You Can’t Go Home Again (Notes on Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 1)

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1.1. Obsession as Fuel

David Lynch always returns to important influences in his art, as evidenced by the childhood memories found in the text and imagery of his paintings, the obsessive focus on stark contrasts of light and shadow in his photography and cinema, and a deep reservoir of knowledge of the space in which he works. As a director, for which he is arguably most known (although he is a musician, writer, painter, photographer, and more), Lynch creates what appears to be a complete vision that incorporates references as disparate as jazz (think, Fats Waller in 1977’s Eraserhead), Transcendental Meditation (Dale Cooper in the first season of Twin Peaks), and unexpected and extreme violence. He mixes many iconic but superficial images of the American Dream (Blue Velvet’s white picket fences, the cherry pies of Twin Peaks, and the factories associated with progress and drive and American innovation of another era) with actual dreaming, including a large dose of dream logic included in all of his narratives.

Note: Although Twin Peaks: The Return is essentially two creative artists in David Lynch and Mark Frost, I often refer to the elements discussed as originating with Lynch. This decision is made due to the repetitive occurrences of these elements in Lynch’s other work.

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This phrase is repeated in The Return (2017) by Al Strobel as Mike.

Lynch brings beacons associated with the cultural consciousness into every work he creates. Two of the most often referenced are The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), which bookend the violence of WWII and the atomic bomb. Anyone who watched or heard anything about the newest season of Twin Peaks recognizes the influence of this example of extreme violence in Lynch’s work. Wild at Heart (1990) is a kind of fractured homage to The Wizard of Oz, and characters embody the attributes associated with the original. Echoes of Sunset Boulevard are found throughout his Mulholland Drive (2001). These cinematic obsessions are connected. Both deal with time and the loss of it. In Sunset, the main character is no longer a screen icon. She watches as time moves on without her. To console herself, she weaves a dream narrative of her own identity. In Oz, the character has lost time completely. Dorothy is transported to another world that operates with a completely different set of rules. When she eventually gets back home, she tells her family that they were all there in the dream world with her. Time moves but is also stuck. In the world of Oz, Dorothy is trapped for days. In our reality, she is just out cold for a short while.

The character and actor names of both films are used for much of the cast of Twin Peaks. Norma Desmond, the name of the aging actress of Sunset, can be found in Norma of the Double R and Agent Desmond of Fire Walk With Me (1992). The name of Dorothy Gale’s actress, Judy Garland, can be found in the Judy associated with evil and Major Garland Briggs. Even the name of Lynch’s own agent, Gordon Cole, was revealed to have been pulled from a line in Sunset Boulevard from this newest season of Twin Peaks.

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Both The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) begin in muted sepia or B&W.

Twin Peaks: The Return contains many allusions to The Wizard throughout, including the red shoes we have come to associate with Audrey being worn by many female characters, including minor players such as the waitress at Judy’s in episode 18. There is the fact that both The Wizard and Twin Peaks: The Return both begin in muted tones of sepia or B&W. This, in the 1939 film, indicates the reality that often lacks the color of our imagination. In Twin Peaks, it may indicate something similar. That means one would need to decide whether the series is taking place in a dream (as Gordon Cole would plainly express later in the series) once we see the world washed in color or if it’s taking place in reality. Maybe it’s both.

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Lynch’s reference of the red shoes or ruby slippers throughout Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

If there is one thing I have gleaned from watching Twin Peaks and the rest of his work, I don’t believe David Lynch has the ability to compartmentalize. Even if he does have this ability, he does not use it. Anything is possible, and connections are everywhere.

Time and memory are important considerations when viewing any of Lynch’s work, but I found them vital with The Return.

1.2. We Have Always Lived In the Castle

Listen

to the sounds.

It is in

our house now.

Dale Cooper listens closely to a small sound, maybe a scraping or clicking sound. This sound is repeated in the very last scene of the series, when Cooper and Laura Palmer (or Carrie Page) are at what we thought was the Palmer residence. Perhaps these scenes take place at the same point in time, separated only in our perception of the events. Perhaps it is just a foreshadowing of what will come.

