Friday, April 30, 2010

Alice Leora Briggs: "The bodies were all akimbo and not neatly wrapped up."

Somewhere out there the Santa Muerte from Juarez is giving Jimmy Webb a new context: 

By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be risin'.
She'll find the note I left hangin' on her door.

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From PBS Newshour:  An Unflinching Look at Violence in Juarez:

When I first spoke to artist Alice Leora Briggs last spring, Juarez, Mexico, was under siege by rampant gang- and drug-related violence. Briggs had just completed an arts residency in southern New Mexico and frequently traveled the 30 minutes to witness the carnage and aftermath left by a recent spate of murders in and around the border town.

She visited so called "death houses," sites of mass executions, and spent time studying the victims' remains in the city morgue.

"One room is entirely full of bullets from the executions," Brigss said. "I saw an autopsy of a young man who was executed. There was a story in the New York Times about the morgue a day or so after I was there. The photos of the freezers had everything looking tidy. They must have cleaned for them. I was glad to get a different view....The bodies were all akimbo and not neatly wrapped up.... I see things on the news and compare it to what I saw and they do not always jive."

In response to what she saw, Briggs picked up her etching knives and, using an old etching technique from the 13th century called sgraffito, cut through dark wood to reveal images of what was laid before her eyes.

Alongside the graphic images, Briggs also incorporates medieval or renaissance scenes like an old-master draftsman. In a more recent conversation, Briggs explained what drew her to violent depictions: "The first time that I went to Italy, I realized that I was part of an extended tradition in Western art. I mean, you go to Italy, walk into any church, and the subject matter is about torture and death and human suffering. And these are things I think maybe are not entertaining, but certainly are worthy of our attention."

Be sure to check out the slideshow:

Thank you, Doe.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Albert Hofman Showed Me: Revelations In A Roman Cauliflower

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    • Albert Hofmann: LSD - My Problem Child

      Although I had firmly resolved to make constant notes, it now seemed to me a complete waste of time, the motion of writing infinitely slow, the possibilities of verbal expression unspeakably paltry - measured by the flood of inner experience that inundated me and threatened to burst me. It seemed to me that 100 years would not be sufficient to describe the fullness of experience of a single minute. At the beginning, optical impressions predominated: I saw with delight the boundless succession of rows of trees in the nearby forest. Then the tattered clouds in the sunny sky rapidly piled up with silent and breathtaking majesty to a superimposition of thousands of layers - heaven on heaven - and I waited then expecting that up there in the next moment something completely powerful, unheard of, not yet existing, would appear or happen - would I behold a god? But only the expectation remained, the presentiment, this hovering, "on the threshold of the ultimate feeling." . . . Then I moved farther away (the proximity of others disturbed me) and lay down in a nook of the garden on a sun-warmed wood pile - my fingers stroked this wood with overflowing, animal-like sensual affection. At the same time I was submerged within myself; it was an absolute climax: a sensation of bliss pervaded me, a contented happiness - I found myself behind my closed eyes in a cavity full of brick-red ornaments, and at the same time in the "center of the universe of consummate calm." I knew everything was good - the cause and origins of everything was good. But at the same moment I also understood the suffering and the loathing, the depression and misunderstanding of ordinary life: there one is never "total," but instead divided, cut in pieces, and split up into the tiny fragments of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years: there one is a slave of Moloch time, which devoured one piecemeal; one is condemned to stammering, bungling, and patchwork; one must drag about with oneself the perfection and absolute, the togetherness of all things; the eternal moment of the golden age, this original ground of being - that indeed nevertheless has always endured and will endure forever - there in the weekday of human existence, as a tormenting thorn buried deeply in the soul, as a memorial of a claim never fulfilled, as a fata morgana of a lost and promised paradise; through this feverish dream "present" to a condemned "past" in a clouded "future." I understood. This inebriation was a spaceflight, not of the outer but rather of the inner man, and for a moment I experienced reality from a location that lies somewhere beyond the force of gravity of time.

