In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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The Measure of the Times

  

Rousseau walks on trumpet paths. Joni Mitchell, “The Jungle Line” in Hissing of Summer Lawns.

I always wondered what Joni meant in that line from the “Jungle Line.” At first I thought she meant Jean-Jaques Rousseau, the philosopher of Confessions and The Social Contract fame. In college I read the former and only remember the book as a journal of the man’s affairs, extra marital and political, and wondered why he ranked as an important philsopher since the content seemed trivial. I later revised my opinion after reading The Social Contract, the underpinning of early social justice and democratic government theories. 

I once searched for a Rousseau painting with trumpet paths when I realized she referenced the painter not the philosopher/author. I had never seen nor recalled seeing a Rousseau painting and the internet was not at my disposal then. The Hissing of Summer Lawns album came out in 1975. I checked books and found Rousseau’s work, which I found pleasing, colorful and fun. The man appeared to have a sense of humor, squeezed joy from days. Unfortunately, I broke the limited art world I knew then at the ripe old age of 16 as serious and unserious art, Rousseau deemed too childlike to be serious.

Today I read the following:

With a kind of perverse timing, the child’s paradigm emerged in art at just the moment when Newton’s mechanical view of reality was most triumphant. The Chinese yin and yang symbol is a graphic representation of this relationship between opposing principles. The rival viewpoint makes its first tentative appearance at the height of the power of its complementary obverse.

How very appropriate that just before Einstein’s discovery, a naïve artist like Rousseau, whose paintings could be the settings for fairy tales and who routinely distorted forms, would be hailed as one whose view of the world was a valuable contribution! It is an amusing exercise for anyone to specualate upon the reception Rousseau’s work would have received at the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Then the Humanists were proclaiming that man was the measure of all things. For a long time, children were not to be trusted to measure anything. Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics

At the tender young age of 55, I understand Rousseau with his child-vision. The world he paints for his audience is important to see, again and again, not just as counterbalance to the cynical, practical world of the adult in politics, technology, science and economics, for instance. But to remember the special conception of space and time that children hold. They experience lengthened time and unconfined space compared to their parents’ lived time-space. Children know the science of happiness instinctively.

Earlier in class, before I read the above Shlain excerpt, I reminded students about child time vs. adult time, temporal elasticity, and technology’s time effects. Hopefully, my stories illustrated time’s illusion, for example experiencing child time as a dragged-along, unwilling captive of Mom’s department store shopping as a 7 year old or an 18 year old sitting in a two-hour lecture course at 7:20 a.m. (mine) as opposed to sleeping or playing/partying with friends for the equivalent time. Time slows or speeds accordingly even as time ticks unceasingly in even increments.

I was not much younger than my students now when I first heard Joni’s lyric and then went searching for Rousseau. And it was only a matter of hours between narrating child-like time visions in the classroom and reading Shlain’s commentary on Rousseau’s yin to Newton’s yang or vice versa, the innocent artist and sophisticated astronomer, ending with the situationally ironic children as the measure of nothing.

I love that the world and mine are round.

  
credit: wikiart.org


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The Painters of Love: Loving a Married Woman

  

I adore Anna Pulley’s story ache of loving the married woman, which appeared in Salon yesterday. She not only captures the essence of the thin-tissue-beauty of love, the compulsion of the affair, the ever-turn of the heart toward love, but also the crafter’s gift of the memorable passage. Like this one, for instance:

Ours was a love that hinged on possibility—what we could offer each other was infinite potential. Reality never stood a chance against that kind of promise. I loved her in a way that felt both inexplicable and inevitable. She represented a singular perfection, she had to because she contained none of the trappings of a real relationship, the awkward, the beautiful, the sweet, the ordinary, the holding hands in public, the quiet walks, the bickering at Trader Joe’s. She was perfect in part because she was an escape, she seemed always to offer more.
 
After an enticing lead-in about long-distant love and steamy encounters, she delicately moves us along the strip tease of her narrative, the movement from reflection to memory slip-sliding her narrative along with the tensile desire of an abandoned lover simmering sleight over time. She does not call herself a lesbian until two thirds in to her lovely essay. She wants to soften us to love first, to focus her reader. A concerted effort to steer her  reader’s mind from irrelevant drift she anticipates–detours like same-sex relationships, polyamory and the like, she withholds. Her story is of love, despite the title–all love. And imagery.
 
Fantasy. The addiction (cynical), the lure (soft), or the attraction (clinical) to the love of a “taken” one lies in the fantasy and the primal urge to create more compelling than procreation (fewer responsibilities to the aftermath).
 
We love to idealize love, to be in love, to make it and create it even where it does not exist. I am not suggesting that the love of a married woman ignores the woman, the being, for the objectification of love itself. People mostly fall in love with people, their features, physical or otherwise. However, the framing of love inside the circumstances of the beloved–the out of reach object–often plays a larger role in the picture of love we paint.
 
The interdiction (legal), the forbidden (moral), and the circumscribed (situational) of the affair seduces the painter in us. We who urge the perfect love, inch closer to its never realization by placing love in an outline, form or box with walls of pristine ideals and requirements. I love my lovers because they are who they are–funny, sarcastic, sensible and sexy; because they love me the way they do–with abandon; because they engage in the most intimate acts with me, thrill my very being and inspire me to create, live and aspire to contribute to humanity–go to work, raise my kids, change people’s minds. They make me feel.
 
They never sour, fall from grace before my eyes in the daily practices that make us all abject beings: ever cleaning the rotting flesh we are in the pettiness of hourly living. We belch, shit, blame and deflect responsibility. We lie, cower and deny. The human.
 
Not for the mistress of our getaways. Whether the encounter is a sleazy hotel sex hour or a week at a resort in Cancun, we project our ideal loves in that other we cannot keep, probably do not want to keep except to indulge surrender to the painful satisfaction of longing. Weaned on love stories and poetry (okay, maybe that’s just me), we grow to yearn, throb and grieve. Pain, like love, reminds us what we are. Affairs bring all of that and more.
 
I once read that our memories change each time we recall them, that we are constantly editing what happened. In the end, we can’t hold onto anything, not love, not even our own truths, because everything moves. Nothing is ever written just once.
 
Yes, we are artists, all of us. Human nature, the essence of frailty, tells the fallible story of its tellers wrapped in the egos of an imagination. We want. That is our condition. Our art is our necessity. We love to be loved in the art of love. And it is an art.


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The Artist

imageA painter of sorts, you spend your days in a box, looking out the windowed cracks for someone to call. You know your name. Who else can see your colors? I have heard your reds, felt your yellows, and smoked your purples, just a few. You wave your mind, change your hands, flap your legs and all stop and wonder at your meaning but listen to your message, the canvas bleeding your worries, your anger, your love and hate. You hook me in with a gentle song, a soothing sacrifice of attention and vibration. The clouds clear a path for your art, but the sky suckles your life’s work, not your painting nor your song. For the ether contains your greatest achievement yet to arrive.