30 December 2012

Bataille's solar personification of the bull of the labyrinth in his 1927 poem is likely inspired by "Night Song," Nietzsche's poem from Thus Spoke Zarathustra "Light am I.. I live in my own light.. Oh wretchedness in all givers! Oh eclipse of my sun!.. It is night: ah, that I must be light!" which GPSes itself in the labyrinth in the paragraph that follows when reprinted near the end of Ecce Homo, several months before his complete mental collapse: "thus does a god suffer, a Dionysus. The reply to such a dithyramb of a sun's solitude in light would be Ariadne... Who knows except me what Ariadne is!" about which he never directly fills us in on.

Medici Sleeping Ariadne, National Archeological Museum, Florence

Karl Jaspers quotes Nietzsche to the effect that the sovereign mind is labyrinthine, "consumed little by little by the cave-dwelling Minotaur of his conscience," that the philosopher, like Theseus, has "a particular curiosity about the labyrinth" but that "whatever he may tell us, the labyrinthine man never seeks the truth but always only his Ariadne".. but.. "'Ariadne,' says Dionysis, 'You are a labyrinth. Theseus has become lost in you, he has no more thread.." Ariadne replies: "that is my last love to Theseus. I destroy him." Jaspers: "Ariadne for whom Dionysus becomes the labyrinth... Dionysus is the new truth when Theseus becomes 'absurd,' i.e. becomes a fanatic who seeks the truth at any cost. Nietzsche as Theseus is indeed lost in the labyrinth of Ariadne, but as Dionysus becomes the truth that transcends both death and life." After his mental collapse, Nietzsche was spied staging naked Dionysian dancing rites in his Turin room and wrote to Cosima Wagner "Ariadne, I love thee - Dionysus." In commenting on Nietzsche and the labyrinth, Deleuze identifies Ariadne and the thread as the anima, and in Jungian terms Nietzsche's syphilis prevents him from moving from the anima/soul-image phase to joining the earthy Magna Mater as the benign Old Wise Man, entering the Wise Man's dark megalomania as his brain mass deteriorates and he imagines himself Zarathustra and Dionysus, though I think if you're history's greatest philosopher you should be permitted to hug horses and dance, dance, dance.

Sleeping Ariadne, Vatican Museums

For Deleuze, the thread as the anima is solely "capable of reconciling us with the unconscious," while the labyrinth "leads us back to the same point.." to "designate the eternal return" for which "the labyrinth is becoming, the affirmation of becoming," which becomes for Ariadne a sort of affirmation by way of the thread. Deleuze identifies Dionysus as affirmation and Theseus ressentiment, a reactive force. "Dionysus developed, reflected (by Ariadne), raised to the highest power: these are the aspects of Dionysian willing which serves as principles for the eternal return."

Cornielle Van Cleve, Sleeping Ariadne, Versailles

In 1888, while Nietzsche was settling into Turin and getting started on Ecce Homo, Giorgio de Chirico was born in Volos, Greece to Italian parents. de Chirico would be six months old when Nietzsche broke down, at 18 reading Nietzsche for the first time, at 22 suffering from depression after his father's death, returning to Nietzsche and composing his first Metaphysical paintings, at 23 seeking out the apartment in Turin where Nietzsche stayed. "The novelty" of Nietzsche, he writes, "is a strange and profound poetry, infinitely mysterious and solitary, which is based on the Stimmung (I use this very effective German word which could be translated as atmosphere in the moral sense), the Stimmung.. of an autumn afternoon, when the sky is clear and the shadows are longer than in summer, for the sun is beginning to be lower... the Italian city par excellence where this extraordinary phenomenon appears is Turin." Schopenhauer wrote: "The inner Stimmung, the primacy of knowledge of the will, can produce this state in any given circumstance.. but this pure and objective Stimmung of the soul is encouraged and determined by encounters with external objects" similar in a way to Eliphas Levi's belief "the visible is the manifestation of the invisible" that influenced the French Symbolists.

When 24, de Chirico saw Cornielle Van Cleve's monumental replica of Ariane endorme at Versailles, based on the original in the Vatican Museum in the city where he had lived, inspiring an interest which would prompt the Guardian to reflect "never in art history has a painter been so obsessed with one subject." The Ariadne at the Met (above), having been abandoned by Theseus, is resting as a statue in the warmth of the sun. de Chirico was very proud of his father, an engineer, equestrian, and art aficionado who oversaw the construction of the first railways in Tuscany, and behind Ariadne is the moving train that recurs in his paintings as well as a phallic tower. This statue recurs in many of de Chirico's plazas, each time with the sun shining on her (1, 2, 3, 4), suggesting that he identified with the Ariane endorme as Nietzsche's anima and/or his own.

de Chirico's first metaphysical paintings of 1910, at 22, move stylistically from the brush stroke and compositional aspects of Arnold Böcklin, whom he had imitated, retaining certain aspects like, as in The Enigma of the Oracle (above), Böcklin's Odysseus in Odysseus and Calypso (right) becomes de Chirico's priestess Pythia looking down at Delphi, while Böcklin's white, central figure of Calypso becomes a statue of Apollo, partially obscured by a curtain. The early priests of Delphi were called Labyraden and frescoes of dolphins appear in the Palace of Knossos in Crete beside the labyrinth where the sea monster Apollo Delphinios was worshiped.  Homer wrote of Apollo turning into a dolphin to transport Cretan priests to Delphi.  Knossos also has a famous fresco of unexplained bull games:

de Chirico grew up in Athens, where he took his first painting lessons, and painted Greek antiquities all his life.

25 December 2012

21 December 2012

While I'm on the topic of Bataille and the labyrinth, his use of the image is of some interest. Recent scholars have identified the Minotaur as a solar personification worshiped by the Cretans during their control of the Aegean, which the Greeks were forced to pay tribute to. The myth of the slaying of the Minotaur, by this logic, was propaganda for the Greeks winning independence from Crete, having a secondary and more lasting implication of Daedelus' civilizing craftsmanship, the ascent of law, specialization, and bureaucracy over animality, though the Minotaur was not necessarily a less evolved creature but the product of Pasiphaë disguising herself as a cow to copulate with a bull, a costume André Masson, a close friend of both Bataille and Breton, chose to forget while composing his 1938 rendition of the event (left, below) though he remembers her horns in a crayon sketch (right, below):

Though Picasso said "If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur," his Minotaur phase began after he did the cover for the first issue of Minotaur in 1933, which the Swiss publisher Albert Skira signed Breton onto after developing the concept with Bataille. Breton and Bataille's rivalry crystallized in Breton's attack on him 1929's Second Surrealist Manifesto, which Bataille was quick to see the merits of. The two contributed pieces to Minotaur and arranged a rapprochement in 1935 to collaborate on the magazine Countre-Attaque*, at a time when leftists were united against Fascist riots in Paris amid Hitler's Chancellorship to the North leading to the most animated protests since the Commune and Léon Blum becoming Prime Minister. Previous to this, Picasso was keen to play both ends to win over the Paris avant-garde, seeking to maintain Breton's critical support while Bataille ran a special Picasso issue of his Documents in 1930. For Minotaur, Breton wrote his first major essay on Picasso in 1933.

