Five years ago, it seems, someone was wrong on the internet, and I am now here to make the needed correction. It seems that if you google the phrase (without quotes) "get out as early as you can", one of the top results is this essay. I do not know the author's other work. It may be that it is highly distinguished, I do not judge. But the idea that somehow Larkin's admonition to "get out" has something to do with . . . what, not calling your mom every Sunday? That is not quite the level of darkness, deepening like a coastal shelf, at stake. It's jaw-droppingly obtuse. Seriously, read that poem and notice how each line drops a step in tone. By the end, we're in Cumaean Sibyl territory, and this guy is making it sound like it's about getting one's first apartment. Sweet Jesus.
Big RED & Shiny has published its last issue, for which I failed to write anything (no surprise there); it follows many of the blogs this irrelevant website came up with in shuffling off. A whole bunch of others have taken their place, but I've not warmed up to many of them, and besides, we're now told the web is dead. The things taking its place seem at once significantly worse while still attractive enough to succeed, at least for the time being. And now I learn definitively that I've not even been in the running for a job I thought I might have a chance at and (worse) came to desire deeply; that it went to someone far better suited to it than me is proving no comfort. So: blah.
As this mostly dreary summer seeks to belie its dimming through a series of perfect days that can't quite hide the coming fall, a fragment from a Transylvanian idyll, long ago:
"The summer solstice was past, peonies and lilac had both vanished,
cuckoos had changed their tune and were making ready to fly. Roast
corn-cobs came and trout from the mountains; cherries, then
strawberries, apricots and peaches, and finally, wonderful melons and
raspberries. The scarlet blaze of paprika--there were two kinds on the
table, one of them fierce as gunpowder--was cooled by cucumber cut thin
as muslin and by soda splashed into glasses of wine already afloat with
ice; this had been fetched from an igloo-like undercroft among the
trees where prudent hands had stacked it six months before when--it was
impossible to imagine it!--snow covered all. Waggons creaked under
loads of apricots, yet the trees were still laden; they scattered the
dust, wasps tunnelled them and wheels and foot-falls flattened them to
a yellow pulp; tall wooden vats bubbled among the dusty sunflowers,
filling the yards with the sweet and heady smell of their fermentation;
and soon, even at midday, the newly distilled spirit began to bowl the
peasants over like a sniper, flinging the harvesters prostrate and
prone in every fragment of shadow. They snored among sheaves and
hay-cocks and a mantle of flies covered them while the flocks crammed
together under every spread of branches, and not a leaf moved."
A few things that have crossed my monitor screen recently:
- Anaba has the latest on Christoph Büchel's appeal in the MASS MoCA case, including links to the parties briefs. I spent too much time on that story last year (or was it the year before? It's all sort of hazy), but for the bitter-enders out there, follow the link.
- Via Martin at the last link, The Deaccessioning Blog. This one also falls under the category of topics I've had enough of for a while, so not much comment from me. Except this: I don't disagree with the stated "ideological bent" of the site--"an artwork may be deaccessioned, so long as certain legal and ethical requirements are met"--although when it's put that broadly, I'm not sure how many people actually do disagree. Still, the implication of this list has me scratching my head. The cancellation of various temporary exhibitions at museums provides a reason to favor deaccessioning? Really? I loves me a big loan show as much as the next visitor, but the idea that temporary, short-term programming should be funded out of proceeds gained from selling permanent collection works--it's hard to see what else the post could be taken to mean--seems to me a bit short-sighted, to say the least.
- I don't really want to be so churlish, but this is just silly, and that's the best I can say about it.
- "Bless Stouffer's." In keeping with my current reading, a visit with Janet Lewis a few years before her death.
This is the twilight hour of the morning When the snails retreat over the wet grass To their hidden world, when my dreams, retreating, Leave me wondering what wisdom goes with them, What hides in mouldering earth.
Softly they go, the snails, Naked, unguarded, perceptive Of the changing light, rejoicing In their slow progress from leaf to stem, From stem to deeper darkness. Smoothness delights them.
What do they hear? The air above them Is full of the sharp cries of birds. Do they see? The lily bud, Three feet above the soil on its leafy stalk, Is known to them at midnight As if it were a lighthouse. Before sunrise They have gnawed it half in two. Toothless mouths, blind mouths Have turned the leaf of the hollyhock to lace, And cut the stem of the nasturtium Neatly, just below the blossom.
The classic shell, cunningly arched, and strong Against the hazards of the grassy world Is nothing before the power of my intention. The larks, also, have had their fun, Crashing that coiled shell on stone, Guiltless in their freedom.
But I have taken sides in the universe. I have killed the snail that lay on the morning leaf, Not grudging greatly the nourishment it took Out of my abundance, Chard, periwinkle, capucine, Occasional lily bud, But I have begun my day with death, Death given, death to be received. I have stepped into the dance; I have greeted at daybreak That necessary angel, that other.
So Franklin was recently describing some of his recent purchases from library sales in Boston. Some nice things, very nice, to be sure--but I think I have him beat. It's not exactly a fair contest--I had inside access to the book sale I went to before it was open to the public, and I'm afraid I spent more money than he likely did--but I still can't help but brag about the following:
The Glory of Byzantium. Wanted this one for a while--the catalog to the Met's magisterial exhibition of . . . more than ten years ago? How did that happen? This one was a steal, at any rate, at only $3.
