Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Long Time Coming


For Giants fans, the future is finally now again. Since the move to San Francisco, in 1958, the team has only reached the World Series three times previously (in 52 years), losing each time. I remember the last one: We were eating out with a colleague in San Francisco in 2002, when we heard that the Giants (leading the series 3 games to 2), were leading in game six against the Angels (in Anaheim), 5 to nothing, in the top of the seventh inning. We set about our repast, confident that the long drought appeared to be ending. But the Angels scored six runs in the last two innings, forcing a game seven, which ended in defeat, once again.    
 
 
                           Willie Mays' miracle catch in the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds
 
 
This year's Giants team, who are the National League champions, is an odd rag-tag group, cobbled together out of cast-off free-agents and mid-season pick-ups. Here's the 2010 opening day line-up:
 
1 CF Aaron Rowand
2 SS Edgar Renteria 
3 3B Pablo Sandoval
4 1B Aubrey Huff
5 LF Mark DeRosa
6 C Bengie Molina
7 RF John Bowker 
8 2B Juan Uribe
9 P Tim Lincecum
  
Compare this to the probable World Series line-up for this evening:
 
1 CF Andres Torres
2 2B Freddy Sanchez
3 1B Aubrey Huff
4 C Buster Posey
5 LF Pat Burrell
6 RF Cody Ross
7 3B Pablo Sandoval
8 SS Juan Uribe
9 P Tim Lincecum
  
Posey, Burrell and Ross weren't even with the team at the beginning of the year! Freddy Sanchez was still nursing a serious injury, Andres Torres was the back-up Center Fielder (behind Aaron Rowand), Juan Uribe was the "utility man" behind Renteria, DeRosa went down with what is probably career-ending wrist surgery, and, to top it off, there were holes in our middle relief.      
  
Despite this, our starting and closing pitching looked top-notch, which proved largely to be the case. Rowand, Sandoval and Renteria had off-years, but Torres, Burrell and Ross arrived out of nowhere. Bengie Molina, the team's inspirational leader, and the veteran catcher who did much to anchor the pitching staff, became expendable in mid-season, with the arrival of the phenom Posey, and was traded to Texas. He'll be facing his old team in the Series, a strange home-coming indeed!
  
How could a team built out of spare parts and has-beens, with just a couple of stars (Lincecum, Wilson), compete against a powerhouse like Philadelphia, with its big-time sluggers and slingers? The answer, as all the prognosticators have averred, is pitching. A great starting rotation is the best answer to a power line-up, and that's what happened in the 2010 NLCS. Howard and Werth, Utley and Ibanez and Victorino were effectively neutralized by San Francisco's overall pitching superiority. Improbably, through September, the Giants had lived on the home run; and despite a comparatively weak offense, without speed, without clutch hitting, playing in a "difficult" ballpark hostile to left-handed sluggers, it had somehow managed to consistently outscore its opponents. 
  
What was it that the old Orioles Manager Earl Weaver used to say?, "give me good pitching and three-run homers." 
  
Going into the NLCS against the Phils, the smart money was on Howard & Company, but the smarter money wasn't buying it. The City of Brotherly Love, it also turns out, is really The City of Sibling Rivalry, as Philadelphia fans booed with frustrated, boorish incivility at the conclusion of the Giants' win in game 6. It was even reported in the media that treacherous home-townies had attempted (unsuccessfully) to pay a waitress to lace a table of Giants' players' dishes with Ex-Lax. Not funny, McGee. Some people will do anything to win. Should we test Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for steroids? And Utley's sophomoric little toss of the baseball back to Sanchez in the second inning of game 6. . .it reminded me of the ultimate game 4 of the 1975 NBA Finals when Washington Bullets forward Mike Riordan took an unprovoked, premeditated slug from behind at Rick Barry as he was driving to the basket, in an attempt to incite a brawl and get the Warriors' star ejected. Dirty little tricks like Utley's have no place in professional athletics--and if I were commissioner I'd fine the S-O-B 25 thousand for it. Definitely bush league stuff.                  
 
 
 
 
So what are my feelings and projections for the Series? As with the NLCS, I think it's imprudent to predict the impossible, but the Giants and Rangers match up well. Both have good starting pitching, which, as we've seen, can skew outcomes. I would have picked the Phillies in 5 if I'd had to bet before the NLCS, not a loyal boast, but an acknowledgment of realities. If the Phillies and Giants played each other 25 times, I'd expect the Phillies to win at least 15, or 60% of the time. But in a short series....
  
