Art Objects by Jeanette Winterson, a Review

The value of a book, or a work of art, lies in its provocation.

On a rotating stand marked: “Perennial Favorites,” (at Pendragon Books in Oakland, California) the reviewer turns to the book Art [Objects] by Jeanette Winterson. (See: http://www.amazon.com/Art-Objects-Essays-Ecstasy-Effrontery/dp/0679768203)

The reviewer goes into a bookstore by ritual and listens with an intent-intuitive eye and surveys the many texts and one always hits him as important. He begins to analyze why. First, its cover, hard, with a semitransparent sheath and lettering, its smallness in his hands, the fact it is about art, a series of essays against the novels he’s been reading, find him welcoming the possibility. He is often hesitant knowing the implication of taking on the responsibility of reading it and attending to the truth about its message in the context of “the deep understanding of life that people ignore.” This is Tolstoy’s bent on the purpose of art.

Second, Winterson’s other texts, like Sexing the Cherry or Written on the Body come highly recommended.

Third, the reviewer feels it is time to try and finish another book, like that of the former Pulitzer prize-winning reviewer of architecture for The San Francisco Chronicle, Allen Temko, whose book No Way To Build A Ballpark was like Winterson’s, in that it had the semitransparent sheath and opinions of essays, which in the case of Temko were redundant and less and less interesting as the pages turned. Truth is a delicate thing. It borders on karma, attention, and knowledge. The reviewer begins the journey with only the probable intuition that it is time he met Ms. Winterson.

By definition, the title Art [Objects] implies the insertion of “Objects” by Winterson to clarify the subject of “Art.” Her “Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery” deal with forms of bliss and audacity, perhaps.

Without turning a page, the reviewer ponders.

Oddly, after the thank yous, Winterson introduces an argument: “If truth is that which lasts, then art…prove[s] truer than any…endeavour. …certain[ly]…pictures and poetry…are not marks in time but…through time…[are] living…[and] exuberantly, untired.” It seems she is interested in truth also. She defines art as truth given its lasting quality. That quality is a living exuberance. She is telling us that art is a positive thing.

Stopped by a painting, Winterson, tells of a canvas with “Renaissance beauty,” but that which also possessed a “modernity.” It was a picture of “a haunted woman in [a] blue robe pulling a huge moon face through a subterranean waterway.” Already, the reviewer imagines a “moon face” pulled by a woman and he cannot get beyond the image, how it might not have stopped him “in Amsterdam one snowy Christmas.” He conceded to the fact of individual tastes long ago or at least to the strength of arguments to convince him of the validity of art works. Having taken studio art courses, the reviewer remembers the eloquence of an idea about works of art. Often there were things he couldn’t possibly have picked out about a work that another elaborated. That was the value of experience in assessing a work of art. Still, he questions the symbol of a moon face. Perhaps in the manner of a Magritte painting, the moon face might have cathartic value. Perhaps in the context of “the quality of the draughtsmanship, the brushstrokes in thin oils,” this painting had artistic merit. Still, the reviewer questions the thousand words that might come from it. Were they worth repeating?

Winterson found consolation in a bookstore as the painting caused her heart to flood away. There, at least, she “knew” books despite their profound power over her. She admitted to not having an interest in the “visual arts.” There she knew nothing and got little from the realm. Then she “had fallen in love and…had no language.” She argues the position of one of the reviewer’s photography professors, who at the time said regarding his assertion, that all people could understand art, that this was not true. The professor said art was sophisticated and all individuals were not endowed an inherent understanding. The reviewer argued that he could describe what the artist was telling him or anyone because of the contents, which could be defined in terms of the English language, drawn from a number of “words” strung into sentences, paragraphs and stories. The world of art can be communicated, he said. In fact, the reviewer gave a talk on “The Definitive Analysis of Photography,” wherein he “read” photographs as if they were articles.

Winterson said the painting’s image represented a foreign country, wherein she could not communicate. She said, “Only a boor would ignore [its customs and language] and blame his defaulting on the place.” She said, “We deceive ourselves when we think [art is] familiar.” The reviewer wondered whether he is deceived or whether he has an insight into the meaning of art and thus his inherent understanding or at least communicative talents separate him.

If the reader can understand Winterson’s response to a work of art, and perhaps a shared difficulty in describing just what it is that makes something beautiful, then Winterson’s argument for the language of art as “not our mother-tongue” forgets that we can describe what we see, perhaps standing side-by-side before a work of art, and freely associating a position that the other person can understand. Here is where the reviewer disagrees with Winterson. For the reviewer, the language of art was the language of the observer responding to the artist’s communication. It’s that old statement: If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it does it make a sound? According to Tolstoy, art is the deep understanding of life that people ignore. Perhaps Winterson was merely ignoring art and was enlightened through the attention she paid.

She said also that art was “Odd, and the common method of trying to fit it into the scheme of things…cannot succeed.” The reviewer wondered. For him, art was reality. It spoke of the important things, about the depth of the human condition, about balance and character, about subtleties of right and wrong. It proved that there were things one had to do to make a composition work. Art is a perfect metaphor for life, the reviewer realized. Life is a lesson, not a playground.

Winterson does an amazing thing by picking one or two paintings in a museum and spends the afternoon with them. The reviewer remembers reviewing entire shows with abbreviated results. Still, at times, he remembers needing only to say a few things and then that was it. There was always, it seemed, something the reviewer brought with him, an internal-having-experienced-the-external context, a projection that he used to describe the images in a museum or show.

The reviewer is delighted with Winterson’s pact with a painting. She said, “Supposing we…agreed to sit…and look at it, on our own…for one hour.” She asks standard questions, however, that are not necessarily her own and the reviewer wonders. Questions, like, “Is it a landscape…is it a nude” are obvious and unnecessary. The first question, however, about what the painting is about is the essence of an observation.

