2017 is special to me on so many different levels, and among every experience that have shaped my life, the experience of good art has undoubtedly left their marks. The experience I had with these pieces of artwork each deserve their own individual posts of course–but that is another story for another time. Without discounting the immense impact and value brought by these Good Art, I wanted to take this opportunity before the beginning of a new year to review and sum up my own experiences in these amazing encounters.
The Poetry of Everyday Life
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Paterson is the kind of films I know I would like right after finishing the trailer. I am no film connoisseur, but Paterson has to be the only film I have watched—besides Korean director Ki-duk Kim’s zen-like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring—that demonstrates the poetry of film as an art form. At the risk of repeating the word “poetry” too many times, in a film that is literally about a bus driver who also happens to be a really talented poet, I dare say everything in the film is poetic. Take the opening scene–the embracing couple in bed, the alarm clock rings, and the day begins— that repeats itself throughout the film, just as a poet might use repetition of a stanza throughout a poem, Paterson‘s poetry is abundant in both forms and substances. But what Paterson actually achieves is even more remarkable–it brings poetry so close to an average viewer that not only it dissolves the very wrong but not uncommon notion that poetry is only for the literary type or English teachers/students, but it also almost effortlessly shows how an otherwise mundane life can be full of magic with a poetic eye. Walking out of the cinema, I felt what Japanese-American Zen master D. T. Suzuki describe as the state of enlightenment: everyday consciousness but two inches above the ground. If you have a friend or family member who still keeps their safe distances from poetry, please, do us both a favor, watch Paterson with them. It might just do the trick.
The Unexpected Masterpiece Novel You Haven’t Known
William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshmen in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen. Eight years later, during the height of World War I, he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree and accepted an instructorship at the same university. where he taught until his death in 1956. He did not rise above the rank of assistant professor, and few students remembered him with any sharpness after they had taken his courses…Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can assoicate themselves or their careers.
So begins this odd novel that immediately set the tone for the whole experience—mundane, sad, unremarkable. Yet even before I finish it I know my experience of fiction reading and even of literature as a whole will never be the same again.
I stumbled upon Stoner in the textbook definition of the phrase–in a totally unplanned and unexpected manner. It was a rather dull afternoon at work. After enduring a soul-crushing, inevitable part of my job I decided to take a short break–by logging on The Book Depository to look at books that are interesting enough to remind me why I took my job. (Yes, just looking at the description of books alone gives me pleasure, sometimes I don’t even need to read the real thing.) What drew my attention that afternoon was a list of Best Books Ever the editor(s) at the largest online bookseller put together–or rather what this particular list leads me to.
What I found more interesting than the list they compiled are the few lines they wrote to introduce what they were trying to do. And being an attentive and curious reader, I followed the link into the supposedly reader-submitted version of Best Books Ever.
So there, among the other potentially equally or more amazing books, I picked Stoner—the one with a cover that features a pile of stacked old books—out of pure whim. After reading the synopsis—the son of a farmer going to college to study agriculture and accidentally fell in love with literature and thus changed his entire life— I decided to give it a go.
Just a few pages into the prologue on the Amazon Kindle sample I was reading, I found myself utterly intrigued and half-enchanted by Stoner‘s nonchalant yet silently moving opening. Since the bookstore I worked for didn’t (surely it does now) carry the book, and it would have been inhuman for me at that time to order from BookDepository and endure nine days—the time it would take from the moment you finished payment online to holding the parcel from Royal Mail in your hand—before I could continue reading the book, I did the only thing sensible and clicked that 1-click purchase button on Amazon, and within seconds, got sucked into the world of young William Stoner again.
Stoner is the kind of novel that, in retrospect, even if I was spoiled for the whole plot and knew exactly what would happen in the whole novel, would still have moved me to the core and have changed me in ways I still can’t describe to this day. The experience was so unique and powerful that I found myself slowing down midway and hopelessly wished for the book—and the experience it provided—never to end. After closing the paperback version from Vintage (yes I did order a copy while reading on Kindle, because why not?) I finished the book with the first time, I closed my eyes several minutes to “collect” myself. T0 let the indescribable aurora and sentiments that penetrated me settle down and fade. Melancholy, inevitable, delicately beautiful and equally painful—these are the feelings that lingered for days after I’ve finished the book.
Since I found myself lacking the skills nor words for describing this book any further, I would close with several great paragraphs from the book about perhaps the most beautiful and heartbreaking love affair I would ever read:
Her eyes, that he had thought to be a dark brown or black, were a deep violet. Sometimes they caught the dim light of a lamp in the room and glittered moistly; he could turn his head one way and another, and the eyes beneath his gaze would change color as he moved, so that it seemed, even in repose, they were never still. Her flesh, that had at a distance seemed so cool and pale, had beneath it a milky translucence. And like the translucent flesh, the calm and poise and reserve which he had thought were herself, masked a warmth and playfulness and humor whose intensity was made possible by the appearance that disguised them.
In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.
They were both very shy, and they knew each other slowly, tentatively; they came close and drew apart, they touched and withdrew, neither wishing to impose upon the other more than might be welcomed. Day by day the layers of reserve that protected them dropped away, so that at last they were like many who are extraordinarily shy, each open to the other, unprotected, perfectly and unselfconsciously at ease.
Nearly every afternoon, when his classes were over, he came to her apartment. They made love, and talked, and made love again, like children who did not think of tiring at their play. The spring days lengthened, and they looked forward to the summer.
End of Part I–to be continued