Actually, I don't know that much about this Rangers team. I do remember that George W. Bush worked in the back office for a while, which couldn't have helped the team much. Georgie was still in his shiftless jerk phase in those days--years during which the team was mired in mediocrity. Statistically, they're a nice mix of power and speed, with decent starting pitching. The acquisition of Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners in mid-season has turned out to have been the key piece of their puzzle, with Lee dominating in each of his post-season starts. Lee gives up a fair number of hits, but his strike-out to walk ratio is unreal: in 2010, he struck out 185 while walking only 18! This guy throws strikes!     
 
The key for the Giants in the Series, as it was in the NLCS, is to play error-free baseball, and use their park to advantage. Hamilton bats left, so the threat of his power is mitigated at Pac Bell Park. Keep Andrus off the bases (32 steals). Offensively, I'd advise our hitters not to let every first pitch go by, since they're unlikely to see a better one than that fast-ball to start the count. 
  
Let the games begin!       

Inscribed Within a Circle






                      
Reaching Inside the Chest Cavity     

          Doctors regard the body with the clinical objectivity 
          Of the familiar, a matter-of-factness which makes 
          Passion dull, and the feeling of being alive neutral. 
          God makes none of us quite perfect, but surgeons, reaching 
          Inside the chest cavity, become like little demi-gods, 
          Tampering with a divine innocence which grew from 
          A tree whose roots go back before time itself. Our bodies 
          Don’t belong to us, of course, and at the end we will 
          Give them up, albeit reluctantly. We will give ourselves 
          Up--to the surgeon’s scalpel, to pain, to chance--as we 
          Gave in to the ecstasy of physical passion. Did we know 
          That the innocence we betrayed, in the loss of our virgin 
          Desire, is the same innocence that longs for emancipation
          From the body--to be free, once and for all, of its 
          Lusts and luxuries?  But it was never ours to give.         

Monday, October 25, 2010

Conch : Debussy's La Mer




 
 
Claude Debussy [1862-1918] occupies a crucial position in the history of the development of musical styles. Trained in the academic French tradition, he broke away from the formalist expectations of his contemporaries to create a strong, personal style, characterized by an impressionistic, subtle palette of colors and orchestral effects. He composed for a number of different combinations of instruments, but his instrument was the piano. His major work for orchestra is undoubtedly La Mer [1903-1905], the quintessential musical monument to Impressionism. Classical music in the late 19th Century was bound by preconceived notions of musical form. The classical sonata format, adapted to the increasingly lush, expansive, ambitious Romantic symphony, dictated that serious music be composed in tight, triadic groups--exposition, development and recapitulation. The Romantic composers frequently added a fourth movement, usually between the second and third parts, a kind of recess or recreation, before the serious finality of the ultimate section. This strict ordering dictated that musical ideas be formulated in a fairly rigid manner. A composer was expected to state his theme, develop it, and then present a kind of ultimate transformative sublimation--a cathartic journey from resolution to meditation (or questioning, or wandering) to conviction (or truth). This conceptual frame was a very powerful tool throughout the Classical and Romantic periods of music, but by the end of the 19th Century, certain musical minds (such as Debussy and Satie) were beginning to chafe under the regnant domination of this code of acceptable practice. 
 
 
 
There were allied developments in the other arts, of course. In painting, representation was being questioned, and manipulated (Cezanne, Monet, Picasso). In literature, the Symbolists were transforming poetic doctrine (Baudelaire, Verlaine). In popular design and architecture, Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau were in vogue. Freud and James were delving into human behavior and the Unconscious. Henri Bergson [1859-1941] was theorizing a dynamic creativity, unhindered by the restraints of time and space.               
 
Debussy's early works are notable for their delicacy and sweet or tart lyricism. He did not essay larger, more ambitious forms until his mid-thirties, when he completed the three Nocturnes [1899] for orchestra,* his only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande [1902], and La Mer [1905]. These new works challenged both the structural constraints of the classical tradition, and the harmonic techniques perpetuated by the Viennese School of composition. He found inspiration in the work of Russian composers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Balakirev. From them, came an "oriental" exoticism and faux ancien mystical quality, which would find their way into his mature work.   
 
