Thursday, March 03, 2011

23 Stamp Detournements From the Charles "Bonesy" Jones Digital Archive

The world’s darkening never reaches
to the light of Being.
We are too late for the gods and too
early for Being. Being’s poem,
just begun, is man.
To head towards a star – this only.
To think is to confine yourself to a
single thought that one day stands
still like a star in the world’s sky.

M. Heidegger, Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens

Towards the end of his life, Jones was fascinated by the idea of detournements. He described these as “appropriations of established images and symbols of authenticity re-purposed for play - especially, philosophical play.” These stamp detournements represent his efforts towards this end.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Dylan Thomas

Each of these images was created by Jones to function as an actual stamp. From 2003 to 2005, he mailed out hundreds of cards and letters with these stamps placed beside those from the U.S. Post Office. Many of the recipients never realized that they were receiving miniature works of transgressive art. We have digitally enlarged these here for exhibition purposes.

The moon, the stars dissolve. The mounting tide becomes a limitless sheet of water. This is the interval of a night of Brahma.Vishnu sleeps. Like a spider that has climbed up the thread that once issued from its own organism, drawing it back into itself, the god has consumed again the web of the universe. Alone upon the immortal substance of the ocean, a giant figure, submerged partly, partly afloat, he takes delight in slumber. There is no one to behold him, no one to comprehend him; there is no knowledge of him, except within himself.

Heinrich Zimmer

In much of his published work, there is frequent reference to the relationship between the word and the image. For each of these images, Jones had a particular selection of text to be associated with it: quotes from his own work and those of others, fragments of poems, sermons and epigrams. He insisted these were vital to accessing the “interior meaning of each image.”

Suppose the world were only one of God’s jokes, would you work any the less to make it a good joke instead of a bad one?

George Bernard Shaw, in a letter to Tolstoy

[ Tolstoy had criticized Shaw for his facetious tone in Arms and the Man, saying that one “should not speak jestingly of such a subject as the purpose of human life, the causes of its perversion, and the evil that fills the life of humanity today.” ]

It is interesting to note that much of the work from mid-2004 shows distinct difference from the earlier images: stamp edges are trimmed, the references are more cryptic, and certain obsessions are more apparent. This was the direct result of a severe head injury Jones suffered after being struck by a car. None of the later 2004 images were ever sent out. This is the first time they have been exhibited in public.

This selection of the Archives is on display at The Black Drop Coffee House in Bellingham, Washington through the month of March. 

Is there any place on land or sea where there is no war?... Blackout. Blackout. Blackout. Blackout. Everywhere people stumblin’ in the dark. Is there to be no more light in the world? Is there no place in this dark land where a man who’s drunk can find a decent bit of fun?

Aloysius Driscoll, The Long Voyage Home, drunken reflections on the war-torn world.

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 shrouded in mystery and misinformation.

In 1962, Jones was graduated summa cum laude from the Steiner College of Ontological Osteology where he studied Legerdaemonic Epistemology and Allegorical Cetology. He then briefly attended the University of Oxford, but left after a dispute with one of the Dons over the Nature of the Hesychast Controversy. 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 home one night. 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. His last words were: “In the end, these bones...” - as fitting an epitaph, at least to my mind, as any Japanese Death poem.

I knew Jones for almost 20 years. No one has had a greater influence upon my life. As much as he prepared me over the years for “the day the bones step out of the skin,” it still shocks and saddens me in every hour to realize that he is no more. The absence of his burning presence will haunt me for the rest of my days.

His tongue is like no other. It is the tongue of the basilisk, a hundred-forked and quick as flame. As it is written in the learned Nathaniel of Mainz: there shall come upon the earth in the time of night a man surpassing eloquent. All that is God’s, hallowed be His name, must have its counterpart, its backside of evil and negation. So it is with the Word, with the gift of speech that it the glory of man and distinguishes him everlastingly from the silence or animal noises of creation. When he made the Word, God made possible also its contrary. Silence is the not the contrary of the Word but is guardian. No, He created on the night-side of language a speech for hell. Whose words mean hatred and vomit of life. Few men can learn that speech or speak it for long. It burns their mouths. It draws them into death. But there shall come a man whose mouth shall be as a furnace and whose tongue as a sword laying waste. He will know the grammar of hell and teach it to others. He will know the sounds of madness and loathing and make them seem music. Where God said, let there be, he will unsay.

