Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Aesthetic of Memory

The "garua," a mist that isn't a mist, the fog that is not a fog, forms a thick barrier that hovers around the house forming an even deeper isolation in which the hostages in Bel Canto find themselves. It is the manifestation of their seperation from the world, while new connections are being formed in the inner space demarkated by the "garua." Memory is the only link to the outside world for them, and it is provoked by music.

"He could only hear the notes, the clear resonance of her voice, like when he was a boy and would run down the hill past the convent, how he could hear just a moment of the nuns' singing, and how it was better that way, to fly past it rather than to stop and wait and listen. Running, the music flew into him, became the wind that pushed back his hair and the slap of his own feet on the pavement. hearing her sing now ... was like that. It was like hearing one bird answer another when you can only hear the reply and not the plintive, original call" (99-100).

If an aesthetic is defined as a quality of artistic production that elicits an emotive reaction from the viewer, a sensory value of sorts that opens art to values of judgement and sentiment, does Bel Canto put forth an aesthetic of memory? If so, it seems to act in similar ways across the group of hostages and terrorists alike. What does it mean that it crosses borders and acts nomadically, connecting to the past while also helping to construct a unique community in the present? What are the productive possibilities?

9 comments:

amynicole said...

"He realized now he was only just beginning to see the full extent to which it was his destiny to follow, to walk blindly into fates he could never understand. In fate there was reward, in turning over one's heart to God there was a magnificence that lay beyond description. At the moment one is sure that all is lost, look at what is gained!"

This quote in Chapter 5 perfectly demonstrates the mindset of the characters as they come to peace with their present situation, and metaphorically, the garua. While superficially, they may seem helpless, hopeless- all is lost, the situation is obviously deeper than this. When "all is lost", when a garua envelops our own lives, sometimes it makes it easier to lean on others, develop more personal, meaningful relationships, and to grow as a person. If there was no garua, days with clear skies and no problems would not seem so clear, as there would be nothing to compare them to.

ahelton said...

Overall, I would say that music is the most powerful aesthetic in Bel Canto. Roxane's beautiful, God-given voice initiates flashbacks in multiple characters. It is almost as if each character, for the first time, finally understands his own life. The music mends the bridge between one's mind and soul. Life now has meaning. The characters which enjoy the privilege of this revelation are no longer entangled in their own chains, but are free to investigate the intricacies of others. As a result, people the hostages are beginning to form a true and unified community.

tay123 said...

The obvious form of art in this novel is music. The way that each person takes it in and it effects them is what applies for the aesthetic quality. It is interesting how a person can hear a song or look at a painting or read a novel and feel completely and totally different about it than another individual. When the hostages hear Roxanne sing, each is filled with a different memory and feeling that is unique to them. However, this emotional response, while different for each person, is significant in that it is able to slip cross natural borders and filter throughout each person, solidifying the bond between the hostages, though they do not realize it.
The "garua" has formed a sheild around the hostages that further forces them to turn to what is inside of the sheild and face the conflicts and struggles in their hearts than they would normally have to do during their normal routine. They cannot see out, so they are forced to live through memory and rediscover forgotten parts of their lives.
These memories, invoked by music and nature, bond the hostages, solidifying their new community and opening up possibilities for new relationships to form.

Jacob Lo said...

Memory is the most important and used part of the human mind. Essentially, everything we know involves memory and it allows us to do even the simplest tasks. We walk because of muscle memory, talk because of memory, love and hate because of memory. It is a vital tool which allows us to perceive the world we know as the world that we actually do "know". However memory is always deteriorating and the things that we do remember vary just as much as the things themselves. Whether it is someone’s name or the lyrics to a song from our childhood, we never really know how deep into the pulp of memory our mind is willing to dig to recover a lost thought.
In Bel Canto, the world only remains in memory. The past as the characters knew it, everything they did, everything they were is all but a figment of the mind of the beholder. What makes memory unique is that it is different, yet exactly the same for everyone. Sure there is a difference between Carmen's memories of growing up in the jungles of South America and Roxane's of Chicago, but it is essentially not different at all, because as both sit in the vice president's house, they are limited to merely looking back at these childhoods. Memory itself is no different for Carmen as it is Roxane.
Thus, memory serves as an aesthetic in this story. It evokes emotion for everyone in the house. They would all rather be someplace else, but that someplace else is not tangible, it is stuck in every single character's memory.
Ann Patchett makes a point to make sure the reader (viewer) knows that these characters all come from a variety of countries and speak a variety of languages. So hypothetically, if these characters had only spent one night in the house without any terrorist stepping foot in it, "borders" would be as visible within the party as they are on a map. However, because these people from every corner of the globe are encased in this house, "borders" as they knew them no longer exist, they are just a memory.
Music tears down these walls even more. Every character in the story has certain memories provoked by music, yet once again even though they are different thought, this is something that happens to every one of them, no matter where they are from.
"They were all at the piano, Roxane Coss and Mr. Hosokawa and Gen and Simon Thibault and the priest and the Vice President and Oscar Mendoza and little Ishmael and Beatriz and Carmen ... All of the Russians were there, and the Germans, and the Italians, and two Greeks who were older than the rest of them...Even the Generals came." (P. 128)
Music made them all think about what it was they longed for, why they wanted to go home - to get to what is only in their memories. Yet no matter where their memories wanted to take them, they were all still standing at the piano together, all of them listening to music and looking into their memories.

Recoleta09 said...

