February 08, 2016
“A Picture of Great Detail”: The Art of David Jones
“And so I make for myself a picture of great detail,” said the great Homer scholar Milman Parry in a 1934 address to the Harvard Board of Overseers. Parry was explaining to his audience how the “historical method” in the humanities works in practice. The researcher gradually learns the rhythm of inquiry: how to keep out of and go into the past by turns until an image of the object of study begins to wriggle itself free from the blur of oblivion. This empirical process—Blake called it “sweet Science”—takes time and patience and a dash of something that Goethe once termed “tenderness.”_______________________
The English artist and poet David Jones possessed these qualities in abundance—almost to a fault—along with a streak of contrariety with respect to his own place in history. The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory, which accompanies an exhibition now on view at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, England, sets out to salvage Jones’s work from the relative neglect into which it has been falling since well before his death in 1974.
But what is Jones’s “central message” after all? Some notes he made around the time of his struggle with Vexilla Regis give a clue. Meditating on the deployment, in drawing, of a line or curve to impart a sense of volume to an object, Jones reminds himself that what may look on paper like a firm border, a non-negotiable boundary, is actually, or also, a provocation to pastures new, a point of departure. “This so-called ‘outline’ must never be thought of as an end or termination, it must be thought of, on the contrary, as expressing a continuation, i.e. it must express the uninterrupted continuation of the surfaces and planes from the front & side to the unseen surfaces & planes at the back. If you keep this very much in mind as you draw it should help at least to check this tendency of regarding the ‘outline’ as a kind of stopping place—which is the last thing it is. It is no more a stopping place than is the sea’s horizon. It is really all a question of feeling that truth intensely enough.” The “central message,” in short, lies at the periphery. Jones is a poet of the marches.
David Jones1895 – 1974
From “Odi Barbare”
What is far hence led to the den of making:
Moves unlike wildfire | not so simple-happy
Ploughman hammers ploughshare his durum dentem
Digging the Georgics
Vision loads landscape | lauds Idoto Mater
Bearing up sacrally so graced with bodies
Voids the challenge how far from Igboland great-
Vehemencies minus the ripe arraignment
Clapper this art taken to heart the fiction
What are those harsh cryings astrew the marshes
Weep not to hear them
Accolades Muses’ dithyrambics far-fraught
Borrowed labour ashen with sullen harrow
Cruel past that | Sidney and vesperal Tom
Put to claim not otherwise vowed the era
What else here goes | I am no Igbo wit well
Versed in Virgil Pindar Euripides child-
Revelation blessed in its unforthcoming
Closed with tempus aedificandi tempus
Destruendi bringing discharge of measure
Blasting the home-straight
Geoffrey Hill, The Art of Poetry No. 80
We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are? Why does music, why does poetry have to address us in simplified terms, when if such simplification were applied to a description of our own inner selves we would find it demeaning? I think art has a right—not an obligation—to be difficult if it wishes. And, since people generally go on from this to talk about elitism versus democracy, I would add that genuinely difficult art is truly democratic. And that tyranny requires simplification. This thought does not originate with me, it’s been far better expressed by others. I think immediately of the German classicist and Kierkegaardian scholar Theodor Haecker, who went into what was called “inner exile” in the Nazi period, and kept a very fine notebook throughout that period, which miraculously survived, though his house was destroyed by Allied bombing. Haecker argues, with specific reference to the Nazis, that one of the things the tyrant most cunningly engineers is the gross oversimplification of language, because propaganda requires that the minds of the collective respond primitively to slogans of incitement. And any complexity of language, any ambiguity, any ambivalence implies intelligence. Maybe an intelligence under threat, maybe an intelligence that is afraid of consequences, but nonetheless an intelligence working in qualifications and revelations . . . resisting, therefore, tyrannical simplification.
The Garden Enclosed
February 05, 2016
Book of Hours: Labours of the Months
The Maxims Of Martin Traubenritter
revised and enlarged
We look at children playing in a world of things, sensations, perceptions. We try to teach them language. Language estranges them from what is to be known. Do we do it because we envy their total immersion in this actual world? Or do we yearn to give them language so they can talk to us, tell us, remind us of what we lost, forgot? And the cost to them of such messages we receive, it’s terrible but scarcely noticed in the busyness of things: the loss of their own immersion.
Language is the real baptism—the enrolment of the newborn into a world made up almost entirely of conventions—religion is not the only religion, alas.
