I passed this gymnasium today… a court where my son used to play his league games. It was the first summerlike day and basketball had joyously moved outdoors. There were 4 balls scattered on the wooden floor in a way which so completely defined the past tense… and I couldn’t help thinking, with a stab of something like nostalgia or loss… no work of art, no sculptural accident or surrealist act could possibly have conveyed the still and perfect randomness of those balls as they lay.
My neighbor called today and was annoyed at me for suggesting he watch some Indie Swedish film which he found totally worthless. Okay… maybe I was under the spell of the strange language, the dark, cold photography, the sparse, subdued, smoky breaths of dialogue. Had I underestimated his intelligence? Well, I countered, referring to some poet he had recently praised…if you define a poet as someone who is attempting to write poetry…
And there ensued a duel of minds batting back and forth the misshapen ball of mediocrity. Actually, the perfectly formed ball of mediocrity because this is where technology has placed us… in a position of perfect reproduction, straight edges, the pre-drawn, pre-loaded, synthesized, airbrushed landscape of culture. And who is really listening…or watching?
Paper and pen which were treasured by some ancient poets…is near-obsolete. Corrections are automatic, publishing is instantaneous… everyone has a network, a preset audience, an email list. Does it matter if they are too busy putting out to actually listen or read or watch? Everything has been said, written. This, as well. Every teenager has a guitar as well as a car in the garage. Not. But the new poetry might be architecture. At least it requires ‘presence’ to be experienced. For the time being, that is.
I read some work by a South African poet today who is quite acknowledged… and full of metaphor… so full, in fact, that it passed me by. I began to spar with the poet, mentally. Is a shadow really the ‘widow of the light’? Is that not the dark, what is left behind? And he spent so much time setting the scene…describing the landscape, as though none of us readers have eyes or soul or heart or imagination… I grew angry.
Maybe I, too, am a victim of the impatience instant messaging has cultivated. Maybe I am overstimulated and sensorily anesthetized. Maybe we all need to be shot, and then to feel the pain of the wound, in order to explore our own feelings. We are ever-so tolerant of the gruesome violence and gratuitous cruelty we see on even prime-time TV. The odd thing to me is the same audience seems to flock in equal numbers to both the horrific cinematic frightfests and the pathetically scripted Jennifer Anniston/ Reese Witherspoon froth which monopolize chain theatres. At least I stay home and watch Sundance.
I do notice, though, that in the award department, tragedy beats out comedy. How many of our lives are truly marked by 9/11 moments, as opposed to happiness. Besides, that is, the births of our children, which, according to the wise poets, is the sad instant their world becomes intermingled with death.
How is it, I wonder, coming home, still in the spell of the empty basketball court, that these people who live among me can worry about the status of their prams and strollers and fail to feel something for all the starving children? That we must feel guilty if we do not buy the iphone for our kids when animals are being tortured, millions are suffering? And on TV they are asking for money for the polar bears. I can scarcely manage the quarters for my corner panhandler who I notice today is missing another tooth. Does lack of money make me more qualified to empathize, to hate the investment bankers, to ‘dis’ the late Picasso show at Gagosian, to weep over the orphaned elephants and my own failed attempts to communicate all of it?
I do know that I hate more than ever the trapped basketball in the tank of Jeff Koons which always had some perverse sexual and monetary connotation. In a Batmanesque parable of the Gotham City art world, Mr. Koons is some kind of pathetic Joker. The anti-Houdini, the lizardous creature in a tank or a bank vault who conspires to deflate the souls of all those who might give to the polar bears if only they had something to give.
I am thinking also there must be some pop philosopher-- some pensive or laid-off sportscaster somewhere, especially during this season of playoffs, who will never read Writerless, but who has observed ‘I am the basketball on the abandoned court’. Maybe he is even a Swede.