Saturday, November 2, 2013

Don't talk to me about Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch

Don't talk to me about Donna Tartt. She holds up a mirror to all of my tweets, my link lists, my retweets, all of the times I have checked my stats and my twitter interactions (especially when others favorite my retweets), the many times I have, in my boredom, looked for some answering response to the copy of a copy of a gesture of an allusion of a website hastily glanced at. Her work casts a baleful light on the narrowness of all of this Internet activity, all of this accumulated chatter, acres and acres of sloppy hastily written and eminently forgettable verbiage, whole landmasses of debased attention-seeking words always obliging the poor blogger to write another post or list some more links or the skimming reader will move on. No, I am not bitter.

What does Donna Tartt propose instead? Two passages of her new novel The Goldfinch stand out. I especially enjoyed this nihilistic blast:

"But depression wasn't the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn't he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom" (476-77).

In contrast to all of this flood of distraction and continuous partial attention, Donna Tartt exemplifies detachment and craft. Out of her aesthetics that holds much of what is valuable of the nineteenth century literary tradition, Tartt demonstrates how not to tweet, not be beholden to a machine, since she (reportedly) handwrites drafts in a notebook, cultivates "language for texture," and takes her time (11 years or so) between novels. Instead of "'Epoxy-glued' . . . shoddy work, and cheap things generally" (418), Tartt celebrates the discipline and pleasure of restoring antique furniture:

"By contrast Hobie lived and wafted like some great sea mammal in his own mild atmosphere, the dark brown of tea stains and tobacco, where every clock in the house said something different and time didn't actually correspond to the standard measure but instead meandered along at its own sedate pace tick-tock, obeying the pace of his antique-crowded backwater, far from the factory-built, epoxy-glued version of the world. Though he enjoyed going out to the movies, there was no television; he read old novels with marbled end papers; he didn't own a cell phone; his computer, a prehistoric IBM, was the size of a suitcase and useless. In blameless quiet, he buried himself in his work, steam-bending veneers or hand-threading table legs with a chisel, and his happy absorption floated up from the workshop and diffused through the house with the warmth of a wood-burning stove in winter" (395).

By building a novel around a young man's relationship with a painting, Fabritius' The Goldfinch, Tartt meditates upon our relationship with Art, but nevermind. Don't talk to me about that. I have a link list to compile.

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