21 December 2010
No beams to weave the linen
For chlorotic laundry maids
The earth has plucked them all
The moon is not its glow
But the thing seen
All the gloomy black moths
Have massacred the sun
Pierrot checks his frock coat
Floating on a water lily
Without the glowing rudder
(after Giraud, pdf)
31 October 2010
Autumn sky, jade-like frost drifting
Northerly wind carries lotus fragrance
With love, weaving till the lonely lamp fades
Wipe tears, fond memory, long cold night
Eaves edge, blue clouds pure like water
Rising moon, roosting birds caw; geese soar.
Whose young wife is weaving love birds on her loom?
Deeply concealed by silk curtain and inlaid screen
Listening to falling leaves by the white jade window
Pity the woman, chilled and alone without company.
The fashion for Chinese poetry in Paris that prompted Pound to invent Imagism and get parataxis into Anglo poetry had spread to Vienna by 1907, where Hans Bethge had popularized reworkings of translations that had previously been published in German, which were, in turn, based on two translations into French. All the Europeanized versions of Zhang Ji's Long Autumn Night seemed to be somewhat similar, beginning with Judith Gautier's French version, but they all differed significantly from the original Chinese version in two ways:
1. The original T'ang version makes reference to scent (line 2), sight (line 3), tears and memory (line 4), hearing (line 9), and the body's reaction to cold (lines 4 and 7). Gautier's version and the subsequent French and German versions notes only tears (les larmes) and all sensory provocations have expired or been covered by frost, wind, or darkness.
2. Zhang Ji is thinking about a "young wife" "chilled and alone" while all references to such an object of thought are struck from the European versions.
T'ang poets were highly attentive and deliberate about line arrangements, and Long Autumn Night features 1. Nature (lines one and two), 3. a visual representation of love relating to the visual experience of night, 4. tears and memory coupled with the experience of cold, 5. Nature again, lines 5 and 6, both the visual and aural experience of birds, Line 7, the "love birds on her loom," 8. the image of line 7 "concealed," 9. her aural experience of nature, 10. commentary on subject of poem. Zhang Ji doesn't note the action of his own senses but rather what is perceived, while the woman's perception of the leaves listened to, the temperature, and the birds on the loom is stated. As Taoism has used the image of weaving to demonstrate the unification of life and death, the exact same symbol recurring in the Upanishads and Plato, "love" weaves in line 3 and is woven in line 7.
The parataxic structure of Chinese poetry was conducive to Mahler's creation of the first-ever symphony composed entirely of separate songs. Mahler never heard it performed and much has been written about his having just been diagnosed with heart disease after his daughter had died in accordance with his earlier premonitions and he had been forced out as the music director in Vienna due, in part, to anti-Semitism, an event which marked the decline of the artistic golden age of Vienna. Adorno attributed the use of Chinese forms to Mahler's move to New York: "The inauthentic Chinese element, sketched with extreme discretion, plays a similar part to that of the folk song earlier: a pseudomorph that does not take itself literally but grows eloquent through inauthenticity. But by replacing the Austrian folk song by the remote, an Orient approved as a stylistic means, he divests himself of the hope for a collective cover for what is his own…Mahler’s exoticism was a prelude to emigration." (Mahler: a Musical Physiognomy) Where Debussy had recently been influenced by Javanese gamelan, Mahler uses a continuous, spiraling string melody onto which fragmentary motifs are added, including the vocals:
(Jessye Norman mezzo, Simon Rattle conductor)
While certain types of Hindustani raags are performed in autumn while others are for monsoon season to bring the rain, Tom Jobim's bossa nova classic Waters of March uses ascending and descending scales to depict the rainy season in the Southern Hemisphere's autumn. Jobim, quite the student of literature as many Brazilian songwriters are, endeavored to write an English language version which referenced Spring and didn't include any Latin roots, an Oulipoesque move which perhaps sought to give the song a North Pole free from Romance languages, although some of the words did have Latin roots. As with Mahler's Der Einsame im Herbst, the raga-like continuous motif supports fragmentary lyrics in which the "waters," the rains, unify the fragments of the season. Instead of Wallace Stevens thinking on a Sunday morning "Death is the mother of beauty," for Jobim all things like deaths, hopes, traps, voids, sunsets, emotions, sicknesses, body parts, animals, plants, mud, broken down cars, comprise the object being described simultaneously in a synesthesiatic pattern, making up one of the best lyrical pop songs ever. Supposedly Elis Regina disliked Jobim's intellectualism but decided she needed the song as much as the song needed her.
