Friday, August 10, 2007

More Dots to Connect--or to Collide

When you were much younger, there was no dearth of ideas, only the manner of their presentation and your response to them. Ideas, notions, concepts, were presented to you as though by liveried waiters, with dramatic eclat, with trumpeting flourish. Your response to them was of an agreeable single-mindedness. It was not as though you were incapable of doing numerous things at once, rather you knew, you felt there was enough time to allow the singleness of focus. One thing at a time. One thing into which you threw yourself in much the same way Sally throws herself into the consequences of a scent.

The short story of a student, Kelli Noftle, reminds you with great vividness of what it was like to be thirteen, the rampant rage of hormones trumping subtext events such as politics and the reading of political philosophers, the studies supplemental to approaching religion confirmation ceremony, the concentration-camp atmosphere of junior high school, and all around you, the vivid, exciting split away from swing and traditional jazz of a emerging harmonic progression called be-bop (which, had he lived longer, it is fun to speculate that Johann Sebastian Bach would have discovered).

It is comforting in its way to have this single-mindedness of purpose. The individuals you admire seem to carry it with them as they age, producing the work you admire and use as your individual pole star while engaging the subtexts of career, romantic relationships, parenting, friendships, and the necessities of aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Often you admire and envy this ability as much or more than you admire a given project.

Along comes the later game, bringing with it no lessening of ideas, perhaps even more and better ones to compete with the subtext. But now, there is a kind of cosmic sound track to go along with this procession, this Trader Joe's of the mind. It is the voice of that manipulative cynic, Andrew Marvell:

"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot drawing near
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity..."

In a real sense, Marvell had in mind exactly what Kelli's thirteen-year-old boy had in mind, because within the same poem, Marvell goes on to suggest:

"The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace..."

When I was about the age of Kelli's horny thirteen-year-old, I became convinced that knowing this poem by memory would help enhance my virginal transition toward the plateau of those who had indeed embraced in the fullest and finest sense of that trope. (It never helped! Yet I still remember the goddamned poem.)

From all this arises an avalanche of questions: Can an artist of any sort be known from an inspection of the clatter and collision of ideas and notions whirling about within? Should we be content to keep our focus on the individual work and its implications? Should we try to find out as much about the artist as possible to expand our potential interpretation of the individual work? Would we better appreciate an individual Meditation from Marcus Aurelius if we knew his life at closer hand? Would we appreciate The Tin Drum more or less from our recent knowledge that Gunter Grass was not only a Nazi sympathizer, he was a ember of the Waffen SS?

One of my treasured cyber-acquaintances is with a photographer who lives a good thirteen hours away. (Twelve if you fly Air New Zealand, Digby Wolfe says). Known to me only as Pod, I am drawn regularly to the photographs he posts on his blog, photos showing--sometimes simultaneously--a splendid sense of humor, an immense curiosity, a well-developed photographer's eye, a sense of composition, a moving ability at narrative prose, a sense of whimsy, great curiosity, and more qualities that fall within this creative terrain. Only last week, in a comment he left on these vagrant pages, he mentioned having read the novel by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murikami that I a even now in the process of reading. Is it possible to get an accurate take on a writer from another culture who writes in another language, Pod pondered. "
i loved it, but i don't think i understood it as well as i would if i was japanese. i love their horror films too, but again, there is always something i feel i don't quite 'get," he wrote.

In a more-than-tangential way, pod illustrates my point about the degree we can be influenced by mere exposure to the work. Having pondered his question, I rather suspect I will see more or look longer at the next picture he posts.

My treasured mentor was a delightfully supportive and imaginative person. Would I have enjoyed her own work as much as I do if I had not known she was refused admission to medical schools because of having experienced one or two petite mal seizures? Possibly not because I was so caught in her work. But my answer now is Of course it mattered because I so wanted to be like her that I took in as much about her life as I could.

Right now, 8:41 p.m., August 10, 2007, Santa Barbara, CA, my answer is the weasel answer: What remains of us is our performance, which is to say the amount of our self we put into our work. It keeps Marcus Aurelius alive for me, although I suspect that if I think it through, I could apply pod's comments about Haruki Murikami to my take on Marcus Aurelius.

For the nonce, go figure.


Anonymous said...

You sure know how to kick off the weekend, Lowenkopf, with all this talk of time's winged chariot and graves and such. More of the 13-year-old, less of the grave, that's my vote.

Kelli Anne said...

Let me say that I am truly honored to have appeared in a Lowenkopf blog. I like your "avalanche of questions" and I am going consider them more throughout this day, this jurassic sunday.