Mary Ruefle writes, in her book of “lectures,” Madness, Rack, & Honey: “I remember being so young I thought all artists were good, kind, loving, exceptionally interesting, and exemplary human beings.”
I was a child like that. It’s good to know there was at least one other. We grow up to know that such artists are far from common. But they do exist.
Each time I learned a “bad” thing about an artist, poet, or writer I loved, I felt a little deflated. Something was being taken away from my idea of the person who made such wonderful work.
Later, I rather empathized with Roland Barthes’ theorizing about the death of the author. Not because I was necessarily post-modern but because sometimes, I wanted the artist-as-person to be erased so that I could go back to loving the art-as-art. This was a juvenile way of thinking about both human beings and about art.
But: the lure of erasure…
Ruefle muses about time, about art, literature, and the human being. Her assays to determine what endures among us often feel a bit cryptic or aphoristic at the first encounter. The wisdom in them, and the layeredness–and the awareness of what is “missing” in her texts–evolved in my own mind as I read her book, slowly.
She has used erasure as a means to expression and to beauty, as it happens. Examples of her erasure poems appear on The Poetry Foundation’s website here.
The closing epigraph of Madness, Rack, & Honey (is it an epigraph if it falls at the end of the book?) is from Samuel Pepys’ Diary following the Great Fire “…an abundance of pieces of burnt papers were cast by the wind as far as Cranborne; and among others she took up one…which was a little bit of paper that had been printed, whereon there remained no more nor less than these words: “Time, it is done.”
For Dave Bonta’s interpretation of erasure poems–based upon Pepys’ diary–see via negativa here.
“Exhibit 13,” by Blue Man Group, follows an abundance of pieces of burnt papers cast by the wind, as well.
Dave Bonta alerted me to this thoughtful essay in longform: http://longform.org/stories/absent-things-as-if-they-are-present
I also submit, for those who are interested, Selah Saterstrom’s novel The Pink Institution (http://coffeehousepress.org/shop/the-pink-institution-2/) which contains a few “chapters” that feature some erasure, and which has a lovely section on eraser obsession.
“She has used erasure as a means to expression and to beauty, as it happens.” For me, this sentence captures Ruefle’s work completely. Each time I read her I will remember “erasure.” Thanks for that as well as the reminder about dear Pepys; have not thought of him in decades. Wonderful links and enjoyed the post.
P.S. Am a bit behind in my reading but I rather enjoy having a handful of Ann E. Michael posts to read.
Oh, thank you! I am a bit behind in my posts, actually. Maybe I’ll get around to Kay Ryan on what art is soon.