Monday, November 26, 2007

Baraka & Theatre of Cruelty

Baraka's work is often said to extend concepts from the French playwright and theorist, Antonin Artaud, specifically the concept of cruelty:

Theatre of Cruelty is a concept in Antonin Artaud's book Theatre and its Double. “Without an element of cruelty at the root of every spectacle, the theater is not possible. In our present state of degeneration it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter our minds” (Artaud, Theatre and its Double). By cruelty, he meant not sadism or causing pain, but rather a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality which, he said, lies like a shroud over our perceptions. To put it another way, it's not cruelty in the sense of being violent, but the cruelty it takes for the actor to completely strip away their masks and the cruelty of showing an audience a truth that they don't want to see. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language halfway-between thought and gesture. Antonin Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all expression is physical expression in space.

You might notice above some concepts central to our discussion of the primitive/modern: "our present state of degeneration," the merging of the material/spiritual, also the "shattering of false reality" that literature can often abet.

In Dutchman, pay special attention to signs of these concerns--specifically, the notion of a language that is between thought and gesture--a new kind of realism that is designed to shock audiences in a primal, Neitzschean way.

Of course, others have stated: "the Theatre of Cruelty has often been called an impossible theatre--vital for the purity of inspiration which it generated, but hopelessly vague and metaphorical in its concrete detail." Is there a vagueness in detail or "message" in Dutchman, or does Baraka update his work to make it politically relevant?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Incest, Family, Politics (A Review)

We covered a lot in class today, touching on the text as a kind of allegory for the politicization of the primitive. That is, Cather is interested in how the nation conceives of itself as a "family" (which can reproduce only through incest) versus the assimilation of foreigners (like Louis) and other corrupting influences of modernity. Do you agree with this reading or want to expand upon it? How does it help illuminate the relationship between Godfrey and Tom? In that light, consider the inexplicable malaise that sets upon the professor: where does it come from and what is interesting about his dramatic episode near the end of the book?

Finally, what kind of political commentary might be implicit in the description of the peoples of Cliff City? In the description of the city as a place of "design"?

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Professor's House

Cather clearly is interested in dialectics throughout this work, in ways subtle and not so subtle. For example, what is the world of modernity---the new house, wealth, aviation technology---played off against?? Is the primitive figured forth in the text; if so, how and what are its values?

A close reader might also discover an incredible interest in colors throughout the text: Ch. 1 tells us about St. Peter's view, "From the window he could see, far away, just on the horizon, a long, blue, hazy smear--Lake Michigan, the inland sea of his childhood." There are many such--aesthetic?--appreciations throughout the text, and many such dwellings upon "observation": it's worth asking what role they have in the text.... Are they part of a larger dialectic?

Monday, November 5, 2007

In Our Time & The Multiplicity of Experience

One thing you'll no doubt notice about Hemingway's short story collection is its apparent randomness: war-time prefaces, often violent, seem to introduce disjunctive narratives concerning Nick Adams and a domestic, somewhat placid homefront experience. As we discussed avant-garde aesthetics relating to the "multiplicity of perspectives," consider how the collection embodies this, but also introduces an assortment of experiences peculiar to modernity. How, if at all, do these experiences speak to one another--from the often absurd violence of war to the pre & post-war experiences of Nick and other characters. How, for example, does the style of war pieces such as "On the Quai at Smyrna" differ from that of "Indian Camp"? What themes/images do the two pieces share? What emotions do they provoke in the narrator and reader?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

William Carlos Williams, "The artist works to express perceptions rather than attain standards..."

According to Williams, the object of writing is "the triumph of sense---the ability to set a thing up against the moment and have it escape banality... The sense is not carried as an extraneous 'meaning,' but is constituted by the work itself. One does not write a poem to say something but to write a poem... "

Williams, who closely followed some of the painters we are discussing, noted that "abstraction... has renew[ed] and reclarif[ied] pure form... The writer attempts to present the sense of the moment, revealed in climaxes of intelligence (beauty) through continually refreshed crystallizations of form."

Consider, in light of these rather complicated remarks, his interest in perception and time (Duchamp's Nude), and how this influences form in Williams' work.


Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
moving tense
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.


    WHEN I was younger
    it was plain to me
    I must make something of myself.
    Older now
    I walk back streets
    admiring the houses
    of the very poor:
    roof out of line with sides
    the yards cluttered
    with old chicken wire, ashes,
    furniture gone wrong;
    the fences and outhouses
    built of barrel staves
    and parts of boxes, all,
    if I am fortunate,
    smeared a bluish green
    that properly weathered
    pleases me best of all colors.