 
  
The other primary innovation in La Mer is its programmatic element. Music composed for the opera, the dance, or for café society or sheer popular entertainment, was distinguished from "pure" music, that is, music composed within the formalist traditions growing out of patronage and the classical orders of serious, concert-hall, or chamber performance. La Mer challenges all these presumptions, building up sound impressionistically, rather than through the formulaic procedures used by, for instance, Brahms, or Saint-Saens. Sheherazade [Rimsky-Korsakov, 1888], Pictures at an Exhibition [Mussorgsky, 1874], The Nutcracker [Tchaikovsky, 1892], the Polovetsian Dances [Borodin, 1890] each prefigures impressionistic use and meaning through spontaneous orchestral effects, nativistic thematic material, and impressionistic technique. Adapting these examples, Debussy contributed his own crisp, refined French personality, to produce the works upon which his popular reputation is based.
 
 
            The cover of the sheet music for the score of La Mer: Three Symphonic Sketches [Durand]
  
La Mer, like many of Debussy's compositions, is moodily romantic, wreathing tendrils of delicate melancholy and nostalgic longing around certain repeated figures. A typical performance of this piece lasts about 24 minutes. It is in three movements:
 
(~09:00) "De l'aube à midi sur la mer" - très lent (si mineur)
(~06:30) "Jeux de vagues" - allegro (do dièse mineur)
(~08:00) "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" - animé et tumultueux (do dièse mineur)
 
Usually translated as:
 
"From dawn to noon on the sea" or "From dawn to midday on the sea" - very slowly (B minor)
"Play of the waves" or "Play the waves" - allegro (C sharp minor)
"Dialogue of the wind and the sea" or "Dialogue between wind and waves" - animated and tumultuous (C sharp minor)
 
 
The work's three-part structure suggests a symphonic arrangement, but the music is highly suggestive in ways that are not structural-driven. Sound grows out of the emotional progression of feeling, rather than out of a theme played within a rhythmic tempo. There is no mistaking the subtly "oceanic" or "wave-like" quality of many of its passages, but the gentle dissonant harmonies, its surprising annunciatory interjections, and rapid modulations of mood and pacing keep it from seeming monotonously progressive. Then there are effects of spray or swishing/dashing sounds, which punctuate the evocative, meditative ethereal streams of sound. Instruments in the orchestra become like the respective metaphorical forces of the natural world (wind, water, storm, flux) though without forming a narrative picture.      
                 
 
 
 
The work hovers between pure music, and an evocation of natural forces. Later composers--especially those working in the theatre, or in cinema, ransacked Debussy's discoveries and inventions, to exploit the combinations and pacings which he employed to such miraculous effect. Obviously, furnishing photographs or paintings to suggest the qualities in a complex piece of music is a tawdry gesture. The best way to experience what I've been talking about here is to listen to the music yourself, which has become easy enough via YouTube@. I have several recordings of the work, but I've only heard it performed, once, by the French National Orchestra--wow, what a performance it was! One of their warhorses, certainly.   
 
 
 
 
The
Impressionists were masters at creating moods, sometimes exotic, sometimes familiar. Debussy himself resented being called an Impressionist, perhaps because the term tended to suggest a haze or cloud-like quality, a state of atomized randomness or mist. Actually, Debussy frequently employed mathematic concepts in his works, like the Golden Section. Can music, the most fluid and most deeply expressive of all the arts, be mathematically precise and emotionally effective at the same time?

I also have the piano reduction of the full score, just to sound it out--but it's not really suited to the keyboard as performance. Years ago, I wrote a prose poem, which owes something to the imaginative space the piece sets into motion. It was published in my collection Stanzas for an Evening Out [1977].
 
 
                                      Far Inland
 
In small California towns it is just evening.  Fountains 
come on, the grass blackens, the miniature orange
tree behind the sliding glass door turns, almost
imperceptibly, towards the first pale moonlight.
On the Pacific, way out, the waves, anticipating
the continent, are closing the ring, slow breakers
rolling up the dark sea mummies, pulling them back
again, unravelled, as undertow.  The cliffs are
steep at night.  Along some deserted stretch of shore
a large section of land falls into the sea, like a
vague memory, dissolving.  Far inland, a man turns
over in his sleep.  