    • Huxley on Drugs and Creativity

      Well, there's always a complete memory of the experience. You remember something extraordinary having happened. And to some extent you can relive the experience, particularly the transformation of the outside world. You get hints of this, you see the world in this transfigured way now and then -- not to the same pitch of intensity, but something of the kind. It does help you to look at the world in a new way. And you come to understand very clearly the way that certain specially gifted people have seen the world. You are actually introduced into the kind of world that Van Gogh lived in, or the kind of world that Blake lived in. You begin to have a direct experience of this kind of world while you're under the drug, and afterwards you can remember and to some slight extent recapture this kind of world, which certain privileged people have moved in and out of, as Blake obviously did all the time.

    • From Lama Anagarika Govinda:Creative Meditation and Multidimensional Consciousness

      It was only with the advent of the Kalacakra School in the tenth century A.D. that religious seers and thinkers realised the profound mystery which is hidden under the conventional notion of time, namely the existence of another dimension of consciousness, the presence of which we feel darkly and imperfectly on the plane of our mundane experience. Those, however, who crossed the threshold of mundane consciousness in the advanced stages of meditation, entered into this dimension, in which what we feel as time was experienced not merely as a negative property of our fleeting existence, but as the ever present dynamic aspect of the universe and the inherent nature of life and spirit, which is beyond being and non-being, beyond origination and destruction. It is the vital breath of reality-reality, not in the sense of an abstraction, but as actuality of all levels of experience- which is revealed in the gigantic movements of the universe as much as in the emotions of the human heart and the ecstasies of the spirit. It is revealed in the cosmic dance of heavenly bodies as well as in the dance of protons and electrons, in the “harmony of the spheres” as well as in the “inner sound” of living things, in the breathing of our body as well as in the movements of our mind and the rhythm of our life.


      Reality, in other words, is not stagnant existence of “something”; it is neither “thingness” nor a state of immovability (like that of an imaginary space), but movement of a kind which goes as much beyond our sense-perceptions, as beyond our mathematical, philosophical and metaphysical abstractions. In fact, space (except the “space” that is merely thought of) does not exist in itself, but is created by movement; and if we speak of the curvature of space, it has nothing to do with its prevailing or existing structure (like the grain in wood or the stratification of rocks), but with its antecedent, the movement that created it. The character of this movement is curved, i.e. concentric, or with a tendency to create its own center- a center which may again be moving in a bigger curve or circle, etc.
      Thus, the universe becomes a gigantic mandala or an intricate system of innumerable mandalas (which, according to the traditional Indian meaning of the word, signifies a system of symbols, based on a circular arrangement or movement, and serves to illustrate the interaction or juxtaposition of spiritual and cosmic forces.) If, instead from a spatial point of view, we regard the universe from the standpoint of audible vibration or sabda, “inner sound,” it becomes a gigantic symphony. In both cases all movements are interdependent, interrelated, each creating its own center, its own focus of power, without ever losing contact with all the other centers thus formed.


      “Curvature” in this conception means a movement which recoils upon itself (and which thus possesses both constancy and change, i.e. rhythm) or at least has the tendency to lead back to its origin or starting-point, according to its inherent law. In reality, however, it can never return to the same point in space, since this movement itself moves within the frame of a greater system of relationships. Such a movement combines the principle of change and nonreversibility with a constancy of an unchangeable law, which we may call its rhythm. One might say that this movement contains an element of eternity as well as an element of transiency, which latter we feel as time.


      Both time and space are the outcomes of movement, and if we speak of the “curvature of space” we should speak likewise of the “curvature of time,” because time is not a progression in a straight line- of which the beginning (the past) is lost forever and which pierces into the endless vacuum of an inexorable future- but something that recoils upon itself, something that is subject to the laws of ever-recurrent similar situations, and which thus combines change with stability. Each of these situations is enriched by new contents, while at the same time, retaining its essential character. Thus we cannot speak of a mechanical repetition of the same events, but only of an organic rebirth of its elements, on account of which even within the flux of events the stability of law is discernable. Upon the recognition of such a law which governs the elements (or the elementary forms of appearance) of all events, is the basis upon which the I-Ching or “The Book of Changes,” the oldest work of Chinese wisdom, is built.