Either way, the past and future are completely intertwined. Allusions to the first “version” of Twin Peaks show up in every aspect of the new series. The new characters are often distorted reflections of former characters, street names in new cities reflect important characteristics of the Twin Peaks of Seasons 1 and 2, and much of the dialogue feels out of time. The whole series is constructed in a way that that makes linear narrative hard to discern. But, it works. It moves through repetition or echo of imagery and dialogue.

Sometimes there is no action, only sound, in a frame for long stretches of time (like at the Palmer residence, where the camera stays in the living room, but the audience clearly hears some disruption off screen/out of frame). This is jarring and uncomfortable, and the director knows this. We are supposed to feel like we are losing something, like we are entering an uncertain narrative.

There is a deep sense of mystery because, as the Fireman states at the start, “it all cannot be said aloud now.” It also cannot be shown completely. The clues come in backwards speaking and hosts of visual signs. The recurring “seed” or “birth” symbols come in the forms of tiny gold spheres and larger egg-like atomic bombs. Mostly, there is no rationale or narrative conclusion for why these occur…but the mid-season episode that was just the actual dropping of an atomic bomb and the birth of evil was completely unexpected.

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The atomic bomb (b. July 16, 1945, New Mexico, USA): pic.twitter.com/65SyGQPnR8
— Brandon Shimoda (@brandonshimoda) July 17, 2017

The journey back to Twin Peaks for Cooper, and later for Laura, is an impossible one. Like Homer’s Odyssey (by the way, Odessa is the feminine for Odysseus), the return home will not be easy. There are challenges.

When they return, are they really the same? Odysseus wasn’t recognized by Penelope upon return, and Laura/Carrie is only recognized by Agent Cooper. The Man from Another Place (AKA The Arm) has explained (at the end of Season 2 of the original run) that the next time we see him, it won’t be him. Not only is that true for The Arm, which came back as a tree with an amorphous head…but, all characters have changed. The new residents of the Palmer home, Alice Tremond, we have seen before. In another form, she was a resident (with her grandson) at the trailer park and the apartments in the original run of the show. She has been called “Chalfont,” but both identities have been references to the same person.

The uncertainty of reality and dream, the unreliable “main characters,” and the non-linear narrative make this run of the series hard to navigate.

There is so much to consider. That’s what art should do, propel our thinking, open our minds to critical reflection. In the examination, we may even learn something about ourselves. I can’t make sense of much of what I’ve seen in the series, but there are plenty of signs to return to for the next few months. Much of what I have shared here is rambling, and I think that is much of what I have read about the current work. But, there are some great critical essays out there. Here are a couple of places to find some help deciphering what you may have watched this summer:

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A Partial Record of My Education

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“Those who love wisdom must investigate many things.” – Heraclitus

“I write-and talk-in order to find out what I think.” – Susan Sontag

In 2014, I graduated with my doctorate in education, and this seemed miraculous to me. A sustained focus, logical arguments, and the synthesis of an area of literature were inherent in the task of writing a dissertation, and I didn’t feel like I’d ever be able to live up to this challenge. As a child, I felt most comfortable with image and sound based communication. Music and visual art are such a large foundation for my thinking. I’m pretty certain this had to do with my mother taking me to museums and libraries, playing records in the living room regularly, and encouraging my growing interest in drawing.

Images could convey ideas that were both at the surface of my thinking and buried in my subconscious. Painting or creating something visually interesting and potentially communicative was something that came naturally. The imagery did not have to mirror reality. It could be completely conceptual. I was driven by the need to play with things that had an uncertain end. Not being driven to an actual destination, instead being propelled forward with intuition and curiosity, liberated me from having to make any sense of what I might be feeling in a way that would communicate to another. It was a drive to create.

