On Art

This image to me represents reflection. It shows a person contemplating.

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. – Pablo Picasso

Dear writer,

As I write this, the sun sets, bathing the city with purple melancholia. There’s an ashy wren-warbler sitting on a branch outside my window. Gentle nuances of grey and brown, cover most of his back, and a mellow beige, his breast. There’s this sadness about him, even though he’s small and cute. It addles my mind a little, reminding me of songs like Grey Street and Semi-Charmed Life. Uplifting tunes with depressing lyrics, like a poem that uses soothing imagery but has an undercurrent of despair running through it. I write all this, going off on a tangent, describing this and that and connecting the threads because I don’t know how to begin this letter.  

This was supposed to be a reflection on art, but I’m afraid that you’ll find non sequitur after non sequitur like the hairpin bends on a mountain and it’ll require some cognitive climbing on your part to reach the summit. I’m going to stop digressing now. What I like about your writing is that it doesn’t reflect you. There’s a separation between you and your work, and that speaks a lot about your imaginative prowess. While the rest of us cast nets into the rivers of memory, hoping to find some rare fangtooth with skin the colour of a violent rash that will entice our readers, you create worlds with a Brandon Sandersonesque magic. Selcouth realities where pegasi descend from the sky with cherubic radiance, bringing with them the promise of redemption, or griffins stalk the red wasteland, casting a spell of doom on the vagrant. What’s even more fascinating is that you somehow connect these mysterious worlds with our own, imbuing your poetry with a deeper context and semantic.

I’ve tried to write this way, but I’m afraid my attempts fall into the realm of pale imitation. Most of my readers probably think I’m a dark bastard, projecting my sins and insecurities on a page. Some, I’m sure, believe I relish a life of sybaritic recklessness, penning salacious odes about cheap motel rooms and callipygian curves with glee. The thing is that I distance myself from my work while flavouring it with the mephitic stench of my life. So, my work is autofiction – not confessional, but not too make-believe either. The other day I wrote: There’s a threadbare, patchwork carpet in this motel room reeking of stale cigarettes where I spend my days. I stare at its once lurid colours, now coated with dust. I’m naked and lying on crumpled sheets next to a girl I picked up at a greasy spoon. The patchwork fascinates me in so many ways. Maybe it’s the medley of shades that reminds me of a heart that’s been sewed together a hundred times. Or perhaps it’s the grime on the cloth that’s akin to a distressed mind.

Life hasn’t been kind these last few years, and adages like: “It will only get better,” haven’t proved themselves right. I’m the quintessential idealistic nihilist. I know that’s an oxymoron, but isn’t every equation in existence incongruous to a certain degree? Know that I’m not here to boast about my idiosyncrasies. I say these things with a pained soul. 

My lover shifts in her sleep and I look at her and wonder if this is all there is. Seamy rough sex in unhygienic rooms. Post-coital drags and half-drunk beer cans. Animalistic lust and sadistic impulses. What about love and deep intimacy? What about attachment and synergy? There has to be something more profound than the coming together of warm bodies. 

As the years have passed, I’ve grown darker, like the old, patchwork carpet. Somewhere within me, a feral beast has risen, and I struggle with all my might to repress him. But my greatest fear is not if he erupts and takes control, but me letting him take charge because I enjoy him. I feast on my twisted fantasies and relish the darkness already. Perhaps the time for redemption has passed, and I’ll soon paint my face white, wear mascara and pull more dangerous pranks than silly phone calls or hiding in closets like a little child. But then again, doesn’t hope reach those whom fate has handed over to spiritual penury? I’m devoid of inner opulence, but doesn’t truth seek reprobates?

Still, don’t talk to me about the light or silver linings. I have nothing against the light, but I’d rather not speak of it. And what are silver linings but clichéd expressions that ask you to look at the flip side when you’re dying on the battlefield? Are you supposed to dream of unicorns and teddy bears? I’d rather a friend slap me awake for a moment and give me a shot of vodka that burns because there’s twisted pleasure in pain.

I read about serial killers and necrophiliacs today. Men who found pleasure in dismembering innocent people and then storing their body parts in refrigerators. And I wondered if we’re all like that. If we’re all Enfant Terribles from Lord of the Flies. If given a chance without society to constrain us, would we all take pleasure in bludgeoning our neighbours? Is the loss of naïveté something that occurs in a person’s life, or are we born depraved, with an illusion of innocence? The beast within me roared today, and I fought him. I won a Cadmean victory, and he didn’t break through my ribcage and set himself free. But how long before he does? How long before an apocalypse of my soul takes place leading to ennui, and then accidie?

