Monday, January 13, 2014

In Praise of Silence, the Hermit's Lament (part 2)

In Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, a gardner harvests worms from blue orchids that he uses to drug and hypnotize people.  The people in turn sign over their lives to the gardner.  He in turn hands them over to a pig farmer with a love for ambient music.  It reads as a more sober version of Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind. The movie concerns itself more with the people after the worms have been removed.  That removal has its own significance in the movie, but it invokes something as sinister as guinea worm and visually complemented a piece of what I was trying to get at in my last entry: extraction and proof.

I won't provide the actual image here-- I've been told that my use of Geoffrey Wilkinson as Ben Gunn for the last piece was gross enough, but with art, and I'll try to stay focused on writing here, there's always the question of the contract between writer and reader. With the novel in particular, the contract can read as a request to exhaust a topic, or so it's taken from time to time. There are so many methods of deploying ideas within a novel that it may come across as a bit facile to talk about minimalism and maximalism.  There's the question of whether these styles are a choice or just an artifact of personality, a mode of acculturated self-expression that makes sense at a certain time and a certain place in the world and may for that person be as a natural as breathing, because they could not find a food which tasted good to them.  So when I talk about minimalism and maximalism, I will try to restrain myself, but still with Proust I see such a wide difference between his work and the work of say André Gide, that it seems worthwhile to speak about the question of need within style.

Part 2: Minimalism and Presumption

Around the time of Almost Transparent Blue, Ryu Murakami stated that he wrote for those who got it and didn't spend much time worrying about those who didn't. His book weighed in around 120 pages. I read it a while back, when I worked in the library. I'd pick up a book and stop shelving for fifteen minutes at a time.  I picked up that book and found a secluded spot and read it for the duration of my shift (apologies to Sharon, my manager) and I read slow, so it took a couple of shifts to finish it, but I got it, or thought I got it.  The book worked viscerally. It took intelligence to get a book that short to pack the punch it did (I haven't read it since I was 19, so not sure this still holds up). It concerns the fast life in Japan and uses a US military base and some of the US army personnel to write a larger note about the national identity, what I considered at the time to be the degradation of the Japanese identity (though if I read it now, who knows).  Still, Almost Transparent Blue, wasn't a minimalist treatise, but there's a something in what Murakami said that's true to all writing, but especially true to minimalist work. A writer cannot give everything.

There is inspiration then there is the edit. It's the job of art to condense the experience of time and place into a particular form. Minimalism, and here I mean the work of a smattering of writers from the 1960's through the '90's (Leonard Michaels, Jack Gilbert, Raymond Carver, Diane Williams, Sam Michel, Brett Easton Ellis, and Christopher Coe to name a few) who used a clipped and purposefully abbreviated method of writing that relied on evocation rather than invocation. Synecdoche, sign and the sublime understatement employed to elicit from the reader the missing details of the piece. Minimalism works within a realist paradigm as an antidote to a cultural glut. Good, lean prose can stand beside poetry. It can also shift the placement of the story from plot to the words itself, which is in part why meta-expressionists (Ben Marcus, Gary Lutz, Lydia Davis and Christine Schutt) share a common branch with the minimalists via Gordon Lish. Where maximal work shows its intelligence in pursuit of extension, minimal work shows its smarts in reduction. Leonard Michael's waiter gets his best tips when he tells his customers, "Stop when you get to the plate, bitch." What more do we need to know more about his New York?

Minimalism is also a style that is an expression of the lived environment, a recursive loop where people primarily inhabit the manmade world. More and more this world is guided by minimalism's horrid litter mate: economy, which produces the least for the most. Still, I'm relatively close to the minimalists-- I'm calmed by the exquisite curation of a page because I'm also a citizen of the glut, a contributor to the 250 or so tons of garbage deposited in the US a year. What I find familiar, even in work that predated my birth by two decades, may be accessible through strata of inherited knowledge, re-runs of sitcoms, old family photos, movie set pieces and costumes. Part of the question is whether this baggage will outlive our culture and if so what makes the more instructive artifact: the book without excess or the objects of excess themselves? In part there is little to temper the callousness of time to our present moment. I think about the end of Don DeLillo's Underworld, the tons of trash incinerated by atomic bomb in an underground bunker in Russia. Perhaps the problems of our time can come together to form a solution.

As a complete aside, I would nominate Shane Carruth as potentially the best suited director to adapt the other Murakami's work for the screen, especially The Wind Up Bird Chronicles.

Up Next Part 3: Amplification and Mystification

No comments:

Post a Comment