Monday, January 02, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

No, I haven’t seen the movie yet—I’m one of those people who almost always waits for a film to come out on DVD. But all the talk about the film inspired me to go back and reread the original story, Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain,” from Close Range: Wyoming Stories. What a great book! What a great set of stories, from the opening “Half-Skinned Steer” all the way to “Brokeback Mountain.” Well, maybe a couple of the stories in the middle go a bit over-the-top, a bit too far into the melodramatic “gruesome things that happen in bad weather” genre, but Proulx is such a great writer.

Occasionally when I get discouraged in my “Why doesn’t anyone read poetry?” mode, the possibility crosses my mind for a disturbing half second that maybe it’s because we poets are all a bunch of lazy sons of bitches who just don’t work hard enough at what we do and don’t write very well. What contemporary American poet writes half as well—as poetically—as Annie Proulx? And I could name a dozen other fiction writers. As the judge said about obscenity, I can’t define it but I know it when I see it. Maybe I can’t define good writing but I know it when I read it, and “Brokeback Mountain” is it. It’s poetry.

7 comments:

Beverly said...

Interesting question about why people read fiction not poetry. I think it's somewhat explained by the greater difficulty of poetry, but more than that the compelling nature of narrative for the human mind, even fractured narrative, trumps language--though not for poets, who are mostly inclined toward the anti-narrative.

When non-poets read poetry, they go to narrative poetry. Narrative has an irresistible pull on the psyche but put together with language someone like Annie Proulx uses, you get a slam dunk. IMHO.

Robert said...

I'm the last person who would want to defend narrative, but I think you may be right. The mind seems almost inevitably to imagine a narrative even were there is none, or at least my mind does. Anne Carson's translation of Sappho's "fragment 162" is, in full:

with what eyes?

I can't read that without intuiting some kind of story. (One version might be something like: I want to see my love but love blinded me and so ... with what eyes?) It does sometimes seem that the attempt to avoid narrative is an attempt to avoid death. I know that is a rather controversial statement, and I'm not sure I believe it myself! But whenever you deal with a structure of beginning, middle and end, you have to face the fact that things end.

Diane K. Martin said...

Narrative seems to me a frame; that is, it takes the amorphous experience and isolates it. Whether the artifice works well or not is how we judge the art.

But I don't think good fiction necessarily equals poetry. It's not lesser or better, to me, just different. I can't comment specifically on this collection by Proulx, having not read it. I read The Shipping News and liked it, but I don't call it poetry.

Robert said...

Now that we've resolved the poetry/prose question, let me ask a whole other controversial question. Is same-sex sex fundamentally the same or different from opposite-sex sex? To put it somewhat differently, if a man falls in love with a woman or a woman with a man, is it fundamentally the same emotion as a man falling in love with a man or a woman with a woman? I would say yes, it's the same, but I'm really not sure.

To make a somewhat corny analogy, some people love the ocean and other people love the mountains, and you could say they both love the "wonder of nature" and just happen to find that wonder in different places, but maybe they're attracted to fundamentally different experiences.

Or is the key factor something completely different? Some people, whether gay or straight, seem strongly attracted to their opposites, while other people, whether gay or straight, seem more likely to fall for people like themselves. Ah, the new year is prompting strange reflections!

Beverly said...

You're cetainly not averse to asking big questions.

Love happens too differently between people to draw conclusions. Men who love women don't all love them the same way, nor men who love men.

When I was writing my dissertation (17 years ago, on questions of complementarity in love) I thought a lot about the sameness/difference equation, and came to no brilliant conclusions. All lovers seem to have their own balance of the two, needing both.

As for BBM, the love story is specific to gay love and not at all so, isn't it? The tragic, heightened passion as well as suffering comes from thwarted love. The specfics of it make it, paradoxically, universal and understandable to anyone who loves. Right?

Diane K. Martin said...

Yeah, I was going to say that Robert sure is in a provocative mood.

What Beverly is saying makes sense to me. Plus, there's no way to know what exactly another person experiences, is there? What we agree is blue may not really be the same in all minds.

Robert said...

Yes, what you say, Beverly (and Diane), makes perfect sense--that people are too different from one another to make generalizations, and that the experience of "Brokeback Mountain" is "understandable to anyone who loves." While reading it I guess I was just thinking (as someone who thinks of myself as utterly heterosexual) that perhaps I could fall in love with a man if I were looking for a very different experience (not looking for the ocean in the mountains).