It was broadcast on Radio 4 10.30 am Tuesday 10th December 2019
Here is a LINK to the recording.
It was broadcast on Radio 4 10.30 am Tuesday 10th December 2019
Here is a LINK to the recording.
A comment on the nature of this journal, made when I first set it up in 2011.
I am advised that the best blogs are focused. But I want this site to reflect the diversity of my interests – poetry, dance, performance art, essays and music. Over the years, I have become reconciled to being a Jack of all trades – as I try to express in this poem:
Jack, the strong octopus,
With more arms than a company,
Embraces with his trades
The ideal of metamorphosis.
Nataraja, dancing the Tandara
On the demon of ignorance,
Is the transformer, the storm,
His tentacles muscular,
Their tips accurate,
And delicate – expressive,
With a finger to a pie.
Now I know nought whatsoever,
But to walk through her
As she walks through me
Arouses the drum, the cobra,
The flame and the gesture.
My love is my weight:
Where it goes I go.
More comprehensive information can be found on my website – http://www.anthonyhowell.com — which…
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Well, this is great! This journal of mine, or blog, or whatever you want to call it, has just hit 40,000 views!
Thanks to all of you who have clicked on any post of mine. As an outlying writer, a maverick and ancient fellow, I hugely appreciate the response and attention I get here.
Thanks to her, and to Dennis Boyles, editor of The Fortnightly Review, of which I am a contributing editor. As with posts here, it’s always worth clicking the links in their articles and their images. Such links are the treasures of online publishing. And I am grateful also to The Fortnightly ‘Odd Volumes’ series for publishing my latest “novel” Consciousness (with Mutilation) this year.
Thanks also to John Tranter for publishing me so often in the Journal of Poetics Research, Australia.
May he rest in peace.
Other sites I manage include The Theatre of Mistakes – which I was honoured to be a member of back in the day.
Also Tango for Balance – my trademarked site for teaching tango exercises for those suffering from gait problems such as Parkinson’s Disease – which is now brilliantly carrying on with Fay Laflin’s teaching.
And finally, Tango Schumann – which I performed with Lindi de Angelis, and will continue to perform when the opportunity arises.
My website Anthonyhowell.org has more links to artists and writers I admire. And a warm thanks to all the poets and performers who I have had the honour to host at The Room over the last twenty years.
The death has occurred of Iliassa Sequin, a poet much admired by the New York School. She was a friend of Nobel prize winner Odysseas Elytis, Paul Celan, Max de Carvalho and John Ashbery.
Grey Suit Editions hopes to publish a comprehensive collection of her work next year.
I will post more details here, as I am made aware of them, and I welcome contributions from her friends.
Iliassa Sequin, Poet (1940 – 2019) – from the biographical eulogy by her husband, read at the funeral 14 Nov 19.
Iliassa was born on April 13 to her mother Eunice in 1940 on a small island in the Cyclades, where her father Alexis Economos was a high school teacher. She had a brother Nicos and a sister Vera. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Athens living under the Acropolis in Plaka. Writing poetry from an early age, Iliassa initially enrolled in the Panteion University to study social and political studies. Against her fathers wishes she changed course and enrolled in Carolos Koon’s theatre (with her stunning looks an acting career loomed).
With musicality in language uppermost in her concerns, she developed an original poetic style expressing a severe disquiet for the status quo. This led to her to being befriended by Odysseas Elytis (later a Nobel prize winner). He saved her from an attempted teenage suicide after her father had forbidden her to attend her studies at the theatre – even going as far as threatening to sue the theatre for allowing Iliassa to attend without paying fees. In 1958, she felt obliged to abandon her studies (she literally ran away to Germany). From then on she flitted between Germany, Italy, France and Sweden (the playwright’ Peter Weiss and the critic Susan Sontag offering accommodation and moral support), only returning to Greece for the briefest of visits.
Fluent in all these languages, existing frugally on temporary jobs throughout the 1960s, she met and corresponded with many poets including Giuseppe Ungaretti, Paul Celan (who became a close friend), Louise Kaschnitz & Andre du Bouchet. Very recently, Iliassa translated his poetic commentary on the painter Bram van Velde – Le Couleur – which remains unpublished. In later years, English being her second language – she would insist it was her first – she saw her poems published in L’Ephemere, L’Ire de Vents and Les Belles Lettres – in English with French translations. On the cusp of moving to London in 1969 John Ashbery published her in the Partisan Review – leading her to becoming associated with the New York school of poetry. In London, through the sculptor Brian Wall, she met her husband-to be Ken Sequin (at that time a reportage illustrator) and commenced writing plays for a puppet theatre (she tried to have her highly political plays performed without much success).
Moving to Yorkshire in the mid 1970s (Ken taking a lecturing post there) Iliassa commenced writing poems parodying pastoral and romantic notions of country life. Then the painter & writer Trevor Winkfield accompanied the pair on a visit further north to Scotland, where he introduced Iliassa to Ian Hamilton Finlay who, intrigued by her non-confessional formally innovative style, suggested that they should not dawdle too long in Yorkshire. This, together with Ken’s deteriorating health (Iliassa insisting that this was due to the stultifying lifestyle of academia imposed on art lecturers) prompting their return to London in 1992 .
With Ken painting again, Iliassa embarked on new work; as always exploring the musicality of language. Themes such as the sinking of the Kursk submarine in the Baltic (G.M. Hopkins’ poem The Wreck of the Deutschland being an inspiration), the plight of the refugees arriving in Greece being another, poems flew from her antiquated i Book. She translated the aforementioned poem for Andre du Bouchet and saw some of her poems again published in France – notably in La Treizième published by the poet Max de Carvalho. (a selection of her correspondence with Andre also being prepared for publication).
Otherwise little has been published – apart from in the New York Journals New Conjunctions and the Siennese Shredder – which published some of her many quintets. Cinema Sextet – inspired by the work of Ken Loach & Richard Dadd (an exploration of the Victorian painters’ psyche) also came out in a dual translation in La Treizième. Iliassa had only one chapbook published in her lifetime Quintets -published by Peter Gizzi in O-blek Editions.
In recent years, Ken & Iliassa began a productive collaboration together, writing short stories and poems. In fact, most of Iliassa Sequin’s remarkable oeuvre has remained unpublished. An unpardonable omission in UK publishing. All in all, we have so far only had a glimpse into a remarkable achievements.
I have long maintained that art has its rivers that have been flowing through culture at all times, and my friend Roger Malbert just sent me the interesting link (above), posted by The Public Domain Review.
This bears out my view, I feel, and I suggest those interested in the various modes that art and literature have always employed visit my post ART AND ITS DARK SIDE – an introduction to the eight rivers of Art.
Another friend, Tim Hyman, suggested these illustrations of Rabelais: from the
So from the formal preoccupations of cubism to the capricious inventions of surrealism, all forms of inventiveness have precedents, and the new is, rather, that which is taken up again.
See also Shadows and Vegetation
and here is the Duran commenting on Tulsi Gabbard’s rebuttal of Mrs Clinton’s virulent accusations in October 2019.
This is inspired by the prologue to the Wife of Bath’s tale. Caroline’s work can also be found on Grey Suit Video #2
This talk for Norfolk Contemporary Art Society in Norwich, Wednesday 2nd October, 2019, is in essence a much edited amalgam of two of my essays in Art and its Dark Side: the eight rivers of art.
Grandeur versus the Sublime
During the nineties I wrote a series of essays Art and its Dark Side – The Eight Rivers of Art – creative concerns which have the abiding power to preoccupy artists and writers, and which have always had currency in our cultural life. The essays are online and have often been added to and modified, since the internet allows such an unfinished state to continue. After an introduction, the series divides into two four-essay parts:
Part 1: “Beauty and the Sublime”
Part 2: “Ugliness and the Abject”
These essays on my blog anthonyhowelljournal.com (look in the essays index for Art and its Dark Side Introduction) were and are an attempt to chart the extensive geography of pluralism. I’m concerned with affinities rather than derivations; and, in preference to chronological contiguity, I offer analogies and comparisons across time. The attempt is one which seeks to disassociate itself from the sort of history that cites key works and their dates and constructs from these une histoire des événements, a narrative of events. If I am engaged in history in any way whatsoever, it is more with that notion of the longue durée first articulated by Fernand Braudel; a sense that in large matters, things change slowly. The essays call into question twentieth century terms, which were taken up with the notion of progress and development in time. Modernism, and then post-modernism are both time terms. Pointillism on the other hand refers to a specific artistic way of doing. I find it amusing that the poet John Ashbery was referred to as a modernist, and then, when the trend came in to refer to things as post-modern, he was called a post-modernist. So what is offered in these essays are eight rivers of art, rivers which seem to have run throughout history.
