Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reducere in Pace

Ten years ago, on the trusty (now in computer heaven) Macintosh SE, I spent an entire spring on the critical analysis of modernist literature and painting, including this work of "political" art:
In Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937), a woman throws her head back, wailing for the dead child in her arms. She recalls the Pietà, the figure of Mary cradling the body of Christ. ... The woman's stretched and mauled figure, her vacant stare, and the simply sketched facial features are Picasso's response to tremendous social upheaval, from the rise of industry and urbanization to, of course, war. The great modern destruction encompasses Picasso's Pietà in Guernica.
I looked at art by Manet, Cezanne, and Picasso and read works by Cather, Joyce, and Faulkner:
William Faulkner constructs Caddy Compson from a number of perspectives. Indeed, Harold Bloom observes that we "come to know a single Candace Compson, but only as a heap of broken images. Caddy is an extraordinary composite of ... symbols, attributes, associations, comparisons, and connections." Faulkner's technique of fragmentation essentially draws attention to the parts of rather than to the whole itself.

...

Faulkner buttresses the contrasting Benjy and Quentin sections against each other like angular shapes in a cubist portrait. Our attention to these individual pieces--to each brother's perception of Caddy--nearly belies our understanding of the whole person. One can no longer rely on a standard form of the heroine; synthesizing her portrait becomes each reader's challenge.
And I tried to draw connections between things:
Ultimately, what we perceive is a consummate figure that surpasses the sum of her (quite literal) parts. ... Similarities between the two characterizations--Guernica's wailing mother and the Compson boys' sister--are striking. Picasso and Faulkner both respond to war, destruction, social struggle and injustice with piecemeal, deconstructed representations of humanity. With Picasso, what seems simple "in parts" (a lightbulb, a horse, a mother, a child) becomes almost impenetrable as a composite. Likewise, Faulkner's poetic language abstracts the story at the heart of The Sound and the Fury.
I put my old thesis aside, pleased with some of the insights and the beauty of the language, but frustrated that I did not extend the discussion beyond the threshold. Once I'd reconstructed the characters in my mind (for crying out loud, I did not even describe what the composite picture looked like or meant to me) what did I make of them? What larger meaning could I extrapolate from the style of their depictions? What interpretation would another reader make? I write so surely, "from Picasso to Faulkner, the image of the woman is at once quite obvious and resoundingly convoluted," and yet shy away from what might have been pages and pages of fascinating conjecture on those images.

Conjectures reveal truths, about the work itself, about the world at large, about the artist, about the viewer, and yet, 1937 or 2007, I sense that viewers (or readers) resist making a personal conjecture about a work of art. It feels inconclusive somehow. Picasso? Faulkner? Is it surprising that their fragmentary, indirect style is still so hot? I could very well take my thesis and discuss William Forsythe's Three Atmospheric Studies, which I saw Thursday and Friday at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. There is a reason that the performances made me dig into the ten years ago files ... and I intend, this time, to address the remaining big questions. Via Forsythe.

2 Comments:

Heather -- I'm troubled by your blog. I have been for some time. When I started reading it around this time last year, I, like everyone else, was immediately struck and then sucked in by the brilliance and elegance of your writing/observations/etc.etc., and eagerly checked in every morning to see what new bauble lay in San Francisco for that day, but...once you left for France things changed. You started writing in French; you started writing much less, and when you did it wasn't so much about music; I don't like what I've read on this Roddy Schrock's website (tip of iceberg: he's anti-South, he won't listen to an entire kind of music [jazz] on account of its perceived homophobic bias, he has no idea how long a generation is) and the 2& endeavor seemed to completely captivate your musical interests; and so on. All of this, of course, is on me; you have no obligation whatsoever to cater to the interests of your audience. But when I read today that you were [pleased with] YOUR insights and by the "beauty of [my] language", I could not keep silent -- you have never written in a way that suggests you could be so, well, unabashedly self-congratulatory. Say it ain't so! It's too much at odds with everything else. I want very badly to be wrong.

--ECG

By Blogger Heather, at 7:05 PM  

ECG -- I'm sorry that this post didn't work for you. It is true that the first half of that sentence is a pat on my own back, but in the very next breath I am less than congratulatory about the weaknesses of my writing (in that same essay). For me, the post was more a look back in time and an expression of nostalgic surprise (surprise, too, that Forsythe's work felt so...well...modernist) than a study in egoism.

Your points about the changing timbre of the blog are also accurate. What can I say but that people's lives...change. Sometimes these changes (rather annoyingly!) interfere with the creative process, with focus, with one's direction. I attended more dance and new media performances in the past year, and that certainly influenced my thinking and writing.

Roddy's blog is his own and in no way a representation of my worldview. Our collaborative work (also a focus for me in 2006) did not always yield the kind of experiences I could write about in the way that I wrote about Chopin's piano music or an art song recital in Berkeley. C'est la vie.

I only hope that you might continue to read In the Wings through its growing pains.

By Blogger Heather, at 7:05 PM  

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