The Great Disaster we’re all a part of isn’t the one in the headlines. It’s not a sudden catastrophe. A day of horror. An explosion on a street. Planes hurtling into high rises. It’s long and drawn out, incident after incident, law after law, arrest after arrest, murder after murder–none of which are the Great Disaster, but each are a part of it. More like a movement of tectonic plates–every tremor, every seismic event, is but the visible part of an imperceptible change of the landscape, of the shape of a continent. More like the melting of the Greenland icepack… we see the calving of the icebergs, as spectacular as they are, but not the rising of the oceans–which doesn’t happen in an hour or a day. I’m speaking of the end of this civilization… of all that’s been built on and dependent on the delusional machinery of capitalism and nation states that it created to serve it. We can feel it cumulatively… feel that everything is changing, the world as we have believed it be is already no more, but then… it looks not that much different than yesterday, or the day before, and we go about our lives, oblivious of the escalator of extinction we’re all riding together. inevitable as growing old… noticeable only when we look back a decade, or two or three, and see the marks of death written across our every feature.
No little humor in the selections here..
In a letter, Emily Dickinson wrote: Nature–is a haunted house–but Art–a house that tries to be haunted.
@Poetry tweeted this quote, and I can’t get it out of my mind. Haunted–by what? A house that tries to be haunted, would seem to be empty–in need of being filled with… what it lacks, but nature has. Has, but as something which is and is not there. Nature’s house we did not contruct, but find ourselves within it. Are we, then, that which haunts it? And the house of Art, a strange sort of house, though we build it, we cannot dwell in it, as we do the house of nature. In our very building of it, it pushes away, keeps us outside, with every word we add, with ever new stroke of the brush, and though what we would render is within, what emerges is yet another surface, and other wall, another door, though we imagine it to be open, but cannot enter.
In nature’s house, we wait for death, and paint the house that refuses death entrance, and us… unless (ah, the paradox!) we empty ourselves of the death that haunts us, and enter, not as ourselves, but only with the emptiness of what we have become, when we have ceased becoming.
This is not a post, its a question. Does that make the question the subject?
What is it? Someone asks, when they see a work of art.
I like what you’ve done, but don’t feels strongly about the subject.
I haven’t given much thought to this, because I thought the question had been abandoned long ago. But having recently heard this raised–the question about the subject, it’s been troubling me. Most of my work has no subject, not one that I think about. But some do. And then, there’s conceptual art–which I haven’t given much thought to in relation to my own. Maybe I should. Continue reading “What is the Subject?”
Revolutionary Narrative… what makes a story that does more than rearrange the conventions we use to reinforce our assumptions about the world? How do we find our way to stories that refuse to confirm our expectations–but rather, shatter them with the unexpected–not simply of ‘incident’… of what ‘happens,’ but of the very structures of reality?
Someone I once knew challenged the merit of Joyce’s Ulysses because it doesn’t exist as a completed whole. His argument went something like this: in the thousands of minor and some not so minor differences in the existing manuscripts and proofs, there is no way to decide what a definitive, authorial edition would look like. What we have, then—is a collective assemblage representing no single aesthetic vision, and therefore, does not exist as a unity. Setting aside arguments for how collective, even accidental productions, might come together as unified systems—which is how I would have responded at the time—the more basic, and unexamined assumption here, is the idea of unity itself—that there can ever be such a thing as a ‘whole.’
There is no such thing as ‘a’ novel. Or poem. Or story or… as a single, aesthetically (or otherwise) coherent, systematically organized structure or system, such that every part relates to every other to create a unified, and unifying whole. And it is this, not because there are as many readings as readers, or because every possible interpretive translation (all interpretations are translations) is necessarily limited, that we can never comprehend a literary production as a whole—as convincing as these arguments might be—but because there is no such thing. It does not exist. That is not to say, Joyce’s Ulysses doesn’t exist. It does. In different versions, and each version is made of parts that are always greater than any hypothetical, always inconceivable whole. I say ‘inconceivable,’ not that we can’t conceive of the possibility of an aesthetic whole—but that it will be impossible to point to what that might actually be. Sort of like the way we talk about God. Imaginable in general, but inconceivable in the particular. Or for that matter, how we think of collectives of power… of the State…which has more than a little in common with the way we think of God.
