Monday, February 18, 2008

tautological, take two

I promise this isn't another hip-hop literary analysis post.

Last night I reread The Disappointment Artist, Jonathan Lethem's collection of personal essays. I've read this book more than four times. Oddly, it was the first time I appreciated that my repetition parallels Lethem's essays that explore how books, films and music, through multiple readings/viewings/hearings, helped shape who he is.

In his essay "Lives of the Bohemians" Lethem uses the word tautological, a word I've been trying to better understand and use. When he was a child, he asked his mother why his father's paintings had drips on them. His mother said that "in paintings, drips [are] good. They [give] evidence of the painter's hand at work." Lethem judges her response as "partly tautological".


If I understand his assessment correctly, Lethem believes that it's tautological or redundant to view drips as evidence of the action of painting, because the entire painting comes from this action. The painting does not simply appear out of nowhere. The painting is proof. Drips are tautological proof.

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