4 September 2007

“Life” Imitates “Art”

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 7:30 am

(With my new practice and marketing plan under scrutiny, I thought readers might be amused by an excerpt from Part 2, Chapter 2 of The Stations, my first unpublished novel.)

Sometimes people ask me how I decided to open the Salon Postisme. I tell them I didn’t. The Salon was already there; all I had to do was step through the door.

I was exploring without curiosity the edges of downtown when a sign caught my eye. Black print on a four-by-six white index card, stuck with yellowed tape to the wall, the sign certainly wasn’t designed to grab the attention of the passing window-shopper. It read:

Portals, Intervals, Alternate Realities
Henry Adamowicz, Proprietor
“Get Different”
(ring bell for service)

A short corridor and a long stairway were all that could be seen through the glass door. With nothing to do and less to hope for, I rang. A few seconds later a buzzer sounded. I tried the door: locked. I rang again. A man shambled down the stairs: tall and heavy-set but not paunchy, wiry steel-gray hair combed straight back – I figured he was probably older than he looked. He was carrying a large cardboard box, which he balanced under one arm in order to open the door for me.

“Sorry, I guess they still haven’t fixed the buzzer. Please come in.”

“You know, it looks like you’ve got your hands full. I didn’t really have any business to transact or whatever. I was just curious about the sign. I’ll stop by another time.”

He pushed the door open wider and beckoned me in. “No, no, please. Come up. Anyway, after today it’s too late.”

I followed him up one flight to a small office. The decor consisted of a faded maroon couch, a couple of gray lounge chairs, a small oak table that apparently served as a desk, some bookcases, an old silver floor lamp with faux marble base – garage sale material, but clean. Scattered throughout the room were boxes half-filled with books, file folders, papers and miscellaneous junk, all of it making the place feel even smaller than it was. The man gestured for me to sit in one of the chairs.

“I was just about to make myself a coffee,” he said enthusiastically. “Will you have one? I’m out of milk, so it’ll have to be a straight espresso. I’ve got some sugar here someplace.” He fumbled through one of the boxes.

“That’s okay. Really, I was just passing by. Maybe you’ve got a brochure or something.”

“No brochures. You think it would be a good idea? Sorry: I’m Hank Adamowicz, but people call me Prop.”

“Stephen Hanley. You’re leaving?”

He nodded. “Headed for Lisbon next Tuesday. You’ve arrived on my last day at the office.”

“Oh. Well I guess there’s no real point then.”

“No, I wouldn’t say that. Actually, today might be a perfect day. It would be a shame for the Salon to close up just because I’m not here. Work down here on the Mall, do you?”

Without portfolio, anticipating the freedom of conversing with somebody I would never see again, I decided to linger awhile with Prop Adamowicz. Three hours and three espressos later, the Salon Postisme was under new management. Rent for the office was paid up through the end of the year, and Prop insisted on leaving the furniture (“Can’t very well take this crap with me to Portugal, can I?”)….

“And the Proprietor of the Salon is what: some sort of high priest?”

“More like an usher.”

I had begun to feel slightly giddy. This conversation was surely happening; it was even coherent in a way. Still, was it possible that anyone other than I would ever have buzzed that buzzer, walked up those steps and into this office, talked with this frankly bizarre man for more than five minutes? I needed some reality testing.

“How do you advertise your services?”

“No advertising. No discount coupons.”

“You mean people just sort of show up at the door?”

“You did.”

Now it was my turn to walk around the office. “About how many people would you say stop in over the course of a month?”

Prop sighed with obvious disappointment. “So you want the financial statements, business plan, that sort of thing? Starting to feel this might be too risky a proposition, are you?”

“I just want to get… I mean, seriously, how many people actually come here because they want to enter into some sort of new interval?”

“No one,” Prop said, but he didn’t sound discouraged. He visibly relaxed again. “You’re right: intervality is the thing that grabs me, but it might be trivial to everybody else. Still, it’s been my experience that nurturing your own obsession keeps you from feeling too helpful. Once you start thinking of yourself as a helper, you’re lost. You think you’re being selfless, but you’re really looking for admiration. You start trying to please people in order to get it. Pretty soon you’re working harder and harder but getting less and less done. A bit of advice: resist being a healer, Stephen.”

