Barthes on Trump

Give Judd Legum credit for using French Philosopher Roland Barthes (dead since 1980) to better understand the ascendancy of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. An article in ThinkProgress digs up some Barthes material from 1957 on the difference between boxing and professional wrestling to better understand The Rise of The Donald in The States. (#American Exceptionalism.) Here’s the salient paragraph:

Donald Trump

The next POTUS?

This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is… based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time… The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan… wrestling is a sum of spectacles…

Legum goes on to write:

In the current campaign, Trump is behaving like a professional wrestler while Trump’s opponents are conducting the race like a boxing match. As the rest of the field measures up their next jab, Trump decks them over the head with a metal chair.

Truth is Trump is a pure product of USAmerica. He knows how to rig the system, how to succeed at whatever cost because it is all about competition. He is the ultimate achievement of the industry-generated-culture of these here United States. This should come as no surprise, as the country is a product of hyper-capitalism, media consolidation, plutocracy and la comida basura. You can see why someone like me would be interested in an idea like Cascadia, but cultural projects take a long time, unless of course they fill a gap. An empire failing creates a huge gap, but who knows how long that will take.

And to see the fear that Trump and Ben Carson are eliciting in the folks who comprise my Facebook feed, wow. Truth is all current candidates are only shades better than this, especially Hillary Clinton who has a bit of wrastler in her as well. Bernie Sanders is either the last of a breed of politicians who actually believes what they say, or a harbinger of things to come (like Kshama Sawant here in Seattle) that is, someone with integrity. But Sanders is on the record for continuation of the U.S. war machine and it’s doubtful that a Sanders presidency, still a long shot, would turn much around. After all, he would have to lead a nation that has a significant population that believes people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson are qualified to be President. (And are letting their inner racist come shining through at Trump rallies.)

Real culture precedes politics and my own experience in Washington State Democratic Party politics, when I was (figuratively) stabbed in the back by a “fellow Democrat” shows that there is no integrity from the very bottom levels all the way to the top. The ends do justify the means and an empire crashing is usually not pretty, but maybe we’ll bite the bullet this time. (There will be many bullets. This is USAmerica.)

Poet Charles Potts predicted years ago that the U.S. will surrender this century to the Chinese in Spanish. So far that’s not a bad bet. The Chinese were right about one other thing too, it is a curse to wish that someone “live in interesting times.” Here we are. And I am a Full Nelson.

But back to poetry. I’m preparing my January interview with Cuban poet José Kozer for publication and will end this post with this exchange, which says more about poetry over politics than anything I could write:

Paul Nelson: Well, then this other part of this prologue to the book Anima, talking about the poem being “an act of outward devotion in which the everyday artisanal poem achieves its own mildness of being, imitative of prayer.” So what you’re saying, in a way is, if one takes out the imitative and sees these poems as acts of devotion, you might see them as acts of devotion to the moment and to consciousness and your own life and to the refinement of the goodness in your life, well then this is a spiritual practice.

José Kozer: Of course! Because you’re aiming at something else and that’s why one writes. I mean, I could not keep this to myself and it’s self-contained. But I’m sharing this with the world. I’m sharing this with you. I’m sharing this with other possible readers. To make money? For god’s sake, poetry doesn’t sell. So why am I sharing this? Vanity? Oh come on! This is an act of love. This is an act of absolute love. This is an act of… I’m moving in this direction, seeing what it implies, seeing what it entails, and seeing if it means something to you. That is sharing your own devotion which in itself, is an act of devotion.

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Very Serious & Full of Vegetables

Crowded By BeautyI FINALLY finished Crowded by Beauty, the wonderful biography of Philip Whalen. David Schneider brings a Zen perspective to chronicle the life of a poet who, along with Gary Snyder and Lew Welch, was considered one of the NW Beat poets. A great review of the book is here.

I took 98 separate notes, so writing a comprehensive review is not my aim here, but the book is wonderful and essential for those interested in the combination of poetry and spiritual seeking. And the Beat movement if about anything, was about the rejection of mainstream USAmerican culture and an attempt to stay open, a task Schneider knows is no small feat here:

Conventional thought, mental provincialism, a subconscious narrowing of scope – these attach themselves to an artist’s capacity like barnacles to a ship. Staying open or spacious requires real work and guarantees little. Viewed from outside, a person attempting this might be called politely, “loosely strung.” Less politely, but more literally, a person trying to crack out of closing intellectual shells could be described as “crazed.” 

As I started this post, I had just finished reading a story about how U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump told a crowd of supporters in Alabama “get him out of here” and they began to beat a black man in the crowd who was protesting Trump. Yet poets are the ones who are described as “crazed.”

There were so many good quotes in the book, I put as many as I could into a poem and hope that will suffice as a “review” and a tribute to a legendary Cascadia poet who is a talent deserving wider recognition.