      
Debussy once described Albeniz's Iberian Suite for piano as a miraculous evocation of romantic thought, underscoring his interest in generating visionary, dream-like states, or idyllic exotic projections. A piece of music such as this can be like a conch shell that you hold up to your ear, the faraway "shhhhhhh" of distant shores, of the rolling almanac of sea voyages, both literal, and imaginative, to shores unseen, worlds yet unexplored.         

________________

* Actually, I frequently get my memories of the Nocturnes mixed up with La Mer--you can hear many of the same kinds of sound, for instance, in Clouds [Part I]. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Juan Williams Firing Scandal


Liberal media outlet National Public Radio announced late on Wednesday (October 20th, 2010) that it had terminated the contract of its political news analyst Juan Williams, as a result of off-handed comments he had made the previous week on the Bill O'Reilly Program "The O'Reilly Factor." 
 
Responding to O'Reilly's comment that "Muslims killed us on 9/11" Williams said that O'Reilly's statement was factually true, and went on to say, by way of qualification "I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous." This was cited as the pretext for firing Williams for, as NPR put it, making remarks which were "inconsistent with [their] editorial standards and practices, and undermine[d] his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
 
There has been speculation that the incident was just a convenient opportunity for the firing, that NPR may have had other, perhaps long-standing, reasons for wanting to dump Williams. 
 
However, taking the network at its word, which is what NPR obviously asks us to do, one must wonder what the underlying meaning of this precipitous action by NPR is. O'Reilly is known for his very aggressive, neo-conservative reactionary style of interviewing. "Guests" are frequently treated to boisterous dressings-down and provocative, in-your-face verbal attacks. Under the pressure of these on-air broadsides, his subjects often lose their cool, or their presence of mind, and end up saying things that are either highly combative, or conciliatory (giving ground). 
 
Williams has been a regular contributor (guest) on the Fox News Sunday afternoon round table discussions, presently chaired by Chris Wallace. In what can only be construed as a conservatively weighted show, Williams is usually one of two "liberal" media whipping-boys, set up for castigation by the resident hit-men William Krystol and Brit Hume. As one of the sacrificial lambs, Williams usually does his best not to capitulate to the premeditated outcome, in the course of which, Democratic policy and office-holders come in for routine opprobrium. Williams could even be seen as a pathetic heroic figure in the fake partisan dialectic which Fox News has created.
 
There are at least two ways of looking at the Williams firing. For those who might advocate positional solidarity--after all, aren't all news services or networks fundamentally committed to a certain slant on events, which they intend to follow, overtly or not--and aren't ashamed, are they, of conducting these public disciplinary performances in public?--then, one would expect, those news commentators who stray from the party line are a luxury the network can't afford, and can expect to be dealt with accordingly. On the other hand, most news services, including the most partisan (like Fox), generally pretend to present themselves as fundamentally unbiased in their presentations, and will even attempt to appear to be representing contrarian viewpoints, by employing weak opponents to defend predetermined "losing" side(s). This was the role that Juan and Maura Liasson were usually brought on the panel to fill. 
 
Generally, I will tend to side politically on the side of NPR, but occasionally they'll take a position that is so patently "correct" and "proper" that it makes my teeth ache. Trying to appear, for instance, non-partisan with respect to the threat posed by Islamic terrorist groups, and the factions they claim to represent, can be like trying to defend Al Qaeda against charges of prejudice. This is a two-edged sword. Muslims who try to protect their interests by pooh-poohing the threat posed by radical Islamic elements in their midst, both here and abroad, do not inspire either a sense of domestic security, or a convincing case for religious tolerance. 
 
Williams's remark may have strayed over into the "personal" realm, but certainly journalists are allowed enough latitude to make the occasional personal observation or admission. Who among us has not wondered, even if for a moment or two, about the implication of sharing a passenger jet with openly dressed Muslims, particularly when the 9/11 bombers made little effort to hide the fact that they were ethnically Middle Eastern. Homeland Security agencies have freely admitted that the real threat of anarchistic terrorism is associated primarily with Middle Eastern males; it arises within that ethnic context, and would be expected to be carried out by them.
 
