Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Conversation with Shelton Walsmith: "Somehow the question keeps the torch lit."

Shelton Walsmith

SC: Again, I'm always in for the more restrained color palette. The Mytho-poetic imagery. I've been reading Book 6 of the Aeneid, the journey of Aeneas into the underworld in search of his father. Just before he died, Seamus Heaney made a translation. Upon finally finding the shade of his father, Aeneas attempts to embrace him:

"Let me take your hand, my father, 

O let me, and do not
Hold back from my embrace.

And as he spoke he wept. 

Three times he tried to reach arms round that neck.

Three times the form, reached for in vain, escaped

Like a breeze between his hands, a dream on wings."

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

SW: I like the pitch of the emotion in that writing. I recently saw Teagle in the play Is God Is? Most of the performance is in a claustrophobic shallow set with a windowed wall close to the front of the stage. Towards the end, Teagle pushes the wall backward and it falls with a crash at a 45 degree angle. He then climbs it to have a showdown with a daughter who's come to kill him. The 4th wall of theater transgressed.

SC: I've been listening to Lee Morgan's Cornbread. It's pure Sunday morning to me.

SW: He managed to infuse those recordings with with joie de vivre.

SC: Overflowing exuberance.

SW: I can turn my frown upside down by simply playing Sidewinder record. Same thing with Django Reinhardt.

Shelton Walsmith

SW: Couldn't find any Lee Morgan at the studio but looking I rediscovered a great by Lee Konitz titled Another Shade of Blue.

SC: I'll check it out. I've always admired how prolific jazz musicians are. Hundreds of albums. The live improvisation and "real presence" of the music being antithetical to closeted perfectionism and hermetic solipsism. 

Shelton Walsmith

SW: Here here. A lot of stuff in the heyday pre-1963 is praying - a very clear transcription of presence. Did you read Giacometti discussing the pursuit of presence? He was all about exposing the ghost and making it playback - recording the playing as it lives -  as you mention. The records of Segovia, Glenn Gould or Kronos Quartet are performance/recorded like jazz live. 

It's been a blessing to take on this bather exhibition. Like you saying, I'm Back! to yourself at the Bellingham library. While I'm drawing studiously daily, I feel most at home. Going through tons of moleskins looking for precedent is a also reminder how much energy and looking and recording I've devoted to drawing. It's an instrument of human thought sounding or touching. It's a lot of rehearsing for painting but it also remains strong as an end to the means.

SC: Not to remark upon a trivial example, but perhaps appropriate for its lack of pretension, I am increasingly aware of how unconsciously practiced and accomplished am I for this work. As if some Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid has had me painting the fence or waxing the car for years, honing skills I was unaware I possessed. Over 20 years meditation upon a theme, writing poems, songs, prose, creating graphics until is all second nature, like riding a bike. I no longer think about writing: it is an unconscious vehicle to transport me to my destination. I'm pretty happy when I realize this anew. Look ma! No hands!

SW: Exactly.

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

SC: The immediate provisionality of the sketchbook, the "showing of the work", is always fascinating. Seeing how the sausage is made. Or perfume.

Shelton Walsmith

SC: Sweet.

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

SC: Something in the natural, but muted eroticism of the bathers. Not nude, but just there. The idea of the Venus de Milo in a bikini. It's interesting.

SW: There's something to how open the kimono is...revealing the right amount hiding the best parts. I want to tap into an endless summer atmosphere wherein ghosts are represented as passersby in rivers and lakes and surf. You're always younger when you're swimming and younger is always past. It's a proverbial fish bowl looked on by Prospero. 

SC: Nicely put. Re: Eliot:

Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom 
Of snow, a bloom more sudden 
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading, 
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

SW: I've continued to study Mark Tansey for his monochromatic mastery and disjointed narrative send offs on sentiment, nostalgia, redacted history and painting about painting. See his "Action paintings"1 and 2. Making grayscale or monochromatic fiction emerges, it's not true to life in it's reduction to tonal over coloristic. My inquiry into how to make it more artificial than lifelike launches a type of Once upon a time...

