Thursday, April 10th, 2008
I wrote this in my second essay on Lust, Reading the Link II:
Pablo Picasso illuminated the object by examining an object’s numerous surfaces, making the object strange, disorienting, beautiful in its strangeness and multi-surfaced orientation. In doing so, he presented the object in an almost imperceptible light. For Picasso, the object is not just one object, the viewer not just one viewer. If the object is not just one object but many objects in time and space, then the object becomes imperceptible, imperceptible because of our limited perspective. And the viewer follows, removed ever more from the knowledge of the nature of things. Simplicity to complexity. More precisely, the multifaceted object has a life beyond our experience and the more we learn the more complex life becomes. In this sense, the object has a separate life in the eyes of a second and a third person, simultaneously with the first. (italics for emphasis)
. . . An action or series of actions may be known in their chronological position, say in a plot or causal chain, but in Lust one act or event becomes a confluence of a universe of actions. . . . The hypertext, therefore, resonates with new ways of expressing, capturing, and examining (holding up to the light) the complicated nature of human action.
I want to probe the idea of imperceptibility a little more (and later clarify a few other conclusions) because my aim is not to write an essay that confuses but makes the idea of the confluence of a universe of actions in space and time a fairly plain and perceptible idea. An important issue with my thinking comes here: “imperceptible because of our limited perspective” and the stand-alone term “imperceptible.” No, this isn’t right: it’s too circular. Yes, our perspective is limited. We can, indeed, see the curve of a pot and feel its grainy texture. We can trip over it on our way out to the car, grope for it in a room infested with black widow spiders. But we cannot observe all sides of the pot or experience all its nature simultaneously. We cannot perceive its atomic structure with our own eyes or sense other actions and events relative to it. For example:
The woman who owns a small business near the terra cotta factory is driven from the road by the very truck who brought that clay pot to market. The innocent pot sits on your porch, while another family in Mexico lives with the tragedy. The pot is silent.
The pot from a different perspective is a manifestation of its physical reality, the weak force, for example. This is what we might call the problem of the Aleph as examined by Borges in his story, The Aleph. This is what I mean by imperceptible: imperceptible in its totality, imperceptible as a totality. I’ll rewrite the idea this way then: the object’s multi-dimensional value is hidden from us.
Astronomers make hypotheses about exoplanets by indirect observation. This is the way we determine the nature of the pot (and the nature of human action). We don’t think of the pot as a collection of behaviors or as a manifestation of physical forces.
“Look at that manifestation of electromagnetism,” you might say to Jane.
She asks, “Which one?”
“The one that manifests as a clay pot, whose live connects in important ways to a family in Mexico.”
In addition, we tend to simplify actions or events in the same way by reducing them to a finite chain or misattributing their complexity to simple circles of decision. (The complex and bizarre world of decisions that led to the US invasion of Iraq should be leading news programing everyday not repetitious arguments known even from the start to have been false. This news or analysis has been blotted out). I would assume that people tend to take the clay pot at face value, especially if they’re interested in adding to the character of their gardens: the beauty of the the garden “hides” the tragedy of the Mexican family. Why then the fascination with interesting still life painting or poems about place and objects or travel or food literature? What interests me about about Picasso’s work is not that he discovers the obvious. No, he discovers the beauty and value of the object or figure cast as a confluence of a universe of surfaces in place and time. The artist holds up the object’s hidden values.
In fiction and in real life, events tend to be connected to human decision making. In Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov’s murders are linked to his decisions. We should be able to connect the brutal murders of Alyona Ivonavna and her sister to a clear chain of cause and effect. ButDostoyevski doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. We know that the murders happen. We know that Raskolnikov has a fever. But we also learn that chance is a “force” in the novel, as in the hay market, “where, moreover, he had no reason to go” (62), and where all his plans come together and the course of events becomes “irrevocable.”
