A vast, dark, rich forest

April 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Just before she died, Gertrude Stein was heard to ask, “What is the answer?” As no answer came, she laughed and said, “In that case, what is the question?” Then she died. Stein understood that because our knowledge of the world is fragmentary, we believe the world to be fragmentary. We assume that the bits and pieces we encounter and collect (of experience, pleasure, sorrow, revelation) exist in splendid isolation like each of the motes in a cloud of stardust. We forget the all-encompassing cloud, we forget that in the beginning, there was a star. Don Quixote or Hamlet might be the testamentary works of Cervantes and Shakespeare, Picasso could have put away his brushes after Guernica and Rembrandt after The Night Watch, Mozart could have died happily after composing The Magic Flute and Verdi Falstaff, but we would be missing something. We would be missing the approximations, the tentative versions, the variations, the changes of tone and perspective, the circuitous itineraries, the circumventions, the dealings in the shadows, the rest of their creative universe. We would be missing the errors, the stillbirths, the censored snapshots, the trimmings, the lesser inspired creations. Since we are not immortal, we have to content ourselves with a sampling, and therefore the choice of testamentary works is fully justified. As long as we remember that under the pomp and circumstance there is a rustle and a stirring, a vast, dark, rich forest full of fallen or discarded leaves.

– “Final Answers,” Alberto Manguel