Having Bataille compare you to Icarus was high praise, meaning you had taken one for the team, which he reserved for the Surrealists in response to the Second Manifesto ("The transformation of Icarian reflexes into a pathetic-comic and gratuitous literature is doubtless surrealism's more striking characteristic") and for Picasso ("what ruptures the highest elevation.. is only noticeable in the paintings of Picasso"), both in essays in or around 1930. Bataille's 1927 Surrealist-influenced prose poem The Solar Anus, begins "It is clear the world is purely parodic.. all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of Ariadne's thread** leading thought into its own labyrinth.. when I scream I AM THE SUN an integral erection results, because the verb to be is the vehicle of amorous frenzy," published with Masson's illustrations in 1931, a year after the Picasso essay "the bull himself is also an image of the sun, but only with his throat slit***." In 1935-6's "The Labyrinth" "THE UNIVERSAL resembles a bull.. sometimes hurled by the rage of ruin into the void ceaselessly opened before it by a skeletal torero" identifiying the bullfight as a labyrinth concurrent with Picasso's etching the Minotauromachia, which appears to depict Marie-Thérèse Walter as a wounded, skeletal torera attached to a horse and also the bearer of the light that the bull hurls itself at. Juan Larrea remembered "hearing from (Picasso's) own lips as an obiter dictum that in pictures from a certain period of his artistic development, the horse generally represents a woman who played an exceptionally important part in his life."

In Bataille's posthumously published Accursed Share he excerpts Bernardino de Sahagun's retelling of the origin of the Aztec Sun God Nanauatzin closing his eyes, "taking courage," and hurling himself into a fire set to bring light to the world. 1954's Inner Experience included a revised version of his 1935 essay on the labyrinth, sorting out a narrative which suggests to me he thought Paris was a labyrinth playing out a drama of solitude, rupture, and independence on the one hand and interdependence and coterie on the other. "The power of attraction empties the constituent parts of their richest elements. Cities are slowly emptied of life in favor of a capital. (The local accent becomes comical.)" This is a French phenomenon, more so than Germany, Spain, Italy, which have decentralized intellectual centers, often tied to old ethnic kingdoms, while the circular Paris (like Leonora Carrington's labyrinth, right) provides the effect cited, drawing in Reims' Bataille once abandoned by a troubled relationship with his father, leading him to "a summit where being reaches the universal.. in which a central will subordinates peripheral elements to its law" which may be a reference to Surrealism, until he does battle in the bullring with "nothingness." Nothingness and the influence of Descartes and Hegel are processed with a minimum of reference to Sartre, a rival who criticized Inner Experience, though he is credited in the notes of 1939 for conveying the "dangerous and mortal character of the sacred." In Inner Experience, the symbol of the path to the summit replaces the Icarus metaphor, notably in his praise of Hegel "no doctrine is comparable to his - it is the summit of positive intelligence," while repeatedly likening Hegel's thought to a circle that moves in and out of darkness, which Derrida interprets at characteristic length as a poetic tension between the servile and the sovereign, the latter being similar to the independent Cogito, Sein, and/or Pure Immanence (pick one).

While Breton looked the other way when his friends (or "elements") used mythological images, he himself observed for the most part a strict Baudelairean aversion to them, including the labyrinth, a position which would soften in his later years as with 1958's 12th poem illustrating Miró's Constellations (right) wherein the female protagonist sees the god of Amor fly away from burning it with lamp oil, is told she must climb a vertical labyrinth to find him at "the very top of the Tower" until she arrives and the "reprobate voice" tells her she must "redescend by the way you came. You will not stop once on the ground. It is when you have got here anew as reflection that the balance of forces will be revealed to you and that you will lay a finger on the casket of perfumes," written while he was living in the very vertical village of St-Cirq Lapopie, lorded over by the castle ruin La Popie (Celtic for "elevated place," not seen in Henri Martin painting below).

* which Claude Cahun participated in, before leaving it with Breton the following year over uneasiness about Bataille's political positions
** "till Theseus, son of Aegeus, slew him and retraced his way, finding the path by Ariadne's thread.." Ovid, Metamorphosis
*** "Sun slit throat"

17 December 2012


A few years before Michaux's labyrinth poem, Sartre was laying the foundations for his ontology based on consciousness, decreeing in The Transcendence of the Ego "Nothing can act on consciousness because it is a cause of itself," gracing the Cogito with nothingness, situating forms of consciousness in relation to an object perceived.  I have noted here the belief that a labyrinth is an incomplete mandala, inviting the interpretation that one's situation in time and space is what brings about this incompletion, as opposed to a pure immanence like Deleuze's: "a transcendental empiricism in contrast to everything that makes up the world of a the subject and the object."  As I also noted then, some Japanese mandalas contain actual places - Shintoist holy sites like Kumano (right) included to win the stubborn over to Buddhism.

The inclusion of actual physical topography and temples in a mandala approaches, perhaps by accident, the Tantric belief that saṃsāra equals nirvāṇa. René Daumal, in his novel Mount Analogue: "The symbol has had to take refuge in mythical mountains, such as Mount Meru of the Hindus. But if Meru has no geographical location, it loses its pervasive significance as a way uniting Earth and Heaven; it can still represent the center or axis of our planetary system, but no longer the means whereby man can attain it."

Jerome Rothenberg in a letter to Creeley in 1960: "as Buber says: 'one cannot reach the kernel of the fruit except thru the shell': i.e. the phenomenal world is to be read by us: the perceived image is the key to the buried image: and the deep image is at once husk and kernel, perception and vision, and the poem is the movement between them." Gary Snyder, who like Clayton Eshleman lived in Japan in the early 60s, prefers to use only imagery that he actually sees in the world. Baudelaire and Rimbaud drew from Eliphas Levi's belief "the visible is the manifestation of the invisible."

Sartre wrote several years later in Outline of a Theory of Emotions that passive grief over the uncontrollable is similar in structure to all the emotions, in which "the world itself sometimes reveals itself to consiciousness as magical instead of determined.." 

Two unidentified women, Seville

I mention this because it is the much revered saeta - songs of lamentation before the crucifix or the Holy Mother developed over the past few centuries in Andalusia, believed to have originated East of Seville (""A city that lurks/ for long rhythms,/ and twists them like labyrinths" Lorca Poem of the Saeta*) - that, aside from certain works of art, remains in my memory as offering one of the most striking perceptions of being removed from time and space. I was walking back to my room in Madrid one evening and found that I was alone in the narrow street between rows of people on the sidewalk - a Holy Week procession was making its way towards me - and so I crossed to the sidewalk amid some stares and made my way to the room. Processions from working class districts, which come into the city center to march, often have brass bands while bourgeois processions are usually silent. When I looked out the second floor window, it was making its way closer, and then I heard from an unseen balcony - for the first time - a saeta from a female singer that had, as I recall, the fragile sound of a cantoractión that seemed to be coming from the 18th Century.  At its end the brass band was directly below me, and they picked up a melody that seemed similarly outside of time and, perhaps aided by my stewing over an ill-fated romance with a local painter, I began to sob uncontrollably for the longest time.  Though the brass melody was much different than that of Miles Davis' Saeta, Gil Evans' ensemble's bookending of the song, sung here by Miles' trumpet, was as I remember..

