Sunday, May 31, 2009

Leaves of Grass

I started reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass on March 13; I have just finished it now, because it is a 588 page book and because I pretty much didn't read during April and most of May.

Walt Whitman was born today in 1819 (that means, today is his birthday. Everyone wishes Walt Whitman a Happy Birthday!). He was strongly influenced by the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and set out to become the True American Poet that Emerson called for in his essay "The Poet." He then wrote the epic poem for the rest of his life, with its first publication appearing in 1845. Subsequent editions included the original material and added what had been written since. Whitman paid for the printing of the first several editions himself. Sylvie mentioned a discrepancy reading the length of the book; I seem to have the last and fullest version available, while she must have an earlier edition, since she has only some 200 pages.

I quite enjoyed Leaves of Grass at first. It is intended to be and succeeds at being the poetic incarnation of Transcendental philosophy. While Whitman is (to my philistine tastes) not necessarily a good poet, then, there are dozens of passages that are gems. They exude Whitman's huge love of life and the awe he has for the Universe, in his Transcendental understanding of it as a sacred, united whole. I have marked the pages of these and could reproduce far too many of them. Here are a few:

"I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is signed by God's name."

"And who has made hymns fit for the earth? for I am mad with devouring ecstasy to make joyous hymns for the whole earth."

Whitman's character fills the book, and he seems to be an extremely warm person capable of the most love; this is to be taken on one hand to represent the mythical Whitman characterized in the section "Song of Myself," but is also something that reflects his own true personality. It is reminiscent of Kerouac to me, and of course Whitman influenced Kerouac. Feels like JT, too, for the same reason.

"Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this touches a man."

However, the book is not all like this. He is stricken with the idea of the holiness of the Universe and every detail of it, and thus he ranges widely, listing world religions, different crafts, geographical features, and most of all aspects of the US as he sees it (he is in love with it, if that weren't clear). This sort of thing is all right, but there is far too much of it, and I feel it is far better suited to film or photography. The Civil War also happened about halfway through the time he was writing the book, and so the middle of the book is devoted exclusively to it. I don't know how you feel about it, but he is very patriotic and seems almost naive about it (though he did not support the Abolition movement). That may be a personal pacifist quirk of mine, however. Also, despite the love he has for nature and for the US, he often writes odes to "progess" and glorifies industrialization and the exploitation of the continent's bountiful resources - the "civilization" or "taming" of the land. This is also just a personal quirk of mine, but it did strike me as odd. There were certainly plenty of conservation-minded people around at the time he was writing.

In conclusion, I would not recommend anyone read Leaves of Grass. It is simply too long and not worth the slog. As my Dad pointed out: "Life is too short and there are too many great books to waste your time reading something you aren't enjoying." Instead, just read some Emerson or Thoreau and watch a movie that attempts the same kind of "listing" of the world's beauty - i.e., Baraka or the Qatsi trilogy. You'll get the same idea and save yourself a month or more of reading (the music's better too). If you are determined to read it, however, just find a copy of "Song of Myself."

Friday, May 29, 2009

To Burden with Beauty

I hate to burden you all with more links to beautiful things, but I have decided to record all the artists I found looking through Giornale Nuovo here to keep them in one place and maybe someone will get something out of that. Because hell, there is some choice shit in here. I have been expanding the library of paintings I store on my computer with stuff I find here. Stuffing my nest?

The author is a very refined British man who lives in Sweden. He seems to be sort of a connoisseur of Renaissance/Baroque European art, especially emblem books and their artists. However, he also has very good taste in contemporary art, and shares my affinity for the surreal and fantastic in art.

Giornale Nuovo: The Flight into Egypt
Giornale Nuovo: Nobson Central
Giornale Nuovo: The Republic of Dreams
Giornale Nuovo: Carlo Maggi’s Voyage
Tetti Veneziani, di Daniele Scarpa
Giornale Nuovo: Faust in Prague
Giornale Nuovo: Laurie Lipton
Kahn & Selesnick
Giornale Nuovo: Butt Johnson
Giornale Nuovo: More Odds and Ends
Giornale Nuovo: Didier Massard
Giornale Nuovo: Alberto Savinio
Giornale Nuovo: Érik Desmazières
Giornale Nuovo: A Compass Rose
Giornale Nuovo: Ghisi
Giornale Nuovo: Natura Morta
Giornale Nuovo: A Compass Rose
Giornale Nuovo: The City
Giornale Nuovo: Diptychs & Triptychs
Giornale Nuovo: Calligraphy
Giornale Nuovo: Art-Forms in Nature
Giornale Nuovo: Primo-Avrilesque

There are a lot, but they are short and beautiful pages. Enjoy!

