Friday, May 6, 2022

The Book and the Eye

I’m reading a book entitled Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, as if on two levels. My rational mind is asking, and then what.  But there is no then what. There is only the narrator in her stone cottage in rural Ireland telling us how it is to be alone in this stone cottage. On another level I’m being drawn into her aloneness and my own.

Unaccountably, I jump up looking at my walls. No stones. In fact, there is little wall unadorned with art: pictures, masks, assemblages and bookcases. I realize how much of it is unseen by me. Sadly, the artwork has become invisible to my eyes from familiarity, almost like furniture.

As the woman in the book takes possession of her space so too am I taking ownership of this room and the next. I find myself rescuing the Polish poster of Robinson Crusoe stranded in the bedroom, into the living room. The watercolor of the Rose Café interior is shifted to the dining area along with the encaustic still life which has always yearned for more light. The Van Gogh poster of a Japanese footbridge has also been brought to a different wall. I find myself shifting eleven pieces to new habitats.

I am reminded of the Japanese aesthetic which demands more space around each piece as if to let it breathe. Addition by subtraction. We had one wall with eight masks and assemblages. There are now just three. The unintended consequence is a pocked-marked wall yearning for spackle. If I painted one wall I'd have do the entire area which entails moving seven bookcases. I entertain no such thought. Instead I shall regard the nail holes as an absurd junk sculpture.

In the movie, First Monday in October, I recall a scene in which the crusty Supreme Court Justice played by an irascible Walter Matthau is asked by his wife to close his eyes and describe the wallpaper they’ve been living with for years. Of course, he cannot ... whereupon the marriage ends.

In a moment of benign mischief, Peggy once told me to cover my eyes and describe what hung on the wall across from the couch. It could have been worse; she could have asked me what she was wearing or the color of the wallpaper we don’t have. I was getting off easy, only the one wall which I had lived with for decades. I bumbled my way through with some lucky guesses but missed two African masks and a Oaxacan wood carving. One might have to know our walls to appreciate everything I got right.

As Niels Bohr said, No, no, you are not thinking. You’re just being logical.  Forget about wallpaper. There is much more that passes by unnoticed, particularly in the realm of the imagination beyond logic.

The artwork is given new life. And I’m revitalized as well. I’m back into the book now feeling somewhat aligned with what the author is feeling. Her words have bypassed my censorious brain and given me permission to alter my walls. No small thing.




  1. Thank you for this! Now, of course, I'm lost in trying to remember what's on each of the walls back home, and coming up short with a couple of them.

  2. But you'd probably know at once if something were moved. Altered stasis can bring ecstasy.

  3. Once again very insightful Norm.