15 October 2010
12 October 2010
06 October 2010
29 September 2010
11 September 2010
How could anyone declare that the flesh is essentially sad, that la petite mort, which doesn’t last even a minute, casts a pall over all lovemaking, which, it is widely known, can last for hours and hours, and go on interminably? If the line had been written by a Spanish poet like Campoamor, it might have meant something like that, but such a reading is quite at odds with the work and life of Mallarmé, which are indissolubly linked, except in this poem, this encoded manifesto, which Paul Gauguin, and he alone, followed to the letter (as far as we know, Mallarmé himself never listened to the sailors singing, or if he did, it certainly wasn’t on board a ship bound for an unknown destination). And the claim to have read all the books makes even less sense, because although books themselves may come to an end, no one every finishes reading them all, and Mallarmé was well aware of that. Book are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and to fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace. And what is left for Mallarmé, in this famous poem, when he desire to read and the desire to fuck, so he says, are all used up? Well, what is left is travel, the desire to go traveling. And maybe that’s the key to the crime. Because if Mallarmé had concluded that the only thing left to do was pray or cry or go crazy, maybe he’d have come up with the perfect alibi. But no, what Mallarmé says is that the only thing left to do is travel—which is like saying “to sail is necessary, to live is not necessary,” a sentence I used to be able to quote in Latin, but that’s just one of the many thing I’ve forgotten with help of my liver’s traveling toxins—in other words he sides with the bare-chested traveler, with Freedom (who’s bare-chested too), with the simple existence of the sailor and the explorer, which isn’t so simple when you get right down to it: an affirmation of life, but also a constant game with death, and the first rung on the ladder, the first step in a certain kind of poetic apprenticeship. The second step is sex, and the third, books.
“Sea Breeze” was written by Mallarmé when he was 23 and had married Maria Gerhard two years previously, who'd given birth to his daughter Geneviève: “Nothing can hold this heart steeped in sea-/ not my lamp's desolate luminosity/ nor the blank paper guarded by its white/ nor the young wife feeding her child..” He was in this period both an apprentice poet imitating elders and the poet he was becoming, formulating his own poetic revolution, as his first draft of The Afternoon of a Faun was written at about the same time. A year and a half later he would write: “I am terrified because I have to invent a new poetics, which I could best express in these words: 'Paint not the thing itself, but the effect it produces.'” As Walter Benjamin has written, the representation of consciousness was a project set forth by Baudelaire, a project that Mallarmé indeed created a new poetics to realize.
This poem "Sea Breeze," however, is a rather clumsy and unoriginal amalgamation of poems and sentiments of Baudelaire and Theophile Gautier. From Gautier we get a romantic maritime drama of what the soul requires: Mallarmé's poem ends with “..my soul, listen to the sailor's song!” which may contain Gautier's longing in “Sea Gloom” for the sound of the ocean to take pity on his soul and transform it and his grief into a shipwreck. Mallarmé paints a scene in “Sea Breeze” where “storm winds buckle above shipwrecks cast/ away.”
Starting a new sentence in line 10 with “Un Ennui, ..” is about as Baulelairean as it gets, as the term occurs with emphasis and famously as the conclusion of "To the Reader" but also several times in "Le Voyage," which Gauguin did, in fact, cite in his journals, the poem that appears to be the most direct antecedent to “Sea Breeze.” Baudelaire's uses of it here are crucial: it illustrates both the naïve wanderlust of the tourist and the realization, at the end of the poem, that “the world's monotonous and small; we see/ ourselves today, tomorrow, yesterday,/ an oasis of horror in the sands of ennui!”
We should consider that Baudelaire's only experience of travel was when at age 20 his domineering stepfather put him on a boat bound for India to apparently separate him from his druggie friends (“the least senseless../ Flee the great herd penned in by Destiny/ And take refuge in a great opium!”) and the boat was damaged by a storm and returned after landing in Mauritius and Reunion, perhaps inspiring a confrontation with death, the final journey of the poem (“to drown in the abyss – heaven or hell,/ who cares? Through the unknown, we'll find the new.)” Baudelaire begins by saying “the true travellers are they who depart/ for departing's sake” who “dream/of spacious pleasures, transient, little understood,/ whose name no human spirit knows” then describes the soul as a ship in which the voice atop the mainsail cries out “Love.. glory.. fortune,”* “the poor lover of chimerical lands.” He then describes the traveller as they who “gladden the ennui of our jails.” At 21, Mallarmé in his earnest poem “The Windows” uses a dying man looking out the window of a hospital room as a metaphor for his desire to escape his life for art and mysticism: “can I flee with my featherless wings-/ and risk falling through all eternity.” Baudelaire goes on to describe the “monotonous and small” world, in which our travels are a visualization of the race against time, at the end of which “if sea and sky are both black as ink,/ you know that our hearts are full of sunshine.” The equation of the discovery of “the new” with death contains all the irony of his embrace of modernity and everything else.
The “spacious pleasures whose name no human spirit knows” may have taken an entirely new form in Mallarmé's masterpiece The Afternoon of a Faun. The refrain “There, all is order and beauty;/ luxury, calmness and beauty” from Baudelaire's more idyllic “Invitation to the Voyage” appears to turn up in Faun as “..fringes of a placid mere in Sicily,/ plundered” by Mallarmé's “sun-rivalling vanity,/ silent beneath the blooms of brilliant night.” It is also where the soul goes: “void of words and heavy body slowly/ fall before noon's haughty calm.” Wherever Mallarmé was right then, he'd left the others behind.
