The trouble with existence is that it’s too much. The soul wishes that God had given us, shall we say, a less detailed world—a world of less overgrowth. For example, when my mind really gets going, when I really start thinking, it works like history. The more it goes, the more detail there is, and the less any sense can be seen in it. Detail begets detail, which obscures and chokes out the shape we seek, as honeysuckle increases and tangles while the shed wallows and goes under the burgeoning mass. The same happens when I write, as even now. Word begets word; sentence begets sentence. Writing becomes a vain attempt to catch up with and bring to a satisfactory completion the verbal profligacy. Writing sometimes seems like an arithmetic model attempting to solve an exponential process. It isn’t even so much that word begets word. It’s more like word begets twins, or quadruplets, or worse. Even now I can’t stop, satisfactorily. Oh, I can stop, and I will. But I can’t stop by having brought it to a satisfactory completion. That’s the real trouble with it. I utterly long to pursue words, sentences, existence; I long to pursue until all comes to perfect completion under one grand shape, and nothing is left to pursue. Yet I can’t do it. The more I pursue, the more I get lost; it’s all too much. I wallow and go under. There are always more words.
Here is where art comes in, though it’s a toss up whether art is more than a gloriously brave and orderly retreat against the overwhelming. As Frost said in the character of Job, “The artist in me cries out for design.” And elsewhere he wrote,
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing—
Too present to imagine."
As an example, the art of telling history is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Indeed, the art of every explanation is knowing when to stop.
Compare an example in another vein.
I saw a lovely ink drawing of a tree at the Sarah Scaife gallery of the Carnegie Institute in
Art then works to redeem the trouble with existence. Art takes life (actually, the barest fraction thereof), holds it still, and gives it to us to examine. Art takes all this unmanageable begetting and puts a kind of stop to it so we can try to make some sense of it. Or we could say that Art takes hold of this profusive begetting and tries to direct it to a satisfactory completion. The trouble with existence is that it’s too much: art perfects by reducing to essence. Then things have a chance at making sense. Art is a gardener. It clips the honeysuckle where necessary; the shed emerges, to be seen again.