Oracular Vision

I’ve been reading John Berger’s Understanding a Photograph. He writes in the essay, Appearances: that …

In every act of looking there is an expectation of meaning. This expectation should be distinguished from a desire for an explanation. The one who looks may explain afterward: but, prior to any explanation, there is the expectation of what appearances themselves may be about to reveal.
Revelations do not come easily. Appearances are so complex that only the search which is inherent in the act of looking can draw a reading out of the underlying coherence If, for the sake of a temporary clarification, one artificially separates appearances from vision (and we have seen that in fact this is impossible), one might say that in appearances everything that can be read is already there but undifferentiated. It is the search, with its choices which differentiates. And the seen, the revealed, is the child of both appearances and the search.
Another way of making this relation clearer would be to say that appearances in themselves are oracular. Like oracles they go beyond, they insinuate further than the discrete phenomena they present, and yet their insinuations are rarely sufficient to make any more comprehensive reading indisputable. The precise meaning of an oracular statement depends upon the quest or need of the one who listens to it. Everyone listens to an oracle alone, even when in company.

“Everyone listens to an oracle alone, even when in company” When I read that, I asked myself, “isn’t this precisely how one sees… a painting?

My calling… my vocation, as a poet and artist, began at a moment like that—an oracular vision–11 or 12 years old. Forsythia blossoms after rain, when the sun came out from clouds and turned the drops of water on the petals into prisms. Everything I’ve done since, has in some way, been connected to the effort to understand that moment.

“The modality of the visible” … the expectation of meaning in what is seen – is this what I look for as I work on an abstract piece – the expectation of meaning, but one disconnected from any narrative or ideological sense–a meaning that hovers above explanation, and untouched by it?

My novel, Ari Figue’s Cat… https://www.amazon.com/Ari-Figues-Cat-Jacob-Russell/dp/1940830060 the motive for writing it; this is its central theme.

What I look for as I work—as I arrange pieces of trash, draw lines on a page, brush color on a canvas. Why I prefer abstract work. Representative art, when it seizes me, is always like this. Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897 by Henri Rousseau
The enigma. The expectation of meaning—that defies explanation. Iconography, represented figures… are a distraction. Though a master can so charge the most meticulously rendered images with that oracular sense, that all our efforts to explain are exhausted… and we are left with what we see, and that alone. Jan Van Eyke’s Arnolfi wedding portrait. Image result

I work on a piece until I have that sense… in looking at it, in seeing it: the feeling that it means something. I have no idea what, or how to explain it. It’s enough, if I capture that feeling, an enigma. Beyond words.

We long for a vision … a way out of this fucking capitalist hell.

We don’t know what it is… but if, in seeing this, we can believe that it exists…beyond words, beyond explanation.. but there for us to find and create… I will have done my part.

Important correction to 1st Printing of Ari Figue’s Cat


MIssing epitaph! First printing of Ari FIgue’s Cat. Head of chap. 41, A Game of Pool, should be a quote from Plato’s Gorgias:
“…he who does injustice, the unjust man, is utterly wretched.”
Polus is incredulous, when Socrates tells him that the tyrant, who wields power freely and takes what he wants–that his life is wretched.
Ari Figue tells a story — seems he met Socrates in a bar in Overbrook (in the guise of Rufus). In the story, they play a game of pool as they consider the merit of this claim.
There are other errors (there always are)–but this one bothers me more. I think it’s important to the content.

Review: Ari Figue’s Cat

A Library Things review of Ari Figue’s Cat.
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

24449754When I was offered this book to review I was genuinely excited. Any novel by a visual artist is likely to discard a lot of the tropes that professional novelists have bound themselves to and which frankly just get in the way of a modern take on literature. I first recalled Hebdemeros by Giorgio de Chirico and the novels of Alasdair Gray and Jan Cremer. I waited patiently and when the book finally arrived I started it almost immediately.
Russel does indeed provide a different take on the novel – abstract and fragmented the chapters, if chapters they be, do not narrate a story of any traditional mode. Impressions, memories, false and true, interior, visual description and musings on the nature of reality and perception drip through the book like Pollocks sprawling canvases and fragments like the cubist paintings of Braque.
Ari Figue’s Cat puts a marker in the ground for contemporary writers. I’l be revisiting soon.
papalaz | May 29, 2015 |

To be honest, I’m equally pleased with the two who didn’t “get it.” They got what I didn’t want to do.
Not everyone is going to like this book. 🙂

The Making of Ari Figue’s Cat

I got a notice from Tumblr, congratulating me on Barking Dog Annex being 4 years old. I’d forgotten it, after writing one entry. I’d given up on a novel I’d been working on for the last 8 years–working title, Found Things. It was finding a folder with my last effort to save it, that got me started reworking it from a whole different angle–thinking of it almost as poetry. I finished it in a few weeks… with a new name, putting it away as Ari Figue’s Cat as I set out to join Occupy Philadelphia on Dilworth Plaza.

This is what I found on Tumblr: 2011

Found Things
I spent the morning going over the growing collection of papers, files, notebooks, journal entries—all related this Poem to the End of My Days—thinking how I might organize them for search & retrieval. I found an empty box for hanging folders, but no folders not in use. The things are damnably expensive. Kind of thing I hate to spend money on. What about this novel-in-progress… this 8 year project, which, inspecting my garden earlier, it came to me that I would never finish, that it no longer represented anything I wanted to do? I have boxes of drafts… dozens of Pendleflex forders going to waste. I don’t throw this stuff out… one never knows when something will pop into mind—like a burst bubble…an aneurism of memory, & some passage or chapter written years ago will seem exactly what I need.


I can stack the file folders of draft chapters in a box, store them in the closet, free the hanging folders & use them to organize the collection of papers & notes multiplying like kudzu. & what do I find in the first folder I open, but something I’d started working on a year ago, April…”Found Things Versed” (“Found Things” being the working title of this novel). I’d had in mind rewriting the whole thing as poetry. There were trial efforts at paragraphs of prose poems interspersed with open & broken line verse, journal entries… the prototype for Poem to the End of my Days… & I’d totally forgotten it. Or rather, put it out of reach of conscious thought, but not at all out of mind. This kind of thing happens so often that it no longer surprises me—but never ceases to wonder & amaze me… at how the mind works. It took me … 9 months… yeah, think of that. Nine months. Before I took this idea up in a more suitable form. No wonder those first 100 pages came so quickly… like pulling them out of storage.

Found Things possess a strangeness that will not easily surrender to the death of ownership. Let go. Let go of owning & more & more of the world will give itself to being found… & what you find, in not being owned, will be more truly yours than any Thing you will ever call ‘mine.’
May 9, from Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog