Milo loves to read so please enjoy his reading list from 2012 along with some notes and quotes he has compiled from some of them.
"Gob's Grief" Chris Adrian
I read The Children's Hospital a few years ago and Gob's Grief falls in the same surrealistic and allegorical method of storytelling. This one, like the other, took some time to read as I had to put it down several times for a spell and move to lighter reading material. Walt Whitman appears as one of the central characters who befriends Gob, one of the sons of radical feminist Victoria Woodhull.
"Of course I do," Walt said. "Of course I am sad. If I let it, it might consume me. His heart tore, and I wonder if it was not the accumulated burden of madness and woe that tore his heart apart as hands might tear a paper bag. Sometimes I think I can hear him, raving and crying and dying. I can think on his life – what it might have been if madness hadn't claimed him, and I can love that lost life as I can love Andrew's lost life, and grieve for him. A person could live his whole life like that, in service to grief. You've said as much yourself. What does it do? It will not bring them back, to hollow yourself out, to crush your own heart from loneliness and spite. My friend, it does not bring them back."
Walt liked these words less and less as he spoke them, because they seemed conventional and cowardly and stupid, and at odds with his own experience. Hadn't Hank come back to him, in a sense?
Surely, said Hank, Surely I did. And Gob said, "It might, too."
…He was still a physician and a photographer, but though he still labored at these professions, they were no longer his work.
…It's the greatest open secret, that death will take everyone, that every person is as transient as a shadow. Embracing this knowledge, she came to realize, was how sane people managed their grief, and she thought it had served her pretty well for as long as she remained sane. It's me it's me it's me, her impostor hand would write all through the winter, and all through the winter she'd reply, "How dare you say that?"
"Sacred" Dennis Lehane
OK, I'm on a detective novel lick right now. This could last for awhile. This one's a quick detective page-turner with recurring private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.
"Hit and Run" Lawrence Block
…and another quick-read murder mystery with professional killer John Keller.
"The Man Who Smiled" Henning Mankell
My fifth Mankell book featuring Ystad detective Kurt Wallander. These stories are quick-paced and simply written, designed to keep you up nights until you can read no more. There are thirteen Wallander books in the series beginning with "The Pyramid" in 1999 and ending with "The Troubled Man" in 2009.
"Talk Talk" T.C. Boyle
"A Breath of Snow and Ashes" Diana Gabaldon
"A Short History of A Small Place" T.R. Pearson
"So Daddy said what in Tuesday had been your simple fiasco got elevated to an atrocity lunchtime Wednesday and then was distributed as such on the bottom half of the front page of the Tuesday Chronicle, and consequently all those people who were previously not exactly sure if a pigeon massacre was or was not an atrocity got told for certain that it was and all those people who had not even suspected that it might be also got told that it was and so at least had to consider the possibility whereas otherwise, Daddy said, they probably would have just gone around ignorant and would never even have suspected that Pinky was guilty of atrociousness. But he was, Daddy said, anyway Mrs. Ira Penn said he was right there on the bottom half of the front page of section A of the Chronicle, which is actually the only section aside from the advertising inserts which are called section B but are not a section at all and are only snuck inside of section A, according to Daddy, in order to make the Chronicle feel like fifteen cents worth of newspaper. At first, Mrs. Ira Penn said she was 'scandalized' by what Mr. Pinky Throckmorton had 'instigated,' which would be the pigeon fiasco, and then she was 'scandalized and distressed,' and then she said she was 'scandalized, distressed, and deeply saddened,' and as far as Mrs. Ira Penn saw it Neely could not yet but would soon 'fathom the myriad reverberations of the innumerable death knells sounded Tuesday last for the companions at our feet,' all of which the reporter Mr. Upchurch called 'pigeons' in parentheses. And Daddy said even though Mrs. Ira Penn could not tick off any specific reverberations right at the moment, just the hint of some on the way stirred up about half of Neely, which would be mostly the female half since not much of the male half paid any attention to Mrs. Ira Penn except for Mr. Ira Penn, who Daddy said was the sort of man who always knew what was good for him."
