Friday, September 28, 2012

Phenomenology


Not phenomenology in the strict philosophical sense, but certainly under the influence.

Four experiences in the last 24 hours, each in its own way, made me think about what and how and why I experience things the way I do.

1. Minutes before the sun rose into the notch in the mountains to the east, I looked down at the trail Blue and I were following and saw orange. Neon, chemical orange. Small rocks and compacted places in the dirt were tinged orange, if I looked directly at them. The color disappeared if I broadened my focus. But if I looked closely, the next rock or flat place took on that orange hue. Were my eyes going bad? I wondered. Was it because the sun, which was already shining on the trees above us, was just about to shine on us as well? Whatever the cause, the effect of seeing differently concerned and intrigued me.

2. I drove Lyn to the endoscopy clinic for her colonoscopy. I've done endos on my mountainbike and use colons often in my writing and Alex once suggested that my reluctance to have a colonoscopy might be relieved if I asked for a semi-colonoscopy—but still the two words strike me as particularly ugly. The previous day and night had been a nightmare for Lyn—forced liquids and loose bowels preparing for this moment. We got out of the car, entered the building, took the elevator to the third floor, entered the clinic, and I waited while Lyn checked in. A TV hanging from the ceiling in one corner of the room blared—visually blared as well as aurally blared—"The Price is Right!" It was a group of especially obnoxious aliens cavorting (carefully, according to the rules) on the screen, hugging and touching and choosing boxes with money folded into their hands. Rather than succumbing to nausea, I turned to watch the hallway outside the door. A man passed in green scrubs. A heavy man in t-shirt and long shorts (there's a paradox) and sandals lumbered (a good, if overused word) past. A tiny lady with white hair was followed by a young woman in green scrubs. There were others, all of them real—no whiff of alien origen. But every one of them, medical personel as well as patients, was walking awkwardly, even painfully, as if afflicted with with colorectal problems. Person after person. Legs farther apart than usual. A slight forward bend. Heels up, walking on the balls of their feet. I am not making this up. At least I think I wan't making this up.

3. Last night, darkness gathered around me except for the reading light shining on D'Arcy McNickle's Wind From An Enemy Sky (Native Americans and barbed wire), my glass half empty, I looked at the long window next to the door and saw a framed still life. It was beautiful, striking, intriguing—haunting in the way surprises sometimes haunt. The drink had something to do with the experience, as did the darkness and light. The delight came with seeing differently, I think. The reflection made me . . . reflective.

4. This morning shortly before 6 I looked out a window to the west and was surprised to see the nearly full moon, red with a bit of haze in the air, poised just above the mountains. I stood and watched it slip behind the horizon—and was happy to have witnessed that. When surprised by something in nature, a red maple leaf, for instance, in a setting of yellows and browns, or in this case the disappearing big fat red moon, I experience pleasure. Why is that?


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wildflowers: Addendum


Okay, I said I had made the last wildflowers post. But it wouldn't be right not to include these very latest blooms, now would it? This is an aster, I think, but I'm not sure what species.



An old but still functioning barbed-wire fence.


It's mine! Don't even think about it.


Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sonosopher


Saturday night, at Ken Sanders Rare Books, the DVD for The Sonosopher was released. (Contact the store for a copy.) Alex performed new and old work and, because the store was absolutely packed for the event, I got to stand to the side and behind him so I could see the score—the text and images Alex spoke and sounded. The film itself often weaves text and sound together in a similar way. 

Once again, Alex's reading made me come alive with unexpected insight, with sudden wit, with—as always—a profound focus on words and language. My head is a more spacious, more interesting place this morning after having heard and seen Alex Saturday night.

He drew me out of and into myself. He made me laugh — that laugh that accompanies wit (and the word has its root in Wissen—to know).

It's a beautiful object, the DVD, rich with an image of Alex in mask and rug, with a self portrait, and with an enigmatic thin-lipped drawing.

Travis Low and Torben Bernhard are the filmmakers and in this, their first (but not last film), they have created a film so thoughtful and striking and even audacious that I'm left to wonder what marvelous films might be slouching toward us from the future.





Friday, September 21, 2012

Wildflowers: Final Edition + Wild Things


Okay, colored leaves aren't wildflowers, but they take my breath away the same way wildflowers do.

The reds are maples, the yellows aspens, the greens scrub oaks that will turn later.




Finally, a couple of recent finds: 

In the foreground a scrap of velvet rubbed off hardened antlers by a mule deer. Blue gets the credit for finding this and for chewing on it a bit. The velvet is like an inverted placenta, providing blood and nourishment for the growing antlers. Rilke would have liked this inside-out process, which he invokes with other examples in his Duino Elegies.

