Read, Seen, Heard: Ambiguity of Perception.

Threads from the past few weeks of entertainment consumption. 

I waited for this book to become available at the new Cambridge Public Library (which is absolutely beautiful) even though it's rare now that I am compelled to read fiction. The last novel I finished, The Marriage Plot, wasn't as satisfying as the art history books I'm usually reading night and day. But I had a feeling that 1Q84 would invite me away from reality and deposit me completely into another dimension. 

Haruki Murakami taught at Tufts years ago... maybe he knew my Japanese art history professor. We talked about his style, along with another writer, Banana Yoshimoto, near the end of her seminar. I had already read several of Yoshimoto's books in high school, long before I became acquainted with Murakami. Paul Roquet has categorized the particular style of both as "ambient literature," with Murakami's "healing novel" Hear the Wind Sing marking the onset of this style in 1979. Yoshimoto is also thought of as using mood regulation and iyashi (healing) themes. Perhaps this is why I was enamored of her writing during my turbulent teenage years. These early examples of ambient literature are characterized by an avoidance of psychological interiority and light, transparent diction.

Roquet points out that Brian Eno was at the same time, in England, orchestrating ambient music (in 1978 he released Ambient I: Music for Airports). I've found myself attracted to music that is focused on sound rather than lyrics, music that offers a sensory, completely immersive and exhilarating experience. I don't want to commit to moods created by concrete, literal lyrical compositions. At times shared thoughts, even musical ones, are overwhelmingly intrusive and incessant in this age of (too much) information. No more messy confessionals. Not from me either. I crave an experiential atmosphere that can never be clear and obvious. I want mystery, malleable mystery. This review of Canadian artist Grimes (Claire Boucher) describes her experience as a student of neuroscience, the plasticity of her sound and how the listener may be unable to clearly read or define the tone or mood as the sounds refuse to exist as static formulations. 

Multi-media artist Claire Boucher.

According to the article, Boucher doesn't want you feel something specific, just something. As one adoring fan, I can tell you all about the successful results. My final semester of grad school was survived based on the subjective consistency of this music; it woke me from stagnation without forcing me to feel good or bad, just something. During every morning drive to New Hampshire I listened to nothing else both to calm my new teacher/marathon driver nerves and also to excite my passionate sensibility. These sounds, ambiguous and crystalline, yet human, warm, and spiritual, are like post-modern medicine. 

Think of Mona Lisa and her sfumato-ed elusiveness. We know her and we are inspired by her, but we can never truly know her or keep her obediently confined. We can apply our own interpretations as needed thanks to this smoke covered smudged portrait. Leonardo loved to manipulate the psychological ambiguity of perception. He knew more about vision and optics than anyone else at the time, thanks to his midnight hours spent dissecting cadavers by candlelight. He wanted to paint images as accurately as the human eye transmits them to our brain. What he discovered is that in vision, there are no harsh lines; objects are softened at the edges. Therefore, in order to imitate optical information, paintings must have no discernible transitions. So, sfumato (lost in smoke)! The painted result creates an image that is never at rest; with each new pair of eyes it is reborn. All of these artists are working toward "accommodating different levels of awareness and yet maintaining uncertainty."* 

Leonardo, 1503-1506. Isn't she magnificent!

I met with some friends yesterday at my Old University, just before they took their oldest daughter on a campus tour. I walked around feeling very strange. It hasn't even been a full year since I graduated, yet it seems that my experiences there were another lifetime ago. I felt the presence of ghosts, and memories. 

My first trip to Tufts. I was seduced by the quintessential collegiate atmosphere.

I haven't gotten very far into 1Q84, about 1/10th of its 900 pages. Enough to know a bit about two main characters. Tengo, a writer, is about to secretly rewrite a novel that exhibits poor style but a raw and perfect magic. At the behest of another literary contact he will do this and submit it, for the original author, to a prestigious writer's contest. The moral questions around this part of the plot are reminiscent of a film that Alex and I watched recently, World's Greatest Dad (2009). 

Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, it tricks you with a seemingly unoriginal start. It distracts you with music that is awkwardly timed and characters that are exhaustingly unlikable. But it pays off if you can make it through the first half. It's basically about a failed writer who works by day as a high school teacher (Robin Williams). He finds himself in a situation similar to Tengo's. I won't say more, except that it was excellent, offering the kind of post-film discussion you hope for. It's dark, sure, but highly recommended to those who don't mind being temporarily uncomfortable. 

Another dark, but brilliant film: Ariel (1988). Written and directed by Finn Aki Kaurismäki, Ariel is one part of the Proletariat Trilogy. An economical film in every sense, it is exemplary of the minimalist style associated with Scandinavia. I appreciated the lack of excessive dialogue, explanations, and running time. Things were either made obvious or opaque depending on the needs of the scene. In this film, you could also say, as in the work of Murakami and Yoshimoto, that there is an avoidance of psychological interiority. 

The imagery is sometimes fantastically surreal and comic, despite the wintery landscape and generally cruel looking surroundings. Some of the moments, especially one of mannequins in a shop window, reminded me of the French photographer 
Eugène Atget.  

Avenue de Gobelins, Paris, 1925.
Avenue de Gobelins, Paris, 1925.
Coiffeur, Bd. de Strasbourg, 1912.

Shown here: the creepiest mannequins frozen in time. As Atget became interested in Surrealist photography and street scenes, he repeatedly exploited the reflective windowpane to create a palimpsest or double exposed world in which these very alive looking figures exist. What do you think the photographer imagined that these figures were doing? Did he create a scenario for them? It seems that he has composed the photograph in a way that suggests a particular scene; but there is no obvious narrative. The reading is open for interpretation. In its ambiguity our individual imaginations are stimulated; supplementing what is left out.

*(Roquet, "Ambient Literature and the Aesthetics of Calm: Mood Regulation in Contemporary Japanese Fiction," Journal of Japanese Studies, 35:1, 2008.)

No comments:

Post a Comment