THE BOOK: Art, Sex, Politics
PUBLISHED IN: 2017.
THE AUTHOR: William Eaton.
THE EDITOR: Walter Cummins, himself a short-story writer and long-time, esteemed teacher of literature and writing.
THE PUBLISHER: Serving House Books, an imprint dedicated to offering readers the work of distinguished essayists, poets, and fiction writers from around the world.
SUMMARY: A provocative new collection of essays in which William Eaton, the author of Surviving the Twenty-First Century, shares the pleasures of questions, tastes, reading, and more visual arts. “That we are animals, that is as sure as ever. How savagely we behave! And how affectionately rub up against one another. How, desperately, make love?”
The drawings, also by Eaton, were inspired by a practice of Cy Twombly’s: drawing in the dark, unable to see either what one is drawing or how one is drawing it. Twombly used this technique, in his youth, to get away from figurative drawing. In Art, Sex, Politics it becomes a way to allow the unconscious to have a say, to briefly escape from the super-ego, and to simplify.
THE BACK STORY: Art, Sex, Politics offers a selection from Eaton essays appearing in publications from Agni to Zeteo (The Journal of Interdisciplinary Writing). Selection was governed by the title’s themes and by a desire to offer readers a wide range of approaches to the essay form, pieces long and short, serious and satirical, and pieces that championed both savoring (close attention to life) and conversation.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title touches on a fundamental feature of the American experience. For example, in recent decades secular champions of progressive politics and of new products have also been proponents and practitioners of traditionally taboo sexual practices and supporters of non-traditional approaches to art. We might say, offhandedly, that we used to have “blue movies”; now we have blue states.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Art, Sex, Politics is for people who love reading, art, and sex perhaps, but certainly new thoughts and unexpected connections! The Utne Reader once praised William as a “joyful skeptic,” and said the writer Nahid Rachlin: “What other writer could find a bond among Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana, Camus’ Oran, a Russian landlady, and LBJ?”
REVIEW COMMENT: “In this remarkable collection of essays. Eaton writes of topics as seemingly earthy, and diverse, as gun control, voting patterns, and real estate transactions. Yet these topics serve to deliver insights which carry the reader into a world of mindfulness. One of the pleasures of reading a book by Mr. Eaton is to witness the author peeling away the layers of his stories. His essay concerning “savoring,” for example, first touches on food habits, yet is in fact a call to live with intention; to savor life as one would savor a meal.
“One particularly lovely quote used to wrap up the author’s take on our species: ‘By the winds of capitalism and of less-human elements, we are swept along and through vast changes, driven here and there by forces much more powerful than any one of us and then all of us put together.’ Sounds heady? This lovely prose is followed up with a reflection concerning Dr. Seuss’s Lorax. And it makes perfect sense.” From Claire Stewart, author of As Long as We Both Shall Eat.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Readers of Surviving will know that—even more than a writer or artist or multilingual intellectual—Eaton has been a father. In the essay “On Savoring” he writes:
“My son Jonah and I have our best conversations when walking somewhere together, and thus one of my top priorities as a parent (and having greatly enjoyed conversations with Jonah!) is to make sure we take walks together. And thus I noticed, too, and savored in a certain way, a morning when I walked with Jonah to school, and we seemed in no way angry with one another, and yet said nothing, just walked together.”
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Midway between sex and politics we find the imperfect (increasingly imperfect?) art of friendship. This was a topic that greatly interested Plato who may well have suffered from what we now call “social anxiety disorder.” The essay “Friendship, Deception, Writing” proposes that in the end friendship is both Plato’s Lysis and our own ineluctable topic. While Plato insists on hiding many of his feelings about and experiences with friendship, he reveals while pursuing such things as seduction and power, we often get what we really need and most enjoy. I would define this what—this essence of friendship—as a kind of rubbing against other human beings, a rubbing and being rubbed by them. This analogy may seem more appropriate to sex or wrestling (and to the retirees who play paddleball every day at my YMCA), but certainly conversation, too, is a contact sport.
Drawing, Conversation, Life
Most artists, before they have begun to draw—in a studio, with a model—have made any number of decisions. What materials they are going to work with and on; the scale of the work; what sort of results they hope to achieve—a likeness? classically proportioned beauty? an evocative gesture? This outline allows us to speak of another, ideal drawing process in which decisions would not have been made. Perhaps the artist ends up doing nothing, or at least not making any marks, and this without shame. The artist’s hand and eye respond to the model, the moment, the lighting, her own emotions and emotions in the room, her technical capacities and limitations, political and economic circumstances surrounding the room, . . . All of which might paralyze or inspire the artist, but could, more likely, less extremely, result in art works that, however great or small, are of their time and place.
This outline allows us to speak of an ideal conversation which would begin, or not begin, amid similar aspirations. Two people—strangers or friends—find themselves intersecting, perhaps seated facing one another, sharing a meal, perhaps side by side in an elevator or walking out of an abs-butt-and-thighs class together. Of course often (always?) there are things we need to say to someone, anyone, to another human being. But in the particular ideal process I am sketching here, any such need is no more than faint. Above all there is this other person who is sharing space with us and who is, to at least some degree, open to hearing what we may say. “I” respond to “you” and you to me, and there is—like a boat blown by a wind across some surface of a vast sea—a conversation.
Might we then go on to speak of an ideal way to live—without planning, but with our eyes, ears, and hearts open, with our hands and our lips ready to respond to others, to our circumstances and feelings? We might.
Although, of course, the artist through drawing learns things, or his hands and eyes do. And if we talk with someone a second, third, fourth time, our minds are no longer unfilled. We come to these subsequent conversations laden, at times happily, with material that cannot be unchosen.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Art, Sex, Politics is available (print on demand) from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble
ALTERNATE TEXT: Now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble: Art, Sex, Politics &/or Art, Sex, Politics.
PRICE: $12.99, or $9.99 for Kindle
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Readers are encouraged to e-mail any comments or reflections to the author at Eaton0824 AT gmail. He notes that writing and drawing are quite self-involved activities, but they are also one of the strange ways humans have come up with for reaching out toward other humans. Reaching out—and, at times, touching—is our most significant artistic, sexual, and political act.
Those interested in Eaton’s newest, emerging work (much of it now poetry) are urged to visit Montaigbakhtinian.com.