* If there were finalists for the worst translations of all time, Robert Lowell would field several entries, but his Le Voyage (from the New Directions collection) should merit serious consideration. “«Amour... gloire... bonheur!» Enfer! c'est un écueil!” becomes “"Here's dancing, gin and girls!" Balls! it's a rock!” and “Partout où la chandelle illumine un taudis” becomes “we see Blue Grottoes, Caesar and Capri.” In both cases, his attempts at humor convey the exact opposite of what the poem is communicating, in key moments of the poem.
28 August 2010
Cuando dejes mis palmares y mi sierra,
peregrina del semblante encantador,
no te olvides, no te olvides de mi tierra,
no te olvides, no te olvides de mi amor.
27 August 2010
10 August 2010
This much longer piece (than before) from Colombian cumbia legend Lucho Bermúdez is also probably from the mid-to-late 1950's, featuring a series of clarinet solos by Lucho to set up a vertically arranged duet with the trumpeter. More vocals here as well, from a song composed by Wilson Choperena with additional verses calling for togetherness between the nations of Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Panama, or at least celebrating the act of dancing with women in long, traditional Panamanian dresses in those countries, a song which has also been a hit in Peru and has been credited for spawning Mexican cumbia after Lucho's time there in the early 1950's.
Speaking of Colombia, Leonor Gonzalez Mina's brief a cappella “La Violencia.”
08 August 2010
(Nnnnn N ghan) because I was the boynging raised ing the dawn & nnnn but some there are mine all (ghan) & some (gwing) there 'rrr mine there
The gerundization of “boy” and “raised” reminds me of Velimir Khlebnikov's “Там, где жили свиристели (Where the Waxwings Used to Dwell),” where Khlebnikov uses suffixes and formed words to convey specific meanings, with the word “momentwill (времирей),” a word he made up which sounds Bergsonian, relating to the joined words around it: “warblewingish,” “waxwings,” “beguilish.” Russian like German has larger words than English, so Khlebnikov is using this composite diction to combine two concepts generally kept separate: time and will, the will of the past enduring, befitting his wish for an eternal present and his belief that language has been a divisive force, which he set out to resolve by way of his zaum language (pdf, p. 33), the sort of representation of cosmological unity that Foucault criticized in Les Mots et les choses.
In addition to works of his composed entirely in the zaum language, Khlebnikov uses made-up words in contexts of existing words that elaborate their possible meaning, as in “Grasshopper” and “Bo-beh-o-bi sang the lips,” assigning a non-connotive language to animals, objects, body parts, and sensory stimuli. Roman Jakobson said “The question of the interplay between speech sounds and letters and the possibility to utilize these interplays in verbal art, particularly on its supraconscious (zaum) level, vividly preoccupied me in 1912-14, and they were intensely discussed in my correspondence of 1914 with Krutchenyk and Khlebnikov."
In a way, the combination of cummings being the major figure of typographic innovation in America and that the content he used it for didn't inspire, may have had some sort of effect on the use of typographic effects thereafter. Creeley spoke of this in a 1963 interview (which I typed out for a conversation with Curtis Faville about cummings last April):
“Cummings' battle with the typographical set of the poem was one in which, once people were willing to admit typography could be variable and could have a useful effect, the particular value was lost... I like some of his earlier poems very much, both the uses of the sonnet and some of the straight wise-guy poems where you get this beautiful jargon and slang, but I feel that he's always been limited by being a real college boy, by which that his thinking, curiously, has never really gone deeper than the kind of, oh! let's say junior, sophomore, college wit... cummings, despite all his insistence on the single identity of the "i," is speaking for almost a class.”
As Creeley found cummings' content wanting, Joanna Drucker complains that Khlebnikov “was not interested in the contents of the individual psyche, but in himself as a priestly figure working in the service of profound truth,” though Julia Kristeva and Jakobson find a stylistic imprint of sexuality in Khlebnikov's frequent use of “mech-mjach” (sword-bullet) as in lines like “mecha stat' mjachom” “(Impatience) of the sword to become a bullet,” a psyche perhaps too impulsive and not sufficiently reflective for Drucker's tastes. Kristeva also credits Khlebnikov among others for the “resurgence of an “I” coming back to rebuild an ephemeral structure in which the constituting struggle of language and society can be spelled out.”
Osip Manselstam said Khlebnikov wrote “one enormous all-Russian book of prayers and icons from which, for centuries and centuries to come, everyone who may will find something to draw on.” Included in everyone are the Soviets and their more religious successors. The Soviet association most likely caused Joseph Brodsky to brand Khlebnikov taboo to the poetic foot soldiers of Reagan-era Cold War triumphalism, but a Khlebnikov revival in Russia seems afoot in the music and theater worlds that see in him a spiritual guide. The composer Vladimir Martynov was recently asked to compose a fusion piece for symphony orchestra and the Tuvan throat singing ensemble Huun Huur Tu and decided to use as his libretto Khlebnikov's creation myth of the Altay region Children of the Otter, and the work premiered in 2009. Martynov states in an interview that he finds in this Asian music and Russian traditions a model for "the end of the era of the composer," the preservation of cultures without humanist authors, a far cry from the “resurgence of the 'I'” Kristeva found in the artist Martynov is adapting.