I’m more and more inclined to think we’re programmed to self-destruct, to commit collective suicide. Maybe we’re picking up signals from all the other life forms on this planet–realizing how much better they’d be without us… we’re on a mission, a collective death-drive. Almost did it once.. but then, backed off… maybe it was too obvious… i mean, the Cuban Missile Crisis. So now we have… global warming, where we can blame it on ‘Nature” (whatever the fuck that is).. .and meanwhile, exhibit our symptoms … like Israel in Gaza. “Warning signs” … that no one wants to read, and if anyone does… no one has the number of the suicide hot line.
History affords us nothing toward understanding what we are, what we might be–only what we have been. I’m thinking of the bloodletting in Gaza, and the larger conflict of which it’s a part.
The antithetical interests, wishes, needs of the parties involved, the real suffering, deaths, lives, the terrible losses, the fears & ambitions real & imagined are of the here and now, creating the here & now of the future, immediate & remote, because if there’s any ‘history’ existing now—that’s the one, the one that belongs to the future, and maybe the only way to get to the present is to get free of history—or rather, of the tangled, mutilated, psychotic pseudo-histories that pass as explanations, rationalizations, justifications—because, lets get this straight—history is not capable of explaining anything but…. history: what has already happened, done, achieved, been explained already a thousand times before. History can do only that: explain & re-explain itself, but it will not, cannot, explain us to ourselves, cannot explain who & what we are–& least of all, what we want. What we really desire. For that, we tell stories.
Stories we give the name of ‘history,’ call ‘history.’ But are not, history. they are stories—stories of how the Zionists colonized Palestine (named for a Roman colony), & drove the residents by FORCE from their homeland; stories of how the Jews of Europe, despairing of there ever being an end to the pogroms, persecution, humiliations inflicted on them by Christian Europe, came up with the idea that a dream of a place of their own might be real if only they would find the courage to FORCE it into reality; stories of how that dream became a nightmare of bloodletting & terror & dislocation & generation upon generation of refugee camps; stories of Jews who had lived for millennia across North Africa (since Spain kicked them out in 1492 as Columbus set sail on his mission to colonize the Americas), across what archaeologists felicitously called ‘The Fertile Crescent,’ (fertile creation of Empires conquests exiles and colonization), & were in turn driven from their homes, seeking refuge in Israel (becoming the most militantly anti-Arab class in their new homeland); stories of how the international anti-communist, capitalist class, with blessing and billions from the U.S, would use and exploit all of this to turn what had at least begun as a small socialist state into an American land based aircraft carrier in the Middle East & one of the most economically un-equal of all the developed nations—and that, not even counting the Arab & non-Jewish residents.
The stories go on. Sound & fury… fog & tear gas to cover the human reality, the mothers wailing for their children, the olive trees… my god, the olive trees! The living soul of the land itself—outliving generations, sustaining generations—bulldozing the olive orchards, building obscene walls, the buses exploding on busy streets, the real needs, wishes, aspirations of living people…
… of all those stories, that a careful understanding of history—history that cannot explain or justify or rationalize—but only struggle to point out what ‘is’.. .the helpless infant truth we would, if only we could, believe in… of all those stories, the one common element…
FORCE, as Simone Weil understands it in her essay on The Iliad, The Poem of Force.
The FORCE that belies, that lies, that turns all it touches into ‘things’, the tool that turns the user into the very thing they most hate & fear.
FORCE—which weaves for us, stories in the shape of the wish that lies within us, the wish for Death… for collective suicide.