Of course rivers can merge, and to explore this notion, let us take a term such as the sublime and seek to explore it by considering two of my rivers – grandeur and non-finito, and how the sublime might be considered an amalgam of these terms. Since I initially engaged with the subjects, twenty or so years ago, I feel now that a lot more could be said about the terms in relation to music; from Beethoven’s Fifth to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. From lavish film music accompanying epics to Thelonious Monk improvising. I hope to get round to addressing this omission. Here I address my subject largely through visual art and poetry, with a bit of architecture and film thrown in.
Some four thousand years ago, in Mesopotamia, a stone stele was erected to the Akkadian king Naram-Sin to commemorate a victory The stele is of particular interest because on it the king is depicted as being twice the size of anyone else. He took the title ‘king of the four quarters’, which suggests dominion over the whole world, and he favoured the use of the determinative hitherto reserved for the writing of divine names. Neither the defeated king nor his own troops can approach his stature. He stands on the horizon, while otherwise only some spear-tips and a single helmet rise above it, and he shares this empty space with a tall mountain and with the stars. This is one of the very first times that scale is used to denote mightiness. This visual solution coincides with the adoption of an elevated tone where verbal reference to his majesty was concerned.
Two issues are at stake here: what you describe and how you describe it.
These are frequently confounded with each other, though they are in reality extremely different. The former regards the understanding; the latter belongs to the passions. The one describes a thing as it is; the other describes it as it is felt…
(Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry…. ‘How words influence the passions’, p. 159).
In the quarry at Baalbek, there is a rectangular cube of marble so massive that it could never be lifted out of that quarry – so that is where it remains
…we must keep from going very near the pyramids just as much as we keep from going too far from them, in order to get the full emotional effect from their size. For if we are too far away, the parts to be apprehended (the stones lying one over the other) are only obscurely represented, and the representation of them produces no effect upon the aesthetical judgement of the subject. But if we are very near, the eye requires some time to complete the apprehension of the tiers from the bottom to the apex, and then the first tiers are always partly forgotten before the imagination has taken in the last, and so the comprehension of them is never complete.
(Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, p. 115)
In antiquity, in the treatise On the Sublime by Longinus, we find elevation clearly associated with an elevated tone, just as we do some two-thousand years earlier, in the time of Naram-Sin. Yet more often than not Longinus eschews Roman “aggrandisement” and chooses instead to cite a passage from his compatriot Homer’s Iliad as a truly resonant example of the grand manner; for instance, how Hector rushed at the Greek fleet:
But grandeur, may simply be aggrandisement. As in a life-size portrait of Cardinal Richelieu. The new stadium at White Hart Lane is certainly grand. In no way is it sublime. How does the sublime operate? According to Longinus:
Sublimity is a kind of eminence or excellence of discourse. It is the source of distinction of the very greatest poets and prose writers and the means by which they have given eternal life to their own fame. For grandeur produces ecstasy rather than persuasion in the hearer; and the combination of wonder and astonishment always proves superior to the merely persuasive and pleasant. This is because persuasion is on the whole something we can control, whereas amazement and wonder exert invincible power and force and get the better of every hearer.
(Classical Literary Criticism, page 143)
There is a generative aspect to the sublime, a sublimity “of” – a sublimity of sculpture, of language, of vista etc. It could even be a sublimity of pace:
For the Italian fascist passing directly from the athletic record to absolute war, the intoxication of the speed-body is total; it’s Mussolini’s ‘Poetry of the bomber’. For Marinetti, after d’Annunzio, the ‘warrior-dandy’ is the ‘only able subject, surviving and savouring in battle the power of the human body’s metallic dream’.
(Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, p. 116-7)
There can be a sublimity of natural phenomena, as with the Arc du Vallon or the Durdle Door or any magnificent “view”.
And since the Arc du Vallon, is extremely close to the Chauvet Cave, where we find the unfinished masterpieces of our cave ancestors (who perhaps drew in charcoal with both hands in the dark), one senses that they too were astounded by the sublime of this natural arch of rock, and chose to dwell close to it, although it is true that caves may be found where you find arches. Explorers often encounter the natural sublime. Francis Spufford adumbrates some of the sublime’s myriad varieties in I May Be Some Time, an account of Edwardian polar exploration:
In the first half of the eighteenth century, the sublime meant a rush of noble emotion; you felt it when a play, or a poem, or a human action, displayed qualities so admirable that it became irrelevant to ask whether whatever-it-was had been well-expressed, or neatly bundled into a couplet of verse. From the 1750s to the 1790s, partly because of Burke, it more often meant a sensation of wonder mixed with fear, a pleasurable encounter with forbidding landscape or the darker passions. Among the Romantic poets, sublimity labelled the most elevated moments in the transactions between Nature and the human soul; while for the German philosopher Kant… human reason generated the sublime as it reached for absolute ideas beyond the grasp of the senses. Yet even these disgraceful summaries of complicated positions only hint at the wealth of different sublimes. Over the period, besides the ‘natural sublime’, there were a negative, a positive, a mathematical, an ethical, a psychological, a religious, an egotistical, a rhetorical, an aesthetic, and a dynamic sublime – to name only some…
(Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time, p.)
But Longinus urges caution when the sublime is too much associated with the emotions:
Some people often get carried away, like drunkards, into emotions unconnected with the subject, which are simply their own pedantic invention. The audience feels nothing, so that they inevitably make an exhibition of themselves, parading their ecstasies before an audience which does not share them.
(Longinus, Classical Literary Criticism, page 146)
Consider the grandeur of Anselm Kiefer’s Fire in the Attic woodcut installation in the massive German Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, back in the last century. The four walls of the large hall were covered with the woodcut of an even larger hall!
Now Grandeur, as considered in my essay on the subject, is not necessarily sublime. Here is Statius, describing the grandeur of a feast thrown for his guests by the Emperor Domitian, to which he has actually been invited:
The language attempts to render this event sublime, but bearing in mind that on occasion guests were ushered out of the banqueting hall to their execution, Statius has good reason to flatter as much as he can, but what he is actually with a deft irony describing remains grandeur and no more. So there is a satirical side to grandeur Indeed the material of grandeur can be turned against the totalitarian sublime. Anselm Keifer and Hans Haacke are not the first artists to use grandeur itself to comment on the overweening attitude to be detected in that magnificence associated with conquerors.
Paulo Veronese’s great painting The Family of Darius before Alexander utilises all the techniques of grandeur. The canvas is an extensive panorama – similar to a cinemascope screen. The work has a low viewing angle, the line of the edge of the terrace where the major figures of the subject are grouped at a shallow height above the lower edge of the painting. This implies that our eyes are on a level with the knees of the principle characters. The scene before us shows the wife of Darius, who Alexander has defeated at the battle of Issus, kneeling in subjugation before their conqueror. We therefore share her view of him, as if we were kneeling beside her, as are her three daughters. The elevation of this terrace where the mighty are gathered is further emphasised by the fact that the courtyard beyond is obviously some four feet below it, as we are, for only the helmeted head of a guard standing nearby, on the floor of this courtyard, can be seen above the terrace edge. Underlings, henchman and horses in the background are practically transparent, insubstantial, unfinished. Clutching the stone globe terminating the parapet of the terrace a monkey glances down at the entourage of the suppliants – which includes a dwarf and some kneeling slaves with lap-dogs in their arms. It constitutes a wry comment on the entire notion of superiority, since a fine chain of implications links the monkey to Alexander. The treatment of this subject is far from unambiguous. However, when Victor Hugo’s misshapen bell-ringer of Notre Dame leaps on the bells, in Notre Dame de Paris (1831), we experience one of the grandest passages ever put down in words, a grandeur that for once amounts to the sublime:
All of a sudden, the frenzy of the bell seized upon him; his look became extraordinary; he lay in wait for the great bell as it passed, as a spider lies in wait for a fly, and flung himself abruptly upon it, with might and main. Then, suspended above the abyss, borne to and fro by the formidable swinging of the bell, he seized the brazen monster by the ear‑laps, pressed it between both knees, spurred it on with his heels, and redoubled the fury of the peal with the whole shock and weight of his body. Meanwhile, the tower trembled; he shrieked and gnashed his teeth, his red hair rose erect, his breast heaving like a bellows, his eye flashed flames, the monstrous bell neighed, panting, beneath him; and then it was no longer the great bell of Notre‑ Dame nor Quasimodo: it was a dream, a whirlwind, a tempest, dizziness mounted astride of noise; a spirit clinging to a flying crupper, a strange centaur, half man, half bell; a sort of horrible Astolphus, borne away upon a prodigious hippogriff of living bronze.
