Mark Rothko, Four Darks in Red, 1958

I was reading a piece about a book I read ages ago, Dahlgren by Samuel R. Delany. It, like many works of literature, is a difficult book to read and to understand. Mostly, I interpreted it, because there was plenty I didn’t understand. The timeline is weird and almost mazelike. I wasn’t sure where the beginning really was. And that’s all by Delaney’s design for a post-apocalyptic world that’s lost its sense of history and progress and perspective.

I always think of Rothko when I consider tough or obscure art. Seeing that painting up there may make you think “ooh, that’s nice,” or “what a simple piece of junk,” but we aren’t really experiencing it the way it was meant to be seen.

Literature that’s difficult, like Joyce or Wallace or Woolf, challenges readers. The struggle to get through it, or to figure out what’s going on, or to understand what it means gives us a prize of accomplishing those things. The view from the mountain.

But we usually have to chuck a preconception or two out the window. Like Rothko’s paintings. They’re meant to be seen in person. They’re beautiful—to many—in photos. But they’re huge in reality. The one above is nearly 9 feet square. But you meet it head on in museums lucky enough to have one. If they understand it, too, it’ll be hung so near enough to the floor that you can get it to fill your entire field of vision. And then you feel your soul filling up, as well.