Resonance

Resonance

I am spinning, floating, suspended after Mark’s two lectures on If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, while all of life conspires to conflate and converse and heckle and cheer. Mark has added many layers of understanding to my read of the book – the whole of Faulkner’s work, really – bringing in contexts and criticism pertinent and rich with the meanings of transactional economics [industrial capitalism], regionalism exalted and reconfigured, re-presented to mean a nation, the Global South, Reconstruction, the contemporaneous arts of Faulkner’s time, and gender. It is almost too much to process, to feel, to absorb.

I am caught on Mark’s first analysis, presenting the disrupted narratives of modernity (no story/ different stories/ stories differently told), in music, dance, and theater, which he uses to expose the story-less-ness of the book. His example is Martha Graham’s ballet Appalachian Spring, disjointed members, pieces without a story line. As Mark explains, the two novellas of If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem similarly are not one narrative, nor two stories either. Neither are teleological, to mean they are not linearly expositive, and do not arrive at any ends. Rather they betray elliptical or circular notions of story and time, deriving and gaining meaning and power from their juxtaposition and association, and from the conversations between themselves of gender and motif and setting, even as the novellas occur in different times. Faulkner’s stylistic choice puts me in mind of two aspects of both my art and design work: collage – so non-linear and layered – and the co-creative aspect of any audience’s experience of any art work. This is both the way I know, and the way I make.

Mark finds two novels in the book with this holistic analysis – one an anti-colonialist colonialist novel; the other an anti-existentialist existentialist novel.

To mean in the first case that Faulkner neither validates or romanticizes the South as it existed before carpet-baggers raided it like so many hedge fund managers. He recognizes – rues – the loss of humanity centered in profiteering, but he presents the cultural societal fabric being rent apart by it as suffocating, stultifying, enraging to those who do not, cannot opt for the freedoms implied/offered by social change. Mark posits The Wild Palms novella as carrying this thesis. The only salvation, redemption for both Harry and Charlotte is in the art they make and do not sell, that they make for themselves: Charlotte’s sculpture The Bad Smell, and Harry’s narrative ruminations. Even so, Harry and Charlotte are tragic characters, defeated, Harry distinctly un-heroic. Although he survives, and lives in order to remember, to embody the memory of choice, to not disappear in a whitewash, his rebellion is meaningless, futile, unremarkable. He is in the end unlikeable.

There might be a bit of romanticization, though, in The Tall Convict’s journey in the grip of The Old Man. On the surface, he is written heroically in an existential sense, doggedly persistent to stay within the frame given him despite many opportunities to escape. He does not fight Fate, but accepts it, willingly tossed about, willingly rowing. This despite one memorable escapade where he lives primitively by his own hand and finds much satisfaction, worth, and dignity doing so. But Faulkner presents this romanticized non-transactional survival interlude as a joke, a farce, as no solution to the problem of modernity. The Tall Convict simply experiences it as another page in his book, not as an alternative he can or will choose. The Old Man is in the end not comedic, classically. On the contrary, the Tall Convict is laughable – comedic in a contemporary way. He has no art – living by one’s wits does not count – and therefore no redemption. He has given in to convention for the sake of safety, which is not, in the end, a moral position.

Heady stuff, but I find Faulkner’s critique of transactional economics subsuming, resonant, exhilarating, exalting. Because this is where I live, as an artist: I do not sell my work. I do not understand any piece of art I have made as a commodity. My works represent ideas, discovery, and learning. And so they are for viewing and sharing, and for the conversations they incite, encourage, engender. My art belongs in exhibits, it belongs together, and not to any person. It is un-owned. The realization is overwhelming. It stops me. I am tearful, affirmed and grateful: I know who I am.

And then, out of time, another story weaves in. I have received a curious email, sent to MUSE. It is an inquiry about my landscape design for the town of Bay City Oregon, done oh-so-long-ago, when I was a student. Here it is:

“Enjoyed reviewing your work on Bay City at  https://muse.deborahzervas.com/Bay-City/.   Hoping you could refresh my memory as to when this work was done for the city.   They are working on a new vision plan, but thought yours was for something else.
Anyway, beautiful work.”

I am astounded, who, why, what, why now? I reply, needing answers, trying to make sense of her interest:

How nice to hear an appreciation of my design work, thank you for sharing yours.

My proposal for Bay City was made as a University of Oregon Landscape Architecture student, in the spring (I think) of 2005, under the tutelage of Anita Van Asperdt .  Mine was one of many proposals, and none were built.  I believe the town was unable to raise money for any work – a tax increase proposed for that purpose was voted down. I’ve always thought it a missed opportunity. I’m happy to hear the town is again considering re-vitalizing efforts.

I’m so curious about your connection to Bay City – do you live there? I have such a sweet spot for the place, having spent so much time getting to know it. I’m almost homesick, hearing from you.  🙂
Do lmk what’s going on here –

She responds with words so generous, I am filled to overflowing. She has remembered all along, kept the vision in her mind’s eye, waiting for the moment to bring it again into the view of others.

That is where I thought this work was from.  I was mayor at the time, in fact I served on the Council from 1997 until last December.  Interest in the park and Patterson continues and something that makes that happen is your work.   I will continue to serve on the Bay City Vision Committee and presently work as a consultant on some land use projects.  It was wonderful to come across your site.

Thank you!  and thank you for portraying my community so beautifully.

Faulkner hits hard again. Here is the meaning too of my – best, most rewarding – design work; it is non-transactional. It is one reason I get no play, no pay, and yet exactly why the work endures, wherein lies its power and import. The value of the work is un-sanctioned but clear. Community design in its best sense is the design of place that fosters community. It is meant to enhance human life, social relations, our interactions and our bonds with each other – the non-negotiable fabric that supports meaning, life itself. These things are never for profiteering, are not for making money, not for economic gain.

Resonance with Faulkner’s meanings, knowings, offerings – and the manner of his display, his exhibit, his unearthing – spirals – expands – inflates uncontrollably. I see myself un-Reconstructed, un-Industrialized, Irreducible, More Than Exchanged, non-linear, Collaged, Interacting, Dialogical. It is too much. My body can hardly contain, bear it. I feel as though I will fly apart like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I’m sputtering, spinning, chattering, gesturing fragments at Bruce just home from the office, struggling to put it, keep it together.

He centers me with a gentle, quizzical smile and five words. “This is why we made MUSE, Doob.” It is the gift he has given me, of MUSE, that my work exists always, is always on exhibit, elliptically and without end, new conversations starting, old ones continuing, my ideas living, breathing, talking, conflating, in a marvelously un-transacted way.
After a fraught fifty-five years, at odds with so many contemporary conventions, so many social tenets of modern life, I am wonderfully at peace.

Thank you Faulkner, Thank you Mark, Thank you Bruce.
And thank you, Dear Reader, for playing along.

See Bay City’s design again: here


 

Facebook
Twitter
Google+
RSS
LINKEDIN
Scroll Up
error: Content is protected !!