Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Dinner Party

20 May 2009

Dear Mr Freedman,

Thank you for putting me onto your ingenious piece. It's quite an assemblage! It's a problem publishing things, but perhaps the NY Wagner Society has a website which can post it or at least link to it.
Best wishes

Paul Lawrence Rose
Professor of History
The Pennsylvania State University

Dear Mr Freedman

Many thanks for sending me The Dinner Party, which I enjoyed very much indeed. It is highly original (as far as I know) and very cleverly put together. I'm sorry to say that it's not quite right for us, however, and I hope you will be able to get it published elsewhere.

with all good wishes

Barry Millington

Editor, The Wagner Journal

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The text of "The Dinner Party" can be found at the following site:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Like a Genie in a Bottle

My personality is a collection of errant genies evaporating into and materializing, helter skelter, from a bottle. One genie, one fragment of my personality, is a poet drafting his verses out of things most people cast aside. He has a withdrawn and private nature. Another genie is very sensitive; like porcelain, he is easy to crack. He appears fragile to those who don't know him too well; but woe to whoever offends him. Paradoxically, another genie is good old plastic; he won't crack no matter what you do with him. Then there is the comedian: shy by nature, but at times excitable. He is able to lose his inhibitions at times and has a tone of voice that gently mocks and questions not just others but himself as well. Another genie is outrageous and outspoken, relishing the shock value of his actions and comments, and often clashing with others. His disarming smiles never look like smiles; they appear more like preludes to an irrepressible and nervous hilarity. He is the wild one. Another genie is the calmest among us, and seems to recede and fade into a pale register. He can manipulate an unsuspecting victim into bending his will. And yet another genie vacillates between his desire for independence and his need for approval, who lacks the perseverance to finish whatever he starts.

The genies do not comprise a total personality. There are vacant portions of my personality, whose absences are more real than their presences. I am like a figure in a photograph, slightly out of focus, blurred, somehow distant. It's as if I am partly hidden behind something -- another person, a tree, peering out, like an imp intruding roguishly on a scene I have not been invited to. I appear absent-minded, frowning, as if unaware that I am being photographed. The genies of my personality are like the Cheshire cat, appearing and disappearing at unexpected turns.

The truth is I can't describe myself -- the I of my being: I am my own definition. One can only say that I am I. If you get to know me, you will slowly see each of the genies appear in turn. Gradually, each one gains an outline and a shape, becoming his own inimitable self.

My room is our sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of the city that sprawls outside the door. I feel the presence of the world only through the disembodied noises emanating from outside my window, or through the occasional laughter and footsteps in the corridor beyond my door.

I need you, my readers, to imagine us, for we won't really exist if you don't. Against the tyranny of time and reality, imagine us the way we sometimes don't dare to imagine ourselves: in our most private and secret moments, in the most extraordinarily ordinary instances of life, listening to music, reading a book, walking down a shady street.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cezanne at the National Gallery of Art

I went to see the exhibit "Cezanne in Provence" at the National Gallery in Washington. There is a show-within-the-show that arrives midway through the oils in the exhibit. In two rooms are 29 sheets of paper, each lightly touched. Their thoughtful, pale beauty -- tender and alerting -- refreshes the exhibit the way a demitasse of iced sorbet interrupts the feast.

Twenty-nine watercolors by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). He did the finest late in life. You seldom get to see so many. They're different from his canvasses, especially the early ones, whose thick and oily paint he spread like butter with his palette knife.

Cezanne's late watercolors aren't thick with color. They're largely white paper. That whiteness is, of course, the light source of these images, which appear, when you first see them, to be made of heart of light.

This is how he did them: With a bright sheet set before him, he would look at Provence. Sunbaked rock and tree, greenery and mountain. And while looking at the landscape he would touch the paper gently in two ways -- rhythmically, with a graphite pencil, and wetly, with a brush. His dripping brush left wet marks that, once they had dried, would leave stained into the paper tinted see-through veils in closely sequenced colors as thin as Chinese tea.

Lesser water color painters use their pencil for drawing the outlines of things, and for shading them, and their colors for coloring in. Not Cezanne. He didn't want flat, uninflected, Japanese-print colors. "Without volume," he insisted, "there are only cartoons." He didn't want outlines either. He called the tempting inclination to "circumscribe the contours with a black line" a "fault that must be fought at all costs." He had something else in mind.

Deconstructing beauty is usually a chump's game, but Cezanne's late watercolors seem to call for deconstruction, for the painter had a system, and he asks your eye to track it. You can count every separate pencil stroke. You can count each colored blotch.

Watercolors die. Many of Cezanne's, exposed too long to sunlight, have faded irretrievably. Those chosen for the show by curator Philip Conisbee are exceptionally bright. He could not have selected sheets much richer than these.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Long Day's Journey Into Night: A Monologue

There's something that people need to ponder about me which actually opens them up to the whole arc of writing. What does it cost to be an artist? What did it cost me to be Gary Freedman? What being Gary Freedman cost Gary Freedman was a normal relationship with a mother, it cost me a normal relationship with a father, cost me a happy marriage that never took place. It cost me children I never had. It cost me the friends I never had because I didn't know how. I had never learned that. Now you say, that happens to a lot of people. It does. But not everybody can write about it. Not everybody is really willing to look deep within themselves and see what's going on. Not everybody is able to invest energy into writing about the question, "What am I doing?"

