This is a response to Tim’s recent post “At Face Value: Gaga, Surfaces & The Superficial.” I don’t really know anything about Ms. Gaga—she’s a singer, right?—so that I must pass over in silence.
Instead, I want to address two distinctions that Tim points to: “style vs. content” and “surface vs. depth”—although I’ll admit upfront that neither one is one I’m enamored with. As Tim himself notes toward the end of his post, faces are communicative—indeed, they can communicate (and mis-communicate, and conceal) quite a lot. And as I’ve said in so many different places, style is content, and surface is depth; there is no distinction in my book (or in my books). I used to believe that citing Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style was enough to undo those false dichotomies, but I am no longer as optimistic as I once was in my youth, so I’ll try saying more.
Let’s begin by assuming that there actually is a difference between surface and depth. Can we name a purely superficial painting, one that’s entirely surface? How about an Yves Klein monochrome? After all, it’s just blue paint applied to a canvas:
Yves Klein, "IKB 191" (1962).
So now there’s a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe standing by Tribune Tower, on Michigan Ave:
Photo by E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune, 15 July 2011.
Describing it, the Chicago Tribune writes:
Marilyn Monroe, as a 26-foot-tall statue in her famous subway-grate stance from “The Seven Year Itch” pose [sic]. Dubbed Forever Marilyn, the sculpture by New Jersey-based artist Seward Johnson will live in Pioneer Court through what will be a rather chilly winters for the bare-legged, exposed-panties icon. It’s scheduled to depart in the spring.
The Tribune gets it wrong, however.
Update: If a blog post can ever be said to be in honor of anyone, then consider this one in honor of Ruth Kligman. May she rest in peace.
In the comments section of my last post, Shya asked:
can someone write a truly romantic novel today? Or would it necessarily be a postmodern (or post-postmodern) exercise in romanticism?
I’d suspect that, even if we went back to Romantic Era, we’d have a hard time finding something “truly romantic.” As Pontius Pilate so insightfully asked Christ: Quid est veritas? (What is truth?)
So let’s leave aside truth for the moment, and try answering that question in a different way.