I have also been spending a lot of time on Freerice studying famous paintings. I have learned of a number of cool painters and paintings in the process. In particular, Caspar David Friedrich caught my eye. Also Albrecht Durer, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Gustav Klimt, and J.M.W. Turner.

I realized a while ago that I am really into Romanticism, especially German Romanticism. Now, I am not at all interested in pride in my heritage or anything like that, but I always wonder about the fact that my family is German on my Dad's side, and that I have such an affinity for German art (Mahler and Hesse most notably). What does everyone think of "one's heritage?"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Horse Breeder's Dream

I had a dream last night that I was a breeding horse. Four other guys and I were being given our instructions by the guy in charge. We had expected that only three of the five were going to be assigned to fuck, but the guy in charge told us there had been a change in plans and we were all going to fuck. We ran across the field towards the mares and by the time we got there we were horses. The dream dribbled off soon after.

I think this blog has died and would like to resuscitate it. For that end, I am going to try to make you all contribute some writing sort of thing or other. I don't know if there need to be more details, but ideally, I would like a piece of short fiction (or poetry, or autobiography, etc) from everyone I can convince to do one, and for everyone to share an artist, friend, piece of music, photograph, etc, similar to what we have done before and as is our custom, but I would like to get us to put some more work into things and give more background information, as well as more personal writing as to why you appreciate the work, etc, the sort of thing that ideally might help others see what you see in it. Now, one or the other of the two preceding is probably the most I can get out of any of you. But ideally, one of each. What does everyone think of trying to get it done before July? If I don't put a deadline, there's no point, right?

Assuming no one checks here anymore, I may have to contact you all individually. I ought to do that anyway, though.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Remedios Varo

I am pretty sure I made mention of this discovery in a previous blog, but apparently at least Sylvie had forgotten, which means that the rest of you almost certainly had (does anyone still read this blog? Comment!) Anyway, to review (or merely view, as the case maybe), I went to the only substantial bookstore within a few hours' drive, and spent my time looking at the coffeetable books, as is my custom. And happily, stumbled (metaphorically) into a book of Remedios Varo, whom I had never heard of before. I sort of fell in love on the spot and wrote the name down in my little notebook. But the internet is frustrating sometimes, and demands patience. I didn't find ANY decent sized scans of her work online when I looked for it at that point. But I got reminded of her today because we are studying surrealism in art class (the teacher seems to hate surrealism and doesn't get it. So her classes on it are worse than the rest of the classes, which are bullshit.) and went looking for pictures to share with the class. Now, I keep an extensive archive of Dali and Beksinski paintings on my computer (two of my other favorite painters) along with a little Magritte and Jeff Jordan. All surrealists, of course. But Varo I had none of and so I decided to go look again.

I found this man, who found himself in the same conundrum and bought a book, then scanned it for the rest of us. I imagine the rest of the site is also cool, and have some vague plans to waste a lot of time looking through it.

PS - I recommend downloading the pictures and viewing them fullscreen. This is optional, however. (The rest is obligatory by implication). For the ignorant, this is done by clicking on each picture individually and right-clicking and "save to" each of them.

PPS - The author of the linked blog is an owner of the Codex Seraphinianus (as well as Luigi Seraphini's other book, which I hadn't heard of before.)


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Javier, Professional Fox: An Oral Portrait

Javier was a professional fox. You could see this by the fact that he always wore a business suit and carried a briefcase full of memoranda. He also carried himself in a business-like manner, which helped to communicate to the less Busy that he had a lot of Important Fox Business to attend to. On Bring-Your-Cubs-to-Work Day, he could be seen carrying several scruffy fox cubs by the hair behind their necks on his way to work. Some days he wore a belt. Other days he didn't.

Javier worked in an office building. Which office building was the highest building in its immediately surroundings. Javier had gotten a position in this office building due to his schooling, which had been prestigious. He had had to move far away from his original den to take the job, and the transition had been difficult for his cubs. The office building was in an arctic climate, and in Javier's new fox city there was a high suicide rate in teenagers. Javier sometimes worried about his cubs.

His mate was a beautiful fox; there were other foxes that were perhaps more beautiful than she was, but Javier didn't think so. At least, not most of the time. Most of the other foxes thought they were a good couple and were glad to have them as members of their community. Javier's mate liked plenty of hobbies and spent a lot of money on them. Sometimes Javier got upset about this, but he never got angry at his mate and he always calmed down when he remembered that he made a lot of money as a professional fox.

One of her hobbies was to help other foxes. She did this a lot and was lauded for it. There was some poverty in the city where Javier's family lived, and she wanted to get rid of it. To do this, she worked to plan projects that helped educate poor foxes and provide them with basic fox needs. She had studied to be a dentist and worked for free providing dental treatment to poor foxes. Sometimes her older cubs came along with her, and she had them go around the poor neighborhoods with a book cart. They gave away books too.