This drive has pulled me in many directions at once. I have obsessively composed with sound, painted primarily textural (if not always aesthetically pleasing) images, and sometimes incorporated sound with paintings. Notes and small drafts of “diary” or journal entries have always been included as well. The outcome of these experiments was a amalgam of forms. I’m never quite certain how a thing may turn out…what form or hybrid it may take finally. I don’t even know if the outcome is the final version of a thing.

My default thinking is in fragments. If there are connections between the ideas or works, I have no knowledge of it during the process. It is always a dive into the unknown.

The past two months have included more than a few occurrences of fragmented thinking and organization that has not yet solidified into a coherent statement or group of thoughts. My regular lists of reading, listening, and watching have increased. I have rapid and incomplete connections between ideas and forms (text, image, sound, memory, etc.).

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March-April 2017 Notebook, Thinking in Lists (more)

Recently, I have been reading Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy (Bubbles, Globes, and Foams) that have finally been translated, Hito Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen (2013), Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter (2017), Kafka’s late writings, Wittgenstein’s late writings on culture and aesthetics, Kadinsky, Susan Sontag, a biography on Eric Dolphy, so many disparate essays, and massive amounts of poetry.

Lately, I have been awed by the visual artwork of Rosy Keyser, Titus Kaphar, Fernando Zobel, Hito Steyerl, Julie Mehretu, Rebecca Horn, and Agnes Martin.

As I have written before, my sister told me once that whatever I put into my head must eventually come out. In what form will it arrive?

It eases my mind to know that others seem to have the same attraction to this process of discovery (like Sontag’s diary entry below).

From Sontag’s As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (with my scribbles)

Probably due to the Sloterdijk, the fact that Eleanor is beginning to trace the letter O, and my attraction to the simplicity of the ensō, circles and spheres have dominated my visual thinking. I seem to find them everywhere. From the Book of Genesis to NASA’s documentation of space trash, I seem to collide with imagery that represents a circular/spherical containment or a cyclical process.

 

Day 5 of Creation (Book of Genesis Illustration, 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

From Alberto Manguel’s Curiosity (2015)

Iannis Xenakis- from Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1992)

Iannis Xenakis- from Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition (1992)

Searching through Language: Translations of Hadrian (W.S. Merwin) & Limits of Human Perception

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Below, I have included a couple of translations of the only poem ever to have been found attributed to Hadrian (A.D. 76-138). The first word in the original Latin, animula, translates to little soul or small soul.

These first three photographs capture the relatively hard-to-find Pheonix Book Shop chapbook, Three Poems. I have a copy (only 100 were ever made, and it is signed by the author in 1968). The second poem is Animula. This was a kind of translation, I believe. But, it was more of Merwin’s work than an actual translation of the original.

The fourth photograph is from Merwin’s Selected Translations (2013, Copper Canyon Press) and includes a small bit of description about the origin and attempt to truly provide an adequate translation of Hadrian’s work. This is also included at the end of Merwin’s 2009 collection, The Shadow of Sirius (also Copper Canyon Press), which won the author his second Pulitzer Prize. His first Pulitzer was for the collection, The Carrier of Ladders (Atheneum), in 1971.

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These variations on the poem are vastly different from one another in content, form, and intent. You can read a little about Merwin’s thoughts on translation and the impact of this act on the rest of his learning in his interview with Paul HoldenGräber in 2010 (here), or watch his discussion with Michael Silverblatt in 2012 (here). A nice, printable pdf version can be found at the Poetry Society website (here). The first version included here is probably (since it was published in The Carrier of Ladders as well as the chapbook) an attempt to create anew from the inspiration drawn from the original Hadrian poem. However, it could be the lifelong pursuit of understanding that sometimes takes the form of endless revisions. This is what I would like to believe.

Language, in one description, is a temporary attempt to articulate this experience of being alive and being human. Language may attempt to communicate; however, The most important things in this life are not easily communicated in any form (including verbal and written languages, visual representations in paint or sculpture or architecture, music, etc.). Language is temporal at best. It “works” well enough for a time. Then, it must evolve to something new. Sometimes, this can mean an entire language changing or being lost. With spoken and written languages disappearing at an alarming rate, we are reminded of the temporal nature of everything. Language, like our individual lives, does not last forever (here is a list of extinct languages).

