Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recent Reads: Franzen, Wallace, Frampton

I thought I would post a few essays that have had a major impact on me recently. I'm getting lazy with my blogging recently, and am seldom interested in writing in this format any longer, but I am always interested in other writing, and good writing, and in passing it on so it can continue to be realized by anyone willing to put forth the patience and attention. Thankfully I have a grand patience for my inattention to this blog, and will likely continue to harvest those patient fruits of neglect.

The first essay is by Jonathan Franzen and may be important to anyone who is concerned about the state of the written word and its impact (or rather, lack of permeation) in our culture in the US after the Vietnam War, or perhaps, after the 1950's and the advances of other forms of media into mass, available culture. It contains an important analysis of the different types of modern readers, and addresses the raison d'etre shared by many writers which is no longer validated, visibly, in culture. Please read it if reading and the reception of art are important issues to you. It is one of the most important essays of the last decade as far as I'm concerned.

Digressions on the Photographic Agony, by Hollis Frampton, is an analogical picture, in words, of photography's seemingly rigid, but all to terribly prescribed, rendering of its own history. If you like Borges, Chesterton, or Beckett, do eat here. It's a feast, and your sense of the construction of mythologies existing as intemperate facts, given credence by only their lack of contestation, will perhaps turn from a sense of tragedy into a sense of humor. Unabashedly, I hold that no one as sharp as Frampton in letters and languages has ever touched in pen, the arena of the modern institution of the arts.

The third attached essay is by David Foster Wallace. It examines the historical foundations of grammatology and their corresponding rhythmic dispensations in the publishing and professionalizing word of dictionary expertise. It highlights a very specific shift in linguistics that changed the course of the English language forever, the shift in prescriptive vs. descriptive uses of language, and their corresponding uses in the publishing of dictionaries. Perhaps suggestion, is truly, more important than instruction and more potent. The essay speaks of the undervaluing of different dialects that are, in no manner of speaking, (no pun intended) tied to intelligence, which are simply scorned as inferior worlds of communication in the realm of academic English. This is a good essay if pedagogy is important to you, you scan different dictionaries for the better description of a word (like me), you simply don't trust the authority of arbitrary foundational science, or you are interested in the rhetorical game of stakes that can arrest suggestion, inference, or perspective into an inveterate beast of mythological, unadulterated fact. If you are pretty sure that everyone means much of the same thing that you do when they say words that you know, this essay might force you to shit your epistemological pants.

Do enjoy.


Jonathan Franzen - Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels

Hollis Frampton - Digressions on the Photographic Agony

David Foster Wallace - Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Interview with John Darneille about "The Life of the World to Come"

As far as I know, John Darnielle's lyrics are about as close to literature as you can get in music outside of Phillip Glass and a few other songwriters whose worlds unfold in time more poignantly and with less of a chance of vulgarity or speciousness than in film. His most recent release sets its verbal prowess upon the ancient literary architecture of the Bible, in a head-spinning contrast to its predecessor, Heretic Pride. In the year 2009, when verbal, musical, or pictorial references to God in any serious manner have been considered in ill taste for quite some time, in a strange set of circumstances, only John Darnielle, virtual iconoclast to his suburban offspring, whose breadth of interests and knowledge make nothing stick to him, could get away with this type of naive-seeming candor in an age of artificiality and perfidious imitation.

Here is an interview with John discussing many of the scenarios discussed in his songs on the new LP.

Here is a quote from an interview he was a part of earlier this month that seems a suitable introduction to a first listen:

I’ve been in pretty punishing physical and emotional health for the last couple years, buncha weird stuff, and that’ll get a person thinking about his spirit just as a refuge from his body. I’ve always had a pretty dicey relationship with my body—many survivors of abuse do—so there’s that. And also, I’ve had this lifelong thirst to believe, but I just don’t. I try; I go in as deep as I can, but I wonder whether real faith isn’t hard-wired. At the same time, I can’t call myself a non-believer. I talk about “the spirit” and have a hard time accepting that “the spirit” is actually just a sort of Freudian/Jungian collection of personality traits and reactions to them. I’ve experience transcendence both as ecstasy and pain, and I think the life of the spirit, that’s something worth letting loose in little songs, maybe. It’s bigger than they are, so maybe it can knock a few teacups off the shelves, right? It’s just, like, so much of what affects me emotionally is bound up in ideas of God and mercy and forgiveness and wrath and the sort of peace that we mean when we say “peace be with you” in the mass—you know? Huge part of who I am in all this, and I think it’s been darting around like a fish in my songs since at least The Coroner’s Gambit, so I thought, “why not focus, start digging, really head into the cave and see what’s there?”


