Connect with Us
Saturday
Apr132019

Our own black hole 

The black hole they're talking about isn't up above but down below, here on earth, connected as one planet is connected to another to the notion that as we're becoming more and more well informed and knowledgable about almost everything we're even more in the dark, becoming ever more and more powerless. 

For all the benefits of the past--plastics, antibiotics, the extraction industy, air travel--that promised to make us masters of the earth seem to be turning into liabilities.

Consequently I was delighted when the Israeli spacecraft crashed into the moon the other day, thinking it might be some sort of spiritual signal advising all of us to slow down, to pay more attention to the earth, the densest planet in the solar system. Fortunately no one was hurt, and there was no report of Palestinian settlements. 

Gottfried Benn, a writer with whom I'm currently engaged, wrote in the mid 1950s: "The exploration of outer space hasn't yet reached the stage where we could start to feel something again at the sight of the stars."  

'Giotto', painting in progress, 2'3" x 2'3", acrylic on canvas, 2019.

Friday
Apr122019

3 Tropes and reading Robert Lax

The old trope: man's inhumanity to man.

The new trope: no matter how well you think know someone you don't really know them.

The future trope: you can't really know yourself.

 After reading Robert Lax a reader sees it's possible to drill into one word and by drilling to find new meanings. And yet whenever one is at a loss for words it's probably a good thing. 

Sunday
Apr072019

Bernie Sanders takes notes

Why would anyone make art for money unless one was starving and homeless and could sell the art for food or shelter, or both? Money is not why art is made. Though sometimes art makes money, making money on art doesn't make it art.

Most artists I know are socialists, if they're anything at all. I asked a writer friend recently about his politics. He took a few moments to think about my question and then said, "I guess I'm a Marxist" as if he was surprising himself with his answer.

I don't know what I am. I know what I'm not, I'm not a Republican or a Democrat. I've been down in the dumps politically ever since the 2000 Bush swindle in Florida, and the more reading of American history I do the downer in the dumps I get. Woe is me and the hundred of thousands like me.

Since I turned 18 here's who I've had as my President--Nixon, Ford, Carter*, Reagan, HW Bush, Clinton, W Bush, Obama, Trump--a pretty sorry lineup. I put an asterisk beside Carter, who is retrospect wasn't terrible and is, as another friend put it, doing a really good job as an ex-President. I went door-to-door for Obama and look what I got! An inflated re-empowered Wall St., Guantanamo still open for business, and Trump, yes Trump who I lay on Obama's doorstep. But that's a subject for some other time.

I don't know what to say about Trump, I really don't. I don't understand the appeal. When I watch him speak, and I do with a kind of fascination, I watch the way his mouth moves. I learned this when I had a business associate who lied--watch the mouth move, the mouth will tell you as much as or more than the eyes. I know the type, a real estate developer. The game is all about using the word "great" as many times as you can in your presentation to the planning commission and in your press releases.

I guess what surprises me is how inept Trump is. I thought he'd at least be a decent administrator/businessman. That Cabinet! It really is a chamber of little horrors. there's no other way to look at it. A NY TIMES columnist was writing a weekly column, a contest to name the worst cabinet member, and each week Trump's team would joust among themselves for first position. Ross, DeVos, Perry, Mnuchin, Carson, take your pick. Don't forget either that Mitch McConnell's wife works for Trump as a Cabinet Member.

My idea for a Trump 'buyout' got no traction. I still think everyone dismayed with Trump could pitch in a modest amount of money, say $27 per person, to be dumped into a big sack and delivered to The White House in exchange for his resignation. At the very least it would be a great pr stunt and probably make the national news. The odds in Vegas of his accepting it would depend of course on the amount collected, but I'd wager they'd be 50/50.

Which brings me to Bernie Sanders, a socialist. I'm unequivocally backing Bernie. There's no more deserving candidate. I don't even care if he can win, which is the knock on him of course by the pundits. When I watched Trump's State of the Union speech, Bernie was the only person taking notes. While everyone else was clapping like the trained seals they are or sitting stone-faced like the trained seals they are too, Bernie was actually listening and taking notes with a Bic pen. This guy's a serious man, probably too serious for his fellow citizens, many of whom detest socialism without really knowing what socialism is, never mind that they're already operating in what could pass for a socialist system, and embrace the fantastical lies of a rich kid capitalist bully instead. 

As to our pundits. I have to laugh when one of the talk show 'news' anchors asks a pundit if they'd, "Mind staying on for a few minutes more." Hehe.

Saturday
Apr062019

Joe Biden at Mar-A-Lago

I don't know which televised spectacle yesterday was more enthralling: Joe Biden's speech to the electric workers union or Trump's appearance in Calexico, CA. at a congregation of border enforcement officals

Biden's kind of interesting again, an old pol who came up in the day when touching a woman's hair was thought to be a way to get her vote. I watched him last night on C-SPAN, the go-to tv network especially in times of national peril. He really worked the room! "You guys are the best, you should be proud of yourselves, the hedge fund managers on Wall St. couldn't do it without you! Don't ever forget that! You're the heart and soul of America and I won't forget you." And so forth.

The electricians couldn't stop clapping, they must have felt flattered. Flattery is something Biden's good at, as most pols are, knowing how to make flattery sound just like empathy. But what a strange compliment! The conflation of unionizd electrical laborers with Wall Street white collar criminals! 

