12 June 2007

On Beauty

The title of the post is one-and-the-same with the title of a book I'm about to extensively quote. By Zadie Smith. If you'll be mad to find a potential spoiler here, I urge you to quit now. NOW.

The scene is New England, a family home. The mother (Kiki) is clearing out the junk in her teen-age son's (Levi) bedroom. Her other son (Jerome, nearly 20) has lifted one end of his brother's bed off the ground so that she can clear out the crap.

Jerome hiked up his end of the bed.
'Higher' requested Kiki and Jerome obliged. Suddenly Kiki's right knee slipped and her hand went to the floor. 'Oh my God' she whispered.
'Oh my God'
'What? Is it porn? My arm's getting tired' Jerome lowered the bed a little.
'DON'T MOVE' screamed Kiki.
Jerome, terrified, lifted the bed higher. His mother was gasping like she was having some kind of fit.
'Mom--what? You're scaring me man. What is it?'
'I don't understand this. I DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS'
'Mom I can't hold this any longer'
Jerome saw his mother grip the sides of something. She slowly began to pull out whatever it was from under the bed.
'What the . . . ?' said Jerome.
Kiki dragged the painting to the middle of the floor and sat next to it, hyperventilating. Jerome came up behind her and tried to touch her to calm her, but she slapped his hand away.
'Mom I don't understand what's going on. What is that?'
Then came the sound of the front door clicking and opening. Kiki lept to her feet and left the room, leaving Jerome to stare at the naked brown woman surrounded by her technicolor flowers and fruit.

Clever, isn't it? Oh, we all know that tired old debate about where art ends and porn begins, and which kinds of nudity qalify in which categories. TIRED. And we have long since grown accustomed to seeing porn where we thought we'd find art. But I have to hand it to Zadie Smith. She's found a way to laugh at it all by dumping it upside down. She's put a nude paiting--art as much as art can be under the bed of a teenage boy, where a stash of porn would be entirely expected if not somehow required. I just love Jerome's question 'Is it porn?' (and holding up the bed, he can't see a thing). Brilliant.

I love books that do this kind of thing. You wouldn't even know she was making fun of the distinction unless you knew to look for it.


Matthew said...

That is a really neat section. I particularly like how Jerome doesn't get what is going on and asks Kiki to explain. She doesn't actually seem to know either, but isn't letting that stand in the way of her reaction =)

Grandpa Dan said...

Too long to read now but where are all the wonderful pictures that you promised to put on the site. I enjoy old family pictures. You need some of you as a little tidbit running around causing trouble, oops, I mean being a wonderful angel.

grandpa dan said...

Too much for my fried brain. Maybe I can digest this later.