"And Mrs. Phillip J. King said before Mrs. Granddaddy Gottlieb and Mrs. Buster Gottlieb could draw themselves back into the kitchen and exit properly through the door a pair of drakes shot past the peak of the house and dipped below the pine trees and the two women together screamed, 'Ducks!' and Buster hollered behind them, 'Get the gun!' and Granddaddy Gottlieb rolled the comforter down below his chin and shouted, 'What Ducks?' And Mrs. Phillip J. King said Mrs. Buster Gottlieb fetched her husband's shotgun out from behind the bedroom door and stormed into the backyard with it while Mrs. Granddaddy Gottlieb grabbed up her husband's single shot rifle from the closet in the hallway and hit the porch at a gallop. Unfortunately Mrs. Granddaddy Gottlieb was not nearly so spry and sure-footed as she had once been and she stumbled somewhere between the porch planking and the first stairtread but happily managed to catch herself on the bannister and a little less happily managed to keep her hold on the rifle by the only piece of it her fingers could find to latch onto, which turned out to be the trigger, and Mrs. Phillip J. King said the gun didn't discharge into the sky exactly but more into the backyard so that Mrs. Granddaddy Gottlieb very nearly bagged her own boy Buster who in leaping wildly sideways touched off one barrel of the shotgun which did not discharge into the sky exactly either but emptied itself against the back part of the house with a tremendous racket, and Mrs. Phillip J. King said somewhere amidst the uproar and confusion Granddaddy Gottlieb, wrapped up to the neck in his comforter, stuck himself partway out of the bedroom window and with his pistol blew the topnotch out of one of the pine trees. 'I got him' Granddaddy Gottlieb hollered. 'I got the son-of-a-bitch,' and he threw his arms up over his head by way of celebration, Mrs. Phillip J. King said, which caused him to fall over frontwards partway out the window but not entirely to the ground and he hung upside-down against the siding with his thighs caught on the windowsill and Mrs. Phillip J. King said what with the lingering pneumonia Granddaddy Gottlieb was too weak-limbed to pull himself back up into the house and too weak-headed to shut up for five seconds about the duck he'd been too weak-eyed to see was not a duck at all but just a piece of pine tree. And Granddaddy Gottlieb beat the clapboard with his pistol butt and yelled to his wife to go off through the pine grove after his bird until finally he wore himself out and dozed off just as he was."
"The service commenced when Mrs. Rollie Cobb, who was the pianist at the Seventh Day Adventist Church and who played entirely by ear and mostly in ragtime, stood up from her place on the front pew and approached the commander's upright piano, which was situated just shy of the alter and somewhat to the left of it. Mrs. Cobb was probably nearly four feet tall from the bottoms of her feet to the tops of her shoulders and then was another two feet taller from the base of her neck up to where the heap of hair on her head reached its highest altitude. Understandably, then, she was not a woman of any appreciable velocity since balance was a matter of some consequence with her, so once Mrs. Cobb stood up to approach the piano she was in the process of approaching it for a measurable spell before she finally succeeded in setting herself down on the stool, and when she stabilized her head where it would sit properly upright she launched into a lively prefatory melody that gradually degenerated into 'Onward Christian Soldiers' as Mrs. Cobb got her bearings on the tempo."
