You Don't Have to Read This: Blogagaard Shamelessly Posts Freshly Completed Final Paper for Graduate Class on Pain and the Artist

The Artist’s Job

When you are young, you think a beautiful song, or painting, or story, must have come from a beautiful source. Well, at least I did. I thought artists were snappy people who lived exciting, romantic lives, who were happy simply because they were brilliant and created brilliant things. I mean, what could be more fun than creating “Starry Night” or “Moonlight Sonata”? People would call you a genius, point you out in a crowd, and perhaps offer to buy you a drink while you sat laughing with all your friends in a stylish cafĂ© somewhere in France, or at least Spain. I never thought of artists as regular people with jobs, per se, more like special people who got to do something they loved and in return were greatly appreciated by all. I also never considered the idea that artists owed something in return for their talents, that they had a job to do that was in its own way as important to the community as the tasks janitors, doctors, and firefighters performed on a daily basis.

Now, I’m starting to reconsider a lot of things.

*

The first night of class we watched “Tarnation”. I could not believe the chutzpah Caurrette showed by sticking a camera in the face of his family and saying here you go, spill your guts about the most painful things in your past. Here was our class’ first encounter with a beautiful vulture, with an artist willing to use his friends and family as fodder for art’s sake. A part of me believes that a story must be told no matter what, and another part of me believes that there is a good reason fiction exists, that some stories are better told in less in-your-face ways.

The handout “Dreamwork, Griefwork, Poemwork” by David Ray continued, in its own way, the argument in my mind started by “Tarnation”. Ray’s use of writing to deal with the death of his nineteen year old seemed like a gentler version of what Caurrette had been going after, a cleansing of the poisoned heart through creating art. David Ray writes: “For me it (poetry) was something to hang on to, and I felt a duty to seek truth through “writing as prayer”, which is what it was for Kafka.” I often felt this sense myself. I do not feel anything if I try to pray, but I feel very connected when I write. But what am I connected to, exactly? Can it be that much different than “God”? Do darkness and pain exist to simply remind others that there’s a bigger game going on here, one that happy people can easily ignore?

Could I write my way to salvation?

*

The novel Push by Sapphire was hard to read. It wasn’t just the incest, the baby rape, or the plain old emotional and physical abuse. It was the grinding sensation reading about all these things created in my gut, the revelation that there is so much pain and suffering in the world that we will never be able to eradicate it all, no matter how hard we try or how much we try to write it out of existence.

So where to go from here? If suffering cannot be eradicated, is art reduced to a mere balm of the soul? A pacifier created to keep intelligent, deeply thinking people from downing an entire bottle of sleeping pills? The artist-turned-composer Matthew Smith had stated something to the effect that art isn’t always good for the artist, that focusing too narrowly on the project at hand keeps the artist in a bubble, that art can act as a defense against growing. But wasn’t the artist’s main job to keep growing? Ed-bok Lee, the Korean-American poet who also visited our class, claimed that artists needed to be in the forefront of thought, emotional processing, and psychology, or else their work was relegated to the categories of journalism or entertainment.

So how could I keep growing, as a person and pioneering soul, while working on my craft?

And what about all the suffering going on in the world?

Were we all doomed?

*

In Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery Patricia Weaver Francisco uses a mixture of gritty narrative and philosophical processing to keep the reader with her as she dives into a very personal account of her own suffering. She was raped, and now she wants to talk about it, to share her story with the world not only as an act of catharsis, but as a bold attempt to open up a dialogue between men and women, and society in general, regarding a taboo subject matter. Basically, she wanted to shine a huge flashlight on a slimy, insidious evil that pervades our world, one of many suffering perpetrators.

Wait. Could this actually work? Did suffering have clay feet, after all?

What I needed now was a suffering specialist, someone who’d analyzed suffering from so many angles it seemed absurd, unbelievable.

What I needed was a writer like Franz Kafka.

