inessential by Brent Simmons


I'm reading Gertude Stein's book Paris France, published in 1940. It includes this excellent explanation of 20th century art.

It was then I first realized the difference between a painting and out of doors. I realized that a painting is always a flat surface and out of doors never is, and that out of doors is made up of air and a painting has no air, the air is replaced by a flat surface, and anything in a painting that imitates air is illustration and not art.

Another good quote is about writers and where they live.

After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real but it is really there.

The English Victorians were like that about Italy, the early nineteenth century Americans were like that about Spain, the middle nineteenth century Americans were like that about England, my generation the end of the nineteenth century American generation was like that about France.

Of course sometimes people discover their own country as if it were the other, a recent instance of that is Louis Bromfield discovering America, there have been a few English like that too, Kipling for instance discovered England but in general that other country that you need to be free in is the other country not the country where you really belong.

That made me think of Nabokov, the quintessential emigré. I would suggest that his France, his romantic country, is the St. Petersburg of his youth, before the revolution. Unlike Stein, he could never return to his romantic country, it having changed forever.

For many software artists, I think Silicon Valley is the place they "need to be free in." Witness my boss, posting yesterday: "I always want to go somewhere else, to the perfect place, but this morning the thought sunk in -- I'm already there."