Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An excerpt from my notebook

Note: Below, an excerpt from my notebook, taken from the entry for today. --Did I really write this today? it seems so long ago... I also find it hard to believe that this came from a journal or a diary so I called it a notebook instead. Yet it is appropriately self centered; I considered calling this post "I Want."

Also: "Diaries and journals are the lowest form of literary output."-- Mr. Nabbie Cough. (Don't trust writers: they are rotten, liars.)

Richard Wright wanted to write in a way that would make his words disappear. I want something like that: to write with such conviction and solid strength that my essence is always preserved, even after translation, even after a catastrophe or Time's slow decay burn large parts of the manuscript. I want to say what I mean, mean what I say. I want to write tight, finally (sic!) crafted fiction. I want to create my own little world.

A stumbling block for me has always been the idea that each new story requires a new world. This is not what Chekhov did. He created his world -- his own private vision of Russia -- and used it over and over. It is not hard to imagine the lady with the dog sitting next to Gusev, the sick sailor on a homeward bound ship, or with what's-his-name, the little apprentice who wants to return to his Grandpa. I can see them all laid out in a fanboy collage, the way they do with Marvel and Simpsons characters. This would be more tasteful...

I want to write stories that are stories, not pieces of art. I am reminded of a sculpture I saw recently in the Modern Art exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. An irregularly shaped, many-cornered wooden base rising some six inches above the floor supported, first, a naked human figure bending over to touch its toes, and second, a careful network of wound metal chain laid across the platform, projecting out from about half of the human figure. Is the chain, I wondered, secured to the base? Is the sculpture exactly as it was when it rolled off the assembly line? What would happen if I reached down and pushed a chunk of the chain even just an inch? What if, heaven forbid, a strong wind -- but I guess they don't many of those at the core of a museum.

My point: art, at least the stuff at a museum, is die on wool, paint on canvas, carve on stone. Sometimes, they say, great artists would prepare for the future, painting things intended to shine for centuries, even if they became very black from soot or very faded from overexposure to light. Now, too few works are created for a realistic future. Even public sculptures and so-called installation art are terribly confined to the artist's view -- "Pigeon shit on sculpture makes local artist cry 'Fowl'". There is, still, an idea of immortality through art -- ars longa, vita brevis -- but nothing lasts as long as we'd like... Better to give your art up to bigger and brighter heads rather than let it languish, after you're gone, in a hopeless struggle for relevance in a future you can't possibly imagine.

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