Friday, September 13, 2013

"Nothing That Is Not There and the Nothing That Is"

... For the listener, who listens in the snow, 
And, nothing himself, beholds 
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

                                                       Snowman by Wallace Stevens

The athlete without the menace of tattoos or grizzled sneer is pitching for the Dodgers. He is notable for their absence, nothing but his bare arm does the talking. His performance is enough without the compensation of signage. No snakes or crossbones, no platitudes passing for wisdom, no advertisements for himself.

Makes me long for absences. The unadorned, bling and swagger gone. Hushed stadium filled with expectation. The inner eye. Exhausted words piled in a corner decomposing. Lost continent of mother's arms. Blank page surrounding a haiku. Rapid minimal strokes of black ink in a Japanese brush painting urge the essence from fallen petals. An unmet friend lo these many years and then words you cannot quite find. October maple is a ruddy diva in her death bed scene singing beyond the genius of the leaves. Skeletal trees in the mind of winter. The nothing that is there and the nothing that isn’t. To see what is not there is to behold a reality without all the connotations we have laid upon it. One has to see with the coal eyes of the snowman to have the mind of winter.

The wall in the Louvre was blank with only a nail where Mona Lisa hung a week after it was stolen in 1911. That was when Kafka traveled to witness what wasn't there. He saw the painting with his eye turned inward and he beheld its absence. The Portuguese have a word, suade, meaning combined joy and sadness for what is no longer there. Since Leonardo’s painting was returned it has been defaced with acid and knives. It puts me in the mind of tattoos.

On the other hand, eight years later, Marcel Duchamp painted a moustache and beard on her face and turned the art world upside down by freeing our mind of expectations. This is what we get for loving something to death. With his slight alterations Duchamp redeemed the piece from the banality of postcard reproductions back into an organic creative form. A Dadist act against high culture decontextualized it and brought Mona Lisa back to life.

Maybe I’m wrong about tattoos. They are also a strike against established ways, a crude statement about individuality, a shock to convention. Some women find them sexy, so I’m told. They declare that one’s body belongs to oneself to do with as one pleases. Whatever they are rattles my sensibility. I can turn away if I like and I shall. I assert my right to bare arms, my preference to see the nothing that is. At the center of the Mona Lisa is an ambiguity of gender, enigmatic smile and space which allows us to enter. We come closer to her mystery and our own.  

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