Ann Patchett does a marvelous job of presenting aesthetic qualities relating to memory throughout the book. What impresses me is the way she has provided her audience with an immense appreciation for art. The beautiful thing about music and other forms of art such as paintings, is the fact that they can move people and be appreciated by all different walks of life: the rich and the poor, the young and the old, or the Russian and the American. As Gen is translating Mr. Fyodorov’s fondness for Roxane, the reader would be remiss if he were to pass over Mr. Fyodorov’s story from his youth.
After his first attempt to connect with Roxane, he rethinks his approach and begins his story with much better poise than the first time “…putting himself in mind of Russia and his childhood, the dark switchback staircase that led up to the apartment where his family lived” (215). He goes on further to mention the great significance of the book his grandmother received and how it held great value in her eyes. He mentions the masterpieces that are featured in the book. He claimed that the book contained“ so much beauty” that it hurt her to open it consistently. The aesthetic beauty radiating from that book, the great attachment he has for what has occurred in his past speaks great volumes about how art can still hold meaning years from when it is introduced. As the book lasted throughout the war, one can see how art can transcend across many cultures as well. He presents the story to Miss Coss because he feels that of all people she would understand his appreciation for art that was so vivid in his past. “What a miracle is that? I was taught to love beautiful things. I had a language in which to consider beauty. Later that extended to the opera, to the ballet, to architecture I saw, and even later still I came to realize that what I had seen in the paintings I could see in the fields of the river. I could see it in people. All of that I attribute to this book” (218). He learned to appreciate everything- all the good that life had to offer. I feel as though all cultures can improve if we take time to see beauty in everything. As Ann Patchett’s audience, we have begun to distinguish humanity in even the terrorists.
He proceeds to say, “ Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.” He wishes to prove to Miss Coss that he has a “deep understanding of art” (219).

lu2009 said...

The art of music causes everyone in the house to remember their life before the takeover and the garua is the reason why. The garua creates a boundary, they don't know what is going on outside and therefore can each create the scene in their mind.

The music causes everyone to look back on their life for different reasons. For the Russian it is because he has a love for art and Roxane's singing enables him to continue expressing his love for art while in this situation. Mr. Hosokawa remembers his childhood and even times that weren't too long before when he sat and listened to Roxane and could only dream of meeting her. The terrorists think of their families and how they would be amazed by the house and everything in it. When Roxane is singing there is nothing else going on, everyone just sits and reflects.

This constructs a unique community in the presence because everyone has a stronger love for something, whether it be for Roxane, their wife, kids, family; there is even a love for the situation they are in.

The productive possibility is that everyone could leave the house having a greater appreciation for life. They remember life before the takeover, but they could be remembering it to be better than it was because they would give anything to be back in that time.

For ones who remember their life to be worse than it is now, they may still leave with a better outlook on life, knowing they could have a better life than before and now knowing what they want in life that would truly make them happy.

lindsay said...

Displayed in this novel are two types of aesthetic, on being the music and the other language. I believe Bel Canto does put forth an aesthetic memory. Although locked inside, each character in the novel has an uplifting view "memory" of what their take on the outside world. They must rely on the past, past experiences, old images in which they have previously seen. With the emphasis on limited memory, this makes each person more emotional and uneasy. Each person can only obtain their individual past life’s through past thought. Memories its self could be different experience yet are virtually the same general concept.

It seems that BOTH generals and hostages have similar thoughts on memory, each only knowing what the can only remember yet experiences may seem to differ. Being locked in the house, with some boredom included, they are able to share there memories about lives before they can into this situation. The music can tear away borders and allow bonds to form and friendships to be made. A bond from music that was formed was when Cesar decided to take Roxane's place around the piano. After a brief misunderstanding Roxane expresses "tell him he sings beautifully" (285) Patchett expresses:"someone else began to sing a cappella voice from the far side of the room ..."(285) For Cesar he felt more like Roxane, as if he was center of attention. Patchett states:

"he sang the way people will sing, not thinking about it when he was ding something else. He could mimic the people they heard sometimes when the radio worked"
With only his memory of her voice he was able to sign and mimic her songs. The bond was formed with a common interest. They now were able to cross paths as a hostage and a terrorist. With engaging in music there memories could simply continue to flash in there minds and one could only hope for an end.

ahelton said...

The first time I posted, I had no idea on how to respond to a aesthetic acting "nomadically" and "crossing borders." The word nomadic stimulates pictures of people moving around in order to provide food for themselves. At first I saw no relationship between people searching for food to survive and the aesthetic of memory. But the more I've thought about it, the more it has become clear. It all goes back to Roxane's music. They hostages need truth, need some solid ground to stand on, and Roxane's voice allows them (for the first time) to understand their lives (past and present). As the characters jump back and forth from past to present it is as if they are being "fed." All their lives they been in search of food...and now, finally, they have found it. This produces a domino like effect...when one character experiences this revelation, it provokes another character to step-out in faith and discover "new life." By the time the story ends, each character (I believe) has experienced this. The dominoes have all fallen, each one touching the next.

Pellerino87 said...

The aesthetic definitely has a huge impact on the novel. Along with music, the garua demonstrates a huge representation of the memory of the different people inside the house. The music will put people in the here and now but also makes them think back to the experiences they have had with music. Mr. Hosokawa is put back in his childhood, watching opera with his father for example.

While the music reminds people of their past experiences, the garua cuts them off from the outside and their memories. The clear haze or hazy clarity forms a barrier outside the house that they cannot pass. Through this aesthetic, it causes them to form their own community with new memories and experiences inside the house that they will never forget.