is John's blog where he educates us all about music

Sunday, November 1, 2009

David Bentley Hart on Foucault's Concept of Freedom

“For Foucault and Deleuze both, the narrative of force is so pervasive that the political desire for ‘liberation’ becomes more and more idealized in their thought: no longer revolution, which is merely another totalizing expression of power, but only occasional and limited forms of resistance, conceived…by Foucault as a Stoical art of crafting the self (from volition to involution). In either model of freedom—of the restraint or diversion of the will to power—the Kantian subject, the inviolable individual, is retained, however diminished, concealed, and unacknowledged. This is inevitable: The Kantian myth of the subject’s moral freedom is the last bulwark against totalitarian impulses. The ghost of the subject must still emerge from one shadowy corner or another to rattle its chains and declare its right to power.

There is a piquant futility in all of this; as much as it preserves the assumptions of modernity regarding the punctiliar individual, the inalienable power of will, and freedom as the lifting of constraints from the will, this school of the postmodern reveals itself as a completion of the project of the Enlightenment, but insofar as it has dispensed with Kant’s unrepresentable but necessary moral analogy between the transcendental subject and God, it has also brought that project to its inevitable collapse…

The longing for an impossible freedom—the dream of a flight to the exteriority of nomadic migrations or to the interiority of self-creation—remains as a governing pathos, although it is obviously nothing but a metaphysical nostalgia.

Inevitably, again, there can be no ethos attached to this vision of things but that of affirmation…As an act of aesthetic evaluation, if it must first and unhesitatingly affirm the whole, it can be accomplished only on mountaintops, from an impossibly sublime perspective; but as soon as one enters into history, evaluation becomes an analogical process of ordering desires, and if one insists on entering history by descending from such heights, those desires and that evaluation may be for or of anything, any practice, however noble or barbaric, kind or cruel. It is nonsensical to assert that the “positivity” of affirmation is somehow a bar against the creative jeu joyeux of, say, fascism; every conceivable perception and desire is compatible—by way of whatever rhetorical negotiation—with super-abounding affirmation.”

- David Bentley Hart, The Veil of the Sublime, from "the Beauty of the Infinite."

Talking about Photography: Nov. 8 in Williamsport, PA

I'll be leading a discussion/presentation on Economy, Form, and Photography next Sunday November 8 at 5 PM, here in Williamsport at the Valley Mosaic space in the old Pajama Factory building. Prior to the dialogue there is traditionally a potluck, so if you're in the area, are hungry, and would like to come and hang out, I'd be honored.

I will be taking two poems (By Rilke and Wendell Berry) and from them extrapolating a bit about the relationship between the content of the text and photographic practice. This will include a brief, mythological visual etymology of sorts, of photographers' work which I find a strong kinship with, as well as a discussion of the difficulties involved with "talking about photography."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poetry by Patrick Friesen

You Don't Get to Be a Saint (1992)

like stars snow's falling all over town
headlights are passing on the walls
a god's walking barefoot through the drifts

the town drunk's leaning against a tree
he sees a dead hand in the snow
and reaches down to offer his own

you don't get to be a saint the dead man says
you get to warm your hands for a moment
you get to catch your breath and say one thing

I can make you a wizard he says
I can give you life forever
but I can't take the price off your head

I don't want to be a wizard says the drunk
I live with the price and I don't mind dying
I just want to sing a lullaby

he clears his throat and sings the dead man to sleep
then he turns into stillness
like none ever heard ever more still than snow

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Photography and the Demagogy of Inclusivity

Within the last year I've been concerned with photography forsaking its historical concerns in the interest of imitating other mediums. Jumping off of the historical precipice of photography's uneasy placement in the corner of the tent of the arts, seemingly leaves photography in no other position but to try to swim from its own self-destined archipelago back to the land it has left long ago, or to continue to imitate the other arts. Or I suppose, practitioners can do whatever the hell they want to do, as long as they can democratically wage a war of rhetorical inexactitude, or speak coherently and convincingly enough, to imbue work with intelligible academic or didactic utility.

A strange notion within the context of photography's mythological narrative, besides the narrative itself, is that in contemporary photographic practice, postmodern vanguards of the arts have imbued the environment of the arts, within the institutions which house works of art and their creators, with a totalizing spirit of all-inclusiveness. This all-inclusiveness is of course a myth, by which are hidden, the truly demagogic individual concerns each carries when approaching work. The irony of the spirit of postmodernism itself in the context of critically examining the value and utility of creations of "art" institutionally, is its intransigent denial of its own demagogy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"People thats honest do their work out in the light."

"Now Laben you shouldn't have done that; those photographer fellows go into a dark room when they do their work., and people that's honest do their work out in the light."