Or is there hope in this motel room? My lover has left, and I’m still staring at the patchwork carpet. I don’t know if this is a hallucination, but it becomes a patchwork man. He speaks with a lilt; says: “Hush now. There is solace in iniquity; structure in sin. Find it. It’s a fire burning in the cold. This duality of the Apollonian and Dionysian is the source of all balance. Look at me. I’m a potpourri of colour, and yet filth coats me. I’m furore and peace. Hush.”

Some poor man read this and wondered if I’d fallen into madness. He thought I was writing from a squalid motel room somewhere, cradling my depravity like some inner Buddha, and championing something antithetical to nirvana, a self-indulgent lunacy that makes Emil Cioran look like a little boy playing with his toys. It took a great deal of convincing to assure him that most of what I said was symbolic and that the only thing that stemmed from my life was the desolate nihilism, a vantage point that’s antipodal to kaleidoscopic optimism or seeing shades of glory in every experience.  

All this has made me rethink art. Sometimes I’m so discombobulated that I feel one must eliminate the ‘I’ in poetry to conquer vanity. But then reading your work showed me that there are other ways to triumph over self-indulgent writing. The answer is imagination and not a puritanical ardour to cleanse myself of self-aggrandisement. I also learnt not to be harsh on myself and to have fun writing. I believe Dostoevsky teaches while Stephen King entertains, but if I enjoy a supernatural clown preying on children more than a haunting lament that reiterates some theodicean principle, why should I confine my writing to existential grappling with punitive fate or draconian dogma that shapes irrationality? A story is a story. And maybe a poem doesn’t need a vituperative tone decrying decadence. Perhaps I should write about a unique brand of post-human, time-travelers who send their souls into the past to possess an unsuspecting victim. The possibilities are endless when you think of entertaining an audience. Why write some parable that needs a semiotician to interpret it when I can write a Gillian Flynnesque suspenseful thriller, riddled with plot twists and paying homage to Lovecraftian horror with its tone? 

Now, everything I’ve said only applies to me. This is not a diatribe against elitism. I’m no scholar or critic. And this is not me saying that you’re an entertainer, more than a serious writer. You weave complex themes into your poetry that leave me in awe. Having said that, I want to entertain, to carry my reader away on the back of a unicorn to lands where the laws of physics don’t apply. I’d like to write about spaceships, haunted mansions or anthropomorphic Tabby cats that converse in rhymes, or shooting stars signaling halcyon days or dragon-priests ushering in auspicious times. I want to write in such a way that my work stands at one pole and I, at the other, that the worlds I create don’t give a damn about the man who creates them. I want songs of clowns to replace songs of despair and carnivals with dandies and fools to replace perennial anxiety and death throes. To leave the reader with a sense of wonder is what I want to do. Themes be damned and critics can rage; I want to write for the pleasure of writing alone.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

10 responses to “On Art”

    • It was difficult typing on the old laptop while the malodorous stench that was a mixture of violent flatulence and I’m guessing the partially eaten, overripe durian that probably gave me all that gas. On a serious note, I think writing to entertain and not giving a damn about themes, socio-political currents, and the whole enchilada that makes up for most literary fiction today is like a soul soothing balm. And thank you for the comment Bruce.

      • Oh boy, that’s something I heard when I did my Bachelors a lot. That, and trying to fit the text into some philosophical argument.

      • Forget the lyrical long sentences, John Updike was a misogynist who only fleshed out women in his work, the works of Dr. Seuss must be burned, there’s no denying the racist undertones in Flannery O’Connor’s works. The real outsiders in Camus’ The Stranger were the Arabs Meursault shot. Yeah I’ve heard it all. They don’t seem to get that the culture of the times those works were written in was different from ours. And who’s to say our culture is better than theirs. Every epoch has its triumphs and flaws. Read fiction for fiction’s sake, I say.

  1. “Perhaps I should write about a unique brand of post-human, time-travelers who send their souls into the past to possess an unsuspecting victim. The possibilities are endless when you think of entertaining an audience.” You’re perfectly correct there, my friend. 😉 Well done!

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