But I am capable of that: writing about my life and those I have known. And that's hard. It is hard to take a pencil and say: This is me in the deepest part of my gut. And this was my mother, and this was my father, and this was all the people who were close to me. And they all in some respect were strivers and failures. That's not an easy thing to say. And what it cost them--artists--what it cost me, I am not sure our artists are truly appreciated and recompensed for their effort.

A long journey into the unknown, into night, we shall eventually fold into it. That is a journey where I put myself. I have put my family on the stage, so to speak, in an effort to try to understand. Now that could be described as a cruel thing. Because I expose everybody. Honesty and truth are hard. Truth is clean but it's hard. And I have spoken the truth about those closest to me.

In my life I was not given the grace, the opportunity, to work things through with my sister, with my mother, with my father. Is that not the case with so many of us? In the here and now. In the tyranny of the moment. The tragedy of time. We so often can't finish things. Art finishes the things that life leaves unfinished.

To a remarkable degree my whole life has gone into the making of my project, as if the truth it conveys and feelings it lays bare were almost more than I could endure in life. Haunted from the start by memories of my past, my whole life has been a kind of seeking flight, a restless search for meaning and identity, reality and truth. At once an escape from and a search for the gorgons of my past and the oblivion I feel at the center of my soul.

"You're the most conceited man I've ever known," a friend once remarked of my habit of continually looking at myself in mirrors. "No," I replied, "I'm just trying to make sure I'm still here."

It was a great mistake my being born a man. I would have been much more successful as a seagull, or a fish. As it is I will always be a stranger who never feels at home. A person who doesn't really want what others want, and who is not really wanted, who can never really belong. Who must always be a little in love with death.

My life has been a turmoil and I spent my life trying to understand something of that turmoil. And I see the turmoil in others. I see the torture in people because I feel it in myself. I feel that in myself--the pulling apart, I was being pulled apart by the questions that I introduced into my life.

These are the age old questions, I suppose, of life itself. Who am I? And where do I come from? And do I have a part in my own fate? Am I simply a checker on the board, being moved around? Do I belong to anything, to anyone? To whom do I belong? To God, who seems to be abandoning me?

I am someone who has suffered terribly as a result of my complete fealty to a vision of the truth, to a notion that there's a depth, that there's a profundity, that there's great complexes and abysses of meaning underneath the surface of life, and that our job as artists and as people is to dig, and to go deep, or to dive, as Melville kept saying, deeper and deeper and deeper. And that it hurts, and that the more deeply you dive you're at more risk of being dismantled or crushed. But that's what your job is. You don't flinch from it. In me I see this absolute God-ordained mission, which is to keep searching, even if in the process you discover that there is no God. It's a terrifying sort of mandate. But it also, I think, should be the mandate of all artists, and, in a way, of all people.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Summerwind's Wild Chase

Sir Goosefoot, Lady Pimpernel,
Now quickly duck,
because the summer wind's wild chase is coming.
Hesitant the midges fly,
from the reed-lined grove,
the wind engraved the water's silvery disc.
It's worse to come, than you ever imagined;
Ho! Eerie sounds waft over from the beeches!
It's St. Johns dragon with his red fiery tongue,
and the black meadow dew, a shadow bleak and dead!
What a surge and swaying!
What a hustle and ringing!
Into the ears of the corn slashes the foul-mooded wind,
so the cornfield whispers and trembles.
With its long legs the spin fiddles,
and torn away is, what she busily wove.
Tinkling the dew comes down from the hills,
Stars shoot and vanish at the blink of an eye;
Fleetingly the moth rustles through the hedge-rows,
the frogs jump to watery shelter.
Quiet! What may be the wind's wish?
If the withered leaf it turns,
it searches for those gone too early:
spring's blue-white blossomy seams,
the earth's fleeting summer-dreams --
they are long gone to dust!
But up to the tree-tops
It goes to loftier spaces,
Because up there, as intricate as dreams
it thinks the blossoms to be!
And with wondrous sounds
in their leafy crowns
it again greets
the slender beauties.
Look! Now that's over too.
Over lofty steeps it twirls on free
to the lake's blinking mirror,
and there in the wave's neverending dance,
in the star's pale reflection
it peacefully rocks to sleep.
How quickly the quiet came!
Ah, how light and bright it was!
Oh, rise from the blossom tiny lady-bird,
And ask your beautiful wife to make a lively dance in the sunshine.
Already the waves dance at the cliff's edge,
already the snail glides through the grass,
now the birds of the wood rise,
dew shakes off the blossom from its wavy hair
and looks out for the sun.
Rise, rise, you flowers to bliss!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Song of the Thames Daughters

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Dismal Science

I stick my finger into existence -- it smells of nothing. Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it who has lured me into the thing, and now leaves me here? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?

That's Kierkegaard. Soren Kierkegaard, one of the fathers of existentialism. He was not a lot of fun at parties; I can tell you that. Human life is not designed for pleasure, Kierkegaard tells us, yet in the time given to each of us for our own existence, we strive for happiness in order to escape anxiety and the deep, hopeless depression which is despair. But there is no escape -- no matter how pleasurable and comfortable we make our lives in order to hide from the truth. For the truth is, Kierkegaard insists, that all of us live in anxiety and despair. This is the universal human condition. We suffer from anxiety even when we are not aware of it, and even when there is nothing to fear, nothing in the objective world to feel anxious about. This is because at bottom, says Kierkegaard, our anxiety is not objective at all, it is subjective anxiety -- it is the universal fear of something that is nothing, it is the fear of the nothingness of human existence.

Wow! And they call economics the dismal science!!