Crime and Punishment holds the idea of borders up for scrutiny. After the murders have been committed, Raskolnikov visits a friend, Razumihin. Razumihin offers Raskolnikov something seemingly simple: a chance to make money (a chance that might have been offered before the murders become reality). The reader urges Raskolnikov to take the offered work, just as they urged him to accept the hope offered in a letter from his mother. The reader also realizes the significance of Raskolnikov’s decision not to visit Razumihin earlier: how could Raskolnikov have known?). He refuses Razumihin’s offer, is whipped, given money, then tosses that money into a river. The money, a tangible object, is not what he throws into the river, however. The money’s physical value is just one of its numerous surfaces, much as the knife does in Lust. The money also has other, more abstract meanings: hope, opportunity, kindness, and nourishment, all tossed away by Raskolnikov into the river because these things only had meaning for him in a past life, a life before his murders. The world and he in it has been made “strange and grotesque”:
It struck him as strange and grotesque, that he should have stopped at the same spot as before, as though he actually imagined he could think the same thoughts, be interested in the same theories and pictures that had interested him . . . so short a time ago. He felt it almost amusing, and yet it wrung his heart. Deep down, hidden far away out of sight all that seemed to him now–all his old past, his old thoughts, his old problems and theories, his old impressions, and that picture and himself and all, all. . . .
In this, the chance meeting of the hay market cannot be forgotten and his decision not to visit Razumihin. Why is Raskolnikov standing on a bridge confronting a new world and a new Raskolnikov? This question isn’t a simple one. To say because he feels guilt is a small slice of the reality of the pot and to reduce Dostoyevki to this simple surface would be to follow in the same error committed by the modern news broadcast that blots out the image of the swastika for the viewer: in a way, to take Picasso’s painting of the femme and redraw it back to its conventional form. Raskolnikov has stepped into the Picasso painting; he’s stepped into the world of Mary-Kim Arnold’s Lust: two works that hold the confluence of a universe of surfaces and human actions up and expose them in their “strange and grotesque” complexity.
In the modern world, science trumps theology because the scope of science is more massive and more tangible. Hubble’s deep field photographs inspire the sublime just as Bub feels what a Cathredral means not with his eyes but through more complex sensation. This is why science can be confused for theology. Science has tools for grasping the universe of the physical nature of the pot and a large part this universe is simply ungraspable. In my view, the methods of science and the methods of fiction (cannot painting be described as visual fiction?) are similar, but neither alone can build a complete and concrete pot.
In Lust, solace is impossible, because solace isn’t the point. Lust, therefore, cannot assign itself to conventional telling, chronology, causality, or the mandates of realism, just as Picasso could not reveal the object by repeating the work of Sargent, because what is revealed is not “healing” but the complexity of human action as a multiplicity of surfaces and forces. There are, or should be, numerous possibilities for revealings in Lust. In my one reading, I found simply one of these possibilities, one possible way of finding a connective thread in the complexity of human action held up to the light: where two people wish together and their inner life is made tangible.
He remembers wishing he had stayed. He walks out of the room, she does not follow this night.
He tries to speak to the child. He tries to remember how it happened. He tries to remember her face, her flesh. He remembers the tearing. He remembers the blood. He remembers the child.
She had fallen to her knees. He walks out of the room that night. She follows him. This night, she follows him home. She cries like a child.
In the second paragraph of the space titled He Wishing, we have successive and simple noun verb constructions, simple syntactical units that repeat verbs in threes: “tries” is repeated three time followed by infinitives in classic remembering mode. Then “remembers” is repeated three times. The first sentence is “in the moment” with the child. The next two are reflective, not part of the time and space of the first sentence. The first three sentences, in addition, reveal actions that failed.
The following and final three sentences, those governed by the present tense verb “remembers,” all point to concrete but discrete objects. In these six sentences, we have a sweep of three separate moments and three different ways of manifesting one extended situation, for we know that the act of remembering is an action that occurs in the present. The next paragraph follows a similar pattern, sweeping across the dynamic panorama of human experience, an examination of human experience as a confluence of a universe in space and time.
Lust may be a difficult text because it asks the reader to examine the multi-surfaced nature of human action just as Picasso asked the viewer to experience interpolated shapes, or my friend, William Kluba, the dynamic and color/surface rich universe of the table top in space and time.
William Kluba’s Two Tables