Silliman, in stating his preference for the more semantic Creeley that began with 1965's Words, expressed his disagreement over Creeley with Charles Simic with the analogy "Simic’s like the jazz fan who likes Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain or Kind of Blue, or Coltrane’s Giant Steps, only to freak out at their later work because it demands more from him as a listener."  Creeley mentions a movement towards semantics and form over the Deep Image's emphasis of content in the 1960 correspondence with Rothenberg: "(Robert) Kelly describes all this question of mode too briefly, i.e., 'The image is the measure of the line. The line is cut to fit it ...'  Of course, but in quite what sense? Isn't then the image as much that cut of line" and, in response to Robert Bly's indirect praise that though Creeley was the best poet going then, poetry should respond to European and Latino traditions of Bly's choosing: "We are too far along, in many grounds so-called, now, to back off, e.g., from Ginsberg in his opening KADDISH sections, to Dorn's long line in THE AIR OF JUNE, to O'Hara's casual line, or Duncan's formal organization of 'canto' structure in POEM BEGINNING WITH A LINE BY PINDAR -- Olson's MAXIMUS and 'field,' Williams' late poems, etc. i.e, it seems a bad time to lose sight of those areas."  Like Rothenberg, O'Hara, and Spicer, though, the former Mallorca resident Creeley himself wrote a Lorca tribute, but Lorca's statement that the duende "is defined by an exact present" and "all countries.. are capable of duende" vindicates Creeley's localized approach.

Jerez de la Frontera, 23 miles North of the South Coast port of Cadiz' labyrinthine streets that Richard Ford called in his 1845 guide "a sea-prison," which had its own Occupy 120 years before Manhattan's, lending its name to Sherry after the Moors turned the Roman name Asido Caesaris into Sherish and so central to flamenco lore it hosts the primary research library on the art, features the regional style Saeta jerezano de siguiriya:

Daniel Ovieda, Jerez de la Frontera
The siguiriya is one of the primary flamenco cante jondos (Deep Songs) of which Lorca wrote "the melody of the siguiriya.. escapes from our hands as we see it withdraw from us toward a point of common longing and perfect passion where the soul will never disembark." Lorca tells the anecdote of Pastora Pavón, one of the master saetaras of their time, needing one evening to "get rid of the scaffolding of the song" in favor of "not.. forms but the marrow of forms.. pain and its sincerity." This understated rendition is perhaps out of these the most sincere:

Angel Vargas, Jerez de la Frontera
Málaga, the Costa del Sol birthplace of Pablo Picasso that was an anti-Franco stronghold before it was invaded with the help of Mussolini two months before the bombing of Guernica, features the Saeta Malagueña which "incorporates both the siguiriya and the martinete; the voice weaves its way around long mournful notes that have a rather Gregorian religious echo. This style of saeta is rather long and quite difficult to perform correctly.."

Diana Navarro, Málaga 

Daumal's sketch of his analogical mountain may have been influenced by Stendhal's similarly doodled mountains in his memoir The Life of Henry Brulard, bypassing the refined draftsmanship of Lermontov's mountain landscapes. Sebald in the Beyle, or Love is a Madness Most Discreet section of Vertigo reproduces Stendhal's drawing of the St-Bernard Pass from when he was a seventeen year old Napoleonic soldier in 1800 to recount how his drawing drew not from memory but from an engraving of the mountain he had purchased, inspiring Stendhal's advice "not to purchase engravings of fine views" for "they will displace our memories completely." I'd like to think the invisibility of that saetara and the shock of emotion will keep that first saeta from becoming one of these. Stendhal recalls after the day noted by Sebald came an evening "I experienced a sensation I shall never forget. I went to the theater in spite of the captain who, rightly judging of my childishness and my ignorance of swordsmanship, my sabre being too heavy for me, was no doubt afraid in case I got myself killed on some street-corner... They were doing Cimarosa's Matrimonio segreto, the actress who was playing Caroline was missing a tooth in the front. That's all that remains with me of a divine happiness."

* "The word saeta comes from the Latin, Sagitta, which means arrow.." is the key to Lorca's opening to Poem of the Saeta "Los arqueros oscuros/ The dark archers" and its close "pero como el amor/ los saeteros/ estan ciegos" "like love/ the archers/ are blind"

10 December 2012

Before the labyrinth in France and England made its way to cathedral floors, Robbe-Grillet noir and well trimmed hedges in country estates, it was likely presented in the schools of the Greek port of Massalia (now Marseille) before the Romans settled in the region in the 2nd Century BC in their push to Iberia.  Along the Rhone, the primary trade route from the Mediterreanean to the Gallic tribes, the dividing line between the Roman Republic and Gaul from 124 BC until Caesar defeated the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix in the Battle of Alicia in 52 BC and continued to Parisii was somewhere between the Roman settlement of Segalauni, now Valence, just North of Provence, and the capital of the Gallic Allobroges tribe in what is now Vienne 72 km to the North, 32km South of Lyon.  It is between these two towns, perhaps right at or near the pre-Christian border, that the Postman Ferdinand Cheval constructed by himself over the course of 33 years an abode that not only contains two labyrinths but a monument to Caesar and Vercingetorix, flanked to the right by a third "giant," Archimedes,* as well as various other figures:

Stendhal reflected on his "passion for escaping" this latitudinal stretch of the Rhone valley between the rural Massif Central** and the Alps, "which I abhorred and which I hate still, for it was there I learnt to know humankind..." Though the mosque built for Muslim employees of the shoe factory at Romans-sur-Isère, a town whose Occitan name suggests 2ndC BC Roman loyalty 28 km south of Cheval's Palace, was "destroyed before its inauguration" in 1982, Cheval's mosque, which contains a labyrinth, has managed to survive its initially cool reception, with improvised minarets less than 200 km by car from Switzerland:

Cheval, who wrote "I want to live and die as a son of the country, to prove there are geniuses and energetic men in my class also," developed his sculptural style while working as a baker, prompting Breton to write "At the moment when thousands of Vaucanson ducks preen their feathers/ Without looking back you would grab the trowel that breasts are made of." The order in which Cheval built his sections may assist interpretation: first the "Source of Life" pool which may have been influenced by Courbet's "The Source":

..then an Egyptian tomb similar to Robert Smithson's later sketches of the Museum of the Void, and then a Hindu temple, which I presume Cheval only saw in pictures, with animal reliefs all around the structure. The labyrinths were begun a year after the publication of Huysmans' The Cathedral, a novel about Chartres, wherein "Durval.. looked down, in the middle, on the labyrinth marked out on the ground in lines of white stone and ribbons of blue stone, twisting in a spiral, like a watch-spring. This path our fathers devoutly paced, repeating special prayers during the hour they spent in doing so, and thus performing an imaginary pilgrimage to the Holy Land to earn indulgences" but I have no idea if Cheval read Huysmans, whose Des Esseintes character could have also been an infuence.  The Cathedral also has a section on bestiary symbolism, which may have influenced Cheval though his animal imagery seems to have a logic all its own.  L’église Saint-Maurice de Vienne, damaged in the Wars of Religion, retains Romanesque zodiac reliefs and Provençal facades such as St Gilles' has animal scenes from the Old Testament.