Martynov describes Khlebnikov's vison of the “super-saga” as “the synthesis of different planes, or as in Children of the Otter, “sails.'” Kristeva describes the drama as “a mother, coming to the aid of her children in their fight against the sun. The Otter's children are squared off against three suns, one white, one purple, the other dark green.”
Also there's a splendid trailer for a new production of Victory Over the Sun, with attempts made by the editor to incorporate the visuals of Kazimir Malevich and others as well as Malevich's costumes:
04 August 2010
As the title of this blog used to be All About Your Caste, I think about genre from time to time, a concept that doesn't have the same traditional relation to fate as caste does. Genre is and isn't a private matter, genre is a drama of opportunities and impediments, genre is a imprint of culture and an artist's reaction to it, genre consists of models and aspirations contained within subgenre, genre consists of real limits and the perceived limits of hierarchies. The Venetian Renaissance was a moment when secular patrons enabled painting to be reimagined as limitless, something that, like Elizabethan drama, leads to the genre reaching its summit in a short period of time, the same national tradition of theater that Dennis Potter recently felt the need to circumvent by going into television. People then and now criticize Joyce for his effect on the novel, after he applied the methods of Rabelais who people didn't perceive to be a novelist. Sterne arrived at the beginnings of the British novel.
What I always liked about the comment fields as genre is people don't know what it is yet. It's not that I've wanted genre luminaries to stay away, but I thought something could happen that wouldn't happen otherwise. I have no nostalgia or specific expectations about that genre now, nor do I assume Silliman will keep the comments off or that phenomenon will resituate itself, but history doesn't support the hypothesis that reevaluation, refinement, and 'improvement' of internet discussions will do anything but suck them dry of every aspect that made them remotely interesting. The celebration over their closing by people offering their services as inspirateurs and administrators of poetry that thought they themselves could write better criticism if the comments didn't exist, that discussion will be better if there were fewer discussions, that their delicate appreciation for poetry has been violated, that the condescension expressed by some exceeded their own, indicates to me that the comment fields were sufficiently abhorrent to those that trade in these limits, models of the past that deny its essence.
Genre hierarchy is communicated acutely by these reactions. People don't say that a university press publishes a lot of crap but occasionally has an original idea, a statement that would be accurate nine times out of ten, nor is there much attention paid to religious and gender discrimination of university hiring and enrollment during the 20th Century when every avant-garde artist is being raked over the coals by the university presses for anything that could possibly be interpreted as a slur. It would be inaccurate to say I'm oblivious to genre hierarchy so much as I try to evade the traps that come with the terrain.
So it follows that I have no idea what just happened. Whatever points I made that came off as compelling and different generally seemed too obvious to me to have emotional resonance (like the existence of the avant-garde itself, until recently a discredited notion), and my floated ideas arising from sustained preoccupations have been altered little if at all by feedback. As for Silliman's blog, without question the main influence has come from Silliman himself, the reiteration and elaboration of his fertile ideas grouped largely in The New Sentence, the most important book of poetry criticism of the past sixty years, studied by many but underrated to the point that his contempt for his contemporary counterparts in the critical field is understandable.
The navigation of genre hierarchy is a creative process in and of itself and not a mass initiative responding to ideals of justice, except in situations like France's, a country where Sarkozy has maintained the Culture Ministry but is raiding the gypsy camps, a culture painted by Manet, Courbet, Daumier, Seurat, Picasso, Rouault, so on and so forth. For the first time in a few years I put on Sawdust and Tinsel last night, perhaps the best film ever made about genre hierarchy, its theater director telling the circus performers “you risk your life, we our vanity,” its bear scenes never paid for due to bad box office. The bear's not on Youtube, just an unfortunately clipped opening scene. But there's gypsies (colorful and stereotyped) in the Kirov Petruscka, and the bear arrives in the sixth minute of the third installment.
01 August 2010
30 July 2010
22 July 2010
Adolph Gottlieb: “Another thing – I have changed my mind about an idea of Milton Avery's – as he says, 'don't try to paint a masterpiece.' It seems to me now that that is the very thing to do – try to paint a masterpiece – it probably won't be one anyway. Of course, from his point of view, Milton's right, there are many pictures that would be pretty good if they were not belabored and worked to death in trying for perfection. But right now I am sick of the idea of all the pretty good pictures and want a picture that is either damn good or no good.”
“Pretty good” can be oppressive.
Gottlieb stayed with what I consider a landscape grid in later years, which kept it in the spirit of Max Ernst's canvases (below) which were his main influence. Ernst created Pollock, Motherwell, and Gorky, and then the next generation turned dogmatically against representation, which is turning against infinity. That's my main beef with abstract expressionism, which I otherwise like. When something becomes standardized, the first thing to go is infinity. I haven't undertook to write about the avant-garde on this blog so far except to stress this point.
