Monday, June 22, 2009

On the Folly of Judging a Story by a Single Page

From N.D. Wilson's Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World, pp. 84-86:
Fewer people could die. Death could be banished. Hunger slaked. Thirst quenched.

Evil, that which displeases God, should be gone.

So it should. But how? When? What is it that you are assessing? Would Pride and Prejudice be improved by throwing away every page prior to the resolution, by erasing every character flaw, every misunderstanding and dispute?

Ansel Adams once took a photograph he titled "Jeffrey Pine, Sentinel Dome." It is beautiful. He stood where it did, he saw what ist saw, and he was able to catch it, fitting it into a small frame with only two dimensions and nothing but blends of black and white. The sky is there, the rock, the Jeffrey Pine.

The tree grows on the left, but it is gnarled, bending even now, spreading across the picture in its struggle against the wind. Its muscled branches are frozen in their strain, unquivering; its roots claw into stone, matching granite strength. There is a mountain watching from a distance, wondering who will win. The tree has fought for this life, fought in this permanent unretreating retreat.

The wind will win in the end, but this uncomplaining tree is noble. I see no bitterness, no resentment. We may forget, but this tree knows that the world is spinning, and it has hung on to the globe through decades. I see pride in those roots, gratitude where the light sits.

Could we improve this picture? How can we make it not better but best? Remove the tension and contrast. Remove the black. All of it. Remove the struggle and the inevitable end.

Leave the white. Only white. And now it is perfect. Perfectly blank.

If we live in art, struggling in the boundary between the shadow and the light, unable to see the whole, how can we begin to judge? How can we presume to talk about a better painting, a better novel, when we see only a single line, a single page, an it brings us grief?

Any single needle can complain. There is death in those branches. Surely I could be full and green, surely I need not be in the wind, connected to the struggle? There is a shadow sprawling across me. I am cold. Can we bring in more light? The contrast could be softer.

And so we all speak. Each of us wanting our own position a bit more comfortable. Each of us wanting to see a little more happiness, a little less contrast, wanting to skip the struggle, throw away the novel and save only the final page, the FINIS. A world of tombstones would have no wars, no hardships, and no complaints. So would a world without births or loves or creeping, crawling, or growing things. A better artist would have made this world more like the moon, only without the black space behind it, without the contrast of edges. A sprawling, near-infinite moon. Erase the craters.