The Rose | by Ben Lerner – The New York Review of Books

Posted: July 8, 2020 at 3:44 am

At some point I realized the questions were the same questions. Im studying implicit race bias in toddlers. Im tracking the advent of the credit economy. The implication for folk music of the fact that stars dont twinklethe apparent perturbation of stars is just a fluctuation in the mediumis something we want to understand. We want to understand the way it changes our memories of bedtime, for instance. A green flash. Twinkle twinkle. Thats funny, a man in the atrium says, Im studying the same question. In different terms. Im living out that question as kindly as possible; in fact, thats why Im here today volunteering. You have to admit, the staff is doing an excellent job. Then he sips his tea in a paper cup. Then he describes an experience of defibrillation. The other day I went to see the realignment of a permanent collection; abstraction had been demoted. I had complicated thoughts about it, which I carried into the winter sun, where I realized: thats the same question, pressing my face into her inner thigh. Calling a friend in agony. For folk music, the implications are profound. Rhythm shapes feeling. That way abstraction can rise again, rinsed of dominance, a blue rinse for the tradition, little star. Only then is it possible to pose the question, cup the question, blow on it gently. Is recumbency necessary to facilitate analytic revelry. Is your mom really capable of hearing you, given her level of anxiety. To use an example from my own life, I sleep with my head under the pillow. I think its pretty common for men my age. But do we have a sufficient account of those rhythms of behavior as they spread out across a generation. Now a purpose for the arts comes into focus, leaving a bright halo around the body. The way psychoanalysis lacks an account of nut milks. How the term labor plays about the lips of humanists. I develop predictive technologies for complex scenarios. I slow down popular songs and play them over footage of sunflowers tracking east. Thats funny, a man says. When I was a kid I thought all the skyscrapers were department stores, imagined the top floors were devoted to toys, and when the towers came down I kept imagining large stuffed animals in a panic, a few leaping to their deaths. The moon is not the sun at night. How I wonder what you are. Many stones contain small amounts of poison and the nectarine is no exception. These are things Ive never said out loud before, how much his personality depends upon holding a hot drink, a small continuous exhibition of care that contrasts with the viciousness of his speech. Wool has more body than rayon. Or does the tape say viscousness, syntax behaving like a solid, providing light and ventilation. As a blue flame spreads across a shallow liquid spill, Im trying to imagine a lullaby that scales. I was taught this printing method in a dream. It contains a hidden countermelody. All I remember from your course, she told me, is that the rose is obsolete. Wed run into each other on the Queens-bound G, and I couldnt figure out if I should ask her about the bruising on her neck and face. We emerged out of the tunnel into winter sun and around her body a bright halo formed. Can I ask you a personal question. Have you ever felt like your speech is being dictated by phonological associations to such a degree that evenor maybe especiallyin your most intimate relationships, the content of your utterances is driven by the demands of acoustical shape. This troubles inwardness. This opens onto the problems of consent. Auditory memory traces are subject to rapid decay, like a diamond in the sky. Rose was my maternal grandmothers name. Her parents had a small grocery store in Brooklyn. They hired a driver for deliveries who came highly recommended. Butas they learned only after he struck and killed a pedestrianhe had no license. They were sued and lost everything. My great-grandfather went more or less insane. He also suffered from boils. My great-grandmother died from tuberculosis in a sanitorium with concrete floors. Neither spoke English. Rose had to raise her younger brother John in poverty, more or less alone. Many years later, Johnwho by this point was a pioneering anthologist of folk musicwas hit and killed by a Hasidic Jew hurrying home for the Sabbath. Late in Roses life, these two car accidents became confused in her mind. Her father had hired a Hasidic Jew who struck and killed her baby brother. But thats not why Im telling you this story, she said. When Rose was in an assisted living home in Cambridge, she became convinced that the staff were sneaking into her room and subtly altering her paintings. Taking the canvases out of the frames, adding another outline around the apples and pears, restoring the paintings to their places. My cousin would always argue with her: Are you crazy, who would do such a thing, nobody is touching your paintings. This went on for around a year. Until one day my dadwe were all in town for her ninetieth birthdaygot up from his chair, walked to the wall, removed his glasses, inspected the artworks carefully, and said: Well, Rose, you are the one who really knows these paintings. Youve had them for sixty years. So if you say they are being manipulated, Im sure youre right. But you have to admit, the staff is doing an excellent job. How carefully theyre reinserting the paper into the frame. No smudges on the glass. Rose thought for a moment. Youre right, she said, they are doing an excellent job. And she never complained about the staff again. I think this offers us a model of the art critic, if not an itinerary for art criticism, during a crisis in long-term care. Have you noticed how many stories about the power of art are really about the power of institutions, showrooms of the spirit. Here you are, a traveler in the dark. Its most prominent feature is a retractable shell. I prefer the corrosion of metals to the fading of dyes, less the end of an era than its bedtime. Someday it will have to be told how anti-Stalinism, which started out more or less as Trotskyism, turned into art for arts sake, and thereby cleared the way, heroically, for what was to come: nuisance animals climbing honeycomb structures. Fentanyl overdose vids. Im studying how glare light scatters in the eye. Im