This small poem that has interested Merwin for a good portion of his life could be symbolic of humankind’s attempts to grapple with larger meaning. But, it is only a poem, a short verse. How could it convey so much? I am reminded of Adrienne Rich’s (a friend of Merwin) title for her final book, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (2011). Poetry can be fawlty. It can evolve. It is indicative of what it conveys. It is temporary. For me, this poem (and this author) are reminders to keep searching, to not completely become comfortable with what I believe I know. Merwin wrote (in “The Nomad Flute,”another poem from The Shadow of Sirius), “I have with me / all that I do not know / I have lost none of it.” Merwin reflects often on the limits of memory and language. The Shadow of Sirius is probably the collection which captures this so starkly throughout its poems. Here is the complete text of “Going” from the same collection:

Going

Only humans believe
there is a word for goodbye
we have one in every language
one of the first words we learn
it is made out of greeting
but they are going away
the raised hand waiving
the face the person the place
the animal the day
leaving the word behind
and what it was meant to say

There is a constant wrestling with the limits of communication. These very brief poems carry the weight of the world, prophetic and powerful, not unlike traditional religious texts. This is probably not accidental. Merwin wrote hymns as a young boy. His father, a Presbyterian minister, would have probably remarked on the following passage from Corinthians (King James Bible): While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Even as language is a temporal excercise, Merwin describes the thumbing through pages of his father’s 1922 copy of Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language “in search of meaning” (from the poem “Inheritence,” The Shadow of Sirius, p. 32). In one of his three “forwards” to each section of the Selected Translations, Merwin admits that this practice of translation (and, maybe all writing) has “evolved” and is essentially an “unfinished art” (2013, p. 281).

Maybe, I am rambling beyond what I attempted to describe in the beginning, which was just the dissimilarity of two translations by the same author. Maybe I’m searching for something that’s not in these texts, something that is just beyond them. Maybe it’s in the past, and I am wrestling with some existential questions that one of my favorite poets can’t help me resolve.

These “eternal” things (2 Corinthians 4:18) are perhaps the mysteries that will keep us pursuing clearer understanding…although Joseph Joubert (as translated by Paul Auster) warns that in some cases, it may “rob them of their illusions.” Of course, Joubert is referring to one of man’s symbolic preoccupations, looking at the stars. Merwin continues to search, not worrying of the loss of mystery. He knows that his attempts to capture the uncapturable are futile, but they are attempts nonetheless. Perception changes as we age, as we experience new things. We attempt to hold experiences, thoughts, and create things from these elements. They may not be good forever. But, as John Berryman told Merwin (and Merwin passed on to the reader in the poem, “Berryman”:

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

Knowing we may fail is not an excuse to try to communicate, to connect with others. That is where the magic is- in the trying. Maybe this is what Merwin meant when he admits in yet another poem from the life-changing volume that won him the second Pulitzer,”from what we cannot hold the stars are made” (from “Youth,” The Shadow of Sirius, p. 39).

 

Selected References

Auster, P. (1997). Translations (Selection of Joseph Joubert’s Notebooks). Marsilio Publishers.

Merwin, W.S. (2013). Selected translations. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (2012). Interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on April 18, 2012. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/41266851

Merwin, W. S. (2010). Interviewed by Paul Holdengräber on October 22, 2010 at NYPL. Retrieved from http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/av/transcripts/merwin_transcript.pdf

Merwin, W. S. (2009). The shadow of Sirius. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (1997) Flower and hand: Poems 1977-1983. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press.

Merwin, W. S. (1970). The carrier of ladders. New York: Atheneum.