      Perhaps this work would better be called “The Book of the Principles of Transformation” because it demonstrates that change is not arbitrary or accidental but dependent on laws, according to which each thing or state of existence can only change into something already inherent in its own nature, and not into something altogether different. It also demonstrates the equally important law of periodicity, according to which change follows a cyclic movement (like the heavenly bodies, the seasons, the hours of the day, etc.), representing the eternal in time and converting time quasi into a higher space-dimension, in which things and events exist simultaneously, though imperceptible to the senses. They are in a state of potentiality, as invisible germs or elements of future events and phenomena that have not yet stepped into actual reality. (p256-60)


      This sameness- or as we may say just as well, this eternal presence of the “Body of the Law” (dharmakaya), which is common to all Buddhas, to all Enlightened Ones- is the source and spiritual foundation of all enlightenment and is, therefore, placed in the center of the Kalacakra-Mandala, which is the symbolical representation of the universe.


      Kala means “time” (also “black”), namely the invisible, incommensurable dynamic principle, inherent in all things and represented in Buddhist iconography, as a black, many-headed, many-armed, terrifying figure of simultaneously divine and demoniacal nature. It is “terrible” to the ego-bound individual, whose ego is trampled underfoot, just as are all the gods, created in the ego’s likeness, who are shown prostrate under the feet of this terrifying figure. Time is the power that governs all things and all being, a power to which even the highest gods have to submit.

      Cakra means “wheel,” the focalised or concentric manifestation of the dynamic principle in space. In the ancient tradition of Yoga the Cakra signifies the spatial unfoldment of spiritual or universal power, as for instance in the cakras or psychic centers of the human body or in the case of the Cakravartin, the world-ruler who embodies the all-encompassing moral and spiritual powers.


      In one of his previous books on Buddhist Tantrisim, H.V. Guenther compares the Kalacakra symbol to the modern conception of the space-time continuum, pointing out, however, that in Buddhism it is not merely a philosophical or mathematical construction, but is based on the direct perception of inner experience, according to which time and space are inseparable aspects of reality.
      “Only in our minds we tend to separate the three dimensions of space and the one of time. We have an awareness of space and an awareness of time. But this separation is purely subjective. As a matter of fact, modern physics has shown that the time dimension can no more be detached from the space dimension than length can be detached breadth and thickness in an accurate representation of a house, a tree, or Mr X. Space has no objective reality except as an order or arrangement of things we perceive in it, and time has no independent existence from the order of events by which we measure it.” (Guenther, Yuganaddha, The Tantric View of Life, 1952)
      An experience of reality (and that is all we can talk of, because “reality as such” is another abstraction) cannot be defined but only circumscribed, i.e., it cannot be approached by the straight line of two-dimensional logic, but only in a concentric way, by moving around it, approaching it not only from one side, but from all sides, without stopping at any particular point. Only in this way can we avoid a one-sided and perspectively foreshortened and distorted view, and arrive at a balanced, unprejudiced perception and knowledge. This concentric approach (which moves closer and closer around its object, in order finally- in the ideal case- to become one with it) is the exact opposite of the Western analytical and dissecting way of observation: it is the integral concentration of inner vision (dhyana). (p263) 
      That the gods of Buddhist iconography and their symbols and functions do not belong in the realm of metaphysics, but to that of psychology, has been correctly pointed out by C.G. Jung in his Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower. Speaking of the great Eastern philosophers, he says: “I suspect them of being symbolical psychologists, to whom no greater wrong could be done than to take them literally. If it were really metaphysics that they mean, it would be useless to try to understand them. But if it is psychology, we can not only understand them, but we can greatly profit greatly by them, for then the so-called ‘metaphysical’ comes within the range of experience. If I accept the fact that a god is absolute and beyond all human experiences, he leaves me cold. I do not affect him, nor does he affect me. But if I know that a god is a powerful impulse in my soul, at once I must concern myself with him, for then he can become important… like everything belonging to the sphere of reality.” (Jung, Psyche and Symbol, 1958)

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    Termite Art: "I saw it mispelled, in mauve Krylon, on the side of a dumpster, and it haunted me."

    Fractal Art: "no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement."

