A Visit to The National Gallery of Art

entry – sophistry personified

I have come to think, as I continue my journey more bereft of companions than ever before, that I have become more of an idea than a person. I am immaterial. I am like a vision someone has when they are young, before they realize they prefer the immediate fulfillment of reality. Shakespeare’s famous lines only serve to reinforce this:  “True, I talk of dreams,. Which are the children of an idle brain,. Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,. Which is as thin of substance as the air…” What are words, when you have since subsisted on action and immediacy? Words can be mobilized to the extent that they are affirmed by action. The sociologist Mircea Eliade spoke of the transition of objects from the sphere of the prosaic to the numinous; the sacred and the profane. For myself, it has been a reversal of fortune. Everything sacred or remarkable about me has faded like dry chili. Perhaps I am only special insofar as honesty is rare… But I am not even that honest. Relationships are messy, they are complicated — but this unpredictability is what makes film great, what makes a story great! This is not idealism, this is truth.

It is possible that this continued introspection is just the result of having been alone with my thoughts for a very long time. It has been a while since I’ve been immersed in the chaos of community. Like Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, the thoughts simply collect and collect with no particular purpose but to sit and stew. This lack of drama has allowed me to pick at all the scabs in my personality, for better or worse. These feelings arise in part, from a desire to be affirmed. What am I doing now, in writing this and revealing it to the world, but asking for the anonymous affirmation of my insecurities? “I have nothing else to offer you but my own unhappiness. Please say that it, at least, measures up, that it is a proper sort of unhappiness,” writes Walker Percy.

At my very core, I know that I cannot change who I am. I will always have a penchant for the abstract, the numinous. This is alright — it can’t be helped. Besides, I think there are far worse things than reflecting on the meaning of one’s actions and what one can do to improve them. In Bellow’s Herzog he writes that “…People of powerful imagination given to dreaming deeply and to raising up marvelous and self-sufficient fictions, turn to suffering sometimes to cut into their bliss, as people pinch themselves to feel awake… a more extended form of life, a striving for true wakefulness and an antidote to illusion.” We artists have a sort of creator soul; we are constantly absorbing beauty and caught in this permanent state of wonder, powering an urge to transmit everything we see to the public and the world. Yet when you are constantly experiencing such feelings of effervescence, there is also a yearning for a sort of human channel via which you can transmit your art, one wherein it will be reflected in order for it to be fulfilled.

Everything is a just a preface to some great Love.

 

“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating hearts, they must learn to love. But learning time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is — solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for him who loves. Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate–?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon, him something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”

entry – the cop-out

Like most other impractical visionaries who subsist on metaphysical poetry and acoustic music, sometimes I feel like I spend my entire existence running away. I say I detest the absolution of responsibility, a culture that refuses to take the blows for its actions, but I do just that. I wonder if I will ever catch up, or if I will continue to make it simple for myself by letting go. However, that is the great lie of “letting go” — it masquerades as the easy thing to do, because all it seems to demand is the relinquishing of one’s hold, but in reality it is the planting of a root of remorse. You create ghosts of the things you wish you had done, the people you have let down. Writers recycle their regret by transforming it into stories, littered with the people they’ve abandoned. It is such a cop-out, but its a way of evading blame while simultaneously creating art. Art is the sum of our mistakes as much as it is a means of expression, for what to people desire to express most commonly other than mistakes, or circumstances that have arisen from them?

“It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

entry – neatness?

I dislike the idea of neatness when writing. Writing should not be neat, it should not fit so nicely between the invisible lines on a computer. It is messy and aggressive, saturated with emotion. Typing on a computer, back-spacing, deleting– it diminishes all of that. What to do. My integrity is not compromised too much by taking this shortcut. Although, there is something to say for a clear thought-process. All I do is vomit words on a whim. Is there true love without Eros? There. Writing gets the thoughts flowing like this.

Moreover, I am too much of a control freak–concerning what I write, what I say. Everything has to go through some sort of bizarre filter that churns out a comment tailored to whoever I’m speaking to. Saul Bellow was right when he announced that he believed “sincerity impossible,” in an interview. Fundamentally, these carefully curated expressions arise from fear of being prosaic, fear of being boring. When you treasure your intelligence, build your identity around your brain, you’re terrified of losing a reputation. It’s the same with being popular for looks. Everybody maintains their image. Tale as old as time. It’s so frustrating to want to write when you feel like everything has been written. Perhaps that’s why we do it. Tantalized by the possibility of abstract ‘newness,’ the budding author seeks new and exciting pastimes, more and more radical combinations of words, disciplines, sentences, sentence fragments. There’s a lot of horrible stuff in the world. Horrible horrible things. Art redeems, but only up to a point. Art is not the only salvation. Artists always have a keen intuition and sense for the “what ifs” in life; to them everything is a possibility. And this can be damaging because the whatifs are given real credit, they are endowed with credibility, because the artist either cannot or does not wish to differentiate between what is distantly possible and what is immediately and likely so. Therefore, they are easily disappointed, easily led on. The robust realists have no false notions, the whatifs are carefully kept in a cupboard.

When you write, you have to feel very deeply. Your dialogue between your characters must fit within the realm of things you would say yourself, discussions you would have yourself. I am not that clever traditionally but I am very philosophically aware of the world. Maybe Hobbes is right. Maybe it is because I have lived my life by the luxury of leisure; I have had all the time in the world to think of these things, brood upon them. But it still holds that I feel so strongly, ‘love so intensely,’ and I must find an outlet for it.

 

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.”

entry – “to love again”

The artist, or aspiring artist, scopes out the lonely man by the curve of his limbs and the stoop of his shoulders, the spectacles sliding gradually down a hooked nose turned inward. He spots the secret smile of a beggar child who has just spied a stray kitten from underneath a pile of rubble and newspapers. He is always attuned to the quiet moments of contemplation. He can recall the reddish tinge of passion on flushed cheeks and preserve the memory long enough to recreate it with peach and violet hues.
The artist views his art as a more exalted form of reality. The details do not escape us, rather, the details are what we find most captivating, for it is the details that distinguish one person from another. Taking time to truly observe the form of a man — how he sits, whether his eyes meet yours, whether he clenches his fist or lets his fingers fall — all of this lends insight into who he is. Henry Miller once wrote that “to paint is to love again, live again see again…” The artist and the writer both observe the bald patches on the head of a man on medication for his alcoholism; one traces the smoothness of the exposed cranium, the other wonders how it feels as the hair comes off in his hands – gently? all at once?

Compassion is born from attention to detail.