Elevation of tone may sweep us away in some opera by Wagner, or captivate us with its resonance – as in Wordsworth’s ode – Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:
But note that the sublimity that greatness aspires to, may actually be lost if too much grandeur is applied:
…too great a length in buildings destroys the purpose of greatness which it was intended to promote; the perspective will lessen it in height as it gains in length; and will bring it at last to a point; turning the whole figure into a sort of triangle, the poorest in its effect of almost any figure, that can be presented to the eye. I have ever observed, that colonnades and avenues of trees of a moderate length, were without comparison far grander, than when they were suffered to run to immense distances…”
(Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry… p. 70)
He goes on:
A true artist should put a generous deceit on the spectators, and effect the noblest designs by easy methods. Designs that are vast only by their dimensions, are always the sign of a common and low imagination. No work of art can be great, but as it deceives; to be otherwise is the prerogative of nature only.
That seems very true of Richelieu’s portrait.
Our eyes at the level of the hem of his robe, his face foreshortened like the dead Christ’s in the famous Mantegna, but in this case the head is so distant it seems almost tiny. For this is how Richelieu appears, the ear attached to a very distant peak.
It’s worth reading Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, first published in 1794. Mrs Radcliffe had a talent for creating rebels in the grand manner, sublime criminals such as the monk Schedoni in The Italian, which she brought out, by popular demand, only three years later:
His figure was striking… it was tall, and, though extremely thin, his limbs were large and uncouth, and as he walked along, wrapt in the black garments of his order, there was something terrible in its air; something almost superhuman. His cowl, too, as it threw a shade over the livid paleness of his face, increased its severe character, and gave an effect to his large melancholy eye, which approached to horror.
(Ann Radcliffe, The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents, p.)
On the whole, in the eighteenth century, grandeur became baroque, and an elevated tone gets turned into neo-classical cliché. It was left to an American to rescue grandeur and ensure its sublime authenticity. Walt Whitman maintains an elevated tone which retains the grittiness Longinus called attention to in the Iliad.
or, Whitman can approach the sublime by building up to it through a steady accumulation of phrases:
Then Harte Crane has some poems which aptly convey the power of authentic grandeur.
And then there is modernist grandeur operating in Wallace Stevens:
Despite the poem’s attempt to derogate grandeur, the hortatory tone it uses, together with its imperative tense and the repeat of “let” in the fourth, fifth and seventh line, generate a strong sense of mightiness.
An Epistle to a Patron by F.T Prince is another fine example of grandeur. This is, in effect, a paraphrase of a letter sent to the duke of Milan by Leonardo da Vinci:
I’ve mentioned White Hart Lane stadium, I can now see it from my top windows in Tottenham. While being built everything was in the chaos of its process of being completed. And to me then it seemed a modern version of the tower of Babel, except that now it is finished, it remains mere grandeur since it lacks a particular sublime quality that accrued to the mythical tower. Babel remained poignantly and chaotically unfinished.
