I have eaten the Velveeta cheese intended for the dog; I have re-vivified the frozen peas; this is my dinner. I can feel the drift of my ass across the seat cushions. Did you know that to sit is to kill? When we die, our buttocks renounce the seat. I cannot sustain an interest in anything, not even the hair on my chin. Yesterday, I could. Yesterday I believed I was fair of face and at least destined to ride in a hot air balloon. Funny, that, because I am afraid of heights, no matter how beautiful and bulbuous. When I stand at the top of the cathedral, I do not feel closer to God, merely closer to the casual jointmanship of disgruntled 14th century stone masons. Thus, realism kills the grace. Writing with my discarded sweater set to the side and my one foot encased in a fur slipper, I am sure to be remembered by the ages. I am sure to remember about Norwegians. I am sure to forget what I ought to have remembered. I cannot even sustain the attention to fashion this memory. I shall have to stand and admit surrender.
This is a book about the self-fashioning of an artist. A young woman surrounds herself with totems; she bends towards and away from the artistic visions of others; she finds muses and is herself a muse.
This is certainly a love story. This is about being in the right place at the right time (but surely chance meetings with Janis Joplin and Sam Shepard and William Burroughs say just as much about what kind of magnetism Smith herself must possess).
I wept through the end of Just Kids; I found it very moving as a testament to a friendship and a person and another artist. When do we become an artist? Is it when we declare it? Is it when we've been recognized for our art? Is it when we dedicate ourselves to it? Is it simply when we believe it of ourselves?
I also thought about poverty as a purifier for Smith and the circle of creatives around her in NYC during this remarkable time. I've never been comfortable with giving up material comfort for art. Smith and Mapplethorpe begin as young ascetics, and yet they're getting things done; they're making the connections they need to succeed. I believe it's a function of my background: once comfortably middle to upper middle class, forever hoping to keep that standard. But it's not hard to feel a sense of envy or nostalgia for Smith's romantic vision of art-as-sustenance, for this brave girl showing up in New York with nothing but a few possessions and a belief in where she needed to be, and making a go of it. She demonstrates blistering courage. Of course I don't have regrets, but it is provocative to consider the paths of others, especially someone like Patti Smith who began not even sure what medium would be hers, but was so clearly meant to be a VOICE, and now, successful memoirist.
If you are the kind of person who thinks finding a crumbling old manuscript in a dank monastery that turns out to be a fascinating glimpse into a nearly-vanished pagan philosophy on living written in verse would be cool...then you and I have a lot in common, and we both like this book already. We are also both nerds, and that's okay. We should probably travel together in order to avoid irritating our companions.
Greenblatt is clearly a scholar of considerable erudition on the Renaissance and European art and thought. While very engagingly written, I do sense that Swerve was written for the general reader rather than a more specialized audience. Perhaps because I have studied and written on similar subjects in the past, I yearned for more overtly scholarly writing (which does NOT have to be boring--The Age of Wonder and its endlessly-entrancing digressions comes to mind). I would have been happy to read several hundred more pages, especially about the ripple effect in Renaissance art that Greenblatt cunningly traces back to the discovery of Lucretius' poem. More than anything, I realized that going to the primary text--"On the Nature of Things" itself--will be the key to serious explorations of this subject.
So, on the hunt I go, but with some delightful background knowledge to buoy me.
I am a writer of fiction and essays with an abiding interest in literature by and about women. My work has been nominated for inclusion in the Best New American Voices anthology, a Pushcart Prize, a four-time finalist in the FENCE/Summer Literary Seminars annual contest, and has been featured in Quick Fiction, City Arts Magazine, Hoarse Quarterly, Pacifica Literary Review, District, & Wigleaf. In August, I left Seattle for Wyoming with the goal of finishing my novel. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.