The Point is Art
Two months ago, I was telling someone with an ambiguous role in my life about founding the Triangle House Review. He asked me what the point was. I replied without thinking (as one is wont to do,) “The point is art.”
This was, of course, an obnoxious and absurd response that made me sound like a character in a thinly veiled autobiographical novel. I realized this immediately after I said it and quickly backpedaled with references to the magazines and authors that inspired us in the inception of the Triangle House Review.
I think about the difference between journalism and literary writing more than is advisable, due in part to the shitty times we live in and in part to the people I spend time around: a mix of reporters, literary writers, and service industry workers. I will fling myself into the sun to defend the freedom of the press, and I want to bathe in the blood of every billionaire who has used their power to shut down good journalism. But I think that we don’t talk enough about the place that the literary arts can occupy in a progressive discourse, and that the ‘point’ of curating great art can’t be elucidated in a snippy text message.
Six years ago, in college, my dad posted a Lykke Li video to my facebook wall. I didn’t watch it because I’m notoriously bad at listening when people recommend things to me. But two months ago, I was going through a Difficult Time, and I listened to Gunshot and No Rest for the Wicked, Jerome, Get Some (that one wasn’t helpful, TBH) and Dance, Dance, Dance. During a particularly jarring panic attack, I watched the Sadness is a Blessing music video six times in a row. It was the only thing I could do that felt like climbing out of the despair pit my beloved brain had constructed for me.
Her art came for me when I needed it.
It would be a massive exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t have survived this November if I hadn’t listened to Lykke Li on repeat, but it’s fair to say I would not have survived in the same way. Without her art, I would likely have incurred a large amount of collateral damage in my friendships and my work as I struggled to function within my neuroses. It feels wrong to describe it so clinically, but art is what helps me modulate my mental nausea into digestible pieces.
I guess that’s the point. There are many points.
Why is it impossible to publish a longass essay online? Why are author interviews always focused around the publication of a new book? Why do I always wish they were longer? Why do most reviews, in aggregate, feel like they’re written by white men about books by white men? Why isn’t poetry a bigger part of everything? Why does it feel like the space for short stories is shrinking when it should be expanding? Why do reviews need a hook? Why do authors need a platform? Why has art become indistinguishable from marketing?
And there’s no space for obsession over a subtlety.
The answers to these questions are all suspiciously market based. Art should be the antithesis of capitalism. So why is so much of our literary system still based on appealing to the abhorrent gods of art as commodity? Why did I just type the phrase ‘literary system’?
I used to read blurbs on books and think that when they quoted the New York Times it was like a council of people at the prestigious paper who decided as a group that a book was good and that a positive review reflected collective esteem.
But that’s not how it works. Behind every book review at an important publication is just a person. Realizing this fundamentally changed how I think about criticism. Engaging and grappling with the thoughts of a critic is what makes the discourse so interesting, but blindly agreeing with someone who’s supposedly prestigious when she says something is good degrades the meaning of the work. There are people whose taste I trust and people whose taste I think is subpar. That in and of itself is totally subjective, much like…taste in general. Acknowledging the fundamental absurdity of criticism was a vital part of realizing how deeply I love and believe in it.
Sometimes literature makes me do stupid things. My headspace while reading A Little Life was so debased that I made a serious mistake at my then-job.
There was a pattern. I needed something, I didn’t know what exactly, and it would turn out to be a specific piece of art. We hope we can be a part of this pattern where taste, criticism, and curation repeat themselves.
A year later, I had moved across the country and went to see Hanya Yanagihara read with my best friend. During the talk Hanya said she’d just left her job at T Magazine. I’d just left my job at a restaurant with abusive management and made a joke to her about us being quitters. She laughed and asked what restaurant I’d quit.
I replied with the name of the restaurant and she said, “Oh, I was thinking of trying that place but now I won’t.”
“Oh no,” I said, “The food is great! You should definitely go.”
“If it’s a terrible place to work I won’t eat there.”
It was so small, but her humanity meant so much to me in that moment. It was a bridge out of the world I felt (and still feel, though to a lesser extent,) trapped in, a world where strangers’ opinions of how I am doing my job determines my livelihood.
Another year and a half passed, and I was reading Marguerite Duras alone in a bar in Brooklyn and overheard three women talking about Brother Luke. I had to do it. I sidled over. Are you talking about A Little Life?
They were, of course. They were in a book club, but the other women didn’t want to read A Little Life because of its depressing reputation, so they created a secret inner book club. I told them about secret DMs on Twitter and meeting Hanya and reading the book aloud to my best friend as we drove across the country.
Maybe the Triangle House Review is the subbookclub. Maybe it’s nachos. Maybe it’s good-natured arguments and thinly veiled subtweets. Maybe it’s Hanya Yanagihara not eating at High Street on Hudson. Maybe it’s just wanting to make more space for what and who we think is worthy, and good, and missing. Maybe we just want more poetry in our lives.
Every month we will publish an essay, a short story, a poem, a piece of criticism, and an interview. We love the work we are bringing you. Maybe you will love it too. Probably you will love it. Maybe you won’t. No gods, no critics.
Becca (and Bryan, and Monika)