Winterson relates the work to herself, which the reviewer advocates. Still, she expects something more from the painting – that it “admire” her. After all, she said, “Admire me is the sub-text of so much of our looking; the demand put on art that it should reflect the reality of the viewer.” What the viewer admits in his view of art is that he brings something to the assessment. Perhaps, Winterson is correct in suggesting the observer leave his response at home. A good example of how this debate manifests itself is seen in the differences between a review by Michael Tortorello of the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (See: Hungry Mind Review) and a review of the same but by this reviewer (See: Ed’s Internet Book Review). Tortorello’s review relates the character and style of Wallace’s text without the noise of himself in the review. This reviewer however starts his review of Infinite Jest with an unsubstantiated assertion as to the character of the author as seen through his prose, which is a reviewing faux pas because the writer could purposely effect a personae. Tortorello reiterates the look and feel of Infinite Jest, while this reviewer dabbles in a number of “I remember the time…”

In a mere seven pages, Winterson has made this reviewer think about every line. Whether the reviewer agrees or not, she has taken him into the most delicate ache of philosophical contemplation and brought him to intellectual joy. He craves every line and loves holding her…this, her mind and they share the genre of Art [Objects].

Perhaps reviewer and book writer have come full circle when Winterson said in close paraphrase of Tolstoy: “If art, all art, is concerned with truth, then a society in denial will not find much use for it.”

Still, in the next line she said, “In the West, we avoid painful encounters with art by…familiarizing it.” Yet, how else do we feel art unless we relate it? How do we know of its lessons – it is the mirror to our souls – if we do not see it as a parable? We love Cezanne’s and Hockney’s work; we cannot help but love them. No one ruins the artist, as Winterson relates, no one makes it difficult for them.

The reviewer agrees with her when she said “true artists, major or minor,” are connected with the past and future. He does not agree with her: “The true artist studies the past,” except that perhaps she clarifies her “studies” as “interest…in the…process…the problem.” She is correct in saying: “Our job is to keep our receiving equipment in good working order.”

The reviewer senses without substantiation that Winterson sees herself, if not consciously then perhaps subconsciously as an artist. She pleads for our understanding and support. We hold her book in our hands and say we do, we have, “We love you.”

We are with Winterson at every line, floating on the air of the artist’s whirlwind, which is to say we are light with philosophical wandering, we step into the inner world of hopes and dreams.

As Winterson relates to “the plain confused” or to an “arrogance of the audience,” we know to what she refers. We have been there, we have ached to be set free from our ignorance, our inadequacy, we have traveled the museum hallways and wanted to run outside yelling: “Enough!” The ambiance is heavy. Few can take it. The artworks are like long, long books or windows into complex dioramas. Everyone knows his limits.

The reviewer both takes exception and agrees with the note that “The media ransacks the arts, in its little tunes and journalist’s jargon,” for example, and smiles because Winterson is more “the media” than most of us who read her.

Winterson said, “To profess a love of painting and not have anything original is as peculiar as a booklover with nothing on her shelves.” This is too easy. She forgets the difference in cost between the genre. We understand her attempt at persuasion.

After 18 pages – the first essay – we have taken a journey and maybe longer than the hour standing before a painting. Winterson is the provocateur of our thoughts on the realm of art and there we have been touched by the art of writing.

Winterson’s second essay Writer, Reader, Words is introduced with an italicized statement: “The writer is an instrument of transformation.”

The writer is an instrument, not a violin. The reviewer does not mean to be smug. He seeks to feel the full effect of her command of the language and depth of her idea. The writer is an instrument – a tool to transform – “to change the nature, function, or condition of; convert.” The reviewer waits. He enjoys the beauty of Winterson’s thoughts – simple, simple beauty of words and ideas.

She reminds the reviewer with her: “How will the artist support herself if she has no private funds?” (page 34), which sounds so much like the statements in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. See page 4, in A Room…, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Winterson is less concerned with the differences in gender than Woolf and rightly so. Woolf inspired the reviewer to write in her pages a response to the statement: “Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of according to my husband’s wisdom.” The reviewer wrote: “Leaving it up to a man, how pitiful, not developing a mind of one’s own, at least attempting some control of one’s life. At least, utter these truths and by virtue of their appointed sounds you might hear them trickle differently upon your ears, whatever you are, whatever those voices, they must be heard and attended to like life’s devices and the winding of the clock; as time is ticking so are your aspirations, like aborted hopes still and bloodied by neglect.” And because of her statement: “Women do not write books about men,” the reviewer pitied Woolf, who was preoccupied with the need to be taken care of.

Winterson, on the other hand, simply acknowledges the equality of great writers and readers as having a connection – a “love of language.” Winterson “can only offer what she has ever offered; an exceptional sensibility combined with an exceptional control over words.” Winterson knew the sacrifice of this work with words. “Writers [not defined as male or female],” she said, “are fighters, they have to be…” Winterson never mentions the need of a place to write. She is too smart for that. It is all about words. Even Woolf states plainly in the end, “that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women…”

Winterson said, “A true writer will create a separate reality and her atoms and her gases are words.”

“Testimony Against Gertrude Stein” is Winterson’s third essay. It interests the reviewer because Gertrude Stein wrote an autobiography, which according to Winterson tried to achieve “a different kind of reality.” Winterson equates biography with portrait and autobiography with self-portrait.

Although, Winterson is revealing the absurdity of the testimony weighed against Stein, the reviewer is drawn to her explanation of Stein’s work in that “Modernism fights against the fixity of form, not to invite an easy chaos but to rebuild new possibilities.” The reviewer wrote a failed autobiography because it proved no one wants to read about real life. Real life is filled with down time, with things mediocre. It plods on with space between major events, which are at times the silent culmination of transition. Winterson is concerned with protecting and advocating Stein’s method of autobiography, which is to “take a genre and smash it.”