Vidal, J. (2014). As forests are cleared and species vanish, there’s one other loss: a world of languages. The Guardian (US Edition). Retrieved on April 28, 2016 from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/08/why-we-are-losing-a-world-of-languages

Stream of Conscience Morning Rambling on Recent Reading

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Simone Weil’s describes the potential beauty of popular will in its purest form and once it is corrupted by collective passions triumphing over individuals in her last essay, On the Abolition of All Political Parties (1943).

“Similarly, a certain mass of water, even though it is made of particles in constant movement and endlessly colliding, achieves perfect balance and stillness. It reflects the images of objects with unfailing accuracy; it appears perfectly flat; it reveals the exact density of any immersed object…When water is set in motion by a violent, impetuous current, it ceases to reflect images. Its surface is no longer level; it can no more measure densities. Whether it is moved by a single current or by several conflicting ones, the disturbance is the same.”

Weil proposes that this eventual inner ethical conflict is detrimental for mankind and can have grave consequences.

“If a man, member of a party, is absolutely determined to follow, in all his thinking, nothing but the inner light, to the exclusion of everything else, he cannot make known to the party such a resolution. To that extent, he is deceiving the party. He’s thus finds himself in a state of mendacity; the only reason why he tolerates such a situation is that she needs to join a party in order to play an effective part in public affairs. But then this need is evil, and one must put an end to it by abolishing political parties.”

Although Weil is not technically discussing the social philosophy concept of “Groupthink” (coined by William Whyte in a 1952 Fortune Magazine article), the group dynamics that include the “rationalized conformity” associated with Groupthink are present. Weil is pointing to the idea that independent thinking is lost in the blind group loyalty. Weil is concerned with the individual being lost in the decisions made to support group passions. I would suggest that this inner conflict isn’t far from the concept of society’s accepted form of schizophrenia posed by Deleuze and Guattari in their Anti-Oedipus (1972). In their (arguably rambling) text, the authors describe individuals as alienated from the start in a society built upon capitalism (and I would add…any other man made conceptual structures to guide society as a whole).

Isn’t this same concept of smothering the individual in support of the group mirrored in the concepts discussed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1970)? In his text, Freire uses the terms of “colonizer” and “colonized” but is accurately describing the oppression of one group by another. Some of these oppressive actions may include those that are perpetrated by the oppressed individuals, unintentionally complicit and diminishing of the self in service of the new group’s will.

Some reading from the past month (citations are possibly incorrect):

Blocker, J. (2016). Becoming past: History in contemporary art. University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1972). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Penguin.

Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing. New York, NY.

Guattari, F. (2008). Chaosophy: Text and interviews 1972-1976. MIT Press: Semiotext(e).

Guattari, F. (2009). Soft subversions: Text and interviews 1977-1985. MIT Press: Semiotext(e).

Weil, S. (2004). The notebooks of Simone Weil. Routledge.

Weil, S. (2014). On the abolishment of all political parties. NYRB Classics. New York, NY.

The Initial Stage in Analysis Involves Perception

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A wash of white uncertainty suffers

history & pastels pour
from openings left in the sky.

Our boat, constructed
from stringless cellos, slides
on ribbons of fish.

Above, wings of flesh reflect fire
as blue
bodies over St. Francis.

Our adopted sails, imitating
southern crosses & temporary bridges,
orbit a sunrise of text.

We move ghosts to see again
in any form other
than hovering weightlessness.

Indoor animals push against the walls
of our craft.

Time swells into repeated singing-
homeless, screaming.

Every mother aboard moves quietly
from one outstretched palm to another
recreating rainfall.


The Monkey’s Paw

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Monkey’s Paw (First Version)

1.

the stampede of lost lambs tore into the painting,

coloring the sky in Artaud ecstasy

loud & filthy with desire

strewn across the field

of bodies sewn through the fallen chain link fence.

Lifeless but full of motion,

they are a bloodless hymnal-
a flip book of photographs- discrete

images lie          sometimes, but these are at least

nine hours in the making.

Under no stars,           but so much swirling

sky drips into everything we drink now.

2.

Close your childhood, tightly.