Just above the velvet, a feather from a flicker, those swooping, noisy woodpeckers that flash striped-orange when they fly.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Quercus gambelii: the shape of things


Before they lose their chlorophyll, I wanted to look at several leaves from the scrub oak, side by side. 
This morning I did that (with Blue's help).
Each is recognizable as an oak leaf. 
And each is different from the others.
There are as many as 11 lobes and as few as 7.
Wishing for more words to describe what I'm seeing, more words to help me see better, I take at look at Flora of North America:

"Leaf blade elliptic to obovate or oblong, deeply to shallowly 4-6-lobed, (40-)80-120(-160) × (25-)40-60(-100) mm, membranous, base truncate to cuneate, margins entire or coarsely toothed, lobes oblong, rounded or subacute, sinuses acute or narrowly rounded at base, reaching more than 1/2 distance to midrib, secondary veins 4-6 on each side, each passing into lobe, branched, apex broadly rounded."

In other words, given the generous use of "or," quite varied.
And beautiful.



Monday, September 17, 2012

Hermann Lenz: Seltsamer Abschied / Strange Departure



Looking for good prose, hungry for the beauty of quiet sentences, I took Hermann Lenz's novel Seltsamer Abschied off my shelf. I last read it in Essen, Germany, in 1991.


I found the quiet sentences — more about them later — and I was also flooded with memories.


I was working on a book about standing as metaphor (I'm still working on that book) and had come to Essen in part because the Folkwang Museum had a sculpture by Nam June Paik that I wanted to write about, one that recreated a section of Stonehenge with televisions and electrical circuitry and video tape of the actual site. Here are a couple of photos of the piece.




I had come from Cologne, from stimulating conversations with Zarko about his work, and I had a lot to think about. Long hours of welcome solitude translated into experiences like this one:

23 May In the train — the sight of the halfmoon in a clear sky elicited a deep melancholy. I wanted only to be alone, to be immersed in the forms of nature, to be creatively engaged, to be undisturbed, sunk in contemplation. I wanted sadness and the pleasures of sadness. I wanted, consciously, absolutely nothing. In me was only the clear halfmoon through the train window that then disappeared at a curve in the tracks and yet was, surprisingly, still there, inside the train, a perfect mirroring, and then, only then, the moon disappeared.

There's still a ticket for public transportation in the book, good for 4 trips. Paid for in German Marks. 

The novel is about a writer named Eugen Rapp, a writer who is aging and whose life work has not been especially well received, a writer who is unsettled by uncertainty and yet secure in the quiet life he leads.

The first sentences, in my translation:

The painter, named Bretschneider, stood in the attic room with its new coat of white paint, looked around, and said: "There's a sign on the wall: Smoking Strictly Forbidden! Even if you can't see it."

Eugen nodded, and Herr Bretschneider looked at the corner where he had had to paint over the dark accretion of Eugen's pipe smoke three times.

 Eugen's wife is named Hanne (as is Lenz's) and this novel, in the third person, is a gently ironic self portrait. As the novel nears its end, Hanne hears that a young and very well known Austrian writer, Stephan Koval, has said in public that Eugen is one of his favorite authors. Ultimately, Koval arranges for his own publisher to take on Eugen's work. Egon visits him in Frankfurt Kronberg and is moved to see a basket "in which a colorful pair of child's pants lay next to a book, one that Eugen had written."

They sit together on a roof terrace and drink wine and listen to the quiet evening. They hear young voices and someone calls up to the terrace: "Are you Herr Koval?"

Stephan stood at the railing and looked down. — "Yes," he said — "Won't you come with us? We are going to climb over the swimming-pool fence and go skinny dipping." — "No, I don't want to do that," Stephan answered and was asked, from the darkness, what the message of his 'Kaspar' was. — "That life is hard."

In a protective tone of voice he answered, upright at the balcony railing; demanding respect. The way he had established distance without destroying the sense of connection, this was the memory that remained when he was back in Stuttgart.

There is more about a growing friendship, about Koval's young daughter, about the essay in the newspapers that bring readers to Eugen's books and changes his life, and finally about the departure from the attic room and the family home.

Peter Handke, of course, is the young Austrian author of the play Kaspar (translated into lively and provocative English by Michael Roloff) and Eugen is none other than Hermann Lenz.