There was once Javier's eldest cub driving the book cart through a poor neighborhood. It had gotten dark and the foxes that lived in the neighborhood had come home from their jobs and started drinking. They became intoxicated and Javier's cub sought shelter from them in a house of some of his fox friends, because drunk, hungry foxes have been known to hunt and eat other foxes, especially cubs. This is a sad fact about fox poverty. Most facts about fox poverty are sad.

Javier enjoyed going boating and working in his free time. He owned a big boat. Sometimes his neighbors felt jealous. They stopped feeling jealous when they remember that they were also professional foxes and earned a lot of money, and could buy a big boat if they wanted to. They just didn't want to, because foxes are afraid of the water.

Javier's eldest cub was a Primitivist. He was angry that foxes had exterminated humans and viewed the days when foxes lived by stealing chickens from human chicken coops as a romantic golden age. Not many foxes thought this but many of them felt it sometimes. Especially when they read books.

Foxes don't have thumbs. How did Javier tie his tie?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Women Like You

Women Like you

They do not stir
these ladies of the mountain
do not give us
the twitch of eyelids

The king is dead

They answer no one
take the hard
rock as lover.
Women like you
make men pour out their hearts

'Seeing you I want
no other life'

'The golden skins have
caught my mind'

who came here
out of the bleached land
climbed this fortress
to adore the rock
and with the solitude of the air
behind them
carved an alphabet
whose motive was perfect desire

wanting these portraits of women
to speak
and caress

Hundreds of small verses
by different hands became one
habit of the unrequited

Seeing you
I want no other life
and turn around
to the sky
and everywhere below
jungle, waves of heat
secular love

Holding the new flowers
a circle of
first finger and thumb
which is a window

to your breast

pleasure of the skin
earring earring
of the belly
and then
stone mermaid
stone heart
dry as a flower
on rock
you long eyed women

the golden
drunk swan breasts
the long long eyes

we stand against the sky
I bring you

a flute
from the throat
of a loon

so talk to me
of the used heart

--Michael Ondaatje

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Colson Whitehead

My literary obsessions of 2009 have progressed as such:

1. Michael Ondaatje
2. Marilynne Robinson

and now I think I can add a third:

3. Colson Whitehead

I picked up his novel "John Henry Days" because he's been getting a ton of press for his new novel "Sag Harbor" that just came out a few days ago. Though I really want to read it, I can't afford the Canadian price of $27 (one thing I hate about Canada--the ridiculous markup of book prices. It's $15 in the USA and the exchange rate is about 80 cents to the dollar. Dumb.) so I went to the library and got his books "John Henry Days" and "The Intuitionist". I haven't gotten to "The Intuitionist" yet, but "John Henry Days" is FANTASTIC. The whole thing revolves around a festival in West Virginia (a perennially neglected state) about the folk hero John Henry. The book is about race and about technology and a critique of the media and also really interesting and well written. I am tired of cliched images and phrases that people unconsciously use, so I have been specifically searching lately for authors who are aware of their language. The originality of Michael Ondaatje's word and image choice is one of the main reasons I love him. Colson Whitehead fits the bill, too. He even references it at one point in "John Henry Days":

"When he first started in this business and was coming to understand his facility for making people believe things and was much taken with the language of his therapist, Lucien thought he was tapping into the collective unconscious. But now he thinks it's simply the atmosphere. That air is an admixture of nitrogen, oxygen, trace gasses, and one of these trace gasses is American cliché and we breathe it in with our first breath."

I also read an interview with Colson Whitehead from Powell's Books where he says this about what experiences he is thankful for as a writer:

CW: Being at The Voice, writing for different editors - there's a book editor and a music editor and so on - they all have things they like and don't like. You become aware that you do have readers with particular tastes. And they call you on your weaknesses, like, "Never use the word infectious in a music review." You become acutely aware of words you overuse, that kind of thing. The Voice, back in the day, was very hands-on editing. The editor would go through it, then you'd go through it together, so you see your mistakes in bold type. You become aware.

Overused words are a pathological obsession of mine, and it seems his as well. He also has the same obsession with local mythologies and the significance of the line between where folklore is important because parts of it were true and when it is important just because it's folklore. He also brings to the table something I haven't read much of before: the perspective of the upper-class American black experience, which to my knowledge is pretty neglected and much different from what I would have thought. I won't elaborate because I don't really understand it, but all of his books seem to deal with it in one way or another. I highly encourage everyone to read them.

For your enjoyment, here is a video from his publisher's youtube account promoting Sag Harbor. I think this will satisfactorily prove that he is A) not your typical Pullitzer Prize shortlisted author, B) hilarious and C) an interesting human being. I swear his writing is more coherent than his speech.