Monday, 29 December 2014

A Strange Room


I was listening to the radio recently, where a panel of writers and artists were discussing 'the creative process' as it applied to their specific vocation. One artist, who, in earlier comments had managed to subvert the simplest methodology of applied techniques into Wagnerian complexities, further offered that her Art was a subtext to the experiences of her Life. Apart from the Arts Council-speak in which many writers and artists felt compelled to engage, with its attendant posturing, it became increasingly clear that none of the panelists could demonstrate a core committment without special reference to broadsheet jargon, in the same way that hipster wine-tasters utilise peculiar descriptors, e.g. leather, leaf mulch, pork rind, to communicate to an audience the physical taste sensations one might apprehend in a glass of vintage Merlot.

These sorts of programme, with these sorts of guests, are the result of producers trawling through trendy North London 'eateries' for the Tristans and Didos brunching in that wasteland between Christmas and New Year. It's a curious time, where reflections on the passing year shoal against desires for a new beginning, a clean slate, a second chance. Where these reflections expose one's labours as shallow or wanting, one's natural defensive tendency is to shore-up the tenuous presentations of the last year with leather and leaf mulch, set them in 'distressed' frames, and offer them to Poppy for her gallery as 'something fun'.

Everyone has their own ideals of structure, whether through the application of studied techniques or through associative methods, where a few quick, bold strokes of brush or phrase may reveal a subject in its bones. Every year, between Christmas and New Year, I have established a self-protective tradition of my own. The tradition is that I read WH Auden's 1940 philosophical reflections in prose and rhyming couplets, New Year Letter - at worst a pompous book, but at its best a work of grand ambition. I like it because it makes me think of poetry without having to apply myself to the actual work ethic of writing poetry (It's hard.), and because it offers a once-removed observational platform for a world now as surely extinct as the ritual offerings of bronze and beadwork in a Neolithic grave. Further, it's a way of making myself sit still, and to listen, without pretensions or prejudice.

A friend of Shubert wrote of the composer's last hours of syphilitic delirium, "On the evening before his death, though only half-conscious, he still said to me, 'I implore you to transfer me to my room, not to leave me here in this corner under the earth. Do I, then, deserve no place above the earth?' I answered him, dear Franz, rest assured... you...lie in your bed, and Franz said, 'No, it is not true, Beethoven does not lie here...' He wanted to go out, and seemed under the impression that he was in a strange room."

Between the old year and the new, between festivals and rites, we all wait in a strange room, reflecting on what we should have said or done, the disappointments and terrors, and where, too, we rehearse what we will say and do next, hopefully to allow us to set aside the crutch of jargon, the preposterous, the inane, and find courage in the simple forms, at the window the low winter sun, its beadwork light playing along the glass.

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