- Aunt of Laben Deardorff, founder of L.F. Deardorff and Sons Cameras

Friday, October 2, 2009

Robert Adams on Teaching Photography

I find a startling level of kinship with the thoughts and attitudes of Robert Adams, more specifically within his writings on photography. Adams holds a PhD in English literature, and began working full-time on his photography after many years of teaching on the university level. He also considered being a minister during much of his young adult life, a fact that has equally repelled and compelled me for some time now, although the life of the Jesuit seems more and more distant from my imagination as I continue to grow older and younger simultaneously.

As the spring quarter of my second year of schooling in photography came to a close this past May, I found myself riddled with incorrigible questions as to the nature of arts education, and of the institutional framework which forces working artists to need the economic and political relationship proffered by the university arts-based professorship. I could write pages on the dysfunctional nature of sublimating the arts to a process of standardization and the tutelage and patronage of economic institutions fueling the ideals which art strives against, yet the more pressing question is, what does it take to teach in the context of death-bent institutions funded on the hegemony of a culture of economic and political nihilism--ie: the collapse of local cultures, local economies, the family--the prioritizing and partitioning of life based upon the leviathan of the pathology of capitalism and its myths--and apart from that, how is it possible to teach something like photography as an "art," when it is the newborn baby trying to communicate in a room with the learned elders of the other artistic disciplines?

I will continue to wrestle with many of these questions. Here is what Robert Adams has to say in his phenomenal book, Why People Photograph:

Can Photography Be taught? If this means the history and techniques of the medium, I think it can. The latter, particularly, are straightforward. If, however, teaching photography means bringing students to find their own individual photographic visions, I think it is impossible. We would be pretending to offer the students, in William Stafford’s phrase, “a wilderness with a map.” We can give beginners directions about how to use a compass, we can tell them stories about our exploration of different but possibly analogous geographies, and we can bless them with our caring, but we cannot know the unknown and thus make sure a path to real discovery.

Ought photography to be taught? If at the beginning of my own photography I had taken a course in the mechanics, it would have saved time. Learning the history of the medium might also have been done more systematically in a class, but it was fun and easy to do on my own. As for the studio courses in “seeing” – which usually place student work up for evaluation by both classmates and teachers – I was never tempted to take one, and so am not attracted to teaching one. Arrogantly I believed right from the start that I could see. That was the compulsion, to make a record of what I saw. And so listening to most other people speak didn’t seem helpful. Even now I don’t like to discuss work that isn’t finished, because until it is revised over the span of a year or several years there are crucial parts that are present only in my mind’s eye, pieces intended but not yet realized. If I were forced to pay attention, as one would be in a class, to a dozen different understandings and assessments of what I was putting together it would amount to an intolerable distraction, however well meant. Architect Luis Barragan was right, I think: “Art is made by the alone for the alone.”

Am I one to teach photography? When I consider the possibility I can’t help remembering a question put to me by an affectionate and funny uncle when I told him I might become a minister – “Do you have to?” Experience later as an English teacher brought up the same issue. Teachers must, I discovered, have a gift to teach and the compulsion to use it. And faith. Anything less won’t carry you through.

Monday, September 21, 2009

David Bentley Hart's "Christ and Nothing"

The essay that David Bentley Hart, Orthodox theologian of aesthetics and a well-practiced rhetorician in the history of medieval and modern thought, wrote for First Things five years ago, I think, is one of the most compelling and terrifying pronouncements of the modern spiritual disposition that I've come across. For those who may doubt the ontological presuppositions behind the absolute sovereignty of the individual will and choice to structure and understand the world, Mr. Hart has a few words to disclose. The essay is also a brief summation of the trajectory of modern thought in dealing with the problem of choice and the inheritance of cultural Christendom as a dominating force that shapes modern culture and thought. Hart is the first theologian I've read who has actively diagnosed and archived to any suitable degree, the extent to which God has been killed and continues to be, as well as offering an extensive understanding of the responsibilities and terrors which ensue when faith does not resolve itself into a complete subjugation to the error of the postmodern condition of boundless skepticism and gnostic delineation of historical criticism, ad nauseam.

We might all be wise to consider his admonitions. Albeit, the concept of modern freedom will not allow the domineering force of obedience to rob it of its ardor for totalizing freedom, if we do listen to him, a freedom which leaves behind all else in its path in the interests of itself, and itself alone. We are free to do all else but to obey...

