Monday, December 04, 2006

The Flats

A Wall

Out of Thomas Meyer’s translation of Laozi’s Daode Jing (Flood Editions, 2005):
when the recurrent momentum of things
completes itself nothing has an ending

. . .

ease the tensions
loosen the tangled

blur the glare
muddy the hand

this is the hidden joining
of what is alike
Trying to think about Brice Marden when I fell into that, though the mere placement, the disorder of its being “handy”—eye-level shelf, straightaway—propell’d me to it. Trying to think about Marden’s early-to-middle obligatory flat surface brushwork’d and scarred, patina to an understory. How it is that Marden, minimalist / conceptualist, ’s moved degree by degree out of that stance, and through something akin to abstract-expressionism toward a nigh-figurative style. Am I proceeding on the assumption that depth is the sign of figuration? Or is it that, looking at Marden’s recent intertwinings, I think first of Gaudier-Brzeska’s relief of two wrestlers? (Aside: what would a flat-poem-with-scars look like? how make a poem that is a history of its versions, the occasions of its making nigh-legible as understory?)

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Wrestlers, 1914

In 1972, Brice Marden talking to Paul Cummings about paintings grey and monochromatic: “. . . you try to get the most complicated color experience. So I was working to get a color that would be like grey and yet could also be considered green or red, working in a very close area.” (Aside: what would a poem, “complicated” and “working in a very close area” be like? Jack Spicer: “A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.” I think of Robert Lax, or some of Ronald Johnson’s semi-visuals: that’s not what I mean. What I mean is a “large” poem, with “normal” language, about to become something other. Flickering in and out of . . . what? Material and meaning?)

Marden: “I did a group of paintings last year called the Hydra paintings from being at Hydra, you know, looking at the color there and very carefully making notes about it.

Paul Cummings: Are they word notes or drawing notes or color . . . ?

Brice Marden: I suppose I’ve thrown them out. Blue olive green with slight ochre tinge. Black green between, black green brown trunks, tree trunks.”

All art begins in seeing.

Brice Marden, Green Eaglesmere Set 3, 1997

Brice Marden, Attendant 2, 1996–99

Thomas Pynchon, in London, stretching out the (slightly) nasalized o’s and n’s, brandishing the sentence like a cutlass (“Or a cutlet,” ’s what he’d add): “Evening drew on, the vast jangling thronged somehow monumental London evening, light falling seemingly without a destination across the wind-attended squares and haunted remnants of something older, and they went to eat at Molinari’s in Old Compton Street, also known as the Hôtel d’Italie, reputed to be one of the haunts of Mr. Arthur Edward Waite . . .” Of the fayre Afton isle, its lingual verdancies, Pynchon speaks, in the voice of maths student Yashmeen Halfcourt, (though one’d think—and pardonably—he ’s yanking the reader’s chain re: the readerly response to the very words in the very book in hand): “On this island, . . . as you will have begun to notice, no one ever speaks plainly. Whether it’s Cockney rhyming codes or the crosswords in the newspapers—all English, spoken or written, is looked down on as no more than strings of text cleverly encrypted. Nothing beyond. Any who may come to feel betrayed by them, insulted, even hurt, even grievously, are simply ‘taking it too seriously.’ The English exercise their eyebrows and smile and tell you it’s ‘irony’ or ‘a bit of fun,’ for it’s only combinations of letters after all, isn’t it.”

Or, here, Pynchon about the goings-on on the Isle of Mirrors, one of the Terre Perse, “Lost Lands,” sunk off the Venetian coast: “The classical anamorphoscopes . . . were mirrors, cylindrical or conical, usually, which when placed on or otherwise near a deliberately distorted picture, and viewed from the appropriate direction, would make the image appear “normal” again. Fads for these came and went beginning as early as the seventeenth century, and the artisans of Isola degli Specchi were not slow in learning how to supply this specialized market. To be sure, a certain percentage of them went mad and ended up in the asylum on San Servolo. Most of these unfortunates could not bear to look at any sort of mirror again, and were kept scrupulously away from reflective surfaces of any kind. But a few, choosing to venture deeper in the painful corridors of their affliction, found after a while that they could now grind and polish ever more exotic surfaces, hyperboloidal and even stranger, eventually including what we must term “imaginary” shapes, though some preferred Clifford’s term, “invisible.” These specialists remained at Isola degli Specchi under a sort of confinement within confinement so strict as to provide them, paradoxically, a freedom unknown in Europe and indeed anywhere, before or since.”

Saturday, after a nap. (Typing th’above caught me in the reticular bag of sleep, yellow (canary in a mineshaft-color’d) “graph paper” with quarter-inch squares.) The air is pinging dub-molecular ’roundabout. Voices dredging for lost voices in the aether, or a voice struggling against an aether’d stranglehold, no rebuttals allow’d, applejack popping its cork in the coldbox. What sweet confinement to wake to an empty house. What it is about the Pynchon: he locates the affliction and pushes harder against it. Tarries with it, niggles it, makes it perceptibly worse (to make it perceptible). Akin to something I’ve quoted before, by the Italian painter Marco Celotti, in “Reflections of the Head Painter”:
. . . Clarity begins in the furrows.

It is fictional to think that art does not touch the sores, that it is afraid to put its multitude of fingers on the festering wounds of uninvolvement. Moreover, it is bad fiction.

To an aesthetic of buttery consistency, art could suddenly contribute its often rejected bag of rusty nails. Out of the blue the former concubine takes a road, an address. It dons its mottled robes, fishermen’s hooks, pulleys, ropes and winches. It discards its purses, its golddigger pans, its safes and vaults, the inner sanctum of the money-lenders. . . .

Ah, the beauty of these pulsating nostrils on the new proud head . . .

Who is to say that Titian’s brush (the same one picked up by the king) has not fallen again on the ground of broken teeth of the Bolivian miners?
Or Colorado miners, as the present “case” ’s got it? Is that it? Asymptotically approaching it? Here’s a story. In the verdancy of one’s years, one fell into mad pursuit of a piece of writing somewhat larger than usual, somewhat unratify’d by sense, or less ratify’d, somewhat perversely “flying off at the handle”—a broken back single of a metaphor—and the writing proved meet (and publishable) only because it fail’d at its intent: that of “breaking through” into some new clarity, some reduction, some marc tramp’d out of the leavings of the bottle-able red. One believed, with the negligent belief of youth, that one’d make clarity emerge out of the renegade hobblegobble of sound, that a limit-function ’d cause one to split some ripe seam through sheer malarkey-peddling, and out’d tumble, pared down and apt, once wash’d of the rosy complect, a searingly precise, uhh, couplet. (In the shallowness of my youth, what I overlooked: how long a row that is to hoe, how long one might hack and scrape up great dusty piles of weedy utterables with never a patch of clean-thinking in view. Akin, I say, to Pynchon’s mirror-makers. One shouldn’t, though, confine oneself to a single likeness . . .)

In “a Kontinuum of space and time” there’re bound to occur dismal reiterations, fandangos needing an “edge,” not unlike a Moebius strip or a (Franz) Klein bottle, topological jizz like ’at, chromatic scales weighing the eyelids shut, shipwreck’d in the estuary—
when the recurrent momentum of things
completes itself nothing has an ending

Jack Spicer, near Fort Bragg, 1955
(Photograph by Jonathan Williams)