I started experiencing a feeling I’d known before but couldn’t name. Relief combined with anxiety. “Then why do people come here?”

“For the same reason you did: curiosity. Probably there’s some sort of vague dissatisfaction, usually latent but sometimes overt. Also, a sense of intrigue, like maybe they’re the first person who ever actually rang my doorbell. And hope – hope for a world in which a place like the Salon could actually exist. In most people’s experience hope eventually ends in disappointment, so they hide behind skeptical amusement, like tourists in some sort of new age theme park. Two, three, four people come in together, chat for a few minutes. A week later one comes back. That sort of thing.”

“So what brings that one person back?”

“It depends. By the way, I can usually tell which one is most likely to return. It’s the one who happened to see the sign under my doorbell, had perhaps seen it weeks before. Sometimes I guess wrong.”



  1. Your life imitates your art.


    Hey, where is the rest of that novel??? Must have been lost in the mail!


    Comment by Erdman — 4 September 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  2. So, then, are we planting brochures and brochures stands and blog posts, etc. for sake of sparking “curiosity”???

    I think it’s a great plan. I’m sure it doesn’t make for a good business plan in the traditional sense, but then again a “good business plan” together with “cost-effective advertising” might bring in all the wrong people, eh???

    Hats off to Prop.

    (Are you thinking of using that as your professional name, by the way?!)


    Comment by Erdman — 4 September 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  3. Yes, that’s the intention. However, my sense after the first 3 days is either that my efforts aren’t sparking much curiosity. I thought about being Prop, but only if it was the Salon Postisme — which it isn’t as of now. As I said to Odile on her comment to the prior post, I regard this approach as targeted marketing via self-selection — if anybody actually selects a handout and reads it they’re the target.

    The big issue for me is related to my posts about Wallace Stevens, namely that the imagination tends to be crushed by the pressure of reality. I’ve been able to imagine the Salon at the center of various activities that could happen but that probably wouldn’t happen. But when I try to live out Prop’s life in the everyday world, the imaginary Prop and the alternate reality start fading into impossibility. The trade-off might be worthwhile if the everyday Prop’s unconventional marketing strategy were to succeed. If it fails, then both realities are dead. If that makes sense.

    The other big issue is whether I adapt the blog contents to this new pragmatic end; i.e., attracting locals who might conceivably become clients. The risk is that my freedom of blogwriting is sacrificed for business ends. Again, if it works, maybe it will have been worth it; if not, then I’ve got no clients and the blog is dead besides.

    In short, I see dark clouds looming.

    The turning point in Mulholland Drive occurs at the Silencio, a club in LA where the show starts at 3 am and the performance consists of heavily dramatized lip-sync. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about: a heterotopia that could exist but that probably wouldn’t exist. It becomes pathetic when David Lynch, who can’t get funding for any more films, decides to open the Silencio for real and nobody comes.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 September 2007 @ 5:36 pm

  4. For some reason the grouchy old grandpa in “Little Miss Sunshine” comes to mind when he creeps forward in the VW van to tell the dad, his son, after a bitter disappointment marketing his X-Step program, “I’m proud of you son…at least you tried…so many don’t, you know.”

    Still I see the problem of dashed dreams as well.

    Meilleurs voeux!!


    Comment by blueVicar — 5 September 2007 @ 6:02 am

  5. If nobody ever listened to Beethoven would his symphonies still be “great”???

    If nobody had ever paid attention to Beethoven would the depression of going unnoticed have driven him to write even greater symphonies????


    Comment by Erdman — 5 September 2007 @ 8:22 am

  6. Wallace Stevens said that there’s one thing reader can do that the writer cannot, which is to “receive” his poems. This as you’re well aware is an important concern: to what extent does the reader write the text, convey meaning on the text, etc. If you write without an audience you pretty much have to persuade yourself that the text is an autonomous thing, that for better or worse its qualities are intrinsic to it. And then we get to authorial intent: if the author writes in order to be read, to communicate, to educate, etc., and no one is on the receiving end of the interpersonal intention, then from the author’s standpoint the writing has failed.

    Would a depressed Beethoven have written better stuff than the “rock star” Beethoven? Well, given that the rock star version is arguably the greatest (known) composer, I’d suspect that the answer is no. I wonder if, in your experience, you’ve ever found depression to be a motivator or a stimulus to the imagination?