Four years after I read Lenz's novel, I visited Peter Handke in Chaville, France, where he lives, and on December 21, 1995, he wrote to "Lieber Hermann, liebe Hanne . . . Inzwischen war hier ein Mormone und Deutsch-Professor aus Utah-USA, der Deine Bücher schön in sich hatte; er war in Germany sogar bei einer Lesung von Dir." (In the meantime a Mormon and German professor from Utah-USA was here, a man who had your books beautifully in himself; he even had attended a reading of yours in Germany. —from the volume of letters between the two authors called Berichterstatter des Tages).

This morning, once again, I have this book beautifully within me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ich bin ein Kölsch

Looking through some old things I found this June 19, 1999 issue of Cologne's / Köln's Express newspaper. Bill Clinton, whom most Germans adored (unless, of course, he had directed  a cruise missile into your mother's apartment block in Belgrade—Zarko's mother), had come to town for the G-8 summit. I was in town as well, vising my friends Zarko and Anne.

After dinner and several of Cologne's signature beers (Kölsch), President Clinton stepped out of the restaurant to find a crowd of well-wishers and press. This would be a good time to emulate John Kennedy, he evidently thought, and delivered himself of what made a giant headline in the next morning's paper: Ich bin ein Kölsch. He could have said I am a Pilsner, or I am a wheat beer, or even I am a Budweiser (a citizen of the town Budweis in the Czech Republic). But since he was in Köln, and since he wasn't quite clear that a citizen of Köln is called a Kölner, he simply said Ich bin ein Kölsch.




Equinox: Storing Light

Equinox -- that pivital moment when daylight is so much shorter than it was at the solstice that something has to be done to prepare for the gathering darkness and accompanying melancholy. What to do (other than making good soups from freshly harvested fruits and vegetables)? Store up potential light and heat.

8 feet high, 8 feet long. This ought to get us through the winter.




Over this past week I re-read Sam's and my Wild Rides, Wildflowers manuscript and notice that about this time every fall we noted that the light was richer. I had the same feeling this morning walking with Blue and wondered just why it feels richer.

One answer, the one that any photographer would think of, is that when light slants through more atmosphere colors get richer. Early morning light and evening light is just more interesting.

Overlaying that physical reality is the subjective mood that approaching winter brings with it. The light is more precious this time of year.

Finally, there may be something about the browns and yellows, still in the context of the green oaks, that enhances the light. The rabbitbrush is in full bloom right now, beseiged by hundreds of bees, and bright and light and cheering in their bounty.



Friday, September 14, 2012

Nina Pops -- Form and Content


Artist Nina Pops (who lives in Cologne, Germany and who has done several projects with my friend Zarko Radakovic) just sent me these pages from a 76-page book of hers: "Variations on the Work and Life of the Painter Julije Knifer. Collage, 76 pages, 21 x 29.7 cm, polychrome pencils and graphite on paper and manuscript version of the book Knifer by Zarko Radakovic." 

Other pages of the book can be seen here: http://ninapops.blogspot.com/2012/04/knifer-buch.html


The works are thoughtful in that way that makes a viewer thoughtful. They raise questions. They inspire delight. They make connections and sabotage assumptions.

Some responses—first the page, then my thoughts:



The page as a whole strikes the eye. The slightly tinted paper. The lighter sheet of the manuscript page. The text in barbed-wire lines of black, some of them badly spliced. The four forms (visually related to what Knifer called meanders) in grey, red, black, and dark black. The artist's own note at the bottom right:10.1.2003 (?) 13:06 Atelier (?) Köln 1. First page of the book. Finished at 1:06 p.m. in her Köln studio on the first day of October 2003 (if I'm reading the tiny print correctly).

And already I have moved from the whole to the parts, a motion of understanding unavoidable given the nature of understanding and what Hans Georg Gadamer called the hermeneutic circle: you can only understand the whole in light of the parts and the parts in the context of the whole.

Four figures, fat figures, dancing figures one of which is bright red, dancing elephants vertical when seen separately and horizontal as a group of four, four figures that contrast in their abstraction with the scratched words and sentences of Zarko's text that would, if I could read the Serbo-Croatian (for these pages were written in 1993, in Nizza/Nice on the 23rd of March, in a year when the language was under vicious attack from all sides but might still, at least nostalgically, be called Serbo-Croatian and not yet, brutally, Serbian OR Croatian, which would sever, then, the language of the two friends Knifer and Radakovic) evoke meanings beyond the words.

This line of thinking is trying to separate the abstract from the concrete, the artist's image from the writer's words. But whatever sense that makes makes no sense, I discover as I write. In this work the lines of text and the lines of crossed-out text can be read, it's true, but they are transfigured in this context to lines that can be seen. The artist, while commenting visually on the text that itself evokes the work of the artist Knifer, has ripped the text out of its context to comment on her drawings. Her date and place and time are equivalents to the writer's place and date.