George Steiner, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.

Artist’s Statement

The words that I have collected around these images are like vultures following the living presence into the desert. The language has no hope of feeding upon this flesh. My desire is that they will merely trail along behind the images, occasionally circling, never descending. They are not captions. They are not descriptions. They would not exist without the images. And the images will always endure beyond the predatory attempts of language to grasp hold of their manifold meanings.

Benjamin stated that “at the base of every work of art is a pile of barbarism”. If we are to take this as fact, then most of what is called art in our culture is mostly a radical turning away from the pile of bones at the barbaric base, in short: kitsch. As such, the range of response we might have for something as terrible as the death of God has become epitomized by a generic Hallmark card expressing sympathy through the a soft focus photograph of a kitten on a pillow.

Clearly, the vocabulary, the imagery, must be extended.

- Charles “Bonesy” Jones


Just BAM! BAM! BAM! Shooting those skeletons all to pieces. But, you know, them bones don’t die. They just shake all around and run back together and make a skeleton again. I tell you, God was sure busy that day. See: they was all trying to tear God’s skin off and eat his flesh. Nothing skeletons likes better than Godflesh, you know? They teeth was all just a clattering with the thinking of eating God right up. Now, God was damn good shot, but he was running outta ammo. And them skeletons were clacking back together all around him. And things didn’t looks so good for the Old Man. That’s when I woke up. And I hear God saying to me: Bonesy! Get on out here to the Desert and gives me a hand. And that’s where I sure as hell went.

Charles “Bonesy” Jones

So this nun is leaving the rectory to go to the market to buy some food for dinner. She arrives at the fish market and sees the clerk there and asks him if he has any specials today. He replies with “Well, I have all of this Goddamn fish here to sell!” The nun replies with “Please, I am a nun, you should not use language like that with me.” He replies, “No, that is the name of the fish. It’s really good.” The nun decides to buy a few pounds and returns back home to the rectory. Later that afternoon the priest walks in, and asks, “What’s for dinner?” The nun replies, “Nothing special. Just some of this Goddamn fish.” The priest then expresses his displeasure at the use of God’s name taken in vain, and the nun explains the fact about the name of the fish. About an hour later, the bishop pops in and asks the same thing, going through the same steps as the priest just has. Afterwards, he also announces that the Pope will be stopping by for dinner on his way back to Vatican City. They all sit down to eat, and after the meal the nun leans back and says “That’s the best Goddamn fish I ever ate!” In turn, the bishop then exclaims, “that Goddamn fish was really good!” And, in like manner the priest then says, “I’ve eaten alot of fish, but this Goddamn fish is the best fish I ever had!”

The Pope, beaming, says to everyone, “I love you fucking guys!

The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, "What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?" and my answer must at once be, "It is no use." There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.

George Leigh Mallory, 1922

[Climbers who found Mallory’s body in 1999 believe he probably
died before he conquered the peak.]

And there on the table cut over with scar, like might have been the last place God lay his Sorrowfull Head, was… The Skull of God, Godskull. The Holy Fool sat down there cross from it, doing some hard thinking about Who Knows What. After a time, he reach out to it, turn it round and get damn near lost inside those empty eyeball holes. Figuring that had best get, he takes up the Godskull in his hands and with all his strength, lift it up to his lips and kiss thos cold white teeths. And, lo, it was that that Ole Holy Fool didn’t spook hisself some there and let the Godskull fall to clatter down upon that table.

Charles “Bonesy” Jones

"The Aleph?" I repeated.

"Yes, the only place on earth where all places are -- seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending. I kept the discovery to myself and went back every chance I got. As a child, I did not foresee that this privilege was granted me so that later I could write the poem. Zunino and Zungri will not strip me of what's mine -- no, and a thousand times no! Legal code in hand, Doctor Zunni will prove that my Aleph is inalienable."

I tried to reason with him. "But isn't the cellar very dark?" I said.

"Truth cannot penetrate a closed mind. If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too."

"You wait there. I'll be right over to see it."