19 July 2010
13 July 2010
I'm glad I saw this without knowing who the speaker was, so that I could wonder about the back story. At first I wondered whether the person was in the Himalayas (which I have been reading about) but Yosemite was on the video title. I thought that the person was camping, not accustomed to people having this sort of view in front of their house.
Comments about this video on Huffington Post and Youtube illustrate how one conditioned response to the perception of nature relates to another conditioned response. Vasquez is happy not just about the double rainbow, but the fact that the double rainbow validates his rationalizations to live at the precise spot where he lives and, by extension, his persona, which is organized around immersion in nature and Indian heritage. A person on a camping trip would be more likely to think such a rainbow was routine, or perhaps be socially conditioned to relate their enchantment in a more understated manner.
Vasquez denies being on drugs, though he admits to drug use at other times. I'm not saying I don't believe him, but he would have incentive to say that he isn't on drugs, as admission to drug use may inhibit the media promotion of the video. Reactions to the ecstatic reaction to the double rainbow often center more around people's opinion of the morality of drug use than how nature should be appropriately rendered linguistically. Of course, people's perception of these two issues overlap, though many dedicated campers are anti-drug, people who have low opinions of drug users often have low opinions of naturalists.
Without question, Vasquez views this as a religious experience, and the ecstasy traditionally associated with religious experience has always elicited divided reactions. What interests me more, though, is how understatement functions: the fact that the creed of linguistic understatement is in this social division aligned with apathy towards nature while overstatement is here aligned with affirmation of nature. Other situations, such as the excitement over the economic benefits of a strip-mining project, would align overstatement and understatement differently. My fear of being at an analytical distance to the baroque cannot be separated from the fear of fate, or fate operating as the fear itself.
09 July 2010
I had a blackout here last night for about 3-4 hours, despite very little rain to alleviate a local drought, a branch fell down right in front of here. I went to Barnes and Noble for a/c, electric light, and all that good stuff. Last time I was there they had Toscano's Collapsable Poetics Theater, and one or two other cool things, but it was more BNey this time. No one told me there was a Library of America edition of early Ashbery! A sight to behold. I believe it was intentional that the blue ribbon placemarker is placed right at Joe Brainard's toilet in Vermont Notebook. It's actually cool to see Vermont Notebook in such a volume, the legit cover making it funnier, but it's odd to see Three Poems in there, sort of like it's become a 19th Century novella that comes in a 1200 page anthology for a survey course. Nothing else really fits in that thing. If I were a lot older that edition would make me feel old. I could say about other books there, this is workshoppy, that is workshoppy, after having skimmed them, but you already get that I think that way and the allegation would not surprise anyone about the poets in question. Finally it seems to be really raining here!
08 July 2010
07 July 2010
I'm not aware of any firsthand account of Velasquez commenting on Giorgione's painting or of his viewing it. Girolamo Marcello, who had owned two other Giorgione canvases, commissioned Sleeping Venus presumably in order to obtain “a talisman to guarantee Morosina and Girolamo an heir.” Though the painting is no longer at the Casa Marcello, the reproductive initiative seems to have been a success as it was Giralamo's descendent, himself called Count Giralamo Marcello, that in recent years put up Joseph Brodsky in Venice for which he became the subject of one of the Nobel Laureate's poems. Titian's Venus with a Mirror (below) was in the possession of the Barbarigo family during the time of Velazquez' visits to Venice. As Velasquez was both a famous painter and wealthy enough to amass his own collection of Venetian masters, it's not inconceivable that he visited these houses although not as inevitable as if they had been in museums.
Among the revelers at the 1694 Venice Carnivale was Augustus, younger brother of Johann Georg IV, Elector of Saxony, on one of his extended visits to the island town. Shortly after the festivities Augustus received word that his brother had died of smallpox and that he would become Augustus II, Elector. Over the course of the next few years Augustus, who would later become King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, bought up Venetian paintings for the Dresden palace, where Sleeping Venus hangs now, having been stashed away during the World War II bombing raids. Julius Caesar Augustus was believed in his time to be a descendent of Venus and was a patron of the arts, which may have affected Augustus II's resolve to obtain the canvas.
Though there is no documentation of Velasquez visiting the Casa Marcello, recently notes have been discovered stating that during one of his trips to Italy, he chronicled the idea to paint Il Pordenone's Venus (right) in reverse - a close rip-off of Sleeping Venus with a red blanket underneath by a Giorgione disciple. The fact that he's so inspired by Pordenone's version indicates that Velasquez didn't, in fact, ever see Sleeping Venus, but was inspired by it indirectly.
Some suggest that the Rokeby Venus was an inspiration to Manet's Olympia, but there's no evidence that Manet ever saw the painting in person, and no reference of Manet's to a reproduction of it that I'm aware of. The Rokeby Venus was in a private collection in Yorkshire, which Manet never got to, from 1813 to 1905. This is a case of Velazquez and Manet both riffing off paintings that were inspired by Giorgione (by Titian and Pordenone) and coming up with a similar end result.
