Category Archives: nature

Floating Children, Peony Buds, and a Deconstructed Rose

I am in the midst of reading the novel “Painting Time,” by Maylis de Kerangal. It received a rapturous review in the New Yorker, which so far I don’t find persuasive. It strikes me as massively overwritten, and I have yet to discern much of a plot. (OK, it’s not fair to compare it to Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, which I had to interrupt when “Painting Time” came in at the library.) Here are the first few lines (the full first page is one sentence):

“Paula Karst appears in the stairwell, she’s going out tonight, you can tell right away, a perfectible change in speed from the moment she closed the apartment door, her breath quicker, heartbeat stronger, long dark coat open over a white shirt, boots with three-inch heels, and no purse, everything in her pockets—phone, cigarettes, cash, all of it, the set of keys that keeps the beat as she walks (quiver of a snare) . . . [p. 3]”

It continues much the same. But the novel is short, and it’s about painting—trompe-l’oeil, to be exact—so I will finish it out of curiosity to see where it goes (or doesn’t).

Meanwhile, we’ve taken in some art and another trip to Wave Hill. I collected more “raw material” for collages, so of course, whether wise or not, I put it to use. Thus, at the head of the post, two figures from a photograph by Dorothea Lange float over a detail of Louise Fishman’s “Mine and Yours” (1979):

Immediately above is a “deconstructed” rose, paired with an ornamental grass. You’d think, given both are as nature made them (well, maybe not quite), that the result wouldn’t be quite so garish.

Loosely related to deconstructing the rose, I went down a rabbit hole on the strength of a random thought about our current malaise. “Late stage capitalism,” perhaps that’s it! As I had no idea what that meant, other than a very uneducated guess, I thought I’d best go look up the phrase. That led me to a review by Malcolm Bradbury of an ominous-sounding tome: “Postmodernism Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” by Fredric Jameson. Bradbury’s review was so witty I thought, OK, I’ll order Jameson up from the library, too. (I will read at least one chapter; I swear I will.) For example, this:

“This happens to be a most difficult enterprise, as Mr. Jameson acknowledges in this dense and highly serious book, if only because post-modernism itself deconstructs Marxist historicism. (History has not done a bad job either.) His method is roughly that of the good and the bad cop. “Pretending” to take post-modernism for what it says it is, he proves a remarkably fine, if not engrossed, reader of its phenomena: commodity fetishism and shopping fever, glitz architecture and depthless art, computer culture and cyberpunk, MTV and dead irony, theme-park history, yuppiedom and global gentrification. He comes close to celebrating many of its features, and many of his best passages are interpretations of glitz items like the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. . . .

“The other dimension is high theory. One irony of post-modernism is that, though the dominant phenomena are American (and Mr. Jameson confesses he confines himself too tightly to American examples), the theory is mostly European. The Americans do it or are it; the French and Germans think about it: from Adorno to Jacques Derrida, from Mr. Habermas to Mr. Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.”

This led, in turn, to an essay by Denis Donoghue entitled “The Promiscuous Cool of Post-Modernism.” Jameson gets only a passing reference, but it’s worth the price of admission:

“Eliot and Joyce practice what the Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson has called ”strategies of inwardness” to deflect the blow of an alien man-made world, converting its images into vulnerably private rhythms. If a modernist poet feels that nature is fatally discontinuous – ”the sea refused me, the sky didn’t see me,” somebody reports in ”The Unnamable” by Samuel Beckett – and society alien, he may cultivate volatile moments (Proustian echoes, Joycean epiphanies), each unspecifyingly significant. The art of modernism is not supposed to adorn the ordinary world but to enforce an adversary way of being present among commonly degraded images.

“The last years of modernism are just as vaguely placed as its first. In literature, it is widely maintained that ”The Waste Land” and ”Ulysses” brought modernism to its supreme articulation and therefore to its end. But then you have to decide what ”Finnegans Wake” (1939) is and whether Mr. Beckett’s fictions are the imperturbably belated things they seem stoically content to be or an un-foreseen nuance of modernism, the last hilarious gasp different from any of its predecessors. In music, you have to decide at what point audiences settled for Stravinsky and gladly consigned Schoenberg and Webern to the musicologists.”

Well, after such a heady misadventure, I think it’s time to come to rest with some peony buds adorning a detail from Louise Fishman’s “A Different Wealth” (2000):

As I am not a musicologist and as May 29 fast approacheth, I offer, to accompany you on your journey, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” (1913). This performance took place “in Paris in honor of the centenary of the premiere of “The Rite of Spring” performed for the first time in Paris on May 29, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes . . .”. [The quote is a Google translate of some of the descriptive text below the video.]

Diving for Bonnard and Laughing with Kahlo and Vargas

Recently, we ventured from the West Side to the East Side, where most often never the twain shall meet, to see an exhibit of paintings by Pierre Bonnard. I took to heart Bonnard’s comment that “The painting will not exist if the viewer does not do half the work.” I suspect he likely didn’t mean by this that I would take a bit of one of the paintings and insert a bit of Rodney Smith’s Collin Walking Hands, yet it expressed, for me, the exhilaration of diving into Bonnard with both hands, feet in the air.

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It Is Spring

In that progress of life which seems stillness itself in the mass of its movements—at last SPRING is approaching.

—William Carlos Williams, Chapter XIX, Spring and All (1923)

Mark Kerstetter, a fine poet himself and an incisive reader of the poetry of others, has embarked upon a series of posts offering thoughts and commentary on William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All. I’m only a little way in, but already entranced.

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