It’s dawn. One or two isolated birds are singing outside the window and ‘Farming Today’ is on quietly on the radio in the kitchen. YOU’re waiting to hear the 6 a.m. news and then YOU’ll switch the radio to classical music as it is less disturbing than political talk.
Who is this ‘YOU’ YOU write about? YOU were asked by a journal recently to write about just that, but somehow YOU felt YOU blew it, didn’t explain the special ‘romance’ of writing in this person, the poetics of it. YOU also overlooked its source and other references in the (highly recommended) Nouveau Roman writings of Marguerite Duras and commentary on the same by Maurice Blanchot. Who is YOU? Perhaps this is a piece yet to be written.
YOU is not well today. Or YOU is not well again. In fact, the ‘blowing it’ referred to just above marked the start of a difficult time in YOUr writing, YOUr life, YOUr writing life and professional life – if not what is called YOUr ‘personal’ life.
YOU’ve heard the news headlines, been and changed the station to classical music and returned to the desk. More cars and the occasional bus pass the window. What is wrong with YOU? This is a question that YOU know YOU cannot answer but somehow YOU feel compelled to ruminate over, on this strangely private yet public stage of the page.
YOU find that YOU write and generally work (whether making art, teaching or writing) from the gut, literally. YOU mean that YOU can feel that is where YOUR creative resources are rooted and when things are not right YOUR gut feels ache-y, break-y, strangely divided, broken, like a ripped football that can still be kicked around but has lost all its bounce as well as its symmetrical form.
What some people call ‘heart’ and some call ‘mind’ may for YOU both be located there, in the pit of YOUr stomach. So maybe, in a way, YOU might be ‘broken-hearted’ or ‘going out of YOUr mind’ and an aching stomach could be a symptom of both or either.
Why are YOU not writing about a show, a movie or a book today? Well, partly because these ‘personal’ concerns or ‘health issues’ have overwhelmed YOU, looming larger that the sense of that particular duty. YOU are, you hope, nevertheless still doing YOUr various jobs as well as ever.
What seems to be eating YOU (an appropriate phrase) is a sense of compound disappointments, compound alienations and compound marginalisations. Hence, YOU write hundreds of words that once again attempt to make yourself, your difference, YOUr ‘class’ etc. understood, only to find that they are only likely to disempower YOU further, and so YOU edit them all out again.
Maybe your fears are paranoid rubbish (though paranoia is an unavoidable symptom of not knowing the reality, the lingo, the terrain, customs, rules of the game). YOUR honesty and candidness are discomforting to others and destructive to YOUrself. But honesty, is one of YOUR few, very few powers, and thus something YOU feel cannot be denied YOU.
To cease to be other would be to cease to see, and to cease to see would be to cease to be other. It reminds you of Charles Baudelaire’s famous announcement at what might be the very birth of modern art writing. He introduced one of his most famous salons with the words: “TO THE BOURGEOISIE!” thereby announcing that, henceforth both the contemporary artist and art writer or critic would necessarily be other than, or other to ‘the bourgeoisie’.
And thus you are able to return, clumsily (you are really not feeling your best lately) to the question: what is art writing?, what is art criticism? and what are YOU doing with it here? Well, YOU said when YOU set out this Blog that YOU wanted to ‘experiment’ with art writing. In fact YOU always have. Much of YOUr archive is printed in professionally edited journals but there is another whole archive of self-published or un-published experiments, juvenilia, word works etc. that show that YOU have never regarded YOUrself as an ‘art critic’ or art writer but always as an artist who is very interested in words as a medium as well as in the function of art writing in relation to art.
As an undergraduate you started to ponder, why do artists crave words written about their work? YOU have never yet had writing written about YOUR own work but YOU can imagine it could be like slipping into a warm bath that someone else has run for you, as someone takes great care and uses all their skills to create for YOU a gently affirmative context, rationale and interpretation that then provides YOU with an interface with a broader public (broader than just YOUrself and YOUr own relationship with YOUr work.)
Yes, YOU have often written about the art of others in this way, always feeling kind, generous, noble, professional, often going wholly npaid or paid only a tiny fee -given the amount of hours, skills and care YOU have invested etc, or –perhaps worse- deciding to stand up and ask for the fee you deserve (and desperately need) only to see the commission and relationship evaporate, or to feel yourself complete it with a less than noble feeling. Usually the artist is very appreciative, occasionally they later seemed disdainful or haughty, as if YOUr writing had just been a stepping stone for them at a lowlier stage of their development or later came to mis-represent them etc. At times like that the artist never seemed to consider whether YOU too were not an artist, nor whether art writing is not itself art.
But why do we rush to respond, to voice an opinion after a show or a movie or after finishing a novel? Walter Benjamin called the new audience of cinema ‘absent minded critics’. The modern crowd were newly empowered to voice their own opinions about an art invented for them – cinema. But they absorbed the moving image and commented on it in a state of ‘distraction’ rather than the ‘contemplation’ associated with high art and connoisseurship.
It takes a further degree of commitment -a kind of buzzing of ideas in the head – and of course a love of the process of writing to go away and shape those thoughts into something worthy of publication. But still, what is the point and the aim of it? Not, as many think to ‘criticise’ or even ‘to judge’. No, the long tradition of art writing -that YOU personally trace to Diderot and Baudelaire as well as Benjamin- gleans its energy mainly from a need to record for posterity, to distribute more widely, and to cultivate some ancient and inevitable dialogue between images and words, images which might otherwise seem too exposed, and words which often seem intrusive. Look at the long and rich tradition of art writing, often cultivated by poets or the poetic at least, sometimes carried on by artists themselves (as YOU do here).
But its time to draw to a close. YOU’ve avoided writing about the excellent art YOU saw this week (i.e. two Chinese/Hong-Kong films ‘The Go Master’ directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, and ‘A Simple Life’ directed by Ann Hui), and YOU’ve busted YOUr word-count again with no editor to reprimand and rein YOU in. But the sun has risen and YOUR gut gut feels a little better, a little less wounded. Perhaps writing makes YOU less lonely, more connected to others, if only connected to the page, to the words, and thus the world, either now, or in some then, connected to whomsoever, of whatever class or creed.