Tuesday 18 May 2010

Fairy tales and real life

This fairy-tale creature is staying at the city farm while appearing in La Fille Mal Gardee at the Royal Opera House.


Returning to the subject I mentioned here, because I realise from the comments that I was less than clear about what kind of art-consumption experience I was thinking of.  It's not all art that I have qualms about.  It's mainly, I think, reading novels and watching films.

I overwhelmingly experience listening to music or looking at drawings, paintings, sculpture, or indeed reading poetry, as a here-and-now, joyful and fulfilling activity, and not as a form of escapism or gluttony (unless pushed to absolute excess, I suppose - if you were making or consuming music or paintings to the exclusion of all else in life, of course it would probably be a problem. But that would be true of such excessive focus on any particular activity). The Buddhist renunciation of music, which Dale mentioned in his comment the other day, persists as a requirement of Theravadin monastics, I believe, and I've always found it particularly harsh and shocking.

I have considerable qualms, however, about 'disappearing' into a book or a cinema screen, escaping so utterly into imagination, the imagined reality of fiction. I have serious questions about the value of expending time, energy and most of all emotions on a narrative that isn't true or on identification with a made-up character.  Like Lilian, I began to experience these qualms when I began a meditation practice, a conscious, focused practice of resting in and treasuring the present moment. Finding that the present moment could be so very precious, why seek any longer to escape from it?

At the same time, imagination - the mind's ability to lose itself in spinning a story or in a story spun by another, to meld with other, temporary identities - is obviously for many of us a fundamental, yet mysterious and indefinable, part of being human. So I'm not about to retreat from it. Anything but. It just seems important to interrogate my habitual behaviour. Escaping from - or, at the very least, adding to - the here-and-now is only useful and beneficial up to a point, and I know I often find it hard to identify that point.


Unknown said...

Hi Jean,

I wanted to write and thank you for the lovely comment you posted about my poem "Transport" at qarrtsiluni.com.

I just found this on your blog. I also am a playwright. I specifically write scripts that I hope will dip someone into a reality that will leave them deepened, extended, open to new possibilities.

I think some novels and movies do that, and some not at all. I've had the experience of reading a page turner and at the end feeling sullied (not ALL page turners are like this, of course). But suspense had been pulling me along, and then it seemed some of the false values of the world of that book had rubbed off in an almost palpable, yucky way, like tar.

On the other hand, Agnes Varda--did you see Les Glaneurs/The Gleaners? Maybe the deliberate interruption and refraction, like the most recent one on the beach with the mirrors, serves to keep one awake.

Monica Raymond

Zhoen said...

When the story is good, it is truth, distilled. Not about facts, but the truth, about how people are, or could be. I love that immersion in another writer's experience that so engages my own.

However, and here is where I do agree, not when it is a betrayal. When good prose becomes a wrong headed story, and ends incorrectly. That is when the book hits the wall and I refuse to ever read that author ever again. Rather like a bad relationship, when the charmer turns out to be a manipulator.

litlove said...

I think a little escapism is necessary for us all at times - no one is so strong as to be able to face reality head on, 24/7. But all art forms are transitional to me - they mediate between us and the harder, stickier, rockier parts of life. I'm with Roland Barthes in that I find my best reading happens when I'm looking up from the page, pondering on what I've been presented with. It's the back and forth between my reality and the crystallised reality on the page, my fuzzy truths and art's illuminated ones that has always interested me. I don't read to lose myself, but to understand myself better.

Natalie said...

The thing I disagree with in the 'Here & Now' concept is when it becomes almost dictatorial - a banning of all the experiences that shaped who we are at this moment, pretending they don't exist and only that which our senses can see/feel/hear/know at this particular instant is real. Of course it's wonderful to get into the Here & Now feeling but it's just one of many states our flexible consciousness is able to experience. Other states are just as valid, such as losing one's self in art or reading or leaps of imagination, etc.

Jean said...

Monica, I was thrilled to see you here! I agree totally about Agnes Varda - she does keep you awake, make you reflect, without thereby at all diminishing the story, the other dimension she creates in her films. I found The Beaches of Agnes endlessly pleasurable and also formidable and hope to write about it. I just got it on DVD. I've never seen The Gleaners and in fact I'm going to see it tonight in the current Varda retrospective at the British Film Institute in London.

Thank you all so much for your comments. I feel sorry that I haven't been back sooner to respond and I hope we can talk some more about this.