Objets d’art

Posting my photographs on the microblog site Tumblr has taught me something cute: some teenage girls like to set up Tumblr pages and decorate them with images appropriated from other Tumblr pages. Tumblr’s nice technical term for the game is “reblogging.” It implies that the girls and the creators are working together at the task of realizing and then furnishing a home space for imagination: a little steel addition to the sensorium, a locker.

My own latest image to be posted in that kind of locker, on December 30, 2011, is a picture of a flower. Tenderly plucked from my own page, it now appears as well in a Tumblr site called “A Room with Color.” There, reblogged into the context articulated by that title, it mingles with reddishness and purplishness, only. The moment the steel door closes on them, my former image’s colors unclothe themselves from the shapes I thought I saw around them and stand forth alone in their new dark. There, all that remains to them is a chaste, autistic beauty. It is color meant to be seen for no more than itself; color as a form that has left behind its non-chromatic meaning. The non-chromatic would include, for instance, any idea.

Click to enlarge.

For whether the chromatic throws its light over lips or Jews, beauty under this regime of pure, unmediated perception has neither object nor subject. It only is; it only is color. Joris-Karl Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, and the people who love Schindler’s List have always been part of the color field. To glow, the images in their sensoria need nothing more than dark.

Arranging, deepening, enchanting night

 Click to enlarge.

At sunset on December 29, 2011, this was Honolulu’s Koko Marina. Just off to the right of the scene there was a house illuminated for the season with a great big cross, but in honor of Mr. Stevens I left it to the dark.

For the new year, a cure for nostalgia

In the January 2 New Yorker, the subject of Roger Angell’s lead comment is a proposed reduction in the speed of deliveries by the U. S. Postal Service, with the final extinction of the mailed letter to follow as a predictable consequence. If Angell missed a New Yorker cliché when he turned that news item into an elegy for stationery, the oversight didn’t come to my attention. E-mail, just not the same thing. The days of Anthony Trollope. John Updike’s postcards to, of course, The New Yorker. Eheu fugaces. World War II V-letters. An antique postcard kept at, of course, the summer house in, of course, Maine. Smiling through his tears, Roger Angell delivers a freight of casual-classic thought.

For The New Yorker, the part of time that gets remembered in a style like Angell’s is leisure time. That’s when we become worthy of The New Yorker’s advertisers. When the magazine is closed, we’re merely sordid, merely alive and changing: so busy earning our subscriptions to The New Yorker that we don’t even have the time to notice our own permanent exquisiteness. At such a time, the antique postcard held between finger and thumb is only a dirty piece of cardboard. But after the gates of The New Yorker have been opened to admit a crew of artists, the temporary marker of a life now ended will be replaced by a marble tomb.

That metamorphosis is a moment in the art history of New England. In New England, from the colonial stonemasons to Frost’s “Home Burial” to E. B. White’s “Once More to the Lake,” the tomb-maker’s art has helped us understand the sad irony of trying to represent in space the sense of something that no longer exists in time. White’s dirt road that is no longer rutted in three tracks because the horses have gone away is metonymy for the invisible dead. The original writer and reader of Roger Angell’s postcard from the past have gone invisible likewise. They are now only an indecipherable allusion to something in a dead letter.

But for us intended readers of The New Yorker, who live in what we might as well call New York by way of metonymic contrast, the postcard itself is transformed into something newly visible. In New York, lifted for a moment out of the cigar box of Roger Angell’s prose, the card goes reflective and becomes a mirror, a portable space in which we are supposed to think we see ourselves poised and unchanging, balancing on the infinitesimal between a postcarded past and a postcardless future. Holding the mirror between our hands, seeing right through both the dead words on one surface and the picture on its reverse of what no longer is, we contemplate what we think we see of our reflected selves as if we could keep on contemplating forever.

The optical illusion reassures us that we are. That’s what Roger Angell constructed it for. Relieved, we reach for our wallet, extract a credit card, and renew.


Combat journalism: from the front lines of the War on Christmas

He would stand in the Turning of a Street, and calling to those who passed by, would cry to One; Worthy Sir, do me the Honour of a good Slap in the Chaps: To another, Honest Friend, pray, favour me with a handsom Kick on the Arse: Madam, shall I entreat a small Box on the Ear, from your Ladyship’s fair Hands? Noble Captain, Lend a reasonable Thwack, for the Love of God, with that Cane of yours, over these poor Shoulders. And when he had by such earnest Sollicitations, made a shift to procure a Basting sufficient to swell up his Fancy and his Sides, He would return home extremely comforted, and full of terrible Accounts of what he had undergone for the Publick Good. Observe this Stroak, (said he, shewing his bare Shoulders) a plaguy Janisary gave it me this very Morning at seven a Clock, as, with much ado, I was driving off the Great Turk. Neighbours mine, this broken Head deserves a Plaister; had poor Jack been tender of his Noddle, you would have seen the Pope, and the French King, long before this time of Day, among your Wives and your Warehouses. Dear Christians, the Great Mogul was come as far as White-Chappel, and you may thank these poor Sides that he hath not (God bless us) already swallowed up Man, Woman, and Child.

(Section XI)