Archive for September, 2009

lost in her translation, or: Ringaround Arosie *

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009


I keep finding myself writing weird little anecdotal missives about translation hijinks. But I am in Switzerland at the moment, and I don’t really speak German, much less Schwyzerdütsch, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. Still. STILL. I sometimes find myself cracking up and/or agog at the weird beauty of the word assemblages/ sentences that I come across in my work caseload (art world literary offerings a la press releases, exhibition catalogues, artist books, and art ‘zines). Case in point: last night, reading the catalogue essays for an exhibition I would be reviewing (were I not writing this instead; yes, you’ll find my suitcases at procrastination station), my eyebrows kept going up and up and up as the sentences kept going and going and going. Nothing like German into English nary a pause for comprehension. Still, sometimes linguistic loveliness is the yield. In fact, the essays I was reading kept yielding such great fragments that I think I have poems titles for at least 10 poem TKs. As follows (CAPS mostly my own):

At the Moment it Touches Us (i.e., Produces Feelings)

Nor Require a Melancholic Queering

Must Proceed Serially

Of the Participating Body into an Involved Performer

The Commandment of Liveness and Lifelikeness

What We Find on the Abandoned Stages

A Craving for Severity Is a Martial Craving

Loudness Solves No Problems

For a Chastening of Form and a Chastened Form


Or maybe I was just tired last night and willing the gods of poetry down to me. In the light of day, in the profane dirty yellow light of my computer screen, these fragments suddenly seem less inspired. But for “A Chastening of Form and a Chastened Form.” That’s just nice.

* Eva Hesse, “Ringaround Arosie” (1965)

Love for the Game

Friday, September 11th, 2009
marianne moore

Ms. Moore

“Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting / and baseball is like writing.”

—Marianne Moore, “Baseball and Writing”

If Fernando Perez—the 26-year-old outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays—doesn’t agree with MM’s latter statement, he definitely does with the former. His essay in Poetry this month about his love for the (poetry) game is weirdly beautiful:

I write from Caracas, the murder capital of the world, where I’ve been employed by the Leones to score runs and prevent balls from falling in the outfield. At the ankles of the Ávila Mountain amongst a patch of dusky high-rises, the downtown grounds of el Estadio Universitario packed beyond capacity are ripe for a full-bodied poem …

Long ago Robert Creeley confirmed my suspicion that words strung even sparingly together can be as aurally powerful as anything else we have. He has been my most important poet, because I can take him anywhere, like oranges…

And here he is on NPR’s “All Things Considered” talking about his twinned love for poetry and baseball some more.

Mr. Perez

Mr. Perez

Why a Q? or, Navel Gazing

Friday, September 11th, 2009
Claes Oldenburg, “Soft Inverted Q (Black Proof)” (1975)

Claes Oldenburg, “Soft Inverted Q (Black Proof)” (1975)

From today’s New York Times Arts section:

How Claes Oldenburg, an artist known for his monumental sculptures of everyday objects, came to create a tiny one in rubber, of the letter Q at that, is a story the 80-year-old Pop artist remembers well … Why a Q? ‘It was a shape that had grown out of some earlier drawings,’ Mr. Oldenburg said. Over the years, he added, ‘it has been associated as a kind of navel form.’

Uh oh.

Poster Child

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009


Free Public Lecture by Lawrence Weschler

Irwin/Hockney: When Fountainheads Collide

7:30 pm, Tuesday, September 8, 2009, Crowley Theater, Marfa, Texas

On the occasion of the publication of his braided biographical volumes, “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: Thirty Years of Conversations with Robert Irwin” and “True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney,” longtime New Yorker contributor Lawrence Weschler describes what it has been like, lo these many years, to be ponging back and forth between these two giants of contemporary art, who disagree about almost everything, in the profoundest of ways, and yet have never actually spoken with each other.

Oh, to be able to teleport myself to Far West Texas, just this once.

My copy of “Seeing is Forgetting…” is worn from the year when it lived at the bottom of my bag. Not just the text but the cover had special meaning for me, as it’s a photograph of an Irwin installation at an old gallery on Market Street in Venice, CA, the same street where I grew up, and where my dad continues to live. The picture was taken in 1980, when I was two years old, and depicts what I believe is his first work using a scrim.


Later, in college in New York, I saw Irwin’s installation “Excursus: Homage to the Square3” (1998), with its vast grid of fluorescent tubes and scrims, at Dia’s old space in Chelsea (the site of this year’s X Initiative), and was overcome by its cool clarity and beauty. Across the street was Donald Judd’s grouping of plywood boxes, which moved me just as much. Thus my introduction to Minimalism, although I think growing up in Southern California—oh land of light and horizontals—had made that introduction years earlier.


Robert Irwin, "Excursus: Homage to the Square3" (1998), installation view, Dia Art Foundation, Chelsea, New York

Despite Irwin’s Venice Beach affiliations, David Hockney was far more present in my life when I was a child. Posters of his kaleidoscopic collages of glittery turquoise pools and the Mojave desert were on everyone’s parents’ walls, and my mom’s bookcases were stuffed with his tropical-colored monographs. A few years ago, she and my father went to see a Hockney retrospective at the LA County Museum of Art, and she sent me a postcard of a painting from the show. It was of a svelte man stepping out of a pool, which was barely sketched in behind him, just a puddle of cerulean water; her thoughts about his work—and her daughter—were scrawled on the other side. It hung over my desk at Modern Painters until I left the magazine last winter. Mom, I miss you so.

The new edition of “Seeing is Forgetting…” and Weschler’s “True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney”, both from the indispensable University of California Press, are surely books to put on the fall reading list. Just as the summer light begins to dim …

The Enemy Is the Same

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
Gerhard Richter, "18 Oktober, 1977" (1988).