In the field of architecture, Rem Koolhaas, expands on the idea of an ever incomplete, urban environment:
To survive, urbanism will have to imagine a new newness. Liberated from its atavistic duties, urbanism redefined as a way of operating in the inevitable will attack architecture, invade its trenches, drive it from its bastions, undermine its certainties, explode its limits, ridicule its preoccupations with matter and substance, destroy its traditions, smoke out its practitioners…
The seeming failure of the urban offers an exceptional opportunity, a pretext for Nietzschean frivolity. We have to imagine 1,001 other concepts of city; we have to take insane risks; we have to dare to be utterly uncritical; we have to swallow deeply and bestow forgiveness left and right. The certainty of failure has to be our laughing gas/oxygen; modernization our most potent drug. Since we are not responsible, we have to become irresponsible.”
(Rem Koolhaas, What Ever Happened to Urbanism?)
And here is the performance artist Stelarc suspended by hooks which pierce his skin swinging through the air from a crane some forty metres above the roofs of Copenhagen in his Copenhagen Suspension (Grey Suit Video for Art & Literature, Issue no 3). By adding time, the performance artist lends sublimity to art, since the event is fleeting.
This is grandeur perceived as non-finito – phusis, that is, (the physical flux of nature) phusis with a vengeance – an urban phusis – for as Michael Craig-Martin once pointed out to me, the city is as much nature as any other nature.
Such an evolving, fluxile species of greatness is an adequate one for a century coming into being as the ‘gay science’ of process and transformation, re-emergent in the twentieth century, gains momentum in this new one, and grandeur moves into a state of mutability, ironically created perhaps simply by a change in scale, rendering the concrete floor of the gallery vast in some almost extra-terrestial way, thus preparing us for a flight into the stars when we finally abandon a planet ruined by our own small-mindedness…
So now we move on to how a sense of incompletion may move mere grandeur towards the sublime: I address this issue in another of my essays:
Non-finito or the art of incompletion.
Infinity, though of another kind, causes much of our pleasure in agreeable, as well as of our delight in sublime images. The spring is the pleasantest of the seasons; and the young of most animals, though far from being compleatly fashioned, afford a more agreeable sensation than the full grown; because the imagination is entertained with the promise of something more, and does not acquiesce in the present object of the sense. In unfinished sketches of drawing, I have often seen something which pleased me beyond the best finishing; a from the cause I have just now assigned.
(Edmund Burke, ‘Infinity in Pleasing Objects’, A Philosophical Enquiry, p. 70)
That’s true, but the incomplete can also be autumnal, and it can be ruinous, as we see in Claude’s somewhat elongated temple.
Thus ruins partake of the sublime. Here is a critic’s view of a supposedly unfinished work by Leonardo:
The figures and architectural elements boldly delineated and filled out in earth colours on the five boards that make up this panel anticipate the type of sketchwork that will characterise modern art. The picture is remarkable for its extreme concentration and power. Leonardo’s contemporaries erroneously assumed that it was unfinished.
xxxxxx(Jean-Claude Frère, Leonardo – Painter, Inventor… p. 61)
Much the same could be said for Michelangelo’s Entombment painted in 1500:
The sketch as a notion of the unfinished comes into play here.
But the dynamic theory developed by Frederick Schlegel, the greatest of the romantic theorists on the sublime, was founded on the notion of the fragmentary:
A fragment, like a miniature work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself, like a hedgehog.
(Schlegel, Athenaum Fragments, p. 206)
Here we can sense an almost Heracleitan irony in the attempt to bring opposites together. As the authors of The Literary Absolute put it:
“…the detachment and isolation of fragmentation is understood to correspond exactly to completion and totality.”
(The Literary Absolute, p. 43)
For me, Piero’s Flagellation evidences itself as a sublime enigma. It is only seemingly incomplete, the whiteness of certain pillars and architectural elements suggesting that they are unpainted, but actually referring to the glare of daylight, where deals go on, even as Christ is tortured. So there is often a puzzle that demands we place “unfinished” in inverted commas – a wholeness to the fragment. It alludes to or suggests some otherwise ungraspable whole. But what may have begun as a perception soon becomes technique: Michelangelo’s slave escaping from the rock is knowingly and deliberately incomplete. So the fragmentary can be manufactured.
