Thursday, June 13, 2013

Notebook (Robert Duncan, William Gaddis, George Herms, &c.)

George Herms

“. . . there arrived from George Herms . . . in Los Angeles a little household alter, enshrining two photos of Garbo as enigma, beauty and woman; but the assemblage is also a homunculus, with the woman in two phases enshrined in his heart. The curving brace from some table rises as a lyrical penis. A rusted metal top as a hat or head. And then, what triumphs in the work is the triumph we knew in childhood—that it’s a curved piece of wood that’s a penis, or a top, or a head, or the whole an altar or a little man is not the wonder. But the aliveness of the work. How George Herms is entirely with us in it . . .” Robert Duncan, out of a 15 March 1963 letter to Denise Levertov (The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov)

“. . . Jess thought of himself essentially as rescuing objects. In other words, you take something from a context like Life magazine which is a really despicable context, and you rescue it. You’re not only rescuing its photographs but you’re rescuing Life magazine from itself. Sometimes you’re doing what Burroughs was doing: you’re showing Life magazine what Life magazine looks like . . .” Robert Duncan, c. 1976, in “A Conversation about Poetry and Painting” (out of the Christopher Wagstaff-edited A Poet’s Mind: Collected Interviews with Robert Duncan, 1960-1985)

“. . . not as a failed writer, but as a man who might have been capable of almost anything if he’d found it worth doing but ends finding it too late even to be any of the things he’d never wanted to be, returns to writing a last resort and fails even at that . . .” William Gaddis, regarding the Gaddis-like Jack Gibbs in J R (1975).

. . . we are so many

            and many within themselves
travel to far islands but no-one
asks for their story

nor is there an exchange of gifts, stranger
            to stranger
nor libation
nor sacrifice to the gods

and no house has its herm.
Out of Denise Levertov’s “In Abeyance”

“. . . Assemblage is not incoherent; it doesn’t worry about coherence or incoherence. But my initial blow was to ask myself if this could possibly break up some formation I had; could it break up the habit I had of constantly forming things. These assemblages of Jess from the early ’60s just bring things together, and that, of course, is not the same thing as do they break something up. But much more than that I began to understand also that it had something to do with a picture of the universe, while Pound’s picture of the universe was never really very modern, so that he was just misinformed. When you move something from there to there you haven’t, in fact, broken anything up. See we’ve got one where everything in that universe, including particles, are events. And no matter what happens to that universe, events simply don’t have the frame that used to be there that could be broken up . . .” Robert Duncan, “A Conversation about Poetry and Painting”

“He is one of that little company of Artists of the Reassembly closest to my heart in my own work. Out of the discarded and unrecognized, he has brought up into the light of the Imagination, at once playfully and devoutly—and out of the Love of the Beautiful, wrought for the Friends of the Earth—a likeness of Earth’s humble mysteries. The residues of humanity haunt him. He works with materials fallen away from their original uses, worn until their old useful bodies have fallen away and an other patina alone remains. Or, at times, his angel will lift immediate some element from the context of this world, out of a mere costliness of appearance, the Truth of what we overlooked we now see, into the Romance of Old Survivals. This Renaissance or Recycling of Riches thrives upon the threadbare and remnant. And with all of the fallen world this Angel holds conversation . . .” Robert Duncan, c. 1973, out of “Of George Herms, His Hermes, and His Hermetic Art” (A Selected Prose)

. . . Cloud fragments torn loose from the solid sheen of the moon.

      The electric lamp in the isinglass casing. The painted shadow on the glare of the plate. The like lightness of the plate when lifted. All these things left in the design of the maze.

      Slowly the ear turns in time round to the sound it is listening for. The coil of thickness let fall from the table. But here there is no floor to the melody. In the broken plate arcs of higher sympathies cross actual tones and erect in the lonely herm the musician sees a window.

      So that the dark itself persists in the window like a lamp I said. A depresst key that sounds in the piano. And the sun returning to day returns in the old way he has always returned . . .
Out of Robert Duncan’s “Structure of Rime XXI”—“(for Louise & George Herms)”

“. . . the very act of writing a novel is selection . . . I think I recall coming on ‘inherent vice’ as an accepted term for unprepared canvases & chemically unsympathetic paints but don’t know where. Talitha cumi, Mark 5:41 (damsel, arise). Mary B Eddy probably has the error of matter someplace in Science & Health. The K Mansfield quote I think was in a review she wrote of a book by E M Forster, may be in her Notebooks. Maní, Sp. for peanut (chorus of The Peanut Vendor). Bishop Whutley is Whately (wrote Christian Evidences) but I don’t recall the reference. Those are the easy & immediate . . .” William Gaddis, in a 7 January 1976 letter, replying to The Recognitions queries by Robert Minkoff. (Gaddis: “I haven't the sort of detailed recall for sources you assume . . . Undoubtedly there is material here in boxes of discarded notes . . . but if I tried to go through them now for your queries I would be doing nothing else; the more cogent point though is that the alertness goes on during the writing & when the book’s done I’m pretty much finished with it, it becomes its own argument open to any attack or interpretation & whether you feel it’s ‘symbolically unified’ interests you a great deal more than it does me . . .”)

“. . . Herms used to go to junkyards, so he was rescuing what’s thrown away. He wasn’t recycling, by the way, he was rescuing. [Marcel] Duchamp had something to do with that with his objet trouvé. Duchamp never thought he was rescuing that object; he thought he was finding a form. Duchamp’s great at finding forms outside the frame that’s given to art. But it’s cutting both ways, you see, since besides making proposition “A,” the Dada proposition, that he’s going to do something to art that would be intolerable to it, he’s also meanwhile added an art object to it. We were amused when the Surrealists gave their first show in Paris after the war; Man Ray’s Object to Be Destroyed was shown. It had been in the Museum of Modern Art for years in some sanctified corner. Bring it out and what happens? Some literal French student destroys it. Man Ray was at the opening and he wrings his hands and says, “You’re destroying a work of art.” It’s called an Object to Be Destroyed!” Robert Duncan, “A Conversation about Poetry and Painting”

George Herms, “The Librarian,” 1960

George Herms, “Harness,” 1979

George Herms, “May 41,” 1996

George Herms, “Philip Lamantia,” 1999