She forgets that an autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person. How boring, the reviewer knows, but who else fathoms that person as well and wouldn’t the writing reveal the personality of the writer? Still, the reviewer is concerned with this issue of autobiography because, for him the act of describing reality as he recognized it, is a difficult process and certainly undeserving of smashing. The reviewer, frankly, wanted to apprehend the “stream of consciousness,” as an autobiographical element, as opposed to a mere accounting. The stream of consciousness is the still, small voice. It is to speak what is important.

No matter how Winterson gets there, she sets the reviewer at ease with “Against daily insignificance art recalls to us possible sublimity. It cannot do this if it is merely a reflection of actual life.” The reviewer thought he could touch his audience with real life. Apparently, “Our real lives are elsewhere. Art finds them.” Perhaps this is where the realist and romantic can agree or at least come to terms with the deep satisfaction they both get when, with sense of humor, the realist laughs into his mirror and the romantic succeeds with parable.

Winterson asked: “Instead of art aspiring toward lifelikeness what if life aspires towards art, towards a creative, controlled focus of freedom, outside the tyranny of matter?” She said, “We have to be careful not to live in a state of constant self-censorship, where whatever conflicts with our world-view is dismissed or diluted until it ceases to be a bother.” The realist is traveling the same avenue. He wants us to reevaluate the seeming innocence of the cast, to see the subtext, to see that it is not just a view but a message.

As the reviewer watched the movie The Crucible, for example, he remembered with awkwardness that an inattention to love (truth) was to lie. It is the great tragedy of our times, of all times. In every facet of our lives, we have failed when we haven’t gone with what our hearts told us. Love is complicated. In The Crucible it turned out to be the gentleness of Daniel Day Lewis and his wife. What of the passion between Lewis and Ryder? The reviewer knows he misunderstands the evil of Ryder, but in terms of letting ourselves respond to…[art, the reviewer was] clearing a space where new stories [could] root…” He was edgy when he left the theater.

The reviewer appreciates Winterson. “It may be that to understand ourselves as fictions,” she said, “is to understand ourselves as fully as we can.”

In Winterson’s fourth essay, “A Gift Of Wings,” Winterson turns to the debate of women and their harnesses. What fools they are, the reviewer writes. Who knows of life and oneself, Winterson should know by her advice, that no one harnesses another in the sense that they cannot rise up and employ themselves, to practice always that sacrifice that knows life is down and dirty, and almost no one is ever pleased with blows to their complacency. For truth hurts. It is wise. The reviewer knows also that about that which we complain is about which we are guilty.

No one “pretends that God, Nature or the genepool designed [women] lame,” as Winterson suggested. Perhaps, as this reviewer has been known to consider, he cannot understand why a woman would want to have a child. There is nothing more that he would question of a woman’s right. He acknowledges that that need is valid and if he were in part responsible for such a birth, he would follow through and play the role of father. Perhaps there is a social pressure instilled by a “world run by men” that their inherent desires are made manifest, if not consciously than unconsciously. Just as easily, in a society of gentlemen, which should be the case, and should be fought for, women’s rights are equal to that of men’s. Still, do not be deceived, for there have always been women just as there have always been men. Why, the reviewer asks, do women complain at this late date? Learn what men already know that life is as simple as a series of decisions toward a point. There is no one to blame but oneself, for in the end it is only a question of direction and action with constant reminders along the way (as to how far one has gone). Comparisons are always wrong. Why would a woman compare herself to a man? The journey, as someone once said, is no one’s but the person walking. They can slow down if need be and let the world pass. We are not here for any purpose than what we, as individuals, know.

Woolf was not valid when she mentioned “a measure of economic independence, some privacy, some security, freedom to travel alone, freedom from domestic interruption, and a proper education, would release and redirect a woman’s creativity.” On all these counts, a man is just as wishful. No one can guarantee, even the least of these: The “freedom to travel alone.” It was a friend who said a friend of a friend, a male, traveled into Thailand with his camera and was later found dead. When ambitions clash, the stronger usually wins.

We do applaud those women, Winterson, who like men like them “have been setting themselves apart for centuries.” There is joy, even as the reviewer may criticize Winterson because he recognizes the eloquence and the truth of blame.

The reviewer is glad Winterson returns to the words of Woolf, for here is the argument, and the reviewer concurs that Woolf was a “great writer.” Like Woolf and Stein, according to Winterson, however, they may have “perfectly understood the problem;” they were no geniuses of a kind Woolf refers to Shakespeare as “androgynous.” They do not possess, with these arguments as example, “the androgynous mind [that] is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided…the fully developed mind,” Woolf said, “[is] that it does not think especially or separately of sex.” “Why don’t they practice what they preach?” the reviewer questions of Winterson and Woolf when they get to ranting?

Winterson knows “lesser writers,” who with “watery impressionism” cannot “draw the world out, [by] breaking the air with colour and the beat of life.” Or with “the under footman,” Winterson is admitting to a hierarchy of “better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” These are dispositions associated with humans.

Winterson assumes that art is gender-biased, that it is burdened by the vehicle, that Picasso is a household name and Woolf is merely a “screen queen.” For the reviewer, Woolf has always been the greater icon because she has helped hone his writing and Picasso told him, not in so many words, what he shouldn’t make, for fear of copying.

While admitting to the power of art, Winterson assumes that we allow the battering of the media. She forgets that she is the media and in her homeopathic ways, we are reminded of the healing capacity of art. Discretion, even of the philosophical voice-overs must be maintained; while the heart tells of subtle disagreements with assertions, we “have a chance…to discover the true meaning of authority…[which is not] being critical or judgmental… [it is] without haughtiness or cruelty… [To] learn to feel secure within [one]self…and change [from] being an authority to being authentic.” (See: Ralfee Finn’s Cancer astrology for the week of January 3-9, 1997 in The East Bay Express (a San Francisco Area, USA) weekly. Finn advises a week later that to become spiritual leaders we must focus on manifesting our vision by being true to ourselves and recognizing how far we’ve come.)

