Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Stillness of the Outhouse: Peter Handke's Versuch über den stillen Ort

Peter Handke's new book just arrived, his fourth in this series of essays (following the essays/Versuche on the jukebox, on tiredness, and on the successful day). I once pointed out to him that in that latter essay he writes about a Van Morrison song called "Coney Island," but misplaces the Irish island to New York. He smiled and didn't seem too concerned.

Like the other essays, this one comes handsomely wrapped in the first page of the manuscript, written in pencil, like all of his work, and exhibiting interesting deletions and additions.

The quiet place of the title is a succession of outhouses, public and private restrooms, and finally a quiet residence between fields north of Paris (Marquemont) where he writes the essay.

Why are the family's little room with a hole that empties directly into the manure pile of the barn below, the cold restrooms of the Tanzenberg seminary, the trainstation toilet where he spends the night after graduating from public school in Klagenfurt, the university restroom in Graz where he washes his hair, the temple outhouse in Japan, restrooms in French cafes, the public toilets on the Portugese coast -- why are these still rooms worthy of an essay? Because they are places where the young Peter Handke experiences versions of himself, where he has an identity separate from family, where there is an "I" different from the "I" determined by others and by their language.

The public places are wide and open as the word "Platz" indicates etymologically (wide, plateau). The places where one can pee and shit are narrow and enclosed, as the word "Ort" points out (pun intended -- the root means point or edge). In short, they are places apart, Ab-ort, away/apart/separate/out.

It's the dialectic between the two kinds of places that the text investigates. The still outhouse / Abort isn't a utopian place but rather a place that collects and stimulates and supports feelings and thoughts that then enable and even require a return to the group. 

There's a scene reminiscent of the short essay in "Once Again For Thucydides" about various head coverings in Skopje in which Handke watches people walking on a path in a park of Cascais, on the Portugese Atlantic, headed to and returning from the public toilets. The "I" that he is, or the other "I" that he is, or the others, he writes, needs such a coming and going. He compares the train of people with people in a church who are going to receive communion and finds communion with them even as or because the communion is enabled by the outhouse where they can be alone.

In the novel "The Great Fall," by the way, the narrator similarly juxtaposes communion in a church and a kind of communion in a pissoir.

There's a very interesting account of the young Peter Handke refusing invitations to travel with his classmates after graduation. Instead he travels by himself from village to town, finally spending a cold night curled around a toilet in the train station. He writes about how that became, in the novel "Repetition," the story of a similar young man traveling across the Yugoslav border to Jesenice and spending his first novel in a niche in the side of the train tunnel between Austria and Yugoslavia.

Zarko Radakovic and I followed that character, Filip Kobal, across the border for our book "Repetions." Zarko took a photo of the tunnel.

. . . we sloshed through grey and yellow, chemically fortified rain to the train station restaurant where Filip Kobal sat one whole night drinking sweet, flat, east-block Cola. A picture of Tito figures prominently in the story, but yesterday we couldn’t find it. Disappointment. And yet the thought of political change was bracing. Žarko checked the WC to see if Handke got it right. He did.

We looked for the mouth of the train tunnel where Filip Kobal spends his first night, unwilling to leave the border, the threshhold: “The tunnel did not strike me as an insane idea.  I would go in where my train had just carried me out.” We drove and walked up a dozen blind alleys before a wet garden path almost accidentally brought us face to face with the tunnel. Standing in the streaming rain Žarko photographed the heavy stone arch and the black half circle it creates.

Finally, Peter's essay awakened memories of my own, some of them related to still places where I was alone, others to actual restrooms.

There was the Thanksgiving in our house in Farmington, New Mexico, the single-storey, 3-bedroom house shared by nine of us. I think I was in high school, but it might have been a Thanksgiving trip back from the first year of college (Peter's essay is meticulous about revealing questions, doubts, ironies -- about undercutting itself in a attempt to be truthful). I left the bustle and noise and walked through the cold wind and spitting snow to drop off the edge of the plateau where the sub-division was built, into a little canyon where I curled up, out of the wind, in an indentation in the sandstone. The solitude overcame me, a splendid food to fit a hunger I had only subconsciously. I was apart, an "I" other than the "I" my family knew and shaped. When I returned to the house I was quieter, happier, more able to again be part of the crowd.