A pre-Christian coin from Aquitaine in SW France presents a horse with the body of a labyrinth of straight geometrical lines and right angles making, it would seem, for seven legs, as a labyrinth is a compressed journey and "both Vercingetorix and Alexander were - amongst other things - cavalry generals." (Malraux) "Visual Culture's causal masonry again. Straight and true. No curves, please, they might lead to a labyrinth" the quipster Robert Morris who got me into this blogging maze (I, II, III). Apollinaire: "Finally you are weary of this ancient world.. You have had your fill of living in Greek and Roman antiquity." Morris reads off the charges, stemming from Wittgenstein's "This is really only this": "The acquisition of language, the mind-body problem, the question of meaning, of free will, consciousness" (my italics). Straight lines connected to horses loaded off boats don't themselves create consciousness, but as Bataille says after reflecting on Lascaux "we can never imagine things without consciousness except arbitrarily.. animal life, halfway distant from our consciousness, presents us with a more disconcerting enigma." Clayton Eshleman: "our situation.. seems to be bio-tragically connected with our having separated ourselves out of the animal-hominid world in order to pursue that catastrophic miracle called consciousness. If the labyrinth is a Double Axe, one might see it as humanity's anguished attempt to center a ceaseless duplicity conjured by the evidence that each step forward seems to be a step backward" or as Bhanu Kapil writes "The edge of the jungle is not the place where the line shifts the most. That is deeper in where the caves are, pink with bones."

Maldoror, which Wallace Fowlie opined was a labyrinth Lautréamont built for himself, was also in circulation in France in the era of Cheval, who named one corner "Octopus Sea Creature and Gallic Man."  Lautréamont: "Discard therefore any notion of comparison with the swan at the moment when its soul takes flight; see before you nothing but a monster, whose face I am glad you cannot perceive; though it is less horrible than his soul.. O octopus, with your silken look! whose soul is inseparable from mine; you most beautiful inhabitant of the terrestrial globe.. you in whom, linked indestructibly by a common accord, the sweet communicative virtue and the divine graces are nobly present, as if in their natural residence, why are you not with me, your mercury belly against my aluminium breast, both of us sitting on some sea-shore rock, to contemplate the spectacle I adore!"

Edward James' Las Pozas, which lacks some of Cheval's auteur handicraft because James cleaned out his trust fund having it built for him but is no doubt influenced by Cheval, features a labyrinth and other damnation mechanisms, sharing also with Cheval a serpent in the garden theme.   George Melly's documentary on James is uploadable:

..a later documentary called Builder of Dreams is also available on dvd for web rental, with less biographical detail, a bit more of a tour of Las Pozas, and different footage of Leonora Carrington.  In Xilitla, a long day's bus ride from the border, one can camp inside Las Pozas for about ten bucks in a shack with no power or plumbing, and El Castillo, the Neo-Arabic casa of Plutarco Gastelum, Las Pozas' builder, shown in the documentary, is open as a bed and breakfast, with a large Carrington relief in the breakfast room and this mural of hers in a nearby hall.  Since this paragraph has become Baedecker's, don't forget Les Labyrinths de Hauterives in Cheval's home town, trying to get people to stay for lunch:

..or Henri Michaux's holiday fun guide, written when France was governed from the Massif Central spa town Vichy, 223 km by car from Cheval's Palace:

Life, a labyrinth, death, a labyrinth
Labyrinth without end, says the Master of Ho.

Everything hammers down, nothing liberates.
The suicide is born again to the new suffering.

The prison opens on a prison
The corridor opens another corridor:

He who thinks he is unrolling the scroll of his life
Is unrolling nothing at all.

Nothing comes out anywhere
The centuries, too, live underground, says the Master of Ho.

* Cheval sells the idea of a trio rather than Mount Rushmore's quartet, so perhaps it's not necessary to carve out Loretta Lynn on my backyard relief next to Maya Lin, Jeremy Lin, and Tao Lin.

** Pascal was from the Massif-Central, prompting Jean-Louis Trintinant's Pascal rants in Rohmer's My Night at Maud's, set in Clermont-Ferrand, the provincial capital Alexandre Vialatte described as "a city of uncles. As recently as yesterday its cafes were full of uncles, its theater was a theater of uncles... The Auvergnat.. represents the very concept of avuncularity, the quintessential uncle untouched by contingencies, an uncle by predestination."

09 December 2012

My mother attended a Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) set with, so she recalls, a quintet, on a Sunday afternoon at a UPenn fraternity with about fifty students present. "That's the way Philadelphia was then."(now)

Later she was dating a cousin of Gerry Mulligan, who informed her that Gerry was a black sheep in the family and no one spoke to him. She induced him to take her to one of his shows and then to approach him. Twenty minutes later, Gerry was overjoyed, saying he hadn't been greeted warmly by a family member for years.

Then my Dad came calling and she got him to take her to see Nina Simone at a club, where he felt out of place and complained about the price of drinks. He didn't listen to music but liked it when I put on a Bing Crosby Christmas album once and enjoyed Lionel Hampton at Disneyworld. Breton (#nodads), de Chirico (#yesdads), and Michaux (#nosoonercouldItalkthanIsaidIwasafoundling) didn't like music either.  Michaux more directly and specifically stuck up for the printed word's presentaton of connotation than the once-Dada Breton, who was rumored to have liked Sun Ra (perhaps for his manifestoes). de Chirico (right, "A Child's Brain") was as usual strident and proud:

"I have always remained perplexed by these moments of public excitement over music and musicians, and also by the infinite patience with which so many individuals, apparently sane in mind and body, sit in concert halls and listen, for hours on end, motionless but visibly tired and bored, to symphonies and very long-drawn-out compositions which are never-ending and, what is even worse, pieces of modern music. I have wondered why the same thing isn't done for painting; why for example in a room, facing a public armed with binoculars and opera-glasses, pictures (naturally not modern ones) are not shown, and why the public is not forced to look at each picture for a time corresponding to the duration of a long symphony : that is, about sixty minutes. I do not believe that looking for an hour, with the eye of a painter and the mind of a philosopher, at a large and beautiful composition by Titian or Reubens, should be less interesting and more tedious than listening to a long symphony or a long concerto for the same period. Why is this not done?"

Titian, Venus and the Lute Player

Georgio's answer next week.

OK I'll write it in now, in case I forget: "I believe that the explanation of the difference can only lie in human stupidity which, as I have already said.. is as immense and infinite as the universe."

I've been known to sit in front of single paintings as long as I'm not making the staff uncomfortable, though I don't usually go for the "have it both ways" approach to Titian's and de Chirico's allegorical problem: the mp3 player, which seems rude to my sensibilities, especially in galleries (and in case Schjeldahl's there and I need to correct him) but one time Zwirner had construction sounds from outside and I cued up tunes for a Daniel Richter show and found it most delightful.  Speaking of long views and Daniel Richter, I once sat on the floor of the Zwirner cubicle at the Armory to hang with his "Ophelia" and the previous year stared at the very large "The Owner's History Lesson" for the longest time when it was hung in front of a cafe area and no one was looking at it... the only person who seemed to notice me was I believe the guy who, I read later, ran the Armory Show and he seemed to approve. Hard to pull yourself away from his large canvases when he's at his top form and content yourself with something else.

