M.4. The deadweight of the NY Review of Books

I’ve been reading all day about the deceased and the world they leave behind. I picked up and finished another Didion book — The Year of Magical Thinking (which is largely on grieving, and love/regret/self-pity/memory/tragedy/change). And I was caught up on a still unfinished copy of the NY Review of Books. The editor of the latter died (Robert Silvers) and they had some of his assistant editors/contributors write about him — including some of my favorite authors — which quickened a soft flow of tears. They describe how he “elicited” the articles he sought from writers rather a commissioning them, worked with an unflinching respect for each writer’s style, and labored tirelessly to form and sustain a publication he knew could change the world by broadening landscapes of the mind and spirit.

All day I was straining to set my sight clearly so it may justly admire the inconceivably lovely material. Even as I knew that tasting it with the purity of open senses would catalyze a prolonged frenzy — ruining my ability to be around most company; and the temperature of that frenzy would exactly parallel the depth of a uncomfortable conviction, a conviction which bears itself against what is practical and sensible and common.

Each visit to the NY Review of books I pull away stirred by prose fostered by hands which cannot know how closely, how exactly they press on the epidermis of human life, else they may become frightened and pull away. While beauty can rarely if every be articulated in the dumbness of common language, the articles approximate the sublime Goodness within Plato’s cave. The Good — harvested from the beautiful and presented to the world of men — pulsates with freshness. In the throws of a wholly unpractical and surely somewhat naive adoration, I imagine that descriptions have been recently been picked from the sky of ideas and served still warm to the touch — still preserving some of that divine heat. Borrowing a quote Elizabeth Bishop used from something other, the whole event of being among these contributors “reeks of meaning.”

Jed Perl on Rauschenberg and Joan Didion/Zadie Smith/Jennifer Holmans on the mortality of the fantastically epic as Robert Silvers. The melancholic burden of courage in Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. The words they condense create and nurture spaces between art and life; between the capitalization and still period, is the wild and unpredictable and raw and furious. For it seems as though all originality has this edge of hurt, as if insulted that we are only awakening to its Quality now, as if it knows we will abandon it to frivolity all too soon.

Jed Perl’s assessment of Robert Rauschenberg’s continuous belch into the artistic world, the sheer size of his workmanship and the glaring lack of expertise. Rauschenberg’s expressed commitment to de-definition of art and his denial of chasing after the “old artisanal views of…genius grounded in the demands of a particular craft” chafe Perl, mainly because he senses that there are rare instances where this actually lands Rauschenberg’s art in a “stream of consciousness coherence,” or a “freely associated monologue” which carries the safe resoluteness of form. Instead he chalks up the litany of mediums and deviations and slapdash incongruity which trail across Rauschenberg’s career to a repeated failure to commit to what the artist must ultimately do when the pinnacle moment arrives amidst the creative thrust of activity: “take control of what’s out of control.”

Perl describes the praise for Rauschenberg as “nothing more than confirmation of what fools we mortals be” and pities those who allow that “nothing is left of art, but the fiction of the artist.”

But I am inclined to give some more credit to Rauschenberg, for while perhaps he did not have the patience/discipline to curate a talent in any medium, he did have the courage (or perhaps the stupidity) to pursue action which constantly landed him where he had never been before. And in this manner I do pity the “errors” and “sins” of “those how fight always on the front lines/of the limitless and of the future” as Apollinaire describes artistic frontiersmen. For the vastness of his work if anything does imply that he was charging at full pace, risking his own self when and wherever he could conceive it could matter. He was Shakespeare’s Brutus noting what always seemed ahead and inquiring even as he moved forward: “That this shall be, or we will fall for it?”

I will attempt to fit Perl’s own mood into a nod to Rauschenberg — for he contends that “artists aren’t pushed to remake or reimagine images, experiences, and ideas; they’re just meant to receive them.” I sense that Rauschenberg has espoused the zeitgeist, seized on the gestalt of a moment when we are unglued from the principles which had founded, guided, and buttressed humanity’s purpose in the world.

This was a review of an artist who was determined to try everything instead of committing —mirroring the resolve of subsequent generations. For we are far more committed to constant pursuit than willing to attempt to form that genius which was once born of being an apprentice. Perl’s review carries the present tension of traditions which have become foiled by the illusion of productivity. The delusion, which has slowing been deleting our foundation, has become potent primarily because of the pace with which we live, because we cannot stop to wonder at the very nature of the ground. We are, after all, living in the cloud. We have a useful if shallow faith that there is always another option — the sea of ways to be is seemingly endless. This is the charter of progress — work within change.

In all of this reading/note taking/writing I feel the pounding of a “calling” (that is the self-effacing word of choice I must convey). However invisible to the senses, this maudlin exposure tears out in recognition, aching be recognized by the forces that have bound my loyalty by refusing dismissal. At once I feel remorse for having folded under the pressure of willing myself to wish otherwise, and I stare at this decision, at the time that has elapsed in waiting, and I insist on watching it closely so I may recognize and confront the Resistance Steven Pressfield announces in the War of Art.

I recently deliberated on the heat of his battle cry with a friend. She had disliked the tone he carried, which she had experienced as pitched in an anger which almost seemed contrived for the occasion, not unlike the stale ire of a spinning instructor carrying their students through a session with a flurry of invectives, made anodyne by rote. And he has a terrible habit of name-dropping, she added to definitively close the point.

But while the closet creative listens closely to this angel of death, the professional artist promises that summoning up the will and stamina to engage with our art is a far less dramatic affair than Pressfield has elucidated.