Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hungry and choosy

This morning I read an article about Seydou Keita, a photographer that I discovered along with Malick Sidib in Paris at an exhibition in Agnes b.'s gallery du jour in 1999. There's a lot of controversy surrounding his estate which leads to a larger question regarding how one can claim legitimate ownership of photography. Here's another article regarding the topic.

I love his photographs. I had a promotional card for the exhibition I saw in Paris which I hung on my walls throughout the years since my semester in Paris. I have a sinking feeling it was in New Orleans. Someday I'd love to have a book of his work as well as one of Malick Sidib's. I wonder if there was a catalog of that show at the agnes b. gallery.

The question regarding who owns photography is not new. I'm not that interested in that. I was more interested in returning to Keita's portraits. They still feel so fresh and fascinating to me. Much more interesting to me than the upcoming Munch show at MoMA that the museum is trying to use in order to tempt young people to become members. (One of my roommates and I both received letters from MoMA this week requesting we become members so as to receive invitations to a member's only showing of the upcoming Munch exhibition. This was met with a yawn from me. Besides, I can already get into the museum for free with my work ID)

But this makes me puzzle what MoMA finds tantalizing to young people living in New York City. What's next? An MC Escher show? Selections from the JD Salinger archives? I may be a snob, but really, I don't kid myself to think I'm anymore culturally aware than most intelligent New Yorkers of my age.

However, I was really surprised that other smart, young New Yorkers didn't recognize the name Renee Fleming when I mentioned I had seen her perform a couple weekends past. I don't surround myself with dummies. Everyone is excruciatingly well-read and thoughtful. But only the gay men knew who Renee Fleming was. It made me wonder how the arts will be supported in the future. And it also made me wonder how I knew of her and other cultural things I assume everyone else knows.

I read the New York Times daily (admittedly not cover to cover) and subscribe to The New Yorker. I read blogs. But really, I think my semester in Paris exposed me to people, artists, literature, politics, ideas to which I would have not otherwise considered or had been exposed. My years at Dartmouth also gave me the opportunity to steep myself in a world of intellect, theory and culture. Last night, someone else gave me a skeptical "What's that?" when I mentioned my MA in liberal studies. She's another person that I thought was openminded and thoughtful. Someone who's applied for a MFA in creative writing at various schools outside New York as she doesn't want to become a "New York" writer. She also admitted she didn't get into the NYC MFA schools in a previous round of applications. Again, I was struck by her limited scope of vision. When you have to consciously try not to be a New York writer, you are facing an uphill battle, in my opinion. True writers don't limit themselves to one venue. Reading Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" last night, I was struck by how honest and authentic her portrayal of two men in love. That's true writing. The ability to take yourself out of your experience and give voice to another perspective -- and not only that, but Proulx pushed herself to write this.

I say all this with a grain of salt. I have inordinate respect for my peers, but I would like to learn more from them than be shocked by what they do and don't know. This also takes me back to my time in Paris. I was constantly exposed to new things and I find myself seven years later returning to things I discovered then. In fact, I returned to Bryn Mawr and found myself losing interest in friends who went abroad only to chase after American men and create quirky senses of domesticity instead of consistently pushing for the displacement of difference.

And it's that displacement through difference that I want to find here in New York. I find myself depressed when I find myself in the same banal conversations or experiences. I find myself withdrawing from friends who have nothing to discuss other than brunch or clothing. I choose to spend time with friends who want more than to become a wife living in New Jersey or Long Island. I choose to spend time with people who don't aspire to matrimony by age 30. I spend time with my friends who are culturally and intellectually curious. Who value the world in a figure outside monetary currency.

I ache for worlds that take me outside myself and my experience. I haven't been able to do much traveling in the past couple years thanks to my move from graduate school to the pursuit of a career. Now that I have a steady job, I would like to set aside some money to travel again. Until then, I am grateful for my friends and the cultural outlet of readings, concerts, cinema, books, periodicals.

It would be easy at my age to settle for convention, but I know that wouldn't make me feel secure at all. There's too much that I want to learn and experience. I'm not naive and I don't think cultural exposure can be gained by sheer exposure. I think it has to be tempered by some kind of mediation -- either through criticism or context, some prism with which to judge the merit and motivation of that cultural work. And I see my unique undergraduate experience (a school that was intellectually ruthless thank god) and my distinctive graduate program as having provided me with a set of glasses with which to consider cultural offerings and experiences. I lose patience and respect with and for people who respond to my graduate degree with a skeptical "what's that?" instead of an inquisitive, "tell me about that program. I'm unfamiliar with it."

I'm thankful for my judgmental nature. I don't know if it's that I ever want to be sated, but I don't want to ever lose this desire to chase after cultural and intellectual satisfaction. I don't pretend to be smarter than other people. I think it's my awareness of my inferiority that keeps me striving to become acquainted with new things. It's this passion that consumes me and keeps me from feeling anywhere near the notion of settling down in any sense of the phrase.


Blogger R J Keefe said...

You nailed it in the last paragraph. Insecurity is the issue here, I think. Acknowledging ignorance (instead of contemptuous indifference) requires your well-grounded sense of who you are. The only thing you can do about other people is to try to make them feel secure, too. Which one hasn't always the time and energy to do.

Sat Jan 21, 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

Exactly, there is a necessary tact that one needs when dealing with insecure people. And insecure people are not stupid. I'm not saying that at all. It's just a lack of sureness that keeps them from learning more or just being open and receptive to people who are unlike them.

And lately I haven't had the energy or desire to think far enough ahead to anticipate and respond with a manner of speaking (or couching things) that puts people at ease. I find myself wanting to demand people own up to their own lack of knowledge. I'm still so angry about New Orleans and frustrated with people who don't acknowledge things beyond the prescribed sphere of New York approved intellect that I want people to be unsettled. I think learning begins with being unsettled. Not everyone shares this feeling nor does everyone respond to it.

Sat Jan 21, 02:57:00 PM  

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