22 November 2012

Ezra Pound's interest in Asian literature intensified when Mary Fenollosa picked him to be the executor of her husband Ernest's writings in late 1913, after she read "In a Station at the Metro" that Spring, which he called in 1916 a "hokku-like sentence." Though translating Chinese poetry throughout his life, Pound never so far as I know translated a haiku or referred to a Japanese Haiku master in publications or letters.

Much suggests his discomfort with Japan's spiritual and animistic tradition of Shintoism - which he never mentions by name - such as qualifications made for his translations of Japanese Noh plays in 1916 (warning: Uncle Ezra talking) "These plays are full of ghosts, and the ghost psychology is amazing. The parallels with Western spiritist doctrines are very curious. This is, however, an irrelevant or extraneous interest, and one might see it set aside if it were not bound up with a dramatic and poetic interest of the very highest order" and "The suspense is the suspense of waiting for a supernatural manifestation - which comes. Some will be annoyed at a form of psychology which is, in the West, relegated to spiritistic seances. There is, however, no doubt that such psychology exists. All through the winter of 1914-15 I watched Mr. Yeats correlating folk-lore (which Lady Gregory had collected in Irish cottages) and data of the occult writers, with the habits of charlatans of Bond Street. If the Japanese authors had not combined the psychology of such matters with what is to me a very fine sort of poetry, I would not bother about it." Pound wrote to patron John Quinn (who first received word of The Waste Land's existence) in 1917: "China is fundamental, Japan is not. Japan is a special interest, like Provence, or 12th-13th Century Italy (apart from Dante). I don't mean to think there aren't interesting things in Fenollosa's Japanese stuff... But China is solid."

In 1937 Pound tried to disassociate an authentic rendition of Hinduism from "the general impression of Indian thought now clouding Occidental tradition. This cloud exists, and until some light or lightning disrupts it, many of the better minds in the West will be suspicious of all Eastern teaching.. It is in the opinion of the hard-headed, as distinct from the bone-headed, West that Westerners who are drawn to Indian thought are Westerners in search of an escape mechanism, Westerners who dare face neither the rigors of mediaeval dialectic nor the concrete and often exhausting detail of the twentieth-century material sciences." 1939: "Confucian faith I can conceive. I can conceive of a man's believing that if, and in measure as, he brings order into his own consciousness (his own 'innermost') that order will emanate from him. The cycle of Chinese history, the reception of the 'mandate' (called the mandate of heaven) by various dynasties, seem to offer demonstrable evidence of this process." The order of consciousness is to emanate from nature, just as in the Rig Veda from the fourth millennium BC, the first known poetry:

"May there be peace on mortal, immortal and divine planes. I meditate upon the most brilliant splendor of the Sun God. May he stimulate our intellect (so that we are inspired to take the right action at the right time)."

This being a blog I may wonder aloud whether Pound read any Bashō before writing "In a Station at the Metro," as any anthology of haiku would contain them. Pound's emphasis on "spaces between the rhythmic units"

The apparition     of these faces    in the crowd      :
petals     in a wet, black     bough

may have come from the way haiku were translated in keeping with the solitary unit of each ideogram on the vertical plane of Japanese writing as with Bashō's early (1666) poem:

Kyoto | as-for | ninety-nine-thousand | crowd | 's | blossom-viewing | kana

Westernized as:

here in Kyoto
ninety-nine thousand people
out to see the blossoms

in the following year Bashō relates blossoms to faces:

do those blossoming faces
make you feel bashful?
hazy moon

I have always viewed 'petals' to be an appositive to 'faces'  - the faces are the petals - (Kenner: "Pound called it an equation, meaning not a redundancy, a equals a, but a generalization of unexpected exactness") and this interpretation agrees with my speculations of Bashō's influence. Pound said the poem was inspired by a moment in 1916 he "saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another then another.. and then another beautiful woman."  The Gustave Moreau Museum was most certainly open to the public in Paris at the time, which contains Moreau's disembodied face of "The Apparition":

Just like on an airplane in the custody of military police facing treason charges in 1945, "looking down at the tremendous sunlit sea (he) became, on his first ocean crossing by air, ecstatic.." he would assign mythological significance to the underground Metro.  The "crowd" waiting for the train evokes how "Odysseus and Orpheus and Kore saw crowds in Hades" (Kenner).  Kenner also suggests several times in The Pound Era the Persephone myth: "since past poetry has occurred in time, a poetic in transformation will assimilate history to a present moment, and glimpse Persephone in a station at the Metro," as does Cocteau, Chris Marker, etc.

Pound was well aware of Frazier's Golden Bough by this time: in 1913 he so described the poet Allen Upward to Dorothy Pound: "He seems to [know] things that aren't in Frazier," writing to Margaret Anderson in 1918 "Frazier has done the whole thing monumentally, BUT good god how slowly, in how many volumes."  Frazier wrote that Persephone "can surely be nothing else than a mythical embodiment of the vegetation, and particularly of the corn, which is buried under the soil for some months of every winter and comes to life again, as from the grave, in the sprouting cornstalks and the opening flowers and foliage of every spring. No other reasonable and probable explanation of Persephone seems possible."

Aeneus carried the Golden Bough with him in the Underworld, but a "wet, black bough" is another sort of branch, like the "matted boughs" of "the immemorial forest" that, by Frazier's account, he encountered there: "(Virgil) describes how at the very gates of hell there stretched a vast and gloomy wood, and how the hero, following the flight of two doves that lured him on, wandered into the depths of the immemorial forest till he saw afar off through the shadows of the trees the flickering light of the Golden Bough illuminating the matted boughs overhead. If the mistletoe, as a yellow withered bough in the sad autumn woods, was conceived to contain the seed of fire, what better companion could a forlorn wanderer in the nether shades take with him than a bough that would be a lamp to his feed as well as a rod and staff to his hands?"

So it would be the faces of the crowd and not the Golden Bough that illuminate the immemorial forest of the Metro station, consistent with Pound's use of the Golden Bough image at the crucial end of Canto I, affixing it to Aphrodite's "dark eyelids."   Though here Pound doesn't mention Aeneus, Venus's (Aphrodite's) son, he does so repeatedly in the following Cantos and the mention of Aphrodite and the Bough reference positions Aeneus, defender of Troy, as a mirror image to Odysseus, the subject of Canto I heretofore and one of the destroyers of Troy.  Aphrodite is also the mirror image of Artemis, the main figure in Frazier's book, as Cy Twombly documents in his painting from his Ilium series which has the two at the top of the two columns of names:

Michaux: "The Chinese have a talent for reducing being to signified being (something like the talent for algebra and math). If a battle is to take place, they do not want to serve up a battle, they do not simulate it. They signify it. This is the only thing that interests them, the actual battle would strike them as vulgar."