Winterson’s passage from Woolf’s Orlando (page 67) reveals that Woolf knew the motivations of most men. They were often truthful and valiant or they grew angry that they could be blamed for thinking anything less than to have and to hold, to love and to cherish…when they called on a woman.

Winterson said of D. H. Lawrence that he “could never resist” complaining, or like a woman, who resent[s] the treatment of her sex and plead[s] for its rights.” He was a “working man…who for some reason is conscious of a disability.” There were exceptions, as Winterson showed through a passage by Woolf that, “The genius of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte [for example] is never more convincing than in their power to ignore such claims…” The reviewer concludes that one must not complain to be a great writer but to speak in metaphor, to rise above the petty squabble of one’s place against hope. Winterson said: “Control over…material means control over more than ideas and passions…”

In Winterson’s fifth essay, “A Veil Of Words,” she seeks an answer to the question: “What is the thing that lies beneath the semblance of the thing?” In language, for example, is one’s communication getting through as intended? “Communication,” Winterson said, “depends on more than words.”

“For [the] poet,” Winterson said, “a word carries…an abundance of meanings.” A poet uses words to “accommodate him…inevitably their innovations become the stock of language.” She relates to the need of a poet to avoid the development and practice of a “wholly private language,” which is what Milton and James Joyce erected.

Brilliantly, Winterson explores Woolf’s motivations for stating of Joyce’s Ulysses that “‘a great work of art should not be boring'”. Winterson thought Woolf said this because of “the schoolboy scrum of codes and jokes and back-handers, at once self-advertising and self-obscuring.”

Fascinating is Winterson’s advocacy of Woolf’s book The Waves because in so doing, she exemplifies the need for one not to “play a piece of music at twice the speed of the score…[but] to get used to the writer’s rhythm, to move with a writer’s own beat… A real book needs real time.”

Here, Winterson addresses us with regard to the pace of reading: “Reviewers, who can never waste more than an hour with a book, are the most to blame. Journalism encourages haste; haste in the writer, haste in the reader, and haste is the enemy of art.”

In perhaps her most important line, Winterson reveals a secret for writers: “Exactness allows intimacy.” If this isn’t enough to shut our mouths even for a moment and wait for the perfect words on a date, for example, then I don’t know what will. She calls it a harmony of form. The reviewer calls it a clarification of the moment, the great drawing in and synthesis, the edification, the verisimilitude, the sigh of good taste and discipline made manifest.

Above all, the reviewer must state that Winterson’s collection of essays is as she speaks of Woolf’s The Waves: “It never tires and it never fades.”

In Winterson’s seventh essay, “Imagination And Reality,” she returns to the issue of art being “much more than the daily life of you and me…the original role of the artist [is] visionary. Perhaps, as the reviewer has concentrated for so long on the difficulty of the mere capture of daily life, he forgets that as Winterson stated earlier: “Art must resist autobiography if it hopes to cross boundaries…” Further clarification reveals that she believes that the writer “must not fall into the trap of believing that…passion, of itself, is art.”

“All art,” Winterson said, “including literature, is much more that its subject matter.”

Still, the reviewer is not lost. “Art is visionary…” Winterson said. “It sees beyond the view from the window… The artist…consider[s] reality multiple and complex.”

Winterson finalizes her condemnation of something the reviewer might have written when she said: “Art is not documentary,” no matter his argument that what he wrote sought to reveal the depth and complexity of real life. Perhaps, to save himself, the reviewer is again consoled by the possibility of his work opening readers to the “dimensions of the spirit and of the self that normally lie smothered under the weight of living.”

The reviewer is pummeled by Winterson’s reference to “People who claim to like pictures and books [by responding only] to those pictures and books in which they can clearly find themselves. This is ego masquerading as taste.” Remembering, for example, a page in the Express, (January 17, 1997, p. 43) the reviewer responded vehemently to a picture called by the paper as representing a “Benchmark” photographic exhibition. Coincidentally, the gallery hosting the work of Alan Blaustein was about a block away from his apartment. He collected his portfolio immediately, stormed down to the gallery with one shoelace broken, quickly surveyed the work, asked how he could “get in here,” and when he was told the earliest was 1999, he huffed that he was better, presented his card and left. The reviewer drafted the following and sent it to the Express:

As if his works were a ship, I could sink him with my own. That you would “benchmark” a series of plain images with merits only of hand coloring, filed negative-carrier manipulation, and places in France, for example, relates to a bleeding heart for exotica depicted in snap shots. It is as if you couldn’t tell the difference between mere documentary and art, which bleeds with metaphor and varying levels of meaning. I am sorry to say my colleague has done nothing graceful with the medium, except to go someplace we wish we could afford and plant his tripod (perhaps he held the camera) and point and shoot. Thoughtless depiction, you, of the “Benchmark” image, for, there were little momentos that transcended place because they were carefully arranged within their frames. It is these little voices of Alan Blaustein’s on view at the Christen Heller Gallery that will take you along a cathartic tour of yourself. As you stand there in love with the prudent compositions, the balance and harmony of form in some of the little frames, you will understand an aesthetic consciousness that seems to govern France. Thus, the transcendence as you will note, is that you take your eyes off the images, in the case of some of the little ones, and you are thinking now of beauty-truth (ah, the paradox), not as with the larger ones, where you question the noise of his coloring or filed negative carrier results, which aren’t bad employments in and of themselves. It is just that they have to add not detract from the total effervescent journey. There is power in the place (France), in the place (Oakland) – in context – that conjures yearning for the eloquence of the idea of the artist’s eye that transmits the beauty, as he sees it, which is a discretionary beauty.

The reviewer thought he was “recognizing the worth of a thing…[rather than merely] recognizing its worth to [him].” He thought he knew from portfolio reviews as a student and the constant comparisons with other “lesser” images that he was bringing wisdom to his stomping to the gallery and stomping back. Still, as the reviewer questions his motivations and sanity, he feels the condemnation apt. He would do it again and argue the validity of his points.