I remember working on a drilling rig outside of Farmington. The driller who had hired me was a quiet man, tough, slow moving, 45 or 50 years old. As we drilled through various geological formations there were times when decisions had to be made. If they were complicated decisions, the driller would shut down the rig, leave the floor, walk across the yard to the outhouse, lock himself inside there for however long it took him to think through the problem, and then return to tell us what to do.

There was an early morning in Farmington, about 5 a.m., when all I could think about was the hotel restroom that was waiting for me about halfway through my delivery route (bundles of the Albuquerque Journal meant for restaurants, paperboys, motels, and the town's one hotel -- what was the name?). I had a bad case of needing to shit, recognized only after having left home at 4 a.m. But the hotel was coming up and I calculated I could make it that far, that long. I drove up the hotel, left the car carrying a stack of papers, slapped them down on the empty front desk, swung open the restroom door just around the corner, and, starting to relax, found that the toilet stalls now had doors equipped with locks opened only with a quarter. I had no quarter with me and I had already begun to relax and so I turned to the urinals arrayed against the wall -- not the urinals that stretch up from the floor, but the kind that jut out from the wall. Because I was taller than 6 feet, and because the urinals were positioned for people shorter than that, I left the hotel unscathed (except psychologically, of course).

The most fragrent and even sensuous toilet I ever used was the one at the visitor's center of the Glen Canyon Dam. It was a composting toilet, a sign said, with some kind of fine-smelling wood chips below. Best of all was the gentle, warm breeze fingering my naked backside.

Finally, although these stories might proliferate endlessly, I remember the night Sam Rushforth and I drove up Daniels Canyon to ski under a full moon. Skiing rhythmically up the trail, moonshadows dark against the dazzling snow, I felt a familiar distress in my bowels. Off the trail, brushed by fragrent and soft Douglas fir branches, I dropped my pants, exposed my butt to the bitter cold, and shit between my skis. Three or four times I had to repeat the act. Unpleasant as it was, there was also a solitude and beauty to those moments apart, away.

And as I finish reading the Essay, an email from Zarko:

Unbelievable. Just today I bought Handke's book and began to read. Parallel to your reading. Amazing how familiar it all is to me. I know Peter, I love him.
Yesterday I read your text about Nina Pops, in the translation by Stefan Barmann, and I very much enjoyed your thoughts, and also your rhetoric. I know you, and I love you.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Buchstäblich / Literally: New Work by Nina Pops

Pogled / Der Blick / The View
On November 1, in Cologne, Germany, an exhibition of new work by Serbian/German artist Nina Pops will open. Zarko Radakovic, whose novel Pogled / The View is an inspiration for one of the paintings, will read from his novel. Inspired by the works, I wrote the following:

Buchstäblich / Literally
Recent Work by Nina Pops

Die Griechen betrachten die Sprache in gewissem weiten Sinne optisch, nämlich vom Geschriebenen her. . . . Die Sprache ist, d.h. sie steht im Schriftbild des Wortes, in den Schriftzeichen, in den Buchstaben, grammata.
Martin Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik

