Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre: Mental Flight

BLUE SELF-PORTRAIT  by Noémi Lefebvre, Tr. Sophie Lewis. April 2018. $15.95. Transit Books

BLUE SELF-PORTRAIT by Noémi Lefebvre, Tr. Sophie Lewis. April 2018. $15.95. Transit Books

The captain announced something no idea what, the flight so full, no room for bags or sound. The Atlanta airport is so congested this Friday and I am giving off the impression that I am not flustered by the congestion, always so unflustered. The noises, all the noises of this flight, so many children, all the agitation is drowned in the sound of the pressurized air although I heard they deplete the oxygen to seduce travelers into sleep, I guess maybe it’s the lack of air that takes travelers down. In spite of this, I am alert or at least I am seemingly alert, attentive to my book in front of me, Blue Self-Portrait, once Shoenberger's, by Noémi Lefebvre translated by Sophie Lewis, it is a very intellectual book to read, that kind of Samuel Beckett-like stream of consciousness with all the repetition, and I feel like an impostor as I feign intellectualism, schmooze my way into understanding, capture my attention which always drifts away and pull it back down into the text, how it was how it is Beckett says over and over, before Pim with Pim after Pim he says in How it is and Lefebvre calls herself a cow a cow a cow, bellowing in immediate no thought reaction, absolutely pastoral absolutely in the present moment no past not here, overtaken by present emotion uncorrupted by academic understanding of art, to experience art in its purity and not give yourself over to hearsay or know-say about meaning of what an art piece must be or how it must be done or how it must be perceived.

I am a big fake, that is the nature of many literary critics I think to talk, talk too much about what they don’t understand, to act like they have all the clues, they must act like they have all the clues, to speak with a kind of finality but the truth is I’m just talking, assuming I’m right, I must assume I am right, any work I write about is mine now as if it came from me I possess it, it’s very narcissistic, just talking, guessing I guess too much, Ich habe zu viel gesprochen. The flight attendant is saying something now, You may not stand for the <blank> lavatory, and I think he sounds irritated, probably because it is Friday, it must be awful to work at an airport on Friday I think and the Lefebvre book is sitting on my lap but I struggle to read it because the narrator’s flashbacks into her Berlin past, her escapades with a pianist and a paratrooper, her escapades which are maybe romantic and maybe artistic, they remind me of my own escapades and the souls which come up like flashbacks when I wanted too much or too little and which shaped my development as an artist, my taste in art, I am not an artist, not to say I am a writer, or an artist, I am more than anything wanting to be seen as an artist, I think, I don’t know.

"Blue Self-Portrait" by Arnold Schoenberger. 1910. Oil on three-ply panel.&nbsp;

"Blue Self-Portrait" by Arnold Schoenberger. 1910. Oil on three-ply panel. 

That is the big thing which fucks with me about Blue Self-Portrait, once Shoenberger's then Lefebvre's then translator Sophie Lewis's, that the narrator believes herself to be immodest but doesn’t it take a certain amount of modesty to admit such a thing, or that she says that she’s uncaring or however you care to pronounce it translate it, because to spend so much time caring thinking about something must you not care a little?, that anxiety is on the tip of my own tongue or in my forehead buzzing, fear of being fake not knowing self who you are how you are perceived. It does not fuck with my head because of her but because of me, I too believing myself to be a tad narcissistic self-important shut-off unconcerned with others, though I do not wish myself to be those things, I certainly do not, and it makes me wonder if I am self-aware at all and what use is self-awareness if the modest thing to do is to say you’re immodest. It is night out now on my flight to Houston, my flight in which I’m writing as nearly to Lefebvre’s prose style as possible, putting myself in the place of the narrator to understand the book which was brooded on an airplane from Berlin to Paris and which ascends into the internal monologue head spinning up high of the narrator, a time for ruminating on an airplane, I am scrapping up the book the Blue Self-Portrait and reassembling it to make sense out of it perhaps some profound moment will come for me, when I get to Houston I will go to the Cy Twombly gallery by the Rothko Chapel, first I will go to the Rothko Chapel and I will look at the seats not at the walls of maroon-brown-purple Rothko paintings, I will look at the seats where so many people have sat and had profound experiences and I will hope for my own profound experience to hit me like a spiritual or mental orgasm but it will only come by thinking about all the people who may have sat on the benches and had philosophical orgasms, all the congestion of souls that what will give me my profound moment, and then I will go across the street to Cy Twombly who I did not know when I lived in Houston but I know him now and I will look at this melancholy increasing chaotic and blank, scrawls of O R P H E U S and or p he us W A R all over, Greek legends decomposed and rendered juvenile, I will put myself in his shoes and create a ekphrasis in my head, battle with myself about how much I should understand how much I shall feel, to what level I shall apply intellectualism and wonder when emotion becomes intellectual, and then I will think of Blue Self-Portrait and Schoenberger and Noémi Lefebvre.

