For my last semester in college, in an effort to be practical, I signed up for a graduate humanities course called “How to Live.” On the first day, the professor discussed the syllabus at length, then asked us to introduce ourselves. The air had drained from the room, and as I waited for my turn I could already tell there was a problem.
The artists I know are perfectionists, heartlessly so, because that is required. They will paint right over a failed canvas; they will rip out every stitch and start anew. The artist comes to her material with an mix of control and surrender, and her success seems to rely on her ability to grasp a material’s specific demands, while reconciling those with her own vision. There is something there, in the material, that works against you—which requires rigor, but might bring relief.
A few years ago, a woman in Spain attempted to restore a nineteenth-century church fresco, but in doing so ruined it completely. The result is less Savior than surreal simian, the delicate portrait painted over with a crude, monstrous “face.” Since the election it has been hard to shake the feeling that reality has been made worse, unrecognizable, in precisely this way.
Oh, the energy of autumnal days! Summer has its blisses, winter its purities; spring lays out romance and adventure, but these short weeks, the light falling like a voice into the distance—they grip me like nothing else. These are the days of the private pleasures of the mind opened into conversation, days in which I thrill at blank pages, new music, appointments fulfilled in the noise of crowds, and my breathe materialized in the cooling air. It’s a time of study and practice. It’s a time of education.
The cultural markers–or lack thereof–in a story are not what makes a piece of writing timeless. We do not transcend time by simply disregarding its march. Even as the diaphragm loses its prevalence and potency, the stories that incorporate it do not because literature was never intended to be generic, was never meant to either speak for one time solely or no time at all.