In pursuit of a masterpiece
Slow art and an update on my utopian novel.
I spent three years writing my gothic novel, but more like a decade if you include the years I spent immersed in New Orleans culture, researching Creole history, learning French, studying Gothic literature, attending my graduate studies in Mariology, and delving into darker places and the last remnants of depression. I had a complete manuscript, and had completed that phase of my life, by the time I started publishing the chapters in my newsletter in 2021.
Then in 2022, I had an idea for a utopian novel and I thought I would write it live, publishing the chapters as I wrote them. In 18 months, I have published 12 chapters and I can already tell it’s going to take much longer than that. I just haven’t lived my utopia the way I once lived my gothic phase. I have already traveled through my inferno, but I am only at the beginning of my paradisio: Years filled with travel, Humanist literature, the gentle chanting of Buddhist monks, skin warmed by a waning sun, wooden canoes floating down tropical rivers.
When André 3000 debuted his first album in 17 years, I listened to it and thought, “This is an absolute masterpiece.” New Blue Sun is a harmony of flutes, with track titles that spell out a story and birds that sing the only melody. I read that it took close to two decades for André to learn the instruments, to explore how they could be used together, to move from New York to California and play in the sun, before one day the music just came pouring out of him as though it were a natural extension of his life. The entire album was improvised.
This is what my piece needs, I thought as I listened to it, my lived experience. I’m not fluent in utopia yet, it’s still coming out of me in halting words and phrases. To keep trying to babble along would be a disservice to the work, especially when I know that given more research eventually it will pour out of me without effort.
Anyway, I’m not one of those people who wants to become a full-time novelist. I think I have only two, maybe three novels in me. I don’t think books are read enough to make them any more of my life than that, but I do like the idea of leaving them behind as a legacy. I love having a slower thing, the carefully perfected art I spend my life meandering through, the thing that could become a masterpiece. Because that is something I want to pursue. When I’ve completed Oblivion, I want to feel like I’ve created a Magnum Opus, my glistening theory of utopia.
It’s not there yet. Not even close. I’m writing what it could be without giving it the space to be what it is. I feel like such a romantic even saying a sentence like that, but maybe I just want something to be romantic about. A masterpiece is definitely that.
In an interview with GQ, André said he just wanted to explore woodwind instruments, even when everyone around him expected him to write another rap album. The first track of his album is titled, “I swear, I really wanted to make a ‘rap’ album but this is literally the way the wind blew me this time.” You can tell the music came from him, that it had no influences except his own curiosity. It’s rare to find things like that. We enter phases where the art all looks the same, feels the same, sounds the same. We have eras where everything's gothics or romantics or dystopias. Art copies art and we wind up with many versions of the same thing.
But the artists who have shut everything else off and learned to follow their own voice create something truly unique, something that might be called a masterpiece. Oh art will always imitate art, but I think a masterpiece imitates something of ourselves first. I think of Michael Heizer’s “City” in Nevada, a monumental sculpture in the sand that took him 50 years to build and will go down in history as a wonder of the world. Or The Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All At Once, which was the culmination of a decade of philosophical exploration and artistic expression. Niether would have been possible if the artists had adhered to modern conceptions of sculpture and film.
I love being able to leave notes along the way, to write essays and short stories as I explore my mind, my thoughts, my research, my curiosity, and it has been truly gratifying to be able to share that here. But I am learning that I want to pursue a masterpiece too, and I can’t rush it. I want to let it be a little bit slower than serialization will let it be.
I was in pursuit of a masterpiece with my gothic novel, and I want that again with my utopian novel. So I have slowed down. I’ve started writing it as a side hobby in a document where I can make endless edits as I research. My first few chapters are still published, but I don’t want to publish the rest until my manuscript is complete. Perhaps, then I’ll serialize the chapters over a period of two weeks. I’ll definitely publish the whole thing as a print copy for my subscribers at the collector tier. Most likely I’ll do both. For now, there will be no further chapters coming until it’s done.
Until I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of pursuing a masterpiece.
The last track on André’s album is called “Dreams once buried beneath the dungeon floor slowly sprout into undying gardens”—the line itself could be a poem. Oblivion is the dream currently buried beneath my dungeon floor, but it is slowly sprouting into a garden. There are vines spiraling up into the dark, creating something beautiful, but it will take time to establish, to become undying.
That’s when it will become a masterpiece to me.
Thanks for reading my whimsical things. Are you pursuing a masterpiece too? If so I hope you’ll join us in the literary salon for further discussion!