Friday, August 23, 2013

Paris Notebook (June 2012)

June 3. Much dirtier and less glamorous than I remember: my heart is not opened. Part of the problem is simple jet lag--plus the fact that I was just "here"--in Europe. German phrases leap to my lips as often as French ones--I am even taken for a German at a kebab shop and offered a "Danke schon" upon departing. Plus my allergies. But Paris--Paris is somehow not yet Paris to me, and I find myself, astoundingly, comparing it unfavorably to Chicago! Could it be that was first impressed me ten years ago was the sheer urbanity of the place--and now that I'm a city-dweller the novelty is gone? A sense of all I'm experiencing being already in the past. The next big project will not begin here. So I am a tourist, looking for what I expected to find. Also, it's unbelievably expensive.

Lunch at a tourist trap across from the Pont des Arts--too hungry to search for something more "authentic," which would be even more expensive. Even a bad French restaurant is good. I do like how the couple on my left has brought their little scruffy dog inside with them and no one objects. The middle-aged American guy says, "Can I get a steak and a glass of red wine?" I'm no different.

I've had better soupe a l'oignon in Chicago. In Evanston, even.

They break a lot of glassware in this place.

Ineffable faint disappointment yet I'm hardly displeased to be her. It's only that Paris no longer nourishes my sense of the ideal--it's just a city whose best days are behind it. Something I didn't feel in Berlin.

The American with the steak is actually Australian.

L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts: entrance on Quai Malaquais. Two fish-backed gray marble columns. Stairs to a great hall in front with dirty glass arcade-style roof.  Obscure panels of classical figures overlook le grand salle where a student exhibition is taking place. A barefoot young woman in a black top and long black skirt conducts an ecstatic dance to the dissonant scrapes of an upright bass.

The cellist, a young man in a dark jacket, bearded and bespectacled, wears a hungry stare. How intimate--the dancer is just a few feet from me. And I must follow her body in motion, or look away. She gets high, then way down low, never quite collapsing. Her long, dirty feet! "At Henry's bier let some thing fall out well..."

A placard: "Programme de recherche La Seine."

In the back courtyard a man in a Spider-Man costume saunters by. Cops, les flics, barricades. An enormous party is apparently being prepared. A wedding?

After work I would follow the steep narrow channel of Rue Bonaparte to the B. Saint-Germain, and from there the tide of young humanity bore me irresistibly to the Sorbonne. Seeming sneer under the bust of Poussin that guarded the entrance to the courtyard. My bulk sailing as if before my I down the strip of sidewalk encouraging those ahead of me to step into the street to avoid a collision. My native diffidence was impossible to sustain. Gigantic and alone, a head taller than the matchstick-sized Parisians, I could only be covered by a tide as deep as the Events themselves. Ever since and after my eye has ceased to matter.

And have Ruth recall "filthy Paris." Alluring cesspool of generation. Horror of copulation: the Old Coutnry with the New.

I met her on the bridge from the Ile de la Cité walking fast. Are you coming from the Cathedral?
- No.
- Charles is out. I thought perhaps we could get dinner.
- Memorials aren't about remembering!
- No?
- They build the memorial so that they can forget. It's only grass and stone.

- If you're not hungry..
- Of course I'm fucking hungry.
She reached up to me with both arms extended like a child asking to be picked up, and almost involuntarily I stooped to her, bent my face toward hers. She kissed me once, fast and dry: I felt the webbed texture of her lips.
- Let's go, she said.

Filthy Paris, with its best days behind it, the days of the world.

June 4. Another fortuitious performance at the Centre Pompidou, a woman plays cello for a group of schoolchildren sitting before an enormous canvas of Cy Twombly's on which I read the words, "Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus."

In the room and corridors of the Sorbonne, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Opera, in houses and flats, the students sat or squatted in great teeming hordes, clusters, groupuscules, adhered to one another by media of sweat and smoke and endless talk. The tiger paced his cage. Black strips cover the eyes of the police, the legislators, the fearful mothers. We walked everywhere, with linked arms, foregoing trains, the Metro, the pastoral of the automobile. We sang. We all but sang.

Every artwork without exception refers first and foremost to our anatomy.

Two Scythes by I.H. Finlay. One bears the legend: "French Revolution, n.: A pastoral with scythes." The other: "Revolution, n.: A continuation of pastoral by other means." Written on green card: "For the best of the Jacobins the Revolution was intended as a pastoral whose Virgil was Rousseau." Also: "Three Parties in the Convention: The Mountain, the Plain, the Ravine."