If you don't read the essay, at least risk the following quote to stir up the blood, or force it to continue its trajectory toward the anesthesia of evasion from thought:

"The only cult that can truly thrive in the aftermath of Christianity is a sordid service of the self, of the impulses of the will, of the nothingness that is all that the withdrawal of Christianity leaves behind. The only futures open to post-Christian culture are conscious nihilism, with its inevitable devotion to death, or the narcotic banality of the Last Men, which may be little better than death. Surveying the desert of modernity, we would be, I think, morally derelict not to acknowledge that Nietzsche was right in holding Christianity responsible for the catastrophe around us (even if he misunderstood why); we should confess that the failure of Christian culture to live up to its victory over the old gods has allowed the dark power that once hid behind them to step forward in propria persona. And we should certainly dread whatever rough beast it is that is being bred in our ever coarser, crueler, more inarticulate, more vacuous popular culture; because, cloaked in its anodyne incipience, lies a world increasingly devoid of merit, wit, kindness, imagination, or charity."

- David Bentley Hart, Christ and Nothing, First Things, October 2003.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Herzog on Stealing his first camera to film Aguirre, The Wrath of God

"It was a very simple 35mm camera, one I used on many other films, so I do not consider it a theft. [Herzog took the camera from Munich Film School] For me, it was truly a necessity. I wanted to make films and needed a camera. I had some sort of natural right to this tool. If you need air to breathe, and you are locked in a room, you have to take a chisel and hammer and break down a wall. It is your absolute right.”

Herzog on Herzog
, edited by Paul Cronin, Faber & Faber, 2003

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Henri-Cartier Bresson visits Ezra Pound after Hollis Frampton, Venice, 1971

"Martine Franck, Cartier-Bresson's widow, accompanied her husband to just one — probably atypical — portrait session, that of the poet Ezra Pound in Venice in 1971, a year before his death at 87.

'There was a tremendous, heavy silence,' recalled Ms. Franck, herself a photographer. 'Pound didn't say a word. He just seemed to condemn the world with his eyes. We were there for about 20 minutes. I stayed to one side. I huddled in a corner. Henri took seven pictures.'"

- From This Decisive Moment On by Alan Riding in The New York Times, January 26, 2006

"In a letter of the year 1914, the poet Ezra Pound tells his correspondent that it took him ten years to learn his art . and another five to unlearn it . The same year saw the tentative publication of three cantos for a "poem of some length" that was to become, though nameless and abandoned, the longest poem in English . . . prominent among whose denumerable traits were a lexicon of compositional tropes and a thesaurus of compositional strategies that tend to converge in a reconstitution of Western poetics.

Since it has been widely asserted that art can be neither taught nor learned, that it is a gift from Jehovah or the Muse, an emanation from the thalamus, or a metabolite of the gonads, we may pause to wonder what Pound, a failed academic and life-long scholar of diverse literatures and arts, meant by the verb to learn . . . let alone unlearn. In the same letter, Pound himself is obliquely illuminating ; he had begun, he says, around 1900, to study world literature, with a view to finding out what had been done and how it had been done, adding that he presumes the motive, the impulse, to differ for every artist.

A few years later, in the essay How to Read, Pound diffracts the roster of poets writing in English into a hierarchic series of zones, of which the most highly energized comprise 'inventors' and 'masters' . The essay, like most of Pound's prose writing of the period, is addressed primarily to other (presumably younger) writers it is permeated by Pound's highly practical concern for what might be called an enhanced efficiency in the process of 'learning' an art . We need not look very deeply to find, inscribed within the pungent critical enterprise that extends and supports his concern, a single assumption : that one learns to write by reading . Moreover, one learns to write mainly by reading those texts that embody 'invention', that is, the vivid primary instantiation of a compositional strategy deriving from a direct insight into the dynamics of the creative process itself."

- Hollis Frampton, Notes on Composing in Film, October, Spring 1975

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Laura McPhee's "River of No Return"

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on Laura McPhee's book, "River of No Return," sometime soon. There are a few low-resolution jpegs of her work on her website. Do look!

T.S. Eliot on Art and Responsibility

"No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead [. . . .] what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them [. . . .] And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities."

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Soloviev on Love and the Imagination

"Seeing that this individual being, in his given reality, does not enter into the unity of the all, but exists separately as an individualized material phenomenon, then the object of our believing love is necesarily to be distinguished from the empirical object of our instinctive love, though it is also inseparably bound up with it. It is one and the same person in two distinguishable aspects, or in two different spheres of being-the ideal and the real. The first is as yet only an idea. By steadfast, believing and insightful love, however, we know that this idea is not an arbitrary fiction of our own, but that it expresses the truth of the object, only a truth as yet not realized in the sphere of external, real phenomena.

This true idea of the beloved object, though it shines through the real phenomenon in the instant of love's intense emotion, is at first manifested in a clearer aspect only as the object of imagination. The concrete form of this imagination, the ideal image in which I clothe the beloved person at the given moment, is of course created by me, but it is not created out of nothing."

