On The Absence Of Shadows
Beauty deprived of its proper foils and adjuncts ceases to be enjoyed as beauty, just as light deprived of all shadows ceases to be enjoyed as light.
In the last few months I’ve bought music by Conlon Nancarrow, La Monte Young, Milton Babbit, Edgard Varèse, Federico Mompou, Bootsy Collins, Dexter Gordon, The Replacements, Pere Ubu, The Gun Club and George Crumb.
Books by Blaise Cendrars, Boris Vian, Kenneth Fearing, Djuna Barnes and Jim Thompson.
DVDs of Vigo’s L’Atalante, Cocteau’s Le Testament d’Orphee, Renoir’s Boudou Sauvé des Eaux, Abel Gance’s Napoleon and Murnau’s Nosferatu.
This is a reduced list but the point is, 25 years ago all of these films, books and LPs were difficult if not impossible to come by. I remember my delight in finding a copy of Bootsy Collins’ album Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby, an LP I’d owned in the late 70’s but by the mid-80’s no longer in print and hard to find.
I remember the pleasure of finding an old copy of Boris Vian’s J’irai Cracher Sur Vos Tombes (I’ll Spit On Your Grave), a long neglected work by a then forgotten writer.
I remember the feeling of occasion when I went to see Abel Gance’s Napoleon in 1982 in NYC. The film had not been seen in over 50 years and had been thought lost. A special 3-part screen was constructed and a score was composed by Carmine Coppola (father of Francis Ford Coppola), who conducted a live orchestra at the screening I went to.
I remember how difficult it used to be to find recorded works by La Monte Young, Conlon Nancarrow and Federico Mompou, books by A.J.Liebling and Jim Thompson and as for owning copies of films by Vigo and Cocteau and Renoir…well, that was just a pleasant fantasy.
And now? All of the aforementioned works are just a few clicks of a mouse away. Which leads me to wonder: has my pleasure in these films and books and LPs been somehow diminished, in quality or in quantity? Has the ease of acquisition brought with it a sort of deadening of the brain’s pleasure centres?
On the one hand, I’m delighted that so much work that was once obscure and hard to find is now readily available. On the other hand…I don’t know. I can’t help feeling that the old delight in a serendipitous find–the book long sought-for discovered in a junk-shop cardboard box, the LP only heard of but never actually heard discovered in a charity shop, the rare showing of an old and obscure film–the unexpected pleasure that these things gave, the feeling of good news suddenly received, is now lost. And foolishly or not, I feel poorer for it. Maybe it’s just me.