            I’m sitting before a large painting, 120 x 130 cm, Öl auf Leinwand, 2009, “Visualisierung des Romans Der Blick von Žarko Radaković.” On my desk are three books with numbers as titles: 18, 21, and 23, Polychromos Farbstifte auf Papier, 2007-2009.
            The painting of the book and the books of drawings offend my sensibilities. They disturb expectations heavily influenced by Lessing’s careful distinction in Laokoon between poetry (which extends in time) and painting (which extends in space). What to make, then, of a painting of the workings of a novel? How should I understand drawings that require me to see them on successive (time!) pages?
Der Blick / Pogled / The View is a novel. “Der Blick” is a painting of Žarko Radaković’s novel, published in Belgrade in 2002. The novel is dedicated to Radaković’s daughter Milica and to his late friend Julije Knifer. The painting is dedicated, de facto, to Radaković, and, of course, to Nina Pops’ much admired Julije Knifer. Using manuscript pages of Radaković’s book Knifer, Nina Pops once created a remarkable book of collages in which her drawings frame and underline and probe and question and provoke and celebrate the manuscript in the context of Knifer’s obsessive and remarkably beautiful white-on-black and black-on-white “meanders” (see some of the pages at
But back to the distinction between poetry and painting. What does it mean to paint with a novel in mind? To visualize a novel?
We’re familiar with novels that include illustrations of given scenes. My 1902 edition of Owen Wister’s The Virginian, for instance, is vividly illustrated by Arthur I. Keller (“By his side the girl walking and cheering him forward” or “When you call me that, smile”).
Nina Pops’s painting, however, given its thoughtful and vivid exploration of colors and relationships between geometric forms, could never be an illustration of Radaković’s novel about a troubled year in the life of an employee of a media firm who gazes down over a city from his office on the twentieth floor of a phallic building.
Or could it?
On her blog, Pops writes: “Ich dokumentiere in Formen alles, was ich erlebe.” What has she experienced as a reader of the novel?
The painting pictures no vivacious woman leading a horse bearing a wounded man, that’s for sure. And there’s no tense scene over a table of cards. But there is sequence—the movement in time “appropriate” to a written text. I can “read” the painting as three lines of text: from top left to right and then middle left to right and then from bottom left to right. Or, given how the top line and middle line merge as they approach the right “margin,” perhaps the “text” of the painting might be read from left to right and then back to the left and finally back to the right.
Does the blue bracket at the top left represent the first word or first scene or first character of Der Blick? Is there, a little less than 1/3 of the way into the novel, reference to a cross, with additional crosses or perhaps churches appearing twice more in the final third? Does the novel have a sad ending (dark blues and blacks)? Does it feature a connection between something soon after the beginning and something in the second third of the novel, a connection indicated by the dark red finger that reaches down from the first “line” into the second? Perhaps a character appears for a second time about this far through the novel, or perhaps a character enters a bar for a second time, or perhaps a character confronts his robotic boss a second time.
            What does it mean to “document in forms”? If there is a one-to-one key that would unlock this painting’s secrets, Pops’ visual documentation might be seen as a kind of sign language, as a simple, if complex, visual equivalent to the novel. If that’s the case, if that’s all that the painting is meant to do, this is a work of the same passing interest as the illustrations of The Virginian. Interesting, but I’d really prefer the book.
            The painting doesn’t feel, however, like an attempt at equivalence. It strikes me more like a conversation between the forms and colors of the painting and the forms and sympathies of the written novel, something like a jazz musician creating her own responses to the chord changes structuring a given tune.
            Consider a case that moves in the opposite direction, from painting to poetry. In 1915, Rainer Marie Rilke lived for four months in the München apartment of his friend Hertha Koenig, to whom he dedicated the fifth of his Duineser Elegien. Hanging in the apartment was Picasso’s large “La Famille de Saltimbanques,” a painting Rilke had recommended that she purchase. The poet was fascinated by the painting’s acrobats, especially as he remembered the acrobats he had seen rising and falling on the streets of Paris. The fifth elegy begins with a question about these acrobats: “Wer aber sind sie, sag mir, die Fahrenden, diese ein wenig Flüchtigern noch als wir selbst?” The initial answer to the question comes from Rilke’s idiosyncratic reading of the painting. His eyes traced the outline around the five standing figures, identifying a capital D, “des Dastehns großer Anfangsbuchstab.” Who are they then? Beings who stand there like the letter D.
            Rilke translated the standing group of acrobats into a Buchstabe / letter, a literal / buchstäbliches image that he then transflromed into poetry. He was not attempting to describe the painting in words. Rather, he “read” and used the painting for purposes of poetry.
            Looking at Nina Pops’ painting through Rilke’s eyes, I can find angular C’s, a W or two, several T’s and t’s (rather than the crosses I initially saw), several E’s, and a U. She is, after all, responding to a Buch/book written with Buchstaben/letters and it’s only to be expected that I find Buchstaben in the painting. There was a time in the hieroglyphic history of alphabet letters and in the runic history of Buchstaben scratched into a Buche/beech that letters were no mere abstractions used for writing but drawings of a door or a steer’s head or an eye used also to mean a variety of other things whose words also began with the same sound as “door” or “head.”
            Perhaps, then, Pops is riffing on the forms of the letters Radaković uses to write his words. Perhaps any large array of geometrical forms will include forms that resemble letters. Or perhaps each individual form is a response to a character, an incident, a scene, a phrase of the novel—in their formal and chromatic connections laying out patterns of relationship, doing so in space rather than in time. Perhaps Pops has painted the forms of her experience with the story rather than the story itself.
The relationship between book and painting is heightened by the name of the novel: Pogled / Der Blick / The View. Paintings should be about views, novels about events and characters. This novel is about a view. This painting is about events. And it’s on that richly troubled ground that the two works of art meet so precipitously and so providentially.

