The pleasure of the new

by Pari

The other day one of my daughters and I were in the car when an astounding song came on the radio. Something about this piece managed to penetrate the whoosh of air from an open window and to halt what had been an interesting conversation. My daughter and I looked at each other and reached for the volume control at the same time. This song was special  — utterly different than anything we’d ever heard before — and we didn’t want to miss the moment.

I’ve been thinking lately about conventions in one’s life, not the kind a person goes to, but the kind he or she lives by.  Whether it be traditional structures such as the number of syllables per line in haiku or the conventions around what it means to be a single woman in her fifties, I’ve been watching and thinking, observing rather than coming to particular conclusions.

Perhaps because I’m a writer (or perhaps I’m a writer because of this) I adore learning. And the more something butts against my assumptions, the more interesting I find it. What I love about “The Wind is Getting Stronger,” and movies such as Happy, Happy is that they combine elements that I never knew could be combined. In the case of the song, it’s Kletzmer, Latin rhythms, folk music and an oral narrative about a topic people just don’t sing about in that way. In Happy, Happy, it’s the exploration of love, family, enslavement, and a quartet of mainly expressionless Norwegian men singing gospel music a la blue grass (I think). In Caramel, a movie from Lebanon, it’s the window into life in modern Beirut and the way young and older women navigate expectations of love and obligation in a world different — but not nearly as different as I assumed — as the one in which I and my daughters live. I also loved the way French was interspersed with the Arabic; I understood more of the language than I expected.

And, to top off this invigorating time, I’m reading The Book Thief which is an extraordinary literary accomplishment that, to me, defies so many expectations and rules it’s astounding the thing got published (I could say the same thing about Spiegleman’s Maus books).

Conventions are, at times, incredibly useful. They abbreviate the need to learn every single thing anew every single time. They create a common social language so we know how to live with each other. But like old work attire, conventions can lose their utility and become confining or even embarrassing. One of the pleasures of my life at this moment is that I’m searching out and embracing moments of newness, of learning and seeing the world in a different light. Delight is coming in unexpected places:

songs that meld, mesh and break rules and work precisely because they do

movies that challenge expectations through their internal integrity rather than through pushy intent

books that provide a reading experience– through the story told and the way in which it’s expressed —  that is truly different from anything I’ve hitherto encountered.

What about you? Is there a piece of art — music, movie, lit, visual — that has given you the same frisson of joy with its astounding freshness?

14 thoughts on “The pleasure of the new

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari
    THE BOOK THIEF does indeed look extraordinary.

    I have no answers to your questions, but you have sparked off more questions, and I thank you for that. What an interesting start to Monday!

  2. David Corbett

    I was reading John Truby's excellent THE ANATOMY OF STORY recently, specifically his chapter on the Moral Argument. He identifies 5 main types of story based on the moral premise at work:

    1. Good vs. Bad (the most simplistic)
    2. Tragedy (where the hero's own character contributes to or causes his downfall)
    3. Pathos (where the hero faces overwhelming forces and cannot prevail)
    4. Satire and irony (the hero gets the opposite of what he wants)
    5. Black Comedy (the hero accepts society's twisted ethos and creates mayhem, chaos and destruction)

    It's hard enough to pull any of these off well and with a new and creative take. But combining moral arguments is really difficult and not for those of meager skill. They have unique emotional effects and combining them tends to confuse those effects rather than enhance them. He cites AMERICAN BEAUTY as a film that tried to mix tragedy, satire and black comedy, and though it was in many ways excellent, it's emotional impact was muddled.

    MADAME BOVARY and DOG DAY AFTERNOON, however, mix pathos and satire and succeed.

    So there's always a risk in mixing conventions. You may get something fresh, but it may also end up a bit slight.

    And with that, to work.

    As always, Pari, you make Monday a day worthy of the contemplation thereof. Thanks.