Incommensurable gap between those artists who believe in "depth" and those who don't. The abyss (or shapelessness) peered into by Pollock in one of last paintings, "In the Deep" (or some such title).

Always moved by hints of process--the fragment, the sketch. The pencil lines visible through the painted volumes of a woman's head.

The windows: intrinsic mystery that plays with our desire to see.

Line and color: so often these were enough for Matisse.

The young American guy on the Metro explaining the plot of Inception to two middle-aged women, at exhaustive length.

Bach's Mass in B Minor at Salle Pleyel. The music of the Mass expresses a fervent hope--becomes in the glory of voices what it scales after. Credo: in music itself, the only resurrection.

Pairing voices with instruments: a tenor with a flute, a bass with an English (French?) horn, each following the theme of the other. To heighten the expression of the words? Or to gesture at a higher form of speaking? Zukofsky's integral.

June 5. As I emerge from my building a middle-aged black man with a receding hairline, wearing a blue checked jacket, carrying a canvas in his hand--it appears to be a rather indifferent painting of a seascape. He holds it up to someone sitting in the passenger seat of a small white man and begins to explain or sell the painting.

Je parle francais, mais je ne comprends pas francais.

People still smoke here, but not as many as I remember.

Charles Fourier's tomb at the Cimeterie de Montmartre, whose walls I can see from my apartment.
The cemeteries here are more integrated than I expected: a fair number of Jewish graves, some of which allude specifically to the Holocaust and anti-semitism. One sees also the occasional historical placard while walking around:

I note that the students were deported for being born Jews. To emphasize their innocence? Or their Frenchness?

To the east of the cemetery past Rue de Caulaincourt toward Sacre Coeur things get more fahsionable in a hurry. Rue des Abbesses a very cute little high street. Coq au vin just inside the door of a cafe with doors flung wide to the streaming sunny late morning.

Maturity comes with the discovery of limitation. That is the real morning Olson (a late bloomer) speaks of: the work of methodology, how to use oneself and on what. Since the end is imaginable--since one's powers are not, after all, unlimited.

My Paris can't be that younger man's Paris. It's a city. Like anywhere for me, it points inward. I'm perhaps not putting enough into it.

Lumiere. Licht.

June 6. Middle-aged bourgeois in a gray suit and blue tie, a briefcase in one hand an a ukulele case in the other.

Jeu de Paume, Rosa Barba exhibition. Mute, staring. "Wrapped in plastic." Where a spine should e, a cut. The actual sublime, refers us to a text. Floyd, Jermaine. Too many voices. Too many choices. Under the rose with an extra R. The film flickers, cut.

Laurent Grasso's Uraniborg: "spaces of uncertainty or doubt aroused by any conjecture."

Being is more terrible than non-being. As Prometheus shows.

The sea is not the desert. The sea is bountiful. Even when it is a desert to the eye, even while it parches the shipwrecked mariner, the idea of the sea--its secret world of multitudinous life--consoles by what it conceals. Cyclops hammering at the surface of the sea, trying to break through. No-man's mocking laughter.

The most desolate of spaces yet ineluctably refer to the hand of man. To the vulnerable throat, channel of his life.

Les Oiseaux--immense flocks of starlings collecting and decoalescing in shapes and patterns over the Vatican, as though demonstrating some immutable law. They look like the smoke monster from Lost.

The Hungarian-Jewish photographer Ava Besnyö, 21 years old, herself photographed seated on a bed hugging her knees alone at the center of

The composition of an immense space.

Another provocative photo of the young woman shot from below, her expression defiant, hands clasped behind her head so that her elbows are thrust out, revelaing double lustrous patches of hair beneath her armpits. The image of M.

June 7. Conference and conferees. On the left foot. Again that sense of speaking the language without really grasping it.

What I miss in these critiques is Duncan's consciousness of the enemy within. Innovative writing gets fossilized in advance, foreclosed.

But is "reality" so purely a social category? This question of "magnetism" that Christina Milletti talks about.

Easy to throw around words like "fascism." But we are our own fascists--we have fully internalized fascism.

Markets, however, area always about competing narratives--supply vs. demand.