NPR's hasty washing of its hands of Juan Williams and his faintly embarrassing, though frank, disclosure, about the entirely natural and rational reservations about traveling in the air with Muslims, smacks of disingenuous chicanery. Williams had been one of NPR's most eloquent commentators, both because of the genuineness of his conviction, and the care with which he always described his position, which was typically (loyally) a liberal position. NPR's sudden seizure of fake conscience is an embarrassing example of trying to save public face. 
 
But NPR's action did anything but. Williams is going to come out of this smelling like a rose.
 
There was even a rumor--or was it an actual report?--that Williams has been hired by Fox!      

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Richard Avedon & The Fashion System -- Made in France





Richard Avedon [1923-2004], was an American fashion photographer, whose work expanded to include serious portraiture, studies of the body, celebrities, etc. The course of his career exemplifies the tensions between on the one hand the
Fashion System (the exotic, ideal beauty, class aspirations, conspicuous consumption),  and on the other hand the real world of life and death (difficulty, isolation, fear, aging, degradation, embarrassment, etc.). 
 
Not surprisingly, Avedon's career was the inspiration for the movie musical adaptation Funny Face [Paramount, 1957], which starred Fred Astaire (as the photographer), Audrey Hepburn as his model-muse, and Kay Thompson (best known today as the author of the Eloise books) as the fashion magazine editor (i.e., Harper's Bazaar). Avedon in fact was artistic advisor on the film, and provided a number of images used in the film's opening credits sequence.
 
Made in France is a limited edition large format monograph [5000 copies, in addition to 100 Signed and Numbered copies including an original photographic print] published on the occasion of an exhibition of the same name at the Fraenkel Gallery [San Francisco] in 2001; and comprised of images made between 1955 and 1959, from a cache discovered by the photographer in his warehouse decades later. The book has an unusual binding, the front and rear rigid boards joined at the spine with a white heavy canvas strip tucked under the board edges, which are trimmed naked. The contents are presented as a photographer's working mock-up, with full-frame tritone digitally scanned black & white plates exactly reproduced to the (contact) scale of the original 8x10 negatives. 
 
The fashion images, made on assignment by Avedon for Harper's Bazaar, include shots of Suzy Parker, Gardner McKay, Mel Ferrer, Buster Keaton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Art Buchwald, Dovima, Carmen, as well as of Audrey Hepburn--another ironic instance of life imitating art imitating life. (Parker, it will be remembered, also moved from modeling into acting, whose credits inluded Funny Face, Ten North Frederick [1958, opposite Gary Cooper--another aging romantic leading man!], the The Best of Everything [1959, along with Hope Lange, Martha Hyer, Diane Baker, and an aging Joan Crawford].)      
 
 
        
This slightly incestuous cross-fertilization of media--in which fame, art, glamour, publicity, promotion, personality, decorum, fun and sexiness are all thrown together and feed off each other--is an important marker in the development of the Fashion System, and its influence on American culture and art. Its power--to capture attention and generate interest and market-share--is like a third rail, roughly occupying a position between art and commerce. In Avedon's work, these trends meet or intersect, creating a hybrid documentation in which incompatible dichotomies--of beauty and ugliness, rich and poor, sophistication and provinciality, joy and despondency, frenzy and boredom--are deliberately, and vividly, played off against one other.  
 
France, and especially Paris, has functioned for at least a century as a reliable aesthetic vertex in American art and folklore. Paris, the reliable old warhorse of culture and fashion. Paris, the romance of modernity (and Modernism). Three years before Funny Face, Hepburn had starred in Sabrina, the fairy-tale narrative of a chauffeur's daughter [Sabrina Fairchild] who improbably ends up marrying the elder son of a filthy rich New York family, after returning from her culinary school studies in...Paris. Hepburn herself--her image, her physique, her particular pixie-like charm and sunny sophistication--would come to seem the very quintessence of fashion chic, the template upon which real life women (e.g., Jackie O' , Princess Grace-Kelly Rainier of Monaco) would model themselves. Hepburn would go on to star in Breakfast at Tiffany's [1961], Paris -- When It Sizzles [1964], and, of course, My Fair Lady (1964, the ultimate parlor-maid rags-to-riches legend).          
 