There's something strange about Biden. I can't quite put my finger on it. His teeth are too white for someone in his 70s, for instance.

Watching Biden speak to the electricians, listening to the words he used, I conclude that Biden's the kind of guy who says the same old things over and over until they sound almost new again, which makes him more-or-less the prototypical Democratic Presidential candidate, a party that's having a hard time catching up with the times. I found it quite odd to hear him refining his stump speech before he's announced whether or not he's going to run. He's running, I thought, this is only a little warm-up exercise before the big race.

On the other side of the country Donald Trump, Chief Executive of Real Estate Management, was meeting with a group of border officials in Calexico, California on the subject of "the border crisis."

Just as as Trump was about to enter the room someone announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, The President of the United States", and only then did the door open. 

Trump sat between a chubby female border guard and Kirstjen Nielsen, the current US Secretary of Homeland Security. Nielsen's quite scary in her own right, having come up through the ranks in the Bush Administration, learning the arts of waterboarding and other forms of torture from the masters.

Sitting down, Trump took a piece of paper out of his suit pocket. His NOTES! The real estate developer at a press conference announcing the groundbreaking of a new hotel. I know the type, having seen them in action.

Trump glanced at his notes! We need a wall! We've got to build it! Thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants are pouring through the border. Many are criminals! So many criminals. The drugs coming in are unbelievable! and so forth.

Only at Mar-A-Lago, his golf club resort in Palm Beach, FL. could Trump have been happier. Everyone in the room agreed with him! And truly picturesque was the overt fawning of the border officials, many of whom were taking cell-phone pictures of Trump during the meeting. You'd think there'd be at least one of two among them who might challenge official wisdom, if it can be called wisdom, as so much of this national initiative to close the border deserves official scrutiny. 

Watching the proceedings for about 15 of the full 40 minutes (another plug for C-SPAN, that they announce at the very beginning of these little charades how long they'll last) did I finally get it. Trump was talking to his base! These men and women voted for the guy. Jeez, how dumb am I?

I guess the best that can be said of Trump is that he treats the job of being President as if it's a real estate deal.

This morning I consulted de Tocqueville and found this: "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." 

Thursday
Apr042019

"Artists and Old Age": Gottfried Benn

Somewhat aware of Gottfried Benn (1886-1957) as a poet I've just read his essay, "Artists and Old Age.

A Benn poem reads like it's bandaged--he was a doctor, Herr Doktor, as well as a soldier--and full of thorns, not the kind of thorns (a rose) Rilke died from but the kind of thorns that grow larger and larger from the moment they enter you, ever expanding thorns made of thorny language that thorn their way into the reader. A Benn poem can often seem to last a very long time.

Homestream wells up to hunger and to sex.

O joy of mills! Declivity! Decline

of heat pours from the old sun yet;

are the first three lines of a type of Benn poem, if there is such a thing as a typical Benn poem, titled "Looking Upward."

Benn's essay is quite different from his poetry, it's as if a different person wrote it, though the difference may be nothing more or less than the difference between poetry and prose. 

"Artists and Old Age" is neither short nor long: at 26 pps it's as concise and as prolix as it needs to be. I've just finished reading it for the first time. Benn invokes Kant in the first paragraph, the Opus posthumum, a work of Kant's old age, unpublished during the philosopher's life, transcripts, notes, commentary, much of which contradict his monumental earlier published work, Critique of Pure Reason. Benn writes, "Behind this question of the comparative validity of Kant's earlier or later work, there looms up the problem of early and late works in general, the problem of the continuity of the creatively productive personality," using the philosopher as a springboard to an investigation of a subject that is certainly worth examining but, like so many great life questions, may never be finally understood. 

I like the way Benn uses the phrase, looms up, which may or may not have been what he intended, given that I'm reading an English translation of his German.

I can't imagine the essay making much sense to a young artist, and even less to an artist in middle-age, nor can I believe in the possibility of either artist reading the essay with any real interest or understanding. Perhaps you can only understand Benn's logic if and when you've aged, that is, if you've paid enough attention to the way you are now in the world in contrast to the way you once were.

Besides, who reads essays any more? Only someone aging, like me.

If I read Benn the way I think he wants to be read I see that he's presenting aging as a new kind of opportunity, with statistical information to support his presentation--that it's not uncommon for an artist to eke out from the ravages of time some sort of charmed new perspective that greatly energizes the work. There are many examples in Benn's essay of writers, painters, musicians who've made new work, often their best work, in their 70s, 80's and 90s, art with the kind of energy that no less a German than Goethe wrote of, as he too grew old, "When one is old one must do more than when one was young."  

Thoughts and feelings about one's age are complex and change frequently. Thoughts and feelings themselves age, belonging to that specific realm of being human that may forever be unknowable. I know this is true, I'm aging. Aging, there are two different people in my life who are constantly in conversation: the person aging and the person who is the same person he or she was 20, 30, 40 years ago.

I'm most interested now in seeing if I can see the exact moment when I have grown old, if there is such a time and if I can know it if and when it happens.

_________________________________________________________

The essay "Artists and Old Age" is from Primal Vision, Selected Writings of Gottfried Benn, New Directions, 1971.