Take one large sheet of tracing paper. Place it over top of the screen of your television set. If you do not personally own a television someone else’s will work equally well. As images flicker past, rapidly attempt to trace them onto the translucent surface of the tracing paper. If you follow these instructions carefully, a series of incoherent markings will unfold, gradually becoming more cluttered, until eventually you have achieved the figurative state we like to refer to as ‘a complete mess.’
When I began this sonata I had intended to strain towards an analogy between the ‘complete mess’ produced upon the tracing paper and the equally ‘complete mess’ watching television produces within the mind of the viewer. Such ill thought out, but nonetheless intuitively resonant, moral judgements are a common enough feature of my written output. I believe there is a kind of quick, cheap pleasure to them and we should never deprive ourselves of such pleasures. However, as the art critic Peter Schjeldahl writes: God knows most of us Americans [and Canadians] hate being alone. This may explain why our popular culture is the best in the universe. We keep pouring the cream of our genius and love into producing the antiloneliness serums that our movies, pop songs, and television shows. We take nothing more seriously than our fun. Well, all of this has been said many times before, often by pundits displaying that other familiar compulsion, to make people feel bad about what makes them human and sociable in whatever way their world allows. Loneliness is no sin. It is “an infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing” in need of infinite consolation.
People frequently tell me my writing has become too didactic, that they prefer my earlier, more poetic, more evocative style (like in Stardust Memories when they tell him: ‘we prefer your earlier movies, when you were funny.’) And it’s true, perhaps my thinking has become a bit dry, a bit too critical, or is it only critical in the wrong way, or is it in fact not critical enough.
About five years ago I stopped watching television. And I can’t help but wonder if this shift, this newfound dryness, isn’t a direct result of a very specific deprivation, of searching for some sort of purity of mind, trying to remove the clutter, to wipe away the ‘complete mess.’ Television, that perfect hybrid between furniture and propaganda, also compels us to take life just a little bit less seriously. You can always change the channel (and in less than an hour it will be a different program anyway.) While watching television you rarely feel trapped. But now I’m straining towards another analogy, still thinking about that tracing paper, how when you press too hard it so easily tears. About how the things we do to clear our minds have endless, unintended consequences. And purity is always an opening for poison.