    Starting with the question and answer going on at William Gibson's:

    "Creator's block" sounds like something afflicting a divinity, but writer's block is my default setting. Its opposite is miraculous. The process of learning to write fiction, for me, was one of learning to almost continually be doing it *through* the block, in spite of the block, the block becoming the accustomed place from which to work. Our traditional cultural models of creativity tend to involve the wrong sort of heroism, for me. "It sprang whole and perfect from my brow" as opposed to "I saw it mispelled, in mauve Krylon, on the side of a dumpster, and it haunted me". I was much encouraged, when I began to write, by Manny Farber's idea of "termite art".

    Led to White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art by Manny Farber (1962) [emphasis not mine, but accepted]:

    Most of the feckless, listless quality of today's art can be blamed on its drive to break out of a tradition while, irrationally, hewing to the square, boxed-in shape and gemlike inertia of an old, densely wrought European masterpiece.
    Advanced painting has long been suffering from this burnt-out notion of a masterpiece - breaking away from its imprisoning conditions toward a suicidal improvisation, threatening to move nowhere and everywhere, niggling, omnivorous, ambitionless: yet, within the same picture, paying strict obeisance to the canvas edge and , without favoritism, the precious nature of every inch of allowable space. A classic example of this inertia is the Cezanne painting: in his indoorish works of the woods around Aix-en-Provence, a few spots of tingling, jarring excitement occur where he nibbles away at what he calls his "small sensation," the shifting of a tree trunk, the infinitesimal contests of complementary colors in a light accent of farmhouse wall. The rest of each canvas is a clogging weight-density-structure-polish amalgam associated with self-aggrandizing masterwork. As he moves away from the unique, personal vision that interests him, his painting turns ungiving and puzzling: a matter of balancing curves for his bunched-in composition, laminating the color, working the painting to the edge. Cezanne ironically left an expose of his dreary finishing work in terrifyingly honest watercolors, an occasional unfinished oil (the pinkish portrait of his wife in sunny, leafed-in patio), where he foregoes everything but his spotting fascination with minute interactions.
    The idea of art as an expensive hunk of well-regulated area, both logical and magical, sits heavily over the talent of every modern painter, from Motherwell to Andy Warhol. The private voice of Motherwell (the exciting drama in the meeting places between ambivalent shapes, the aromatic sensuality that comes from laying down thin sheets of cold, artfully cliché-ish, hedonistic color) is inevitably ruined by having to spread these small pleasures into great contained works. Thrown back constantly on unrewarding endeavors (filling vast egglike shapes, organizing a ten foot rectangle with its empty corners suggesting Siberian steppes in the coldest time of year), Motherwell ends up with appalling amounts of plasterish grandeur, a composition so huge and questionably painted that the delicate, electric contours seem to be crushing the shalelike matter inside. The special delight of each painting tycoon (De Kooning's saber-like dancing of forms; Warhol's minute embrace with the path of illustrator's pen line and block-print tone; James Dine's slog-footed brio, filling a stylized shape from stem to stern with one ungiving color) is usually squandered in pursuit of the continuity, harmony, involved in constructing a masterpiece. The painting, sculpture, assemblage becomes a yawning production of overripe technique shrieking with preciosity, fame, ambition; far inside are tiny pillows holding up the artist's signature, now turns into mannerism by the padding, lechery, faking required to combine today's esthetics with the components of traditional Great Art.
    Movies have always been suspiciously addicted to termite-art tendencies. Good work usually arises where the creators (Laurel and Hardy, the team of Howard Hawks and William Faulkner operating on the first half of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep) seem to have no ambitions towards gilt culture but are involved in a kind of squandering-beaverish endeavor that isn't anywhere or for anything. A peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.
    The most inclusive description of the art is that, termite-like, it feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement. Laurel and Hardy, in fact, in some of their most dyspeptic and funniest movies, like Hog Wild, contributed some fine parody of men who had read every "How to Succeed" book available; but, when it came to applying their knowledge, reverted instinctively to termite behavior.
    One of the good termite performances (John Wayne's bemused cowboy in an unreal stage town inhabited by pallid repetitious actors whose chief trait is a powdered make-up) occurs in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Better Ford films have been marred by a phlegmatically solemn Irish personality that goes for rounded declamatory acting, silhouetted riders along the rim of a mountain with golden sunset behind them, and repetitions in which big bodies are scrambled together in a rhythmically curving Rosa Bonheurish composition. Wayne's acting is infected by a kind of hoboish spirit, sitting back on its haunches doing a bitter-amused counterpoint to the pale, neutral film life around him. In an Arizona town that is too placid, where the cactus was planted last night and nostalgically casted actors do a generalized drunkenness, cowardness, voraciousness, Wayne is the termite actor focusing only on a tiny present area, nibbling at it with engaging professionalism and a hipster sense of how to sit in a chair leaned against a wall, eye a flogging overactor (Lee Marvin). As he moves along at the pace of a tapeworm, Wayne leaves a path that is only bits of shrewd intramural acting -- a craggy face filled with bitterness, jealousy, a big body that idles luxuriantly, having long grown tired with roughhouse games played by old wrangler types like John Ford.
    The best examples of termite art appear in places other than films, where the spotlight of culture is no where in evidence, so that the craftsmen can be ornery, wasteful, stubbornly self-involved, doing go-for-broke are and not caring what comes of it. The occasional newspaper column by a hard-work specialist caught up by an exciting event (Joe Alsop or Ted Lewis, during a presidential election), or a fireball technician reawakened during a pennant playoff that brings on stage his favorite villains (Dick Young); the TV production of The Iceman Cometh , with its great examples of slothful-buzzing acting by Myron McCormak, Jason Robards, et al.; the last few detective novels of Ross MacDonald and most of Raymond Chandler's ant-crawling verbosity and sober fact-pointing in the letters compiled years back in a slightly noticed book that is a fine running example of popular criticism; the TV debating of William Buckley, before he relinquished his tangential, counter-attacking skill and took to flying into propeller blades of issues, like James Meridith's Pale Miss-adventures.

