25 February 2013

Gauguin "Mallarme" 1861
Blanchot's observation on the ontology of Mallarmé's works relates to works both written and unwritten: "Mallarmé had the most profoundly tormented awareness of the particular nature of literary creation. The work of art reduces itself to being. That is the task: to be, to make present 'those very words: it is... there lies all the mystery." Mircea Eliade reflects: "Mallarmé declared that a modern poet must go beyond Homer, because the decadence of Western poetry began with him. And when the interviewer asked 'But what poetry existed before Homer?' Mallarmé responded, 'The Vedas!'" In 1880, Mallarmé noted regarding his translation of Cox's Mythology, which summarized Max Müller's Sanskrit translations and theories: "The change of seasons, the birth of nature in the spring, its summer plenitude, its death in autumn and its disappearance during winter (phases that correspond to sunrise, sunset and night), is the great and perpetual theme of Mythology, the double solar, daily and annual evolution, the tragedy of nature." Paz paraphrased Mallarmé's solar drama: "Will the sun come out again? .. Or does the hour of midnight point to be beginning of a darkness without shores or without time?" By the time of the Rig-Veda, Ratri, the goddess-guardian of night, had long been taking turns with her sister the dawn.

Robert Motherwell, Mallarme's Swan, 1944

Rancière wrote about the sonnet that contrasts the lowercase swan with the capitalized Swan (perhaps the constellation Cygnus) "..the great 'tragedy of nature'; born again with each dawn from the darkness in which it dies each evening. As with nature, this tragedy has had its time, which is that of the first autumn. The poet who does not bear this in mind is like the swan, its captive wing stuck in the ice sheets of winter.. That is the mystery that succeeds tragedy: the great metaphor of the Idea-sun, buried in waters and darkness, is shattered into a multiplicity of schemas of disappearing.." Piri' Miri Muli' can't actually certify that the lowercase swan could get his wing out of the ice by conjuring Mallarmé's vision of the first autumn, as winter weather brought him precarious health '..I shall die or I shall survive.. I am descending earthwards from the Absolute..': Homer noted how Northern European swans sang just before they froze; in milder climes, the Nicaraguan Dario's capital S Swan sings the dawn instead of death at the precise moment it becomes Wagnerian, before the hill-dwelling González Martínez returned to the Mallarméan owl, which would seem to dream of swans all night. Mallarmé's Swan sonnet is used in the first improvisation of Boulez' Fold Upon Fold, a phrase* that Mallarmé used to describe the fog in Bruges:

Badiou uses 'schemas of disappearing' to interpret the "Ses purs ongles très haut…" sonnet in which "the sun-event, that is, the mirror" reveals "unicorns lashing a nymph with a flame" and then "disappears" to "create a sort of.. 'ban' of the subtractive." The poet also disappears, as Mallarmé writes "The right to accomplish anything exceptional, or beyond the reach of the vulgar, is paid for by the omission of the doer, and by his death as so-and-so." Paz calls the first stanza the death of nature, the second the death of consciousness, and the third, the mirage of the unicorn burning the nymph, the erotic. "Midnight.. is anguish.. Anguish is not psychological: it is a phase of the solar rite."

* Deleuze: "The fold is probably Mallarmé's most important notion.. the fold of the world is.. the open fan (which) makes all particles of matter, ashes, and fog rise and fall. We glimpse the visible through the mist as if through the mesh of a veil, following the creases that allow us to see stone in the opening of their inflections.."

12 February 2013

The bull as solar personification figures in a crucial poem of the late 40's by René Char, when he was emerging from his Liberation digs in Céreste, the mountain town 59 km east of his birthplace where he was known as Capitaine Alexandre, and began again to publish his work:


It is never night when you die,
Circled by shrieking shadows,
Sun with two like points.

Beast of love, sword's truth,
Murderous duo unique before all.
tr: James Lawler

Francis Picabia, Corrida-Transparence, 1930

Bullfighting was part of Char's everyday life growing up, where, as Ford Madox Ford wrote in 1935 "In Provence.. the bullfight continues still in its triumphant progress at the sword-ends of actors.. its essentials are swiftness and skill in wielding a thin spike of steel against a furious and alert monster.. In every village of Provence there is a bull-ring and on every Sunday of the year when the days are warm enough, all the young men of courage face, without arms, the wild bulls of the Camargue.." René's grandfather, a foundling named Charlemagne, walked to L'Isle-sur-Sorgue, 29 km east of Avignon, becoming a plaster merchant and building up the family business to where his son, Emile, would become mayor and have the square between the town center and the train station named after him, containing one of the town's ten remaining watermills upon the arms of the river Sorgue which powered the silk factories of its industrial boom:

"I was ten. The Sorgue enshrined me. The sun sang the hours upon the wise dial of the waters. Both sorrow and insouciance had sealed the weathercock onto the roof of the houses where, together, they stood propped. What wheel, though, in the heart of a watchful child turns swifter, more powerfully, than that of the mill with its white fire?" ("Announcing One's Name," tr: Gustaf Sobin)