    No one
    will believe this
    of vast import to the nation.

Portrait of a Lady

YOUR thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze--or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
--as if that answered
anything. Ah, yes--below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore--
Which shore?--
the sand clings to my lips--
Which shore?
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.

The Young Housewife

    AT ten A.M. the young housewife
    moves about in negligee behind
    the wooden walls of her husband's house.
    I pass solitary in my car.

    Then again she comes to the curb
    to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands
    shy, uncorseted, tucking in
    stray ends of hair, and I compare her
    to a fallen leaf.

    The noiseless wheels of my car
    rush with a crackling sound over
    dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.

      ORROW is my own yard
      where the new grass
      flames as it has flamed
      often before but not
      with the cold fire
      that closes round me this year.
      Thirtyfive years
      I lived with my husband.
      The plumtree is white today
      with masses of flowers.
      Masses of flowers
      load the cherry branches
      and color some bushes
      yellow and some red
      but the grief in my heart
      is stronger than they
      for though they were my joy
      formerly, today I notice them
      and turned away forgetting.
      Today my son told me
      that in the meadows,
      at the edge of the heavy woods
      in the distance, he saw
      trees of white flowers.
      I feel that I would like
      to go there
      and fall into those flowers
      and sink into the marsh near them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mina Loy's "Songs To Joannes"

The publication of Mina Loy's "Songs to Joannes" so angered a leading female poet of the time (Amy Lowell) that she vowed never to publish in the same journal as Loy. Known for wildly experimental, artful, complicated and compact poetics, Loy's poems (below) tell the tale of a illicit affair and abortion, material unknown to the poetics of the time (1917). Consider how (if) such a tale indeed emerges through her often distorted poetics; consider also how, like Cubism, Loy's poetics blur relations, and double and triple the meanings of words--something modern poets called logopoeia: the use of words not only for their direct meaning but also for the surprising, ironic, play between them.


Spawn of fantasies
Sifting the appraisable
Pig Cupid his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage
"Once upon a time"
Pulls a weed white star-topped
Among wild oats sown in mucous membrane
I would an eye in a Bengal light
Eternity in a sky-rocket
Constellations in an ocean
Whose rivers run no fresher
Than a trickle of saliva

These are suspect places

I must live in my lantern
Trimming subliminal flicker
Virginal to the bellows
Of experience
Colored glass.


At your mercy
Our Universe
Is only
A colorless onion
You derobe
Sheath by sheath
A disheartening odour
About your nervy hands


Heavy with shut-flower's nightmares
Curled to the solitaire
Core of the


Shuttle-cock and battle-door
A little pink-love
And feathers are strewn


Let Joy go solace-winged
To flutter whom she may concern

We might have coupled
In the bed-ridden monopoly of a moment
Or broken flesh with one another
At the profane communion table
Where wine is spill't on promiscuous lips

We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily-news
Printed in blood on its wings


In some
Prenatal plagiarism
Foetal buffoons
Caught tricks
--- --- --- --- ---
From archetypal pantomime
Stringing emotions
Looped aloft
--- --- --- ---
For the blind eyes
That Nature knows us with
And most of Nature is green
--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---


Green things grow
For the cerebral
Forager's revival
And flowered flummery
Upon bossed bellies
Of mountains
Rolling in the sun


I don't care
Where the legs of the legs of the furniture are walk-
ing to
Or what is hidden in the shadows they stride
Or what would look at me
If the shutters were not shut

Red a warm colour on the battle-field
Heavy on my knees as a counterpane
Count counter
I counted the fringe of the towel
Till two tassels clinging together
Let the square room fall away
From a round vacuum
Dilating with my breath

The moon is cold
Where the Mediterranean----------------

Gertrude Stein

What way to consider to the relationship between painting and poetry at this time is think of them as homologous arts---both foregrounding the materiality of the medium--paint/words--and obscuring the content, or referent. Consider how these two poems from 1914 function structurally:


by: Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

      HAT was the use of not leaving it there where it would hang what was the use if there was no chance of ever seeing it come there and show that it was handsome and right in the way it showed it. The lesson is to learn that it does show it, that it shows it and that nothing, that there is nothing, that there is no more to do about it and just so much more is there plenty of reason for making an exchange.


by: Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

      HAT is the current that makes machinery, that makes it crackle, what is the current that presents a long line and a necessary waist. What is this current.
      What is the wind, what is it.
      Where is the serene length, it is there and a dark place is not a dark place, only a white and red are black, only a yellow and green are blue, a pink is scarlet, a bow is every color. A line distinguishes it. A line just distinguishes it.