By grouping them as diptychs or triptychs the additional frame or filmic cell reels another engine of narrative movement

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

SC: Those are excellent. The Muybridge filmic nostalgia.

SW: Like the Disney analogue animation m.o. endless drawings, same but different, not just feeling innocence but also and reanimated call and response btw having it and losing it. Reality vs. recollection. Someone remembered so often their face gets warn off until the memory is grasping as featureless ghosts receding.

Shelton Walsmith

SW: The sexual highlight reel too often revisited goes from lucid real time play by play recollection to blippy gif like compression. Instead of the short film you had now the memory 3 or 4 vignettes flipbooking then it's one long exposure compressed into a single image then  that photograph becomes worn and loses detail to wear and attrition...

Shelton Walsmith

Shelton Walsmith

SC: You are exactly right. Film offers an all too easy metaphor for memory that, while evocative, is not accurate. I think people born in the age of film and now smart phones will think of memory as a message aligned with those mediums: a slow motion panning shot of a walk to the altar, soundtracked with a favorite song, close up on the face, or, far worse, their lives as a series of posed/ not posed filter / no filter selfies. The creative and interpretively demanding windows opened by a work of art with its constantly shifting meanings and aporia are traded for these more compressed representations of the experience - the plastic souvenir remembered instead of the experience itself. The capacities of memory are vast and energized by immersion to the most profound depths. Borges said one of the most signal moments in the development of Western culture was when Aeschylus introduced a second actor onto the stage. No longer a single singer or priest addressing the crowd directly, but a re-presentation of reality, as two actors magically create a dramatic universe we view as non-participatory spectators. No wonder the earliest memory systems were memory theaters. Internal private stages where we each enact our own myths. Something Freud "discovered" as a unexplored country within. 

SW: Isn't interesting that in the first chapter of photography that a negative image needed to be born before it's positive inverse could document the latent image?

A lot of those glass plates that documented Civil War death were destroyed or repurposed as greenhouse windows. It was best forgotten and the photos were a terrible reminder. That reminds me of the Van Gogh scholar researching his haunts and homes discovering a former landlord was using one his paintings traded for rent as the door to her henhouse. The real fate of most pictures rather than d'Orsay, Sotheby's or Hong Kong penthouses.

SC: There is something philosophically and aesthetically beautiful about those images. The eternal question: what is art good for? What does it do? For some, it's a good window, something with which to build a door. Keiffer's monumental leaden books come to mind. But so do the pyramids. And Guernica. 

SW: The use of art or the use of the art encounter is best from the cheap seats in a theatre watching a play. No one's fooling anybody from there and the necessary suspension of disbelief is transferrable into poetry, music and the plastic arts if one needs to ask the question, to what end? Or what use is it?  Suspension of functional practicality. Why take soot or blood and make a handprint or drawing of a bison on the cave wall? To what end? Somehow the question keeps the torch lit. Imaging or reimagining or projecting of mere shadows of the real thing ignites inquiries into the substance of sight and the weight of remembering. Mona Lisa looks at us looking at her and a cycle of wonder loops.

SC: Beautiful. Could my epitaph: 

"To what end? Somehow the question keeps the torch lit. Imaging or reimagining or projecting of mere shadows of the real thing ignites inquiries into the substance of sight and the weight of remembering."

SW: Often progress in art is retrospective like turning your back to the mirror and panning your sightlines back over your shoulder at the view you walking away. Michaelangelo is looking at the ancients and literally thinking, to beat these are guys 

...to beat these guys I need to see  grandeur and monumentality as they saw/projected it. 

Kiefer progressed art by seeing/deposing Nazi hegemony in favor of a pre third Reich Mother Germany. All thru backward visioning. The PreRaphaelite painters pushed into magic realism by genre hopping backward.