- Vladimir Soloviev
"The Meaning of Love*

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Letter to Commonweal from Dorothy Day: May 21, 1948

"War is deviltry. It calls for sacrifices indeed, but not at the altar of love. “Greater love hath no man than this.” A great blasphemy this, to use Christ’s words in connection with men going to war. They go because they are drafted, because they are afraid of what their neighbors will say, because the pay is good, because the benefits accruing afterward (the G.I. Bill of Rights) are great. And they are told by the press and the pulpit that they are going because they love their fellows, and they are filled with a warm glow of self-love. And then they are given their intensive training in how to escape death, how to kill. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brothers, and the Russians are our brothers, the Negro is our brother, the Japanese are our brothers, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Filipinos, the Jews, the Arabs.

So let’s not have any more talk about God and country. The battle is for this world, for the possessions of this world.”

(Dorothy Day, “Letter to the Editor,” Commonweal, May 21, 1948.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hollis Frampton on the Burden of Photographic Criticism

“The problematics of a possible art of photography are those of a text under extreme pressure, both from without (that is, from language, on the one hand, and from the respectable visual arts on the other) and from within: only weariness can condone forgiving as philosophic naïveté the incomparable levity of most photographers, who have traditionally dismissed art in favor of a polemical nonesuch suspended somewhere or other between the anecdotal and the retinal. To seek to extricate, from the accumulated images, a photographic discourse, is to confront an historic surface replete with digressions, qualifications, variant readings, alternative formulations, contradictions…all set off in the visual equivalents of quotation marks, inverted commas, parentheses, brackets, vincula, braces…or else in footnotes and marginalia that far outbulk, and long ago submerged, the codex itself.”

Hollis Frampton
September, 1975

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Commencement Speech of Graduating Class of Kenyon College, 2005, by David Foster Wallace

"And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day."


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Work by David La Spina; Birdbox Archives

Recently I've been taken by Yale MFA student David La Spina's use of color and light. Check out History of a Village: Mamaroneck. I should also mention that La Spina's Bird Box Archives has published David's first monograph, as well as "Old Cape Cod," a book of photographs by Dan Larkin, chair of the Fine Art Photography Department at RIT. Here is the Birdbox Lulu storefront.

Battling The Hard Man: Notes on Addiction to the Pornography of Violence by Benjamin Demott

Benjamin Demott is one of my favorite American cultural critics and writers, and before his death a few years ago, he had been writing for Harper's since the 1960's and teaching at Amherst College for much of that time. Always a fastidious and delicately detailed writer and thinker, he occupied territories of critical analysis that, by their incisive manner, evade any disciplinary description that you might want to tack onto them. The most haunting and perceptive essay that he has ever written in my opinion, was written during a battle with an illness that ended his life in cardiac arrest. He worked on the essay "Battling the Hard Man," throughout the illness, and I continue to return to it when personally haunted by the rote, habitual ritualization of non-responses to suffering, death, and other evils which we encounter daily, as the growth of technology and an ocularcentric culture continue to dissolve the boundaries between reality and illusion, between mimesis and actuality.

Here is a PDF of Benajamin Demott's essay, "Battling The Hard Man: Notes on Addiction to the Pornography of Violence"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Hand Drawn Map Association

It's true. There really is a Hand Drawn Map Association that has maps for viewing online. Princeton's Architectural Press will publish a book of hand drawn maps from The Hand Drawn Map Association's archives sometime in the near future. What will we humans decide to archive next?

The above map was created by a Minneapolis man to designate different possible routes to his parent's home in the city. By the way, former RIT student, Dan Boardman, now a resident of Minneapolis, still has some prints for sale at Jen Bekman's 20x200. Support Dan if you have some extra money from your tax return.

Essays: Michael More on Phillip Perkis, Hollis Frampton on Paul Strand, and Joel Sternfeld on Robert Frank

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Helen Levitt's delicate photographic work since her death a few weeks ago at the age of 95. Stumbling upon a few interviews with Helen recently, I've come to find that one of Helen's favorite photographers was Phillip Perkis. Perkis is a well-respected photographer and photographic educator known for his nontraditional methods of encouraging students to develop their own ways of seeing and thinking. He studied with Dorothea Lange and Minor White, has received numerous fellowships and grants, and is a Guggenheim fellow. In 2001, Owen Butler, a professor of mine at RIT, published a book of some of Perkis' interrelated musings on teaching the art of photography, including many of Perkis' famed dictums and visual exercises. As one of a small class of well-respected photographers of his time period, he is still virtually unknown outside of the realm of his contemporaries, many receiving a notoriety in the world of photographic history today that has never found a place for Perkis.

