Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Virgil Thomson writing to Briggs Buchanan (Paris, 15 March 1927), with “vaguely stirring” European “culture news” lowdown:
The apparent future of painting lies with a Russian, Pavel Tchelitcheff, and a Frenchman, Christian Bérard . . . Picasso, from lack of competition, has become a public monument. One by one, his rivals have faded to obscurity. Matisse, Derain, Braque, Picabia. (Juan Gris, “the perfect painter,” remains just that.) Music is carried on by me and George Antheil. (Stravinsky shares Picasso’s fate, with Satie dead and Germany not a serious rival, even in New York.) Letters remain in the older generation, because there are still two figures to make a polarity. No youngster can do anything till something happens to either Gertrude Stein or James Joyce. And I doubt if anything will, short of either’s death. There are strong because they don’t do each other’s stuff. Gertrude is occupied with compositon; Joyce with reporting.

Christian Bérard’s “On the Beach (Double Self-Portrait)” (1933)
        Bérard, Joyce, and Antheil stand for representation, depiction, emotion, the “true to life” effect. Their shapes are borrowed. Tchelitcheff and Gertrude and I represent play, construction, interest centered in the material, nonsense, magic, and automatic writing. The issue is clear. Between knowledge and wisdom. Between the tabloid newspaper and Mother Goose. Between culture and anarchy. The law and the prophets. Kant and Spinoza. Duty and pleasure. The stage and the home.
        . . . Cocteau is about. At his usual work of ruining young artists . . . Pound and Eliot remain respectively 2nd- and 3rd-rate poets and 3rd- and 2nd-rate editors. Ezra’s magazine Exile is pretty dumb. transition has appeared with a 1st installment of the new Joyce. It turns out to be like Ulysses only more so.
Later Thomson asks for “more tabloids”—“They please me.” Beyond the gumption of th’assessments (great flinging of wildflowers, &c., casual dismissal easily match’d by glib brouhaha’d certainty, Christian Bérard, who he?—a penny for the old guy, why do I think of that dreadful Bernard Buffet, scourge of the ’fifties?), what’s notable here is range. And say-so willingness.

Pete Anderson cleaning fish near Forty Mile, (Canada, ca. 1938)
Of course, a couple hours plus tard, it all looks suspect, me, Virgil, Virgil, me. Fatigue-o-matic schlock. Do it ever come down that—full of bullion and bumptious—one of you prints out a passle of such bloggery talk, essential “stuff” come down out of the zone blogique, harry’d by its muchness, “happy at the thought,” though gummed out taut on tenterhooks to read it all, and you—oh, The World itself gets its gumption up to demand something of you and that revery-look you wear so affably, and, well, you don’t get back to them pages blogeoises for, oh, a few days? It does me, and it undoes me. I find myself full of kittle and contempt, bilious at the perusal, fanning through the pages like a sneer-wind, worse it is than yesterday’s news in yesterday’s newspapers. (For those, the common consent is, can at least serve for the wrapping up of the post-repast fish bones . . . or the pre-prandial fish guts . . . or the lousy book by Stanley Fish you.) Is it sensible to write junk day after day? Or pour over the books of wayward saints for pre-chewables, quotes and queries for th’international short attention span? Maybe it’s not.

Still from “Reflections on Black,” by Stan Brakhage
Or one stumbles into a lovely thing out of Stan Brakhage’s “My Eye,” and all the mockery and crabbiness looks untoward and discardable, so goeth our unheaven’dly and redeemable days. Brakhage:
I am stating my given ability, prize of all above pursuing, to transform the light sculptured shapes of an almost blackened room to the rainbow hued patterns of light without any scientific paraphernalia.
Makes me want to hunt up Ronald Johnson’s perfectly square’d paragraph about the eye.