Strutting and Fretting the Hours
“... we know that it is the search that gives meaning to any find and that one often has to travel a long way in order to arrive at what is near.”― José Saramago
Yesterday was Jose Saramago’s birthday. The first Portuguese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Saramago was one of those writers that my Dad and I would read every time one of his books came out. We started later in his career with Blindness and went from there (dipping into his history between releases). The book that stuck with me the most…and which I have harkened back to a lot since my Dad’s passing, is one of his lesser known works All The Names.
All The Names deals with the character Jose, who is a clerk at the Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths…the institution that keeps the basic paperwork on the living and the dead. And while the plot is centered around Jose’s obsession with one name he comes upon…and the desire to meet that person…the book stuck with me because of its discussion of the living and the dead, and how our lives are a tapestry made up of both. We try to live in the present, we always look towards the future and our souls are written by the past. True, those words and thoughts can fade with time, but they are there. And this concept of the porous division between the living and the dead, reality as we know it and the world of the unknown and mysterious…has been a regular mediation for me since my Dad died.
The separation of worlds that the pandemic has created adds to the feeling that this dimension of time that we are walking through is not as linear as we might think, and that our collective histories, and the people who helped create them, and us as characters in our own lives, leave imprints in the past that can seem unrecognizable to where we are now. It is a web that is constantly being woven and untangled.
As Saramago writes in All The Names:
“Old photographs are very deceiving, they give us the illusion that we are alive in them, and it's not true, the person we are looking at no longer exists, and if that person could see us, he or she would not recognize him or herself in us, 'Who's that looking at me so sadly,' he or she would say.”
The Night Gallery, Rod Serling’s follow up TV show to The Twilight Zone, was a more horrific venture to its predecessor and all and all not as good (it did have its moments). Its eerie soundtrack was created by Gil Mellé, the same Gil Mellé that composed the soundtrack to film The Andromeda Strain, both early examples of scores anchored with electronic music, done brilliantly. What I most remember about the show was the horrific paintings that framed each episode. Most of the paintings were done by Tom Wright…and many were thrown out after their use. Of course, now they are very much sought after…and mostly available for viewing only on the web….
Charles Sullivan was a pivotal character in the music Renaissance of San Francisco’s Fillmore district (the same district that was criminally ruined by Justin Herman (a great history of the Fillmore is here). And yes his death is a mystery and this is article is a fascinating investigation. Thank you Jon Blaufarb for this article.
Syrian artist Souleyman was arrested during a raid of his apartment in Urfa, Turkey…where he landed after fleeing his home of Syria during the Syrian Civil War. At the time of this article, the reasons for his arrest are not known (although another article says he accused by Turkey of being a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, aka PKK). His music is incredible, evolving the “traditional dabke sound.”
“Jimmie Durham, one of today’s most celebrated sculptors, died in Berlin on Wednesday at 81…Using materials like stone, bones, and discarded ready-made objects, Durham offered up inventive assemblages that refer to histories of colonialism. Many of these works eye Western art institutions with suspicion, calling into question what really counts as authentic. At its heart, Durham’s incisive art makes a mockery of the notion that one’s identity could—or should—be easily understood.”
How to Draw a Perfect Circle
BY TERRANCE HAYES
I can imitate the spheres of the model’s body, her head,
Her mouth, the chin she rests at the bend of her elbow
But nothing tells me how to make the pupils spiral
From her gaze. Everything the eye sees enters a circle,
The world is connected to a circle: breath spools from the nostrils
And any love to be open becomes an O. The shape inside the circle
Is a circle, the egg fallen outside the nest the serpent circles
Rests in the serpent’s gaze the way my gaze rests on the model.
In a blind contour drawing the eye tracks the subject
Without observing what the hand is doing. Everything is connected
By a line curling and canceling itself like the shape of a snake
Swallowing its own decadent tail or a mind that means to destroy itself,
A man circling a railway underpass before attacking a policeman.
To draw the model’s nipples I have to let myself be carried away.
I love all the parts of the body. There are as many curves
As there are jewels of matrimony, as many whirls as there are teeth
In the mouth of the future: the mute pearls a bride wears to her wedding,
The sleeping ovaries like the heads of riders bunched in a tunnel.
The doors of the subway car imitate an O opening and closing,
In the blood the O spirals its helix of defects, genetic shadows,
But there are no instructions for identifying loved ones who go crazy.
When one morning a black man stabs a black transit cop in the face
And the cop, bleeding from his eye, kills the assailant, no one traveling
To the subway sees it quickly enough to make a camera phone witness.
The scene must be carried on the tongue, it must be carried
On the news into the future where it will distract the eyes working
Lines into paper. This is what blind contour drawing conjures in me.
At the center of God looms an O, the devil believes justice is shaped
Like a zero, a militant helmet or war drum, a fist or gun barrel,
A barrel of ruined eggs or skulls. To lift anything from a field
The lifter bends like a broken O. The weight of the body
Lowered into a hole can make anyone say Oh: the onlookers,
The mother, the brothers and sisters. Omen begins with an O.
When I looked into my past I saw the boy I had not seen in years
Do a standing backflip so daring the onlookers called him crazy.
I did not see a moon as white as an onion but I saw a paper plate
Upon which the boy held a plastic knife and sopping meat.
An assailant is a man with history. His mother struggles
To cut an onion preparing a meal to be served after the funeral.
The onion is the best symbol of the O. Sliced, a volatile gas stings
The slicer’s eyes like a punishment clouding them until they see
What someone trapped beneath a lid of water sees:
A soft-edged world, a blur of blooms holding a coffin afloat.
The onion is pungent, its scent infects the air with sadness,
All the pallbearers smell it. The mourners watch each other,
They watch the pastor’s ambivalence, they wait for the doors to open,
They wait for the appearance of the wounded one-eyed victim
And his advocates, strangers who do not consider the assailant’s funeral
Appeasement. Before that day the officer had never fired his gun
In the line of duty. He was chatting with a cabdriver
Beneath the tracks when my cousin circled him holding a knife.
The wound caused no brain damage though his eyeball was severed.
I am not sure how a man with no eye weeps. In the Odyssey
Pink water descends the Cyclops’s cratered face after Odysseus
Drives a burning log into it. Anyone could do it. Anyone could
Begin the day with his eyes and end it blind or deceased,
Anyone could lose his mind or his vision. When I go crazy
I am afraid I will walk the streets naked, I am afraid I will shout
Every fucked up thing that troubles or enchants me, I will try to murder
Or make love to everybody before the police handcuff or murder me.
Though the bullet exits a perfect hole it does not leave perfect holes
In the body. A wound is a cell and portal. Without it the blood runs
With no outlet. It is possible to draw handcuffs using loops
Shaped like the symbol for infinity, from the Latin infinitas
Meaning unboundedness. The way you get to anything
Is context. In a blind contour it is not possible to give your subject
A disconnected gaze. Separated from the hand the artist’s eye
Begins its own journey. It could have been the same for the Cyclops,
A giant whose gouged eye socket was so large a whole onion
Could fit into it. Separated from the body the eye begins
Its own journey. The world comes full circle: the hours, the harvests,
When the part of the body that holds the soul is finally decomposed
It becomes a circle, a hole that holds everything: blemish, cell,
Womb, parts of the body no one can see. I watched the model
Pull a button loose on her jeans and step out of them
As one might out of a hole in a blue valley, a sea. I found myself
In the dark, I found myself entering her body like a delicate shell
Or soft pill, like this curved thumb of mine against her lips.
You must look without looking to make the perfect circle.
The line, the mind must be a blind continuous liquid
Until the drawing is complete.