30 January 2013

Anselm Hollo's Inaugural Poem

Ah, to be a "National Poet"
wouldn't that be fun?

No I don't think so
They shot the last one
In the nineteenth century

& even less so
In the twenty-first
Where "spectacle overcomes thought"

& Xtianity so-called
's a perversion
Of the renegade rebbe's teachings

Shock & awe   Shlock & dread

Into the valleys of idiocy
They ride, our lords

23 January 2013

Alejandro Obregón, Estudiante Muerto, 1956
Readers of Piri' Miri Muli' may be capable by now of guessing my favorite Charles Mingus tune from my repeated references to Cumbia (I, II) and birdsong (I, II, III). In the 70s, when Colombia's drug trade was growing into what it would become in the following decade with the use of shipment points across the US-Mexican border, Mingus was asked to write music for the films Todo Mundo and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, both about the Medellín-NY cocaine traffic. In the course of traveling around the country gathering Cumbia records, he took note of how "in Colombia the Indians in the mountains are poor, and at times, they come down to the cities and sing songs about rich people. Songs about the differences between having nothing and having so much. That got me to thinking about the ghetto in America, and how blacks there have no money either. And they too want, like I sing, 'all the fine things of life.'" Mingus' vocals for "Cumbia & Jazz Fusion" beginning at 19:27, a parody of the song "Shortnin' Bread," begin with references to gourmet food and quickly move into cultural stereotypes, educational integration, and, finally, that sought-after commodity "freedom" which Mingus methodically forged for himself by guarding the development his own musical projects and influences. The session employed a conga quartet to bring Caribbean timekeeping to his 16-piece big band.

I just noticed that, over 30 years later, someone set Cumbia diva "La Negra Grande" Leonor González Mina's "Campesino de Cuidad" - produced with orchestral accompaniment right around the same time - 1977 - to images from a 2008 documentary about forced displacement...

Colombia was named the world leader of forced displacement in February 2011 by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement, concurring with a report two years earlier by the UN. "Some 5.2 million people were displaced from rural areas of this South American country between 1985 and 2010." A small percentage of Colombia's displacement currently results from the guerrilla war that began in 1964. "Some observers, including on occasion government officials, allege that displacement is predominantly caused by fighting, i.e. people fleeing combat zones. Whilst it is clear that people do flee combat zones, sometimes on a temporary basis, this is not in fact a major cause of forced displacement. The International Committee of the Red Cross has clearly stated that displacement in Colombia is 'a deliberate strategy rather than a by-product of the conflict.' The fact that large scale economic projects subsequently occur in many of regions where displacement is most intense, would also indicate that a deliberate strategy to expropriate land is in use."

2011 saw 239 attacks against human rights activists and 49 murders, mostly committed by AUC paramilitaries known to have had tacit, informal cooperation with the government and with large corporations. James Bageant filed a report two weeks ago that Chiquita was supporting a continuation of its displacement by paramilitaries through an arrangement with the supplier Banacol. In 2007, Chiquita pled guilty in the US to funding Colombian paramilitaries, paying a $25 million fine, leading to a 60 Minutes piece that used the theme "extortion is the cost of doing business down there." Banacol, now its largest supplier of bananas, has hired subsistence farmers to work the land seized by paramilitaries, defending it, with the help of paramilitaries, from local activists attempting legal restitution. "The land restitution process is now reaching a critical moment and violence and threats are again on the rise. Tensions increased earlier this year when Manuel Ruiz, a land rights campaigner involved in the restitution process, was abducted, tortured and murdered, along with his 15-year-old son Samir." In Honduras, where campesinos are being driven off their land for the harvesting of palm oil, which has also been grown in Colombia after displacement, campesinos have told Annie Bird they saw paramilitaries that appeared to be Colombian. (below: Alejandro Obregón, La Violencia, 1952; below right, Gabriel Carvajal/ Fady Flores 2004 photo tribute to Obregón's La Violencia)

Colombia's oil exports have expanded rapidly in recent years, and after Occidental Petroleum was given military support to herd the U'wa ("the thinking people") off their land and didn't find anything, the Colombian company Ecopetrol has similar plans, for whom "the new Santos government has achieved a complete change in how it exercises authority through processes of militarization, new laws, and guarantees to foreign investment." "In 2009 the Colombian Constitutional Court issued Ruling 004, stating that 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk of disappearing, culturally and physically." Previously, the largest sector for foreign investment in Colombia had been "African Goldmines! Diamonds in the know!" emeralds, nickel, and other minerals. One of González Mina's most famous covers is "A La Mina No Voy" (I Won't Go To the Mines), dating from resistance to the use of slaves for mining in the 19th Century.

