I prefer to work, you said, when people are against me. You embraced the struggle and resisted the embrace. They called your work a high energy fusion of jazz and philosophy; you confessed hot emotion, cold truth.
Your work grew in subtlety, complexity; your audience faded back to the diet they knew. Rumors that you had died made financing a challenge and you lamented the loss of doubt in an age with no past. No one knows anyone from before, you said.
You wished more would take the time to discover before they tried to please; to discuss before trying to convince. But it only takes a click these days, to find the previous shot. There’s no unspooling the reel; no moment-by-moment reversal. It takes no time to go back, so time is lost.
For you, the real story always revolved around the twin questions of your obsession: was it possible to tell, and where to begin?
Adapted from from Richard Brody’s New Yorker feature An Exile in Paradise: How Jean-Luc Godard disappeared from the headlines and into the movies, reposted last week in honor of Godard, who died on the 13th of this month at the age of ninety-one.
With Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
If much of sight is the weight of understanding––the weight of the world, as the saying goes–– why not a vision to pull us forward and up, binding us to one another and this earth? What happens when one person and then many––live in devotion to the process of discovering this renewal: its anatomy and breath, its sublimated wants, and how its needs at their core might include us? In an age of crisis, we face over and again the possibility of a coming end, on a road increasingly populated by our dead and dying. What does it take to remember love––even here, and hold it long enough to see a way to its next beginning? You noticed sacredness in imperfection, even pain––because it is, because we are, because we are becoming. Of this age of loss, you suggested, now we are getting somewhere.
Inspired by the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
The bone-readers tell a story: how the ancestor of all four-limbed creatures took its first steps on dry land. Here’s another: one day, one of the descendants of those long dwelling on land decided it was time to return. What followed were those familiar-looking progeny: whales, dolphins, porpoises, who seem to hold a certain invitation in their gaze, their play near boats and shores, and we can’t help our awe when we see them, calling Look!
Looking long, some of the bone readers speculate that the swelling in our chests, our voices, our eyes at these encounters is perhaps the product of one part primal memory and another of a longing to believe––that it is possible for someone long adapted to those acres beyond the spectral surfaces that once meant certain death, who has somehow adjusted the senses to account for the cacophony of what batted and chirped, rustled and warbled; rattled in the grasses and the winds––to still hear the call of a migrating pod thousands of miles away and think: home.
Inspired by the opening passage in Amber Dance’s article “The Evolution of Whales from Land to Sea.” The italicized phrase above is from this passage.
We can’t help ourselves, making languages and stretching limbs, stretching the language of our limbs. Done with demonstrating, now we suggest. Can you see us? If so, this show is for you.
The winds sweep our loves into rage and down the power lines until renewal floods again. Our prayers melt into play, a precise improvisation in real time, and we emerge from cocoons of private anomalies onto this collective stage––bending to remain unbent by those who cannot recognize a deliberate dance because they are trained to see only the march.
Fly, turn, arabesque, we fling mustard seeds into the bags at our waists, wasting not an ounce of what we saw beyond the veil, behind the curtain where they thought they were keeping us, while we were only waiting for our cue. Yes, we are still here.
Rites of passage and perception.
No one goes around throwing parties for unwelcome ghosts, but here’s a toast. I confess a special fondness for these swaggering apparitions who sashay their uncanny specters in and out of formerly familiar rooms, as if they existed––or played at this uncanny form of existence–– for no other reason than to complicate certain over-easy senses of belonging; of exclusion; of the ins and outs of everyday occurrences, where Munch’s screamer runs from Kafka’s ghost wearing a feather boa and dropping glitter dust all over the floor. When the seams of a mind start stretching, it is sometimes rare that the forms in any given mirror are familiar, are human, are known entities––even before the mirror shards itself into these scattered slices of being, reflecting.
Muted sounds and atmospheric shrouds.
Today’s challenge: to walk with what is unknown and accept its presence on its own terms, even when it rejects walking, preferring instead to swim or roll in the mud or follow birds and the bells of ice cream trucks. To interject ambivalence with ambiguity, the center of a spinning top nearly toppled is the climax of its dance.
The white dunes of reverberating fog smudge the skyline, obscuring as much as it reveals of us back to ourselves, warning of certainty’s trespass, as if to say, try knowing time without the blunt tool of sequence to hammer it into submission.
Nothing this soft will respond as desired to such obtuse force, accepting a given shape or placement. It will only become more and more diffuse, more and more what it is, the disquieting formlessness that makes atmosphere visible by resisting expectations of transparency.
And the ones who come down.
In another world, everyone lives in the mountains where time falls more slowly. To boast in this world is to speak of the heights you knew, have known, will soon attain. The elites put their houses on stilts.
Only the careless leave the peaks for the valleys, to feel the soft grasses and the waters of the streams and lakes. The people of the heights watch them and scoff at the waste, but sound is denser in the lowlands, so the swimmers cannot hear them––not with the all of the birds and the crickets and the lowland creatures in the grasses and not with the water in their ears. It took them by surprise at first, the noises spilling out of these lowlands.
What’s that? They wondered at first. Later, they knew it was time. The creatures released it. The visitors caught what they could and threw it back. They began to make their own and it was music.
Inspired by one of the worlds described in Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, (“26 April 1905”).
The first rule of mosaic is the play of light. An irregular surface invites its dance. A photographer writes volume after volume in light. It’s an ambiguous form. Are you making or finding?
It’s one of those questions that sounds more absurd out loud than it probably did in a theoretical dream space. Sight is impossible without shadow. Still, there’s a common impulse to drive them out.
As in, are you here or do you remember? Is your home private or in the public space? Same questions apply to your body, your books, your truest confessions, the ones you wrote in light across the faces of strangers that stopped for you. You wrote the same letter over and over again, and each time you picked up your instrument to look, you began with the first light of the world.
Regarding those dreams of flight.
I know you all want wings but try this. Reach only one arm up and keep the other here, palm flat in the soil, feeling what moves. Here’s the cup, the instrument, the elements. Here is the snake at your waist, tail in its mouth. Is the magic real yet?
Look, the buds are opening to meet the bees. Watch these visitors fly to their welcome. Let them move you to remember. In all your dreams of flying, to whom did you ever return? It was always up, up! and out, away! without a passing glance back to the buds or the roots, or even the open windows.
You missed the treefrogs waiting among the fern leaves thick with eggs waiting to drop, and the octopus hiding in a coconut. You never gave a thought to the white-throated dippers on the rocks perched to dive, or the stag stopped in a snowstorm, looking back. You missed the burrowing mole and the sloth crossing the road after the flood.
I’ll fly away, you kept singing, your focus ever on what you flew from and the relief of oblivion by altitude. Is it really any wonder that someone had the insight to deny your constant request?
Partially inspired by these images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.
The urgency of destabilizing symphonies.
Here is a signal and here is noise, interfering. But what happens when the noise is the signal, calling us back to the fire? When everything is permitted, nothing is necessary. Now the artist becomes the cacophonous jester to unmask and unmake the quiet throb of lies from the seat of power.
What is unpredictable is not random. Consider the rhizome, its growth an explosion of connections. What’s real is not the direction but the becoming. In a world of free-floating signifiers removed from context, an artist makes noise to negate the negation of life.
To navigate the soundscape, a listener will learn away from selection and discrimination of important from unimportant sounds and learn to maintain a continuous span of listening. The art in this is how such surrender makes it possible to read meaning where it seems to be gone, when all known categories collapse into an unknown being, distant and familiar.
Notes while reading the opening section of Joseph Nechvatal’s Immersion into Noise.