    From "Virtual Termites" by Lance Olson

    Farber distinguishes between two kinds of art. The first, for which he holds contempt, is White Elephant Art, the sort that embraces the idea of a well-crafted, logical arena, incarnated in the films of Francois Truffaut. Proponents of this near-school produce tedious pieces reminiscent of Rube Goldberg's perpetual-motion machines that exude a sense of their own weight, structure, and status as masterworks. The second kind of art, which Farber advocates, is Termite Art. This is the sort that stands opposed to elite aesthetic culture, embraces freedom and multiplicity, is incarnated in the films of Laurel and Hardy. Proponents of this near-school produce pieces that gnaw away at their own boundaries, leaving little in their wake except traces of enthusiastic, assiduous, and messy endeavor.

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    Riddley Walker: Its looking out thru our eye hoals

    Saw this years ago. Influential film for me. Russell Hoban's Ridley Walker recalibrated everything:

    Lorna said to me, 'You know Riddley theres some thing in us it dont have no name.'

    I said, 'What thing is that?'

    She said, 'Its some kind of thing it aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals. May be you dont take no noatis of it only some times. Say you get woak up suddn in the middl of the nite. 1 minim youre a sleap and the nex youre on your feet with a spear in your han. Wel it wernt you put that spear in your han it wer that other thing whats looking out thru your eye hoals. It aint you nor it don't even know your name. Its in us lorn and loan and sheltering how it can.'

    I said, 'If its in every 1 of us theres moren 1 of it theres got to be a manying theres got to be a millying and mor.'

    Lorna said, 'Wel there is a millying and mor.'

    I said, 'Wel if theres such a manying of it whys it lorn then whys it loan?'

    She said, 'Becaws the manying and the millying its all 1 thing it dont have nothing to gether with. You look at lykens on a stoan its all them tiny manyings of it and may be each part of it myt think its sepert only we can see its all 1 thing. Thats how it is with what we are its all 1 girt big thing and divvyt up amongst the many. Its all 1 girt thing bigger nor the worl and lorn and loan and oansome. Tremmering it is and feart. It puts us on like we put on our cloes. Some times we dont fit. Some times it cant fynd the arm hoals and it tears us a part.' [source]