This past week I've been pouring over Perkis' book, "The Sadness of Men." Here is a short essay on Perkis, his work, and the book. (*Open or Save as a PDF)

One of my new obsessions in the realm of artists and thinkers on the verge of madness and unintelligibility as a result of the unhindered and unquestionable otherness of their originality and unpredictability of thought is Hollis Frampton. Frampton taught at SUNY Buffalo for decades without ever graduating from high school. He was an experimental filmmaker, photographer, and critic of the media arts. Not suprisingly, Frampton wrote an acute elaboration on Paul Strand and his work. You can read his "Meditations Around Paul Strand," in PDF form here.

Joel Sternfeld, from what I've read and what I've been told, is one of the kindest and most supporting educators that exists in the small (but oftentimes tediously disconsolate and brazen) world of photographic education. He has a head of chaotic, disheveled hair, his office is a disaster, but somehow he still finds it his first priority to weave a cocoon of security, trust, and encouragement for all his students at Sarah Lawrence, regardless of skill. Sternfeld, miraculously, was able to be with Robert Frank as Steidl was publishing a "final edition" of Frank's "The Americans," the most iconic and most praised book of photographs that exists in all space and time. Sternfeld's essay on being with Frank during the publishing of this final edition of the Americans is one of the most enjoyable essays I've ever read in my twenty-two years. The marriage of humanity, gentleness, understanding, and a simultaneous commitment to photographic perfection within these two men is astounding and humbling.

Here is Sternfeld on his mythical, yet wholly human encounter with the miracle of Robert Frank.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nietzsche's Synthesis of Aesthetic Reason

I've been thinking a bit about Nietzsche's dictum that art stems from a nihilistic paralysis that develops from a sense of the tragic. For Nietzsche the artist synthesizes what he calls aesthetic reason, instead of analyzing it. Aesthetic reason validates the right to make value judgments upon "what things we accept and how we accept them." For Nietzsche, an aversion in regards to perception (whether visual or ethical) is a challenge for the will to cleanse and overcome itself, to eventually render the aversion a joyful sensation. The joy beauty gives us is intensified by the "pleasure taken within the ugly."

Is this pleasure experienced within the ugly the same pleasure involved in sadism or masochism? To engulf oneself in the tragic, to experience tragedy within perception, and to elevate it to pleasure for the sake of the will to overcome that tragedy seems to me to be so far removed from wisdom that many of the mystics and the desert fathers seem to go beyond Nietzsche in this one, seem to judge less than him! To abandon the illusion of the right for moral or aesthetic judgment and replace it with an absorption in the origins of the art or action, seems to me to be the only way that makes a movement towards the other, in an equally volatile and difficult act of the will. It is the will to empathy, understanding, and however impractical in the organizational structures presiding over institutions, the will to the power of weakness in disappearing through the empathetic imagination into the other.

And within that vacuum of space and silence, the germination of love is possible, if only momentarily before it is co-opted by the will, selfishness, or pride once again.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not only is he a literary talent...

Josh is a good friend of mine from high school. He has apparently moved on from writing fiction to pursue a higher form of art.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Max Neuhaus

Here you are Mr. Barker.

Here is a video about his sound installation in Times Square.

Hello Again, My Brother

John Cheever is easily one of my favorite writers of the modern short story, and easily one of the most enigmatic and mysterious figures in literature during his time. I've read editorials and interviews with Cheever quite a few times, but Commuter Literate, an essay by Matthew Price in next month's Bookforum, is by far the most reflective look at the private John Cheever that I've read. It's worth the read if you know his writings.

Also, if you ever get a chance to read his short stories, be sure to check out "The Enormous Radio," "Goodbye. My Brother," and "The Swimmer." This month the Library of America is publishing a new edition of much of his shorter fiction and other writings. Here is an extensive interview with one of the editors, Blake Bailey.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Rumi || c. 1250: Konya

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the night sky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,
Like this?

If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.
Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.
Like this?

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to “die for love,” point:

If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.
This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.
Like this.

When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.
Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.
Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.
Like this.

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?

How did Jacob’s sight return?

A little wind cleans the eyes.
Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us.
Like this.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nietzsche on Jesus the "Political Criminal"

"I fail to see against what the rebellion-as whose cause Jesus has been understood or misunderstood-may have been directed, if it was not a rebellion against the Jewish church-church exactly in the same sense in which we use the word today. It was a rebellion against "the good and the just," against "the saints of Israel," against the hierarchy of society- not against its corruption, but against caste, privilege, order, and formula; it was the disbelief in "higher men," the No to all that was priest or theologian. But the hierarchy which was thus questioned, even if only for a moment, was the lake-dwelling on which alone the Jewish people, amid the "water," could continue to exist, the hard-won last chance of survival, the residue of its independent political existence. An attack on this was an attack on the deepest instinct of a people, on the toughest life-will that has ever existed in any people on earth. This holy anarchist, who summoned the people at the bottom, the outcastes and "sinners," the pariahs within Judaism, to negate the dominant order-using language, if the Gospels could be trusted, that today, too, would still lead to Siberia- was a political criminal insofar as political criminals were at all possible in an absurdly unpolitical community. This brought him to the cross..."

- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Herzog: Psychoanalysis is "even worse than the Spanish Inquisition"

"Things rarely turn out well when the swashbuckling side of Herzog takes over. Several years ago, he returned to the Alps to ski with some old friends. One day, he sped down a notoriously treacherous run; when he boasted about it that night, nobody believed him. The next day, he insisted on doing it again—and, predictably, he wiped out. 'I nearly died,' he told me, and he still has difficulty turning his neck.

Why does he do such things? Herzog does not want to know the answer. 'I think that psychoanalysis is one of the great evils of civilization, even worse than the Spanish Inquisition,' he told me. 'At least the Inquisition was about keeping something together. Analysis is only about taking a person apart. I would rather die than see an analyst.'

quote taken from The Ecstatic Truth: Werner Herzog's Quest by Daniel Zalewski in The New Yorker, April 24, 2006.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Kirkegaardian Omission

“When a woman makes an altar cloth, so far as she is able, she makes every flower as lovely as the graceful flowers of the field, as far as she is able, every star as sparkling as the glistening stars of the night. She withholds nothing, but uses the most precious things she possesses. She sells off every other claim upon her life that she may purchase the most uninterrupted and favorable time of the day and night for her one and only, for her beloved work. But when the cloth is finished and put to its sacred use: then she is deeply distressed if someone should make the mistake of looking at her art, instead of at the meaning of the cloth; or make the mistake of looking at a defect, instead of at the meaning of the cloth. For she could not work the sacred meaning into the cloth itself, nor could she sew it on the cloth as though it were one more ornament. This meaning really lies in the beholder and in the beholder’s understanding, if he, in the endless distance of the separation, above himself and above his own self, has completely forgotten the needlewoman and what was hers to do. It was allowable, it was proper, it was duty, it was a precious duty, it was the highest happiness of all for the needlewoman to do everything in order to accomplish what was hers to do; but it was a trespass against God, an insulting misunderstanding of the poor needle-woman, when someone looked wrongly and saw what was only there, not to attract attention to itself, but rather so that its omission would not distract by drawing attention to itself.”

- Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Pledging Allegiance to the United States of Obama"

I wanted to start an informal discussion on here about Obama's speech yesterday afternoon. My only critique is that Obama is advocating a type of humanitarian imperialism that continues our national trend of aid and developmental assistance through unfettered obedience to the empire's requests. Even I wanted to shed a few patriotic tears after hearing the speech yesterday afternoon, but let us remember that the United States is neither the arbiter of freedom, nor the city on the hill discussed in the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures. Wielding the verbal sword of power in a way that somehow manages to adjure us with the need for working together for peace, while warning our enemies of the potential violent consequences of their actions is nothing but a form of distorted messianism that manages to still ask for obedience out of fear, trading obedience for the type of safety that is guaranteed by militarization, a safety that has nothing to do with the courage needed for peace.

Will we be working together for the right reasons? Does this perpetuate the illusion of the state as salvific? Does this continue to promote the idea that we can look to enlightened self-interest as a source of our moral fervor, that what is best for everybody is for everyone to do what they do out of a regard for their own interests, that the unification of this is what legitimates our "national identity?"

Locke mentions that the development of industry and the establishment of a national power based upon fear are inseparable. Ardnt and Hobbes both would agree that liberalism is inseparable with fear, and Daniel Bell goes far enough to point out that "Liberalism is a political response to an extra-political fear that wards off terror and fear by means of the construction of complex space – dispersing governing authority and providing the individual cover amongst a plethora of civic institutions and associations." He continues to warn us that "Legitimating the moral elevation of self-preservation on the grounds that if one were dead, one could not pursue any goods, civic leaders could persuade the populace that it has a moral stake in perpetuating fear and moral grounds for collaborating in the establishment and maintenance of the sovereign’s authority."

The state refashions desire, reforms it so that it is fearful and paranoid, and as a necessary tool for its own legitimation, the state promotes the promise of its own existence: Surrender and you will be protected. Protected from what? Terrorists who don't appreciate our "values"?

I must be a terrorist.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Andrey Tarkovsky on Art and Sacrifice

"Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal: that longing which draws people to art. Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake. What purports to be art begins to look like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalized action is on intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of our human calling..."