Pieter Saenredam, The Utrecht Work. I'm not sure I would have bought this, as good as it looks, except it was a like-new hardcover and Saenredam had been on my mind, having been looking at a painting by him just the day before. Plus, I once spent a couple of pleasurable days in Utrecht, mostly in the churches he painted. Art & Architecture of India: Buddhist-Hindu-Jain. An old Pelican, out of date, I'm sure, and in an area I know next to nothing about, but hey, it's got some pictures and is in hardcover. It was also very cheap (50 cents?), if I remember correctly.
Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930. Really have no idea if this is any good, but it has a lot of really good color reproductions, and I realized that there was very little Matisse in my life or my book collection (only one book on him, and it's a tiny Elderfield essay.) At $3, why not?
There's more, including the stack of periodicals I mentioned in comments below, but the centerpiece has to be this: Agnes Mongan and Paul J. Sachs, Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art: A Critical Catalogue. First edition, 1940, three huge fat volumes in very good condition (aside from the dust jackets, which are somewhat soiled, crinkled, with small tears, I'd say excellent condition.) I'm so excited, I took a bad cellphone photograph of them on my bookshelf. Damn, even in that bad photograph that doesn't do them justice, they look good. These did cost a bit of money, but far less than half of what Powells is selling them for (and their price is cheap compared to what I've seen it go for elsewhere.) Needless to say, I am very excited about this one. Now I just need the time to look at them.
There's some other stuff, but the one that excites me most is not an art book: The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis. I've been reading about her poetry for more than a decade, so it's a pleasure to finally read the work itself. More on that, I hope, to come. But if you'll excuse me now, I've got to spend some time on the couch in my office with a few good books.
Each morning when I break my buttered toast Across the columns of the Morning Post, I am astounded by the ways in which Mankind has managed once again to bitch Things up to a degree that yesterday Had looked impossible. Not far away From dreams of mine, I read this dream of theirs, And think: It's true, we are the bankrupt heirs Of all the ages, history is the bunk. If you do not believe in all this junk, If you're not glad things are as they are, You can wipe your arse on the Evening Star.
Ah, a little nostalgia for the days when more towns had multiple newspapers. While I've had no thoughts in my head worth writing down for months now, it seems, the above has been running through my empty brain. At first (and even still, at that) it was mostly in reaction to how fitting it seemed, especially in the exasperation of the opening sentence and then the comparison of the unreality of certain types of news coverage--the dominating conventions and frames (to use a different, more contemporary metaphor-)-to the fuzzy otherworld of dreams. Lately . . . yeah, it keeps coming back to that first sentence.
So what else have I been reading to distract from the slow-motion stomach punch?
- Lots of good stuff at Fugitive Ink, including considerations of Francis Bacon and Hadrian in London. There's a lot to respond to in both, though unfortunately it's probably beyond me. Both reviews give a typically vivid (from the author) view of what it's like to be observing these exhibitions now, in London, with a perspective keenly alive to the flare-ups of history--artistic, personal, or otherwise--that happen in doing so. I'm intrigued by the idea of Bacon as a (my words) minor/major artist, a little master, if you will, or perhaps a hamfisted del Sarto: his reach limited and his grasp not always certain, yet nonetheless capable of shaping vision. Hadrian is too difficult for me to comment on, I'm afraid; I spent too long living with the subject matter, and even now find the emperor and his age hard to think about without dragging up too many other associations. Well-worth reading, just the same.
- Colleagues who saw the Louise Bourgeois show in New York found it impressive, and I have to say I rather like the paintings discussed here in the same way I like a number of old school Surrealist paintings (and to the same degree, for that matter.) And yet, while certainly it's not hard to relate to the experience of being taken aback suddenly in an unexpected way by an artwork, I can't help but think that the article doesn't come off so much as testimony in favor of the work as it does a comment on the author.
- Speaking of Hadrian and the like, Roman triumph. My favorite Roman triumph has to be that of Belisaurius in 534, which the review (and book, apparently) discusses. How does a late antique general celebrate the honor of a triumph? By abasing himself in emperor-worship, in the traditional Roman manner, of course. Another lesson in that, I suppose.
That's it for now. Except: Tara Donovan opens today at the ICA, and Rachel Whiteread in less than a week at the MFA. Very different exhibitions in a number of ways, of course, but should make for an interesting crosstown comparison. Something to keep one's mind busy, at least.
The Author to His Body on Their Fifteenth Birthday, 29 ii 80
“There’s never a dull moment in the human body.” —The Insight Lady
Dear old equivocal and closest friend, Grand Vizier to a weak bewildered king, Now we approach The Ecclesiastean Age Where the heart is like to go off inside your chest Like a party favor, or the brain blow a fuse And the comic-book light-bulb of Idea black out Forever, the idiot balloon of speech Go blank, and we shall know, if it be knowing, The world as it was before language once again;
Mighty Fortress, maybe already mined And readying to blow up grievances About the lifetime of your servitude, The body of this death one talkative saint Wanted to be delivered of (not yet!), Aggressively asserting your ancient right To our humiliation by the bowel Or the rough justice of the elderly lecher’s Retiring from this incontinence to that;
Dark horse, it’s you we’ve put the money on Regardless, the parody and satire and The nevertheless forgiveness of the soul Or mind, self, spirit, will or whatever else The ever-unknowable unknown is calling itself This time around—shall we renew our vows? How should we know by now how we might do Divorced? Homely animal, in sickness and health, For the duration; buddy, you know the drill.