Winterson said, “The act of writing…is an evolution… The unrolling of the secret scroll, the thing suspected but not realized until present.” Perhaps the reviewer realizes as he sits in a room filled with light that “The writer has to have ready the accumulation of what [he] is… The working together of writer and word is a process more confident and more obvious the more the writer learns to trust what it is [he] does…

“To live for art…is to live a life of questioning,” Winterson said. Whereas the reviewer, caught as a waiter and disappointed with what life offers, decides to make “choices that allow [him] to go on working at maximum output and with utmost concentration.” Uncertain as to what that may mean, he waits for Winterson to continue. Luckily, Winterson said she was born to a certain lack of conveniences and she is attracted to a simple fire that she sets ablaze when cold.

The reviewer sits in an apartment – not grand, but similar to places he originated in, and which is within his means. The gas heater there is adequate to fill the room with what has been 30-degree weather. He too goes to movies, not the Opera, and the local shops. He will follow the advice of Winterson, who advises through a quote by Woolf from A Room Of One’s Own that: “If we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…if we face the fact…that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and…that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”

The reviewer, like Trollope, accordingly can be blamed for the previous insertion (about his works as a ship) since they too prove an “accumulation of detail for its own sake.” But, he does love words, this reviewer, and he seeks an exactness in his statements. He just cannot tell stories.

Winterson said of new writers that they come not with miracles. The reviewer would hope that he possesses “a high degree of technical ability and a distinctive note which has nothing to do with subject matter.” On the issue of discipline, with the insertion as example, he knows when he should not, but he does anyway.

Winterson said of T. S. Eliot that he admired “a sensibility that could absorb awkward ‘unpoetic’ material and render it through fresh images into emotional experience. To do that demands a concentration away from Self, an impersonality that allows other realities to find a voice that is more than reported speech… The space that art creates is space outside of a relentless self, a meditation that gives both release and energy.”

Winterson has written in Art [Objects] a provocation that stands before us as a mirror, for those of us who write, who wannabe, she tells a story of “Style; sensibility and technique distinctively brought together, [to] free the writer from the weight of [his] own personality, [which] gives to her an incandescence of personality, so that…[he] can express…more than, other than, what [he] is.” – Mario Savioni, all rights reserved, less content provided by Jeanette Winterson. First created by Mario Savioni, April 15, 2002.

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Response to a Collaboration by Michelle Oppenheimer and Stephanie Visser

See: http://michelleoppenheimer.com/

I see a distance in the impression of something complicated, perhaps a modern building that was given time.
I see the glance from the interior of a living room into a thought.
I see the brush strokes of something artificial but very pleasant.
I see something created for impression-sake to drive all matter into the landscape of contemplation.
It is an exercise of the mind wandering, to an unknowable place, a softening of the blow.
It is an ice castle and red roses.
It is my thoughts about someone I shall never tell.
This is the time I stand in wait, 
Leaving all the balls on her plate.
There is a cold wind and an icy stillness but movement otherwise.
There is hope, but there is also a beautiful reality that this is not my time, but her’s and that is the point.
I am a man.
I am here to protect.
It is my job to take responsibility.
I am the last guardian of the moods of my woman, for she cannot see me yet.
I am only to remind her of the truth and justice that she believes is there.
And what shall come to pass is what she wishes.
I believe in her. 

Chomsky v. Zizek, Part 2

Various articles, blogs have covered an alleged debate that has sprung up in response to Noam Chomsky’s insult of writers like Slavoj Zizek, who Chomsky believes posture, by using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretend to have a theory when they have no theory whatsoever, see: http://veteransunplugged.com/theshow/archive/118-chomsky-december-2012, anyway, here is my take on the event(s):

See also:

A. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/19/noam-chomsky-slavoj-zizek-ding-dong;

B. http://www.openculture.com/2013/06/noam_chomsky_slams_zizek_and_lacan_empty_posturing.html;

C. http://www.openculture.com/2013/07/slavoj-zizek-publishes-a-very-clearly-written-essay-length-response-to-chomskys-brutal-criticisms.html; and

D. http://www.openculture.com/2013/07/slavoj-zizek-responds-to-noam-chomsky.html, for example.

Chomsky:

1. Zizek provides no theory.

Theory:

1. Tested general propositions

2. Regarded as correct

3. That can be used to explain

4. That can be used to predict

5. Explanations of which status still unproven and subject to experiment.

A. In Zizek’s book The Parallax View, he proposed that anecdotes he provided share an expressed “Occurrence of an insurmountable parallax gap, the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible.”

B. In Chomsky’s book On Language, Chomsky said, “There is no very direct connection between my political activities, writing and others, and the work bearing on language structure, though in some measure they perhaps derive from certain common assumptions and attitudes with regard to basic aspects of human natures. Critical analysis in the ideological arena seems to be a fairly straightforward matter as compared to an approach that requires a degree of conceptual abstraction. For the analysis of ideology, which occupies me very much, a bit of open-mindedness, normal intelligence, and healthy skepticism will generally suffice.”

C. Zizek likes theoretical thinking.

D. Chomsky’s “Generative grammar…attempts to give a set of rules that will correctly predict which combinations of words will form grammatical sentences.” As a poet, I find this proposition ridiculous or at least mechanical and empty, but of course I understand it. It seems at times words come to me in an arbitrary fashion. I can work with magnetized words and arrange them in such as way as to adhere to the surprise combinations that can be afforded after a little attention. One day, I expect a poet will be made to contest a computer in the act of writing a poem based on Chomsky’s theory. And the poet will know at the outset that given any number of possible sequences, a line will be formed that will serve the same function that a line in a good poem might. Because the process of writing poetry is about writing words that make us think about ideas and in so doing we think within ourselves about things that were once outside of us. They become meaningful and important because they catch our aesthetic eye, our love of language and ideas.

F. Zizek is a philosopher. He likes to study the nature and origin of ideas. He likes theorizing of a visionary or impractical nature.

