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Picking up on symmetries observed

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — after Scaramucci on symmetry ]
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It’s encouraging — heart-heartening — to see Doreen St. Félix at the New Yorker picking up on An Image of Revolutionary Fire at Charlottesville:

Two points about her commentary strike my interest. The first had to do, specifically, with symmetry, an old hobby-horse of mine as you may know:

Steve Helber shot an image of peculiar symmetry, in which a man of fortitude was bearing a different light. Two men extend weapons: one is the Confederate flag, furled, hiding its retrograde design, and the other is an aerosol can, modified to eject fire. The figures stand in a classical configuration, on the diagonal, as if a Dutch master has placed them just so.

The second made reference to theology..

The composition of this photo is fiercely theological. The black man is wielding what the black theologian James Cone, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, might call the “burning fire shut up in my bones,” what James Baldwin would have identified as “the fire next time.” (Cornel West, a student of Cone, has advanced the liberatory concept of “black prophetic fire”; West travelled to the city to march with members of Charlottesville’s faith community on Saturday.) It is a pose that upsets a desire for docility; it’s a rebuke to slogans such as “This is not us” or “Love not hate.” This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with “fire and fury.” The resistance has its fire, too.

**

I don’t think I see that image the same way St. Félix does. She sees fire on both sides — the fires of the tiki torches in the hands of the supremacists, though they are absent from this particular pohotograph, and the fire visible in the photo, wielded by the “man of fortitude”. Using an improvised flame-thrower strikes me as, if anything, more menacing than waving a furled flag, to be honest, and even though flame-man is in the lower position, his flame makes him, in my eyes, the dominant figure in the composition — and flag-wielder, correspondingly, even though holding the higher ground, more the underdog,

While my sympathies would naturally lie with those who protest supremacism rather than those who proclaim it, this image at first saddens me with the spectacle of fire-power unilaterally vielded by the guy I’d otherwise cheer for — and it’s only when I read a little deeper —

Long said that the protest had seemed peaceful until “someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”)

— that I began to understand why he, rather than the supremacist, might be the one who has feeling most threatened.

**

I feel ambiguous, then, about St Félix’ reading of the photo, but grateful that someone has an eye out for form, art, symmetry, in the photo-reporting of a vile, incendiary event.

Sunday subsidiary — typewriters, poetry, guns, roses, and art

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — one-time typewriter poet & artist ]
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From This Artist Recycles Typewriters into Guns:

Typewriters revolutionized the way we write and guns changed the wars we fight, yet it can’t be denied that both are artifacts of tremendous cultural impact, despite the dramatic differences in function. This notion helps illuminate the peculiar Typewriter Guns of Québécois artist Eric Nado, a sculptural series of typewriters transformed to look like guns.

Thankfully non-functional, Nado’s guns seem like strange weaponry from the future, due to their brilliantly vibrant hues and the protruding typewriter parts that seem like alien steampunk appendages in this technological recontextualization. This may be partially an aesthetic choice, but it also relates to the artist’s desire to fully recycle the typewriters. In his project statement, Nado iterates that every piece of the typewriters were re-incorporated into the guns, an almost eerie vein of sustainability given how convincingly dangerous these sculptures look.

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Reminds me of Ernst Jandl‘s sound poem schtzngrmm, based on taking the letters of the word “trench” — “Schützengraben” in German literally, letter by letter, so as to evoke (some of) the sound of trench warfare:

schtzngrmm
schtzngrmm
t-t-t-t
t-t-t-t
grrrmmmmm
t-t-t-t
s———c———h
tzngrmm
tzngrmm
tzngrmm
grrrmmmmm
schtzn
schtzn
t-t-t-t
t-t-t-t
schtzngrmm
schtzngrmm
tssssssssssssss
grrt
grrrrrt
grrrrrrrrrt
scht
scht
t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t
scht
tzngrmm
tzngrmm
t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t
scht
scht
scht
scht
scht
grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
t-tt

But I’ll let Jandl read it himself and comment on that final “t-tt” and its aural cognate, “tod” — death:

**

Back in the day, I was a “visual poet” as Jandl was a “sound poet” — the two experiments observed poetry as it approached art and music, respectively — and here’s one of mine, now enshrined in Marvin & Ruth Sackner‘s definitive The Art of Typewriting:

That’s no gun — it’s a rose, and I presented it to Elizabeth Taylor, no less, when she was supporting Basil Bunting for the Oxford Poetry Professorship, and we met in a pub by the river..