Jorge Luis Borges

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Orson Welles as Harry Lime, from the film, The Third Man

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

The poet may choose to be obscure in order to achieve certain specific stylistic effects. He may find himself compelled towards obliquity and cloture by political circumstances: there is a very long history of Aesopian language, of 'encoding' and allegoric indirection in poetry written under pressure of totalitarian censorship (oppression, says Borges, is the mother of metaphor). The constraints may be of a purely personal nature. The lover will conceal the identity of the beloved or the true condition of his passion.

It is the poet's aim to charge with supreme intensity and genuineness of feeling a body of language, to 'make new' his text in the most durable sense of illuminative, penetrative insight. But the language at his disposal is, by definition, general, common in use. Its similes are stock, its metaphors worn down to cliches. How can this soiled organon serve the most individual and innovative of needs? There have, throughout literary history, been logical terrorists who have taken the implicit paradox to its stark conclusion. The authentic poet cannot make do with the infinitely shop-worn inventory of speech, with the necessarily devalued or counterfeit currency of the every-day.

George Steiner, On Difficulty

Ich fürchte, wir werden Gott nicht los, weil wir noch an die Grammatik glauben.

[I fear we will never be rid of God as long as we still believe in Grammar.]

Nietzsche, Götzendämmerung

These cursed lips of mine, which dishonoured my Maker! O these cursed appetites and passions, and this obstinate will, which have wrought my ruin! This cursed body and soul, that have procured their own everlasting wretchedness! These thoughts will be like a gnawing worm within, which will prey upon the spirit for ever. The fretting smart arising from this vexatious worm must be painful in the highest extreme, when we know it is a worm which will never die, which will for ever hang at our heart, and sting our vitals in the most tender and sensible parts of them without intermission, as well as without end.

Isaac Watts

I was just a little kid when God took me down to the Boathouse and taught me how to catch the Big One. Pole, line, hook, sinker, bobber. And I caught a Big One. Sure did. And then God taught me how to separate the flesh from the bone. And what to do when they got all messed together. Sure did. And then I got lost in the world and forgot it all. And God just sat waiting down in the Boathouse for me to come back around. And finally, one fine day, I did. And then I understood what he had really taught me: that the Flesh was the Dream and the Bone was the Reality. I understood the fishing was languaging. The pole and line and hook and all were the grammar. I saw it all there of a sudden. And God sure was laughing at me that day. Sure was.

Charles “Bonesy” Jones

What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate....When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends’ glarings is a doltish stare!

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Parvati once wanted to take a bath and created a boy from the dirt of Her own body, asking him to stand as a guard outside while She bathed. In the meantime Shiva returned home to find a stranger at His door, preventing Him from entering. In anger, Shiva cut off the boy’s head, upon which Parvati was stricken with great grief. In order to console Her, Shiva sent out His troops to fetch the head of anyone found sleeping with his head pointing to the north. They found an elephant sleeping thus and brought back its head.

Shiva then attached the elephantine head to the body of the boy and revived him. He named the boy Ganapati or commander of His troops, and granted Him a boon that anyone would have to worship Him (Ganesha) before beginning any undertaking.

From the Shiva Purana

In the pasture of this world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the Ox. Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains, My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the Ox. I only hear locusts chirring through the forest at night.

Commentary: The Ox has never been lost. What need is there to search? Only because of separation from my true nature, I fail to find him. In the confusion of the senses I lose even his tracks. Far from home, I see many crossroads, but which way is the right one I know not. Greed and fear, good and bad, entangle me.


This is the last image in the collection. The source for it has not yet been found.

Written in hand on the reverse of a proof copy of the image:

“Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart - but mostly his apocalyptic star glitters wondrously.”

It was not noted by Jones but research has uncovered that this is a quote from a biography of the German poet Holderlin. It was also the passage underlined by the poet Paul Celan before he committed suicide.

Legal Notice

Due to ongoing litigation between myself [Scot Casey] and the estate of Charles “Bonesy” Jones [Nora Boney, executrix], EST Case #19620319 TX, Boney v. Casey, I am hereby required to state that I am not in any way, shape or form representing any work from the Non-Digital Archives from the Estate of Charles “Bonesy” Jones - with the exception of Article #130N35 and the previously defined, “Desert Journals.”

It was the expressed will of Mr. Jones that the Digital Archive is under my custodianship and that I have full right to display and/or present any work from this archive in any manner that I see fit.