Do you ever sometimes think that if you were really good at hand drumming a lot of other things in life would fall into place? I think about it a lot because I’d love to be really good at hand drums and I’m not. But also because I think that there are some disciplines, like Kendo and making French sauces, that can unlock methods and ways of approaching problems that can help a person live a better life. (For the record, I do not practice Kendo nor do I make Béarnaise and Hollandaise from scratch.)
One discipline I do take seriously is writing, putting one word after the next to form a sentence; one sentence after the next to form paragraphs; blocks and blocks of paragraphs together to form a text. It hasn’t done a lot for me yet, but I work at it with diligence. Unlike hand drumming, I don’t think it is a discipline that offers much help with a goal toward living. You’re alone. You wrestle with one word and the next until you force meaning from things that may not mean anything. You miss the meaning of the things that are right in front of you, because you have been so focused on wrestling with the single word.
So what struck me about your prose style – something that even the greatest practitioners of this lonely art rarely achieve – is how formed, full and distinctive it is. It would be easy to write off your style as nothing more than glorified ad copy, as if you were nothing more than some luxury label Nietzsche. A few examples should suffice:
When I was growing up the movies opened up a world that I had never dreamed of – and I walked right in.
I style a bed the way a woman dresses – in layers.
It was a rough wooden table dressed in linen and candlelight under the roof of a weathered canvas tent. It was restoring a mysterious world that didn’t exist anymore, or never existed, but inspired a mood about dressing and desire.
But the problem isn’t your prose. The problem is that the ideas, the things you say so well with a piece calf leather under a collar or a moleskin-lined pocket, have already found their perfect expression. There is nothing that can tell us about your philosophy of lifestyle better than it has been said in a southwestern inspired-blanket coat or a tweed jacket.
Even though you do a great job of it (and Bruce Boyer in his lengthy essay does better) Gary Cooper has a style that is hard to describe. He has the kind of style that makes you think of that famous maxim about pornography: you know it when you see it.
You can’t quite put your finger on it. You just look at it and go: fuck!
You look at the ensembles, at the ease, at the nonchalance. You think nothing can explain it. And then you start to wonder if Gary played hand drums.