November 07, 2006

Art and Memory: Thoughts on the Middle Stage, the Bell Jar and Wild Strawberries

This Post on the blog A Middle Way is an intriguing look at time and art and the way that the two interrelate. This is obviously a very personal and difficult thing to think about- afterall I don't know how you the reader experience great works of art or literature and don't know that you experience them similarly to me. My own experience is exactly as Chandrahas describes it and I think his discussion is very interesting- not to mention filled with echoes of Walter Benjamin and Nabokov. For me though reading accomplishes this transcendence of the human state by introducing me to another subjectivity.

Reading say the Bell Jar as I did yesterday, you are introduced through the novel to a particular world- the world of a young woman striving to cope with depression and often failing. The peculiar thing say about the Belljar is the way that for a brief space of time you acquire a sense of the way that things logically appear to her- for example at one point in the novel she speaks of the division of the world into those who have had sex and those who haven't (she falling into the latter group and the boyfriend she despises surprisingly to her revealing himself falling into the former). The point of a novel like the Belljar is the way it completely emmerses you into this world, into these misjudgements and these judgements of the world. Somehow the most satisfying work of literature is one which emerses you in another person's view of the world- one that presents the world to you as inherently subjective. Film can do it too- take the film Wild Strawberries where Bergman takes the viewer on a journey, on a journey taken by an old man to receive an honorary doctorate but also a journey through the old man's psyche. You don't see the journey as much as you see his thoughts as he journeys. The Belljar is similar, presented rather than chronologically episodically. I wonder whether its this emersion in the episodic living of another person's life- reliving not the instant but the instant remembered and experienced at the same time: the instant as rendered significant by memory and as lived at the same moment- thus curiously manipulating our consciousness.

These are incoherent thoughts about art and they are also very personal ideas- we all have I suspect a kind of personal metaphor for the effect of art. Mine is the immersion within another's consciousness or imagined consciousness but others may be different. There is a curious mental concentration at work though and for me at least it is through this double or even triple experiencing- experiencing as myself, experiencing another through empathy and lastly experiencing that other's life as rendered significant by a process of selection that ressembles memory.

I should note that Chandrahas's post puts it much better than this- so if this captures you in any way then go and read what he says as well.


Polly said...

Interesting post- makes me think

Space Bar said...


I thought you put it better in the comments space of Chandrahas's blog, where you made a comparison between art (time imagined) and history (time perceived).

Wouldn't you say that once an experience is imagined into art -- that is, time percived is converted into time imagined -- it stops being a perception and becomes only art?

In other words, once an experience has been amde into art, how can anyone tell what it had been 'percieved' as, except through how it has been imagined?

I'm not being very coherent here! But then, I haven't thought it through either! Thanks for an interesting trigger.

Gracchi said...

Thanks Polly.

Space bar- yes I said it rather differently there and may have captured it better. As to your point about perception and imagination- yes I don't think you can separate them at all. I work as a historian and I often struggle with the way that a source neccessarily remakes the past that it utters by uttering it. I do think there there is a kind of coherence principle at work as well- that one of the ways to understand or evaluate art is by how coherent it seems with your own experience and with your other reading. So that if you like you can strip away the individuality of the imagination through the coherence of the vision with other visions but you raise an interesting point and I don't think this answers it at all.

I think Chandrahas put it very well and I have to repeat that his post really has something and got me thinking about this. I'm glad you came across thanks but hope everyone reading this goes across to his article and has a look because mine is a mere tributary of his river if you like.