Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cuts from Stone Reveal Cat Skat

In the first half of the 20th century Ezra Pound expressed the concept of 'writing as the sculpture within the block of marble' in reference to the work of his sculptor friend Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915).

Henri’s career as an artist was short, four years. He was killed in the French trenches during WWI. His influence on Ezra Pound, and also Wyndham Lewis was significant and in part can be seen as an underlying conceptual element of Pound’s later Cantos, which, if any literary work can be said to do so, relies heavily on collagist technique.

A great deal of Pounds technique was rather simply to take what came to him, digest it within his accumulated being, and then to distil out a response. It is one of the reasons that scholars of Pound speak so often of what Pound was reading or experiencing as an ‘antennae of the race’ at various times in the production of his life’s work.

Of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's work:

“"It was done" (Pound remembering) "against the whole social system in the sense that it was done against poverty and the lack of materials." He used oddments of stone left over from other people's—for instance monument cutters'—hackings. The " Cat" emerges from one side of a broken chunk of marble, "of no shape" save that Gaudier saw the cat lying tensed in it.” Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, 1971, p 250.

Under this methodology of 'writing as the sculpture within the block of marble' I imagine it is a process where the writer puts down on paper a whole lot of words and non-words, coinages and nonsense... not too different than monkeys on speed typing... and then spends the time to whittle away all of the extraneous words until the core of whatever could possibly have some value is revealed. I assume what ends as the final product is at least of value to the whittler.

Though I know that the technique is entirely manageable on shorter texts, say to take 1,000 words and pseudo-words and condense them down into 2-3 sentences in a longer work of fiction in the long run the approach vastly loses all semblance of efficiency. As well, after the whittler’s initial enthusiasm for adventure and exploration wears down to the tedium of ‘work’ the long text is more than likely to result in lengthy runs of total nonsensical and tediously drooling gibberish.

From personal experience I know that if there is no element of precognitive desire and sensibility introduced the process can lead to objects that more resemble splots of cat skat than elegance.

"A sea chord timer (eye at the foal lox wine sunk ripe), as the blight bulk riding us frogs the ad hoc icon, the bulb reset tinge amp mango their cop undresses, a shim elf stain dung on the grotto fund, wax chad by the ash elm bay, a shin elk cob mink oat from the treated spry, waft chef by the yak tongue moan — the yoke flute Utu exit endued his hog oily, ship fling rats downy frogs heave veins (1 ms. from Ur adds: holy, his bail liar acne ilk lump mien aped for him the moon tarn caviar), he bus towel themes on holy Lugalbanda in the moot tern cakewalk..." jim leftwich, Death Text Book 9, 2003

Machines, in fact, the development of the personal computer is good for producing these texts in prolific abundance though the human element of such mundane tasks such as rewriting, and rewriting, helps to ensure the sustenance of an audience of readers.

Reference to a technique of artistic composition that dates back nearly 100 years is not exactly modern, let alone post-modern.

So I will jump back in the discussion regarding artistic methodology at least 200 years with a reference to William Blake, who was a practitioner of relief etching and argued for a very strong focus on the demarcation of the ‘line’ both in graphic and in textual media.

One characteristic of modern technique is collage, another is distortion, and with cubism there is certainly a clear sense of a demarcating line. In many respects the visual image of the modern was a reaction to the fuzzy image of the romantic and impressionist movements. In the visual collage technique of the modernists, Dadaists, etc. it is fairly clear when one looks at the work that one is looking at a cut-out image. One can see lines between images most clearly.

One of my most favorite artists along these lines (no pun left unturned) is Joseph Cornell. I have seen his work in museums. I have seen his work sitting on the sofa tables of my business clients.

I am a practitioner of the philosophy of Manureism [pre-chicken, chicken, post-chicken, post-post-chicken] and as such see a methodology that incorporates 'writing as the sculpture within the block of marble' with a collagist technique (a mosaic of fragments) that takes a focus on looking at the characteristic of the lines between the disparate images. A few lines are heightened in effect, a few are blended together to force the images to seem more connected than they would otherwise be experienced.

In the exploration of a text that seeks the potential of exclusion from translation into other aesthetic media there is a tacit recognition that the goal is as impractical as the development of a character that grows and stands up off the page as a self-realized walking, talking homunculus. There may be no final salvation, but there is the lingering hope of it. But what is relevant to me, at the least, is the exploration of the discrete ‘line’ that is revealed in the mish-mush.

It also presents a challenge to the reader as how one learns to read, how one is sensitive to their skills as a reader, conditions how they perceive and interact with the lines of the work.

My experience with stone causes me when I look at Gaudier's Marble Cat to wonder just how the stone knew to contain such a poor rendition of a cat that Gaudier could even imagine to find it therein. More remarkable to me is how whole movements of aesthetic comprehension are built up on the figments of fragments of intellectual cat skat.

Sadly, or not so sadly, for me the perception of a linear text (one word to follow another) is at least three dimensional if not five. I say five in that there is a past and future to our comprehension that is recursive to our internal experience of any text.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The differences between creating visual art and writing fiction.

This subject line came up in my browsing through facebook.

I have several sides to my approach to the topic. On one hand I have a background as a stone mason, working with stone as both an industrial and aesthetic material of expression. On another I have been for a long time a writer, and for me that definition is someone who writes. I started with a desire to be a poet. I move on from there to short stories, flash fiction, novels, essays, magazine articles, list serves, e-mails, business correspondence, yada yada.

Too many years ago I was idle and had not much to do with myself and began doing paper cut collage. I was frustrated in my writing and was trying to figure out a different approach. Regardless, the collages caught on extremely quickly and before I knew where I was at I had a one-person show in a respectable book-art gallery. I sold work. It seemed fitting that combination of books and graphic arts. I got some interest in the collages from a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum. For various reasons I promptly quit doing collages. I did not quit writing, though, and what I learned from the collage work I incorporated into my writing techniques.
What I was working on with the cut paper collages was the delicate line between conjunction of disparate images that when placed next to each other create a narrative mirage... an idea that there is a narrative to be understood -- as you express it is this 'suggestion' of a meaning that in turn the reader of the text needs to fill in. Though an author composes a text, a linear progression for the most part, it is the reader of the text that needs to fill in the meaning. As it is people are hard wired in their nervous system to be either visually or linguistically oriented, and based on that hard wired tendency there is the opportunity for folks to learn to perceive higher levels of complication in the selected media.

For me at this stage in my life it takes me 1-2 years to construct a short story. I do not consider this a problem, particularly, as what I am interested in, starting with the assembly techniques of collage, is to explore the capabilities and characteristics of text that is not translatable to other media... to explore narrative form that by nature forces an exclusion from translation say into film, or music, or painting. I say an exploration of as there are fuzzy lines between what works, and what does not work. I am not so much intent on total exclusion, as to a developed sensitivity to where the boundaries between a word text and other media reside. This exploration I suspect is one of the reasons that for some readers my short stories can come across as inaccessible as in part I am trying to work patterns that break down, slow down, and fragment reading comprehension while at the same time providing an illusion of usually expected narrative techniques. I do not say that this is a good thing. I say that it is what interests me in the art media of text.

I know quite a few accomplished fine artists, sculptors and musicians and find myself moving in and out of their worlds. As a result in my stories I have characters that are artists, or want to be artists.

One character that I remember in particular was a fellow who was doing art by chewing on cucumbers then spitting them out. Most of his work was hopelessly obscure public installations. He was doing this predominantly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He got two lesbian MFAs who had a front room apartment 'art gallery' to let him do a show with radishes but they all got drunk and ate his work then passed out. Eventually his GF talked him into getting a real job with airport security.