I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple. But now realize that TV and popular film and most kinds of “low” art—which just means art whose primary aim is to make money—is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to the reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. Whereas “serious” art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort.
—David Foster Wallace, interview with Larry McCaffery, Dalkey Archive Press
(after Kristincanwrite’s entry)
One must have I exist.
It’s sweet …
chaos in oneself
to give birth
you’d think it floated
to a dancing star
all by itself.
—Tim Tiernan, 5/31/2010, 10:30 a.m., taken from a Nietzsche quote i know and Sartre’s Nausea, Alexander trans., paperback, p. 98.
The world of dew—
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet …
(tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara)
—translation by Lewis Mackenzie
Issa wrote this poem after the death of his very young second child. For me it represents almost a tension between his Buddhist belief in the transience of the universe and the mourning love he feels for his child. It would be moralizing and glib to write anything that simply restated the “all things arise and pass” philosophy. I believe in a buddha who would grieve and pound his fists; he would not say c’est la vie.
Remember everything I told you
Keep it in your heart like a stone
And when the winds have blown things round and back again
What was once your pain will be your home
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
(Taken in 1990 by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, the “pale blue dot” photo shows what our planet looks like from 4 billion miles away. Earth is the tiny speck of light indicated by the arrow and enlarged in the upper left-hand corner. The pale streak over Earth is an artifact of sunlight scattering in the camera’s optics: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123614938)
There is our planet bathed
In a sunbeam, three pixels large,
O generation of the thoroughly smug
and the thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
Nearly two-dimensional, her matted leftover
is unfeline, contorted like a three-toed sloth.
She hangs on to loose gravel.
And all I do to mourn is swerve