- Andrey Tarkovsky
Sculpting in Time: Reflections on Cinema

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drick Boyd: "The Need for a New Paradigm" (on Palestine and Israel)

From Drick Boyd's Blog:


Upon receiving the letter from Adam Beach that I posted below, a colleague at Eastern who had received the same email, posted a response that simply supplied a link to “another perspective” on the issue. The link (below) was to an article by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

As I read the article I was convinced again of the futility of trying to say who is right or wrong, whose justified or not. While most seem to want to polarize the issue as , I consider myself anti-war, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Israel, which in fact means I advocate a radically new paradigm for addressing the ongoing conflict there.

In his article Krauthammer states that the “moral clarity [of the Israel- Gaza war is] not only rare but excruciating.” He states that Israel is “morally scrupulous” about contacting Palestinians and telling them they are going to attack them, while Hamas “unscrupulously” positions its rocket launchers in civilian targets such as schools and hospitals. He says that Hamas has fired 6.664 rockets in the last three years, whereas Israel has fired fewer, though more accurate weapons. He claims that Hamas uses civilian noncombatant deaths and injuries as part of their strategy, going so far as to say, “For Hamas the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.” He points out that from an early age Palestinian children are taught in schools to believe that Israel as a nation must be eliminated, and that Hamas has a deliberate strategy of ongoing disruption and conflict. Furthermore, when Gaza was granted sovereignty and Hamas was elected to govern they did not begin building roads, schools and other infrastructure, but instead “devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.” By contrast in his view all Israel wants is “a sustainable and enduring ceasefire….If this fighting ends with anything less than that, Israel will have lost again.”

Krauthammer’s analysis and perspective has much to commend it. There is no doubt that Hamas has provoked this attack by its unrelenting attacks on Israel, and is morally culpable in the deaths of its own citizens. Furthermore, he may be correct in saying that Israel’s goal is “peace” and a ceasefire. Yet his analysis seems to ignore two important pieces of context.

First, Israel’s power and military strength completely dwarf Hamas. Furthermore, Israel’s policy of continual degradation of the Palestinian people has invited this response. The building of the wall, the cutting off of economic opportunity, and now the limiting of humanitarian aid to the region only cause the innocent to suffer more. Furthermore, their objective is not to “get even” but to obliterate the Palestinians; not just Hamas, but the whole region, hammering it into submission. Their tactics only fuel the very fire they seek to quell.

Second, while Hamas may be the enemy on the ground, they are not the real enemy; the real enemies are Syria and Iran who fund and fuel Hamas’ activities. For obvious reasons Israel does not want to directly take on those two nations (nor they Israel), and instead Israel obliterates Iran’s and Syria’s proxies, the Palestinian people. Though Israel recognizes this disparity, it seems to place its emphasis on oppressing the Palestinians rather than dealing with the root of the problem in its relations with Syria and Iran.

To say that Israel is morally scrupulous because it forewarns its victims, is to say the bully is justified in hammering the 90 pound weakling because he told him he was going to beat him up before he did it. Furthermore, having the right to defend oneself (which I affirm) does not therefore give one the right to kill innocent citizens (which I don’t affirm). The issue is not dead Jews vs. dead Palestinians; it is dead human beings, whose blood runs red no matter who fires the shots or who is killed. In its attempts to defend itself, Israel has contributed along with Hamas to causing untold suffering on innocent people. They have not tried to appeal to those innocent people, but have simply counted them as “collateral damage.”

Contrary to Krauthammer, I do not think there is any moral clarity on either side of this conflict. As long as both Hamas (& Syria and Iran) and Israel use violence as a means to peace (an oxymoron that most of the world’s governments have failed to understand), not only will the war continue, but also the innocent will bear the brunt of suffering. In that scenario no side can claim any moral high ground.

Krauthammer’s analysis only highlights the need for a new approach, one that (1) seeks to protect the innocent victims of war and oppression, and that (2) is willing to avoid the easy polarities and finger pointing and instead and call all responsible parties to account. Because of the vested interests of the governments involved, including our own, I don’t see this new approach coming from the politicians or even the United Nations. It will need to come from a counter community of international peacemakers, which alone has the moral authority to speak for justice and peace in such a morally vacuous situation. At this point all sides are operating solely out of a defensive and self-interested posture (as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us nations can and must do), and so morals may seem like a luxury the combatants are neither interested in nor can afford to consider. However in the end morality is not a luxury, but rather is the very essence of what is needed if there is to any semblance of peace in the region.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Magnum's "Wear Good Shoes: Advice to Young Photographers"

Photograph by Dan Boardman

Here is a pdf article from Magnum with advice for young photographers from numerous Magnum photographers...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

18 songs made before '09

Photograph from Czech Eden by Matthew Monteith

I strongly recommend staring at Peter Brueghel's two paintings of the Tower of Babel while listening to the last song.