Avedon the fashion photographer revolutionized the traditional staged fashion model portrait, posing his subjects in action, against real life backdrops, or in fantasized verité situations, the models engagé, candidly smiling, laughing, primping, acting absurd or silly. He dominated the profession for 40 years (1950's to 1990's). This new spirit defined the post-War attitude toward the highbrow, the pretentious, the portentous, and made elegance exciting and fun, instead of merely austere and conceited. Where Irving Penn's style was cool, precise and occasionally witty, Avedon's was racy, uninhibited and broadly expressive.
 
Who but Avedon would undertake to pose a fashion model between two lumbering circus elephants, rearing up behind her?
 
 
     
An improbable energy, a tromp l'oeil metaphor for action and jeopardy, in which the raw power of the elephants is dramatically contrasted to the vulnerability of the classically graceful and seemingly unconcerned female model. It's an image meant to shock, a subversive gesture intended to undermine the staid presumptions of fashion contexts; it may now not seem nearly as audacious as it must have when it was made, but even today its powerful tension feels almost unbearable, the balletic dance of the elephants, the ethereal poise of the woman.
 
Avedon's portraits, which developed over the years alongside his commercial work, from respectful--though unrelentingly unrelieved--reportage--
 
 
 
to a pitiless invasiveness,   
 
 
 
--(the Warhol portrait)--never retreated into the merely tasteful. He understood how wildness, violence, decay, privacy, concealment and isolation are the flipside of the glamor of his commercial work. 
   
From the tragic wistfulness of Monroe, caught in a slack moment between the personal and the public projection (a hundred times more revealing than a thousand other cheesy snapshots of the 20th Century's favorite official blonde subject)--
 
 
   
        
--to the mask-like banshee of Marian Anderson in full projection--
 
 
  
Sensuality--which true fashion implies, and is to some certain degree a fulfillment of--is the seduction of appetite for luxury; and the refined photographic image both projects, and contains this elegant surface. A high-end fashion organ like Vogue is both the instrument and the ambience of the imaginary world to which it refers, and at its best, Avedon's approach to imagery transcends and outlives the artifactory, the ephemeral commoditized vanity which it's designed to promote. High fashion is a form of extreme frivolity, but Avedon's unrelenting gaze penetrates through the pervasive insouciance to a core of despair, which often seems just on the verge of breaking through many of his images. There's a grimness to some of the portraits, as here with Pound--
 
 
         
--or here with Reagan--
 
 
 
 
--which editorialize our confusions and revulsions, becoming visual metaphors for the blunt events of our impossible history. The Fashion System's ruthless disregard for the human distress that accompanies our sometimes chilling pursuit of perfection--whether artistic, literary, or political--and perpetuates the cult of youth, the disillusionment of age, and the empty possessions of the material world--reminds us that public art is ultimately beholden to the demands of the market, nervous, shifting, neurotic. Avedon claims that the images in Made in France constitute "the last period in his career that his fashion work wasn't commercially driven." He would go on to explore other realms of interaction with his varied subjects, for instance, in In the American West [1985], a breathtaking series of dry large format portraits of common trades people and drifters, terrifying and heartbreaking at once. 
 
At its best, an Avedon portrait expresses something innately in the mind or "soul" of its subject, while discreetly shaping the progress of the relationship between image and perceiver. His pictures are true collaborations between an organic entity, and an engaged eye, so that seeing, the process by which we perceive something both as what it is, and what our minds are making of it, simultaneously--without ambition or envy or disrespect--becomes an interactive process balanced between the act of giving and the act of taking.
 
 
 
The camera's power--in these instances, the fairly cumbersome manipulations inherent in the 8x10 view camera and its incredible caress of the contours of tone and massing--to turn ordinary things into iconic talismans, once again returns us to the place where we began: Looking is a transparency, through which meaning is defined. We stand on one side--the side of understanding--peering through an invisible membrane--towards the unknown. We see it, but can't touch it, or adequately describe it, but we know it's there. We can see it, and it can see us.  
                              
 
 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cara Carleton Sneed





Carly Fiorina      

Hi! 
I’m Jack   

& up 
  Flips my lid   

 Out of me   

Pops 
Cock-Robin
 
Williams 
 On a spring   

Spiral 
  Screaming   

“Ha-ha-ha 
  HA! HA!   

Ha-ha-ha 
  HA! HA!   

Ha-ha-ha 
   HA! HA!*   

The 
 Bitch is Dead!   

The 
 Bitch is Dead!   