*

To say Franz Kafka was wound tight is an understatement. Here was a guy who masticated his food until was pulp, chewing even a bite of yogurt twenty-five times before swallowing it. The perennial runaway groom, he almost got married several times, only to back out again. Kafka was haunted by the ideas of important messages left undelivered, crucial doors remaining closed, and the capricious insanity that comes with any sort of major bureaucratic institution. A Jew growing up in German occupied Prague, he was forced to write in a conquers’ language he found unsuitable to express his needs. To top all this off he developed tuberculosis and lived, for almost his entire forty-year life, with his overbearing father and exasperatingly obedient mother.

Yet Kafka used all this turmoil, this abundance of stomach acid, to express the growing unease the people of his generation (many of whom would perish horrifically in WW II and the Holocaust) felt. One day you could wake up to find yourself turned into a hideous insect, one day you could wake up to learn you were on trial for an unspecified crime. Suffering was everywhere, and it did not always go away in the end. Sometimes, it got worse.

I found all this Kafka –darkness liberating. Okay, life was hard, full of suffering and then some. But so what? At least we could put it into some sort of context, at least we had something to compare those fleeting moments of transcending happiness with. At least Kafka could put this unease down on paper so that others could use it to help them through the darkness in their own lives. And why couldn’t I do the same thing, in my own way?

Maybe the artist’s job is simply to show people that no matter how isolated and despairing they feel sometimes, others have felt that way, too. Art doesn’t always have to be uplifting, or have a happy ending. Perhaps its enough that the work of art exists at all, that we’ve shouted into the roaring vacuum of the universe and are now content to move on, to keep shouting even if the echo of our own voice never returns to us.

16 comments:

Voix said...

Good paper.

Blogagaard said...

Thank you.

Something dirty said...

I think I am still enamored with the glamorous side of art.

I have a hard time asking and answering questions like what is the purpose of art, or the meaning of life. It is too big a question for me.

Blogagaard said...

It's okay, SD. No one really knows what the fuck is going on.

mikey said...

Functionless art is only tolerated vandalism
- Type O Negative

mikey said...

I'll refrain myself from posting my final paper on The Effect of Working Memory Capacity and Reading Purpose on Seductive Detail Recall in Expository and Narrative Texts

Blogagaard said...

Actually, that paper sounds sort of sexy, Mike. Clurg would probably like it. His expansive mind devours all it surveys.

Jessi said...

As you wish... Done Wrong

And actually, I do know what the fuck is going on.

Herbach said...

What makes you think I won't steal this? I'm not done with my paper, yet.

Blogagaard said...

Geoff, I'm pretty sure Sheila knows us both well enough to tell that I wrote this. For example: this paper is not 335 pages long, and i don't constantly refer to myself as "Captain Underpants".

Blogagaard said...

Good post, Jessi. I'm glad I could help you come out of you're blogging shell. And if you do know what th efuck is going on, may I suggest TELLING ME WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!

Thank you,

The Good People Here at Blogagaaard

Something dirty said...

Dave, I decided not to cheat at chess. But I'm a good loser.

I worry about being pretentious, but there's something on the tip of my brain from philosophy class a few years ago: are questions about the meaning of art or the meaning of life possible? Are we always too close, as humans, to the question to recognize an answer?

Blogagaard said...

Actually, SD, this fits in great with this post. In class we've talked about the time and distance needed to really process trauma. Life is as traumatic as it gets, really, and maybe that's why we don't understand anything until we're dead, like in "Our Town" by Thorton Wilder.

Herbach said...

I will expand this paper and change it to third person, Captain Underpants', perspective.

Blogagaard said...

I've been listening to the same Led Zepplin song on repeat for 2 hours now, and I barely notice it.

I'm in a strange place today.

Amethyst Vineyard said...

When I think about my own writing, I think, "Who the hell do I think I am, anyway? Why should anyone ever be interested in me or what I have to say, ever? Is this not the most narcissistic occupation I could possibly have chosen, outside of actor or high-powered sports agent?" And then I say to myself, "Listen, there's a huge pile of crap getting published every day. You're just hoping to add to the pile." And then I feel better about it all.

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