How do the images of the past determine what we see today? Is there some secret music to the universe around which human life arranges itself? And to what degree are humans making more and more of that music today? Lawrence Weschler has good reason to ask these questions, because for the past two decades he has been experiencing "uncanny moments of convergence, bizarre associations, eerie rhymes, whispered recollections." He sees Time magazine covers of Slobodan Milošević and Newt Gingrich that look alarmingly alike; he notices that Monica Lewinsky and the Mona Lisa have a similar knowing eye.
Everything That Rises puts these “convergences” between two covers, making a book that is one part literary jukebox and two parts art history. Unlike most art critics, Weschler doesn’t proceed chronologically through the canon, but sideways, scuttling to his own internal rhythms. In other words, one picture reminds him of another, which reminds him of another. Then, upon scrutiny, they all (often) prove to have much deeper than surface-level associations among them. A website—www.mcsweeneys.net/books/everythingthatrises.contest35.html—invites readers to write in and post their own convergences.
As this contest suggests, Everything That Rises is more about dialog than about point of view. Indeed, the collection opens with a conversation between Weschler and photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who shot an incredible series of photographs at Ground Zero. Their conversation quickly turns to how Meyerowitz’ photographs recall great paintings from the past. "This is Albert Bierstadt," Weschler says, comparing one of Meyerowitz's shots to the great artist's 1868 painting "Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains," to which Meyerowitz responds: "Well, I might not have been thinking specifically of Bierstadt, but I was thinking sublime, without a doubt--and for months, I was recognizing that I was in a new definition of the sublime. The awesome, horrific transformation of this place--although it wasn't nature itself--it was man acting as nature and bringing these buildings down."
9/11 is a pivotal spectacle upon which this book turns--the most photographed moment in human history, it becomes, in Weschler’s hands, a new example of the convergence of art and experience, of witnessing and shaping. Man's power to destroy, or at least usurp, is a constant theme as Weschler moves from artist to artist, trope to trope. A Jackson Pollock painting looks like early photographs of a far-off galaxy, first captured on film around the time Pollock reached the zenith of his powers; Rothko's last painting bears an overwhelming resemblance to photographs from the first lunar landing.
In another writer’s hands, such comparative origami would become a novelty book: a case of curiosities, sensuously wrapped. But Weschler is such a tactile writer, so filled with a kind of wonder and an eye for beauty, that Everything That Rises never goes that way. Rather, by reminding us of the sunken arterial ruins between art and artifact, between so-called high culture and the culture at large, this book becomes a new set of eyes for today.