i have been musing a lot lately on the difficulties of the language in the novel. on the one hand, i have a lot of distance to cover, a lot of activity to describe; on the other i am striving for a richness in the prose that requires the reader, and the narrative, to pause and consider what is happening. so many novels just blow past me, leaving me with a flurry of movements that are read and forgotten; these stories feel not so much cheap or poorly written as sacrificed to some algebra of economy and publishing. yet if i wrote every moment at my most ideal level it would read like molasses, and much of the subtleties of plot would get subsumed by the words.
in short, it is a tricky balance, and it still doesn’t feel right in many places.
i have a lot of ways of describing what i hope the novel will be, in the end. i can do a bad elevator pitch, i can summarize it in a few paragraphs. but the feel of it, the impression of it, comes most easily as a collage of bits of music, lines of poetry, images, all of which have the feel that i am trying to impart and sustain through the novel as a whole.
so it is that lately i am thinking about gottfried helnwein.
i keep a postcard of this painting near my desk. i worked on a catalog of his some years ago, before these alice-esque paintings. unlike his earlier work, with its images of the third reich and injured children, these were more fantastic, without completely losing the sense of menace that i have always gravitated towards.
i’m still not sure to what extent i actually like his paintings. certainly they are disturbing, and what purpose they have beyond simply disturbing a viewer is a question i continue to ask. but what i take from him, for my own project, is how much he gets away with by sheer skill, by a mastery of his medium. the man could paint a trash bin and make it haunting and beautiful.
i wish he would do more with what he has; i think these alice paintings are riding a fine line between powerful and flat pop, and i haven’t kept up with what he’s done since then. but for some of the things he paints, well. if they were photos i would dismiss them as sensationalistic; if they were painted by a lesser hand i would probably just find them perverse. but there is a balance in helnwein, sometimes more successful, sometimes less, but in all cases a balance between form and content that invites engagement. they are luminous in person; the best of them feel like cracked doors, half-open portals.
fingers crossed i can find such a balance, whatever shape it may ultimately take.