G. Chomsky becomes a philosopher when he says Zizek has no theory. And Chomsky admits that “There is no very direct connection between [his] political activities, writing and others, and the work bearing on language structure, though in some measure they perhaps derive from certain common assumptions and attitudes with regard to basic aspects of human natures” and “Critical analysis in the ideological arena seems to be a fairly straightforward matter as compared to an approach that requires a degree of conceptual abstraction. For the analysis of ideology, which occupies me very much, a bit of open-mindedness, normal intelligence, and healthy skepticism will generally suffice.”

H. Chomsky said we don’t need critiques of ideology we just need the facts because there is already a cynicism of those in power. He exemplifies this with the fact:  ‘This company is profiting in Iraq.’

I. Zizek said daily life is ideology. He said that Krugman said that the idea of austerity is not good theory. It was just a conclusion drawn by those in power to fix the economy, Krugman said.

J. Zizek in effect calls Chomsky a cynic when he says that cynics don’t see things as they really are. He cites Chomsky’s inability to see that the Khmer Rouge or Stalinist Russia were horrible, since Chomsky did not consult primary sources, i.e. public discourse.

K. Zizek is comfortable with the efficiency of theoretical thinking.

L. Even Chomsky mentioned that he has been asked to speak on mathematical linguistics and yet he is not credentialed therein. He is self-taught. He said the mathematicians could care less. “What they want to know is what I have to say…whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting…whether better approaches are possible — the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it, p. 6.”

M. Zizek provides theory. In the act of speaking/writing, his ideas as words in the English language are proposals, often general, and they are tested as they hit the air or even in his mind they are being heard. We often know what sounds correct. Our beliefs, attitudes, and values are shared given the general consensus inherent in experience. Thereby, they are regarded as correct or incorrect. These propositions of his are used to explain and predict, and at times they are explanations that are unproven and subject to contemplation and the rigors of experimentation, but Zizek in his assertions, no matter the weight and complexity of his words, is legitimately explaining what we may wish to ignore or feign the desire to decipher, define, or connote.

N. The fact that Chomsky said that grammar contains a rudimentary generative syntax implies a universality of language. And Lakoff has said this and I believe Merleau-Ponty did too. But, this commonality of the capacity to think in words in complement to Chomsky’s desire that simplicity be used relates to the metaphorical world. And whether we deduce or empirically test, we remain bound to language to express. Thomas Kuhn said our biases are always there. An insect would roll his eyes at our conclusions. We are stuck in this world self-entertaining. And for Chomsky to attack a man certainly as entertaining as he is in bad form. Empiricism and deduction are no greater than theorizing and espousing, like the mathematicians, we all just want to know what Zizek has to say…whether he is right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting…whether better approaches are possible and the discussion dealt with the subject, not with Zizek’s right to discuss it.

 

See also: https://savioni.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/chomsky-v-zizek-part-1/

Relative to Love

             Thomas met a woman. She is like his mother. There aren’t many women like her. She’s more beautiful than most. She has delicate hands and a delicate nose. She has the most innocent eyes and yet she is deeply aware, perhaps too trusting of him.

            He can’t say that he knows his mother’s eyes as such. This woman is thin, tall enough, and exotically beautiful and oddly, as she says, pure French.

            She has my mother’s small skull, her sweet naiveté, and the unknowingness of her beauty.

            She’d just broken with her man. She was broken-hearted and so it’s weird that they had just become friends. She knows Thomas is crazy about her; he left a note, which he followed with e-mail she since she had e-mailed him. At which point, she told him she was seeing someone and didn’t want to waste his time if he thought anything more than friendship was possible. The lady, Camille, said that she was in love with her man.

            It turned out Thomas had waited on them. Camille said that he had spoken in smooth tones to them. She also said that he gave the best service both of them had and yet they were both French, so she had to explain herself.

            Thomas texted to Camille that it was good she was with a friend, that he knew how she felt, that it would take time, and that she should call her brother, who could make her laugh. People loved her, he told her. He’d never been in this position before but he also felt that he was delusional if he thought she would now like him.

            Even if she did, Camille wanted to have a baby. He swore that one off long ago, except that when he saw Diane recently and she looked so lovely and so accomplished, he told himself, what was he afraid of? He should have told Diane when they were dating that he was interested in having a child. He actually thought that he loved her too. She ended up getting back together with her husband. She seemed happy, but she wanted lately to have him send her stories about his parents. Diane said he wrote “Well with much vividness and raw emotion.”

            What did this mean? Was she testing his potential, was she interested in how he would treat her, her children, and her parents after reading about his?

            Thomas was thinking about things Roland Barthes said in his book The Preparation of the Novel. Barthes talked about the solution to work and the world. He said: “Doesn’t the writer somehow manage to mess up his love affairs from the moment they present a real threat to the future of his work?” The solution, Barthes wrote, “In the struggle between you and the world, back the world… The writer is obliged to affirm his ‘singularity…’ [And] conflict with the world is inevitable.” And yet, “Truth resides not in the individual but in the chorus… The world is on the side of truth, because it is the indissoluble unity of the human world –> which means that singularity has got it wrong.” And so the writer sets the world to music, he incorporates it into his work. Dante made his loved one the guiding, initiating spirit of his work The Divine Comedy.

            And so Thomas thought of Camille and Diane and he knew in the back of his mind that he was afraid of both of them. They were his be-all, end-all.

            Thomas, however, always seemed like a friend to ladies and nothing else. He was a good listener, and yet always he wanted more. He was just like his mother, in that he wanted complete freedom for his capturing the series of thoughts that came to him. He needed to document them. He was a conduit for the muse.

            It was Thomas’ job, he thought, to be prepared by reading and studying, so that he would recognize the value of his thoughts as they came. He felt like a vessel for God in this way and he believed in God because God understood the world in terms relative to love.