The Pacific Wall of Kienholz/Lyotard
Perhaps it is just what happens when one reaches the West coast of America--the Pacific Wall as Jean-François Lyotard calls it in a rather obscure and obscured text written in the nineteen seventies. Perhaps a similar sensation confronted Hitler when, facing the Atlantic, he is turned back towards the immolation of the ground war. Backs to a wall and the scene turns nasty. Backs to the wall and the catastrophe strikes. This will be played out, as we will see, in the fascism and racism all too well known in the binary twin of Amerika/Europe or, if you prefer, Lyotard/Kienholz.
Lyotard, like many of his French colleagues, went to the coast as a visiting professor. Sitting in the Geisel Library of the San Diego campus, evidently named after Dr. Seuss, one enters the fantasy world of make believe and children's rhymes for Geisel and for Lyotard, as well as rather fanciful stories. In an odd way this is reflected in the library itself, which is unique by being the first library to embrace Google and in having a phantom third floor and with a wall of glass facing the Pacific--the virtual coming to rest in the labyrinth and in the gaze over the Pacific, two themes that occupy Lyotard.
And Lyotard is not alone in his fascination for the view. Take for example, the Canadian artist Alex Colville's haunting work Pacific 1967. Picture the back of a shirtless man looking out of the glass window on to the ocean, a revolver on a table in the foreground. Painted in 1967 this work catches that period of the paroxysms of violence in the US.
Man on Verandah
The Society of the Spectacle Reconsidered: Good Marx or Bad Marx?
There are now three translations of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle in print, and the work has penetrated intellectual popular culture to a certain degree. Ironically, you can now find ads all over the internet that mindlessly repeat the same clichés to market this scathing critique of consumer capitalism. A long blurb begins by touting it as “the Das Kapital of the 20th century.” By some strange coincidence, Amazon, Walmart, Powell’s Books, Abe Books and Google Books all agree totalistically with every last word of the long spiel. Even the “Book Depository” couldn’t find anything in it to shoot down. On a more serious note, Ken Knabb claims that it is “arguably the most important radical book of the twentieth century”—a rather grandiose claim, and I’d hate to get assigned this side of the argument in a debate. Nevertheless, it’s somewhere up there with the most influential works, and one might certainly wish that it had actually left Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?, Mao’s Little Red Book, and Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare in the dust.The Society of the Spectacle
One reason why this is an auspicious time to reconsider Debord's
Society of the Spectacle is the t that a revised editionof Knabb's translation has just appeared (Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014). It will be a very valuable resource for the studyof Debord and the Situationists. Knabb has not only improved his already very competent and readable translation, but also added extensive and very useful notes. Debord was sometimes vague about his sources, so Knabb has tracked them down, and often adds helpful comments on their significance. Furthermore, he has added notes that provide extensive background and bibliographical information on radical and revolutionary history. He also cites other Situationist texts onvarious topics, which is extremely useful, since there is an unfortunate tendency to equate all Situationist ideas with those of Debord.
Situationists reached many impasses, as will be discussed shortly, yet made a huge contribution to the development of radical thought. It still has crucial lessons for the left, and the libertarian left in particular. If the Situationists had done nothing else, it would be enough that they showed the fecundity of the encounter between Marxism and anarchism, and the folly of being naively and reactively "against Marx" in the name of anarchism. They show us why we need to be for Marx for the sake of anarchism, and against Marx for the sake of Marx.
(New Annotated Translation by Ken KnabbBureau of Public Secrets
e-flux 70 - February 2016
The Vectoralist Class, Part Two
What if history can be neither negated nor accelerated? Perhaps second and third nature have been built so broad and so deep that there's no getting around this infrastructure. Thus while the commodity economy keep plodding along, at its own relentless pace, it forms agents of any class in its own image and obliges them to work in the forms it determines. What if even the vectoral class had little power anymore over its own creation?_______________________
The Horror of Materialism
The dream of an identity of being and thinking is also a dream of emancipation; for where presence reigns there is also no need for an alienation in the sovereign. The sovereign rules because we believe him to have knowledge, wisdom, to lead us to flourishing. Where we have this knowledge we no longer need him. Today that dream lies in ruins. No one can master it all; no one is an expert. It’s turtles or authorities all the way down. None of the scientists at CERN really understand what the others are doing, but must trust what the others are doing, that they know, to do what they’re doing. The presence called for by the tradition of epistemology is no longer sustainable. Everywhere we just encounter citation. And at that point, I wonder, what becomes of the dream of philosophy? How must we conceive of knowledge, and knowledge as it relates to emancipation, today?