"We were treated to a minute or two of coughing, sneezing, nose-blowing, and general uneasiness among the congregation once Reverend Wilkerson had returned to his chair, and following some elaborate arm waving between Mrs. Rollie Cobb at the front of the chapel and Miss Fay Dull at the back of it Mrs. Cobb got herself properly set and anchored at the piano and then assaulted the keyboard but with such a limited success that she had to break off and start in again and the second time around she got underway in fairly good form. However, Mrs. Cobb commenced to put a little pace on the melody directly and it became so frantic with embellishments and excesses that Miss Fay Dull had a difficult time cueing the sopranos and the altos, which was all she could cue since the baritones were still on the outside on the landing and could not quite see her from there. So the sopranos and the altos simply jumped aboard at the first available chink in the tune and the baritones waded in shortly thereafter and they all managed to draw together presently into what sounded very much like singing. This particular selection called for a solo and Miss Fay Dull had nominated herself, so once she choked off the competition to her satisfaction she made a fine entrance into the melody and brawled with it all the way to the refrain where the rest of the choir showed up to help her vanquish it entirely. Then they all sang together for a couple of bars before things got a little uptown in the middle and called for the baritones and sopranos to bark back and forth at each other while Miss Dull trilled away between and underneath them and Mrs. Rollie Cobb bludgeoned the whole business with some rather ponderous fingerwork. We were entertained in this fashion for what seemed an inconsiderably lengthy spell and by the time the melody began to shut down, the whole business had turned into a kind of slugfest for soprano, choir and Seventh Day Adventist and we were all pretty much relieved to see the animosities brought to a close, especially Daddy whose ears had become red as firecoals."
"Tropic of Night" Michael Gruber
"Later we had Sunday dinner. We always have some guests. Tonight's a guy named Bryan Banners and his wife, Melanie, he's an art historian, she's and anthropologist. Midwesterners both, both large and pink and blond. Banners had bought a little statue in the market. He had it with him and showed it around. It was an Ogun ax, a thin spindle of three figures in ebony, with a triangular ax blade of iron attached to the head of the topmost. Greer looked it over and said it was a nice piece & Banners asked if it was authentic. Greer said that depended on what he meant by authentic, said it was an Ekite carving from the Kwara region, but what Banners probably meant was, 'was it old or recent?' Greer said it wasn't appropriate question to ask about African art. Age = European fetish. I could see that Banners hadn't ever thought that Europeans had fetishes & he said that he only meant did it come from a tribe with an intact tradition, or was it tourist trade? Greer said that wasn't the right question either, because you could ask also if Robert Motherwell was in an intact tradition or making stuff for the trade when he sold a painting to his New York gallery.
Greer said the reason why the Africans don't fetishize antiquity is that nothing organic lasts in Africa. Old masks and statues are routinely buried and new ones are made by clans of carvers. It's the spirit, the ashe, in the thing that counts, and this particular thing os full of ashe, so it doesn't matter if it was made a hundred years ago or last Wednesday. There is a lot of junk, of course, you have to discriminate, as the locals do. Like in New York."
"His faith in the church remained the faith of a child, which is supposed to be a good thing, and his tastes remained the tastes of a boy: hot dogs, burgers, ice-cream sodas, tinkering with cars, messing around with small boats. Small children adored him, of course, except his own, although even I adored him for a time."
"The Thin Place" Kathryn Davis
"The Honorary Consul" Graham Greene
"Inanimate objects change at a faster rate than human beings. Doctor Humphries and Charley Fortnum were not noticeably different men that night than they were now; a crack in the plaster of a neglected house grows more quickly than a line on a human face, paint changes color more rapidly than hair, and a room's decay is continuous: it never comes to a temporary halt on that high plateau of old age where a man may live a long time without apparent change. Doctor Humphries had been established on the plateau for many years, and Charley Fortnum, though he was still on one of the lower slopes, had found a reliable weapon in the fight against senility – he had pickled in alcohol some of the high spirits and the naivete of earlier days. As the years passed, Doctor Plarr could discern little alteration in either of his early acquaintances – perhaps Humphries moved more slowly between the Bolivar and the Italian Club, and sometimes he believed he could detect in Charley Fortnum increasing spots of melancholy, like mold, in his well-bottled bonhomie."
"What have you got there?"
"Only a detective story. An English detective story."
"A good one?"
"I'm no judge of that. The translation is not very good, and with this sort of book I can always guess the end."
"Then where is the interest?"
"Oh, there is a sort of comfort in reading a story where one knows what the end will be. The story of a dream world where justice is always done. There were no detective stories in the age of faith – an interesting point when you think of it. God used to be the only detective when people believed in Him. He was law. He was order. He was good. Like your Sherlock Holmes. It was He who pursued the wicked man for punishment and discovered all. But now people like the General make law and order. Electric shocks on the genitals. Aquino's fingers. Keep the poor ill-fed, and they do not have the energy to revolt. I prefer the detective. I prefer God."
