Sunday, October 21, 2012

Orientalish NY: Elena Lentini, James Wood, Orientalism, and Flaubert

Photo of Elena by Mia Moy found on Gilded Serpent.
Elena Lentini at the Cupping Room with Souren and Haig!  All of these artists continue to inspire so many simply by doing what they love to do for decades. Consistency, the cultivation of and attention to craft, and one of the many offspring of those two disciplines, humility, are so rare to see.

On Thursday (Oct. 18), I saw James Wood at Columbia University SOA.  What does this have to do with Orientalish?  In a word: Flaubert.  I love Wood's book How Fiction Works.  On Thursday, he spoke of the changing nature of narrative consciousness and how fiction shifted dramatically from an  "implied interiority" (think the KJV or much of Jane Austen) to an "articulated interiority" (think Virginia Woolf and Flaubert).  
I do think this interior consciousness Wood mentions relates to the changing time in America and the abrupt shift in power and expression.  People became more mobile (Flaubert's artistically pivotal travels to the "Orient" come to mind) and saw the "world" as a commodity to be taken, at times violently and other times artistically.
James Wood's book
from MacMillan

Yes literature shifted and perhaps for the better.  As Woods mentioned, the external mechanics of Austen and the King James Version of the Bible seem archaic.  But their distant, overarching tone seems to keep them contained and careful whereas the interiority of what emerges with "articulated interiority" takes more freely and perhaps, in being more self-conscious, bleeds its needs onto the fantasized "other."  Flaubert is such a part of this lens that saw only itself in the "other."  Emerson later famous complained of the effects of popular travel and its strange effect on consciousness when he said our "giants," or selves/egos, accompany us always even when we believe we are seeing something new.  I'm both simplifying and riffing, but this shift in consciousness must relate to the self-justification necessary for Orientalism.  (Again, Flaubert.)  Great beauty evolved from this shift.  As our world grew larger, narrative consciousness began to grow smaller.

Thank you, James Wood, for context and clarity in the midst of such complicated thinking.

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