SC: Consonant with Borges idea that a writer's awareness of his precursors not only informs his present work, but alters our conception of the past. History is a lie of the mind and as fluid as any story. Thus, he says we now know Homer's Odyssey as coming AFTER Joyce's Ulysses. He cites Whistler's answer to the question of how long it took him to paint one of his nocturnes. Whistler answered, all of my life. "With the same rigor he could have said all the centuries that preceded that moment when he painted were necessary."

Shelton Walsmith

SW: When you answer To what end?  With a political message in visuart at least those aforementioned suspensions become flattened and rigid and to an known end. Political art smells like a doctor's office.

SC: The etymological sense of porno graphia - writing about prostitutes, those who allow themselves to be bought and used for other's purposes. Most of our current culture is pornography to me, more insidious because it tries so desperately to pretend as if it is not. 

Shelton Walsmith

SW: Yeah, we're a mess.

Well, I went to the doctor
I said, "I'm feeling kind of rough"
He said, "I'll break it to you, son"
"Let me break it to you, son"
Your shit's fucked up."
I said, "my shit's fucked up?"
Well, I don't see how-"
He said, "The shit that used to work-
It won't work now." - Warren Zevon

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs

From the Paris Review: Writ in Water

Jesus, Socrates and the Buddha, never wrote any word that has been preserved.

1 Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

Some claim he wrote the names of all those who were with sin, shaming them. Others that he inscribed into the earth the names of all those who didn't believe. Or that he wrote a single word: Unforgiven. But there is no indication any man ever read the only words ever written down in the dust by Jesus. It's amusing to consider he, like the wily Ulysses, wrote: "No Man," for it illuminates the following exchange with the adulteress:

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

All of this just antecedent to the book chapter verse of John 3:16 written upon sheets hung over stadium walls where we go to witness violence. Most recently, upon the forehead of a suicide. Unforgiven. No Man.

In the essay, On the Cult of Books, Borges writes:

It is well known that Pythagoras did not write; Gomperz (Griechische Denker I, 3) maintains that it was because he had more faith in the virtues of spoken instruction. More forceful than Pythagoras' mere abstention is Plato's unequivocal testimony. In the Timaeus he stated: "It is an arduous task to discover the maker and father of this universe, and, having discovered him, it is impossible to tell it to all men"; and in the Phaedrus he recounted an Egyptian fable against writing (the practice of which causes people to neglect the exercise of memory and to depend on symbols ), and said that books are like the painted figures "that seem to be alive, but do not answer a word to the questions they are asked." To alleviate or eliminate that difficulty, he created the philosophical dialogue. A teacher selects a pupil, but a book does not select its readers, who may be wicked or stupid; this Platonic mistrust persists in the words of Clement of Alexandria, a man of pagan culture: "The most prudent course is not to write but to learn and teach by word of mouth, because what is written remains" (Stromateis), and in the same treatise: "To write all things in a book is to put a sword in the hands of a child," which derives from the Gospels: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." That sentence is from Jesus, the greatest of the oral teachers, who only once wrote a few words on the ground, and no man read what He had written (John 8:6).

 Following, Plato tellingly writes the words of Socrates in the Phaedrus:

Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality. 

Language dissolving like a castle of sand in the advancing surf. The woven pattern raveling unraveling, reversive, intensive, ambiguous. The word cannot contain the thing :: as the thimble cannot contain the ocean. All acknowledge it stands for, signifies, but is not the thing itself. But a malevolent cogito emerges when spelled out into words: I think, I am but when I write, I am no longer. Every word is a Procrustean Bed wherein my flesh is carved away and limbs hacked off to fit into a dead child's Sunday School suit. I am not so described. The Cloud of Knowing that is my self is a Galaxial Milky Way whirlpool whirling.

"For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth."

What testimony will endure of any one of us? What is the meaning of the word written into the dust? Or upon the water? Or upon the stone?

This grave contains all that was Mortal 
of a 
Young English Poet
on his Death Bed, 
in the Bitterness of his Heart 
at the Malicious Power of his Enemies 
these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone: 

Here lies One 
Whose Name was writ in Water. 