"Blood and Thunder" Hampton Sides
"When Madeline Was Young" Jane Hamilton
"Forests of the Heart" Charles de Lint
"Futureland" Walter Mosley
"Home For the Day" Anderson Ferrell
Audiences fell in love with him, I along with them. Whenever I saw him dance, which was nearly overtime he did, it was as though I was seeing him for the first time. Not just seeing him dance for the first time, but seeing him. I'd sit there in the audience with my heart breaking. For when he dance, he went to a place I could not follow. We were separated by his talent, for it was the thing about him which I could not claim or partake in or keep private between us. It was something which even he didn't own. It left no mark. I have pictures of him dancing, but they rob what is essential to it, movement. And words cannot retrieve the effort or the effect of something drawn in space on a phrase of music and the silences between tones. If he owned anything about his dancing, it was simply the right to disperse it. When he danced he was off to a place from where he could not be called back, and I just had to watch and wait, hopeful that he would return. Except for that, it was like now. He was, in way, dead to me, and I watched a vision of him through an invisible wall, thick as plate glass.
"The Magician's Assistant" Ann Patchett
Kitty bent over and started digging around on the floor. “When you're young and want to have a baby because babies are so cute and everybody else has one, nobody ever takes you aside and explains to you what happens when they grow up. Maybe they all think it's obvious. I mean, if you know enough about biology to know where babies come from, then you should that sooner or later they turn into teenagers, but somehow you just don't ever think about it, then one day, bang, you've got these total strangers living with you, these children in adult bodies, and you don't know who they are. It's like they somehow ate up those children you had and you loved, and you keep loving these people because you know they've got your child locked up in there somewhere.” She stopped with two pairs of jeans in one hand and a windbreaker in the other and looked at the wreckage that she couldn't seem to make a dent in. ‘”You love them so much and yet you keep wondering when they're going to leave."
"Nothing But Blue Skies" Thomas McGuane
Frank could only go along with these spiraling witticisms. These days, everything took such a long explanation, it was turning smart people into mutes. Combining the knowing look with absentmindedness was the great modern social skill as far as Frank was concerned, and he thought he had it down pretty fair. It would never occur to the doctor that was a new Frank, certainly not the one who acquired and managed the clinic so acceptably over the years. This was the night Frank. This was the solitaire who feared that happiness was past. This was the roaming dog.
Phil wore a shirt that seemed to be made out of pillow ticking and Frank was reminded how he often thought Phil looked like a Gallatin County pioneer, maybe a small stock farmer or someone who sold whiskey to the Indians. He had that blank look he associated with local frontiersmen in photographs, which probably had more to do with the instructions of the photographer to not move and spoil the portrait than it did with the actual personalities of the subjects. From that, Frank, like most people, had surmised that a bleak view of the world prevailed a hundred years ago. If it weren't for their written materials, which revealed a new Eden, this great technological breakthrough would have maligned them for all time. Phil looked like a victim of photography; Frank knew he was full of enthusiasms but he didn't let them show very much.
"Four Souls" Louise Erdrich
Later, as I devoured the beef tea myself, I reflected. I realized that I missed being privy to brother-in-law’s treatments. For much of my life I was not acquainted with what may seem the obscure derivation of the adjective “sincere.” It is from two latin words, sine, without, and cera, wax. What a rare thing it is to be treated without wax. My desire is always to conduct relationships based upon honest regard. As I sipped the last drops of the beef tea I tried to enumerate moments stripped of pretense and all I could come up with was those efforts of mine, with brother-in-law, when he grasped my hand in desperate gratitude, unknowing, and allowed me to really see him. As I relived those moments of extremity, a strange thought met me unawares. Were I not to know him, or someone, some person, at this radical depth, I fear my time on earth would be hideous. I was surprised to think this. But it crossed my mind that to know others on a superficial level only is a desperate hell and life is worth living only if the veneer is stripped away, the polish, the wax, and we see the true grain of the other no matter how far less than perfect, even ugly, even savage at the heart.