Char's use of the bull as solar personification is without direct reference to the labyrinth myth, which entered France by way of Provence.  The Parisian belief of Baudelare and Surrealists that myths had to emanate from the modern gave way to Char's Provençal belief that myths emanated from nature, as his "Orion iroquois" found validation in the Iroquois' ceremony which coincided with the position of the constellation, before Breton, who referenced Oceanic myths late in his life, would use the labyrinth image to compliment Miró's constellations. The author of the line "fauve d'amour/ beast of love" was friends not only with Masson and Picasso, painters of bulls, and Bataille ("THE UNIVERSAL resembles a bull"), but also with Matisse years after his paintings like "Joie de Vivre" had him labeled a Fauvist.  Around this time Char and his friends were developing an interest in Lascaux and the neighboring caves, and after Henri Breuil described an animal in the main chamber (right) in his 1952 book as "The Unicorn," Char described it in a poem as "La Bête Inncommable/ The Unnamable Beast." Char was at one time friends with both Breton and Heidegger, entertaining the disparate strands of romanticism.

Piri' Miri Muli' readers recall Paz' commentary on Rilke's Eight Elegy: "The 'open' is where contraries are reconciled, where light and shadow are fused. This conception restores death's original meaning: death and life are opposites that compliment each other. Both are halves of a sphere that we, subjects of time and space, can only glimpse.. This recognition can only take place through detachment: he must renounce his temporal life and his nostalgia for limbo, for the animal world. He must open himself out to death if he wishes to open himself out to life. Then he will be 'like the angels.'" For Antoine Bloyé, the Nantes railroad manager of Paul Nizan's 1933 novel of the same name, "Death was in him.. without images.. without ideas.. not imaginable.. his nothingness would not be represented."

Bataille's essay from the Picasso issue of Documents notes "the human tendency to distinguish two suns": the sun "one obstinately focuses on" and the sun not stared at directly "of mathematical serenity and spiritual elevation." The Icarus myth "splits the sun in two - the one that was shining at the moment of Icarus' elevation, and the one that melted the wax.." Georg Trakl's poem "The Sun" similarly names two suns tied to human perception, "When night comes,/ The wanderer gently lifts the heavy eyelids.." after the daytime sun allows the natural world to "rise.. glide.." and "ripen."

Char as a pre-teen read Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Petrarch, and the title of "Le Soleil des eaux", composed around the same time as "The Bull," may like the watermill's "fire" have recalled Baudelaire's "les soleils marins" phrase from "La Vie antérieure," channeling a previous life when his slaves were assigned the sole task of interpreting the hidden cause of his sorrow, or Rimbaud's "sea gone with the sun." Petrarch lived the next town over in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, "mostly visited by those who have never heard of the poet whose sylvan haunt it once was, 'happy to have the Muses for his companions and the song of the birds and the murmur of the stream for his serenade.'" Petrarch, seeing the source of the Sorgue there at age 9 "spoke my boyish thoughts to myself: Here is the place which best suits with my temper, and which, if ever I have the chance, I will prefer before great cities." André Thirion in 1972 had "recently reread (Char's) 'Artine': 'Despite animals and cyclones Artine maintained an inexhaustible freshness. When strolling, she was absolute transparency.' Wasn't she coming straight from La Fontaine-de-Vaucluse?"

At 22, around the same time "The Bull" was written, Pierre Boulez would set Char's "Le Soleil des eaux" to music, at first wanting to present his poems a capella, then mixing Webern and Asian music in anticipation of using Char's Surrealist poems for Le marteau sans maître a few years later, which Boulez and Stravinsky agreed was his seminal early work. "The Bull"'s compression is what Boulez noticed: "what attracted me to Char was not, as many have written, his love of nature, his love of Provence, or his deep understanding of men. Rather was it his extraordinary power to gather together, in an extremely concise way, a whole universe." Soleil was originally a long poem documenting the Resistance, but Boulez used only a dramatic monologue of a lizard who fancies himself an omniscient prophet and tragically falls in love with a goldfinch ("who but a lizard in love to tell the secrets of the earth") followed by a tribute to the Sorgue. It could seem, at first, daunting for Char to compose a poem about a river frequently described in Petrarch's Canzionere as in 208 "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," but Petrarch's much too fixated* on the married Laura of whom "we have no reason to suppose.. ever bestowed one favor on Petrarch beyond a pleasant look.." for him to give the river the extended treatment Char gave it:

Solar imagery would be related to his Resistance experience: In "Freedom" "..it came, a swan on the wound, along this white line.. that might signify dawn's emergence as well as dusk's candlestick", "Penumbra": "I was in one of those forests where the sun has no access, but where stars penetrate by night. The place could exist only because the inquisition of the state had overlooked it.." (tr: Mary Ann Caws)

* Char's aphorism "Le poème est l'amour réalisé du désir demeuré désir" could be commentary on Petrarch's legacy.