February 03, 2016
Stephen Burt on C.D. Wright
When C.D. Wright died Jan. 12, American poetry lost one of the great ones, one of the figures who changed what the language can do, one of the writers whose lines and titles, sentences and similes are going to last at least as long as American English. That’s something I believe, but it’s also something that seems inappropriate, even rude, to say, because Wright’s artistic powers cannot be separated from her deep sense of democracy, her work against boundaries, rankings and exclusions, her insistence that poetry, and society, should become, not a hierarchy or a star system or a way to exalt a singular self, but a way to be generous, to share the powers we get, to give of oneself, to let everybody come in.
From “The Obscure Lives of Poets”_______________________
C. D. Wright
How is it that you live, and what is it you do?
Three, no, four, that I know, married women
— William Wordsworth, to the leech-gatherer
of means and brains. One grew moss on her tongue, waking from dreams that smelled
of mildew or hoary socks on a smothering train.
One turned to falconry and the construction of seed bombs to be dropped from three-
story houses. One burned her burka upon being released
from prison for the fourth time shamed so down deep in her molested self, washed
henceforth in formal darkness, another burned
her wedding dress in a fire pot while house finches splashed in the birdbath. [how one
moment touches on another moment and a thought flickers on and off ]
One poet, obsessed with vulvae, son of a butcher,
displayed a large bezoar on his coffee table, and slept in the bear nests in the d’Ardèche,
obsessed. One poet, adopted shortly after birth
by a levee builder on the St. Francis, shot himself with a target pistol on a beautiful
afternoon in early June. One lay across the tracks
on the brink of the Tiananmen uprising. One picked up her manuscript, a block of ash,
from the embers of her Oakland home. Bakhtin, as we know,
smoked his very best pages in prison. The poems of Radnóti were found by his widow in
his overcoat, in a mass grave. ...
Beckett on Film: PLAY
(Dir. Anthony Minghella, 2001)
A play in one act by Samuel Beckett
W1: Yes strange darkness best and the darker the worse
W2: Yes perhaps a shade gone I suppose some might say
M: Yes peace one assumed all out all the pain
W1:till all dark then all well for the time but it will come
W2: poor thing a shade gone just a shade in the head
M: all as if never been it will come Hiccup. Pardon
W1: the time will come the thing is there you'll see it
W2: Laugh . . . just a shade but I doubt it
M: no sense in this oh I know none the less
W1: get off me keep off me all dark all still
W2: I doubt it not really I'm all right still all right
M: one assumed peace I mean not merely all over
W1: all over wiped out --
W2: do my best all I can --
M: but as if never been --
The hurts of wanting the impossible
A review of 'Supplication: Selected Poems of John Wieners'
It’s fun to sit on the subway in New York and read this new Wieners collection with its one-word title, black on cream: Supplication. Wave Books’s austere design suits poems that have been sacred to me since I was handed them as talismans, years ago, by poet friends. How much recognition do we want someone whose true home is “underground” to get? Underground because he chose Boston, lyricism, and a courtly remove. And more, because he chooses perdition: “Damned and cursed before the world / That is what I want to be.” Poet and critic Andrea Brady, in her work on the poet’s archive, quotes Foye: “Nobody had ever seen anyone throw themselves into the abyss the way John did.” Why does a person throw himself into the abyss? Why does a person take heroin? And then write of it, “But I don’t advise it for the young, or for / anyone but me. My eyes are blue”. Two lines that manage to be all at once knowing, greedy, arrogant, assertive of a special power and also, to my ear, aware of the hollowness of that assertion (it’s arbitrary and comes too readily to hand). Drugs are for escape, they’re for posturing, they’re for denaturing the visible. But in the case of this poet of loneliness, they are also a way to “collapse in a heap on the bed of the world”. Denied our lives, we seek oblivion, and hope that beyond or through it we might be permitted to alter the order that foreclosed our true existence from the outset. Collapsing, dissolving: we have been taught to act, but Wieners knows it’s better, instead, to beg — to be convincing, under extreme pressure, by manifesting preferable alternatives with the allure of a mirage. He chooses supplication.