Posts Tagged ‘Walter Benjamin’


February 13, 2019


One of the ways Benjamin is most interesting is in his resistance to production, his determination, similar to Wittgenstein’s, to remain devoted to thought and reflection for their own sake. His was the guilt of the fragmentist, the man who never finishes the great work which he and his admirers think he is capable of. He is all sparks, yet the sparks rarely produce a steady flame; but the sparks do have a white brilliance that in itself is enough.

Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond

This morning I believe I have learned a soulful lesson. The temperatures had dropped to thirty-seven degrees, and I thought: “Yay, a fire in the fireplace!” I set about doing that quickly, but then, halfway through getting dressed, suddenly realized that I was in a foul, dark, surly mood, and wondered what had happened. That was not hard to figure out–I had turned on the national news. A few minutes of listening to soundbites from a blustering sourpuss had managed to switch me into a similar disposition. Abruptly, I switched to a YouTube search, and finding an interview with author John Updike, tuned in. Listening to his thoughtful, reflective responses to well-put questions shifted me to a better outlook, almost immediately. Now, seated before the fire with freshly-pressed coffee and a stack of books, I am in a serene place. That wasn’t hard to figure out; I now know how I will start tomorrow morning. No national news, find something thoughtful to hear.

Yesterday I finished the engaging book I’ve quoted above. This series of autobiographical essays are among the best material I have read in awhile; I love this life of “reflections at sixty and beyond.” McMurtry addressed the anxieties one often feels when thinking that production has tapered once the senior years advance. I really appreciate his allusion to Wittgenstein and the love of “thought and reflection for their own sake.” As for the comment on the “fragmentist,” I would also add Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was known for working in a studio littered with unfinished drafts of poems, short stories and essays–he just loved the craft of writing, even if he often did not complete projects.

I know all-too-well the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, musing over things I did not complete. But I try to shift gears quickly by reminding myself that I know how to finish big tasks–I did manage to remain at the same job for twenty-eight years, and before that I did manage to complete a Ph.D., dissertation and all. And as for my art, I did manage to complete a number of large-scale murals along with thematic collections of watercolors to bring out for several one-man-shows.  Currently I am musing over my next watercolor, drawing and writing project with enthusiasm. But at my current age, I am trying not to put myself under some artificial, self-imposed deadline. I have paid my dues. The time has come to enjoy life, enjoy retirement, and savor these gifts that life experience graciously grants.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


Late Night with Walter Benjamin

February 5, 2019


Back in my Study Sanctuary

The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper. He thought–while his hand moved rapidly–what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Staying up late at night is not my habit, but last night I slept poorly, and so was tired all day today. By the time I made the two-hour drive home, I collapsed onto my bed late this afternoon and slumbered deeply for a few hours. An evening exercise walk only managed to stimulate me beyond hope, so here I am, after midnight, wired, and continuing my delicious reading of Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller.” After reading only three pages of it in the gallery this morning, I opened my journal and scribbled out a plethora of pages of ideas, and now I am continuing that this night. Hence, one of my favorite quotes above from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Writing affects me that way, but sometimes I go for weeks without that thrill from writing. Lately I have been quite dry, and wondered when the winds of inspiration would blow again, when would the muse whisper again. Thankfully, this morning’s stroll around downtown Palestine, Texas, along with the reading from Walter Benjamin, brought stirring breezes back to my soul.

What I find stirring in this essay is the way in which Benjamin describes what newspapers in the Germany of his day (1936) did to the general public–the same as what the media in general does to people in our society today–deluges them in data, facts, trivia, with no interpretive weaving. People no longer listen to stories; they swallow facts, events, statistics. No one weaves stories; people merely report the news, changing the subject by the minute. There is no longer any sustained narrative.

I am still absorbing the contents of this engaging essay, but right now, I am stirred deeply by this statement that storytelling “does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel.”

This is what has me spinning tonight. As an artist, I constantly struggle against becoming a mere illustrator. I often think that illustration does no more than convince the viewer that the artist is talented. That is not enough for me. Like Van Gogh used to lament, I wish to make art that moves people, touches people, heals people. I want people to be drawn in by what they see. I want them to enter into my pictures (my stories) with their own imagination, their own history, their own feelings, and re-emerge more fulfilled. Yes, I want to convey the “fact” of my subject matter, but above that, I want to put flesh on those bones; I want viewers to see more than the bare facts, the bare skeletal structure of the painting.

I don’t know when I will get to the end of this essay. The more I read from it, the more I end up scribbling in my journal. So many fascinating ideas from this fertile mind of Walter Benjamin. Such fascinating late-night company.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

February 3, 2019


Breakfast at the Dairy Queen in Palestine, Texas

Enjoying my weekend in Palestine and The Redlands Hotel, I was tipped off yesterday by Jean (owner of the hotel) to try out the local Dairy Queen for breakfast. This morning when I arrived and ordered the “country breakfast,” the counter girl asked me how I wanted my eggs. “Over easy?” I hesitatingly offered. And what to drink? “Coffee.” She handed me a real mug! And, a short while later, this was brought to me, on a real plate with real silverware.

I do not take meals at the Dairy Queen, but I still recall that the one outside Archer City, Texas serves breakfast this way, as a real American diner would. When I returned to The Gallery at Redlands, I decided that I need to acquire a copy of Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. I understand that this collection of essays, autobiographical in nature, contain the author’s lament at the demise of story telling in American culture, and ways in which small American towns have been drained of their local charm. Though I live in Arlington, I have found far more of a fascinating world and culture in Palestine, Texas. I am truly blessed, granted time to spend in The Gallery at Redlands and reside in The Redlands Hotel and enjoy the music and camaraderie of Kevin and Marc at Smooth Rock 93.5 FM. As I write this, I am finishing a watercolor commission for a local author (I know of two authors that live in this vicinity), and the community is awash in musicians. Many of us have the same thing in common–growing up in small towns, working and raising families in large cities, then returning to these small towns to enjoy life at a lovelier pace.


I Should Finish this One Today

After I finish this painting, I intend to read Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller.” And who knows–I may just pick up a copy of McMurtry’s collection and see what I can glean from the reading.

Thanks for reading

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.