A fleshy specter appears

in light circadian logic

behind your eyes

before everything cries through glass.

Where have you been, a sister asks

in language

woven into

water.

Everything’s slipping

falling

without

3.

                                          your boy.

Your boy has returned home

                              as broken geometry,

all angles in reflection.                   Open hymen

sounds too much like your surname,

too much like Hinderman.

Your sin sees damage like you

                              never did

(in reverse)

& no mysteries exist in these words.

Your son has returned home,

                               & he’s currently beating

prayer into the TV             while you watch.

You asked for this emptiness, he screams.

                  You’re shot talentless

into reality.

Bullets know distance
only matters in formal math.

   You have returned home in another body,

as energy,

             as longing.

You can stare into yourself       forever

              once he’s inside.

Look to the door           shaking

knocking

                 into your fingertips.

Your little boy has returned.

Your boy has come home

                 to a version

of you.

He’s waiting for you.

      Lambs will grow wild        in the absence

of good.

So,

go now.

                      Go right now.

Open your door,

                 & let him in.

Stream of Conscience Regarding Pre-Gesture, Erasure, and Silence- Part 1

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This post was largely drafted via dictation to Siri (iPhone 5) en route to work.

Francis Bacon, a largely self-taught artist, said that the first mark of the canvas was the most powerful.

Bacon had an artistic vision that was informed by the various media of his time. So, movies like  Battleship Potemkin and images like the pope frequently easily entered the frame of his canvas. Bacon was painting not things or portraits but a visual schema of his psyche, one littered and entangled with images both representational and symbolic.

What of impulse before the Gestural scraping of paint on the canvas for that first “indelible mark”?

What I’m asking is what happens to the paint in the heart and the mind prior to the first mark on the unprimed canvas? Ever prolific, this too was recorded for Bacon. He would actually test color and test the way his brush hit a surface on the walls in his studio.

What of all of this practice? Is it meaningful? Is it something to be recorded? Is it more than practice?

It felt like scientific study. A question is asked, a hypothesis is pronounced or declared, and off goes the scientist to decide if the process or the outcome is something worth investigating further. It always felt like this for me. I would grab my alto saxophone or my trumpet and I would play completely alone in a room or a racquetball court somewhere in town. Almost everything I played was recorded on a cassette. I suppose I recorded out of habit or out of necessity to hear what those sounds not only sounded like while I play them but once I was out of that moment.

The sound invariably changed once I left the moment of actual creation. My ear would pick up things that I just liked in retrospect, but it felt like something worthwhile. The process became the art, the meaningful pursuit for some communication or the meaningful pursuit of a way to communicate with sound. The communication may have been only shared with myself at the time but had some significance in the way I processed information in a variety of other subjects.

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This morning I’m listening to David Gross. His album, Things I’ve Found to be True, captures this gesture before the published gesture I guess. However, none of this feels like simple practice. If feels very much like David Gross is scraping into the messy areas of creativity to find something just beyond his reach.

Do the quiet scrapings that move through the sound space of Gross’ record originate from the same space as the automatism-based drawings of Robert Motherwell or Matta (his teacher)?

Does this experiment in silence or in near silence have any root in the foundation of the movement known as “New London Silence” with which cellist, Mark Wastell, and harpist, Rhodri Davies, are known?

Heddy Boubaker’s Lack of Conversation does the same, albeit dramatically different in process. Boubaker may focus more on filled space then Gross, but both have an intense need to do things with the saxophone that may not have been heard before or prior to their respective recordings. It’s not so much about the recording of something that’s never been done as much as it’s about recording something that you don’t know what it’s going sound like prior to playing. It becomes an act of freedom and also bravery.

Something about this area artistic creativity reminds me of Paul Auster’s White Spaces a prose (almost a prose poem, and it is included in his collected poems) that captures a sense of emptiness (or, rather, openness) that very few artworks capture. There is a great deal about this piece here.

