This Experience of Opacity

Les Bluets by Joan Mitchell

Les Bluets by Joan Mitchell

23 October 2013
11:29 AM
Manila

M.–

It’s fascinating to me, this dynamic. Sometimes we talk to each other while not talking to each other, you know? Is this another facet of intimacy and attentiveness that can only be revealed by writing letters?

Someone in the forums shared this article, and I love it. We were talking about prose poems, and Lydia Davis’ name came up.

To get closer to the actual experience of seeing the painting, I first confirm or revise some of my memories of visiting her at Vétheuil, of her strong personality, of my life in Paris. Then I remember more, more than I need to, about where I was living, and how I worked at my writing, driving myself relentlessly to do better and more, with moments of pleasure, but often a hounding sense of obligation, a fear that if I did not work terribly hard something would catch up with me — perhaps the possibility that I did not need to be doing this.

I like to understand things and tend to ask questions of myself or another person until there is nothing left that I do not understand. At the time, in the midst of a period when I was training myself so hard in another kind of representation, and seeing more and more clearly into the subtlest workings of my language, I was confronted with this experience of opacity.

Eventually I began to find answers to my questions, but they were not complete answers, and after a time I did not feel the need for complete answers, because I saw that part of the force of the painting was that it continued to elude explanation. I became willing to allow aspects of the painting to remain mysterious, and I became willing to allow aspects of other problems to remain unsolved as well, and it was this new tolerance for, and then satisfaction in, the unexplained and unsolved that marked a change in me.

– Lydia Davis, from Les Bluets, 1973: A writer wrestles with a painting

It’s so timely, since we are studying the New York School poets this week. But more than that, I see Davis’ practice to understand a painting as a meditation on life as well. Because isn’t that what the world is? How a big part of it is unknown to us–mysteries and ghosts. Glimpses.

Always, a glimmer of something I know I will never understand. Perhaps life is just a long journey of wrestling with what you know and don’t know, of accepting your limits and yet opening yourself up to the limitlessness of it all.

Good morning,
T.

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