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 September 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  7. I wonder if, in your experience, you’ve ever found depression to be a motivator or a stimulus to the imagination?

    I have. And I do.

    We might consider the example of the ultimate crowd-pleaser: The politician. Here the art, itself, is simply that of pleasing the “reader.” The “text” is the actions and principles/convictions of the politicians. In the example of the politician the text is the ultimate reader’s playground and we truly witness the death of the author as the reader has its way with the text. The politician loses identity and he turns his text of his policy over to public opinion in willful surrender – all for the sake of being elected, reelected, and having status/power/influence/etc.

    Theoretically, I think if an artist can create for the pure sake of the creation and empty himself of all personal vanity and the concerns of how he is received, then in this case “it is no longer I but art that works within me” – if I may paraphrase Paul! So, the artist exists solely for the sake of the art. If he succeeds in creating something truly great, then it is the power of that creation which will compel the readers to read the text, and the text will then have its way with the reader for force the reader into submission. Hence, my farce the other day about the “will to poetry” – the art itself overpowers the reader by force of its own creative will, a Nietzschean-type will to art.


    Comment by Erdman — 5 September 2007 @ 8:19 pm

  8. “If he succeeds in creating something truly great, then it is the power of that creation which will compel the readers to read the text, and the text will then have its way with the reader for force the reader into submission.”

    Slowly, sporadically, I’ve been working through Gadamer. In his historical review he alights on Leopold von Ranke, a Romanticist historian. Ranke sees historical movement as a tension between necessity and freedom that results in epoch-making individuals and events. Gadamer (p.202) says that what’s significant about Ranke is the way the concept of freedom is linked to the concept of power. Power is obviously the central category in the historical worldview… Expression is not only the manifestation of power but its reality. Hegel was quite right when he explicated the intrinsic relationship between power and expression dialectically. But this dialectic also shows that power is more than its expression. It possesses potentiality also — i.e., it is not only the cause of a particular effect but the capacity, wherever it is used, to have that effect… It follows that power cannot be known or measured in terms of its expression, but only experienced as an indwelling.

    The power of freedom arises within necessity — the state of the world in a given place and time — and exerts itself against the resistance put up by the inertia of necessity. Says Gadamer (p. 204): The historical powers, not the monadic subjectivity of the individual, are the real basis of historical development. In fact, all individuation is itself partly characterized by the reality that stands over against it, and that is why individuality is not subjectivity but living power… Power is real only as an interplay of powers, and history is this interplay of powers that produces a continuity.

    The implication is that, while freedom exerts power against necessity, freedom itself is a force that both creates the expression (e.g., the Beethoven symphony) and the effect (e.g., the acceptance by the audience of Beethoven’s work). This means that the forces both of stability and of innovation are always working together dialectically, assuring continuity within change. The powerful composition can compel its acceptance: this suggests that the same genius which inspires Beethoven also moves through his audience. It’s a variant on the Hegelian idea that Spirit gradually moves in the direction of full self-awareness through the historical dialectic of stability and change, of necessity and power.

    It sounds like Ranke’s position is very much up your alley. This position also fits with Gadamer’s discussion of Bildung, where the person who cultivates good taste allows himself to come under the power of the creation. There are difficulties with this position, as Adorno pointed out. Pseudo-Bildung will enable false genius to exert power over the herd, as in cases like Hitler and most of the top-grossing movies of our times. Can one reliably tell the difference between the political genius and the demagogue, between art and kitsch? I have the sense that in our times one can recognize greatness only by resisting power.

    Regarding the inspirational power of depression, I too believe that it can and does happen. This too was Adorno’s position: that pursuit of Bildung in our times requires one to take a stance against the powerful forces of popular culture, which almost inevitably results in alienation and unhappiness. And then we’ve got David Foster Wallace’s postmodern idea to contend with: the masses converge on a common taste because it’s fueled by basic instincts, whereas the cultivated tastes diverge in all sorts of different directions. So the more refined your genius, the fewer are the members of the audience who can be affected by its power — and the less likely the marketplace will bother trying to sell it. Exerting counterforce on a persistent basis is tiring and discouraging.

    Anyhow, this is the stimulus value of comments on blogs — not argumentation but the intertwining of perspectives leading to something unexpected.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 September 2007 @ 9:47 pm

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