Soundtrack: Smashing Pumpkins — Adore

Report from the Anti-World

Well now–all of this holiday conviviality is nice, but it’s not conducive to blogging is it? Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about right? I mean, writing is an awful lot of fun–and maybe I ought to place more emphasis on the “awful” part of that statement than I generally do–but it isn’t life. Or is it? (Can you tell I’ve been eating Paul Auster books?) At least in blogging (as with comic books containing letters pages) the “reader response” is consubstantial with the writing itself–but when you’re bashing away at a novel, you’re a complete cypher, no? At least, that’s the Keatsian ideal. Yep, it’s fun to be “in control” of a world you like to think you’ve made–but the line between “transcendence” and “dissociation” is no line at all.

I just watched my brand new Criterion edition of Carnival of Souls. The film is as good as Eve Tushnet says it is, maybe better. For one thing, I don’t think this movie is about “death” at all–which is all to the good, as far as I’m concerned, because, frankly, who cares about death? I care about life. And loss. But not my own end. Break out your Epicurus friends! “While I am, death is not”–and, more importantly, vice versa… Candace Hilligoss is one of the most astonishing people you’ll never meet (not to mention beautiful–she’s like Eva Marie Saint, with more expressive eyes and a much larger nose; that nose really makes a difference–it practically jumps off the screen at you, you can imagine yourself touching it, and her–hmmm, was that out loud?), and what she gives us is a perfectly realized portrait of a person who cannot “connect”, and, unlike your basic schizophrenic, is completely aware of this lack. The “mind” gives us the power to perceive the world, and to make guesses about how it works–but it’s the “soul” that allows us actually live in it… You got that self-help gurus? Soul= “intersubjectivity”. There’s nothing “spiritual” about transcendence…

Anyway–Hilligoss in this film is all mind–in fact, she’s got so much on the ball that she can actually see beyond the limits of the mental–but that doesn’t help her to cross the border!

I’ve had this kind of stuff on the brain a lot lately! Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past. George Bailey in Pottersville. Jabez Stone in The Devil and Daniel Webster (which Christine got me for X-Mas!). Jesus! I just bought the Carl Dreyer boxed set (I’ve gone Criterion crazy, thanks to some very generous X-Mas money)–just because Ray Carney, the greatest film scholar who ever lived, assures me that Dreyer’s films are completely devoted to this theme! We’ll see!

Oh yes, before I go–Aaron Haspel has a post up about “discomfiture” in art, and, for the record, I have to voice my dissent from his opinion that an encounter with a great work of art is like “a discussion with a person who is more intelligent that you are”. I do expect to be “discomfitted” by great works of art–but Aaron seems to yoke all of this to “learning”, and I don’t believe art has anything to teach us. At least about the nature of human existence–I suppose there is satire that can help us to think about social arrangements, but then again, I don’t think artists (I’ll put my cards on the table and admit that I don’t count satirists as artists) ought to bother their heads about politics–leave that to essayists (who can, of course, be artists on hiatus from their true calling). I experience “discomfiture” whenever I am confronted by something that I never could have imagined–a thing that is manifestly alien to my “mental universe”, and yet present to my senses. I don’t know about you, but I crave that discomfiture more than anything (and when I write prose, I strive for the impossible by trying to “discomfit” my own crazy self, usually by channeling the raw power of the people in my life who’ve affected me this way)! An encounter with a great work of art is nothing more than that–it doesn’t teach us anything, and it doesn’t “show us the way”, it simply provides us with evidence (just as a meeting with an exceptional person does) that there are other minds in the world–and man, that’s enough for me (and I’ll bet Candace would’ve settled for it too)!


Good night friends!


  1. …and I don’t believe art has anything to teach us. At least about the nature of human existence…. […] An encounter with a great work of art is nothing more than that–it doesn’t teach us anything, and it doesn’t “show us the way”, it simply provides us with evidence…that there are other minds in the world….
    Oh dear. You’re in deeper trouble than even I imagined, David. I think a deprogrammer’s services are required in this case, and P.D.Q. Or perhaps it’s already too late.
    More concerned than ever,

  2. I’m surprised AC,

    I thought you’d agree with a lot of what I said here–except, of course, for the part about art being a means of transportation to the beyond…

    Surely you don’t believe that Wagner has anything specific to teach us, do you? Can’t we agree that an encounter with a great work of art is a purely “spiritual” experience (as opposed to an intellectual one?). If you throw out the fact that we’re at loggerheads about the meaning of the term “spiritual”, I think we’re on the same side of this debate.

    Dave the Earthbound Romantic

  3. All great art teaches us ourselves, David; the deepest parts of ourselves as individuals and as a species; those parts of us we’re unable to tap on our own. That’s great art’s teaching “function,” if you will.<><>ACD

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