  3. Shizuka

    Pari, I loved THE BOOK THIEF. And for some reason I didn't want to read it for a long time.
    Probably because it sounded so depressing (my reaction to most books with Nazis).
    Another book that I resisted reading was Jennifer Donnelly's REVOLUTION, maybe because it sounded too historical? too sentimental? I finally read it a few months ago and it blew me away.
    It combined great action, setting, and a very raw exploration of grief. And musical theory, which was somehow far less boring than I remembered.

    I'm now trying to read and watch things that I'm not instantly drawn to.
    Next up on the book list — MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN.

  4. David Corbett


    How did you sneak a link into your comment? I tried last week and got sent into the darkest reaches of the ether. An unnamed moderator is still reviewing my comment. Or not.


  5. Lisa Alber

    I'm reading a ghost story, Christ Bohjalians's THE NIGHT STRANGERS. A traumatized family moves to a big, creepy house in a small town with creepy, witchy woman who are obsessed with the family's twin girls. Such a classic setup, but…BUT BUT BUT. Wow. I generally don't like second person, but he uses it for the dad's point of view. It's so uncomfortable that it's brilliant because the dad is losing his mind (similar to our man Jack in THE SHINING) and the second person amplifies his disconnectedness, his disassocation from reality, etcetera.

    I also read Donato Carrisi's THE WHISPERER. Another wow. It's not perfect (lacks setting, amazingly, given that presumably takes place in Italy), but what he does with the surprise factor along the way…another wow. Surprises both with the characters and plot twists. It has another classic setup: serial killer of children leaves macabre and puzzling clues that the good guys must follow. None of it is quite what you think, especially with the protagonists.

  6. Allison Davis

    Pari, I spent the weekend in an informal reunion of six women I have known for 40 years. Just revisiting those relationships is, in a way, conventional. However, we couldn't stop exploring each others lives (we do this at least once a year and several of us live within close proximity of others), new thoughts, topics and ventures into the unknown. We couldn't seem to go to sleep for the excitement of the new really and my brains hurts this morning. We went to see Miami Ballet's Gizelle, and whole not new, ballet is a wholly new thing to me and several of the others, and it was a mind stretcher (that's what we are looking for right?). And I read the Hunger Games, prodded and pushed by my 16 year old niece, and I loved the book by the end. What struck me is that the unconventional still hits life themes of love, connection, family, death but helps us see again by making it fresh. That's how I felt coming away from the weekend, that spending time with these women I've known for so long, I have a fresh, outward, future looking perspective. That seemed incredible to me.

  7. Schwartz, Stephen Jay

    I had an interesting experience when I spent a week doing research in Amsterdam – I discovered that my mind became ultra-alert as a response to all the new stimuli. And I don't mean the Red Light District. I mean that all of my senses had to work overtime in order for me to navigate the complicated city. I was constantly lost, but was forced to use parts of my brain that are usually asleep when I'm hanging out in my home town. I had to learn how the monetary system worked, the transportation, the who's what's and where's of everything, in a very short time.

  8. Sarah W

    I agree with Alex about Sherlock (big surprise).

    What's amazing is the amount of fan-based creativity that's been sparked by that show. However you feel about fan-art or fan-fiction or fan-based acts of character support (or Twitter accounts set up for a set of admittedly spectacular cheekbones), this show has ignited people's imaginations in much the same way Doyle's original stories did — or, I suppose, have.

    As for art . . . There's an artist named Riusuke Fukahori whose piece "Goldfish Salvation" is simply amazing. The fish are built with layers upon thin layers of paint and poly — there was a video that showed him working on it, but it's been blocked. Here's a website, though:

  9. Reine

    I confess to being a Cumberbitch.
    To that I add a passion for the eagle statue in Tucson outside an art gallery at the corner of E. Skyline and N. Campbell. I can't get out of the van to see it, because it doesn't go to that address. But I love this statue, maybe more than Cumberpatch. Hosting a Cumberbitch party this evening with the BBC version of SHERLOCK.

  10. Reine

    David, have you tried just putting the URL in the text without the html stuff– no carat bracketing?

Comments are closed.