NSFW RIP — obituary for a friend, Heathcote Williams

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Sunday sadness — for Julian West and Gabi Nasemann, each of whom loved Heathcote no doubt better than I ]
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NSFW might well have been John Henley Heathcote Williams’ initials. There were few boundaries he did not push, he taught himself fire-breathing and burned himself breathing fire to impress his then girlfriend, the model Jean (or was it Chrissie?) Shrimpton, and breathed fiery words all the livelong day. Here’s his final tweet, containing a poem you may want to watch:

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I’ve posted this before, but do so again today because I’m old enough find it very funny, and because it piercingly reminds me of my friend:

Oh, and the beauties of his days loved his ugly mug — this I posted before, too:

**

As someone observed, Heathcote was a Ranter in the fine old tradition:

Coppe went up and down London streets ‘with his hat cockt, his teeth gnashing, his eyes fixed, charging the great ones to obey his Majesty within him.’ Clarkson as ‘Captain of the Rant’ entertained women to his lodging house but made canny financial provision simultaneously for his wife. This was the ugly face of Protestantism. It was what countless opponents of the Reformation had inveighed against since Munster: antinomianism was the logical, if perverted, conclusion of dissent. Anabaptists attracted the opprobrium in sixteenth-century Europe; Quakers inherited this legacy in later seventeenth-century England. But it was the Ranters who were the enemy of orthodoxy in England in 1650.

Myself, while I have Ranter sympathies, am also a Royalist and Cavalier.. Heathcote, no way: he’s an unabashed anti-monarchist through and through.

**

An Old Etonian and overlap-contemporary of mine at Christ Church, Oxford, Heathcote took language to the street:

Believing the world to be a common treasure house to all
I spray-painted this slogan almost everywhere,
‘USE YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE AS A CREDIT CARD’,
Suggesting to be born entitles you to a share.

I’d then keep an eye on the graffiti’s lifespan
And would often find myself amazed
By its lasting for years in the poorer districts
But if they were gentrified, it’d be erased.

And he meant it!

**

Heathcote, I’ve owed you a review of your book on Badshah Khan. I have been too fatigued to write it, but take it as a mark of your singular intelligence that you know, revere and celebrate the man!

Badshah Khan: Islamic Peace Warrior by Heathcote Williams

Thin Man Press is delighted to be publishing this timely and important ‘poetic investigation’ by Heathcote Williams (‘Whale nation’, ‘Falling for A Dolphin’, ‘Autogeddon’, ‘Royal Babylon’…).

With the news full of Islamic extremism, terrorism and the steady rise of the ‘Islamic State’, Heathcote Williams brings us a different story – the amazing life of Afghan Pashtun leader, Badshah Abdel Gaffar Khan, a devout Moslem, revered spiritual guide and champion of world peace who was a close friend and companion of Gandhi. Gaffar Khan spent much of his life as a political prisoner, and was tortured by the British; but he remained committed to his ‘jihad’ of peace, kindness and gentleness, which Williams relays with clarity and passion.

**

But onwards, to death.

Speaking of Van Gogh, in There has to be an afterlife, Heathcote wrote:

He believed that the heavens were our future destination
And he declared, “we take death to reach a star.”
Now that there’s stardust in every single cell of our body
More mystery is added to knowing who we are.

But in bereavement it’s a very great comfort
To those who are feeling dispossessed
To consider that those they’ve known who’ve died
Have simply changed their cosmic address.

Heathcote, are you going soft?

Or is the new address you address yourself to — and have now achieved — “among the stars, dissipated“?

I’ll miss you, until I’m dissipated, too.

After the Fall

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameronpostlapsarian Aleppo, in other words ]
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I don’t suppose the editors at the New York Times Magazine were intentionally making a Christian theological point with the title they bestowed on this cover story: Aleppo After the Fall. but I’ll take my apposite religious resonances where I find them.

Here’s a slightly bigger version:

How beautiful destruction can be in the early light — yet no less destructive for its beauty.

You can view the whole thing even better here — Al-Hatab Square in Aleppo’s Old City. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times.

Pieter Van Ostaeyen termed the accompanying article “an absolute must-read“.

**

Beauty: in which, the divine may be recognized.

The Fall. Oh ah, yes, the Fall.

Sunday surprise, William Byrd and Arvo Pärt

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — for lovers of choral music ]
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I am reminded of the Navaho Night Chant, which I have quoted here before:

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

by the words of Arvo Pärt’s piece:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in me, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me,
Christ with me.


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