I turn to the three books of drawings, numbers 18, 21, and 23. Why has Nina Pops drawn these forms in sequence (24.10.2008—22:15, 24.10.2008—23.08, 24.10.2008—23:50, and so on? Because the book requires that? Or has she chosen the book to make that possible?
The successive images of the book are experienced by a reader in time, the realm of poetry rather than painting. The sequence of forms—the noted times of creation as well as the succession from page to page—tells a story (as do the notations of time in Radaković’s novel—26.11.1996, 27.11.1996, 28.11.1996 etc.).
Julije Knifer’s paintings also tell stories, depicting, as the name “meander” suggests, a flow from one point to another. As I think of Nina Pops’ forms in that context, I see a key difference. She seems to be interested in relationships rather than flow (the flow, in her case, appears as a “reader” of the books moves from page to page, from form to form). Rather than Knifer’s single black form on white or white on black, rather than the single image removed from Malewitsch’s black square only by the inflected flow of the meander, Pops works with two separate forms, or three or four forms, exploring how they relate with one other.
What happens when two forms mirror one another? When one form penetrates another? When one form embraces another, encloses another? When one form weighs heavy on another? When forms fit one another like intricate pieces of a puzzle? When one form frames another? When forms separate on a page? When they return to snuggle with one another? When a black form meets a grey one, a red form encounters a pink one? When vertical forms are disturbed by horizontal forms? When a foot enters a mouth?
When a foot enters a mouth? The discussion of geometric relationships morphs into a discussion of human relationships, just as the novel of human relationships was transmuted into geometric forms.
Nina Pops has produced, at least for me, Gestalt psychology of the finest sort. Buchstäblich.

[see more of her work HERE]
[see the actual, as opposed to virtual, work —

Kulturebunker, Köln
01.11.2012 - 11.11.2012

Nina Pops Strothotte - "Querschnitt"

In der Ausstellung "Querschnitt" zeigt die Künstlerin Nina Pops Strothotte Zeichnungen, Bilder und Bücher aus der Serie "Formen", sowie das Bild "Der Blick", Visualisierung des gleichnamiges Buches von Schriftsteller Zarko Radakovic.   

Vernissage:  1.11.2012, 18.00 Uhr.
Um 19.00 Uhr liest Schriftsteller Zarko Radakovic aus dem Buch "Der Blick" vor.
Öffnungszeiten: 2.11.2012 bis 4.11.2012, 14.00 bis 19.00 Uhr, danach nach Vereinbarung unter 0171 7753856

Alex Caldiero, from Or: Book O' Lights

Scott Abbott
Woodland Hills, Utah
20 October 2012 

Here the text read by Zarko Radakovic from his novel Der Blick at the opening of the exhibition.

