What exactly?

From the beginning, he wrestles with the mute language of the canvas and the difficulty of translating his experience with it to the page: “Sometimes it is impossible to say why and how a work of art achieves its effect. I can stand in front of a painting and become filled with emotions and thoughts, evidently transmitted by the painting, and yet it is impossible to trace those emotions and thoughts back to it and say, for example, that the sorrow came from the colors, or that the longing came from the brushstrokes, or that the sudden insight that life will end lay in the motif.” The passage may be rephrased as a question: What exactly happens when a person looks at a work of art?

~ Siri Hustvedt, Karl Ove Knausgaard Reflects on the Man Who Gave Us ‘The Scream’.  (The New York Times · May 1, 2019)


Notes: I know, yes, yes, the painting is not Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” It is Claude Monet’s Meules (Haystacks, 1890) which sold this month at a Sotheby’s auction for $110.7 million, in excess of its $55 million estimate. See more at ArtNews)

Flying Delta 4135. With Sir & Siri.

This is Sir & Siri-inspired. No, not Apple’s Siri. But Siri Hustvedt from Memories of the Future (or in this case, my Memories of the Past): “While I was in the throes of living it was impossible for me to know whether a moment would be significant or whether it would vanish into oblivion along with so much else.

Three Saturdays ago. I’m on another gadget run to BestBuy. I was 25 feet from the door. A middle aged, heavy set man, say ~40, with hoodie and red sneakers, sees me approaching. He waits, and opens the door for me. I thank him, and he replies with an “Anytime Sir…  Sir?  Sir? Sir? Feel the same, as I did 35 years ago. Less hair. Gray. Paunch. Must be tired looking. Is it that obvious? Sir? I need doors opened for me?  I look back, he’s gone, I’m dig for my car keys: I’m going to remember this.

Marquette Michigan. Last week Monday. On a run to bank branch, one of the many errands to change titling on checks, accounts, autos et al. Today we’re here. Tomorrow, we’re gone. But traces of us remain. And we get busy, Erasing. Need a signature guarantee (not a notary, a guarantee with stamp) to change account names. “Sorry Sir. We don’t offer a signature guarantee service. Let me call a few places to see if they can help you.” He’s going to call Competitors?!?! See if that ever, EVER, happens in NY. [Read more…]

I wonder how on earth we keep track of any of it

Bristling as well as warm breezes circulate among those people, and one may find oneself in a crosswind without knowing why. It must be connected to the density of memories in the room. Each person drags his past into a chair with him and then he sits down next to another person who has her past along with her as well—mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and friends and enemies and hometowns and roads and mailboxes and streets and diners and skyscrapers and bus stops are all there in the events that have stayed with him or her because the thing that happened caused pain or joy or fear or shame, and as I look back on the dinner party, I understand that the memories seated in the chairs along with the guests included dead people like Irma and Lindy and Ted Jr., yes, real ghosts borne into the present by each mind at the table—and when you multiply the pasts and memories and ghosts of everyone in the room, you understand they aren’t quiet or contained because they inevitably reappear in the conversation in one form or another, and then they begin to mingle and stir up the rest of the company, one blending into the other, and it’s not only the words of the conversation that count but the tone of voice each person uses when he or she talks, and then think of all the looking back and forth that goes on at a dinner table and the gesturing and all the visible information as well—faces that flush momentarily and tiny beads of sweat that form on upper lips and wrinkles that arrive on a face only in a smile, or the various pairs of eyes that appear cool and indifferent and other pairs that are alive with interest, or the same pair of eyes that seem far away one instant and focused the next, and every person is reading and rereading and interpreting all the big and small signals that are whirling about and that can’t be kept separate from the memories at all, and I wonder how on earth we keep track of any of it.

~ Siri Hustvedt, Memories of the Future (Simon & Schuster, March 19, 2019)


Notes: Portrait of Siri Hustvedt by Werner Pawlok

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