Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Kitties Are the Ultimate Kitsch-- Early morning wanderings

Six in the morning is no longer early these days. I wake on the hour from around 2am until 6 to nurse the baby and then he decides it's time to rustle awake for a couple of hours so I'm up with coffee to play with him. He mostly entertains himself but right now he's grunting and I should do something. I wrap him tight in his blanket and we smile at each other for a while. 

Kitties are the ultimate Kitsch 
I've been reading Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams and last night I was reading her essay on sentimentality, something I've always been a little confused by. She notes that Oscar Wilde wrote that sentimentality is unearned emotion. She likens sentimentality to low cal sweeteners, in that they're sugar without the calories just like emotion without the complication. OK, so here is a passage that I find particularly illuminating from her essay entitled "In Defense of Saccharine" (the essay I've been discussing):

Sentimentality describes the moment when emotion becomes a prop to bolster the affective egos of everyone involved. "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession," Kundera observes. "The first tear says: how nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!" 

"Kitsch" refers to art that is overly sentimental or melodramatic. (The contemporary use of the word references stuff like porcelain kitty cats, paintings of the virgin, and pho-fur sofa throws). So in a way sentimentality refers to a type of emotion that is readily understood by all or to cliche emotion. Maybe it's that simple, cliche emotion = sentimentality, which is why it's so hard for me to write after having a baby because everything about love for your baby feels stickily cliche and everything has been blogged about in terms of babies and the highs and lows of parenting. The obscene humor of parenting. The rage of parenting. The extreme high of loving a child. And so on. We are experiencing a golden age of confessional writing and to be frank I am all for it. Honest, cutting, confessional writing is so very human and sometimes cathartic for both reader and writer. But I have always been afraid of sentiment and I suppose this is why I started writing in secret, cryptic poetry that could not be unlocked.

The other day while having tea with friends we began discussing the growing art of oral story-telling. For example, the NPR broadcast "The Moth" features stories told on stage by individuals. In many ways this is a fast growing art form. My friend wondered if story telling was becoming an art because we no longer spent time telling each other stories. This is an interesting idea. Art becomes art when it is no long quotidian. Of course this is in no way a definition of art. If I were to define art I would say it is the expression of ideas and feelings and experiences that we can't readily express in language. I cannot explain to you how I feel about my sons in a simple sentence. I have to create art to reveal or get at the truth of the feeling. I am sentimental when I say, I love these two boys more than I could have ever imagined not because it's unearned emotion (trust me I have earned this love) but because it is unearned language, it is useless language... it's too easy. Still, why is story telling as an art form becoming so popular along with podcasts and talk radio? It's an interesting question and perhaps my friend is right, we live insular lives with technology as our main source of connection with each other. I barely see half my friends but I feel close with them because we email, text, Instagram, Facebook, and occasionally chat on the phone.

Willem baby is asleep now and Moses is up watching "Peep." I heart Peep. The full name is something like Peep and the Big Wide World. It's slow and silly and just the right pace for a two-year-old and yeah, for the record, I'm all for kids watching TV.

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