Along with rules, there came another affliction. Acquisition, the priest called it. Greed. There was no word in our language to describe this urge to own things we didn’t need. Where before we always had a reason for each object we kept, now the sole reason was wanting it. People traded away their land for pianos they couldn’t play and bought clothing too fancy for their own everyday use. They bought spoons made of silver when there wasn’t food, and gilded picture frames when they had neither pictures nor walls. A strange frenzy for zhaaginaash stuff came over the best of us. Where before we gave our things away and were admired for our generosity, now we grew stingy and admired ourselves for what we grabbed and held. Even Margaret, whose eyes were sharp for foolishness, was overcome.
"The Maytrees" Annie Dillard
"The Plain Sense of Things" Pamela Carter Joern
"An Unfinished Life" Mark Spragg
"Eventide" Kent Haruf
"The Sweetest Dream" Doris Lessing
"Cut and Run" Ridley Pearson
"Spooner" Pete Dexter
Spooner wrote the column as if the kid mattered to him, and he didn’t. The truth was that he couldn’t picture the dead boy, and picturing him was the ground-floor requisite for this sort of newspaper column. Without it the column came out of Spooner’s typewriter as dead as the boy himself, as ordinary as a box of cereal. There were two things Spooner absolutely knew about writing, and the first one was that you can’t get away with pretending to care. The other one, if you’re interested, is that nobody wants to hear what you dreamed about last night.
"Be Cool" Elmore Leonard
"Homer and Langley" E. L. Doctorow
Doctorow wrote of his novel of the notorious recluse Collyer brothers of 5th Avenue: "In one sense I think of Homer & Langley as a road novel--as if they are two people traveling together down a road and having adventures, though in fact they are housebound. It turns out that the world will not let them alone--others intrude on their privacy as if it is the road running through them. As for their collecting, I think of them as curators of their life and times, and their house as a museum of all our lives. That is my idea of them, that is my reading of the Collyer myth. I make them to be two brothers who opted out of civilization and pulled the world in after them."
And so do people pass out of one's life and all you can remember of them is their humanity, a poor fitful thing of no dominion, like your own.
Langley said: Who cares who our distinguished ancestors were? What balderdash. All those census records, all those archives, attest only to the self-importance of the human being who gives himself a name and a pat on the back and doesn't admit how irrelevant he is to the turnings of the planet.
I wasn't prepared to go that far, for if you felt that way what was the use of living in the world, of believing in yourself as an identifiable person with an intellect and desires and the ability to learn and to affect outcomes?
"Air Guitar" Dave Hickey
So, I have always wanted to tell this story, because it is a true story that I have carefully remembered, but frankly, it is a sentimental story, too – as all stories of successful human society must be – and we don't cherish that flavor of democracy anymore. Today, we do blood, money and sex – race, class and gender. We don't do communities of desire (people united in loving something as we loved jazz). We do statistical demographics, age groups, and target audiences. We do ritual celebrations of white family values, unctuous celebrations of marginal cultural identity, multiethnic kick-boxer movies, and yuppie sit-coms. With the possible exception of Rosanne, we don't even do ordinary eccentricity anymore. In an increasingly diffuse and customized post-industrial world, we cling to the lad vestige of industrial thinking: the presumption of mass-produced identity and ready-made experience – a presumption that makes the expression, appreciation, or even the perception of our everyday distinctions next to impossible.
And, finally, American business stopped advertising products for what they were, or for what they could do, and began advertising them for what they meant – as sign systems within the broader culture – emphasizing what every collector wants to know: who owned them and where they were owned. Thus, rather than producing and marketing infinitely replicable objects that adequately served unchanging needs, American commerce began creating finite sets of objects that embodied ideology for a finite audience at a particular moment – objects that created desire rather than fulfilling needs. This is nothing more or less an art market. If you don't think so, price out a 1965 Ford Thunderbird.