The Palace Bouffant

The tide in him was tortuous. He felt as if an inner force was pulling with its fingers from the inside of his face, down and in. The weight of the yanking and stretching made him feel dehydrated, which he probably was, having run after he got to work. The pull went from the top of his head, grabbing his brain, and trying to push it down his neck, it grabbed the rest of him at the top of his shoulders in a vortex of flesh and energy through in the insides of his back, to his waist, and then to the back of his spine. He felt like he was collapsing and his legs were nearly paralyzed.

He walked as if he was carrying a huge sack that was as wide and longer than he was. He kept saying to himself that he wished, just once, that he could come to work and work was not the crap shoot it was. It was an obstacle course of surprises and repairs such that at one point his parched mouth could make no smile, his eyes sagged for the stress was constant, the compromise of self exacting and diminishing seemingly forever as he prayed again for rest, even though he had just returned from vacation. Even as he had so few days at work, it was constantly on his mind, a plethora of menial tasks loaded into one. He had fewer fingers and toes than what he felt he needed to accomplish every second of every day. He wondered why he was being sacrificed and why no one joined him, except that when he involved them it was mostly in private or else they were in shock, speechless, and that amounted to a “hush, please” diatribe.

He felt hollow. He had no real anger, he whined at this point. He spoke from his neck, not his diaphragm. He must have sounded weak and bothersome when Peter asked to be tipped for carrying a few glasses to their settings. He can’t remember Peter helping much, except for an appearance in the room with a cluster in one hand and then with every glass Peter put, Peter required instruction, and then to have his settings repaired since Peter covered the spots where his glasses should go. He was training Peter at the same time as he was running to get the Hors D’oeuvres, the utensils, the glassware, the napkins, the wine, all in a few moments, knowing it would be impossible. There were other mouths to feed: Tim from Room Service, and the other waiters: Sensial and Max, who were the only ones on the floor on a Friday night, and they already had things to do.

Their time at The Palace Bouffant was compacted and had to be perfect or else they’d be written up. He is not one to complain for himself, but it seemed like they were trying to fire him. The capitalistic ploy of shortened hours and increasing workload was evident. Knowing this, he was made angrier. Success at the job meant financial security and yet the threats were both veiled and open. He felt like the rat that was held underwater and went limp. This was even though the rat had been brought out of the water before it had drowned. It simply gave up. The psychological damage had been done.

Everyday seemed helpless, unknown. It affected his sleep, his free time, and the loss of spring and summer sun. His job only got harder. It never subsided. It asked everything and yet the work was so dumb.

Still, as the tasks grew voluminous, he grew automatic, impersonal if he was to survive. He tried to take nothing personally, but the emotions of strangers washed over him, like electric storms, and they messed with his concentration. Then there were questions to ask about allergies, bottled water, cocktails, plate sizes, cutlery, napkins, spoons, timing, and the customers’ names, and often just waiting. Every airplane wanted to land at the same time on the same strip and every patron inside made special requests.

He was sinking, never to come up.

Like Knowing a Secret

No Malice: Where Is Your Brother? – Starring Jasmine Mans, click here:

My response: I loved that poem. I loved how it wasn’t that straightforward. And I loved, as Guy Harrelson said, that it wasn’t about one’s specific brother, but about all brothers. I thought of a bumper sticker the other day that said: “I am related to you; treat me accordingly.” And I passed a brother, who was carrying a sign: “Anything will help,” and he came to me when I looked at him with a “get up from there and come over” look. I gave him money. He was near a freeway on-ramp and he was in red and he was a good-looking brother and he touched my hand and when he spoke, he was articulate and good. I felt bad that I just went up the on-ramp with the excuse that there were others behind me, or that the car was already full. I thought he might have thought that I was gay and that I wanted to pick him up, but I am not gay, just full of life and I was helping people lift heavy loads into the back of their SUVs under the auspices of protecting their backs, and at first they wondered what I was after. But, just as soon as I had helped them, I was on my way. I had been collecting two sets of dishes for my sister, who said she needed them but didn’t know which ones to buy. I keep telling myself that we are all related and that I should have gone back and taken that man home and just let him feel that he was free, that I was willing to trust everything to him to prove that he came before my feelings of security because my security depended on him. If he wasn’t secure then how in the hell could I be secure? It’s going to be like that soon. As the rich-poor gap widens, we are all going to fall in. And I know what its like to be rich, and all I wanted to be was like the other guys. That’s the thing about being like everyone else. You can empathize. And that empathy is like knowing a secret.

The Absence of Both Parents

I made sure my mother did not fall down in the bathroom tonight and so I was in there while she went to the bathroom, then made her wash her hands. She has no muscle, only skin and bones. She’s got a deep cough from the flu or something. She’s vacant at times, practically hopeless. She is in a nursing home, so there is nothing I can do more than what is being done except make sure she makes it to the bathroom, which she may not at some point.

I think I mentioned a large bruise on her head and a large bruise on her wrist from about a week ago. I worry that it is going to happen again and she’s going to be lost. And yet, it hasn’t hit me. The prospects are bleak. I went today and saw she hadn’t eaten any baby food from about a week ago when I bought it. She still didn’t know it was there at the side of her bed, but the nurse came in and assured me that she ate about 50% of her food earlier. We’ve made no plans in how to bury her. I am not supposed to bury my mother. She’s my mother for God sake. I showed her pictures of what I did for my sister, plates and napkins, a partial tableclothImage and in a second she asked about my sister and I told her again about what I had done. She still has no lower denture because my sister says taking her to get a new one with her sick as she is and weak is dangerous. Somehow she manages to chew her food. I’ve already lost my dad, nobody deserves to have both parents die. I can understand now how adopted children must feel. Often their parents are living and yet dead to them. My friend Suzanne wrote a note to me and said she wished she could give me a hug. I was doing pretty well until she said this, as if I needed help. Today an ex-girlfriend said, “Are you really that sad?” as she had read half of my book. And a few weeks ago, a friend and I were on a hill watching the fireworks and we talked about psychotherapists and I told her the last one moved to Seattle. It was only to help me find out what I was supposed to do for a living, which I still don’t know. I told her that it really didn’t matter. I think she was hinting that I should see one.