Sonntag, 8.9.1996
Bleiernes Wetter. Das Bild erstarrt. Es ist zu wenig klar für echten Frost. Es ist zu wenig unklar, um die Besinnung zu verlieren. Die Ziegel auf dem Fabrikschornstein sind mehr feucht als kalt. Die Zweige im Park sind schwer vom kommenden Regen. Das Bild ist heute eine Frottage, an der das Auge des Betrachters klebt. Denn eine Frottage ist ein Quell von Farben. Sie ist die Plazenta für künftiges Leben. Sie ist der Keim des Sehens. Sie ist die Wahrheit, bevor man in den Schlaf versinkt. Sie ist der Uranfang. Ruhen. Sammeln. Der Augenblick der Verbundenheit mit allen Zeitbestimmungen. Vor allem ein Aufbruch in optische Perspektiven. (Unvergesslich sind die Alleen auf dem Weg ins Gefängnis von Padinska Skela in Serbien: Die Äste verbanden sich in der Ferne tatsächlich zum Tempelbau der Freiheitsschule, ohne die wir uns nicht einmal des Geschmackes von Nahrung, von Wasser, noch des Duftes der Freiheit bewusst wären.) Kein einziger Zug hat heute Farbe. Kein einziges Haus hebt sich farblich vom Himmel ab. Und auch die Baumwipfel in den Parks, in den Höfen, den Avenuen und Straßen verfügen nicht über die betäubende Glut des bevorstehenden Aufschlitzens, mit kirrenden Klingen, über die Brüste, den Penis, das Herz, die Klitoris; sie schnitten in das Weiße der Augen, hinter denen das Bewusstsein, ganz aufgeregt, tanzte, zur Musik der Zeit und mit beschleunigtem Atem. Heute starren die Augen in die Leere, umschattet von den Konturen des Bilduntergrunds. Das Hallengebäude erscheint wie ein gelblicher Streifen. Was ist wohl in seinem Inneren? Ein Mann an einem Tisch, das Hemd offen, verschwitzt, schmutzig, die Augen weit aufgerissen, eine Reflektorlampe auf das Gesicht gerichtet; der Schatten verbirgt seine Augenringe; über der Oberlippe Schweißperlen? Am Fenster des Hauses vor der Halle schwingt ein Vorhang; vor dem Triptychonfenster des Hauses in den Baumwipfeln zwischen Halle und dem Gebäude mit dem Fenster mit dem Vorhang: eine Frau und ein Mann: sie sitzen beim Frühstück; auf dem Platz vor dem Bahnhof manövriert ein riesiger Lastkraftwagen. Wohin führt wohl die Straße zwischen dem Fabrikschornstein und dem Kirchlein unterhalb der größeren Kirche, die, wenn man sich Verbindungslinien mit der Kathedrale, der größeren Kirche und der doppeltgehörnten Kirche denkt, einen Rhombus beschreibt? Was denkt wohl der Mann, der, seitdem dieser Teil des Textes begonnen wurde zu schreiben, vor der Garage eines fensterlosen Gebäudes am Ende der Straße steht? Wieder zieht ein Zug vorüber. Jetzt sind da kaum bemerkbare Nuancen von Blau in der Farbe der Waggons. Die Aufschrift auf dem Tank ist deutlich zu sehen. Da kommt ein zweites Güterfahrzeug: Es ist ein LKW mit zwei Anhängern: Er fegt durch die enge Straße: Er ist riesig: Gleich wird er einen Baum aus der Allee auf der linken Seite umfahren: Gleich wird er die hervorstehenden Teile der Fassade des Hauses auf der linken Seite schneiden: Gleich wird er auf die breite, viel befahrene Straße kommen, die quer durch die Stadt führt: Mit dem Autobus, der gerade vor einer Haltestelle bremst, wird er nicht zusammenstoßen: Den Mann und die Frau, die vor einem Imbissstand stehen und schweigend Bürek essen, wird er nicht überfahren: Mit dem Zeitungs- und Tabakwarengeschäft am Rande des ersten größeren Platzes wird er nicht kollidieren: Er wird nur die Straßenbahn auf dem zweiten größeren Platz ganz leicht streifen (Die Passanten werden sich umdrehen und „Achtung!“ rufen): Der LKW wird durch eine Pfütze am Rande des Platzes „schießen“ und einen Mann in weißem Anzug und mit weit aufgeschlagener Zeitung bespritzen: Der LKW wird unter dem Viadukt hindurchrasen, der Auspuff wird am Oberteil der Karosserie abbrechen: Das Dach des Anhängers wird sich verbiegen: Er wird sich auf die eine und dann auf die andere Seite verkrümmen: Er wird über ein Schlagloch springen: Er wird sich wie eine Spirale einrollen, sich jählings verbiegen, sich zusammenballen wie eine Bombe, sich der Länge und der Breite nach wie eine Ziehharmonika auseinanderziehen, drei Mal kurz knallen, zum Stillstand kommen, plötzlich, die Hymne des Erstligisten der Stadt ansingen, anstoßen und ein „Glas Bier“ auf ex austrinken. Und dann – dann werden die ersten Sonnenstrahlen durch die Wolken brechen. Über die Stadt wird sich fröhlicher, warmer, heller Dampf legen, in den die Vögel hinein- und aus dem schallendes Gelächter herausfliegen wird. Das Bild wird zu vibrieren beginnen. In allen Töpfen in allen Küchen aller Wohnungen wird das Wasser gleichzeitig zu sieden beginnen. In allen Radiatoren in allen Wohnungen wird man ein Klopfen hören, drei Mal, gleichzeitig. Zugleich wird über allen WC-Schüsseln in allen Wohnungen in der Stadt die Wasserspülung betätigt werden. Die Dauer des Wasserflusses in den WC-Schüsseln in allen WCs aller Wohnungen wird ganz, ganz unterschiedlich lang sein. Auch die Geräusche des Wassers beim Herausfließen aus den Wasserbehältern in den WCs der Wohnungen in der Stadt werden aus unterschiedlichen Tönen bestehen. Es beginnt eine „großartige Vielfalt“. Alles wird aufleben. Die Waggons des Zuges, der dann vorbeifahren wird, werden die Farben des Regenbogens tragen.