All the while, the minions and mavens of the 'serious jazz world' stood on the sidelines, exasperated that on the one hand that (Chet) Baker refused to do something 'historical', like Miles, that they could write about and teach in their college courses, and annoyed on the other hand that he continued to play so beautifully, that he refused to quit and be the bum they wished he was. “It really pissed them off,” Lowell George told me once, “that they couldn't learn anything from Chet's playing, not anything they could teach. All they could learn was that he could do it, and they couldn't. It was all about thinking and breathing in real time, and they couldn't grasp that. It had too much to do with life, with how you live in time.”
But there is more to it than that, because Baker's music and his way of making music has had its influence beyond the parochial world of high-modernist jazz theory. It provides the classic model for a new tradition of steady-state, postmodern popular music which is probably best exemplified by Lowell George's Little Feat and Lou Reed's Velvet Underground. These bands operated on Baker's premise: that the song plays the music and music plays the player and that, consequently, the song, as played, is not a showcase for the player's originality, but a momentary acoustic community in which the players breathe and think together in real time, adding to a song's history, without detracting from its integrity, leaving it intact to be played again. “The thing you learn,” Lou Reed told me in an interview, “is that popular music is easy. The song will play itself. So all you need to de is make it sing a little, make it human, and not fuck it up.”
The song's too simple, and we're too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against out formal expectations, whether we want it to or not. Just because we're breathing, man. Thus, in process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions.
The vogue of Andy Warhol was my gaudy emblem of this occasion, and, looking back, I can honestly say that Andy showed me the way out of graduate school – that he freed me from its smothering obsession with intentions and intentionality. Because Andy’s rhetoric of fame meant that “what Andy meant” was irrelevant. The work was its public vogue. I attributed this moral to Jasper John’s flags as well, because a flag does not derive its “authority” from the fact that Jasper Johns or Betsy Ross made it. It is invested with power and significance by the faith and commitment of those who salute it. So I can see now that, by becoming an art dealer, I was positioning myself to exacerbate the effects of art rather than to speculate on its causes.
If you can't tell one universe from another, that's your problem, but not an unusual one, since art and money are very much alike, in both embodiment and conception. To put it simply: Art and money are cultural fictions wit no intrinsic value. They acquire exchange value through the fiduciary investment of complex constituencies – through overt demonstrations of trust (or acts of faith, if you will) of the sort we all perform when we accept paper currency (or, even more trustingly, a check) for goods or services. This is the act of faith that I performed when I traded the Kenny Price for the John Baldessari – but with a difference, since, even though I sold the Baldessari for more that I paid for the Kenny Price, I still want both of them back, because I prefer the universe of art to the universe of money.
The point, however, is that the issuing institution or individual can never guarantee the value of art or money sent forth into the world. It must be sustained through investments by complex constituencies of individuals, public institutions, and private corporations. The government may say a dollar is worth a dollar. Fiduciary investment tells us it's worth thirty-five cents. The Whitney Museum may say that Wanda Whatzit is the next big thing, but only the sustained investment of money, journalism, exhibition space, scholarly prose, foundation awards, loose talk, and casual body language can maintain Wanda's work in public esteem. So it helps to remember that the language of external investment extends this far – all the way from the casual shrug at a gallery opening to the gaudy résumé on some bureaucrat's shiny desk.
People kept telling us how country songs had to be simple and true to be great. Fred and I knew that was bullshit. We knew that had to clear and perfect. Because, if they were, they's be the only clear and perfect thing in the stinking ditch most of us live in. Let me take an example, She's my Eskimo baby, she's My Eskimo pie. Now, that's George Jones, and that's simple. And that, God help us, is probably true. But it's also bullshit. Today I passed you on the street and my heart fell at your feet. That's not simple and that's not true. But it will never come undone. Because it is clear and perfect about the feelings, which, unfortunately, your average Southern boy would no more admit to having then he would admit to having the clap.
