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):

pastore,
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.

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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.

3 commentaires:

Eric Shonkwiler a dit…

Very interesting. I love that ruin is this flag you fly and stand by.

I'm intrigued by the notion that our greatest fears stem from some form of humanity.

Catherine Lacey a dit…

Beautiful, my friend.

Brady Walker a dit…

Il Pasquino is like the obverse of The Runamo. If you're not familiar, I can summarize. The Runamo was a broadside rock face in Sweden that people thought to have scrawled all over some ancient, heretofore unencountered written language. People started "translating" it, and I think there may be a few published full translations, but years later, scientists found out that the way the rock face was cracking caused the illusion of intentionally placed characters.

Il Pasquino is art, thought, irreverence, and history imposed onto a reformation of the ruins.
The Runamo is the attempt to impose signification onto haphazardry and thoughtlessness.