clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Shock of the New

Marc Chagall was an early modernist. His images in several medium were among the new guard in the earliest days. I've always felt he did the best for me at illustrating an emotion of a thing. He takes me on an emotional safari to a world I've not seen before.

All of this, and I do not see color.

When I first saw his works, I was paralyzed by the "The Shock of the New" which I steal from a PBS series on art from the very early 1980's. I'm an abstract expressionist by nature. The exaggerated emphasis allows me the ability to portray what I perceive as real to the observer (when I get it right).

Chagall however makes me feel what he feels when I look at his works. He conveys me to a land not of substance and mass but perception and effect.

I wanted to speak a little of this tonight for the book I want to bring to light is John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Le Carre  did the same to me in it as Chagall.

It is at its heart a spy story. It follows a work-a-day spymaster who appears past his prime but whose game is merely reserved for "the majors." Yes, it is a spy novel.

It is not only a spy novel. When I first read it, I was young enough that the impact of the cold war confrontation was such a daily accepted fact as to be unremarkable. The Soviets and the threat to western capitalism, yawn. Yes, I'll shoot them when they come, father.

What struck me was the emotional connotation portrayed in the protagonist's work among the facts. He breaks rules. He breaks very old and important rules. He asks others to betray trusts. He undoes old friends. These acts don't pass with a grimace and a gun. Smiley - the protagonist - betrays his emotional convictions as if he's come to bury an old dog gone rabid and now dead by his own hand.

I was lead not on the journey of a thriller (see The Odessa File of the same era for the state of the art thriller) but on this emotional safari to a distant land I'd not seen before. I was made to feel through the protagonist things I'd not felt before.

My maternal Grandfather retired for good in the 70's and sold off the last of his agricultural equipment. These pieces were antiques when he had the last sale. He was, by then, a shell of his former self. He was broken physically and having been a speculator for much of his life, had little left to focus upon. He was just waiting for the end.

I was with him as a boy when he and I spent a week moving the last of his equipment for sale. I followed him in a pick-up as he drove one of his three ancient tractors to the meadow where the sale would occur. I watched the road from second gear peeking out between dash and steering wheel. I would have been nine or ten. The pick-up was a '52 and more the twenty years old. This tractor was pre-war. I watched the emotion as piece by piece we left his inventory of equipment in a long row for the auctioneer to move down at the sale.

I didn't understand the emotion of resignation - that there was something to do that had to be done and while we didn't enjoy it, we weren't going to resist.

That sale week was my first experience in that world and later  Le Carre would be the quickening of it. The entire book pulled me through the emotional complications of deceit in the business of deception and subterfuge. It did so with the same familiar and practiced glances of resignation I saw in my grandfather.

Now, Tinker Tailor was an emotional safari. I've read much of LeCarre's writing; but, it was this volume which compelled me to think about what it was that was different in this book from the others I had read.

Le Carre has a new book out now and it appears today on the cover of the NYT Book Review. A Delicate Truth is the title and I'd encourage you to give it a read as well. I will be. It may well be his last work and his prose has grown better and better over the years.

Unfortunately, the abject lack of any idealism in my politics has left the background for much of his work somewhat uninteresting to me. I expect politicians and technocrats to fold for rewards with no more resistance than a wartime whore. I'm not interested in their motivations and I assume them to be fodder. I'm more interested in those who would hasten their capitulation.

My point? The emotional journey may not be enough. It might need to be to that land we've not visited. Take me there, bring me back. I'll be changed for it. I'll buy your next book, too.

Read widely - even if the spy novel isn't your genre. You can buy an e-book and no one will know what you read at the airport.

I'll write Monday through Thursday this week. I've got a big project this weekend and will skip the Sunday installment.

Thanks for stopping by ...



1 comment:

Nigel Mitchell said...

I always wanted to read that book. I never did get around to it, but you've inspired me to seek it out.