(Deutsch: Helmut Weinberger)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Bookshelves: Horizontal and Vertical

With no remaining space for new books, I bought and assembled a vertical stand, into which I have placed many of the books I'm using for the study of the standing metaphor. A book stand for standing books, in other words.

And the horizontal shelves I built out of 2 x 12 douglas fir. 

Barbed-wire books on the top shelf, along with books by Zarko Radakovic and myself. On the second shelf and part of the third shelf, books by Peter Handke. The rest of the third shelf: books by Charles Bowden, Brian Evenson, and notebooks. The fourth and bottom shelf: books by Richard Ford, Terry Tempest Williams, Michael Ondaadje, W. G. Sebald, Roberto Bolano, Cormac McCarthy, and John Berger.

[Bust by Nathan Abbott]

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interview with Peter Handke

Shocking revelation by the writer from whom I've desperately tried to keep secret that I ride a mountainbike!

Sie haben sich ein Fahrrad gekauft. / You bought a bicycle?

Yes, Sir. Nach dem Tun habe ich ein Bedürfnis, aus der Beengung herauszukommen und an Theken herumzustehen. Fernsehen mag ich dann nicht, aber an der Bar zu stehen ist wirklich im Wortsinn eine Lösung. / Yes. Sir. After working, I have the need to come out of isolation and to stand around at bars. I don't like television, but to stand at a bar is really, in the sense of the word, a solution.

Sie haben zwei erwachsene Töchter, die Ihnen vermutlich nahelegen, endlich das Schreiben von E-Mails zu erlernen. Wann knicken Sie ein? / You have two grown daughters who probably impress on you that you should finally learn to write e-mail messages. When will you buckle under?

Wenn Sie das Wort einknicken noch mal verwenden, stelle ich Sie hinaus in den Regen. / If you use the word buckle under again, I'll put you out in the rain.

Was soll auf Ihrem Grabstein stehen? / What will be on your gravestone?

Mein Grabspruch ist: Bin hinten. / My epitaph is: I'm out back.

The entire interview is here:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Moravska Noc / The Moravian Night

(The Serbian Literary Cooperative), celebrating its 120th anniversary,
has published Zarko Radakovic's translation of Peter Handke's Die moravische Nacht / The Moravian Night.

And has done so before there is an American translation available.

Congratulations to Zarko, who also has a book with David Albahari, conversations about music, about to appear.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mountain Ranges

Santaquin Peak

a close look at the meticulous construction

the wasps' nest (see photo in earlier post) ripped apart by high winds

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Edward Curtis: The Shadow Catcher

Expected to sell for more than one million dollars, summer of 2012

Timothy Egan's new book, which I've been looking forward to since he was on campus a couple of weeks ago, arrived on Saturday. Egan is a journalist who writes primarily about the American West and especially the Northwest, where he lives. His book about the dust bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won the National Book Award, and Lasso the Wind is a set of lively travel essays. 

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis tells the story (and Egan is a wonderful storyteller) of one of America's best photographers, a man frantic to document the American Indians, their ways of living, their languages, and their songs before the last of them had assimilated. Thus the "short nights." Funded by J. P. Morgan, the field work went on for several decades, resulting finally in the 20-volume The Indians of North America. As the funding continued, Morgan gradually took control of the copyrite and rights to all the plates and photos, leaving Curtis a poor man.

