Notes from the Grid: All Things Can Console

Notes from the Grid: All Things Can Console Human Voices Wake Us

An episode from 5/9/22: Tonight, I continue with the third episode in a five-part series called Notes from the Grid.

The first section is called “All Things Can Console,” and again I use our experience of criticism (in art or culture) to simply say that we need not take it so seriously. When the writer Teju Cole was asked what books he was “embarrassed” not to have read yet, his reply is a huge spotlight: “… my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too.”

I ask what it would take, for each of us, to hold strongly to our passions and interests, with the full knowledge that “other things console, too.” We need not make converts of anyone, or convince anyone, to enjoy what we enjoy; all we really need to cultivate is the enthusiasm of experience.

The second section (begins at 22:30), “The Virtue of Uncertainty,” looks at the difficulties of living with ambiguity of all kinds. Especially since so much of our lives actually can be known with near certainty—the ups and downs of the weather, the performance of our retirement plans and credit scores, how many miles before we run out of gas, etc.—it’s hard to believe that the rest of our lives can’t be understood in the same way. But they really can’t.

I expand on this idea by noticing how works of literature are, more often than not, experienced through anecdotes, translation, or in bits and pieces; and how, until photography and color reproduction came along, many lovers of the visual arts fell in love with painters and architects through illustrations or someone else’s copies, and hardly ever saw a Michelangelo or a Rembrandt in person.

I suggest that while this process is wildly uncertain and unpredictable, it is actually how great works of art survive, and that the example of how these things are studied in universities is actually the exception. The chance encounter with Vermeer in a friend’s coffee table book, or my own introduction to Dante via David Fincher’s movie Seven, is much closer to how works of art last, and live.

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