Frazier traces the Golden Bough to "Diana's (Artemis') Mirror," the lake of Nemi near Rome where "the divine mind of Turner" depicts Sybil at the gates of the Underworld holding Aeneus' offering of the Golden Bough as the Fates dance in a circle:

During last year's hurricane in which owing to its noteworthy but not so menacing forecasts I permitted myself to upload Turner storms, I was told that people look at paintings in reproduction, as Frazier and it would seem Pound did, had the curiosity visited him, while Turner's painting had been loaned by the Tate to Dublin before returning there for current visitors.

Jung lamented years later "Modern man does not understand how much his 'rationalism' (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic 'underworld.'" If it was, in fact, corn harvests of underground Persephones that made up Pound's apparition, he would in late 1921 set his hand to edit another Frazier-influenced poem: Eliot's The Waste Land, which, like "In a Station of the Metro," sets the fertility rituals in the city,  relating assorted expressions of sexuality "in different voices." The example cited by Frazier of ritual sexual intercourse as fertility rite was from Java, of animist derivation though Frazier doesn't use the term, and the book makes several references to Shintoism. Edward Tylor and then Frazier developed the style of relating rituals from different parts of the world thematically that would inspire this tendency in Claude Levi-Strauss and then Chris Marker's Shintoist references in Sans Soleil.

Eliot wanted to see paradise just like Dante, and his poetry thereafter consisted mostly of religious symbolism often along the lines of Goethe's definition: "the particular resembles the general, not as a dream or shadow, but as a living, momentary revelation of the inexplicable." The Waste Land's references are more allegorical than symbolic as when Baudelaire's Unreal City gives way to a Dante passage. Benjamin wrote:  "It was owing to the genius of allegory that Baudelaire did not succumb to the abyss of myth that gaped beneath his feet at every step" and "if we can distinguish between spinning and weaving activity in poets, then the allegorical imagination must be classed with the former.. it is not impossible that the correspondences play at least some role here, insofar as the word, in its way, calls forth an image; thus, the image could determine the meaning of the word, or else the word that of the image."

Diego Velázquez, The Spinners (Las Hilanderas)

Pound wrote in his "Pragmatic Aesthetics" "Art is the particular declaration that implies the general; and being particular (Hamlet, Odysseus, Madame Bovary) may not divert, distract, melt and muddle like an abstract declaration which becomes a party cry; or cloak or mask for a hundred different ideas... Philosophy, philosophical expression [is] nothing but a vague fluid approximation; art achieves a MORE PRECISE manifestation" and elsewhere "The statements of analytical geometry, he said, 'are 'lords' over fact. They are the thrones and dominions that rule over form and recurrence. And in like manner are great works of art lords over fact, over race-long recurrent moods, and over tomorrow."

John Tytell wrote "(T.E.) Hulme had heard Henri Bergson discuss the image as a locus between intuition and concept, and he realized that in poetry the image could become a new lever suggesting feeling. Pound attended a series of Hulme's lectures on Bergson and then described to Hulme the difference between what Pound called Petrarchan 'fustian and ornament' and Guido Cavalcanti's more 'precise interpretive metaphor.'"

Eliot's religious portrait of modernity is given the traditional ending of the Upanishad of the post-Vedic age of the second millennium BC. The worldly Pound ends by saying "I have tried to write Paradise/ Do not move/ Let the wind speak/ that is paradise."  The Rig Veda, at the dawn of poetry: "Exulted by our silence, upon the winds we have ascended."

27 October 2012

In 1996 the Rotterdam Conservatory released a CD of Cuban Contradanzas and Danzóns which quickly became for me, a longtime Cuban music enthusiast (I, II), part of my daily bread. The album was inspired by a concert by the Orquestra Típica, a folklore/ preservationist initiative, in Santiago de Cuba in 1994 which led the producers to search for sheet music of any 19th Century Contradanzas or Danzóns, of which they only found 28. The music, a precursor to both New Orleans and Afro-Cuban Jazz, introduces a slow, melancholy melody honed for full effect over centuries that becomes uptempo at the close.

The music most certainly comes from the "country dances" of Southwest France, with horns brought to what is now Haiti when Louis IV was persuaded in 1685 by his ardently Catholic mistress Françoise d'Aubigné to lift the Huguenot King Henri IV's 1598 Edict of Nantes, which had ended over 30 years of the Wars of Religion, prompting a Huguenot diaspora to far flung places in the world including what was then the colony of Saint-Domingue. In the 11th Century, the patronage of the troubadours by Provençal nobility came when the region was loosely controlled by House of Barcelona, Catalan being more similar to the Provençal Occitan than French. Ezra Pound notes in Canto VIII how the first troubadour poetry is indebted to Arabic music from Moorish Spain. The Albigensian Crusades of the early 13th Century cut Provence off from Catalonia and caused troubadours to flee from the region in all directions.

Sordello da Goito, who wrote in Occitan despite living in Mantua of Italy's Lombardy region, spent those years in Spain and Portugal along with many other troubadours. Dante had Virgil (also a Mantuan) bow to him (memorialized in stone in Trento, right)*, Browning penned about him the epic of which Pound would begin his Canto II "there is only one..", asking in the first published draft of Canto I "What's left for me to do?" Stuart McDougal wrote: "For H.J. Chaytor (whose works were well known to Pound), Sordello was an important poet largely because he represented a transitional stage between the Provençal and Tuscan views of love. In his poetry love has become 'rather a mystical idea than a direct affectation for a particular lady: the lover is swayed by a spiritual and intellectual ideal, and the motive of physical attraction recedes to the background. The cause of love, however, remains unchanged: love enters through the eyes; sight is delight.'" The theme of unrequited love in this verse of his was common for its time, and may have helped lay the thematic foundations for later genre of the region like Fado. ("If only it pleased her, with her consent,/ to grant me some hope of mercy from her,/ whate'er the pain which I may feel/ she'll hear from me no plaint.// Alas! What good are eyes to me/ if what I want they do not see?"):

Alfonso the Wise of Castile sponsored troubadours in exile, utilizing their techniques for religious music. The surviving manuscripts of the Cantigas de Santa Maria (1250), from his court, document a range of instruments found later in Huguenot Contradanzas, of which many were of Moorish origin, including early forms of trumpets, clarinets, and string instruments. The Huguenot Protestants arose in the 16th Century out of the influence of Luther and Calvin and disenchantment with French rule, forming strongholds in the Beaune region, East of the Basque region and North of Catalonia, as well as scattered towns like Bergerac, Montauban, Agen, and Figeac. It was around this time that Sardanas were believed to have been first performed in Catalonia, with instruments and melodies similar to the Contradanzas:

Relocated in what is now Haiti, the Huguenots came to lord over the colony's cultural life, and their instruments and compositions became popular amongst the African slaves who, to the delight of the Huguenots, added African-derived aspects to the rhythms, but between the slave insurrections of 1791 and the division of the country in 1807, all French settlers had to leave the island, and many relocated, along with their slaves, to Santiago de Cuba and New Orleans, leading to the popularity of Contradanzas in both places. Around the time of this migration, the first notations and records of Contradanzas are found in Santiago, with the first evidence of this music in New Orleans dating from the mid-19th Century, where in Congo Square Haitian Vodou drumming became a regular feature, its more sacred practice moving underground due to touristic attention until it was banned altogether by Louisiana's Black Codes. Maya Deren wrote how Vodou drumming is not improvised and that Haiti, also, banned the drumming in places due to anxiety about Vodou and possible rioting. Louisiana's ban may have been what severed the United States' historical link to the rhythm-keeping ensemble of Afro-Cuban percussion, paving the way for the solo, individualized styles of percussion that led to Blakey, Roach, Braxton, and Murray. The horn melodies of ragtime, however, that developed in New Orleans in the late 19th Century can be heard in Contradanzas.

