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 Things have changed, of course; Modernism has been replaced by the hodge-podge amalgam of post-modernism.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.

Hanoi Ceramics Seller

ceramics on bike 2 smr In Hanoi, lots of businesses are conducted from bicycles. Here, a merchant is selling ceramics carefully tied to her bike and balanced so that she can still ride even with a load that must be a couple of hundred pounds. Most of the pottery like this is made in the Village of Bat Trang outside the city, where the industry served the court in the 18th century, then the colonial urban elite in the 19th and 20th; now, after the revolution, when there was very little production, the industry has revived in a big way, selling mostly inexpensive wares for everyday use. But the Vietnamese have a higly developed sense of style and even ordinary objects are designed and decorated with care. It’s one of the things I like best about Vietnam.