The Salton Sea

I mentioned the Salton Sea in my previous post about Marisa Silver’s novel and I’ve just run across a documentary about the sea, Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, produced and directed by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer and narrated by John Waters. It is not a particularly innovative piece of documentary film making, but it presents a portrait of the place and its people that may be of interest even to people who haven’t been there. There is a political undertone having to do with the allocation of water from the Colorado River, but the film doesn’t do much more than mention it. I’ve also begun reading William Vollmann’s massive study, Imperial, which undertakes an exhaustive description of its eponymous California county, in which the Salton Sea figures prominently. Vollman’s 1000 page book was published with a companion volume of the author’s photographs, which I have also now got on hand. Going back to my roots, you might say — however parched and salt-encrusted they may be. Some people find Vollmann’s meandering prose irritating, but so far I am charmed by it. Give me another six or seven hundered pages & we’ll see!

Existence

I don’t know about you, but to me there is something deeply satisfying in the knowledge that the universe appears to be the result of an imbalance. Those old Navajo weavers were exactly right to put a flaw intentionally into their perfect rugs; the Japanese idea of wabi sabi captures this notion aesthetically, that a slight asymmetry makes for the greatest beauty.

Leaf Fall

The leaves have been turning color and falling for a couple of weeks now, but today was the first day they fell in great numbers, all at once, in big, wind-driven swirls. We’ve had waves of wind and rain all afternoon and the trees, though some still have green leaves, are noticably more naked. (Is the use of naked in that last sentence an example of what Cleanth Brooks would call the pathetic fallacy? Screw him.) Just now as I write this, a few shafts of late sun are breaking through and throwing an erie but beautiful light on the pines and maples across the road, which are glowing green and orange as if from within. A real Wordsworthian sort of moment, a brief gleam fading now before I finish the sentence.

Meet James Ensor

Another review, by Dawn-Michelle Baude, of the James Ensor show at MOMA I mentioned back in June. I love the deadpan presentation of horrors — same as in the old Anglo-American murder ballad tradition — in Ensor’s painting. Oh, yes, it is a world of greed, hatred, and delusion (as the Buddha taught), but it is colorful and interesting and even funny.

Another Reason to Celebrate Modernism

I had not known the work of the architect Charles Gwathmey until I read his obituary in the NY Times.The photograph of the small house he designed for his parents in 1966 is breathtaking and reminds one of the aesthetic power of the Modernist vision, in architecture, which I know only casually, and in poetry, which I know professionally. Things have changed, of course; Modernism has been replaced by the hodge-podge amalgam of post-modernism. The Times quotes a friend of the architect: “‘A lot of people jumped ship, but Charlie was loyal to Modernism’, said Peter Eisenman, the architect and theorist.” Given my preference for pluralism over any form of authoritarian Tradition, I should be happy about the passing of Modernism, but it produced so much great art that I not so secretly long for a return to the vision quest of the Modernist project, to put something together out of the fragments of the past as it has come down to us, though I have perhaps a more catholic appreciation for and acceptance of the sort of fragments that might be useful than the old Modernists.

What Kind of Poem Would this Be?

I wonder what the poetic equivalent of this art installation would be. Flarf? In the visual arts I find this kind of massive accumulation of detail deeply engaging. Why do I distrust it in poetry? Do I distrust it? I find Allen Ginsberg‘s long catalogs moving and often very finely tuned, intellectually. “Black Acid Co-op” feels like Ginsberg to me — it doesn’t appear to be interested in undercutting its own position with irony, except the irony of putting all this in an art gallery, of course.