Gerhard Richter, "18 Oktober, 1977" (1988)

It’s often pointed out in articles about the Red Army Faction, or the Baader-Meinhof gang, that many of their victims were titans of industry, and formerly Nazis. This, along with the group’s dashing looks, dashingly (if brilliantly) memorialized by Gerhard Richter’s “18 Oktober, 1977” series, has given the R.A.F. a veneer of cool in the West that can be hard to break, even post 9/11, when terrorism (at least in the US) lost any political luster that it may have once had (see: Facebook’s popular “Which Baader-Meinhof gang member were you?” questionnaire; also the fact that you can become a Facebook “fan” of Andreas Baader, pictured in mirrored aviators, and many of his über-cool associates.) But as film critic Richard Brody noted last week, in his great New Yorker blog “The Front Row,” the R.A.F.’s anti-Nazi stance was perhaps no sure thing: for one, their attorney and attempted jailbreaker, Horst Mahler, was the son of a fervent Hitler supporter, and he himself has since become a vocal Holocaust denier. Brody points to an interview in the German edition of Vanity Fair from 2007 (Amy Winehouse, the druggy Jewess powerhouse graces the cover), in which Horst tells the journalist Michel Friedman:

“Friedman asks Mahler whether the members of the Red Army Faction shared his view of Jews as ‘the devil.’

Yes, sure. Not in the sense in which you just expressed it.

In what sense?

The concept of ‘U.S. imperialism’ was special for us, and now we see more clearly what U.S. imperialism is, and in this regard: the enemy is the same.

He and other members of the Red Army Faction—as is shown in the film—went to Jordan to train with Palestinian combat units; Mahler tells Friedman,

Oh, we had a feeling of guilt with regard to the Jews and we were very upset when, in Palestine, we were there in a camp with the fedayeen, the fedayeen came with pictures of Hitler and said: ‘Good man.’ That was very hard for us.”

Somehow, that “That was very hard for us” has the ring of a political awakening or two. In any case, Brody’s interest in the article stems from the recent American release of The Baader-Meinhof Complex, the German film about the group, which I have still not seen. But Brody notes that “The film doesn’t show any of this—not how Mahler ended up, not how the R.A.F. and their Palestinian trainers talked about Hitler, not how the R.A.F. talked about Jews or what it meant to them to be trained by Palestinian fighters. In short, the meaning of the film is not only in what it shows but in what it doesn’t—and why.”

Still from "Not Reconciled, or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns" (1965), directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Still from "Not Reconciled, or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns" (1965), directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Today, Brody continued the conversation in another insightful post that touches on Inglourious Basterds‘s treatment (say, adjustment) of Jews and Nazis during WWII, as well as Heinrich Böll’s 1959 novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine, and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s 1965 film Not Reconciled, or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns, an adaptation of that novel.

Leap: Growing up Jewish (or half, at least) amid a left-wing atmosphere in Southern California and then in New York in college, I was always struck that the further “progressive” to the left one was, the closer one came to taking a kind of soft anti-Semitic stance. There seemed no way to support the Palestinian cause, for example, without adopting the anti-Semitism (hey kids in kuffiyehs!) that defines that region, even if you yourself were firmly rooted in LA or Bronxville, NY. Condemnation of the Holocaust had became so institutionalized by the time I was a teenager that it seemed almost bourgeois to the needle-exhange/progessive hip-hop/hardcore kids with whom I was sometimes surrounded.

And anti-Semitism—and racism as a whole—is so inherently illogical (why do anti-Semites deny the Holocaust, for one, when they’re often advocating for another one? you’d think they would celebrate it, no?) that it doesn’t seem a stretch to me that the R.A.F. could have had Nazi sympathies while simultaneously justifying their killings as simply late justice for unrepentant former Nazis. Even if the capitalist transformation of postwar Germany was engineered in part by former Nazis themselves, the age-old equation that Capitalism=Jews (see the paranoids’ take on the: film industry, media industry, industry industry) would seem to be an easy leap for the “Red” Army Faction to make. As Mahler says in the Vanity Fair interview, National Socialists, Communists, or Capitalists: “the enemy is the same.”

Gerhard Richter, "18 Oktober, 1977" (1988)

Gerhard Richter, "18 Oktober, 1977" (1988)

Summer Syllabus

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009


A bookstore run in Munich (where Penguin Classics were something like 2 euros a pop), a trip to the local Basel library (where we were allowed to leave with 20 books and CDs, praise be the Swiss library system), and a poetry-laden package from a poet friend in Seattle refreshed my literary reserves midsummer, though the offerings were as a disparate as those that bequeathed them. Here’s our summertime stack of books, which we read, re-read, or shall read, in no certain order:

A double feature of Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill,
and The Great Gatsby, by Señor Fitz

Lush Life, by Richard Price (featuring my old apartment building on the cover, nice)

Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy

Zwischen Ja und Nein, by Albert Camus

A Taste of Switzerland, by Sue Style

Daisy Miller, by Henry James

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

The Grass Is Singing, by Doris Lessing

Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym

How To Be Alone: Essays, by Jonathen Franzen

Iran Awakening, by Shirin Ebadi

Silence, by John Cage

Tage der Freuden, by Marcel Proust

Wir Erzaehlen Uns Geschichten, Um Zu Leben, by Joan Didion

Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth

Leviathan, by Paul Auster

The Alps, by Brandon Shimoda

Bluets, by Maggie Nelson

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by O.Wilde

New Exercises, by Franck Andre Jamme

Youth, by J. M. Coetze