Our "Back to School" Post
One of the many welcome aspects of doing this podcast for me is that it has provided me for more time and energy to think seriously about aesthetic and cultural questions rather than less.
As one example of this, as I am writing a book on 1970s film culture, the conversations with actors Austin Pendleton, Melanie Mayron (forthcoming) will prove to be most helpful in this regard, not only because part of both people's work was in that decade but also because, even aside from periodization, to have spoken to two people who operate at that level of excellence is to get an insight into aesthetics that one can never achieve from any other means, apart from examining the texts themselves in an intimate and personal manner, which of course is the greatest insight of all.
Every work of art possesses an "imaginative center".
That is, the single work of art is also singular in what it chooses to focus on: it has a preoccupation, even an obsession.
And that work of art is an expert on whatever is the object of its obsession.
Because of this intense, x-ray focus, there are many other things that it chooses to ignore. (The things an artwork chooses to ignore will of course become the central focus of other artworks).
But to what the work art pays attention, what it witnesses, is the final meaning of the whole thing and it all comes together of course in the how.
The question of a word of art's imaginative center is objective; there are better and worse answers as to what every work of art can be said to be "about", or said to be "doing".
I guess you could also call this the theme of the particular artwork.
If you catch a whiff of the classroom in these remarks of mine you would be right.
What I am discussing is similar, more or less, to what you will discuss when you discuss a book in an English class.
One of the reasons I so love Azar Nafisi and her work in general is that she he upholds this tradition and way of looking at things.
For example, she gets "inside" what Jane Austen or James Baldwin are about and tries her best to single in on what it is or was that had captivated both those authors.
As with works of art, so it is with human beings.
Every human being has passions and interests, whether conscious and acknowledged, or not.
The themes of an individual life are necessarily distinct.
It is a very mysterious thing.
There is no single theme that governs all lives, at least in the sense I am using the admittedly cliched word theme. There is an old joke in psychological and pediatric circles that "every parent is an environmental determinist until they have a second child."
There is "no one size fits all" with people.
Much of the misery of our contemporary life is this attempt to squeeze everybody into a single size and, even worse, have the size as an edict coming down from on high.
Still more misery is compounded when we (if we are cursed and/or blessed to have that kind of authority) are unaware that we are the ones doing the squeezing.
For as long as I have been conscious one of my themes has been an interest in differences of styles.
Style for me is practically everything.
It is not about surfaces as opposed to a deep interior. I am interested in that styles differ in the world.
I have been known to have been passionate about defending the continuing existence of styles that appear to me to be under threat or eclipsed by another style. I can accept that a style might not be the best "fit" for a particular era but you could never get me to even consider that any style is wholly anachronistic or “bad."
I think the world needs more than one style coexisting, sometimes urgently so.
We live in time now where the world's diversity of styles can all be accessed quite readily yet there is also this yearning to have the one, best style.
I have a personal anecdote that is quite revealing, I remember once I was on a dais because I had done some music for one of Andrew Bujalksi's films (a guest on our podcast, link here ).
I believe the film was Computer Chess .
Someone in the audience actually asked me how I felt being part of a "movement."
I guess there is this association thing where if you collaborate with others that makes it a movement.
It isn't enough that you like or love something; it has to be a movement. I never signed on to be part of any movement.
Andrew Bujalski himself spoke at great length on the Rocky franchise on his episode and those films are quite different in style from Andrew's movies, to be sure.
I am pretty sure that some people who loved Rocky 3 might not have the same affection for Computer Chess if they happened upon it.
Regarding this month, I love the fact that both Austin Pendleton and Amanda Antunes are exactly who they are and express that in public.
Of course Austin Pendleton has played hundreds of other people in dramatic works; yet without his commitment to the human expression this would not even be possible.
I love the fact that an extroverted, brash, bold and emotive movie with worldly gamblers and jewelers in New York City like Uncut Gems can exist in the same world and the same year as the quiet, sly, satire/comedy of manners about teachers and students in a suburban high school like Bad Education. (Both films do partly have money and power as their subjects but how they proceed stylistically could not be more different and both are about far more than these two).
Yet both works have the highest emotional stakes in them and successfully make felt those stakes in the viewer.
This is very hard to do.
We need art to come in very different styles, because that is what our life is like.
We need BOTH Mark Rothko and Jean Michel-Basquiat.