Humans exaggerate on a regular basis. Typical hyperboles might be “this bag weighs a ton”, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”, or any of the invariably (!) hilarious “Yo’ mama so fat. . . ” jokes. Perhaps even worse than footballers (“I hit the post. I was gutted”) are artists. Have you ever sat silently suffering (“dying”, anyone?) at a contemporary poetry reading, as the reciter over-emotes their way through a litany of subtexts we can summarise by “me, me, me! I’m so deep and clever!”? Such occasions often merely reinforce the popular perception of artistic outputs as being expressive of the creator’s emotions. But that is less interesting than artworks’ invitation to be social, communal, and at the same time to introspect and inspect our personal, perhaps emotional reactions to intrinsically neutral objects.
The beautiful hyperbole relevant to this piece, with its “vast vacuities” in the formal proportions and note-to-rest ratio, is the following quotation from a piece on culture in the southern United States one hundred years ago. It’s the kind of thing we read today about TV/internet/pop culture and it’s reassuring to know that we’ve always had our noses in the air whilst pointing at others’ perceived deficiencies:
“It is, indeed, amazing to contemplate so vast a vacuity. One thinks of the interstellar spaces, of the colossal reaches of the now mythical ether. Nearly the whole of Europe could be lost in that stupendous region of fat farms, shoddy cities and paralyzed cerebrums: one could throw in France, Germany and Italy, and still have room for the British Isles. And yet, for all its size and all its wealth and all the ‘progress’ it babbles of, it is almost as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert.” (H.L. Mencken, The Sahara of the Bozart)
So, here’s a piece of purely intellectual artistic construction, devoid of any emotional content whatsoever. Time to ponder.