art and “experience”

new ideas for my personal aesthetics – as always; snitched …

“Insofar as I was interested in the arts I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf,”

Ben Lerner: Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

Descent from Cross -Detail

Descent from the Cross – Detail Mary Magdalene

In Leaving the Atocha Station, the protagonist, Adam Gordon, is a young American poet living in Spain on fellowship money. Adam grapples with doubts about the usefulness of poetry—and art in general—within the format of the novel. A major theme in the novel is the gap between Poetry with a capital “P”—the virtual possibilities of the art, the immense claims traditionally made for those possibilities—and actual poems, which to a certain extent must always betray the abstract potential of the medium the second they become merely real.

“I tried hard to imagine my poems’ relations to Franco’s mass graves, how my poems could be said meaningfully to bear on the systematic and deliberate destruction of a people or a planet,” Adam muses while on a cigarette break from a pretentious poetry reading. “I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen … but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it.

“And yet, when I imagined the total victory of those other things over poetry, when I imagined, with a sinking feeling, a world without even the terrible excuses for poems that kept faith with the virtual possibilities of the medium, without the sort of absurd ritual I’d participated in that evening, then I intuited an inestimable loss, a loss not of artworks but of art, and therefore infinite, the total triumph of the actual, and I realised that, in such a world, I would swallow a bottle of white pills.”

Ben Lerner: Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

window moment

window

a window moment

Jane Hirshfield: Many good poems have a kind of window-moment in them–a point at which they change their direction of gaze or thought in a way that suddenly opens a broadened landscape of meaning and feeling. Encountering such a moment, the reader breathes in some new infusion, as steeply perceptible as any physical window’s increase of light, scent, sound, or air. The gesture is one of lifting, unlatching, releasing; mind and attention swing open to newly peeled vistas.

Existence itself is nothing if not an amazement

I’m reading Ten Windows by Jane Hirshfield. It’s a great book, a book to read slowly, to partake in. And it is a text very relevant to my ongoing investigation in the uses of art – listen to this:

Poïesis as making

  • A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.
  • A poem is not the outer event or phenomenon it ostensibly describes, nor is it the feeling or insight it may seem to reveal or evoke. A poem may involve both, but is, more complexly, a living fabrication of new comprehension – “fabrication” meaning, not accidentally, both lie, falsehood, and more simply and fundamentally, anything created and made: the bringing of something freshly into being.
  • Poems lean toward increase of meaning, feeling, and being.
  • The writing of poems must be counted as much a contemplative practice as a communicative one.
  • The desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary by changing not the world, but the eyes that look.
Andre-Kertesz-man-reading-002André Kertész

Here is a clip from HuffPost

Q: What is the most important thing to do when reading a poem?

Jane Hirshfield: Listen, without worrying too quickly about whether you understand or not. Give yourself over to a poem the way you give yourself over to your own night dreaming, or to a beloved’s tales of the day. And then, try to listen first to a poem the way you might listen to a piece of music — the meaning of music isn’t some note by note analysis or paraphrase, it’s to find yourself moved.

Q: How does reading poetry change us as people?

Jane Hirshfield: It makes us more permeable, more compassionate, more rigorous, and, in needed ways, smarter. I mean that in the broadest sense: more awake and alert to subtlety and connection, more open to new feelings and new understandings. Empathy with not only people but ants and trees and mountains; sound-work’s lattice, on which surprises of thought can climb; developing the capacity for abiding in the complex and multiple and open — all these things make us smarter.

I don’t, though, want to put forward some idea of poems as primarily useful. Or at least, let me say this: one way poems may be useful is by showing how thin usefulness is.

Andre-Kertesz-circus-perf-007

André Kertész

Good poems restore amazement

enchantment

This post made me want to take a closer look at Rita Felski’s book Uses of Literature (2008). Felski’s intention is to bridge the gap between literary theory and common-sense beliefs about why we read literature.

Uses of Literature deals with four key elements of the reading experience: recognition, enchantment, knowledge, and shock. These four recall, as she acknowledges, the four “venerable aesthetic categories” of anagnorisis, beauty, mimesis, and the sublime. As I read this text, it is also of great value to the way we experience visual arts.

Since reading Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy I have become more and more interested in the uses of art. I do not – as de Botton – see art as therapy, but I do believe art has an important function in everyday life, both on an individual an a societal level. But, as Felski notes, it is really not comme il faut to speak of the use of literature – or art.

Jeff_Wall_Men_waiting_2006

Jeff Wall, Men Waiting, 2007 © Jeff Wall

In her second chapter – Enchantment – Felski discusse the presumed problems of getting too involved in art, which one easily gets accused of if one wants to discuss the use of art.

For literary critics, she says, keeping one’s distance has been crucial. How can we exercise judgement, how can we critique a text’s ideological entanglements, if we are absorbed by its subliminal and mysteriously enchanting aspects? We would descend to the level of the child transfixed by the television cartoon or by the advertisement for the latest toy, our critical faculties disabled, ourselves deluded. Critics have historically tended to treat enchantment as something to which only “weaker” beings –women, children, gay people – fall victim, not the alert, stout-hearted male critic.

Felski sees things differently, she says:

Modern enchantments are those in which we are immersed but not submerged, bewitched but not beguiled, suspensions of disbelief that do not lose sight of the fictiveness of those fictions that enthrall us. Such enchantments are magical without requiring the intervention of the supernatural, reminders of the persistence of the mysterious, wondrous, and perplexing in a rationalized and at least partly secularized world.

Enchantment matters because one reason that people turn to works of art is to be taken out of themselves, to be pulled into an altered state of consciousness. While much modern thought relegates such hyper-saturations of mood and feeling to the realm of the child-like or the primitive, the accelerating interest in affective states promises a less prejudicial and predetermined perspective. The experience of enchantment is richer and more multi-faceted than literary theory has allowed; it does not have to be tied to a haze of romantic nostalgia or an incipient fascism. Indeed, enchantment may turn out to be an exceptionally fruitful idiom for rethinking the tenets of literary theory. Once we face up to the limits of demystification as a critical method and a theoretical ideal, once we relinquish the modern dogma that our lives should become thoroughly disenchanted, we can truly begin to engage the affective and absorptive, the sensuous and somatic qualities of aesthetic experience.

The sensuous and somatic qualities of aesthetic experience; this is exactly what I’m trying to find an appropriate language for –