I finished reading Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle last night. I had never read it before. Although the book was written in the 1940s and is set in England in the 1930s, there are aspects of the story, aspects of Cassandra's telling of the story, that, although not quite timeless, seem to exist outside of time. Cassandra's thoughts, the way she tells the story, are unique to themselves, and they are simultaneously modern and at the same time seemingly incomprehensible to modern readers. It is a story of place, of people, a story of first love, of bad decisions and good decisions, and how we are shaped by our circumstances to a large part, but again only partially. It is a story of capturing not only a place, but one's voice, and discovering who one might be.
This morning, as I think about the novel, I am also thinking about the exhibit of the work of Jered Sprecher that opened last week at the Knoxville Museum of Art. The paintings have been much on my mind. I was fortunate enough to attend an opening reception, and I've been back to see the works twice. With each visit I see differently. In fact, the work resonates at some frequency in my brain such that as I move through my days and thoughts, new connections are made and fleeting images from Sprecher's work flash through my thoughts and I am compelled backward (to the exhibit) and forward as well. Which is, of course, exactly what art should do, in whatever medium.
This morning I am thinking about a series of paintings from the exhibit, a set of six that were created, and displayed, as a group, a small exhibit within the larger exhibit. I did not take any photos of these pictures, and have not found them online. No matter, flat photographs show nothing of the depth of technique or the layerings of meanings. The photo above is from the Knoxville Mercury, which did an article on Sprecher and the exhibition, and the paintings I am referring to are visible only in part, on the sides of this photo. This actually works for me, for my purpose here, because one of the aspects of this grouping of paintings that struck me is the layering of images, of places and things, combined with a sense of time both occluded and revealed. You can see the lines going across the paintings, described as being inspired by the lines of a printer across the page, and fading ink. This sense of modern versus ancient, of what is hidden and what is revealed, in fact a sense that the hiding and the revealing are transient and elusive are captured in these paintings.
This morning this idea of what is revealed and what is hidden is refreshed in my head by Cassandra's own journey in the novel, by what she sees and writes, and what is revealed, often much later, only through the process of writing, of introspection, of interaction and relationship, and the sudden moment where one cries "Oh!". Revealed and yet elusive.
I am also reminded of a book I read last week, Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, which is interesting in its sense of capturing a time and a place, but less successful in terms of that sense of being able to transcending its own time and specific circumstances. It is a novel that captures very well that sense of panic and hopelessness of its period, of the post 2008 housing crisis, job crisis, that sense of desperate hanging on. It is a novel of bad decisions, drawn in sharp relief, and eventual redemption. The main characters could in many ways be everyman or everywoman, young people filled with hopes and dreams, trying to fulfill their own dreams of what they can be, but making decisions based primarily on the yearnings within themselves looking for fulfillment, working past each other out of their own need rather than together with a sense of relationship and common purpose. Cassandra and Rose make equally poor decisions in I Capture the Castle, but they manage to grow up and redeem themselves more quickly whereas Matt and Lisa's lives break into many pieces before they begin to find some sense of comfort in each other, and the book only ends with that hint of redemption, of finding, but without guaranteed resolution.
As I was reading Walter's book last week, I was reminded of the painting above, also by Sprecher, titled Bloom. This was the first echo that drove me back to the museum, the way a memory of this painting popped into my head, although I think it did not carry great weight in my imagination that first evening. Birth, rebirth, flight, memory, the breaking apart and the joining together, the movement of air, our own fractured view of reality -- circling back upon itself to birth, rebirth, redemption. We cling to the moment of beauty, as if that can save us. Instead we drown. The blossom, in all its fragility, is also the source of a new birth, a new seed, and its own death. Over and over again, like the beating of wings.
top photo courtesy of Knoxville Mercury, here.
bottom photo courtesy of Gallery 16, here.