The 
   Bitch is Dead!”**


_________________


*Spoken in the voice of Woody the Woodpecker @
**Spoken in the voices of the Munchkins of The Wizard of Oz


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Senses of Collaboration



In nature, we now know from studies in ecology, that the earth is a crucible of evolution, that living things have evolved over time in concert with each other. The earth is composed of a variety of habitats, but the same forces are at work in all of them, and these forces may be divided into classes of co-existence:
 
Commensalism is a class of relationship between two organisms where one organism benefits but the other is unaffected; 
 
Mutualism where both organisms benefit; 
 
Competition where both organisms are harmed; 
 
Parasitism one organism benefits and the other one is harmed.
 
Socialism grew out of the theory that human evolution was primarily a process of development of types of group behavior and formation. Thus the improvement of man could be foreseen as a series of adjustments to the organs and customs of society, gradually becoming more perfected.
 
The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712-1778] proposed an organization of society based upon the ideal of the greatest freedom for the individual. He believed freedom to the "natural state" of man, and regarded societal institutions with skeptical suspicion, as abbreviating this freedom. Rousseau's principles were instrumental in inspiring the French Revolution, and in turn, in informing the American Founding Fathers' notions of governance and conduct. 
 
Locke [1632-1704] was instrumental in providing the theoretical foundations for American democracy, asserting that man's inclination to mischief should be controlled through civilian law, limits to accumulation, and separation of powers. 
 
But none of the theoretical foundations of modern parliamentary democracy, or socialistic alternatives, over the last 250 years, take into account what we now see as the naturally inter-related condition of earth-bound life. Our attempts, for instance, to enhance our own comfort, or feed our avarice, by the over-exploitation of resources, or by exploiting others, may be seen in a larger context as part of the growing competition in the face of increasing scarcity.
 
From an ecological standpoint, the holding capacity of the earth must be regarded as a constant, whose precise value we may not yet have accurately estimated. We do suspect, based on what we know anecdotally, that humankind's condition cannot be regarded with optimism whenever severe imbalances between resource, space, and unsettled arrangements occur. The exploding human population promises to cancel out all other mitigations, and the rate at which such eventualities are approaching is itself increasing. Capitalism is showing clear signs of failing to address these emergencies, since it is based not on real tendencies and conditions in the biosphere, but on synthetic applications of presumed "value" which inaccurately measure the true effects and consequences of consumption.
 
I've been thinking lately about the concept of collaboration in the arts, and how this concept plays out in the aesthetic dialogue between different types of artistic production. We know that modes of artistic production are never static, though they may occasionally seem so, given the resistance and aggregation of authority. The "biosphere" of relevance has been exponentially expanded with the development of the computer chip, but this has had no effect whatever on the gaunt fact of limitation--both real and imagined. Progressive theories about the fulfillment of human potential bump up against natural boundaries. 
 
One way of looking at the production of literature, is as a shared pool of interactive data, which has flowered with the advance of systems of exchange, culminating in the present intermedia capacity. Ted Berrigan used to say, mostly in jest, that literature is everywhere, that it belongs to no one, and that it is not "fixed" by notions of value and property and control. Ted "stole" freely, it was one of his primary artistic principles. His Sonnets may be regarded as the prime demonstration of the use and meaning of this idea. 
 
History is both a record and a resource. Almost everything we know is the consequence of the residue of the past, the saved data of time, the content and syntax of civilization. Recorded literature survives in the forms of its material realization. It is fixed in that context, but not in the aesthetic sense. We cannot NOT know the past. The past and its matter, its examples, its artifacts, are material to ransack, to exploit, in the same sense, really, that the raw materials of the earth are available for the taking. They belong to all of us. The present is a collaboration with the past, just as a work of literature is a collaboration between the author and the text, or between and author and his reader(s), or between a contemporary text and the history of literature--a dialogue, conducted, consciously or not, among participants, both living and dead. 
  
There are those who would argue that no text exists independently of its context, that no text is the creation of a single individual mind, that literature is a shared phenomenon in which our dependency upon each other, and upon previously made examples (artifacts), is verified and reinforced by our practice. There is thus no such thing as an individual genius, since the whole setting in which literary creation occurs, requires the presence of both the maker and the audience, an interdependency which is the syllogism of artistic process. 
 