24 February 1821.

James Henry Breasted copying a hieroglyphic text in the temple of Buhen, Egypt

He pressed the leaves of trees and plants into his book and he stalked tiptoe the mountain butterflies with his shirt out-held in both hands, speaking to them in a low whisper, no curious study himself. Toadvine sat watching him as he made his notations in the ledger, holding the book toward the fire for the light, and he asked him what was his purpose in all this…
Whatever exists, [the Judge] said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.
He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth…
The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.
Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can acquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.
The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate. 

- Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy 

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Occasionally, we find that an invited guest is insane."

"This generally cheers us all up."

"I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing." - source

"Stacking up stone is the oldest trade there is," he says, sipping a Coke. "Not even prostitution can come close to its antiquity. It's older than anything, older than fire. And in the last 50 years, with hydraulic cement, it's vanishing. I find that rather interesting." - source

"A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or saber done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools." - Blood Meridian

"He imagined the pain of the world to be like some formless parasitic being seeking out the warmth of human souls wherein to incubate and he thought he knew what made one liable to its visitations. What he had not known was that it was mindless and so had no way to know the limits of those souls and what he feared was that there might be no limits." - All the Pretty Horses

Quotes sourced via https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Cormac_McCarthy

Monday, April 10, 2017

9 Currency Détournements from the Charles B. Jones Digital Archive

5 Huesos - Banco de Huesos
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

Towards the end of his life, Charles B. Jones was fascinated by the idea of détournements. He described these as “appropriations of established images and symbols of authenticity re-purposed for play - especially, philosophical play.”

Completed in the mid-1990s, these currency détournements represent some of the earliest, but most sophisticated, works in the Digital Archives. Unlike the Stamp Series, these were never meant to be used as any form of currency, but to function as a form of agit-prop - perhaps even as stand-alone works of art.
500 Bones for the King of Death
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

1 Bone - Treasury of the Final Reckoning
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

1000 Bones - Paid Upon Death
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

Ten Immaculate Bones - National Bank of the Final Reckoning
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

500 Bones - The One True Treasury
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

500 Bones - The Republic of Bones
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

20 Skulls - Skulls Cerificate
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

20 Skulls - The United States of Death
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

Biographical Note

Charles “Bonesy” Jones (August 6, 1945 to November 15, 2005) was an American graphic artist, writer and poet. Reputedly born in Little Hope, Texas, much of his early life is unknown.

In 1962, Jones was graduated from the Steiner College of Ontological Osteology. From 1965 until 1972 he lived in an international art colony north of Abiquiu, New Mexico, working as a abstract painter and a poet, receiving some money from his family. There, he carried out anthropological research with the Penetintes and was involved in several controversial crucifixions. In 1973, he traveled to Mt. Athos in Greece where he studied the teachings of Theophan the Recluse under the guidance of Archimandrite George, Abbot of Holy Monastery of St. Gregorious. He returned to the United States in 1983, settling in Austin, Texas, operating a small bookstore near the University for many years.

Just after the first of the year of 2005, Jones was struck by a car while riding his bike. He suffered extensive head injuries. Shortly after, he began to experience selective retrograde amnesia and a progressive anomic aphasia (grammatic, but empty, speech). In October of that year, realizing he did not have long to live, he asked me to assist him in the journey back to his “spiritual home.” He died beside the fire under the full moon of November 15th in the hills above the Chama River in New Mexico, not far from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

Friday, April 07, 2017

"Hence callest thyself unbegotten" - On the Madness of Ahab, Moby-Dick, Waste Lands, Anchorites, Crucifixions and Corposants

Moby Dick - 1956

Listened to a reading of Moby-Dick by Frank Muller. A lone authority to his voice, at first, perfectly capturing Ishmael's narration, the Job-like weariness of "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee," then entirely embodying Ahab in every passing remark and maddened soliloquy. Quiet echoes of Gregory Peck but more. After years of re-readings, it was a revelation to hear Melville's language sing again in Moby-Dick.

