Sunday, December 28, 2008

How Many Kinds of Artist

Matt Morgan, are you out there in cyberspace? You need to know how profoundly happy I am to have discovered George Steiner, and my gratitude to you (as the intermediary who arranged that discovery) runs deep. I had started to think that religious feeling meant academic suicide. God + academia = lost cause. But lo! As it turns out, one can turn to academia, and, in the best of cases, do it precisely as a theologian.

But there's more! And more important: George knows about art.

Art is life. For me. I'm not trying to be pretentious. And here's how I know I'm not being pretentious: it's a drawback. It doesn't win friends.

I can't stop acting. Or, can't ever make the feeling of acting go away. It doesn't mean I'm faking the whole way through life. It's just how it is. If I were a book binder I would be binding up things all over the house and if I raised butterflies for a living I would sleep in butterfly gauze and dream butterfly dreams.

George says that all art is an attempt at communication (not necessarily communicating, but definitely trying). And why? The dread of solitude. "The rapture of Narcissus is, tautologically, that of suicide." Ack! We who need other people need art because we're hopeless at talking to other people. We'll try anything. But whoa there! Some people who need art ... don't need people. {??!!}

Yes, George. There are! "The notion of a poet writing verse in a private tongue or destroying what he has written, of a painter refusing to show any canvas to an eye other than his own, of a composer 'performing' his score in mute, purely inward audition, is conceivable" but unlikely. You're implying it doesn't happen, George, but it does! (George says that Gogol burned the second half of Dead Souls out of fear of the "other's intrusion." I'm doubting.)

There is another kind of artist, the kind I am not, the kind I envy with all my heart. How many artists I know crave aloneness and lavish their attention on the gritty pleasure of making. Not making for. These are the good little players who as four-year-olds sat all day around tiny creations arranging, enacting, dissecting. I spent my childhood terrorized by lonesomeness. I have a terrible imagination.

When I'm afraid of isolation I drive around all night to be surrounded by other people driving. I'll sit in an airport to see people walking around.

George, as far as I know, you've written a lot of books. Which means you probably spend a lot of time alone too.

At least I have the endless vault of cyberspace to project my woes into. What would I do without you?