What of collaboration on a single object? If no voice is complete and entire to itself, in what sense is a poem, or a novel, for instance, any less integral if "written" by two voices, than by a single head? To what extent is friendship and familiarity a generator of creative enterprise? If Eliot's The Waste Land was a "collaboration" between two poets, one spinning out the text, the other blue-pencilling its raw structure into the now-familiar form, in what way might we regard it, as readers, as a provisional phenomenon, one version of something that each of us, in our way, might think to revise. Every reader comes to every text differently, even if only by minute degree of difference. 
 
As time passes, each age revises its sense of the meaning of pre-existing texts, re-interpreting and re-defining their meaning, purpose and effect(s). Each age adds to, or subtracts from, the accreted data-base of historical examples. Writers, and texts, "talk" to each other. Creeley "talks" to Wyatt and Campion, Olson "talks" to Pound, Douglas Crase "talks" to Ashbery, Ronald Johnson "talks" to Clare, and so on. These dialogues may in one sense seem imaginary, but the possibility of such communication, back and forth across time and space, is one way we escape the limitations of dimension, share knowledge and pleasure, and refine our sensibilities.
            

Is there, then, a relationship between the collaboration between species, among species, in nature--defined by Darwin, and later theorists, of genetic inheritance and natural selection--that could be said to correspond to a sense of collaboration among artistic media and participants (or progenitors)? The joker in the pack--accidental mutation--might be regarded as the unexpected innovation in artistic terms, the formal (linguistic) discovery which appears without apparent antecedent, and is incorporated into the historical process.  
 
Literature evolves, but the means by which this evolution occurs tends to be transmitted through individual consciousness. The process of the formation of language does not occur as a common activity: Writers can't "think" together at the same time, the self can't be "blended" with another to produce a shared media, in language. In music, combination and collaboration happens all the time (particularly in jazz). Artists and writers may collaborate in a plastic media. But the writing of a novel, or a poem, or a short story, or a play, seems to exclude the possibility of a collaborative process. The glue which holds individual works of literature together seems possible only through the unifying discipline of a single consciousness. 
 
Our dependency upon history, and pre-existing artifacts, within the context of participation, is at the level of the individual consciousness, though society, and posterity, has also a generalized registration of the meaning and value of those artifacts. If we were to attempt to codify the kinds of collaboration which may occur in the arts, could we use the same kinds of terms as those used in ecology (above), to describe what happens when a writer creates a text? Is it possible to "steal" from history, without sinning against originality? Can one make the claim that since art is a collaborative phenomenon, no one individual can fairly take full credit for the creation and existence of a work? Is it possible for an individual writer/artist to be effectively isolated from society, and/or from some segment of history itself? Is the de-facto isolation of the creative writer a crucial condition, placing him/her in a negative position with respect to the dominant forces of the present?  
 
Does art exist for the good of society? Or is art a criticism of history, of society? Is art the individual's response to historical trends? To all of these questions, I could respond with a qualified "yes."   
 
All these questions are relevant to a consideration of the notion of collaboration. What of the thesis of a limited natural sphere (as in biosphere) compared to the limited sphere of literary artifacts? The human brain has specific limitations, just as the biosphere does. Just as the resources of the planet are limited, it may be that the range of possible forms and variations of literature itself may also be limited. Is there a natural limit to the degree of collaboration, just as there are limits to literary form? 
 
The individual consciousness may be said to speak directly into the Void, even as we presume that this voice can only be apprehended by others. Each man may speak for humanity (on its behalf), though in the moment of that speaking or writing, he/she is isolated. The contrast between that sense of isolation--and the collaboration with history, with others, and with other texts--is the crucial tension in all artistic endeavor, at least for me. 
  
I've never thought of myself as belonging to anything. Perhaps this is a consequence of my upbringing, of the lack of a continuity in the lives of my parents, who were refugees from the Midwest of the 1920's and 1930's, alienated from their familial backgrounds, and from the society at large by their inaptitudes and anti-social attitudes. It was a crucible for alienation, in which the profile of the artist as misfit seemed the only available mode. I could never imagine that society should, or could, recognize the value of anything I might do for purely artistic ends. And pure art always suggested to me something that was unmistakably my own, even though--or in spite of the possibility that--I might exist, artistically, in a complete vacuum.
 
But nature abhors a vacuum.