Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas books!

We are a bookish family, but even for us this was a Christmas heavy in books given and received.  I am thrilled with the reading I'll be doing over the next several days and weeks.

Most of these books I have yet to really look into, but I can tell you a little about the three I've begun so far.

I am most of the way through Weaving a Chronicle, by Judith Poxson Fawkes.  It's an absorbing account of one weaver's evolution in technique and style, her commissioned pieces and the pieces done for her own purposes.  I love the effects she achieves using inlay techniques with linen warp and weft.  It's not traditional weft-faced tapestry, but it is really beautiful.

Judith Poxson Fawkes, Homage to Flax, 67" x 73", linen inlay, 1998
For this piece Fawkes traced actual flax stems, from her own garden, with their seed pods directly onto her weaving cartoon. She remarks on the irony that she chose to depict the hemisphere of the earth in which flax is not currently produced and speculates that perhaps she was subconsciously wishing it would return to the Western hemisphere where it was once plentiful.

I am nearly finished with Conversations with David Foster Wallace, a series of interviews with the now-deceased writer.  He was a very smart, thoughtful guy best known as the author of the novel Infinite Jest.  His thoughts about the writing process, the creative life, and the limits of irony will resonate with artists in many media, I think.  I have bookmarked so many passages; here are just a couple;
Writing fiction takes me out of time. . .. I sit down and the clock will not exist for me for a few hours.  That's probably as close to immortal as we'll ever get. 
This is exactly how I feel while weaving tapestry, as if I'm out of time.

Elsewhere Wallace, like Grayson Perry, talks about how post-modern irony has reached a dead end.
. . . it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the heart's purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text.  It's got something to do with love.  With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.  I know this doesn't sound hip at all. . . .Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you look banal or melodramatic or naive or unhip or sappy, and to ask the reader really to feel something.
For this tapestry weaver, this remark seemed especially relevant:
If an art form is marginalized it's because it's not speaking to people.  

On the top of the stack of new books is one my son read and pressed on me.  Richard Rorty's Achieving Our Country.   Though it was published in 1999, it is startlingly on point for our current social-political climate and is actually a best-seller on Amazon at the moment.  Rorty, who died in 2007, was an academic philosopher whom I was fortunate enough to take a class with while I was studying English at the University of Virginia a million years ago.  This short book is a series of lectures, so while it's thoughtful reading, it's not impossibly dense or hard to follow.

Right after the election, you may have seen this quotation from the book make the rounds on social media:
members of labor unions, and un-organized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers - themselves desperately afraid of being downsized - are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. 
At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for - someone willing to assure them that once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen and post modernist professors will no longer be calling the shots...
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion... All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
 Amazing that this was written in 1998, huh?

I'm only partway into the book, but Rorty writes about how Walt Whitman and John Dewey's small-d democratic vision for the potential of America has much to offer us today.  Rorty decries the cynical despair of the post-Vietnam left and calls us to believe in the potential of our country to still achieve its high ideals of liberty, justice and equality for all, despite the sins of our past.  It's fascinating and timely reading.

I try to keep politics out of this blog, and I will strive to do that in the new year, but I just had to share this.

I hope that your holiday brought you what your heart desires, and that you enjoy the chance to curl up with some good reading in the new year, if not before!

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