… and who, who will rise up to tell us … to begin to tell us… stories for Life? And who will have the power to overcome…
#303 84×58 acrylic, oil crayons, roofing paper, duct tape, plastic scrap on plywood
#302 15×15 cm pen & ink, watercolor on Aquaboard
#300 14×8 pen & ink, watercolor, acrylic
I think these 3 are ok. Maybe I’m really an artist? I know that sounds stupid of fishing for compliments, but it’s not about that. This is something internal.. a relentless interior dialog that plays over and over in my mind, in my dreams. And what does it mean, anyway? I ask? Post ‘posterity,’ when we are on the brink of human species suicide? And there’s no way in this capitalist empire of money and death, to find a place where what I do might be seen and appreciated, beyond a few intimate friends. But why does that matter? Isn’t that enough? Why can’t I do what my niece has been doing (160 new pieces in 3 months! and doesn’t care about anything but making art–no matter whether anyone else sees it). As much as I wish in my waking dreams that I could do nothing else–drop everything, just draw and make art–I can’t because I live in this fucking evil world and giving myself to that is part of–informs my art, even as it impedes it and crushes my desires to promote and distribute it. And am I really that good that I should devote so much emotional energy (such a waste!)! Am I even a real artist? And what does that mean, in this post-posterity world where it will all likely be lost, and no hope of future generations recognizing what I’ve done–as if, even if there were, my stuff would be worth saving…
…. you see what I mean?
And no, I can’t still that voice, or stop asking these stupid impossible questions, making these impossible demands on myself and my work–because that voice is but the agitated external manifestation of what drives me, of why I’m doing this. This is the static noise of the creative drive.
By the time I had spent ten years in the U.S., I had stopped going to gay clubs. It wasn’t simply that I had grown older, though I had. It wasn’t that I no longer loved dancing. And it wasn’t that I had moved from more cosmopolitan cities—Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon—to a small, semi-rural college town. It was that I could no longer unsee the ways I was unseen.
After many years of dancing alone, I had opted to stop dancing.
Within gay history and mythology, urban spaces liberate those who move there from smaller, rural towns. Away from the scrutiny of family and friends, gay men can experiment, find themselves, be themselves. This narrative has been mapped neatly—too neatly—onto a world divided into homophilic and homophobic. Unsurprisingly, these terms follow older distinctions between civilized and primitive, advanced and regressive, global north and global south.
I understand, appreciate…
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…the process (capitalism, colonization… ) is itself as much actant as process. It’s not as though the former creates and realizes the latter, so much as the other way around. It is the conditions that have become our masters
Some thoughts on the Ken Knabb piece linked below–which is the best damn thing I’ve read on the current horrors in Gaza… even though (or maybe because) it was written 55 years ago. I think we make a mistake naming the State that has made itself the instrument of colonization, as though the former were the actant and the later a kind of verb–what the actant does, when the process (capitalism, colonization… ) is itself as much actant as process. It’s not as though the former creates and realizes the latter, so much as the other way around: it is the conditions that have become our masters, and to break from their control it’s not sufficient to name the primary instruments that are the means of of their mastery. We don’t need to create or posit an enemy, to demonize this group or that State, to recognize the horror of what they do, the injustice of the consequences is enough. If we are locked into a mental state where we must have victims and executioners, and assume that distinguishing the one from the other amounts to understanding the conditionis that create the injustice, we will never be free. To be–in Camus’ phrase, neither victims nor executioners, we cannot invest our whole identity with either–our only hope lies is forging solidarity with that which is neither. This is the root of the failure of cycles of vengeance and retribution. This is not a MORAL failure, but a failure of vision, a failure of creative imagination… of making real a world–forging actual relationships that know no borders, that disavow the distinctions which perpetuate the conditions of injustice and violence, seeking out those, individuals and collectives, with whom we can lay the foundations of a new reality.
The Ken Knabb piece linked here i
To be–in Camus’ phrase, neither victims nor executioners, we cannot invest our whole identity with either–our only hope lies is forging solidarity with that which is neither. This is the root of the failure of cycles of vengeance and retribution. This is not a moral failure, but a failure of vision, a failure of creative imagination… of making real a world–forging actual relationships that know no borders, that disavow the distinctions which perpetuate the conditions of injustice and violence, seeking out those, individuals and collectives, with whom we can lay the foundations of a new reality.