Anselm Kiefer, Fur René

02 February 2013

The key to Badiou's "I'll train those two!" line in Film Socialisme may lie in his description of Brechtian didacticism in the opening essay of his 1998 Petit manuel d'inesthetique, which also contains an essay on cinema: "The thesis (of the didactic schema) is that art is incapable of truth, or that all truth is external to art.. The definition of art, and of art alone: To be the charm of the semblance of truth...

"For (the didactic) Brecht, there exists a general and extrinsic truth, a truth the character of which is scientific.. dialectical materialism, whose status as the solid base of the new rationality Brecht never cast into doubt. This truth is essentially philosophical, and the 'philosopher' is the leading character in Brecht's didactic dialogues..

"For Brecht, art produces no truth, but is instead an elucidation - based on the supposition that the true exists - of the conditions for a courage of truth. Art, under surveillance, is a therapy against cowardice. Not against cowardice in general, but against cowardice in the face of truth. This is obviously why the figure of Galileo is central.."

The other two schemata are romanticism, which Badiou equates with Heideggerian hermeneutics, and psychoanalysis, aligned with the classicist, Aristotelian emotional catharsis in contrast to Brecht's Platonism.  He complains that the avant-gardes couldn't unite the first two against the third, citing Marinetti and Breton, in the long tradition of convoluted logic by Frenchmen to complain about Breton's aesthetics which includes, vying with Camus for the most deceptive tract, that of Henri Lefebvre's in Critique of Everyday Life.  Lefebvre, to his credit, said in a 1955 lecture on Lukács "the subversive antibourgeous character of Romanticism acts as a screen between classicism and ourselves. For my part, I do not share Lukács' radical suspicion of Romanticism," pointing out, as would countless other examples and testimonies, that there are many more sides to Romanticism other than Badiou's definition, which is no doubt a strain within the tradition. Breton called Surrealism "the prehensile tail of romanticism."  Anna Balakian wrote "Breton notes.. that.. Hegel succeeded in pointing out the very true differences between romanticism and modernism: the romantic draws the object within itself and makes an abstraction of it, while the true modern projects himself into the concrete existence of the object."  To gauge amongst other things, the treatment of the Aristotelian in Aragon's Le Paysan de Paris and Breton's Nadja, "the measuring stick is knowledge of concrete forms and objects, and the mind's elasticity in transforming them."  Breton sought out Freud in person and Aragon would emerge as a conventional master of Aristotelian-structured novels after WW2. We find below Godard, too, succumbing to the non-Brechtian "Oh! how many imagine the Bérénice, the Phèdre of their dreams, leaving the trace of her tears on her screen." (below, spoon purchased in L'Amour Fou by Breton at Saint-Ouen Market in the presence of Giacometti)

Brecht's first play, Baal* (noted here in keeping with the Minotaur theme, I, II) commented on the Romanticism that animated the previous era's fashion for Expressionism, which Douglas Kellner thinks "we must see.. as a late development of romantic anti-capitalist revolts."  

Bentley: "Walter Sokol has written of (Baal) eloquently as a parody of those Expressionist heroes whose life was a sacred mission. But since Brecht considered the Expressionist missions spurious, he makes Baal's 'mission' genuine. Baal is an ambiguous, ambivalent figure: part monster, but partly, too, the martyr of a poetic hedonism. And the positive element is more prominent than the negative because it is Baal's special contribution - his monstrousness he has in common with a monstrous world."

As the "didacticism" Badiou attributes to Brecht wasn't fully formed, the Hitchcockian justice visited on Baal's chaos and destruction is in keeping with Aristotelian conflict: "With the early Brecht, it is as if he were striving to break through to a hedonism as radical as that of Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. That guilt and anxiety blocked his path may, in one respect have been fortunate: he was a dramatist - conflict was his raw material."

The differing uses of the Baal/ Moloch figure by Brecht and Allen Ginsberg indicate their respective orientations at their starting points.  Ginsberg's was "Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!," returning to William Blake who "had attacked the 'Satanic mills' and called for a spiritual rebirth in the face of the material and spiritual decay which industrialization produced." America in the 50's produced "the incomprehensible prison.. Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows," against which Ginsberg and his poet friends were protagonists slaying "Moloch who entered my soul early!" Brecht had a picture of Baal over his bed in Augsburg, "the enemy of the Christian-Judaic, puritanic, ascetic tradition.. an enemy of 'all that lacks life and vitality'.. of death." Prefacing his 1926 rewrite, he noted Baal's "heedless way of living.." and that "he shamelessly exploited every possibility that offered." Blake, believed to have been unaware of Hegel, wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell "Without Contraries is no progression" and "Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy," long before Bentley would attribute that view to Brecht.

* 1982 BBC version starring Bowie in the title role here.