Turning then to Sena Jeter Nasland's Ahab's Wife. Wondering at the world spun out of a few tantalizing mentions in Melville's text. How the burden of being Ahab's wife is called to audit. Who is figured in Starbuck's "human eye".

Gilbert Wilson, Ahab

Ahab has his humanities!

"Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab’s above the common; Ahab’s been in colleges, as well as ’mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales…. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home, he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he’s been a kind of moody— desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it’s better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one…. Besides, my boy, he has a wife— not three voyages wedded— a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man had a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!”

—Captain Peleg to Ishmael, “The Ship."

Gilbert Wilson, Ahab

Of cannibal old me

[Starbuck, First Mate of the Pequod:] “Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish!…— this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket.” 

[Ahab:] “They have, they have. I have seen them— some summer days in the morning. About this time— yes, it is his noon nap now— the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.” 

[Starbuck:] “… my Mary… promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father’s sail!… Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy’s face from the window! the boy’s hand on the hill!” But Ahab’s glance was averted…. 

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it: what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time…? By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike…. But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay.” 

- Starbuck and Ahab, “The Symphony.” 

Gilbert Wilson, Ahab

And then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood

Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise

Better than to gaze upon God.

I have fed upon dry salted fare— fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul!— when the poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and broken the world’s fresh bread to my mouldy crusts— away, whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow— wife? wife?— rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey— more a demon than a man!— aye, aye!… Behold. Oh, Starbuck! is it not hard, that with this weary load I bear, one poor leg should have been snatched from under me? Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes!… I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. God! God! God!— crack my heart!— stave my brain!— mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs… Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God. By the green land; by the bright hearth-stone! this is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and my child in thine eye. 

- Ahab, “The Symphony.”

“And I! I have the picture that draws me on. A hump like a snow-hill! Moby Dick! I shall add my stature to his height! Ahab, not Una, let me picture there. Though legs fail, my hands, like mitts of flintstone, will pull me to the summit! Leviathan! My hands are harder than thy flesh! Leviathan! I shall make thee bleed, even as my own manly blood poured from my leg as from a funnel-spout! Moby Dick! When I top thee, THEN, let my punishment begin, for I embody the great Lie: Hate, revenge, my wounds— they are greater than Love. Together let us, like a mountain— higher with Ahab’s added height than you ever reared before— be brought low. “Brought low, we’ll storm the shadow valley, we’ll harrow the depths… these depths… whose mere surface lies before me now and all about me. What depths lie below— layer after watery layer of increasing cold. And the floor reached, into what valley do water… whale… Ahab… fall then? And who will exalt the crevasse that on the ocean floor opens itself to step yet again toward unthinkable depths? And who will exalt that valley?

According to Wikipedia, Sena Jeter Naslund "lives in Louisville, Kentucky, at St. James Court, in the former home of Kentucky poet Madison Cawein." The mystery of place. Hallowings. Echoes of a poet whispering for over 100 years.

Note the unfortunate sequence for Cawein: 1912 loses home, 1913 Waste Land, 1914 death.

Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
  That there into semblance grew
  Out of the grief I knew?

I imagine the ghosts of Vachel Lindsay and Langston Hughes getting drunk on Vergil's blood in some metaphysical limbo swearing a violent end to all who forget forgotten poets. Madison emerging fearfully from the shade.

Madison Cawein (1865-1914)

Madison Cawein was a poet from Lousiville. Again, Wikipedia:

His output was thirty-six books and 1,500 poems. His writing presented Kentucky scenes in a language echoing Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. He soon earned the nickname the "Keats of Kentucky". He was popular enough that, by 1900, he told the Louisville Courier-Journal that his income from publishing poetry in magazines amounted to about $100 a month. 

In 1912 Cawein was forced to sell his Old Louisville home, St James Court (a  2 1⁄2-story brick house built in 1901, which he had purchased in 1907), as well as some of his library, after losing money in the 1912 stock market crash. In 1914 the Authors Club of New York City placed him on their relief list. He died on December 8 later that year and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

In 1913, a year before his death, Cawein published a poem called "Waste Land" in a Chicago magazine which included Ezra Pound as an editor. Scholars have identified this poem as an inspiration to T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, published in 1922 and considered the birth of modernism in poetry.