11 January 2013

I was thinking for a few days about a blog post about poets I liked that are influenced by Anselm Hollo, and this morning Ron Silliman tweeted that Hollo has been transferred to hospice. When I was an undergrad I wanted to study with Hollo, though he hadn't published much crit in book form - the indispensable Caws and Causeries wasn't out then. I got The New Sentence out of the school library, and at 4 am the next morning asked "where does this Silliman guy teach?" When I found out he didn't teach anywhere (though he'd give a sort of course as a blogger in the future), there was still Anselm at Naropa, so I didn't have to decide. Hollo was very kind to me during my cup of coffee there, but as is sometimes the case I soaked up a lot more from reading him. He said a few years ago in an interview that one can write poetry to create a record for oneself, and his record will live forever, though he didn't get the well-deserved Nobel I tried to nominate him for. I want to say on my blog that he's my favorite living poet.

The dedication and intensity of the dead
always were greater than ours.
No doubt it seemed that way to them too
as dusk was falling
on their last weary glimpse of a land
populated by twerps.

10 January 2013

Godard's ontological Dante quote in the screening scene (at 4:37) of Le Mépris "Learn whence you came; you were not meant to be, but to discover knowledge and morality" was, it would seem, selected for its anti-Cartesianism, a position that Godard would continue to revisit thereafter. Godard came of age when Sartre's Being and Nothingness was popular, and though he was and is influenced by him, his unease with Sartrean ontology was most directly expressed in 1967's La Chinoise (right), which included "a wall of shame that serves as .. archery.. adorned with a collage of images of Descartres, Sartre's book on Descartes, Himmler (inscribed Emmanuel Kant), the poet Novalis, Lyndon Johnson, Kosygin, and Leonid Brezhnev." In 2004, Godard proposed an exhibit at the Pompidou based on "a question (by Emmanuel Levinas): in the 'I think, therefore I am' is the 'I' of 'I am' no longer the same as the 'I' of 'I think,' and why? .. The project.. will seek to respond to this kind of question, more profoundly than the philosopher, in a sort of proof by nine courses.. to show and to demonstrate several aspects that have made and unmade 'la cinematographie..'"

Film Socialisme can be interpreted in part as a realization of this project, as it contains several ontological quips, including "Simone Weil, after Franco's victory when she learned the Germans had taken Paris, declared: 'A great day for Indochina.' You see, with the verb 'to be', the lack of reality becomes flagrant..." and encloses Alain Badiou, who wrote in 1988 "A post-Cartesian doctrine of the subject is unfolding" and "mathematics is ontology" into vertically aligned shots which develop an analogical relationship to the ideas he expresses. From overhead, Badiou says in a lecture: "Geometry as origin. The origin is always what one returns to. There has been, for decades, especially in Mathematics a return to Geometry. The idea is not that Geometry would return to its origin but rather that we return to Geometry, as origin and participate in the return to Geometry." The film cuts to a landscape of a rocky shoreline with the narrator's voiceover "The poor things. The only thing they own is the name that we impose on them" and then tourists looking at a historic city from a bridge "There's nothing more convenient than a text. We have only books to put into books, but when we must put reality in a book, and looking below the surface, we must put reality in reality."

1972's Letter to Jane's* voiceovers include "Uncle Bertolt came up with five difficulties with telling the truth back in his time." A Brechtian attempt to "put reality in reality" can't be a spoiler, so I can upload Film Socialisme's closing montage - which I would venture to guess, with the Markeresque use of Potemkin footage, the visual of Racine's Principles of Tragedy, and recitation of Phèdre suggests, is a revisitation of the arguments and models set forth in his 1952 Cahiers du Cinéma essay "Defense and Illustration of Classical Construction," where he refuted André Bazin's contention that the long take contained more truth content than montage:

I would like to note certain points common to the art of the eighteenth century and the mise-en-scène of recent years. Firstly, the attitude of the artist to nature: he acknowledges nature as art's principle model. And then in the fact that it was not the cinema which inherited a narrative technique from the novel, but the novel which inherited an art of dialogue - lost, one should add, since Corneille? Oh! how many imagine the Bérénice, the Phèdre of their dreams, leaving the trace of her tears on her screen. But I fear that harmony, even of the most beautiful song, will not suffice this most virtuous of the arts: it also needs to be encumbered with truth, to correct - in Delacroix's fine phrase - the reality of that perspective in which the eye takes too much pleasure not to want to falsify it. By this I mean it will not be content with imitating a reality 'seized at random' (Jean Renoir)

That "harmony.. needs to be encumbered with truth" is revisited when the soundtrack is mixed with the music that accompanies tour boats to Odessa, preceded by the voice over (before this clip) "During his second course at the New School in New York, Roman Jakobson shows during the winter of 1942-43, that it is impossible to separate sound from meaning and that only the concept of the phoneme can solve this mystery." Rod Smith's 2003 Music and Honesty contains "my/ oft inner floated mesquite/ self's Ismene suddenness/ is known spirals sleep and/ clear" which I'm certain without a doubt is where Godard got the idea to relate phonemes to Racinian personae out of context, even though like Balzac and Gide he isn't in the three opening credits frames full of authors quoted in the film.

A Virgin Mary icon (left) like the one at 0:14 is referenced in the "Image and Text" lecture that Godard is traveling to Sarajevo to give in Notre Musique, which also contains a quote from Phèdre. Godard recounts the story in Malraux's book about Picasso when in 1858 the peasant girl Saint Bernadette of Lourdes was asked to identify the Virgin Mary that had been appearing to her, and after being shown many paintings using natural settings and perspective, was shown a Byzantine icon and said "it's her!" Godard: "An icon: no movement, no depth, no artifice. The sacred." At the end of the lecture, Godard is asked "Can the new little digital cameras save the cinema?" He is silent, with the high-key lighting without fill, for celluloid, creating contrast on his face that, in the past, video couldn't handle. Film Socialisme is, it would seem, an answer to the question, with footage of varying resolution shot with all sorts of cameras.

Another vertical sight gag is used in describing the dialectic:

Voice Over: As the whole of these parts, where the sum of these parts, at a given moment, denies - as each contains the whole - the parts we are considering: as much as this part denies them, as the sum of the parts, again becoming the whole, becomes the whole of the linked parts.
Badiou (sitting on a spiral staircase, shouting): I'll train these two!
VO: Dialectical thinking is first of all, in the same movement, the study of a reality, inasmuch as it is part of the whole, inasmuch as it denies this whole, and inasmuch the whole contains it, conditions it and denies it, inasmuch as, consequently, it is at once positive and negative in relationship to the whole, inasmuch as its movement must be destructive and conservative movement in relation to the whole.

Brecht, whose status as Godard's favorite theorist is demonstrated with the scene in the La Chinoise (which utilizes unstable irony to portray Université Paris Nanterre in the 60s) when all the names on the chalk board are erased but Brecht's (right), wrote "Hegel denied that one equals one, not only because everything that exists is continually turning into something else, namely its opposite, but because generally nothing is identical with itself."

Scenes at gas stations appear repeatedly in Godard's films: Hail Mary is set there, and important action takes place there in Pierrot le fou, Weekend, La Chinoise (below), Le Mépris, etc. From the gas station section, later in the film:

"Please don't use the verb "to be".
"There, use the verb "to have" and things will go much better for France.
"---- Did you find that in Balzac, Flo?
"--- Florine. If you make fun of Balzac, I will kill you."

The gas station attendant (below) is reading Balzac's Lost Illusions**, the tragicomedy Lukács was talking about when he wrote: "Hegel saw clearly, in connection with Diderot (Rameau's Nephew, a precursor to Lost Illusions), that the voice of historical evolution is heard, not in the isolated portrayal of what is good, but in the negative, in what is evil and perverse. According to Hegel, the perverse consciousness sees the connection - while the illusory good has to be content with incidental and isolated details,"*** while flanked by a llama. Eric Bentley wrote "in Brecht's world, badness is active, goodness is passive."