For all of us, I think, Perry (Mason) and his legal secretary, Della Street, and his detective sidekick, Paul Drake, must constitute a kind of trinity – the Trinity of the Professional Family. They evoke for us a kind of ideal collegial atmosphere, which, if it actually existed, would make steady employment less onerous – although we are used to its nonexistence by now, accustomed to our disappointment. In the beginning, back in the fifties, Perry and Della and Paul were enacting this fantasy of happy, serious, collaborative work at the moment it became a fantasy, at the moment in history when the American ideal of the working family was finally supplanted – first in the workplace by corporate formalism, and then, in the domestic sphere, by this tarted-up, late-Victorian paradigm of Arcadian households tucked away from the tumult of commerce in tidy suburban cloisters.
My dad called them “looky-loos.” He would come home from playing in some bar or listening to someone else play, and Mom would ask, “How was the crowd?” If those in attendance weren’t up to his standards, he would say “looky-loos.” Or sometimes he would just mutter “civilians,” which meant the same thing. We all knew what he meant: Civilians were non-participants, people who did not live the life – people with no real passion for what was going on. They were just looking. They paid their dollar at the door, but they contributed nothing to the occasion – afforded no confirmation or denial that you could with or around or against.
With spectators, as Waylon out it, it’s a one-way deal, and in the world I grew up in, the whole idea was not to be one of them, and to avoid, insofar as possible, being spectated by any of them, because it was demeaning. You just didn’t do it, and you used the word “spectator” as a term of derision – not as bad as “folksinger,” of course, but still a serious insult. Even so, it wasn’t something we discussed or even thought about, since the possibility of any of us spectating or being spectated was fairly remote. It is, however, something worth thinking about today, since, with the professionalism of the art world, and the dissolution of the underground cultures that once fed into it, the distinction between spectators and participants is dissolving as well.
So here’s my suggestion: At this moment, with public patronage receding like the spring tide anyway and democracy supposedly proliferating throughout the art world, why don’t all of us art-types summon up the moral courage to admit that what we do has no intrinsic value or virtue – that it has its moments and it has its functions, but otherwise, all things considered, in its ordinary state, unredeemed by courage and talent, it is a bad, silly, frivolous thing to do. We could do this, you know. And those moments and those functions would not be diminished in the least. Because the presumption of art’s essential “goodness” is nothing more than a political fiction that we employ to solicit taxpayer’s money for public art education , and for public housing of works of art that we love so well their existence is inseparable from the texture of the world in which we live.
These are worthy and indispensable projects. No society with half a heart would even think to ignore them. But the presumption of art’s essential “goodness” is a conventional trope. It describes nothing. Art education is not redeeming for the vast majority of students, nor is art practice redeeming for the vast majority of artists. The “good” works of art that reside in our museums reside there not because they are “good,” but because we love them. The political fiction of art’s virtue means only this: The practice and exhibition of art has had beneficial public consequences in the past. It might in the future. So funding them is worth the bet. That’s the argument; art is good, sort of, in a vague, general way. Seducing oneself into believing in art’s intrinsic “goodness,” however, is simply bad religion, no matter what the rewards. It is bad cult religion when professing one’s belief in art’s “goodness’ becomes a condition of membership in the art community.
So consider for a moment the enormous benefits that would accrue to us all, if art were considered bad, silly, and frivolous. Imagine the lightness we would feel if this burden of hypocrisy were lifted from our shoulders – the sheer joy of it. We would stop insisting that art is a “good thing” in and of itself, stop pretending that it is a “good thing” to do – to do “good” – and stop recruiting the good, serious, well-educated children of the mercantile and professional classes to do it, on the grounds that they are too Protestant, too well-behaved, too respectful, and too desirous of our respect to effect any kind of delightful change. We could abandon our pose of thoughtful satiety, reconceive ourselves as the needy, disconsolate, and desiring creatures that we are, and dispense with this pervasive, pernicious, Martha Stewart canon of puritan taste with its disdain for “objects of virtue” and its cold passion for virtue itself.
What if works of art were considered to be what they actually are – frivolous objects or entities with no intrinsic value that only acquire value through a complex process of socialization during which some are empowered by an ongoing sequence of private, mercantile, journalistic, and institutional investments that are irrevocably extrinsic to them and to any intention that might embody? What if we admitted that, unlike seventeenth-century France, institutional and educational accreditation are presently insufficient to invest works of art with an aura of public import – that the only works of art that maintain themselves in public vogue are invariably invested with interest, enthusiasm, and volunteer commitment from a complex constituency that is extrinsic both to themselves and to their sponsoring institutions?
