Monday, January 31, 2011

The Treachery of Images

Against my better judgement, I picked up Charles Simic's Master of Disguises (I should have gone for The World Doesn't End). Having never read Mr. Simic's work, I'm not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn't this. For all of his deftness with the technical apparatus of the English language and the lucidity of his images, there's something lacking.

Specifically, mystery.

In fact, these poems seem to do everything within their power to make sure the reader is never left guessing. While some readers may delight in their directness, I find it completely boring. Thankfully he has a sense of humor ("On the use of murder to improve the world"), but even this cannot save his book from being the first really underwhelming book of poetry I've read in 2011.

That's not to say that reading it hasn't been a valuable experience for me. It made me explicitly aware of how important mystery is to me when involved in reading/writing. As a reader, it brings me back for a second look or, long after I've closed the book, it teases my thoughts to assemble the puzzle. As a writer, that uncertainty pushes me forward as I try to figure out a way to say the ineffable. Either way, mystery is generative.

This brings us to the title of this post, named after the famous painting of a pipe by Magritte. Recently I stumbled upon this quote, out of context, by the painter:

"People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking, 'what does this mean?' they express a wish that everything is understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

It's those other things that I'm interested in experiencing, which is why Simic's book fails to impress me.

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