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Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy Paperback – January 19, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Although at first glance this slim volume appears to be a quick read, it should be lingered over and reread to uncover the full depth of its beauty and insight. Combining memoir with artistic and philosophical musings, the poet and National Book Critics Circle Award winner (for My Alexandria) begins by confessing his obsession with the 17th-century Dutch still life that serves as the title of this book. As he analyzes the items depicted in the painting, he skillfully introduces his thoughts on our intimate relationships to objects and subsequently explains how they are often inextricably bound to the people and places of an individual lifetime. Further defined by imperfections attained from use, each object from an aging oak table to a chipped blue and white china platter forms a springboard for reflection. Doty intersperses personal reminiscences throughout, but he always returns to the subject of still-life painting and its silent eloquence. Doty's observations on balance, grief, beauty, space, love, and time are imparted with wisdom and poetic grace. This little book is a gem. For circulating libraries. Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Books like this, that address the sources of creation and the sources of our humanness, come along once in a decade. -Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"This small book is as wise, sensitive, intense, and affecting as anything I have read in recent years." -Doris Grumbach, author of Fifty Days of Solitude

"A gem." -Library Journal

"Mark Doty's prose is insistently exploratory, yet every aside, every detour, turns into pertinence, and it all seems effortless, as though the author were wondering, and marveling, aloud." -Bernard Cooper, author of Truth Serum

"A dazzling accomplishment, its radiance bred of lucid attention and acute insight. The subject is the profoundly personal act of perception translated into description. Doty succeeds in rendering this most contemplative of arts-the still life-into a riveting drama." -Patricia Hampl, author of I Could Tell You Stories
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (January 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807066095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807066096
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Mark Doty begins this book by describing a 350 year old Dutch painting "Still Life with Oysters and Lemon" that he has fallen in love with at the Metropolitan Museum. He then meanders to memories of his "Mamaw" from long ago in East Tennessee-- surely only Southerners call grandparents by that name-- to a poem by Cavafy, to buying an old Italianate Victorian House in Vermont with his partner who later died of AIDS. Along the way, Mr. Doty muses on the subject of balance: the desire to be in a relationship and the need to be free, the balance of order versus clutter, of staying rooted in one place and the need to travel-- and the joy of collecting simple, everyday imperfect things picked up in flea markets rather than perfect expensive objects.
There are so many good things to say about this little 70 page gem that one hardly knows where to begin. Too often I read a work of nonfiction and wish it had remained a short magazine article. That is not so with this book. I wanted it to go on and on. Whether or not the author is correct in his analysis of still life painting, he is completely convincing. Of course, his language is always both concise and beautiful and never gets in the way of what he is saying. Near the end of the book Mr. Doty says "What makes a poem a poem, finally, is that it is unparaphrasable. . . I may try to explain it or represent it in other terms, but then some element of its life will always be missing. It is the same with painting." Such a statement perfectly describes this little masterpiece.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Doty has done the impossible. In STILL LIFE WITH OYSTERS AND LEMON he has not only written an extended essay (read epic poem) about his encounter with a simple Dutch Still Life painting, but he has also produced what must become the definitive map for looking, seeing, studying and describing the essence of art in a way that encourages us all to return to the pursuit of beauty. Doty has proved his credentials in art hisory and art technique so that he is able to find the essence of a still life, rhapsodize on the quality of light as captured by an everyday object that makes a centuries old painting seem immediate to our own home, and in doing so reveals his own history of memories, lovers, favorite objects, the passage of time as participants in the transitory moment we call life. So many art critics and art historians have attempted to find this plane of understanding and enlightment with only minimal degrees of success. As a curator and essayist about art I am humbled and in awe. Mark Doty is one of the finest poets in America today and knows his way with words, with phrases that illuminate his stances, with defining emotions inaudible to most of us. But this small book is more than an homage to a particular still life painting (though on that merit alone he wins the competition!). This is a tender, thoughtful journey toward discovering beauty that daily surrounds us, a call to accept the transitory nature in all things and to experience them while we may. No fatalism here, just a door opened to appreciate the cycle of being alive...which just happens to warmly include the aspect of dying as part of that totality.Read more ›
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I found Doty's work to be disappointing. Mostly this is due to the fact that I think the ideas in the essay are wonderful. I love what he's attempting to do, this difficult "assay" at making very ephemeral sensations about art concrete, to make them comprehensible, to wrap his head and the reader's around them. The glorification of objects, of "bodies," is done wonderfully at times. At other times, to be completely honest, Doty's world was alive and magical to the point it gave me nausea. An example:

"Therein lies a large portion of the painting's poetry; these things form not a single whole but a concert, a community of separate presences; we are intended to compare their degrees of roundness, solidity, transparency, and opacity."

Okay, this is nice. Slightly meandering, but the form fits the function (I think), so that's just great.

Continuing with the same paragraph:

"They [the separate objects within the still life] are each a separate city, a separate child in a field of silent children. They speak back and fourth--do they?--across he distance between them. At dinner at my friends', I was seated with my back to the painting, but I felt its magnetism; I was trying to converse, I was conversing, but I felt still its pull, the strange silence of these separate things refusing to form a singular composition, as if it were my work to complete them, as if they needed and demanded me."

This is perhaps personal preference: That is simply too much for me. And this is a reoccuring problem. Further, some scenes are so hammered to death by Doty's detail of 'things' that I cannot inhabit them at all, there is no room for me, and thus I lose that interaction with art Doty is attempting to describe.
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