F. T. Prince has written a fine essay in verse on Fragment Poetry. Here is Shelley’s fragment To the Moon:
And here is Prince’s comment:
The imagists owed much to fragment poetry. Perhaps one of the most famous of all such imagist poems is Pound’s In a Station of the Metro:
Written with the impetus of imagism, and employing the same technique of accumulating fragments as T.S. Eliot used for The Waste Land – a technique they pioneered together – Pound’s practically interminable Cantos represent a vast poetic junk-heap, forever being added to, and therefore forever unfinished:
Here is part of Canto LXXIV:
Pound and the modernists realised was that meaning itself could remain unfinished as in ”Connie’s Scared” – a poem by New York School poet Clark Coolidge:
There’s a sense of improvisation here, a jazz feeling (Coolidge used to be a jazz drummer). It’s an improvisation with the fleeting images, fragmentary glances or gists that we get in life (like overhearing a fragment of a conversation on a bus.
A good example of such improvisatory momentum leading quite casually to a deepening of significance is Frank O’Hara’s poem on the death of the jazz singer Billy Holliday (“Lady Day”). It’s called The Day Lady Died, and here is part of it:
Fragmentation may be whittled down to by the creator of a work so that it feels unfinished. When interviewed by Nigel Floyd for Time Out, von Trier had this to say about his film Idiotern:
The good thing that came out of using video cameras was that some of the scenes in The Idiots are only one-and-a-half-minutes long, but they were one hour long when we shot them…
The Idiots is a Dogma 95 film, a European movement in film which advocated rules that proscribe the use of studio sets, tripods and dollies, artificial lighting, introduced props and music not played and recorded in real time. All films should be shot on 35mm film stock. But for Von Trier, these rules are there to be broken – as Catholics are allowed to lapse:
I had this notion that I wanted to go into films that were less controlled. The limitations that are within the material, and the limitations that are within the actors, are therefore the limitations of the film. I didn’t go in and force things. I didn’t film it, I just looked through the camera. That was the technique…
So in a sense, Von Trier is unfinishing his film, cutting whole junks of it out, rendering it incomplete. In the late nineteen-eighties, Station House Opera created a performance with breeze blocks epitomising the notion of chaotic urbanity as suggested by Rem Koolhaus:
In this performance building and rebuilding, creating and dismantling created a never-ending spectacle; on occasion entombing the performers.
And then there’s a film called Winchester that has recently been made about the perpetually unfinished house Llanda Villa, created by the Sarah Winchester, wife of the inventor of the Winchester rifle who believed herself pursued by the ghosts of dead Indians (should I say native Americans?) slain by her husband’s invention:
Some have suggested that the incongruities of the house are due to Sarah’s ineptitude as an architect. How else account for skylights built where the light of the sun could never strike them; for doors that open on blank walls or a sheer drop; for a chimney, connected to several fireplaces, that rises four stories and stops just inches short of the roof? Perhaps. But in my opinion neither the ghost-buster nor the hopeless-amateur theory can account for the house: one senses immediately on entering it that Sarah Winchester, with all her peculiarities, was an artist. For her house is an enchantment, and that could be exactly what she intended all along.
(John Ashbery, Reported Sightings, p. 341)
Less and less is left of Las Pozas – an enormous surreal palace built in the Mexican jungle by Edward James, with the intention that the jungle would embrace it, cover it and eventually destroy it. A sublime process, and one which brings with it our own destiny. It is perhaps this refusal to secure the rendition in any medium of the whole of an issue that led modernism on to the sublime abstraction of Ad Reinhardt where one darkness lies on another of subtly different hue. His work I address in another essay – Quietism, the Vacancy of Formal Art.
Prophetically enough, in his “Analytic of the Sublime”, Immanuel Kant saw it like this:
We need not fear that the feeling of the sublime will lose by so abstract a mode of presentation – which is quite negative in respect of what is sensible – for the imagination, although it finds nothing beyond the sensible to which it can attach itself, yet feels itself unbounded by this removal of its limitations; and thus that very abstraction is a presentation of the Infinite, which can be nothing but a mere negative presentation, but which yet expands the soul.
So Grandeur may lack an injection of infinity, and this is what Non-finito may offer it, and, by suggesting the incomplete, lend it some sublimity.
Anthony Howell, a talk for Norfolk Contemporary Art Society in Norwich, Wednesday 2nd October, 2019.