When I was a student at Princeton, Alf Bush, curator of the Western Americana section of the Firestone Library, showed me a set of Curtis plates, dusky prints that felt like windows through which I had unexpected access to remarkable people and ways of life. It was a deeply moving, even sacred experience.

Canyon de Chelly
And the experience of other peoples and people was augmented by beauty. Curtis was a fine, if untrained anthropologist. And he was an artist of rare ability, "catching" extradinary light and surprising forms.

Addendum: The New York Times has this series of photos by the Rev. Don Doll, more recent images of Native Americans:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Orchard/Bum Keepers or Gardners

Two events yesterday reminded me of the perils of transporting names from one culture to another (a problem I encountered when I travelled in the former Yugoslavia and discovered that skot meant vermin or cattle in Serbo-Croatian).

First, there was Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian "tree-gardner" who broke free-fall records 

24 Miles, 4 Minutes and 834 M.P.H.

in the sky above Roswell, New Mexico.

Second, there was the San Francisco Giant's starting pitcher in the first game against St. Louis, Madison Bumgarner (a bastardized version—Elis Island shenanigans?—of Baumgartner). A bum-gardner! If you're going to drop the "a" then for sure you'll want to drop the "t" or "d."

In today's second game, San Francisco's starting pitcher will be Ryan Vogelsang ("birdsong").

Addendum: the final game in Detroit's sweep of the Yankees was won by a pitcher named Scherzer / Joker!

Second Addendum: Friday night, St. Louis rookie Trevor Rosenthal / Rose Valley pitched two innings, striking out 4.

Third Addendum: game seven German-named pitchers--Lohse, Motte, Afeldt.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

Spaziergang: Above Woodland Hills

the day begins

last leaves on the aspen

looking south over Woodland Hills

looking east over Woodland Hills

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Simple and Quiet: Stifter's Witiko Rides and Stands

Nerves jangling, uneasy for several days, unable to concentrate on my writing, I turn to the Austrian Adalbert Stifter's 1867 historical novel, rumored to be the most boring book ever written. 

This should slow me down, I thought, this ought to order my thoughts and give them weight the way good sentences can.

An armed young man rides through woods on a fine horse: 

"Da der Reiter die Schlucht hinaus rit, sah er weder rechts noch links, noch nach der stadt zurück. Es war eine frühe Stunde eines Tages des Spätsommers, der schon gegen den Herbst neigte. Der Tag war heiter, und die Sonne schien warm hernieder. Das Pferd ging durch die Schlucht in langsamem Schritte. Als es über sie hinausgekommen war, ging es wohl schneller, aber immer nur im Tritte. Es ging einen langen Berg hinan, dann eben, dann einen Berg hinab, eine Lehne empor, eine Lehne hinunter, ein Wäldchen hinein, ein Wäldchen hinaus, bis es beinahe Mittag geworden war."

It's a passage of motion, of riding and walking through a gorge, up a hill, along a flat section, down the hill, up a slope and down, into a wood and out of a wood until it was almost midday.

The rider comes to some houses built on uneven ground:

"Die Häuser lagen in Unordnung zerstreut, und der Grund, auf dem sie standen, war ungleich. Es war hier schon kühler als an der Donau; denn da in Passau viele Obstbäume standen, ragte hier nur der Waldkirschbaum empor, er stand vereinzelt, und stand in einer Gestalt, die in manchen Teilen zerstückt war, und bewies, daß viele harte Stürme in den Wintern an ihm vorübergegangen waren. In sehr schöner Bildung dagegen stand die Eberesche umher, sie stand bei vielen Häusern, und mischte das Grün ihres Laubes und das beginnende Rot ihrer Trauben zu dem Grau der Dächer. Die Herberge war ein Steinhaus, stand auch neben Ebereschen. . . . Auf der Gasse standen mehrere steinerne Tischen. . . . Hinter den Schoppen stand Waldwuchs. . . ."

The rider stops an an inn, eats, drinks, and gives precise orders for how his horse is to be cared for. The conversation with the innkeeper is precise and courteous. A conversation with another man contrasts the young rider's knowledgeable self-assurance with the man's uncertain braggadicio. The care with which the young man performs each action reminds me of the formality of the hunt and meticulous excoriation of the deer in Gottfried's Tristan.