Metafiction: the pathos of conscious investment or cathexis in a narrative--the drama of self-fashioning (Hedwig and the Angry Inch as an example).

If we are Americans or Europeans we participate this reality. We all write it.

The  moment one suspends disbelief: chooses to believe, to go along for the ride--an exquisite unnarrativized moment that can only be re-lived.

Narrative as a simple machine incapable of dealing with the sheer volume of available information. Versus the manifold capacities of rhetoric.

Breakdown now of even secularized theology: the expectation of the integrity of the deal.

Truth-seeking through a manifestly alternative, minority system (Duncan's theosophy, etc.) perhaps opens up the most maximal fields--including fields of the self--to critique and transparency.

Rhetoric versus mimesis. Persuasion by other means?

Rob Halpern: Perec's early essay, "For a Realist Literature." [C.f. "The *Nouveau Roman* and the Refusal of the Real."]

June 8. Panel, "Architectures of Absence."Absenting oneself to permit other entities to enter. Amaranth Ravva: "We can imagine what we've covered up with our life." Leah Souffrant: "The effort of attention is more important than its object."

"IF you are a spam filter, you're just like, 'I don't get poetry.'"

June 9. Musée Carnavalet. A little astonished to discover that the Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety had its own stationery.

Lance Olsen: All literature is now too complex for the market. Is an excess of lyricism, of attention to the sentence, enough to be "experimental"? Is it excess itself--of signification or its absence?

Exterior. Exterior.

June 10. Harry Mathews. "The Dialect of the Tribe," a story dedicated to Perec.

Homage to Perec's Bartlebooth. A story about translation and the (I presume) fictional language of a New Guinea tribe that is untranslatable because it's a process, not a vehicle for content. The phatic, the mere presence of the communicative. Quotes Gaddis: "Having an unfinished novel in your house is like having a sick man."

"But how do you construct a novel?" The need for more mathematically advanced Oulipian techniques.

Problem of Oulipo-produced work: the method overdetermines the critical response. (The potentielle more significant than the littérature.) There's also "Canada Dry": a work that pretends to have a procedure but doesn't. (Roubaud.)

Mathews: "I'm a serious romantic writer."

You saw her alive, less alive, still less alive. You saw it: the degree zero of her living. Then you stepped out of it, went for a walk, went to the library. Between the doorway and the card catalog you got the call. Then she was not alive. You went home to see: a corpse. What you missed: the unalive, the last moment, the final breath. Clinamen of her body abandoned in the bed. She's gone, but you did not see her leave, and so it persists, all the remaining minutes of your life: a doubt.

Coover and Mathews in dialogue. Coover: what holds it together beyond the constraint--voice? Mathews: No, voice comes after, in rewriting.

Two beautiful French words: passé composé.

Gerard Richter at the Pompidou: intensive dialectic of his painting. A 1968 canvas, Bunt auf Grau, has a creamy smooth undulant gray background and reddish impasto pink spattered on top. Two layers of technique married in space.

Curious boundary of illusion or spatial point of disbelief--suspension: when you locate on a illusionistic canvas (a seascape) the mark of the paint. The line of the horizon is a line.

Remarkable echo of Titian's Annunciation. Quotes the painting without mocking it, falls short of the original but is not itself degraded or degrading.

Abstract jungle of greens, yellows, oranges, with a pale red arrow gesturing upward on the right and a thick horizontal slash of darker red on the left as a kind of sibling.

There is a kind of reference to natural forms in the big abstracts, but no gestures toward naturalism.

Force: volume: color: line. 1987's large Abstract Painting: a durably joyful sense of release.

Ghostly horizon, sky and sea in a deep blue abstract. Title: Forest (3), 1990.

Abstracts always present surface forms, but very rarely the illusion of perspective or depth, or even of planes.

It must take enormous confidence to move toward the aleatory abstract from a figurative or lyrical abstract mode.

Destruction is not erasure.

Abstraction --> reality
Landscape --> nostalgia

"The landscapes are a type of yearning... The abstract works are my presence, my reality, my problems... The abstraction is more real, the other more like a dream." Gerard Richter in 1986.

Six monumental fucking canvases inspired by John Cage for the 2007 Venie Biennale. Did I see them there?

A series of mother-and-child paintings on the wall opposite portraits of his uncle Horst, a Nazi, and his aunt Marianne, euthanized for her mental disability.

"The Forest."

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