“I don’t take them seriously,” I must have said. I am reading The History of Madness by Foucault and Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (French: L’anti-Oedipe) is a 1972 book by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. I told her I was a self-healer.

Suzanne planted a seed; I started crying even before my mother is gone. I didn’t cry for my father, except of course in the beginning. I filled the tub, sliding around in it before my relatives left. After that I simply smiled when someone asked what my father did. 25 years later, I wept uncontrollable for a half-hour outside Mahler’s 5th concert conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. It was embarrassing. I was with a girlfriend and a best friend, but it seemed so weird. Out-of-nowhere the emotions came. If you have ever heard this Symphony, it goes every which way, and finally dumps you out in the street of your emotions.

I am going to play it for the neighborhood. It is 12AM. The Chicago Symphony. It is loud at the beginning, then I have to turn up the volume.

Blue Emptiness, a new book by Mario Savioni

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Blue Emptiness

 
Blue Emptiness is a fresh and vulnerable observation of the human condition dealing with loneliness as a philosophical, psychological, and poetic account of the present. It reminds one of music and evokes feelings.
 
Blue Emptiness is intended for readers who enjoy poetry and short, succinct works, like Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
 
Blue Emptiness is Influenced by poets and novelists like John Asbery, Joan Didion, T. S. Eliot, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass, Louis Zukofsky and philosophers like Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, Heidegger, Karl Marx, Jean Paul Sartre, and Slavoj Zizek to name a few.
 
It is a love story sung by the disenfranchised.

http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/mario-savioni/blue-emptiness/paperback/product-21035691.html

Available in soft cover and electronic versions. 

The Prospect of Self-governance

It is a hopeless venture, wiping the butts of the aged. My mother’s constant crapping in her pants and fatigue not to want to shower are a horrendous combination that shakes my positive outlook.

Ask the beautiful nurses in the facility, where she hangs her coat, she’s slipping into the coma of her former self – childhood.

She asks me how I am doing, but her latest spill can only indicate the rough interaction of her head with the floor adding insult to the injury of Alzheimer’s. She’s perhaps the only mobile person in these beds of the disintegrating; but that lack of a handicap is slipping.

We all die and we die by losing the quality of life that eventually overshadows the joy of living.

Taking her out of the facility becomes such a chore and even dangerous. Her unwashed body is a hazard and explains why they all acquire MRSA. Every bed has the story of multiple demises, a series of deathly corpses wafted up in the smoke of the unwashed solitude of a past life smothered in the germs that came before. I wonder how many pretty faces comb these halls as employees against the backdrop of such a slow death? The whinnying, the circling of wagons of wheel chairs before the nurses’ station, the false smiles of some of the attending, all of whom are busy working.

It saddens me at this rest stop of the physically diminishing, that every mouth sags and that every television distracts. These are the last impulses fluttering before them.

It is true that we become bodies in our elder states shitting and pissing like birds.

Decorum is the obsolescence as long white hairs protrude from chins. Our teeth are now plastic foreign objects with which we cannot chew. My mother goes through $600 dentures like a child goes through clothes, except there are no hand-me-down inserts that can be negotiated with the two real teeth she has. Denture cream is never going to happen and so it is a lie.

There’s nothing left and so I don’t recommend it. There are no golden years at the end of this rope, no fading glamorous light akin to sunrise. The wisdom of age is simply to fall asleep and never dream again; hope lifts out of you and blows away.

We just get too tired to care, then carelessness overtakes us and unless there is external care, the bacteria eventually win. The body cannot fight till the end all the hedonistic forces begging to dig right in.

How much I love the memories of my father, my Aunt Mary, my Uncle Mike, and there are others as the good ones who succumbed.

My Aunt Connie is still mad at my mother for exhausting my father, she believes, to death. My mother must have told him to watch the children before she’d run away, where she could remember her dreams amid the silence of her former self. I have her personality. I cannot have children; I am too selfish. But, I see in their bright faces and mobility the dream of the past, their cute repartees, the snot leaking from their noses, the wanting to be seen jumping from piece of furniture to piece of furniture, their plans during tea parties. All is the revolt to being tied; and the prospect of self-governance is everything.

Journalism is Dead; Truth is on Trial

If someone were to ask me why I wrote, “The Ticking Bomb,” (See: https://savioni.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/the-ticking-bomb/) it is because my back is against the wall. The fact that nothing is sacred reflects my ego and the times. I have nothing but my reality to share or barter for the hope of a real job, this streaming video of my life, the unadulterated view.

Truth is on trial, the sacredness of one’s mother, the grossness and her disintegration, my own naked ambition to titillate and to question: Am I a good son as some have mentioned? There’s simply nothing left. I have stood before the burning car and offered not to help. I have carefully crafted the view of death and so shall my own be made the spectacle, in effect, to show others what not to say.

But there is no stone unturned in our open lives, where apparently every word is recorded for later incrimination. You’d be wise to check your words because big brother is watching. He is at your ear listening, determining your psychology, and seeing if you’ll tick like the last few seconds before you self-radicalize.

The truth is at stake in this age of open-sources. Every line of code is played and edited, so that the program of social contract doesn’t crash. The activists are taken out of the equation. In the end, no one in power wants the truth since they are holding the cards.

It has already been established that if you have all the money the game is over. At this point, I’ll have to shoot you because there is no other hand.

I slump over my last call like a man who has expended all his energy and resources. I work as a servant to the well connected.

Inevitably, it gets down to whom you know, and every member of most families is poor. They barter their arms and their legs and when those are gone, they barter each other.

I am trapped by what I should do as a son. I am trapped by what I must do as a member of society. I have no money to rescue my mother, myself. These are truly the last days, the open pleading to be spared, where everything that has been asked has been given.

I am lying here waiting for them. It is so quiet you can hear a pin drop or the clock ticking.