Then the young man rides on, again up a slope and down and into a wood, repeating the motion of the earlier scene:

"Er ritt in der Richtung zwischen Morgen und Mitternacht fort. Er ritt wieder eine Lehne hinan, eine Lehne hinab, ein Wäldchen aus, ein Wäldchen ein, der Boden wurde immer unwirtlicher und war endlich mit Wald bedeckt."


What could be more simple? The description moves from verbs of movement to verbs of standing. And then continues the movement.

And my mind has slowed down, is more ordered.

A few pages later Witiko meet a girl and the verb "to stand" sprouts like weeds:

"Sie blieben stehen, sahen auf ihn hin, und er stand gleichfalls, und sah auf sie. . . . das andere blieb stehen. . . . 'Was stehst du mit deinen Rosen hier da?' 'Ich stehe hier in meiner Heimat da', antwortete das Mädchen; 'stehst du auch in derselben'?

. . . and so on. If the novel continues this way, with this emphasis on standing, it will explain why some people find it boring (they just stand there?) and it will give me an additional source for my study of the standing metaphor.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Habeas Corpus, Gobbets of Gore

The founders of our nation well understood what Alexander Hamilton called the "fatal evil" of arbitrary confinement. They enshrined the "Great Writ" of habeas corpus — an individual right that preceded even the Bill of Rights — into Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution. In Federalist No. 84, Hamilton expressed the founders' view that "arbitrary imprisonments" were "the favorite and most formidable instrument of tyranny" and that "confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."

The National Law Journal / 10-02-2012
Yesterday Sam Rushforth sent me a link to an article just published in The National Law Journal, a strong but despairing essay written by his brother Brent and three other lawyers who represent clients currently held at The Guantanamo Base in Cuba.

It is an ongoing and despicable chapter in the history of the United States.

Last night, not able to sleep, I finished reading Brian Evenson's second science fiction novel in the Dead Space series, Catalyst, following the earlier Martyr (he also has a science fiction novel titled Aliens: No Exit).

As with the earlier science fiction books—published under the name of B. K. Evenson rather than Brian Evenson—my expectations (based on Brian's literary fiction) of exquisite form and brilliant sentences and pellucid prose had to be set aside. In return, I was given a page-turning plot involving two brothers—one fairly normal, the other schizophrenic—a Marker like the one in Martyr (an obelisk with the ability to enter minds and press toward Convergence with the help of worshipful Unitologists), and gory battle with awkward but deadly creatures summoned forth out of corpses.

I read lots of books, mysteries mostly, just for the pleasure of following a good plot. Brian's novel fit that bill perfectly, down to the inevitable but unsuspected horrific ending. But three aspects of this novel grabbed my attention in a more serious way.

1. The brothers. The obligations and connections of brotherhood. The pains of loss, separation, worry, and fear. My own relationship and non-relationship with my brother John were evoked repeatedly, often painfully.

2. The horror. Brian knows the human mind. The best parts of the book, at least for me, involve the troubled mind of Istevan, the brother who hears voices and has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is real inside his head. He sees patterns others don't and becomes the perfect vessel for The Marker, which organizes and reorganizes his brain in its quest for convergence. There were moments when this book simply frightened the shit out of me, and they were all psychological scenes rather than the scenes of fighting or physical danger.

3. The extrajudicial torture (that's redundant, isn't it) and rendition of Istevan to a secret prison colony where he is held with other political prisoners without any recourse left me shivering and cursing. It was, of course, our own recent American experience under W. Bush and the dick Cheney. And it continues for 169 prisoners in Cuba. 

Brent Rushforth et al end their article with this statement:

A curtain of utter darkness now threatens to fall over most of the 169 Guantánamo detainees, interned indefinitely without charge and without recourse, including our clients. Having reviled the Soviet Union for its gulags, we have, it seems, permanently institutionalized our own at Guantánamo. It is ironic but somehow fitting that we've managed to do this on the southeast coast of Cuba — adjacent to, indeed within, the territory of a despotic regime that we have opposed for several generations but now, sadly, choose to emulate in this disgraceful way.

Finally, in the dark of the early morning, light from the half-moon competing with my reading light, I laughed suddenly and loudly, a good and yet grotesque laugh, a ghastly laugh occasioned by this little poem of a sentence: "The walls were smeared with blood and gobbets of gore scattered the floor."