However! She has produced a book! Her work has become pages of a book. The motion goes both ways.

The manuscript page takes me back to the page in the printed book titled Knifer, to my copy of which is generously inscribed "my closest friend and spiritual brother," to page 18, to a clean page without the crossed-out words and phrases, to the page that means what it says but has lost the manuscript page's ability to mean also what can be seen.



Page 6 of the artist's book—of the artist Nina Pops, that is, not of the artist Zarko Radakovic (she has taught me to make this distinction). The text, in its filtered and fined form comprises parts of pages 20 and 21 in the printed book. The manuscript page, moved down and to the left as opposed to the one above that dominated the collage from above, is now embraced by red arms, connected to the black form above and on it—graphite indented by vertical and horizontal inlets. This almost sexual embrace leaves me gasping. "The Rape of the Manuscript." Move over, Sabine women.


Vertical fingers rise against horizontal lines. This is a different kind of embrace—phallic, it's true—but gentler in a way, perhaps because of the multiple columns, perhaps because of the light grey, perhaps because the black base is heavy (but not too heavy) at the bottom of the page and not pressing down from above.

It may also be phallic only in my mind. We'll have to ask Herr Rorschach about this one.


Notes on a text. Commentary sketched out and outlined and tied visually to the relevant passages. This artist is a careful and delicate reader.


What is above differentiated from what follows. What stands alone without margin framed by finger-jointed wood, black moulding, rabbeted respectfully. The framing I see is not to make the page pretty. The frame doesn't match the furniture in the room. This frame comments and elaborates and respects and highlights. 


I've got the appetite to write 76 responses to this set of works that is already an intimage conversation. This could be an intellectually lusty ménage à trois.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Avian Dactyls


This story begins in the forest outside Tübingen. Sunday afternoon, overcast, late spring. The odor of fermenting leaf mold. Snails leave faint traces of themselves on the wet path. Hegel and Hölderlin and Schelling walked this path as students. 

I recite lines from a classical German elegy, Schiller's "Der Spaziergang" (The Walk):

Sei mir gegrüßt, mein Berg mit dem rötlich strahlenden Gipfel, 

Sei mir Sonne gegrüßt, die ihn so lieblich bescheint . . .

The distichs feature 6 poetic feet, dactyls mostly, followed by 6  more, the second line broken by a caesura:

/--/-/--/-/--/-
/-/--/ /--/--/

I match my stride to the waltzing rhythm of the poem. 

Flashes of light from along the path catch my eye. The trees are planted in rows! I mock my eighteenth-century enthusiasms.



The story continued this morning. Blue and I were out walking, just after the sun rose. He sniffed at the scents left from night passages and I listened to and watched the raucous scrub jays and magpies and flickers arguing in the sky.

Scrub jays and magpies and flickers, I chanted. Magpies and scrub jays and flickers. Flickers and magpies and scrub jays. Dactyls whichever way I said it. I matched my steps to the waltzing rhythms of the bird names.

And then there was an explosion from above us, just a few feet above us, a boom of sudden flight, a burst of disturbed air, a cluck cluck cluck as what felt like a massive bird skimmed our heads and glided across the ravine. A Pheasant!

Scrub jays and magpies and flickers and (what could have continued the dactyls but surprised us as a caesura) PheaSant!

/--/--/--/ /


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Morning light, East and West


to the east / with bird

to the west / catching light under the clouds

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Epigraphs for Wild Rides, Wildflowers


Reworking Sam's and my book a penultimate time, I'm thinking of epigraphs for the six sections. Here are some first thoughts, all from authors we have read and talked about together:

"Old men with dirt under their fingernails may be of some help. Old dogs who've paid their dues and been 'around the block,' who can look at their grandchildren and see a little ahead. I remember a senior anthropologist in Boston whose house was a couple of blocks from a five-alarm fire that broke out, interrupting his work. When he heard the sirens and bells he stepped outside, looked at the smoke and the ladders going up, wet a finger and lifted it, and then went back inside to rap on the keys of his typewriter again. He had been around the world and assessed a lot of fires, bar fights, auto crashes, divorce wrangles, tribal cultures, guerrilla wars, and had that dash of Churchillian dignity a wicked old, randy old sea dog has."
Edward Hoagland, Sex and the River Styx

