Joining the dots

Several things happened yesterday. A close relative is on the point of death. A friend I love dearly is in distress because her partner is undergoing one of his episodic breakdowns. I have tried out my new food processor and I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble and expense.

These matters aren’t connected – or rather they are connected, but only because I’ve mentioned them together in this blog, and that naturally leads to an expectation that in some way or other they are linked. Even I share that expectation, although at this point (I mean literally at this point of pressing the keys) I have only a vague idea what the links may be.

The great discovery of twentieth century artists (and I include writers), is that the essence of art is not creation but framing. By “framing” I mean that the artist simply declares that the subject within the frame drawn by him constitutes art by virtue not of the fact that he has created it (it may be a ready-made, an objet trouvé), but by the simple fiat of his declaration that this is art. Admittedly the artist is talking self-glorifying bollocks for much of the time, but occasionally he does have a point. Anyway, this blog comprises a frame, and the three topics mentioned in the first paragraph are connected because I say so. I’ll take my chance that I’m just a gobshite.

A few comments on my chosen subjects. My reactions to the three events have been fairly banal. Not trivial, but banal because I suspect most people would probably feel the same and so I’m adding nothing to the World’s store of wisdom. The impending death led my wife and me to reflect on the undeserved joys and miseries that come people’s way; in our case mostly joys, for which we are grateful. My friend’s distress leaves me flapping my arms impotently as I try to offer help or useful advice. However it seems it’s enough for her that I offer a sympathetic ear. In the scale of things, that really isn’t very much, is it? As for my travails with the damned food processor, it offers a note of comic relief: a reminder of Life’s light and shade.

My novel Recherché has the subject of stories as one of its themes. The Narrator finds his neighbour Harry Haze telling him his life story, including his careers as a vampire, nazi war criminal, and Jewish stand-up comedian. The fancifulness of this account forces the Narrator to try to derive a meaning from it, though he never arrives at any firm conclusion. The Narrator’s mistress, Lucy, perhaps comes closest to the truth when she suggests that Harry’s stories are not something to be explained: rather they are the explanation, as best Harry can give it. In other words, if Harry had known the meaning of his stories, he would have skipped them and cut to the conclusion. If I knew why the three incidents that happened yesterday mean something, I’d tell you what they mean.

“Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena” – I quote the great Bob Carroll (may his camels never decrease), who defines the term in the Skeptics’ Dictionary (see – ). Human beings are designed to invent patterns and to search for significance. It’s an ability that helps us find sex and lunch. But it’s also one that often leads us into irrational thought, for which reason artists and charlatans exploit it to flog paintings, novels and snake oil.

The reason that the simple act of framing causes art to come into existence is that it changes the relationship between the observer and the object in the frame.  Until it was framed, it was no more than one item in the general landscape and viewed mainly for its relevance to the matter in hand (sex or lunch or interior decorating).  Once framed, it compels us to look at it as art: it has been isolated from all other similar objects, thus forcing us to consider its uniqueness and “thereness”. 

Yeah, yeah.  The fact remains that we aren’t obliged to accept or value the artist’s apercu.  He may still be a twat.

 I suspect that sometimes we can do no more than recognise harmonies. Ultimate meanings will always elude us. The stories of Harry Haze may delight and amuse us, and their hints at significance may tantalize us. But we shall never get further.

This blog is a collection of dots. Go draw your own lines.