Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Watching the wheels in empty gardens

My work often intersects with the zeitgeist, maybe because the social foxhole I've dug while writing my dissertation has obscured my view. I grapple with 18th and 19th-century metaphors of food production, and I tend to draw these images forward into our current ideological climate. Gardens gardens everywhere, and not a spot to dig.

The earliest literature I examine is from the 17th century; Milton's Paradise Lost sets the stage for much of what follows in the 19th-century Romantic period. I think that the poem's depiction of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden set off a chain reaction of empty gardens in our literature that extends all the way to the pictures on cartons of organic milk that I see at Whole Foods.

But the first empty garden I can remember thinking about comes from my own puberty. I was 12 years old when this song was released, and I was deeply moved by its chorus. When I rediscovered Wordsworth in my late twenties, I realized that the conceit of artist as gardener is much, much older than Elton John.

Commemorating the day of a death seems morbid, but martyrs are partly defined by the ways in which a culture extracts their sacrifice. Dying wasn't John Lennon's choice, any more than it was Martin's or Malcom's or Bobby's. But his message made him a target, and his loss defined a decade. Watching my mother sobbing in the car when the news came across the radio certainly marked a transition in my childhood. I already knew that art was precious, but December 8th, 1980 taught me that its loss could be devastating.

Today, I'm going to listen to Rubber Soul and Revolver while I read about farm size in 1797. And when I take a break to kit up and ride--alone, so far away from the gardens of California I grew to treasure and now so dearly miss--I'll listen to the homage to domestic tranquility that John Lennon wrote before he died.

1 comment:

  1. From a comment on the *NY Review of Books* website:

    "This, however, brought a fatal sloganeering quality to the music..."

    Really? "Imagine" is an epic of "sloganeering" self-contained little "slogan" after another... to glorious and ethereal effect. Some of Lennon's best work (and all of his best post-Beatles work) was "sloganeering" and/or agitprop soundbites raised to the level of Koans and aphorisms: from "Give Peace a Chance" to "Happiness is a Warm Gun"; from "Instant Karma" and "Woman is the Nigger of the World" to "Revolution" et al. The essentially apolitical Consumerist mindset can no more grasp the aesthetic of an Art grounded in the dynamic of real struggle than it can conceive of a Lennon whose genuine (and earned) anger was so much more than a matter of being "nasty".

    “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it.”-John Lennon