"Sky above Clouds IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicago.

"Sky above Clouds IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicago.

Alain de Botton was once hired by a commercial airport or airline (can’t remember which) to write a book on the comings-and-goings of beings in an airport, the strange relationship we have to places of transition, the plane is taking off soon, I remember the first time I was ever on a plane my Aunt gave me chewing gum for when your ears pop, I thought it was all very incredible but not now that I have been up in the air so many times. Georgia O’Keeffe, spelled with two e’s and two f’s I remind myself, took a flight in 1941 and remarked on how the clouds looked like marvelous rug patterns, Anita you have never seen the SKY she wrote, she thought it was breathtaking and had a psychological orgasm over it, remarked on how remarkable but I am uncaring, it is not novel but more like riding a bus than a marvel of human achievement. My hand is getting sore from writing and I am a tad nauseous, I think it may be one of the greatest curses for a reader that I get motion sick so easily, once I was in Stockholm on New Year’s Eve with a computer scientist beau who was originally from Iraq, he could not stand the New Year’s Eve fireworks so did not watch them much, he who was a ghost at that point although we were physically in the same place, had introduced me to Marx and Chomsky, told me who the pre-Raphaelites were and laughed at America, and I laughed at America too because it’s abstract enough, especially up high in this airplane off the ground, laughable enough thing to laugh at. We would walk around Stockholm so cold in midwinter and smoke and discuss whether or not some Twombly-esque subway art was derivative or not, I defending the artist and the art like I was defending a worker, he who cared so much for talent and form dismissing it, but looking back it probably wasn’t very good yet who am I to say what good or bad is of if it’s in the head or the soul.

My ears are popping and I am a bit sad I was unable to see the sunset on the flight, I was hoping to see the sunset up high but the sun set when I was boarding the plane I think, I would have seen the sun set from up high if the plane had not been delayed, although it seems that they are nearly always delayed. I am amazed when writers try to capture that stream-of-consciousness drifting in their writing the how it was how it is, because do you know can you possibly fathom how many thoughts and words go through a head in a given moment, so lofty an aspiration to try to capture all of them like Lefebvre, a bag of chips just popped with a distinctive sound, no I am too guarded to capture every word too many things I would be ashamed to admit or say, especially if it is feelings or specifics tied to a specific person. I hate to admit what I really feel or what I remember about others because it reveals more about me than if I speak generally, directly of myself, I would rather hide in a blank facade of analysis, it’s what draws me to literary criticism over my own creation about writing my own characters or worse memoir because to interact or show a memory of interacting would show a flow, revel partiality or weakness maybe, better to stick to analysis same feeling. I wonder to what extent Lefebvre’s book may be autobiographical, was she self-conscious to talk about her para or pianist, self-conscious enough to create a character, was Blue Self-Portrait guardedness or vulnerability, to speak of people directly and uncaring because it seems like remembering and recounting is nearly a form of caring. I look to my book now, now that coffee and peanuts are coming have come and will let my thoughts about the book drift untethered for a moment, perhaps until after this airplane ceases its vibrating its drowsy hum and my thoughts may rest on the ground.

Katherine Beaman

Katherine Beaman