in whose time it was believed not distinction existed between physical and and geometrical space. Euclid’s definition of a point is “that which hath not parts, or which hath no magnitude”.  This surreal artist has attempted bravely to surmount the inexpressibly bleak meaningless of existence by purporting to draw attention to it, and in doing so produces opportunity for reportage and creative endeavour.  So that book of geometry that is reduced to nothing by the wind and the rain is now an idea in an artists brain, it has been made into a painting, and subsequently into a further exploration yet by a later artist John Banting in his surreal picture, and later still , finds its way into Bolano’s artistic creation. An author who plays with the notion of novel and fiction and reality.  Margins between what is real and what is imagined are blurred, but the interest for me in his writing is how he mirrors the simultaneous mundanity of life with the danger and inherent grotesque realities that invade our lives, as horrors of brutal terrorism and inhumanity are played out daily in all of our lives across the internet and the screen.

Do I dare to to imitate art and give my nephew and his intended an instruction to hang a book of geometry from their washing line, and name it as a gift.  My husband says not.

I think it is the best gift they will ever receive.

The book I am reading is Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and the image is John Bantings ‘Ruin And Clothes line’ 1937, an artist who met Duchamp . Courtesy of  http://www.lissfineart.com

“Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.”

blogging, books, fiction
page five (2)Reading is a vital element of the person I have become.  I have no imagination you see, no innate ability to create a reality other than the one I am in.  I rely on others to do it for me, and have had the good fortune to meet in print authors who have taken me by the hand and led me to places I would never see, and experience lives I will never live. As a young teen I read a biographic account of a young woman’s experience of working abroad amongst torturers and the victims of war. She was tortured herself, and her graphic description has never left me.  She showed me how her life looked, how it feeled, how her faith empowered her.  ( The book was Audacity to Believe, and Sheila Cassidy the writer, she was practising medicine in Chile while Pinochet was in power and was caught up in the horror, for a time she became a nun whilst in recovery from her ordeal.)
 My point is this, that her writing created an opportunity for me to comprehend something I would know nothing about, but which would change my view of the world. That is powerful. That is how writing works.  One of the consequences of a sensibility lacking in imaginative power is that the present moment is the focus.  I am not a planner, nor a traveller, I do not know how to fast forward myself imaginatively into a different context, which has far reaching consequences.  Because I am a poor planner , I have developed a reactive personality, I fall into the next moment carelessly, and move across situations with less anxiety than a planner would.  That is possibly the advantage of a lack of imagination.  It is possibly the only one.  To connect, a person has to have empathy, an ability to look at a possibility only imagined, not experienced, and it is through the extraordinary power of novelists and journalists that I have understood this.  I know empathy can be learnt, because I had to learn it from the pages of books and the leaves of journals, the text of poets and philosophers writing throughout the ages and across cultures.  Not everyone has the cultural background or family circumstances that provides the potential for growth; or the extent of growth that is desired.  The hope for them is in the connections made for them by writers of all genres, released into the world and allowed to be absorbed into the core of themselves. Every writer who writes authentically from their own life is giving away the substance of life.  That’s why writing is hard, and why good writing is handed on generation to generation. Writing not only records our heritage, writing IS our heritage.
David Foster Wallace lived with the realism, possibly the super realism of the depressive. He was aware of the nuances of his own and others thinking, and this is a difficult landscape in which to build a life.  The depressive is not sad, he is dead. That is why Wallace explained that suicide is not a cry for help. It is the rational outcome of a depressives state of mind, the nihilistic understanding that the body continues to function after death of the mind has been experienced, and that is called Hell.  What the depressive forgets in the midst of an episode, is that states of mind are generally temporary.  They function like weather, and like weather, can only be ameliorated and not annihilated.  His was a heroic life, a life where he wanted words to connect, to explain, to give himself some sense of who he was , who he could become, in a world that made no sense.  All our lives are heroic in one sense, that we strive to make sense of an insensible, nonsensical world.  We try, and keep trying because the alternative is one step too far for most of us. David Foster Wallace chose to die.  I respect his choice. I respect his life, his endeavour to communicate. This post began celebrating my early delight in finding a world beyond my immediate experience, and it ends in celebration of all writers who bravely tell us their stories, and reflect our own humanity to us, the flaws, the hopes, the falls and the triumphs.
“Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.” ― David Foster Wallace

We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.”― David Foster Wallace

For more answers to the question, go to Aeon with the link below. The above article is my response to it.