Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Chance Beauty of a Grocery List

‘The chance beauty of a grocery list’- I was waiting for some expression like that to occur in me. But like the beautiful lady who never talked to Gabriel Garcia Marquez during a long flight, such expressions, at times evade you. They would be very much there, right in your vicinity. You can feel it, but you fail to give a verbal form to it. But if you intensely desire for it, it would come to you, may be through someone else you know thoroughly. This expression, ‘the chance beauty of a grocery list’ came from an artist friend of mine. She was referring to some conversations with her friends, who talk of many things that apparently look insignificant and out of context. However, suddenly she felt that these conversations too had ‘the chance beauty of a grocery list’.

“When you write a grocery list, you are completely yourself, unaware of watching or of being watched. Things fall on the list just through memory and not according to order. The flow of something not being structured is also a flow. It is like a hastily written post-it note stuck on your cupboard. Such haste and brevity can be shared only with familiarity,” she explained it to me. While listening to her words, I was thinking of a poetic expression by Comte de Lautreamont, the French poet. This young poet, who died at the age of twenty four, while narrating the beauty of a young boy wrote, ‘as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.’ The Surrealists and Situationists were influenced by Lautreamont’s poetic masterpiece, Les Chants de Maldoror.

Chance meeting of disparate ideas and imageries would cause the birth of terrific beauties. The beauty of a grocery list is that chance meeting of disparate elements. Going by the definition of my artist friend, I would say, grocery list is one of the best form of poetry. It is not premeditated. It is not consciously conjured up. It flows from memory, may be not as emotions recollected in tranquility, but as necessities recollected in urgency. Then grocery list and the post-it list on the cupboard, on a fridge door or on a notice board, must be the most beautiful forms of spontaneous poetry. The poetry that cannot be avoided. The poetry that is to be performed. Grocery list is a poem in performance.

Grocery list, going by Lautreamont, is surreal too. It can bring in two different and disparate elements purely driven by chance. The chance could be another term for auto association, a sort of writing and imaging practiced by the Surrealists. An item in the grocery list leads to the other one. The monthly need for a new tube of tooth paste can trigger the image of a tube of cold cream. Grocery list has no apparent logic in it. There kitchen towel could be followed by the name of a shampoo. But read together or in a sequence, it has a logic in it; the logic of poetry. It is the poetry of every day life. The items in it become the metaphors for energy and beauty; appearance and reality, illusions and desires.

The chance beauty of a grocery list cannot be wished away by citing its quotidian nature. Art is all about chance beauty. All great works of art have got this chance element it; the chances that thwart the premeditations of the artists. The chance beauty of a grocery list is the stuff that gives the final quizzical twist to a work of art or a piece of literature, which otherwise would have gone flat. But chances are not to be sought, they have to happen on their own. Chance beauties are chance beauties. That’s why art happens even during the saddest moments in an artist’s life.

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