Whether Report

Soft rain outside, and cool air moving in. There were so many things I wanted to write about this weekend that the collision has left me dumb. I’m not sure whether I’m really getting anywhere, or just picking nits. But then again, the more I think about placing the representation of life in literature against the representation of life in photographs, the more fertile I think it is. What seems to be at stake is the definition of what reality is, because a person really needs to have a clear conception of the reality they seek to convey before they try to figure out the parameters of realism.

Today, I really feel foggy. Today, I feel like cleaning up this mess. I feel like baking bread and listening to the rain.

Every time I try to read something today I get caught in error. For example, Geoffrey Batchen refers to “English Poet John Thompson (1700-1748)” It’s Thomson damnit! To make matters worse, he cites someone citing the introduction to The Seasons, rather than bothering to look it up himself. I was thinking I hadn’t written anything about Bravo’s death, and probably should. Again, I see nothing but errors. I looked and see if Weston noted anything about their meeting in his daybooks, and glanced down in the index to see Robinson Crusoe by Herman Melville. Excuse me? I looked, and it was the editor Nancy Newhall’s mistake, not Weston’s. Weston remarked that the joy of reading it to his sons Neil and Cole was greater than the adventure of the story itself. On the same pages, I noted Newhall’s quote of Weston saying that he had “to save a jew notes, in no particular order”. A jew notes? Somehow, I don’t think that’s accurate.

Cultures are built around stories. As they are repeated, and errors build up, it seems like we have to rewrite history to suit ourselves, to correct what we perceive as errors. I decided to note something Manuel Alvarez Bravo said:

Popular Art is the art of the People

A popular painter is an artisan who, as in the Middle Ages, remains anonymous. His work needs no advertisement, as it is done for the people around him. The more pretentious artist craves to become famous, and it is characteristic of his work that it is bought for the name rather than for the work— a name that is built up by propaganda.

Before the Conquest all art was of the people, and popular art has ceased to exist in Mexico. The art called Popular is quite fugitive in character, of sensitive and personal quality, with less of the impersonal or intellectual characteristics that are the essence of the art of the schools. It is the work of talent nourished by personal experience and by that of the community— rather than being taken from the experiences of other painters in other times and other cultures, which forms the intellectual chain of nonpopular art.

I think this is wrong too. Schools are made of people. Cultures are formed and transfigured through interaction and assimilation of other people. There is no golden age outside, no state of purity that ever existed. It’s all full of errors, misreadings, and passed down stories. Each time we rewrite them, we always want to construct a demon, and that demon is usually bad intentions. Only good intentions will do, to prop-up a mythic culture of repeated representations. I agree that the best art is local— in that it has an effect on the people who see or read it. But art always recedes into a past populated by people we can never know, people that we fetishize for their difference.

The power of anonymity was well exploited by Defoe, Swift, and Richardson. It’s just another cultural trope. It is not a badge of honor, nor the mark of a golden age. Anonymity is a self-imposed death which allows you to join the mythic past.

“The People” is a mythic construct too, and as such is always absent (just like my brain today).

1 thought on “Absent”

  1. “To save, a jew notes, in no particular order….” Weblogging as part of the international Zionist conspiracy? Does Barger know about this?

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