Friday, July 11, 2003

Distracted from my task by a blurb for Glazer's book by Carole Maso, who I had not really heard of before Kazim Ali called her to my attention some time ago as an author the Bookery should stock. The Glazer wasn't doing much for me but I went and grabbed our copy of AVA and read that for a few astonising pages. Then I went and got Maso's book of essays, Break Every Rule, and read her essay, "Notes of a Lyric Artist Working in Prose." Her language is so supple, embracing both moment by moment subjectivity and also moving outward to seize objects in a lapidary embrace—she's right to see Woolf as her predecessor. I'm struck by how her defense of her kind of writing is basically a defense of modernism, and an attempt to revive a modernist spirit in a commodified age where, as she notes, "many novelists, now commodity maekrs, have agreed on a recognizable reality, which they are all too happy to impart as if it were true." She turns to poetry to resuscitate the novel through poetry's foregrounding of language, rhythm, and image. It's inspiring on one level—I want to run home and start my own "lyric novel"—but disheartening in the sense that it makes me feel like artists are just trying to hold a crumbling ground. What's really, really coming after modernism? Postmodernism is just modernism without elegy. What's next? What do I have in me to contribute to that next? Is the fetish for the new just a kind of conservatism after all? Conservatism in the strictest sense, which always to my mind conjures an image of a sandbar losing it grain by grain to the tide. A holding action. Conservation of natural resources always struck me as a flawed concept for the same reason. I'm all for preserving the forests, the reefs, the scraps of remaining clean air, but is conservation enough? Who's making more of it? And I don't mean technology—something closer to nurturing, or Heidegger's dwelling. Is there an analogy to artmaking possible here? The making new as an act of preservation. Most practically: self-preservation. Most nobly: an act of preserving what is other.

Misread her sentence "Much of my work is propelled by the desire to be reunited with lost, unremembered aspects of self and world" (30). Read ruined instead of reunited.

What could be new: capturing our disintegrated now with the tools that lay to hand. The unexpected rippling power of the word "Bosnia" in the middle of her essay, in a passage that flits from Maso's childhood to Orion's belt to Bartok to her apartment in New York and back to childhood. A bookended life, reminding me of the best lines I came across in that strange Mark Ford book (he's very English, seemingly positioned as a kind of Ashbery-Larkin hybrid): "I was born, and then my body unfurled / As if to illustrate a few tiny but effective words— / But—oh my oh my—avaunt."

And here's a quote from Tarkovsky that comes near the end of the essay: "The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good."

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