Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Lobster Trembles On Its Pedestal

Sometimes I look at all the books in our apartment and wonder what the hell, how did this happen? So few people consider books as anything else than curious antiquities from a bygone era. They’ve become the equivalent of Civil War daguerreotypes. Reading is now done rapidly and indifferently on a computer screen. Intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and aesthetic appreciation for a well-crafted sentence are equally antique. The equivalent of alchemy, falconry, blacksmithing, and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. I feel more like a contemporary of Albertus Magnus than Mark Zuckerberg .

But this isn’t about how old and anachronistic I feel. I’m fascinated by value. What people value. What people consider to be important. Will pay big money for. Take care of. Hone. Polish. Discuss. Boast about. Brandish.

Me, it’s still books. The other day at the doctor’s I grabbed my jacket and Francis Ponge’s Pièces fell out. It went thwack on the floor. My doctor looked down. Pièces, he said. I felt good about that. I’m glad it wasn’t a cell phone. I’m glad it was a book. A French book. About objects. Frogs, washing machines, goats. Olives, wine, swallows. There’s even a piece about the telephone, which he compares to a lobster. “… le homard frémit sur son socle.”

I despise cell phones. They’re the death of solitude. The dignity of what passed for privacy within a public space is gone. People blab about the banalities of their existence as if each were specially ordained by God to go about the surface of the planet spreading the word of their status and privilege. A pram and a dog add to the aggrandizement.

There is nothing to know in all there is to say. It is all void when it comes down to it. Whatever it turns out to be. There is no direct equivalent for the pronoun ‘it’ in Japanese. It may turn out to be nothing. So the sentence, “it’s nothing,” is redundant, at least in Japanese.

The primary value of my life has been art. It has been a devotion to making objects, or creating phenomena, with no utility outside of their own reason for being. This is an inherently adversarial position in a society so aggressively driven by predatory capitalism and the Protestant work ethic. Both of which I have despised. They were the enemy. I can’t help but feel now that I’m in my mid-60s, utterly useless. I did not derail the corporate juggernaut. I got hoisted by my own petard. If there is consolation, it is this: even in failure there is sometimes fulfillment.

Fulfillment brims with alibi. It can be all sorts of things. A comfortable bed. Codeine for a cold. Baclava. The quality of the light in Reims Cathedral. The taste of rain. Kitties in dream’s afternoon. And anything that can’t be and can and is and isn’t.

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