I promise you that from the first time she took his hand—the very first time!—he actually believed; she was ready, lonely, beautiful; she wanted someone to love with all her heart and he was the man; she longed to take care of him, knowing even better than he how much he needed to be taken care of—he still couldn’t knot his necktie by himself, and, well, you know. He believed, because an artist must believe as easily and deeply as a child cries. What’s creation but self-enacted belief? —Now for a cautionary note from E. Mravinsky: Shostakovich’s music is self-ironic, which to me implies insincerity. This masquerade imparts the spurious impression that Shostakovich is being emotional. In reality, his music conceals extremely deep lyric feelings which are carefully protected from the outside world. In other words, is Shostakovich emotional or not? Feelings conceal—feelings! Could it be that this languishing longing I hear in Opus 40 actually masks something else? But didn’t he promise Elena that she was the one for him? And how can love be self-ironic? All right, I do remember the rocking-horse sequence, but isn’t that self-mockery simply self-abnegation, the old lover’s trick? Elena believes in me, I know she does! How ticklishly wonderful! Even Glikman can see it, although perhaps I shouldn’t have told Glikman, because . . . What can love be if not faith? We look into each other’s faces and believe : Here’s the one for me! Lyalya, never forget this, no matter how long you live and whatever happens between us: You will always be the one for me. And in my life I’ll prove it. You’ll see. Sollertinsky claims that Elena’s simply lonely. What if Elena’s simply twenty? Well, I’m lonely, too. Oh, this Moscow-Baku train is so boring. I can’t forgive myself for not kidnapping my golden Elenochka and bringing her to Baku with me. Or does she, how shall I put this, want too much from destiny? My God, destiny is such a ridiculous word. I’ll try not to be too, I mean, why not? It’s still early in my life. That nightmare of the whirling red spot won’t stop me! I could start over with Elena and . . . She loves me. Ninusha loves me, but Elena, oh, my God, she stares at me with hope and longing; her love remains unimpaired, like a child’s. I love children. I want to be a father. I’ll tell Nina it’s because she can’t have children. That won’t hurt her as much as, you know. Actually, it’s true, because Nina . . . Maybe I can inform her by letter, so I don’t have to . . . Ashkenazi will do that for me if I beg him. He’s very kind, very kind. Then it will be over! As soon as I’m back in my Lyalka’s arms I’ll have the strength to resolve everything. If I could only protect that love of hers from ever falling down and skinning its knee, much less from growing up, growing wise and bitter! Then when she’s old she’ll still look at me like that; I’ll still be the one for her.
From William T. Vollmann’s big fat historical novel Europe Central, which is so big and fat that I think a comprehensive review of it will be just maybe beyond me by the time I get to the end of it, so maybe some citation, a bit of riffing, yes?
The novel recounts (a version) of the Eastern front of WWII. Polyglossic, discontinuous, musical, mythic, often discordant, Vollmann shifts through a series of narrators, his turns oblique, jarring. And while Vollmann includes political and military leaders, his analsyis/diagnosis focuses on artists, musicians, and writers. The above passage—which struck me especially for its discussion of the feeling of feeling, the aesthetics of feeling—this passage offers a neat encapsulation of Vollmann’s narrative digressions.
The “I” at the beginning of the citation is one of the “Shostakovich” sections narrators. Although unnamed (as of yet), he seems to be a high-ranking officer in Stalin’s secret police. At times though, this narrator—all of the narrators!—seem to merge consciousness with Vollmann, the novel’s architect, who interposes his own research and readings (or are they the narrators?). We see this in the dash introducing some lines from the conductor Evegny Mravinsky—key lines that I find fascinating—which Vollmann (or Vollmann’s narrator) uses to critique/question the relationship between art, emotion, intention, and authenticity (current subjects of deep fascination for me). Then—then!—without warning, Vollmann enters the consciousness of another “I,” Shostakovich himself, whose elliptical thoughts, muddied and warbling, illustrate, illuminate, and complicate Mravinsky’s critique.
Feelings conceal—feelings!—yes, yes, yes I think so: Here Vollmann (through several layers of complicating narrators, which lets just set aside for a second, or perhaps altogether, at least for now)—here Vollmann offers a fascinating description followed by its problem: If earnest expression can be couched in irony—if we use feelings to hide other feelings in art (etc.)—then what does that mean for love, which I think Vollmann (here, elsewhere) believes to be A Big Important Thing? Is a self-ironic love possible? Likely even?
I’m tempted here to deflect, move to another piece of art, like say, It’s A Wonderful Life, a film that I understand anew every year, a film I found baffling, frightening as a child; a film that bored me as teen; a film that I resented as a young man; a film that I appreciated with a winking ironic cheer a few years later—and then, now, or nowish, as an adult, a film I feel I understand, that its sentiment, raw, affects me more deeply than ever. (I was right as a child to be baffled and frightened). (What if anything self-ironic love?).
So I deflected. And am ranting, trying to set out a few thoughts for Something Bigger—something on Authenticity and Inauthenticity, The Con-Artist vs. The Poseur, the Aesthetics of Feeling the Feeling, of Anesthetizing the Feeling (of Feeling the Feeling). Look at me, I capitalized some of my words. Sorry.