Although musical notations in Spain have been found going back to the 8th Century, there was a discernably different approach between those to the North and East who after Monteverde, Vivaldi, and Bach produced notations for posterity and the Iberian belief in music functioning for a performer and audience in the moment, as described by Lorca: "All the Arts are capable of possessing duende, but naturally the field is widest in music, in dance, and in spoken poetry, because they require a living body as interpreter - they are forms that arise and die ceaselessly, and are defined by an exact present. Often the composer's duende passes to the interpreter." Contradanzas and Danzas went through several stages of development, transformation, and stylistic controversy in three countries before any of it began to be written down.

The Rotterdam Conservatory's unsigned liner notes say "The greater part of the (Orquestra Típica de Santiago de Cuba) consisted of septua- and octogenarians, and on hearing them perform, I realized that with the death of these musicians this music would probably disappear." So thought I, but I was wandering around one predictably warm night in the City of Eternal Spring, Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos, Mexico, when walking to the North of the Plaza de Armas I heard a familiar melody. I had for years been listening to the Rotterdam album and also had no idea that the music was performed in Mexico. A brass band was belting out Contradanzas in the Jardín Juárez, which, on quieter evenings, relies on a community of grackles for musical entertainment in the twilight, from a gazebo designed by Gustave Eiffel (above), while about 20 couples, mostly elderly, elegantly dressed and all Mexican, were dancing in the evening air, steps for which they seemed to have a regular familiarity. I read here that Cuban Contradanzas made their way from the port of Veracruz southwards to Mexico CIty, Cuernavaca, and to the Valley of Oaxaca.**

On the "textile route" East of Oaxaca City is the Zapotec town of San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, called in the Blue Guide Tlacochahuaya de Morales and known locally as Tlacochahuaya, tho calling it Tlaco would invite confusion with neighboring Tlacochistlahuaca, Tlacolula, and Tlacochero. The town, 8 kilometers east of the tree with the largest trunk in the world (left) and 2 kilometers west of the ruins of Dainzu, boasts the Tlacochahuaya Philharmonic, which plays Contradanzas as part of its regular repertoire:

There are no hotels in Tlacochahuaya, and the performance of Contradanzas in Mexico is a living form, not a folkloric performance for tourists. The 2006 protests in Oaxaca, which gained the most notoriety in the US from the unpunished murder of Indymedia journalist Brad Will by a city councilman and two police officers, were precipitated by the misappropriation of 920 million US$ of the state's public funds and extremely underfunded schools, like May '68 escalating to over a million protestors after a response of police brutality. But as with the drumming in Congo Square, there arose during the protests a tension between culture and folklore: the Guelaguetza, a pre-Columbian Zapotec festival, had been taken over by the state and turned into a tourist spectacle, an irritation enhanced by the fact that the corrupt, repressive Governor Ulises Ruiz was overseeing the festival, leading to an alternate People's Guelaguetza which over 200,000 participated in.

So this is a close approximation of what the precursor to jazz sounded like in the late 19th Century, bringing to mind Lorca's meditation in that same lecture: "The dark and quivering duende that I am talking about is a descendant of the merry daemon of Socrates, all marble and salt, who angrily scratched his master on the day he drank hemlock, a descendent also of Descartes' melancholy daemon, small as a great almond, who, tired of lines and circles, went out along the canals to hear the drunken sailors sing." Witnessing the musical accompaniment for Tlacochahuaya's parade for St. Jeronimo's feast day, the Dance of the Conquest, and other performances I found, it would appear that every able bodied male in this farming town of 2,000 is a member of a brass band. Indeed, on the 17thC facade of the town's church, God himself is holding a trumpet up to St. Jerome's ear. (below)

Another Danzón from Tlacochahuaya:

From a 50's photographic imprint of the Valley of Oaxaca: "..the great Valley of Oaxaca, justly famous for its pure air, its blue sky and its pretty countryside covered with flowers the twelve months of the year, where ash-trees, jacarindas, eucalyptus-trees and laurels of India abound. A great garden, a delightfully placid and harmonious place full of tranquility and well being, of ancient dreams and gay landscapes, and of pure poetry. There, among the meadows, sometimes half hidden in a wood, others around some hill, towns and villages suddenly appear, giving life to the countryside and inviting one to share their rural peace.

"But besides the beauties of nature, the Valley of Oaxaca, so sweet and calm, so appropriate for day-dreaming, contains History. The silence of the beautiful landscape is frequently broken by the echo of a thousand memories of its exciting past. A past situated in an almost mythical world, but amazingly rich in manifestations of the spirit and the actions of man. In this very ancient land the people carry deep inside them the nostalgia for something undefined, but which in their imagination must take the form of fabulous wealth, opulent cities and races in the fullness of their vigor. Nostalgia, indeed, for a mysterious and very remote past, full of beauty, irretrievably lost in spite of the fact that it sometimes seems that the old gods wander around here once more.."

* Sordello even gets the main square of Mantua named after him, containing the cathedral and the ducal palace, while Virgil must content himself with a Napoleonic-era piazza a block North, tho Virgil gets a statue and Sordello doesn't.

** Another link between the cities of Cuernavaca and Oaxaca is extended visits by Malcolm Lowry, who headed South from the setting of his opus to seek in Oaxaca the perfect mezcal, finding hallucinatory friends like fauns being slaughtered in the hotel dining room, vultures in his bathroom and upended turtles bleeding to death, and, in a letter, "no less than five policeman are watching me." The classic Lowry documentary is embeddable:

Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry by Donald Brittain & by John Kramer, National Film Board of Canada

09 October 2012

13 September 2012

Yehudi Menuhin, violin 

"I am only inclined to send myself best wishes if I can give a satisfactory answer to the question: are other people the only ones obliged to consign me to the rubbish heap, or must I join in?" Arnold Schoenberg, "On My Fiftieth Birthday, September 13, 1924"

12 September 2012

18 August 2012

What's up

Annette Messeger (Marian Goodman, 24 w 57th, til Aug. 24) gives this account of the origins of the stuffed animal genre of sculpture: "Mike Kelley and I used the stuffed animal at the very same time... He is more interested in a direct social reflection while I will place a photo or a word on the doll, a sentimental value which will give more of a charge. I invest the doll with another content, like African voodoo effigies.." as Picasso viewed art as a weapon after studying African art. "Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley engage in child-games, what we call in French 'pipi-caca.' In my work on the other hand, the colored crayon becomes a weapon, it is pointed. I stab with it; it keeps the formal aspect of the pretty colored pencil but is lethal, deadly." At her one woman show at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris I saw a laughing three year old girl race to a pile of her stuffed animals and jump into them, causing her parents some consternation while the guard shared the laugh.