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables 1
Very Serious and Full of Vegetables 2
Very Serious and Full of Vegetables 3
Very Serious and Full of Vegetables 4

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Gemini GEL, Rouen Cathedral, Seriality

In D.C. to visit my oldest daughter, or “My Kid the Journalist” as I tend to refer to her when I am sharing her articles on Facebook, I was delighted to find that my visit coincided with an exhibition at the National Gallery that promised to be of great import to my own search for meaning and poetic practice.

The Serial Impulse at Gemini G.E.L. It is running October 4, 2015 – February 7, 2016. This is how the exhibition is described online:

Overview: For centuries artists have made multi-part series, undertaking subjects on a scale not possible in a single work. This engagement was especially prevalent in the 1960s, as artists dedicated to conceptual, minimalist, and pop approaches explored the potential of serial procedures and structures. Many prominent artists since then have produced serial projects at the renowned Los Angeles print workshop and publisher Gemini G.E.L. The exhibition will showcase 17 such series created at Gemini by 17 artists over the past five decades. It will include seminal early works by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella as well as more recent serial projects by John Baldessari, Julie Mehretu, Richard Serra, and others.

Either I am again late to the game, or suspect this is a stance-toward-art-making that has barely scratched the surface of possibility. It has helped me to understand that, once again – quite organically – I have come to this mode as a practitioner. In my view the examples of Nate Mackey, Daphne Marlatt, Robin Blaser, George Stanley, George Bowering, Brenda Hillman, Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, Sam Hamill and I would posit Joanne Kyger as well, are the main practitioners of serial form in North American poetry. Mackey told me in an interview that was published in Amerarcana that the serial poem was essentially the most open writing stance one can take. He said it includes,

the possibility of things coming into the poem that were not necessarily resolved… not necessarily pursued to their fullest or most exhaustive sense… things to come into the poem that… have a life beyond that particular poem and… become part of an exploration… the serial poem… allows that.

Now compare this to something attributed to one of the 17 featured artists in the National Gallery’s Gemini GEL exhibition, Richard Serra,

…Individual works in a series can become critical of each other and that the success of one hinges on development of the rest.

In his 1999 series Rounds, we see prints of black holes one Facebook commenter likens to bullet holes, black holes often complete with their abstract expressionist drips and splotches. Artwork created while Serra was listening to Jazz and Blues and named after specific musicians like Billie Holliday and John Coltrane.

Bessie Smith (by Richard Serra, 1999) Etching. 2015 Gift to National Gallery by Gemini G.E.L.

Bessie Smith (by Richard Serra, 1999) Etching. 2015 Gift to National Gallery by Gemini G.E.L.

And I would walk through the exhibit in the morning, have lunch in the gallery cafe watching the waterfall (almost typed “waterwall” which would be accurate). The very capable National Gallery Senior Curator Diane Arkin took a small group on a tour of the exhibition at 2pm and was very respectful of my interest in seriality. Some of the thoughts that came up for me were:

1) The strong Black Mountain thread through serial form, from Robert Rauschenberg (included in the exhibition) to Josef Albers, whose work with seriality was alluded to in some of the promotional materials.

2) The openness of serial form is also linked to the very clear understanding that all things are connected. When you see a print from Serra’s Round series, you can see how his mind could go from one to another as the designs got more wild and energetic. How this is a world apart from the view that we are separate from other groups of people, (say Muslims fleeing Syria for example), is of considerable import to me at this time, a palpable contrast to what our culture would call rather ironically “conventional wisdom” and ANOTHER example of how process implies politics, and informs content as well. Most poets do not understand this.

3) The brilliance of the “found” art of Michael Heizer in his Scrap Metal Drypoint series, which includes cut discs from salvaged scrap metal sheets that had been scratched, gouged or stained with chemicals evokes Chinese landscape paintings in a completely remarkable manner.

Michael Heizer from Scrap Metal Drypoint series, 1978.

Michael Heizer from Scrap Metal Drypoint series, 1978.

4. My own poetry can be viewed from the perspective of one large serial poem, with smaller fragments of seriality in the form of American Sentences, The August Poetry Postcard Project and the ongoing series re-enacting the history of Cascadia in A Time Before Slaughter and Pig War & Other Songs of Cascadia. I think the interviews are part of this work as well, though not poetry and the Cascadia poetry anthology part of this series as well. The themes are there, but not for me to articulate at this time.

Before leaving me, Diane Arkin was kind enough to lead me to the two versions of Rouen Cathedral that the National Gallery owns and displays in a “Late Monet” gallery. Paintings from one of Monet’s various series, and the one with the most urgency, in my view.

Two editions of Rouen Cathedral, Claude Monet, 1892 and 1894

Two editions of Rouen Cathedral, Claude Monet, 1892 and 1894

Contrast these with the actual cathedral, which I visited in late October 2015:

Rouen Cathedral, Oct 2015

Rouen Cathedral, Oct 2015

I view seriality and spontaneity as two prongs of my own practice and people wishing to use art as a wisdom teacher might find a great deal of energy and possibility in permutations of these approaches.

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