I was oblivious to Velazquez having seen a knockoff of Sleeping Venus when I shared my thoughts the other day about interiors and exteriors. Velazquez, first of all, was not a landscape painter as there was no admired tradition of landscapes in Spain at the time he worked save for El Greco who was not considered an influence, and since nudes in Spain were then painted for noblemen's bedrooms, perhaps he was disinclined to turn over a new leaf for such a client. The interior also makes the mirror more credible, enabling the portrait of the face which is essential to the effect of the work.
04 July 2010
While pastiching the colors and subject matter of Iberia would produce in one critic such a minor qualification, pastiching the subject matter of Giorgione and Titian was, to the general art world, unforgivable, resulting in storms of insults and condemnations, deepening Manet's self-doubt and causing him to flee to Spain. This is no accident: the seeds of modernity cited in Baudelaire's essays on painting had already been sewn in the first decade of the 16th Century.
The events of the Paris Salon of 1863, in which 2800 canvases including those of Manet and Whistler were excluded, to be shown separately by Napoleon III's agreement in the Salon des Refusés, are often cited as the beginnings of Modernism. This rupture between the painters and the judges was set in motion a decade earlier by Courbet's The Bathers (above), which was removed from the 1853 Salon by the police and led to a change in the composition of the jury. The academic paintings of the Salon were full of nudes, but Courbet's pair was called “vulgar” by, amongst others, Delacroix for their body shape, pose and for being contemporary peasants rather than allegories of chastity and wisdom. In 1855, after Burial at Ornans and The Painter's Studio were rejected, Courbet set up an exhibition for himself across the street from the Salon, called "Realism." It was in 1855 that Baudelaire attacked Courbet's realist style: “the heroic sacrifice that Monsieur Ingres makes for the honor of tradition and Raphaelesque beauty, Courbet accomplishes in the interests of external, positive, immediate nature. They have different motives when waging war on the imagination, and the two opposing obsessions lead them to the same immolation.”
Several years later, Baudelaire wrote his seminal essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” in which he clarified his view of the dangers of separating the immediate and the Raphaelesque: “Beauty is made up of an eternal invariable element, whose quantity it is excessively difficult to determine, and of a relative, circumstantial element, which will be, if you like, whether severally or all at once, the age, its fashions, its morals, its emotions. Without the second element, which might be described as the amusing, enticing, appetizing icing on the divine cake, the first element would be beyond our powers of appreciation, neither adapted nor suitable to human nature. I defy anyone to point to a single scrap of beauty which does not contain these two elements.”
This essay wasn't published until November 1863, but had been written in early 1860, after which Baudelaire shopped it around a while. Manet valued Baudelaire's friendship, spent many hours with him, and the poet's opinions were an anchor against everything he chafed against, which inclined him to let his paintings be the embodiment of Baudelaire's theories.
Not only did, in fact, Courbet portray eternal beauty, but it's possible that his 1855 The Bathers was influenced by The Pastoral Concert, the 1508 painting hanging in the Louvre that is currently attributed to Titian, as the Reubenesque figure on the left of The Bathers is involved with water and draped around the leg. The painting was then attributed to Giorgione, and although dissenting opinion at that time suggested Palma Vecchio, the Titian theory didn't come onto the scholarly radar until the 20th Century. The figures look like Titian's, but the content, figures not relating to mythology, and the enigmatic subtext show the profound influence of older master Giorgione.
It's been stated frequently that when Manet, who rarely painted nudes, set out to produce one for the 1863 Salon, he used the situation of The Pastoral Concert with the figure poses of an engraving after Raphael's The Judgment of Paris. What isn't often noted is that the resulting canvas, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, is the first intentional application of Baudelaire's credo, exemplified in advance by Titian and Giorgione. The two men in The Pastoral Concert are wearing contemporary clothing – one suggesting wealth, the other not - while the females – possibly present in the minds of the men - represent the eternal. The lute and the flute have represented the Appolonian and Dionysian opposition, with the flute being played here by a nymph and the lute by a scruffy male.
Manet, who has studied the painting enough to copy it, has replaced the nymph with the flute with a woman staring directly at the viewer, the model Victorine Meurent, herself a painter. I take this to suggest that the Dionysian function is being fulfilled by human observation, again in keeping with Baudelaire's theories. Nude women in traditional allegorical paintings of the Salon didn't look back at the viewer as Titian's Venus of Urbino did. As for Manet, whose early nudes (he only painted nine in his lifetime, most long afterward) stare at the viewer, let's recall that no one who pastiches Velasquez can ever wrest from their mind Las Meninas, where the Infanta Margarita stares back at the viewer, shown in the mirror to be the king and the queen. This representation of the viewer is an allegory of sight, since you, the viewer, are in fact standing in place of the king and the queen. Manet converts this allegory into a Dionysian function set forth by Baudelaire.
