Thursday, November 24, 2011

Any Given Moment: On Reality

Escaping Criticism, Pere Borell del Caso
Trompe l'oeil is the technique, in painting, closely aligned with optical illusion: fool the eye. The painter uses a realistic image to convince the observer of a dimension that isn't really there. In this sense it's a kind of lie.  Or is it? 


That realism is in flux, depending on the artist's interior perception, is hardly a new observation; it essentially launched Modernism. Picasso claimed, "I paint things as I think of them, not as I see them"; Virginia Woolf laments the Georgian novels and their emphasis on exterior details, perfectly arranged: "Is life like this? Must novels be like this?" Life as she saw it was "a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end," the artist's task "to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display."


The poem, the story, lives at least in part on the integrity of its reality, and this is one of the most interesting, contentious aspects of writing.  What's your reality? To what version of your experience do you owe your fidelity? Even while you are reading this, your mind has other things to ponder, is thinking about them as your eye gaze here. At that party, you stood in that lively crowd, laughing, telling stories, or listening to them, but you had dark, lonely thoughts; which of those realities is more real?  The imagination is not false; it exists, it has dimension and, sometimes, an intensity remarkable for its imaginary capacities. Fool the eye it can.  A cross section of any given moment, a diagram of a reality, has a geography the writer can only come close to representing.  Like a trompe l'oeil painter, the writer has to fool dimension to achieve dimension.  Trying is the ethical act.


Picasso said this: Everything you imagine is real.

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