Thursday, September 29, 2011

Anger and "aesthetic celebration"

Three encounters in the past couple of weeks... the first a get-together with a friend who was betrayed: magnificently, horribly, off-the-charts betrayed.  In the time since we last saw her, she has come back to her "self," the intense, energetic, contrary and fabulous person we knew. Maybe better. She says she isn't spending time anymore with  people who are, underneath it all, angry about something... and it's funny, because if anyone ever had the right to be angry, it would be this woman, but that isn't the way she went.

The second encounter was with the writings of an artist -- someone who is successful, even revered -- but angry, so angry, all the time. So angry that the art -- the thing we all live for, no? -- gets lost in the venom.  Wasn't there any option?

Third encounter: My husband set a couple of books on the table this morning. One of them was Richard Foreman's Unbalancing Acts, plays and essays published in 1992. And I picked it up and began to re-read it. I had forgotten how persuasively he discusses his approaches to his art. And it is a way of thinking that wakes up the artistic voice and uses any found anger as a dancing partner. (The only other book that gave me back a sense of perspective in hard times was Gertrude Stein's Mrs. Reynolds. More on that another time).  I have written here about Richard Foreman before (May 16 and July 2, 2011), and his website is -- do visit!

Foreman describes what he wants to do in "the rhythm of" his plays: to "induce a fast scanning mechanism in the spectator's brain, a hum in his consciousness akin to the Om of the universe in the eastern tradition. To attain that hum, you might first voraciously pursue all the baubles the world offers, look at each for an intense moment, and then throw it aside." And then, he says, you keep looking and replacing each new thing until what you discover is that it is "the hum of the movement that engulfs you" (22).  His art, he says, is the art "that focuses on the hum, the energetic blur, of ... [a] spinning top, rtaher than on the pictures [that would be] visible after it has come to rest and died" (23). And I think this is how our friend played it... she could have focused on the individual pictures, the freeze-frame of the betrayal, now a dead thing,  but instead she has continued to move forward and make her own humming world.

And then Foreman notes that we often see our lives, in the current cultural context, as heading somewhere, progressing towards some specific goal, and we tend, unfortunately, to concentrate on all the big stuff that gets us to the goal-line. But the writers he sees as his influences knew that "every detail of life, including everything usually dismissed as irrelevant or marginal, is of mind-blowing importance .... the incidental stuff left out of the goal-oriented narrative of your life is actually the crucial, potent, soul-making material" (26).  And I remember that when a friend died, what got to me was not remembering his lovely, generous way of bringing people on two sides of an argument together; it was seeing his open, worn, brown leather key-case lying next to his casket.  So are friends remembered, and so are people healed, with the small, almost over-looked, fragments of life. Foreman says this is just a way of teaching yourself to see, all over again: "you want to realize that the world you see is made by the way you see it" (26).  You can do this.  It's a way of seeing.

And the angry artist? It's a question, Foreman says, of "scale": "looked at from the proper distance -- if you are properly detached, and able to compassionately identify with the passions that may be driving [an argument, an obstacle] ... -- the hexagons of conflict may either enlarge, or reduce, until you find you're suddenly viewing them on a different scale, tuned into the harmonic hum of the universe" (28).  Our society, Foreman says, is not really good at "manifest love."  But "the monoliths you perceive as blocking your path to happiness are, in fact, clouds of language and impulse in continual circulation; and you can enter inside these clouds, and dance with these elements" (29-30).  So this is what I would wish upon my artist -- whatever it is that underlies this anger, it cannot make it past your own determination to transform your perception of it.... let go, make it into a dance, a painting, a poem.

One last note: my mother was diagnosed with polio in 1946 at the age of 26. Again, if anyone should have been angry, it should have been her.  But I never saw her angry about what had happened. And  after she died, I kept her writing-case, and inside her address book was tucked this quotation, in her handwriting, lines she wanted to remember:

This is what Richard Foreman calls "aesthetic celebration."

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