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Susan Stinson

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10:18 am: My Name is Red
I don't read much fiction when I'm deep in writing. It's strange. I'm not sure why, except that it feels as if other stories get into the story I'm trying to make and shape it in unpredictable ways that feel uncomfortable, maybe too intimate or too external or a little like stealing. Sometimes I break down and read whole novels in big, thirsty gulps, but those are moments when I'm not writing. Larry McMurtry has written about the tension, in a writer whose whole life is shaped by love of books, between the need and desire to write and the need and desire to read and to keep reading. (As I write that, I feel it, and I also get another rush of images -- stretched out in the sun in the itchy grass, the cold in the hall between the locker room and the pool, the slowest way to untuck a sheet so a sleeper is not disturbed, the magnificence of the physical world unshrouded with language. Yeah, all that, too.)

I've been reading My Name is Red, by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, for months. It is set in sixteenth century Istanbul. It came in February from BooksPrice (a site where you can search for the cheapest price on a book), and I've been reading it slowly ever since. I took it with me to Budapest, but didn't read it all while I was there. But, just now, when I was eating my oatmeal, I read an absolutely gripping and gorgeous scene of a master miniaturist -- a painter (who is also a murderer) -- ordering an old man who commissioned his work (there are all sorts of complexities here -- I'm brutally simplifying) to accurately describe and praise his work, and receiving exquisitely detailed and truthful answers, which he can't believe and doesn't find to be enough, and then killing the old man with a brass inkpot when he describes what will happen to all those beautiful books that miniaturists have labored over for years (the Sultan's indifference, the fish wrapping, the fire). There is a section in the voice of the old man which begins, "I shall now describe my death." It is so terrible and beautiful. Artists (all kinds of artists) really are almost this selfish and vain, and also this able to dissolve into shattered bone and old legends to let the devil offer a glass of water and a soul, the size of a bee, to shudder and leave, to describe a death from the inside, and then jump again to the daughter finding the body.

I do, I love the art.
I need to get to work.
And there are, in this novel by Orhan Pamuk, 236 pages to go.

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[User Picture]
Date:June 11th, 2007 03:39 pm (UTC)
I relate. I often avoid looking at other artists' work during certain phases with my own.

This probably sounds extreme, but I don't appreciate, read or patronize boooks/movies/theatre that draw on the artist=crazy mentally ill murderer trope. It is a mainstay of horror flicks, but is just as likely to show up on the stage or in contemp. literature, and it usually passes without comment.

I've had enough of being demonized for choosing the image over the word. And enough of people demonizing their own imaging selves via projection onto the figure of the "artist".

We mostly all dream in images, but evidently can't collectively handle that very well.
[User Picture]
Date:June 11th, 2007 09:20 pm (UTC)
I've had enough of being demonized for choosing the image over the word.

I hadn't thought of this.

We mostly all dream in images, but evidently can't collectively handle that very well.

Or this.

Just so you know, there are many, many miniaturists -- many painters -- in this book. One of the themes is distinctions between "Frankish" or "Venetian" painting, with perspective and an emphasis on representing an individual form or face, and the art of this time and place that (in my no doubt sloppy representation of the novel) evolved through Islam, with Chinese influences, which the writer has the painters describe (along with considering it in many, many different ways) as the view from a minaret, or as reaching toward the way Allah sees the world, not the view from the street, the dog's eye view, a view which puts the human too much in the center, or which has no center. All of this conversation happens while the tradition in Istanbul is clearly and dangerously (to the painters themselves, to the tradition, it's complicated) being influenced by the new European developments. I don't want to misrepresent the book by a quick, journal style oversimplification (which this is, too, and which is, sadly is probably not going to get much better as I'm rushing).

But, yes, there is violence here, and a painter commits it, and I can see why you would make a choice to stay away from that.

When I made my overgeneralization about artists (all artists), I was identifying as an artist, so not thinking in terms of a visual/verbal split (although tensions about what is said in words and what is expressed in other ways come up for me a lot -- too much to say about that to try here), but rolling some things over in my head that feel mostly private to me, evoked by the book and a really wonderful poetry workshop I was at this weekend, among other things, about something like the costs in one's life, in mine, in most artists' (I think, could be wrong), of concentrating on this one thing so much, and the gifts of it too.

Have we talked about this before? -- this is not the same as what you said, but I do resist the idea that to be serious about making art (again, I'm including writing here and, from the varying amounts I know, most forms) is enhanced or made more inspired or more possible by mental illness or profound unhappiness.

I immediately want to qualify or try to elaborate on that, but really have no time. It's complicated and I've bit off more than I can chew.
[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
pamuk is a genius. I started reading My name is Red few days ago as well, loving it.
(got to your page via google).
[User Picture]
Date:June 21st, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC)
I finished it last night. He is, he's a genuis, and I was deep in worlds that I know so little about, kind of heartbroken at the end, and frightened, but so stirred.

Welcome. I'm adding you back.
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