tracking how expressions of dissatisfaction with the given world can be recuperated by sonic patterning. The bruised idealism of the nectarine. Before a physical confrontation, the girls at my high school used to remove their rings. A ceremony of great solemnity and tenderness. Like one of those childrens singing games thats also an artifact of pagan survivalism. Eccentric circles, clapping, buffoonery. Or like a candle visualization relaxation technique designed to counter the gender panic threatening meaningful interdisciplinarity. Sample sentences, pop-up affects. We were walking on the beach at sunset, hoping to see a green flash. My cousin was explaining a difficulty in his marriage, which he kept referring to as a sticking point. I feel less like Im living my life, he said, than displaying my lifes elements. That he didnt attempt to kill the mosquito that had landed on his arm struck me as an indication of the depth of his depression. It was then that I began to ask: What do the things we spare reveal. Now I ask that at the end of every session. It was then I noticed a gunmetal drone hovering a few feet above us. The atmosphere bends the sunlight, separating the light into its colors, much like a prism bends and splits sunlight into rainbows. That way abstraction can rise again. I told him: I think youre confusing two accidents, those of birth and those of glass. Any long-term relationship is going to involve weeping, crizzling, spalling. If conservators had their way, nothing would ever be exhibited in the atrium. Every minute near sunset, brightness changes by a factor of two, so an error of sixty seconds can do permanent damage. He nodded absently, the fentanyl having its effect. At cloud tops, over distant mountains, beneath very strong thermal inversions at high latitudes: little star. I can feel it getting away from me. A sense of ripe conditions, but not for anything. A sense of oceans and old trees. Then a powerful institution approached a friend of mine about curating an exhibition based on their permanent collection. You can have, they said, free rein. Over the course of a year, she drew up plans for a show organized around the halo. How do depictions of the halo change as pictorial space grows complex. When are halos only light and when do they possess implied mass. Are some figures aware of their halos or are they always extradiegetic. She wouldnt really talk about anything else, even as her partners condition worsened. But increasingly there were problems with the institution; shipping, for instance, was a sticking point. The radiant discs have to be continuously irrigated. Sterile ice has to be packed into the cavities. You have to come up with a fair scoring system for pediatric candidates. Finally, we were having our monthly lunch, and she was complaining, as ever, about the staff, when I just kind of blurted out: Emma, its never going to happen. Olivia, its never going to happen. Mia, theres just no way. All of the most popular baby names end in a. As in sparkling ros. Wild fennel pollen. Stone fruit tossed with salt, bay leaf, and coriander seeds. Think of the head as the lid of a pot, holding the flavor of the shrimp inside its body. Isla, Olivia, Aurora, Cora, Ada, Amara, I said, as she started to cry. The water in our glasses trembled as the G train passed beneath us, little perturbations in the medium. Someday it will have to be told how spider monkeys, who started out more or less as woolly monkeys, evolved a distinct system of locomotion, and thereby cleared the way, heroically, for what was to come: anonymity networks. Among my friends, at least my guy friends, a return to traditional prosody. But of course we never talk about me; we talk about whether youre going to get shit on Twitter for folding in the aureola. Is it better to be sponsored by the diocese or Big Tobacco. Can we secure a couple of big names for the catalog. Bring me up to speed about your volunteer work at the hospital, you say, when the espressos arrive. Meanwhile your partner is sinking deeper into her memory foam, texting you the latest article about microdosing. Maybe this will help, sad emoji. The self-absorption is staggering. The orator aims to bend the spirit by his speech. Rhythm shapes feeling. I pushed my chair back, a gesture totally unlike me, and threw a couple of twenties on the table. Then I found myself on Fulton Street, dazed in winter sun, more than a little drunk. Only when I dug my hands into my pockets and touched the unfamiliar gloves did I realize Id taken someone elses black wool coat. But I couldnt just go back into the restaurant after the scene Id made. I headed toward Fort Greene Park and sat on one of the benches near DeKalb. I felt around the pockets of the coat and found a pack of Vogue cigarettes, the slim British ones marketed to women. While I smoked, I looked through the wallet, which Id located in the inside pocket. Cash, cards, dry-cleaning ticket, etc. There was also a piece of brown paper that I unfolded, revealing the following handwritten note in purple ink: I know weve had a difficult year, but I want you to know that I love you. I will always love you. What happened in Denver will never happen again. If anything, it has only clarified for me how important you are to me. I think the way things started was confusingyour being my teacher. And then when my career took off the dynamic was suddenly reversed. The change was hard for both of us, especially with all the travel. I also see now how it stirred up a lot of stuff from childhood. I just started questioning everything. Im sure this happens in any long-term relationship, but maybe its worse now, for our generation, because of climate change. Anyway, Im not trying to excuse what I did. I just want you to know that I believe in you and I believe in us and Im looking forward to the adventures the new year will bring. I looked up from the note with tears in my eyes. A siren receded in the distance. The sun seemed suddenly lower in the sky. A large white dog on a leash brushed against my legs as it passed. All of my anger was gone. The message, I felt, was meant for me; folk music is for all of us.

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The Rose | by Ben Lerner - The New York Review of Books

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