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3 June 2010

“Art makes nothing happen” aka “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably everyday/ for lack/ of what is found there”

Remember a time when poets were also doctors and insurance executives — not just professors, editors and pontificators? The weird thing is, counter to the quotation in the subject line of this post, there was once at time when poets used to make lots of things happen. Well, okay, I’ll acknowledge there are probably still plenty of professionals-slash-poets alongside the “professional poets.” It’s just that I want to take a moment to specifically admire those times and be nostalgic for them.

I ran across both the subject line quotations (by W.H. Auden & William Carlos Williams, respectively) in a soon-to-be-published pamphlet for my friend Josh Melnick‘s Art in General exhibit The 8 Train. (The book was ably abetted by editor Angie Keefer and designers Project Projects.) When given a chance to run through the proofs, I came across this most excellent interview between Josh and Lawrence Weschler, the latter of whom I consider the single best channeler of the artistic process alive today. Weschler has a lot to say about nothing, pillows of air, and the impact of those and other unimpactful things.

    Josh Melnick: I have a very broad question. Feel free to change the subject if you don’t want to talk about it. What do you think the nature and the function of art is right now? What does it do? How does it work?

    Lawrence Weschler: I’m basically drawn to what I call “pillow of air” moments. I really value that moment when you become lost to yourself, when you notice a pillow of air has become lodged in your mouth, and you haven’t breathed for 10 seconds. In a way, I’m talking about wonder, obviously–when you become so absorbed that you are transported out of yourself in the Zen sense, out of that self that bullies you all the time.Art is the origin of a more profound sense of self, which is also the origin of citizenship, as opposed to being a consumer. Everything in this society is built to have you behave like a salivating dog. To the extent that art pulls you out of that, and brings you to place where you don’t know, you know, you think you know, and so forth, it is making a huge contribution.

    You can also quote the famous line of William Carlos Williams, “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably everyday/ for lack/ of what is found there,” which is saying what I’m saying in a different way.

    JM: What is that line from Auden?

    LW: Auden says, “Art makes nothing happen.” Or, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” It’s in his poem about Yeats, I believe. Art makes nothing happen. This seems to be always misinterpreted as meaning art doesn’t do anything.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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