Seeing Here

A few years ago, when asked my three favorite books, I replied The Recognitions, for its near opaque literary excellence, A Man With A Maid, in case I was alone on a desert island and in need of entertainment, and, for spiritual and moral guidance, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of What You See. After the most recent election returns, I began it again.

That book, by Lawrence Weschler, (Univ. of California Press) is a study of the visual artist Robert Irwin. It opens with Irwin taking Weschler on a tour of Los Angeles, where the artist had grown up. The adolescence the 1940s had provided him, as Irwin recalls, was composed of hot rods, gambling, dance contests, and girls. When Weschler posits that a reason for this grand time was that Irwin and his friends were about to be engulfed by WW ii, Irwin replies absolutely not.

“‘Look,'” he says, “‘Look at it here. Look at how it is: calm, sunny, the palm trees. What is there to get all fucking upset about?… This is reality. In other words, the war was not reality. The war wasn’t here. The war was someplace else. So any ideas you had about the war were all things you manufactured in your head from newspapers and that… (T)his was reality; this was my reality right here.'”

The morning after the election, I skimmed the newspaper, not lingering until I reached Sports. At the cafĂ©, I hooked onto Pandora (John Coltrane) and shyed away from conversation. At the health club, I clicked “TV Off” while on the cardio-machines, so no scroll would deliver me the wisdom of Mitch McConnell.

Calm. Sunny. Double espressos. That was my reality. Mitch McConnell. John Boehner. They were someplace else.

Now if I can keep this up for two years.