Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Le Paradoxe du comédien

Here's a little morsel for you to nibble on.

I'm in the middle of preparing an honors thesis proposal on Loïe Fuller, a dancer at the turn of the last century, as a transatlantic figure.

The author of one of the books I'm pulling from quotes Diderot's writings on art and literature to describe the "undecidable doubleness implied in any theatrical mimesis" (put simply, the complex process actors go through when they go in character):

"One is oneself by nature; one is another by imitation; the heart you imagine for yourself is not the heart you have."

What's most intriguing to me is the third bit about hearts. What heart do I think I have? Diderot's telling me it's not the one I actually do. Can we know ourselves? I'd like to follow the Delphic Oracle's advice to γνῶθι σεαυτόν, or "KNOW THYSELF." Sounds great! I'd love to say that I know whats going on in my heart and my brain (and my left shin, for that matter), but how possible is that? Will my self-perception always be somewhat aberrant? I know that I am blind to lots of my faults - I think part of growing up is seeing faults, as well as strengths, within yourself.

I don't love to be overtly religious, but I think in this vein, LDS theology points to an important idea. Mormons talk about "eternal progression," or the idea that individuals can perpetually gain more knowledge, become more godlike, have more love, etc. I think a big part of that idea is actually understanding oneself. If I have a clear(er) view of myself, I'm going to be more forgiving of the people and the world around me, I am going to have reasonable expectations of myself and others, I'll be better able to master my own thoughts, emotions, and body, and I'm sure that list goes on.

Michel de Montaigne, for whom this blog is actually titled, based his entire Essais project around the idea that if you know yourself, you know the world around you because he believed that within each individual is contained the whole of human experience. Now, I think that's a bit of a stretch. Having grown up in Suburbia, USA, isolated from the harsh reality that is the existence of so many of my fellow humans on this planet, I'm probably ill equipped to 'understand' the experience of an expecting mother in Namibia with HIV who can't get proper neonatal and early childhood care. However, I would argue that as I try to understand her situation better, I will better understand my own humanity, and vice versa. In the LDS scriptures, there is a line that talks about what individuals will be like that have progressed to a "perfected" (a term that in Mormon theology means something more like "having done everything necessary to be with God" rather than "a terminal point") state: "they see as they are seen, and know as they are known" (D&C 76:94). To me, this means that we ultimately can - and should try now - to see and know clearly ourselves, the state of the world, and especially the individuals that populate our planet.

So maybe what I'm trying to say is that even if total self-understanding isn't possible now, it is something we should work towards because it will help us to be better equipped to deal with the world, both the one within ourselves and the dizzyingly complex one around us. I talk a lot about trying to be open and authentic in my relationships to other people, but that has to start in my being more open and authentic with myself - trying to make the "heart I imagine for myself" the same as the "heart I have."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another poem

I'm on a poetry kick the last couple weeks - maybe it's my psyche crying out for sanity in the midst of skull-crushing stress.And Billy Collins has been here for moral support.

This was read by the poet himself on Saturday's A Prairie Home Companion. It's a reaction to a book about fiction writing, creatively called Writing Fiction, which is full of advice like, "Never use the word suddenly just to create tension."

By Billy Collins

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving

to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
another drip from the faucet?
another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on the shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.

The sun rose ever higher in the sky.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountains to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats,
each one suddenly fringed with colorful little tassels.

the economy of december

Right now it's 7:18am. I'm sitting in my office trying to get started studying for my critical theory exam today. Before me are several empty bottles of Vitamin Water, a tupperware of the Thai leftovers I ate for breakfast Friday (wow, I am disgusting), a large Dr. Pepper, and a box of orange sticks.

It's been what I affectionately call "Hell Week" since the day I got back from Thanksgiving, a colorful description of which only the adjective, and not the noun it modifies, is true. This semester's Hell Week will actual span nearly a month. I thought I might illustrate the economy of the month of December for the average student, by which I mean me (I'm pretty average, right?).

INPUT: lots of caffeinated beverages, about 5.4 hours of sleep per night, obscene quantities of Asian take-out, chocolate-covered gummies, and hot showers to shock myself into the world of the waking

OUTPUT: graded written and oral exams, compositions, and homework for French 101; a 10 page paper on how Edgar Poe was an Orientalist; an 8 page postmodernist reading of BYU's Christmas Around the World; a really great bike ride with some of my favorite people; a study of the folklaw governing Mormon profanity and vulgarity; graduate school applications; a couple harp performances; lots of conversations on women, gender roles, sexuality, and relationships especially in LDS culture; moving out and driving the 16 hours back to Kansas; and about 23 other things I could bore you by enumerating.

Mom, please don't be offended if I go into hibernation the second I land on the front porch.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sometimes you get to the point...

It's 11:33pm. I only have 5.5 solid pages of the 10 page paper I'm reworking to submit at 8am tomorrow. I promise I haven't been procrastinating - it's just been one of those absolutely crazy weeks where you're trying to figure out which way is up.

I've had a couple random thoughts I thought I'd like to get out right now, which includes a nice picture and a poem. Multisensory envolvement, Ka-POW!

(1) Sometimes when I spend a lot of time thinking about the future, say, when I'm working on applications to graduate school, I actually briefly forget what day/month/year it is. I forget the present and live in the future. No good.

(2) Some of classiest chocolate in the world is made in Orem. Thank, Amano, for getting me through finals (not to mention the last three semesters). I think Ocumare is my current favorite.

(3) Frank O'Hara is great. These are some photographs of him and his friend Grace Hartigan. Frank O'Hara was a poet, art critic, and museum curator in the 1950s and 1960s. He wrote this poem called "Having a Coke with You," and it makes my heart sing. Here it is. Please find a quiet place and read it aloud to yourself (or listen to Frank O'Hara read it himself).

Having a Coke with You

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvellous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

Great, right? I'm not going to pretend to get it, but I love the bit about a tree breathing through its spectacles and how silly statuary and painting is when you're looking at someone you love and how someone saying an experience is so much a part of having it...