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The Poetry of Not Knowing

October 2, 2012

My earliest memories of going to the movies are in a theater in Southampton, NY where I grew up. A couple of memories stand out which include Around the World in 80 Days and Song of the South. The former upset me terribly for there was a scene of a funereal pyre. My mother introduced me to the concept that not everything that I saw on screen really happened and that the actors didn’t really die. The fine delineation between fact and fiction. Song of the South of course delighted me and to this day I can sing Zippa- Doo-Dah with the best of them. The essential quality of humability! The composer Steven Sondheim said it best, “Familiarity breeds content.” As I write this, memories of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka and the Chocalate Factory, Doctor Doolittle and Fantasia are also evocatively triggered.

The thing about those early memories though that fascinates me most is that my mother never chose a specific screening. We just went, bought our tickets and sat down whenever we arrived. We’d sit through, say, the last third of the movie, remain seated as the lights went up, people exited and entered and then as the house lights dimmed again proceeded to enjoy the first two thirds of the film. When we reached the point where we entered we simply got up and left feeling satisfied at having seen the full film. Later in my young teens, I remember doing this often when going to the Regency Theater on Broadway by myself at matinees. The mysteries of starting viewing a film, 60% after it began, are inurmerable. The film actually presents many more questions initially and only through patience are answers procured. Not understanding everything never phased me, in fact I guess the expectation of “knowing” never got planted in the first place. My mother’s early introduction of discontinuous narrative may have been vital to my pleasure of not knowing.

Art by in large doesn’t spell things out. I might posit that really good art lures you in with a “not knowing.” Two things are then essential to experiencing art: One is patience and the second is pragmatism. Patience is essential since narrative and aesthetic paydays can be attained long after the initial encounter. Pragmatism is the other cog since not everything will payoff. The pleasures of the Patience/Pragmatism polarity paradigm are also rooted in a suspension of disbelief. You have to release the desire for immediate gratification and trust (have faith) that some possible future epiphany lays in wait, like Tigger about to pounce.
Above all else, the equation stands clear: Seeing(Art)=Potential(Pleasure) or Potential(Insight) The converse is more concrete: Seeing(Art)=Barren(Landscape/Emotions) It is with these thoughts that I enter a new cultural season of exhibitions, screenings and aesthetic sniffing. Come sniff with me.

Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, October 2nd, 2012

Postscript: These ruminations were ignited by another two hour viewing of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, the 24 hour masterpiece of filmic collage. I’ve now seen just under six hours and I’m simply addicted. To read my thoughts about the film please see my post from earlier this year.

Around the World in 80 Days

  1. As always, I learn something new when I read your writing! Thank you, Mario.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I’m discovering, or rediscovering things too. Writing is essential to organize one’s thoughts! Make some sense!

  2. Interesting, the idea of engaging with something that’s nearly over, and then seeing how it got to that point. It must give a whole new perspective. The more I think about it, the more I think, Why not? We (read I) are so used to linearity in narrative, cause and effect , which is daft, ‘cos life’s not like that. We’re forever entering in and out of situations, (back to Tino Seghal?) working backwards and forwards trying to impose patterns and structure. The next film I see I’m going to start halfway through – this is a bit scary as if I miss the first minute of anything I usually refuse to watch it.
    Hell, I really am anal.

    • Let me know how the experiment went. I am currently, aside from my early experience with my mom, equally anal about arriving ahead of time for any film. But altering perspectives is enriching regardless. There’s a german romantic poet named Christian Morgenstern who wrote a short poem about turning paintings upside down and discovering new aesthetic pleasures. Early reader response theory? I’ll try to hunt it down.

      • I shall! My husband is the artist here – he always turns his paintings upside down, or looks at them in a mirror, to get a more ‘impartial’ view of composition, colour etc. Also thinking about trying it with a novel – imagine ploughing into War and Peace halfway through and trying to make sense of it. But you would, somehow. (War and Peace a bit ambitious, perhaps, but you get my drift…)

  3. Truly Scrumptious!

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