In her interviews she draws a distinction between the American and French traditions, "when an artist sees an object, he sees an object that is loaded symbolically but he also sees it visually" and says she employs "a mixture of this strong sentimental side and the visual side. In my work there are always these two elements, and I wonder if this is not opposed to minimalist American Art.. In Europe we have the weight of the past on us, which makes us much less direct than Americans who seem to always produce a kind of 'new art' without history." This opposition is historically denied, most famously in Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko's 1943 New York Times letter "There is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject-matter is valid which is tragic and timeless," but the subjects in late Rothkos and Gottliebs are to be sought, not "loaded" and apparent, perhaps less important to their imitators.

As in Europe, she finds in Mexican streets (which she visits often) "objects that are loaded symbolically" : "Visually it's just overwhelming; sometimes it's just too much, and you have to stop. The colors, the smells, the markets, everything. The religious iconography. There's this street in Mexico City, near the cathedral, and it's just filled with nothing but plaster religious icons!" the "forest of (Mexican) symbols" found in Alberto Gironella's assemblages (below). Her statement "I do see my work yes, as bric-a-brac, a surrealist hodgepodge.." suggests the visits to the flea market with Marcel Noll related by Andre Breton in Nadja and Gironella's methods.

Breton in that book says "de Chirico could only paint when surprised (surprised first of all) by certain arrangements of objects" and Catherine Grenier writes of this show "The choice for these architectural forms either conical (left) or abstract in their shape makes one think of the metaphysical world of de Chirico (below, left) or the allegorical archaism of Carra.. (below, right)" referring to the period when the two were painting Metaphysical Interiors together in Ferrara. de Chirico had at times similar views of visual experience: "One must picture everything in the world as an enigma, not only the great questions one has always asked himself - why was the world created, why are we born, live and die.. But rather to understand the enigma of things generally considered insignificant.. To live in the world as if in an immense museum of strangeness, full of curious many-colored toys which change their appearance, which, like little children we sometimes break to see how they are made on the inside, and, disappointed, realize they are empty."

Baudelaire in 1853:  "The overriding desire of most children is to get at and see the soul of their toys, some at the end of a certain period of use, others straightaway.. The child, like the people besieging the Tuileries, makes a supreme effort, at last he opens it up, he is stronger. But where is the soul? This is the beginning of melancholy and gloom. There are others who immediately break the toy which has hardly been put in their hands, hardly examined;.. I do not understand the mysterious motive that causes their action."

de Chirico would disagree with Messager's view of the artists' "character." Messager: "Art is a secret shared between the individual and the collective. In order to be touched by a work of art, it must first refer to the person who made it, a strong personality, and it must touch the collective, everyone must find something in this order. Artaud is a good model for this. He made his drawings for himself only and we can all find ourselves in these portraits, his auto-portraits or his manifestos. It is precisely this back and forth between the individual, between the inside and the outside, the private and the public, which makes a work of art stand out, because it touches both worlds at the same time."

de Chirico: "Nietzsche very properly remarks: 'With the greatest respect one says of a man 'He is a character.' Yes - if he exhibits a course logic, a logic obvious to the eyes of the least discerning. But as soon as it is a question of a more subtle and profound spirit, which is coherent in its own way, the observer denies the existence of a character.' The same observation can be made on art, and also on painting. A profound picture will be entirely without the gesticulations, the idealism which attracts the attention of the crowd and makes the name of an artists well-known. All momentary posture, all forced movement will be put aside."  (1911-15) Artaud invests his observations in his persona, but manages to evade the defects of the practice set forth by Nietzsche and de Chirico.

de Chirico became more attentive to form than content after his first solo show in Rome in 1919 came under critical attack and he became enamored of the Titians and Reubenses at the Villa Borghese. He soon thereafter designed stage sets with Diaghilev and others, an association which brought forth Picasso's Neo-Classical period (at his first wife's insistence), and so the Neo-Classical Cocteau came to de Chirico's defense when he began to fall out with the Surrealists. It could be that he reached a threshold in discerning content that he wanted the Rome critics and ballet culture to pull him away from.  Neo Rauch appears to be undergoing a simlar process in the past few years, with less extensive development of enigmatic dramatic tableau and more references to art-historical approaches to form (below).

17 July 2012

As you may have guessed, the focus on labyrinths noted here (I, II) did come from Borges by way of Smithson, an avid reader of literature.  Smithson in 1966: "Borges speaks of a labyrinth that is a straight line, invisible and unceasing" in proximity to his quotation of Pascal's he returned to two years later, "a looking-glass babel that is fabricated according to Pascal's remark, 'Nature is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.' Or (his italics) language becomes an infinite museum, whose center is everywhere and whose limits are nowhere." He also said in an interview that the artist shouldn't perceive art as unlimited but shouldn't know where the limits are. He noted Walter de Maria's lines in a landscape that went on for quite a while but stopped eventually, but these influences may help explain why 1970's Spiral Jetty is more visually labyrinthine than a straight line, but a line rather than an enclosure from an infinite circumference.

Although Smithson doesn't write specifically about Borges' conception of the labyrinth, its time-dimension according to Borges is well covered by Smithson.  "The Garden of Forking Paths" was described by the Sinologist in Borges' story of the same name as "an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as conceived by Ts'ui Pen. Unlike Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform and absolute time; he believed in an infinite series of times, a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent, and parallel times. That fabric of times that approach one another, fork, are snipped off, or are simply unknown for centuries, contains all possibilities." Smithson noted the completeness of the visual form of the mandala amid what Ad Reinhardt inserts from his temporal experience and conception of history into his 1956 "Portend of the Artist as a Thung Mandala:"

"The rim of Reinhardt's Portend becomes an ill-defined set of schemes, entities half-abstract, half concrete, half impersonal fragments of time or de-spacialized oddities and monsters, a Renaissance dinosaurism hypostatized by a fictional ring of time - something half way between the real and the symbolic.
This part of the Portend is dominated by a humorous nostalgia for a past that never existed - past history becomes a comic hell. Atemporal monsters or teratoids are mixed in a precise, yet totally inorganic way. Reinhardt isn't doing what so many 'natural expessive' artists do - he doesn't pretend to be honest. History breaks down into fabulous lies, that reveal nothing but copies of copies. There is no order outside of the mandala itself.'" (Smithson 1968)

Commenting elsewhere on the representation of time and history, Smithson argued: "The sense of extreme past and future has its partial origin in the Museum of Natural History; there the 'cave man' and the 'space man' may be seen under one roof. It didn't occur to me then, that the 'meanings' in the Museum of Natural History avoided any references to the Renaissance, yet it does show 'art' from the Aztec and American Indian periods - are those periods any more or less 'natural' than the Renaissance? I think not - because there is nothing 'natural' about the Museum of Natural History. 'Nature' is simply another 18th and 19th C fiction."  Smithson proposed "The Museum of the Void" modeled after Egyptian tombs and looking very much like the entrance to Ireland's Newgrange, (above) replete with spirals, which resounds with Simone Weil's "The future is the filler of void places" in Gravity and Grace, where she calls time "a substitute for eternity" and the past and future an "illusion" for "imaginary elevation," and "when pain and weariness reach the point of causing a sense of perpetuity to be born in the soul, through contemplating this perpetuity with acceptance and love, we are snatched away into eternity."