"I wanted to know shadbush from elderberry, dogwood from chokecherry, bluebirds from indigo buntings, yellowthroats from yellow warblers, the French horn from an English horn. . . . It's not expensive to pay attention to the phases of the moon, to transplant lemon lilies and watch a garter snake birthing forty babies and a catbird grabbing some, or listen to the itchy-britches of the Canada geese as autumn waxes. We will be motes in the ocean again soon, leached out of the soil of some graveyard, and everlastingly rocking.
"That is my sense of an afterlife and my comfort. The hurly-burly of streambed turmoil will be our last rush-hour traffic—thocketing through boulders, past perch pools and drift logs. Enough, we will say, reaching tidewater. We saw enough."
Edward Hoagland, Sex and the River Styx

"Yet some of us have the nerve, the insolence, the brass, the gall to whine about the limitations of our earthbound fate and yearn for some more perfect world beyond the sky. We are none of us good enough for the world we have and yet we dream of Heaven."
Edward Abbey, Appalachian Wilderness

"This book proceeds, much the way I do, in a disorderly, relentless fashion. It is fat with contradictions but sounds one steady note: the land. . . . Here the land always makes promises of aching beauty and the people always fail the land."
Charles Bowden, Blue Desert

"Giving some new source of water to a city in the American West, for example, is akin to sending a case of whisky to an alcoholic. It does not solve a problem—it simply puts it off for a spell."
Charles Bowden, Killing the Hidden Waters

"A reader may ask: What is the writer's relationship with the place and the people he writes about?"
John Berger, Pig Earth

"When time is pulse, as music makes it, eternity is in the gaps between."
John Berger, To the Wedding

"He called and called. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hand and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.
Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

"A time will come of course when walking, even walking in the heartland, will no longer be possible, or no longer effective. But then the story will be here and reenact the walking.
Peter Handke, Repetition


"He went back the way he had come, again taking his time, seeing everything now from its opposite side. It was as though he made the place dimensional and substantial by his walking both ways over it, granting it the same interest in going as he had in coming. To his mind it was old beyond knowing and yet new, timeless and yet momentary, so that watching it as once more it opened before him, old as he was, he was renewed."
Wendell Berry, “At Home”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Photos of Barbed Wire

The Flowerville blogger (http://fortlaufen.blogspot.com), as fine a photographer as she is a reader, sent these photos of English barbed wire:




PHOTOS and SEEING

Does taking pictures keep me from seeing? 

When I thought of this before, I had in mind those hords of tourists snapping their cameras at whatever the tour guide is pointing at.

I also was thinking about pointing a camera and clicking the shutter in contrast to the process of looking, drawing, looking more carefully, drawing, looking again, drawing.

And finally, I thought about the contrast between me with my little camera set on automatic for snapshots (the OED says that "shot" has an early form of "scott") and the real photographers I know with their technical expertise, their ability to see and frame and light and choose focus and speed and then to develop or work digitally with the photo until they have a work of art.

Last night, however, sitting on the deck with a good book and a hoppy local IPA, I saw the light change out of the corner of my eye and turned to see this:


and then, this close-up view of the light in the sage


and then this to the east


and then the light in the rabbitbrush to the north


and then the light in the drying penstemons
with the maples red on the mountain


And finally, I thought I had been thinking the question of seeing and photography badly.

A real photographer could tell me how to make each of my photos better, no question about it.

But with the camera in my hand, I went from wonder to wonder, looking at the light, clicking the shutter, looking at the light, clicking, looking, clicking. 

I wasn't trying to be a photographer. I wasn't a tourist. I was trying to see. Trying to see the sage and the rabbitbrush. Trying to see the light. Trying to see the thing itself, not the photographic representation of the thing.

Of course, the photos remain after the seeing and then can be posted here to remind me of what I saw. But they are secondary. Last night I saw the light in and on and around the sage. It was thrilling.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Barbed wire: Utah or Japan?

My friend Jan Wellington sent this photo yesterday, asking if it were Utah or Japan.

Why the question?

Because of the spare form, perhaps. Because of the real fence that is tending here, somewhere between the fence and its reflection, toward abstraction.

Fences have that general tendency, a characteristic Christo exploited for his "Running Fence," and barbed-wire fences almost disappear in most light (try taking a photo of barbed wire and you'll see that immediately).

photo by jan wellington



christo's running fence

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wildflowers (and fruits) #22 + Fauna

A quiet and sunny morning walk  (after severe thunderstorms yesterday).

A couple of the wildflowers are noted for the first time this year. The others are tough enough to have kept blooming over a summer of drought and high heat and deserve a reprise.



taking note of blue, who has appeared from the side of the house


rabbit brush / Chrysothamnus nauseosus (and it does stink!)

Rocky Mountain Beeplant or stinking clover / Cleome serruluta

Blue in autumn grasses chewing on (instead of retrieving) a stick

sunflowers

goldenrod

milkweed

scrub oak

and yes, it's Indian Summer