2 November 2013
How do I make sense of the things I love? You know, the things I truly love, the things that enter me and linger, take root and stay. How do I bring them together and assure myself that, somehow, they are all of a piece, and each links subtly with the other to form a brilliant symmetric tapestry I find beautiful. How to make sense of this personal spectrum, the ridiculous and the sublime, the canon and the indefensible?
I think of books. Melville’s Moby Dick and Pierre. Didion’s The White Album. Bolano’s The Savage Detectives. Then: Alfred Bester, or Jerzy Kosinski.
I think of music. Beethoven’s Fidelio. Strauss’ Four Last Songs. Duke Ellington. Vic Chestnutt. Low. Neutral Milk Hotel.
And movies. Kubrick and Godard. Tsai Ming-Liang and Bela Tarr. Dreyer and Kieslowski and Tarkovsky and PT Anderson. Ken Russell.
And dance and theatre and whatever it is that guy is doing every Saturday night downtown on 4th Street. And what this young girl in the corner of the coffee-shop is writing in her notebook. And the story this father is telling his child by the door as he points to the sky, sweeping his hand north to south. And the way this couple to the right is staring at each other; it’s a soft, rounded stare and there are a million words between them, all around them, but they’re choosing to ignore them all; they’re choosing silence instead.
How do I arrange these things on the table before me and craft some aesthetic principle or manifesto? What is my aesthetic principle or manifesto? Am I supposed to have one? Or, do I have one already, like it or not?
I admire those who fall headlong into their own vision.
There’s a moment in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors when all action stops for an R.L. Burnside song. Denis Lavant begins on an accordion while marching around in what appears to be a cathedral and as he walks he’s joined by more and more musicians, the pace picking up, the music roaring. There’s no reason for this scene in the film except that it is joyous, and the inclusion of that joy makes it beautiful. It’s an interlude of wonder.
I admire those who follow an idea past all good sense.
I have no idea what Melville was thinking when he was writing Pierre, or The Ambiguities. It’s wonderful, weird, and frightening in the same way a sunset or touch still has the power to shock. I don’t know what he thought the book was actually about and I’m not a Melville scholar, so I can’t posit deep subconscious connections. Letters to his publisher as he was writing made it seem a romance novel. Was he being cagey or deluded? Does it matter?
‘Though the hitherto imperfect and casual city experiences of Pierre, illy fitted him entirely to comprehend the specific purport of this terrific spectacle; still he knew enough by hearsay of the more infamous life of the town, to imagine from whence, and who, were the objects before him. But all his consciousness at the time was absorbed by the one horrified thought of Isabel and Delly, forced to witness a sight hardly endurable for Pierre himself; or, possibly, sucked into the tumult, and in close personal contact with its loathsomeness.”
I admire those who don’t need to understand in order to begin, or proceed, or finish.
Jeff Mangum has always said the songs for In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea were based on dreams he had of Anne Frank. It’s a strain to find this in the album, but it didn’t prevent him from recording it, nor from publicly stating the tenuous connection.
I admire the perfect word because I know how elusive it is. I admire the perfect sentence because it is impossible.
I admire those who mistrust words, because only they can find a way to well use them. I admire those who combine rage and beauty in the same breath. Those who are never assured yet find ways to assure. Those brave enough to be still.
This is what I cling to when I feel dramatically and tragically unappreciated, when I pity myself my herculean struggles. This is what inspires and informs me.
And the expression on the face of the girl in the corner when she looks up from her notebook.
This post was originally written for Amy Willoughby Burle’s Writer’s Q&A blog page www.amywilloughbyburle.com>/a>