The Dardenne Brothers also name Levinas as a primary influence. The most famous essay on Levinas, Derrida's "Violence and Metaphysics" came out a few years after Le Mépris, describing Levinas' post-Cartesianism as "thought (that) can make us tremble.. which.. no longer seeks to be a thought of Being and phenomenality, makes us dream of an inconceivable process of dismantling and dispossession," like one character's proposal for the post-Cartesian gas station. Godard's closing montage reflects Levinas' view of Greece, like others before him: "the medium.. in which all truth is reflected - Greek civilization, and to what it produced, to the logos, to the coherent discourse of reason, to life in a reasonable State. This is the true grounds for all understanding." Derrida adds: "Such a site of encounter cannot only offer occasional hospitality to a thought which would remain foreign to it. And still less may the Greek absent himself, having loaned his house and his language.." Godard: "You see, with the verb "to be", the lack of reality becomes flagrant. For example: Soon we will be in Barcelona. It would be better to say: Barcelona will welcome us soon."

* At 35:25 of Letter to Jane, the VO: ".. before the talkies, films had a materialist standpoint. The actors said, 'I am film, therefore I think, at least I think of the fact that I am being filmed. It's because I exist that I think.' After the talkies, there was a New Deal between the matter being filmed and thought. The actor begain saying 'I think that I am an actor, therefore I am film. It is because I think that I am. I think, therefore I am.'"

Godard's statement in the voiceover that photography's split second of representation was more easily manipulated by captions than the moving image came eight years before Barthes contradicted it in Camera Lucida: "I was overcome by an 'ontological' desire: I wanted to learn at all costs what Photography was 'in itself'..In the Photograph, the event is never transcended for the sake of something else.. it is.. the This.. the Occasion, the Encounter, the Real, in its indefatigable expression.. a photograph cannot be transformed philosophically.." Later: "All the world's photographs formed a labyrinth. I knew that at the center of this Labyrinth I would find nothing but this sole picture, fulfilling Nietzsche's prophecy: 'A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth, but only his Ariadne.' The Winter Garden Photograph (not shown) was my Ariadne, not because it would help me discover a secret thing (monster or treasure) but because it would tell me what constituted the thread which drew me towards Photography."

** The other books that appear in the film are Gide's Straight is the Gate, with a title taken from the Sermon of the Mount, about an upbringing preventing love, and Mahfouz' Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth.

*** Lukács also says Balzac's "social ideal was that compromise between aristocratic landowner and bourgeois capitalist.. when he censured the attitude of the French aristocracy, he based his criticism on an idealized conception of the English Tory nobility."

03 January 2013

The Mayan date of has arrived and Piri' Miri Miri' prefers simply to ask its titular question from a tribe further North: "What did you dream?" For a lad of my European lineage to get too annoyed by the truly ignorant statements, jokes (this blog believes in jokes), and eschatological projections would be to lack perspective about people who have faced, and endured, much worse, even when the ignorance is coming from multi-million dollar educational endowments like UPenn Anthropology and the Poetry Foundation.

Dennis Tedlock, a poet who co-edited the journal Alcheringa with Jerome Rothenberg, gathers recent scholarship countering the traditional claims that Classsic Mayan culture died out before the arrival of the Spaniards. As with Europe, written narrative was moving from carvings to paper texts, and in the 16thC "Cortés and his men saw many books when they landed on Cozumel" as monumental cities like Copán had long been displaced "by a developing sea trade network," perhaps, I think, susceptible to siege warfare and corruption. Thirty years after Cortés came Diego de Landa, who embarked on a cultural cleansing that saw whatever written codices he could find burned and the destruction of as much Mayan art as possible. Several codices and texts survived by chance, including the Popol Vuh which K'iche' (Quiche) Mayan elders showed to Friar Francisco Ximenez in the early 18thC, who translated it into Spanish.

Among the Quiche peoples, numbering over a million mostly in Guatemala to the West of the capitol, some still use a Mayan calendar, and none have been preparing for an apocalypse. In Momostenango lives Rigoberto Itzep Chanchavac, who as Priest and Daykeeper advises his community when to plant, etc. This interview is from 2009:

"Mankind may change for the better. That will depend on us and how we act and what we do, and I want to communicate that to the world. We have to find our human roots, obeying and being humble, with a fear of the law of life: the earth, wind, fire, and Mother Earth. How can we work on this? We have to stop the bombs, the experiments, the launches into space because that's an assault on the energies of outer space. That's what men have done in their pride. We can get to a more balanced state. We are like children at home breaking things, and the house is Mother Earth.