If we do this, we can stop regarding the art world as a “world” or a “community” or a “market” and begin thinking of it as a semi-public, semi-mercantile, semi-institutional agora – an intermediate institution of civil society, like that of professional sports, within which issues of private desire and public virtue are negotiated and occasionally resolved. Because the art world is no more about art than the sports world is about sport. The sports world conducts an ongoing referendum on the manner in which we should cooperate and compete. The art world conducts an ongoing referendum on how things should look and the way we should look at things – or it would, if art were regarded as sports are, as a wasteful, privileged endeavor through which very serious issues are sorted out.
"Keep the Change" Thomas McGuane
"The Echo Maker" Richard Powers
"Little Bird of Heaven" Joyce Carol Oates
"Man Walks Into a Room" Nicole Krauss
Samson, a Columbia University English Professor, is found wandering the desert near Las Vegas. He has a tumor removed from his brain along with all memory save the first twelve years of his life. No memory of his wife, Anna, his years as a professor, all gone. He heads west again to take part in a mysterious mind project being conducted in the desert where a Dr. Ray inserts some of another man's memory into his own.
"On the way back they pulled off the road to watch a small crowd gathered in front of a mall: cars parked sideways, doors flung open, people swaying on tiptoes gently held back by security guards. The group was struggling in numbers, with just barely enough bodies to qualify as a crowd, but a long way from being a full-blown mass whose voices might mesh into a single electric roar, powered by adrenaline, capable of trampling people alive. Everyone – the cored, the security guards, and the former star who eventually rolled up in a limousine van – seemed to be going through the motions, having pledged to protect at all costs the illusion of fame, without which the city would be swallowed by a brutal wave of sadness and banality. The aging rock star got out of the car. He clasped his hands in the air and shook his fists. He gyrated a few times, and the people shouted encouragement and playfully dodged with the security guards, who let a few of them get through to touch the hem of his coat."
"Without memories to cloud it, the mind perceives with absolute clarity. Each observation stands out in stark relief. In the beginning, when there's not yet a smudge, the slate still blank, there is only the present moment: each vital detail, shocked color, the fall of light. Like film stills. The mind relentlessly open to the world, deeply impressed, even hurt by it; not yet gauzed by memory."
"Her name was Patricia but everyone called her Pip, something that often happened in WASP families, she explained, the names that had been in the family for years getting replaced in childhood by sporty nicknames, Apple or Kit or Kat. Like Kathleen Kennedy, who of course wasn't Protestant, but in the same spirit was called Kick. Punchy names that rang of a certain brawn, of the ruddiness of coming back from a football game in the early dark, cheeks flushed with autumn and cheer. Pip and kick and Apple and Snap and Crackle and Pop, Samson added mentally. And Chip and Pebble, Pip went on, like the members of a corny seventies band."
"He studied the flacks of tissue, matter produced by his own brain. There was something uncanny and miraculous about it, he thought now: the dimensionless mind breeding dimension. A year ago he had tumbled down a hole, a trapdoor into a place that seemed to have depth and width, distance and perspective – that seemed habitable. He had stumbled and landed in the immaculate geography of the mind. But from the beginning memories had assaulted the emptiness, forcing him back into the world. His mind had filled with the detritus of recollection, and then, as a final humiliation, it had been broken into and vandalized. What Ray had refused to see was that no matter how great the desire is to be understood, the mind cannot abide any presence but its own. To enter another's consciousness and stake a flag there was to break the law of absolute solitude on which that consciousness depends. It was to threaten, and perhaps irrevocably damage, the essential remoteness of the self. This transgression was unforgivable."
"Creation In Death" J.D. Robb
"Appetite For America" Stephen Fried
"The Fifth Woman" Henning Mankell
"Kennedy's Brain" Henning Mankell