Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Commute

The mechanics of amourous vassalage 
require a fathomless futility.

Mais, le samedi. C'est à nous.

Roland Barthes
A Lover's Discourse, 1977

Friday, August 20, 2010

"In the hold" ii

Disemployed Mariner, Gdansk, The New York Times

The Angelic Conversation, Derek Jarman

We came here for the cure
Of quiet in the whelk's centre,
From the fierce, sudden quarrel,
From kitchens where the mind,
Like bread, disintegrates in water,
To let a sun scour
The brain, as harsh as coral,
To bathe like stones in wind,
To be, like beast or natural object, pure.

Extract, Crusoe's Island
Derek Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948-1984

"In the hold"

Sanctuary Notre Dame du Haut, 1955
Musical Extract Benjamin Britten, 1945
Photograph lent by an anonymous friend

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An artist in his early 20s travels East

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret took leave from his sweatshop drafting table in the office of Peter Behrens in Berlin with his chum, Auguste Klipstein, en route through the Balkans to Constantinople, 1911. He was not yet 24 years of age. A comparable rising in the blood would launch the young Patrick Leigh-Fermor eastward, Nick Bouvier, Bruce Chatwin, and any and every schoolboy who could possibly go - such as a young friend of mine in Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, where many allow their hopeful gaze to lift from morning coffee, from cantilevered terraces on Telegraph Hill

What is all the fuss about? If one didn't know better, it would seem a subsidiary sun exerted a gravitation at a certain phase of life. If there were such a thing, it would have had to have been there for some time. It would evoke wonder, how it got there, and if the stories about it could be true; it would elicit a pilgrimage. Biding his time, the artist would find the occasion to embrace it.

The genius and the power of the thing are so well laid out in Jeanneret's travel notes - published 55 years later near the end of his life - that it would be unbecoming to embed them in any other context. But Jeanneret was an architect, one of the most youthful casts of the human mind; and his was impervious to nothing.

When Charles-Edouard did find his occasion to place upon a precipitous hill, a shrine of pilgrimage and of infinity in vista, it was 40 years later, and he had become Le Corbusier.

Among the very many risible and perplexingly ignorant speculations about Notre Dame du Haut, are the several which claim it to be an edifice of impenetrable derivation. Some allege it is Surrealist, that catch-all expression of critical incompetence, when its plain, eloquent debts are to the Minoan fundamentals, Cubism - and to the imperishable travel experience of the young artist. We have had that journal for 2 generations. It discloses everything one needs to know about how this masterpiece came to be deposited on this ground by this man. 

We will notice no columns, for example, but we'll have no doubt of how this speaks of Jeanneret's love for the Parthenon: If you look for the joints between the twenty sections of drums comprising the fluted columns, you won't find them, even by running a fingernail over these areas, which can only be differentiated by the slight irregularities in the patina that each marble has collected over time... Le Corbusier encased his columns within the walls, a seeming contradiction of the curtain they part for us in Classicism, which he supplied by elevating the roof to cast a clerestory light throughout the chapel, recalling his complaint of the Athenian roofline's overpowering weight (cf., Mies van der Rohe, New Gallery, Berlin, courtesy of Hedi Slimane). No, this is the idealist's confession, an epiphany of Minos by way of the art of his young life, and his own persistence in painting -


      What. What did the young genius see, climbing to the deck of his steamer en route to Piraeus from Salonika? What did he remember, in drawing after drawing, all his life; what had spoken so completely to him of his privilege, his obligation, to be human? 

In Salonika the day before yesterday, at midnight, by a beautiful moonlight, eight hundred of them were loaded on board. Eight hundred bulls from Thessaly. As they arrived, they were shoved in between the stockades. The joints of the crane grated; the powerful hook dropped rapidly down to their heads. Quick, a running noose around the horns, brief command, the hook is taken up again carrying away that enormous mass of meat hung by its horns. A large arc was inscribed; the mechanism released the chain; like a pot, the bull arrived at the end of the hold and fell on its back, rolling its bewildered eyes. It hardly had time to recover when, seized by the ring in its muzzle, it was firmly fastened... Once the sky completed its metamorphosis, the last burst of green died away on the water. A star finds some receptive facet of a wave to reflect.

Photographs of the Chapel lent by an anonymous friend
Photograph of the Parthenon courtesy Tassos Paschalis

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The hardest thing about Summer always was

le shopping.

Even now, it tires one out,
just thinking about it --
Paris, Milano, New York --
always looking
for Andrew Cooper . . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"The summer's absence unconcerned we bear...

"... Since you, great Sir, more charming fair appear,
Scattering the mists of faction with our fear.
Shine thus for many years, and let the sight
Your friends encourage and your foes affright,
Like Joshua's sun, with undiminished light." 
Henry Purcell 
Song for Charles II, 1682

"An ancient people
restored to youth
by rebellion and to
rebellion by youth
can seem very sinister."
Prisoner of Love
Jean Genet, 1986

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hey la, Hey la, My iPod's Back

Can you stand it? They promise you a whole new relationship with "your music" with these things, but they never tell you, you haven't any choice. You immediately try to adapt the iPod to music's classical "app," which is sociable. You lend it out to the young and the otherwise incapacitated, to download stuff they're supposed to know (the sonnets of Shakespeare, the quartets of Josef Haydn, all of Bob Dylan), and still they keep bringing the iPod back to you. Mine's flying in today from the other coast, and already I'm plotting to get rid of it. Most superfluous thing I've ever acquired.

But there you are, 
no child actually trusts an iPod he didn't personally fill. The closed feedback loop of one's own lollipop, I suppose. It's the solace of dialectical materialism, fully hatched as a comestible of one's whole world. Here, our darling Fidel models the first iPod at school in Havana, and there, Bruce Weber documents its moral encouragement.

The thing is akin to a day of obligation; you don't possess an iPod, you undergo it. You plug it into your head and depart our mortal coil, like Pig-Pen in Charles Schultz, impermeable in your cloud. I acquired mine because it was said to "store everything," which I thought it might be handy to be able to fetch - only to find that it demanded that I dispose of nothing, or the whole thing would be emptied out. Much has been said about the alienating effect, the marginalising narcissism of the machine, but too little of its arbitrariness and denial of discernment - akin to Apple's telephone, if you will, which refuses to work in either of the two cities in my country likeliest to inspire a conversation. (They do let you have Chicago, so that's something).

So you find yourself, scanning the brow of the latest beneficiary of an iPod sharing, for the brightening reclamations of an interesting art.

"And what did your lollipop teach you today, my good fellow, of variation in the mode of life?"

Hey la, Hey la.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Welcome, glorious morn

They were sailing only frisbees on Horse Guards Parade, on the occasion of a friend's sketching of the Admiralty for this eventual watercolour. An inherently suspicious youth, on grounds of blondness and solitude alone, he was squinting at this 20th Century extension of Cockerell's seat for the Royal Navy, carefully recording the penetrations of its façade in his sketchbook. Such behaviour must and did swiftly draw the zealous attention of MI-5, at the rate of approximately one agent per window - or so it then seemed, given their encirclement. 

Accosted to explain himself, he confessed on the spot to Americanness, that trusty exculpation of many an awkward presence, and was restored to the whimsical mercies of flying discs, thence to pursue this study in riotous red. Even the faux Baroque of neo-Queen Anne is better than no Baroque at all; and I have valued this picture enormously, ever since breaking the code of his Facebook page over an al fresco lunch with a good Spätlese riesling one midsummer day. I have no permission whatever to post this recollection, but even worse, no riesling.

Watercolour James Adam Reinhard, 2003