"We can do this penitence, meditation, and other spiritual work, we can make a chain everywhere in the world. The people with balance with themselves and nature may survive. Mankind has to make a journey to its original roots to make this change.

"We all have the capacity to understand what's happening based on our experience. To understand is within our reach. This is your homework. We are all one family of mankind."

From the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, Subcomandante Marcos, organizing a thousands strong mostly Mayan pre-dawn silent march on Dec. 21 in five cities, reassures us that "In these past years we've strengthened ourselves and we have significantly improved our living conditions.. We are the same from 500 years ago, from 44 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from just a few days ago.. the ones who live, struggle, and die in the last corner of the fatherland, those who don't give up, those who don't sell out, those who don't give in.. we send you a hug."

02 January 2013

Nietzsche's favorite poet was Hölderlin, who wrote in "The Course of Life" how "in the labyrinths of death/ you can find a straight path" but "love/ Forces all of us under./ Pain's necessary curve/ Returns us to our beginnings," repeatedly suggesting the importance of the unknowable, as in "Greece" - "his face is beyond knowing,/ He suffuses the air with art,/ And space and time conceal/ The awesome one." Hölderlin's use of the word "night" in his own "Night Songs" some eighty years before Nietzsche's "often signifies that state of spiritual numbness which follows upon the death of the gods." In "The Poet's Vocation," he celebrates the arrival of Dionysus from India to be squandered by the poet ("Nor is it good to know much") until, as recited by Fritz Lang at 8:49 in this clip from Le Mépris:

LANG: (in German) "Fearless becomes the man who stands alone before God. His innocence protects him, so he needs neither weapons nor cunning, until God's absence helps him."
FRANCESCA: (translates into French for screenwriter ) "But man, when he must, may stand fearless, alone before God. His innocence will protect him. He needs neither weapons nor guile, until the absence of God comes to his aid."
LANG: Very good.
FRANCESCA: It's Hölderlin, isn't in Mr. Lang?
LANG: (In French) Yes. "The Poet's Vocation." The last verse is very strange. Hölderlin first wrote "...while God is not there."
FRANCESCA: So god is not missing.
LANG:  Yes, and then he wrote "...until God is near."
FRANCESCA: So God is near.
LANG: Yes. The final version of the line contradicts the other two.  It's no longer the presence of God but the absence of God that comforts man. It's strange but true.

Poseidon (Neptune) appears at 1:57 of the screening scene in which Lang suggests "It is man who has created the gods":

Poseidon antagonized Minos when Minos refused to sacrifice the white bull to him, casting a spell over Pasiphaë which made her fall in love with the bull and hire Daedelus to craft the cow costume, which thereafter made Daedelus more important when he had to build the labyrinth for Minos to enclose Pasiphaë's offspring, fated to the 'arm both sides' mentality of troubadour Bertran de Born, a precursor to defense contractors:

Poseidon also became very angry at Odysseus for blinding his son, forcing Odysseus to delay his return to Ithaca and Penelope, and Godard cuts again to the statue of Poseidon when the screenwriter and protagonist is separated from his wife at 3:14 of the next scene:

Alberto Moravia's novel Contempt, or A Ghost at Noon has the film directed by a hack German director, but Godard as a tribute to pre-war German cinema casts Lang "who plays himself, or in effect the conscience of the film, its honesty," about whom, before his line in the projection room ("the Hitlerians said revolver instead of checkbook"), the screenwriter notes "in '33, Goebbels asked Lang to lead the film industry, and he fled," to which the producer replies: "But this is not '33, this is '63, and he will direct whatever's written," cuing the screenwriter's directive to make Odysseus less heroic and more neurotic, including the producer's ideas that Penelope has been unfaithful and Odysseus vacillates over returning to her. One of Godard's favorite books is Vercors' 1942 story The Silence of the Sea, wherein a Francophile German officer is quartered in the house of a French family, which was a starting point for the story line of Notre Musique.  In the final shot, Lang is directing the film in Capri after the producer (mild spoiler) has taken leave of the project, with Godard, playing his assistant, hollering "Silence" before the sea, where Dante's Ulysses faced his death. Vercors: "Once more the silence fell. Once more, but this time how tense and thick! Underneath our silences of the past I had indeed felt the submarine life of hidden emotions, conflicting and contradictary desires and thoughts swimming away like the warring creatures of the sea under the calm surface of the water. But beneath this silence alas! there was nothing but a terrible sense of oppression."