Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Signs of the Age

You may have thought that I should be writing about my frolic in the city. Yes, I should. And will. In the meantime, I have been thinking about--among other things--Makoto Fujimura's paintings and his determination, in the wake of the Fra Angelico show at the Met, to seek a 500-year art. That is, to reach after an art that will be meaningful in 500 years. Naturally, he sees this as the opposite of Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame.

In the visual arts, Mako sees some of the same problems that I see in writing--the mania for finding the "new" (also "young") artist, the neglect of those devoted to and growing mature in their craft, the shrieking after attention, the fragmentation of concerns, the triviality of what is made, the interference of business, and the failure of many to learn their trade. The latest plagiarism fracas brings up the subject of book packagers and their work--some if it, like the selling of sleazy plot ideas to willing young writers, is universes away from any idea of "art."


“Nevertheless, it's hard to ignore sales figures like Engler’s and the emerging popularity of other publishers, such as Red Sage Publishers, which also started as an online business. Mainstream publishers have taken notice. In June, Avon Books will begin a line called Avon Red, catering to the steamier side of romance. Harlequin Books also plans a line called Harlequin Spice, debuting in May.
“The stories are hot, and the difference between erotica and pornography is a fine one, says May Chen, an editor at Avon Red. Chen says that the most important difference is that there's a definite plot and story line in erotica. It's not just episodic sex.” –Yahoo News, 7 April 2006

The work of plagiarologist, Dr. Lesko, this site features the War on Plagiarism Threat Level and a lusty bashing of plagiarists from Ivins to bin Laden to Squitieri (or from Adams to Zieten, if you prefer things tidy.) Want to know about Kaavya Viswanathan, the latest hot young thing in the world of plagiarism? Get your plagiary here!


“Roger W. Straus Jr., the brash and opinionated grandee who presided for nearly six decades over the book-publishing company that bore his name, the last surviving representative of the age of independent houses owned privately by gentlemen of literary taste, died Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.” –obituary by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times, May 27, 2004


“Brown has done a lot of thinking about what makes a successful Dan Brown thriller. He has found that it requires a few essential elements: some kind of shadowy force, like a secret society or government agency; a "big idea" that contains a moral "grey area"; and a treasure. The treasures in Brown's four novels have been a meteorite, anti-matter, a gold ring, and the Holy Grail. The shadowy forces have included the Priory of Sion, Opus Dei, and the National Security Agency. The big idea, if I'm reading him correctly, goes something like this: Is the Vatican good … or is it evil? Is the National Security Agency for us … or is it against us?” –Bryan Curtis, Slate


“With Junior, an audaciously empty mishmash of poems, letters, comics, etc., former child star Culkin (of Home Alone fame) has managed to lower the already low bar set for celebrity fiction.” --Kirkus Reviews

The above are arbitrary examples that show the nature of our times. What, in the face of these things and more, is a "500-year art"?

Werner Brau, a freelance programmer and web designer, took the photograph at the top of this post. He describes his subject as a "magnificent Baroque hall in the library of the Benedictine Monastery" in Admont, Austria. Mr. Brau notes that the monastery was founded in 1074. "Ora et labora--pray and work." The books on those shelves might remind us that there is such a thing as a 500-year art made from words--indeed, that art goes back to the painting in the cave and to Adam naming the animals, the syllables strange and new in his mouth.

Photograph credit: royalty free,, Werner Brau, "A piece of art."


  1. Personally, I find it futile to bemoan the course and the momentary success of the multitudes, for we will forever feel the pull to mediocrity and the power of the “almighty dollar.” Rather, I prefer to applaud the efforts of Makoto Fujimura, Marly Youmans, and those who stand on higher ground, who press forward, creating and leading with integrity and purpose, thinking not just of self, but of future generations. Those may be the minority, but there is strength in truth. I applaud Fujimura’s determination to create 500 year art. The legacy is not ours to see, but with goals such as this, there’s sure to be reward.

    So, that’s my humble pie-in-the-sky two cents.

    Thanks, Marly, for bringing Fujimura's quest to our attention.

  2. I agree that we do better to "set our minds on things above," as someone once said. Having seen Mako's art and read Marly's books, I experience a connection to the deepest sense of truth. We wonder, we hope, we grieve, we rejoice as we experience creations rooted in truth. Whatever fame they experience or lack speaks not a whit to the value of their work.

  3. It's always so satisfying to have visitors leave a card and note who are smarter than I am! Thanks...

    Yes, I prefer not to circle the drain but to climb up through the faucet and go on quest until I find fresh waters.

    Oh, and if you look in the sidebar until you see "Refractions," you can pop over to the Fujimura-blog.

  4. Whatever do you mean? Few are smarter than our Marly--you hold the key to creative thought producing story wrapped in graceful language. That's why we read your work. And that's the truth. We're searching for truth here. Right? Clearly, you tower above 99% of us who scramble to pair words, then erase and scribble again.

    I know it's easy when one is not in the publishing game to dismiss the unfairness of mediocrity rewarded. In fact, I know it's damned frustrating in any arena, so write your protest, perhaps someone will right the wrong.In the meantime, don't let the turkeys get you down! Create 500 year literature! Write your Marly words, and your legacy will resound for generations.

    (Sorry about the Ms. L.-- Right blog, wrong blog name)

  5. You may appear in any of your incarnations here!

  6. Click on the picture--the big version of the library is fabulous!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.