Wednesday, April 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer, excerpt three)

from The River Swimmer: Novellas (The Land of Unlikeness) by Jim Harrison:

He glanced over at the bookcase, dismissing the idea of rereading The Moon and Sixpence, a fictionalized rendering of the life of Gauguin. There were others that had poisoned his teens with their romanticism, including novels on the lives of van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, and Caravaggio. At sixteen he had wept until his pillow was wet over the murder of Caravaggio. There were also dreary texts by Berenson, Herbert Read, and a tome by Gombrich.

He suddenly wished he had a photo of Kara from Indiana to put on the wall. There was the abrupt idea that he could easily paint her likeness from memory. He closed his eyes and could see her perfectly. Who would care? No one of course. He had anyway exhausted his feeling of failure over quitting painting twenty years before. The only remnant of the guilt came from having failed his father, a residual nexus of emotions from his father being proud that his son would be an artist rather than a farmer. He mentally organized a self-mocking headline “Professor Takes Up Painting Again” but the irony, as always, was weak-kneed, wobbly in fact. He wanted to see Kara again so he could paint her alive. Simple enough. There was immense freedom in not having a career to protect. His mind, a virtual encyclopedia of the history of art, briefly whirled with like and dislikes. He never cared for Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, or Judy Chicago. He rather liked Franz Kline, Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and the long forgotten Abe Rattner and Syd Solomon, and even the more recent Ed Ruscha. But he loved Burchfield and Walter Inglis Anderson not to speak of Edward Hopper. He lay there feeling pleasantly irrelevant, recalling a Toronto periodical called Brick that a friend had given him, in which there was a goofy essay about food that included a comment to the effect that 99.999 percent of all writers, poets, painters, sculptors, and composers are eliminated in their last act and once you reach sixty you had to kill your ego so that you wouldn’t become desperately unhappy about disappearing in your old age. It wasn’t up to you anyway. Your life’s work would become a mild quarrel among the air guitarists.

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