Picasso painted more pastiches of Le déjeuner sur l'herbe than any other painting. Las Meninas was another one he pastiched over and over, perhaps the runner up. He would spend 20 hours straight locked in his studio agonizing over these two paintings.
The angry reaction that Le déjeuner met from critics, the public, and some painters in 1863 is legendary; even Thoré called it “absurd.. inappropriate.. ugly.. and shocking” and the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme stipulated that his students not utter Manet's name. The legends can't reconcile why a knowing provocateur would be so emotionally shell-shocked by the reception he met, but I'm inclined to believe he was thrust into this role by Baudelaire and found the burden harrowing. This possibility is supported by the fact that Olympia, a nude in contemporary setting that created an even greater stir in the 1865 Salon, was painted before the 1864 Salon but not entered, and presumably entered the following year at Baudelaire's insistence.
In 1864 he entered two paintings: Incident in a Bull Ring and The Dead Christ With Angels (now at the NY Met), reverting to tried and true subject matter, which were immediately savaged by Theophile Gautier, leading to Manet destroying Incident. While Incident was a return to Goya, Dead Christ seems to me to be a return to Giorgione, who was near completion of a work of the same theme when he died, which was completed by Titian.
Olympia was accepted into the Salon of 1865 but the unprecedented critical vitriol and ridicule that met it is well documented. Again the figure stares the public in the face, and as people have guessed that the frog in Le déjeuner was a reference to prostitution, the name in the title was typically used in a brothel. Concurrent with Manet's discovery that Napoleon III was keeping a courtesan as a regular mistress, we have ourselves an interesting riff on Las Meninas, the courtesan taking the central position occupied by the princess to illustrate France under Napoleon III.
The influence of Titian's 1538 canvas Venus of Urbino (left) is universally acknowledged, but Titian's canvas is itself rooted in Giorgione's 1510 Venus Sleeping (below), which Titian is believed to have completed by filling in the landscape after Giorgione's death. The referencing of Venus Sleeping is illuminating: the physical ease, closed eyes, imperviousness to the exterior setting, and the gesture of the hand (which Twain complained upon seeing Urbino was masturbatory) contrasts with the penetrating stare, animated mood, social context, interior setting, and use of the hand to conceal the sex organ from the intruder in Olympia. Buddhists talk of the peace of closed eyes and wrath of open eyes, or Christ sleeping through the storm contrasted with his turning the tables at the Temple. Giorgione's Venus attempts to represent the mysteries of nature, while Olympia through Urbino uses the interior to explicate the man-made world, the psychology of class, transgression, and ambiguous interpersonal relations, emerging from an eternal eroticism.
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, painted by Manet two decades later, is believed to be another version of Las Meninas, again with the female staring at the viewer, and as with Le déjeuner and Olympia, the conventional belief that the woman in the painting is a prostitute. If Olympia was Napoleon's mistress looking back at the Emperor in the style of Velasquez, here the barmaid stares back at a bourgeois of the Third Republic setting up a paid tryst in bar that caters to ordinary male taste, perhaps intended in 1882 as an ironic celebration of the recent defeat of the monarchical restoration.
Though Michelangelo and Raphael were painting more famous works on the walls and ceilings of the Vatican at the time, I consider Giorgione's Sleeping Venus, 500 years old this year, to be the greatest exterior ever painted, and if it falls short of Las Meninas in the final round, it is perhaps only because the human mind is better suited to explore the dimensions of what it has built. Its pictorial qualities, most notably the color, are groundbreaking and infrequently exceeded, and its content contains not only the seeds of Manet's leap into modernity but the seeds of Surrealism.
03 July 2010
During the tournament there are inevitably articles speculating why the US favors American football rather than “soccer.” I'm inclined to think that allegiances to sport are contingent on the physical size of the upper class, and countries where the upper class is physically smaller are going to favor a sport where smaller people can excel. American football is descended from rugby, a sport where large men push each other around, and, in England, the upper classes insulate themselves from a possible challenge from lower class men through the distinction of Rugby Union and Rugby League, just as British crew maintains its hierarchy by giving last year's winners a head start. Rugby is popular amongst the German upper class while soccer is apparently the working class sport. Americans in the mid-19th Century were some three inches taller than Germans on average, even though the country's full of German blood by way of England or not. American football introduced more law enforcement and incessant discussion, and my attempts to stop watching it have been unsuccessful. Basketball (which I used to watch but have managed – cross my fingers – to kick) is likewise a sport that favors the tall. Baseball favors the tall in certain instances (pitching, first base, etc.) but the fact that it is easier for shorter players to overcome this accounts for it being the US's most popular athletic export, winning over Latin America and East Asia.*
After Jim Crow the question of whether to integrate the sports came into play, and after much resistance, white people let black people play, leading to the worldwide phenomenon of the black basketball star. Rush Limbaugh tries to discourage the black quarterback (which led to my pulling for McNabb and the Eagles and the ensuing addiction) because the idea that the team is best managed by a white administrator-athlete enables people of that mindset to maintain their competitive disposition. People in Blue States have moved on to playing soccer, presumably to escape the perception of immanent physical injury associated with football, leading to Republican concerns in 1996 that the Democratic lead was attributed to “soccer Moms,” while people in Red States stick to the gridiron. Also, immigrants from countries of shorter people tended to concentrate in the Northeast and in California, and the shorter people were more likely to play soccer and vote Democratic.
