mardi 16 septembre 2008

Talking Statuary

In Medieval Italy, there was a fragment of a statue the Romans dubbed Il Pasquino. It was the head and torso of a male, badly damaged with basically a missing face, arms, legs, next to another even more fragmentary masculine torso. The Romans, for whatever reasons motivate a Roman, began scribbling bits of verse and attaching them to Il Pasquino--often irreverent satire aimed at the clergy and the politicians. What happens is that though fragmentary and though unnerving (especially because of the eerie non face), Il Pasquino began to be reconstructed, not through a physical refurbishing of the statue, but through a textual reconfiguration of both the statue and the Roman people. In essence, they saw ruin, but rather than becoming paralyzed by the morbidness of the mutilated human body, they elevated it and themselves and created something entirely new.

It is a common trope, especially for the Romans whose culture we inherit: the resurrection of the gods of the mystery cults (Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus, etc), the myth of the phoenix, even the cliché of the reverdie during spring. But it is a trope that is nevertheless and unflaggingly interesting to us as humans. We are obsessed with our own mortality, right?

But as an artist, this age-old narrative becomes not only an easy fallback when creativity lacks, but also and especially an ars poetica. To create something out of the ruins. To never repair what is broken, but to reconstitute and rearrange. And also to revise.

For me, I go under a constant revision--not necessarily in my work, but in my life. There are memories that have caused me to recreate my past in my mind, first effacing both the good and the bad. One must work with a blank medium, so I thought. But now I am revising my methods, or at least acknowledging what I've been doing all along: pulling the voice out of the ruined face of my past. And now, I am rejuvenated in my work, having been inspired.

Il Pasquino is not as famous as other, more silent, ruins, such as the Belvedere Torso or the Venus de Milo. But he functions more as the bawdy and entertaining emblem of the community, rather than the classical and polished icon of a society. He uses foul language (did you know that shithouse is cacatorium in Latin?) and references sodomy, pederasty, and genitalia with wanton abandon. He even uses clever grammatical construction to attack grammar. But he is also the voice of the city and the patron saint of writers (this quote is taken from Barkin's Unearthing the Past):

avendo per armento ogni scrittore
[119, year 1516]

a shepherd,
who has every writer as a member of his flock.

In any case, this is all to say that ruins, even of your emotional history, are good, especially when you have the chance to reconstruct them and change them into something new.


Also and Attention: I will make an appearance, poem in hand, at a concert of Bárbara Ohana, on the 27th. And she will be performing a song that she made of one of my poems. She is also performing on the 24th and in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Details will be forthcoming. Email me if you want more information.

samedi 6 septembre 2008

City in Ruin Value

It has been a busy and long week as you may have guessed. I began coursework at Cornell two Fridays ago. And my home town and parish were ravaged by Hurricane Gustavo (my family and theirs are more or less fine, minor roof damage chez mes parents, no utilities until God knows when, the standard). But to avoid getting too personal, at least at this moment (although I do want to extend sympathy and prayers (of whatever sort) to those who've had to experience these such storms), I want to talk about a possible shift in topic for this blog based upon a seminar I'm taking.

The course is called City in Ruins, and the ultra-sexy course description includes readings from Mesopotamian and Hebraic lamentations of cities (think Ur, Babylon, and Jerusalem), paintings by Piranesi and others, poetry by Byron and Spencer, urban redevelopment by Haussman, urban warfare in London and Paris during WWII, speculative texts by Benjamin and Derrida, and a host of things that I cannot remember probably because I haven't actually heard of them until the syllabus was whisked into my hand. Basically, the course is to explore the aesthetization of ruin.

And as trite and removed as it possibly can be with posturing doctoral candidates and over emotional MFA students and a sharp emeritus professor from Johns Hopkins, this class is right up my ally and right up this blog's ally. So don't be surprised if I use this space for a sounding board of ideas and reflections on my readings and on my semester work, whether that be creative or critical. Such things as how in the destruction of Jerusalem, "even her lovers have deserted her" (Lamentations), or that each city lamentation ends with a regenerated hope and a transfer of grief onto the next city, who's about to get hers. Or how about how according to Jacques Ellul, whackjob theologico-philosopher and anarchist, all cities are necessarily doomed because the concept is a priori cursed and not of God regardless of the individual acts of the citizens and that in fact, doing anything to help the needy or improve life within cities is cute, but always futile and ridiculous.

As you can see, this will be fruitful and ire-inducing and a great horror class.