Monday, November 29, 2004

A Sense of Sensibility

Ange,

I’ve been blessed with a head cold and so am home and resting and have time to finally respond to one of your very early responses (A Minor Distraction to the American Election) to an early post of mine (Midwinter Day). Reading your latest post it still seems that “Is it enough?” is the question. When I doubted my “taste” in “Midwinter Day” it was not that I really doubted my taste. Let me explain. What I meant in that post is that I find myself taking pleasure in things, though I would never champion them as art, as “literature” or “film.” There is a division between something entertaining and something truly artful. I have been and will be entertained by crap until I die. I use the term “crap” loosely and affectionately. Though, I believe, as I know you do, art, too, has to be entertaining. But not crappy. But just because I enjoy David Sedaris on airplanes doesn’t mean that I think he is writing literature. And I love the goofy comic melodrama of the movie “The Wedding Singer.” But I am damn sure neither is art. And it’s not because I don’t think comedy can be art. I have a great respect for stand-up comedians. Margaret Cho’s “I’m the One that I Want” is an extremely powerful piece that is hysterical and political and is 100% stand-up. She knows her form, her medium, and pushes it to its full range of possibility. That show makes performance art look like a haven for 2nd rate comedians. So what’s the difference between Cho’s piece and Sedaris or anything else that my brother and I laugh at while stuck in NJ visiting the parental unit? Probably the range. The number of things a certain form can accomplish. Sedaris for me is nothing more than funny. Sometimes very funny. Cho makes you laugh and suddenly you find yourself knee deep in a very dark place and you realize if she hadn’t steered you there through laughter and sarcasm you would have dismissed the story as melodramatic. You wouldn’t have been able to hear it as openly as you now find yourself hearing it. Her medium -- the comedy -- makes you see the darkness of her tale. The comedy has the effect of producing an affect in the audience? I am playing around now with words because I think what we are both looking for is a term. It seems that we are trying to pin the tail on the aesthetic donkey from different sides. I am saying “entertaining” is not enough and you are saying “intellectual” is not enough. I agree with you whole-heartedly on the dreaded intellectual. It does lack intelligence in that it is one-sided. The term to me denies the sensual which I for some reason tie to the emotional. Perhaps because both are physical in some way. I think your original term “sensibility” is exactly what we are talking about. It implies an intellect engaged in the sensual world. Perhaps we should start using the word in everyday speech. After a reading we can say “Her work has sensibility.” It would be an entirely different assessment from “I respect the intelligence in her work.” The first judgment expresses satisfaction. The second is a back-handed compliment. It expresses a lack of something by naming what was actually found in the work. OK. Tomorrow I will discuss my favorite piece of art and why. It will go nicely with the current thread.

Good Night.

--M


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