In the last few years, several musicians have taken to almost “erasing” their sound to bare minimal marks. Assembling just the brass and woodwind players alone, one could create an orchestra of silence or near silence. These include Nate Wooley, Axel Dorner, Radu Malfatti, Greg Kelley, etc. This list could go on for days if one were to collect the names of musicians that are often working on the outside of normally accepted musical sound, like Gabriel Paiuk (sound artist from Buenos Aires) and Taku Sugimoto (guitarist from Japan). The list is endless because artists are all searching for that method of communication in a time where probably so much Sal fills our day it’s a stripping away to the essential elements that informant memory or soft around the subject. It may even be the stripping away of the subject itself.

One famous example of this is Robert Rauchenberg’s Erased to de Kooning, a pencil drawing by Willem de Kooning that was erased by Rauchenberg after being given permission by the artist. The image, or what is left of the image, is mounted in a beautiful frame. The “indelible marks” are almost nonexistent; they become pentimenti.

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What is it that draws me to this openness? This erasure?

Why am I entranced by Mary Ruefle’s Little White Shadow, a short book, appropriated and erased by Ruefle in the creation of something new? Isn’t this a reworking of Radi Os (Ronald Johnson) or A Humument (Tom Phillips)?

Why do I create work that is also engaged in some secret history of absence or erasure? What do I gain from it?

Why do I create musical works (like the one linked) that attempt to do much the same as these? Or like this one (Track 9)?

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There is so much more that could be connected…so much more ether, nothingness, absence, silence.

Maybe I am interested in exploring this creative “first act” or non-act…because I am a teacher. The moment that a student learns…there is a magic that happens in that moment. Some term this a “lights go on” moment. Some call it awareness. I think it has to be the most powerful emotional moment…reaction to awareness of learning. It is something beyond what I could ever hope to describe.

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As I write this free thought exploration down, I am thinking about how art isn’t really separate from that moment at all. It is that moment. It must capture something that is not able to be captured, something that is just outside of normal “practice” or just beyond reach. To get there, maybe we have to erase what has come before.

Maybe we have to erase ourselves a bit.

Perhaps all art needs to be destroyed and erased and lost in order to build the simplest of blocks of coherent expression back into existence. Maybe, it’s a building back to relevance.

Dewey and Vygotzky on Art and Some Favorite Books on Aesthetics

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Aesthetics and the blind search for a cogent statement that would tie an aesthetic philosophy neatly in a bow are kind of Quixotic aspirations for me. However, I again search through Merleau-Ponty, Sontag, Adorno, etc…and learning theories…which always lead me to these two gentlemen.

“Apart from organs inherited from animal ancestry, ideas and purpose would be without a mechanism of realization…the intervention of consciousness adds regulation, power of selection, and redisposition…its intervention leads to the idea of art as a conscious idea- the greatest intellectual achievement in the history of humanity.” – Dewey, Art as Experience (1934)

“We shall never be able to understand the laws governing the feelings and emotions in a work of art without proper psychological investigation. It is also remarkable that the sociological studies of art are unable to completely explain the mechanics of a work of art.” – Lev Vygotzky, (1925)

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Favorite Books about (or regarding aspects of) Aesthetics:

  • Susan Sontag– So many…Against Interpretation, Regarding the Pain of Others, Illness as Metaphor, On Photography, Styles of Radical Will….and just endless short essays. I just bought a copy of the complete essays collection through the late 70s…brilliant collection.
  • Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just…anything by Scarry is good, but this is focused on aesthetics and is really excellent.
  • Maurice Merleau-PontyPhenomenology of Perception, because of its expansive scope…and his radio lectures, The World of Perception, because it is simplified and easily digested.
  • John Dewey– Art as Experience- wonderful connection to his other work. If you are even remotely interested in perception and learning/interpretation, this book is kind of required reading.
  • Gerhard Richter– The Daily Practice of Painting (essays and interviews, etc.)
  • Francis Bacon, Interviewed by David Sylvester– Actually, this was kind of like my bible during a certain period of my 20s. Any interviews with David Sylvester are going to be amazing. These are definitely the most defining and honest he’s had with an artist. This goes way beyond art, though. It gets to the crux of what it means to be human and struggling with any form of creative act. The title is
  • Lev VygotzkyThe Psychology of Art…This little masterpiece (as well as most of his writing) wasn’t really available to the world until the last few decades. However, this book (1925), is way ahead of its time and builds a beautifully written narrative on what it means to perceive a work of art, what art represents for humanity, and what can be learned. Great education thinker.
  • Carolee SchneemanImaging Her Erotics…This is essays, interviews, etc. with one of the recognizable faces of body art/performance art/feminist art. Schneeman’s writing and discussions lead the way for great essays and books by Karen Finley (A Different Kind of Intimacy), Amelia Jones (Body Art/Performing the Subject), and Jane Blocker (What the Body Cost…which is one of those books that changes you…and Where is Ana Mendieta).
  • Recently, I am enjoying Tim Ingold’s anthropolical-based essays on creativity. These are available through a simple search. Almost everything is fun to read and starts my mental motor.
  • Getting back into T. Adorno’s Aesthetic Philosophy…the one he was writing when he died. This should be treated as a encyclopedia…at least for me, it is. I can’t start in that book in a normal way. I just pick it up, and where the pages fall open, that’s where I start reading.
  • KadinskyConcerning the Spiritual in Art. Awesome and tightly written…very unlike his own paintings, which are gorgeous and labyrinthian types of compositions.
  • Just another great book- Pamela M. Lee’s Object to be Destroyed (on the work of Gordon Matta-Clark….but, again, jumps into all kinds of a philosophy on aesthetics).

Not posting direct links to purchase these things. But, if you find any of the titles interesting, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor in finding, borrowing, purchasing, or stealing a copy.

Some covers:

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Bergman Quote, 1964

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Why make art? Why write or photograph or paint anything?

“If you can take that first step toward communication, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult the future may be- and have no illusions, even with all the love in the world, living can be hellishly difficult- then, you are saved. This is all that really matters, isn’t it?” – Ingmar Bergman, 1964

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Recent Publications (since December 2012)

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 UPCOMING PUBLICATIONS, 2014

“Revisionism” at 5/Quarterly’s Tumblr in Spring 2014

“Wetlands” at Convergence: An Online Journal of Poetry and Art (Spring/Summer’14)

RECENTLY PUBLISHED POEMS, 2012-2013

“Occupation” at Convergence: An Online Journal of Poetry and Art

“Broken Consort” & “Silent Black Song” at Icebox Journal

“Amplifier” at NNATAN

Three Poems at Iridum Sound’s Churn Thy Butter

“Haunting” at Yorick Magazine, Summer/Fall 2013 Issue

RELATED

Painting and Process (short interview) at Draft Journal, 2013

 

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This poem was written after a concert at the Stone during our honeymoon. We had taken a cab back to midtown, and there was a “supermoon” that evening. I was reading Paul Auster’s translations of Joubert’s writing at this time. The performers at the Stone were Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee on clarinets, saxophones, and pocket trumpet. Later, she purchased the photographs of the event from Peter Gannushkin (http://blog.sonicbeet.com/ & http://www.linkedin.com/in/gannushkin), an amazing photographer who captures the music and the personalities of the evening perfectly.

East Village Evening (For Anna, 3-19-2011) with description

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East Village Evening (For Anna, 3-19-2011) with description

This poem was written after a concert at the Stone during our honeymoon. We had taken a cab back to midtown, and there was a “supermoon” that evening. I was reading Paul Auster’s translations of Joubert’s writing at this time. The performers at the Stone were Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee on clarinets, saxophones, and pocket trumpet. Later, she purchased the photographs of the event from Peter Gannushkin (http://blog.sonicbeet.com/ & http://www.linkedin.com/in/gannushkin), an amazing photographer who captures the music and the personalities of the evening perfectly.