From The Atlantic: A Breath of Dust by Christopher Hitchens:

Cawein was as distant from Eliot, in poetic terms, as it was possible to be. He was a Kentucky blues man and a barroom versifier. However, like Eliot, he was fascinated by the Celtic twilight and the search for the Grail. And his verses, with their haunting title, did appear in the January 1913 edition of Poetry magazine. Since that very issue also contained an essay by Ezra Pound on the new poets writing in London, it seems more rather than less likely that Eliot would have read it.

Waste Land
Madison Cawein

Briar and fennel and chincapin,
  And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
  Or dead of an old despair,
  Born of an ancient care.
The cricket’s cry and the locust’s whirr,
  And the note of a bird’s distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
  Clung to the loneliness
  Like burrs to a trailing dress.
So sad the field, so waste the ground,
  So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck’s burrow, a blind mole’s mound,
  And a chipmunk’s stony lair,
  Seemed more than it could bear.  
So lonely, too, so more than sad,
  So droning-lone with bees—
I wondered what more could Nature add
  To the sum of its miseries …
  And then—I saw the trees.  
Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
  Twisted and torn they rose—
The tortured bones of a perished race
  Of monsters no mortal knows,
  They startled the mind’s repose.
And a man stood there, as still as moss,
  A lichen form that stared;
With an old blind hound that, at a loss,
  Forever around him fared
  With a snarling fang half bared.  
I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
  Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again—
  And man and dog were gone,
  Like wisps of the graying dawn….
Were they a part of the grim death there—
  Ragweed, fennel, and rue?
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
  That there into semblance grew
  Out of the grief I knew?


Say what you will, the notes are all there. Diapason. Cricket's cry, locust's whirr and the trailing dress ringing the liminal territories of Eliot's aesthetic. But Cawein's 1913 Waste Land creation cannot get around the enormous cultural dustbin of THE Waste Land in 1922. Likewise, the Jake Holmes' of the world own no coin in their dazed and confused corners. Ezra Pound sweeping, always sweeping, up the broken fragments. 

Now to see Sena Jeter Naslund sitting quietly in a dark closet of St. James court with a bottle of wine conversing freely with Madison Cawein, who stands in a a pool of blood. There's poetry to it. I care nothing for the screams of all the small creatures who were unseamed under the sygil of the Golden Bough. It's about the truth of language. Words like ashes bitter on the tongue. 


Later in the night, I turn to the sad and desolate tale of The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. [cf: http://laughingbone.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-paphlagonian-man-moon-was-minute.html ]. Simultaneously fascinated and irritated by the telling of a story told against the will of another. But then there is this:

During the Middle Ages, after the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt died out, a new form of Christian solitary emerged, this time in Europe. They were called anchorites— the name is derived from an ancient Greek word for “withdrawal”— and they lived alone in tiny dark cells, usually attached to the outer wall of a church. The ceremony initiating a new anchorite often included the last rites, and the cell’s doorway was sometimes bricked over. Anchorites were expected to remain in their cells for the rest of their lives; in some cases, they did so for over forty years. This existence, they believed, would offer an intimate connection with God, and salvation. Servants delivered food and emptied chamber pots through a small opening. 

Virtually every large town across France, Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and Greece had an anchorite. In many areas, there were more females than males. A woman’s life in the Middle Ages was severely bound, and to become an anchorite, unburdened by social strictures or domestic toil, may have felt paradoxically emancipating. Scholars have called anchorites the progenitors of modern feminism.

Leading me, naturally, to the anchoress Julian of Norwich and her Revelations of Divine Love, which in a not entirely unexpected manner, offers slight ballast to the sickening yaw of Ahab's God-haunted madness.

Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
  Twisted and torn they rose—
The tortured bones of a perished race
  Of monsters no mortal knows,
  They startled the mind’s repose.


And furthermore I saw that the sweet skin and the tender flesh, 

with the hair and the blood, was all raised and loosed about from the bone.

For this word was shewed for the bodily thirst: the which I understood was caused by failing of moisture. For the blessed flesh and bones was left all alone without blood and moisture. The blessed body dried alone long time with wringing of the nails and weight of the body. For I understood that for tenderness of the sweet hands and of the sweet feet, by the greatness, hardness, and grievousness of the nails the wounds waxed wide and the body sagged, for weight by long time hanging. And [therewith was] piercing and pressing of the head, and binding of the Crown all baked with dry blood, with the sweet hair clinging, and the dry flesh, to the thorns, and the thorns to the flesh drying; and in the beginning while the flesh was fresh and bleeding, the continual sitting of the thorns made the wounds wide. And furthermore I saw that the sweet skin and the tender flesh, with the hair and the blood, was all raised and loosed about from the bone, with the thorns wherethrough it were rent in many pieces, as a cloth that were sagging, as if it would hastily have fallen off, for heaviness and looseness, while it had natural moisture. And that was great sorrow and dread to me: for methought I would not for my life have seen it fall. How it was done I saw not; but understood it was with the sharp thorns and the violent and grievous setting on of the Garland of Thorns, unsparingly and without pity. This continued awhile, and soon it began to change, and I beheld and marvelled how it might be. And then I saw it was because it began to dry, and stint a part of the weight, and set about the Garland. And thus it encircled all about, as it were garland upon garland. The Garland of the Thorns was dyed with the blood, and that other garland [of Blood] and the head, all was one colour, as clotted blood when it is dry. The skin of the flesh that shewed (of the face and of the body), was small-rimpled with a tanned colour, like a dry board when it is aged; and the face more brown than the body. - Chapter 17

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. 

And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. 

These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved. Then were it a great unkindness to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since He blameth not me for sin. 

And in these words I saw a marvellous high mystery hid in God, which mystery He shall openly make known to us in Heaven: in which knowing we shall verily see the cause why He suffered sin to come. In which sight we shall endlessly joy in our Lord God. - Chapter 27

And back again to Eliot from Little Gidding, Four Quartets:

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


 I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! 

“I own thy speechless, placeless power; said I not so? Nor was it wrung from me; nor do I now drop these links. Thou canst blind; but I can then grope. Thou canst consume; but I can then be ashes. Take the homage of these poor eyes, and shutter-hands. I would not take it. The lightning flashes through my skull; mine eyeballs ache and ache; my whole beaten brain seems as beheaded, and rolling in some stunning ground. Oh, oh! Yet blindfold, yet will I talk to thee. Light though thou be, thou leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! The javelins cease; open eyes; see, or not? There burn the flames! Oh, thou magnanimous! now I do glory in my genealogy. But thou art but my fiery father; my sweet mother, I know not. Oh, cruel! what hast thou done with her? There lies my puzzle; but thine is greater. Thou knowest not how came ye, hence callest thyself unbegotten; certainly knowest not thy beginning, hence callest thyself unbegun. I know that of me, which thou knowest not of thyself, oh, thou omnipotent. There is some unsuffusing thing beyond thee, thou clear spirit, to whom all thy eternity is but time, all thy creativeness mechanical. Through thee, thy flaming self, my scorched eyes do dimly see it. Oh, thou foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too hast thy incommunicable riddle, thy unparticipated grief. Here again with haughty agony, I read my sire. Leap! leap up, and lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with thee; would fain be welded with thee; defyingly I worship thee!”

- Ahab, "The Candles."

Below the cross on Calvary, Golgotha, the threshold of pain, Adam's skull crumbling beneath, repository for his son's hot blood. Under the hill, the cross, the Serpent's cave. The Delphyne Python licking herself back to life with the red tears dripping down the white lightning roots. Awaiting Typhon. The Fall of Man begins Him back again.

I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
  Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again—