Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dandy, Focus, Joy

"Banish the will to be dreary," said the designer Dorothy Draper, when she wrote about giving parties. Draper was a dandy. The dandy chooses high style--bella figura. Cut a beautiful figure. In the end, nature triumphs but until it overcomes us completely, twirl, dress up, decorate. Yet let me tell you, I'm not decorating much--a few strings of bright lights--but I'm enjoying gazing at my neighbors' lights, and avoiding what some have called "a false sense of urgency," by staying away from my computer except to check e-mail and work on poems. There's been enough real urgency. You can imagine--the same things that cause urgency in your lives.

I've seen a few friends in the flesh and gazed at their faces and listened to their stories. I watched artist Melissa Shook's video, Kemper and Me, in which she and Kemper, to whom she was once married, talk about theirs lives with remarkable candor. They are honest without being hurtful, a remarkable feat, especially to someone like me who is quick on the trigger. (I mostly show that side of myself to J.--poor J.) I turned off the flash on my camera and set it for long exposures to pick up night light and motion.

Long exposures on modern cameras are short but take in a lot. So do our eyes and so do we if we focus. I can't force joy. It comes when it will. But let me focus! Tell me: what do you wish for?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nobility and Self Oblivion

The word "noble" is out of style. "Noble" meaning "honorable." "Noble" meaning "superiority of mind or character." Roland Barthes gives these attributes to his mother and to literature: "Since maman's death, no desire to 'construct' anything--except in writing. Why? Literature = the only region of Nobility (as maman was noble)." I believe him!

Mourning Diary is a record of his mourning for his mother. But this morning I'm also interested in his surprising, idealistic view of literature as the only "region of Nobility." A tremendous claim in these relativistic times. Reading Barthes I feel I return to the idealism of my youth when my teachers, friends and I recoiled from materialism. To Barthes' equation I would add another: Literature = Freedom.

A few weeks ago my friend N. and I were looking at one of her paintings. "The paint takes over," N. said. When paint takes over, the artist is freed from herself. When language takes over, the writer is freed from herself. When artists express the seemingly impossible to express, there is freedom in the work. So today I won't beat a poem to death trying to get it right. Or scrub a pot to an inch of its hard-metal life.