With professional sports came the Team Owner. In horse racing, the owner of the horse is understood to be the protagonist, which allows the sport to maintain the favor of a certain culture. The oil man Jerry Jones was recently voted one of the most hated figures in football despite running the team rather effectively and wanting feverishly to win, taking over the mantle of baseball's retired defense contractor George Steinbrenner. The fans enter into a difficult emotional relationship with this protagonist: they resent their enormous net worth more than the simple snob with a good salary as well as their power and lack of accountability, but still share the owner's aspirations to win and invest their self-image in the success of the team, which symbolizes the success of the region's economic base.
*I remember shooting hoops in a small Mexican town with an African-American surfer from California, concerned that a game would ensue and that I had only brought sandals with me on this day trip. The school got out and all the local kids ran up to him, completely ignoring me, begging him to teach them basketball.
26 June 2010
Giorgione's Tempest, which has come to be known as the West's first landscape, immediately sets out to depict cumulonimbus cloud formations, making the highest vertical grid active and rendering the grids below passive, the threatening representation of water balanced by brooks and the maternal images of nursing and the stork. It has come to be a depiction of its interpreters as well as its own subject matter: Judeo-Christians suggest this is a rest on the flight to Egypt, the flight from Paradise or the broken pillar of the Philistines, Classicists suggest it's the abandoned Oenone amid the storm of the Trojan War, fatalists suggest allegorical figures awaiting the storm's destiny. X-rays have shown the figure on the left was originally a female bather, lessening the likelihood of a specific symbolist intention.
The broken pillar has elsewhere been a symbol for death, and traditional Eastern symbolism of the storm has focused on the its dual nature of death and rebirth such as the Japanese god Susano-o and Indra's maruts. The death of 46 people in Maharashtra this month in the early days of the monsoon is culturally weighed against the need for the phenomenon. If Giorgione was aware of harvest rituals it would have added to his incentive for ambiguity, as his Three Philosophers clearly indicates his integration of Eastern ideas.
Those who dispute a symbolic strategy are more likely to suggest that the characters are gypsies on the periphery of the city, literal personifications of the convergence of East and West. This motif has been developed in modernity by Manet and Picasso, examples of both which can be found the DC's NGA and suggest a newer symbolism that can be approached only by visual observation. Courbet never used classical or religious symbolism in his landscapes save for his use of water and female figures in his "the source" series; Pisarro proceeded similarly. The storm was a common subject of Mannerism as with El Greco and where classical or Christain iconography fell out of favor, a Baroque fatalism remained as with Donne's The Storm, inspired by his sailing as a young man against Spain in the late 16th Century where his proud, sheltered British self-image is imbued with reverence for Nature, or Shakespeare's use of the tempest to represent the divining art of theatrical illusion. A few years later the Christian allusion would return with Rembrandt's only seascape, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,
an episode that Delacroix would paint repeatedly, which used Christ's sleep to illustrate calmness in the face of chaos and being at one with nature.
The storm taken up by Edvard Munch, the figures are again in the foreground, but with none of the contentedness of Giorgione's figures or Christ on a boat.
The storm becomes an allegory of representation in Magritte's Threatening Weather:
Or Leonora Carrington's clouds:
When George Grosz moved to America he began to paint landscapes with none of the social commentary (and people lost interest in him as a result). The American depiction of the storm has mostly followed the same vein, as with John Marin's storms-for-storms-sake (Storm Over Taos).
Kay Sage eliminates nature, keeping only the wind:
All these potential uses for the storm in painting were contained in Giorgione's canvases.
25 June 2010
I'm not aware whether this painting (The Sea Storm) I was looking at today in reproduction has been speculated about before as an influence on Turner. Jacobo Palma il Vecchio was believed to have been working on this commission when he died in 1528, so the task fell to Paris Bordone to complete it within the next few years. Venice's Accademia acquired it in 1829, while Turner's visits to the city were increasing in frequency. Turner painted the academic Dutch Boats in a Storm in 1801, the landscape Snow Storm: Hannibal Crossing the Alps in 1812 and some spare watercolors of sea storms before this. A year after the acquisition Turner produced
Rough Sea with Wreckage, then starting a decade later a flurry of storm oils, beginning with the seminal Slave Ship, which places the figures overboard in the lower right hand corner
Then all this within the next few years:
Sunrise with Sea Monsters, 1840-1845
(detail) Ever wonder where this guy came from? Just sayin'. A little shout out for Palma Vecchio. I go to bed now.
24 June 2010
30 April 2010
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25 April 2010
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16 April 2010