Austere wrote a post on 3rd of August, in which she – starting from a column in a newspaper – discussed the sudden change of attitude a reader/writer felt to a given text: How did this happen, what are possible reasons that a text can be seen totally different by the same person, literally just some hours later, as the reader/writer of above mentioned column describes it? I do not want to discuss the possible reasons here, go read austere’s blog for this, but want to take one of austere’s comments as a start for a little walk.
I am an ignoramus. No Grass, No Schmidt and I am afraid, no Proust either. But then no Saraswatichandra either, this signature work in my mother tongue, a work in five volumes that inspired many to leave family life and become ascetics.
A person who translates and lives by the word, and writes very fine texts, can be no ignoramus. I have only a very small idea of Gujarat literature and did not know this novel by G.M.Tripathi, whose name occurred to me one or two times, but of whose importance I had no idea. If it is correct what I found at a quick glance he could be compared to Leopardi, who also described the decline of an old aristocratic way of living (Il gatopardo) in an extending, expanding novel. This comparison is just for other european or western readers to give an idea of Tripathi’s oevre: It is of no use to compare works of art in an other way, like industrial products that can be described by mathematical terms, of which a value can be given in money. The value of a work of art is lying necessarily and hopefully mostly in the onlooker, the reader, the person that is confronted with this piece of wood, clay, metal, paper …
The reader/writer we started with is an example for this – within some hours, in a different setting, in a different state of mind, he allows the text to take over, to drag him in.
And of course austere is right, when she mentions:
“One more reason I thought of, is framing. That black squiggle can look like a child’s interpretation of the Sun till someone tells you it is Picasso, hence $$ million hence genius.“
The name counts too. An area for invention opens up. There is history of fakes – not just forgeries of pieces, but of inventing total fictional characters, adscribing them a place in (european) art history and selling their art. I like these stories and the good forgeries too, the english artist that put fake neolithic artefacts in the British Museum, Konrad Kujau who wrote the “Hitler Tagebücher” and by the way was one of the most gifted painters of the 20th century and could make a Czezanne or any other great painter within days – God alone knows where some of his works still hang around …
In my science the emphasis lies on the art of seeing. It may sound simple, but one knows what one can see and vice versa, one can see what one knows. This idea is in art history connected with the name of Aby Warburg I guess. (The article is a shame and in no way reflects his importance.) To understand a picture for example it is important to know a lot about the artist, the scenes etc.pp. And besides this it is important to have the ability to be astonished, like the proverbial child: Astonishment and curiosity stand at the beginning of the modern western culture.
Regarding texts – one can see the construction of a text, the craftmanship of the author, the tools and tricks he uses – but if I do not allow the text to come near me, it is all of no use, just as when the text touches nothing in me.
To give an example of this I mentioned the two german writers, austere spoke of in the above cited comment. Grass was honored with the Nobel price for literature, and I have to admit that I can find no way into his literature: It simply does not work. I do not know why, maybe later in my life.
Arno Schmidt is a totally different kind of writer, unique writing and formal experiments. Grass is a jovial elder man (is he already 75?), also painting, known for his political statements especial in the sixties. Schmidt died a pretty bitter man, more or less alienated from his wife, living in a small wooden construction in Bargfeld in the “Heide”, a flat lonely northern part of Germany – it is unthinkable to see photographs of him dancing with his wife at a festive gala, as of Grass shaking it at his Nobel party …
The text and its effects count: One touches me, an other doesn’t. Let me see, how it will be when I am fifty.
The good thing is that the texts stay, we change.