This is the last email notice you’ll get regarding new posts to the Siglio blog because we have a new website and new posts to the blog are announced via the RSS feed (to which you can subscribe on the Affinities blog page), Twitter, and Facebook. We encourage you to check out the new site, recent posts to the blog, and stay with us one way or another! We’re posting new additions to the blog 2-4 times per month and some interesting posts are forthcoming. Thanks for reading!
Life? Or Theater? An abbreviated Charlotte Salomon biography is now up. This post illuminates the extraordinary and far too short life of one of the artists featured in It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers. Salomon created an epic work in gouache with text overlays (mutating into text painted directly with image) that traversed three generations of her family’s history, told from multiple perspectives, unfolding during the decline of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi’s rise to power.
NOTE! The Siglio blog has a new home! If you’ve signed up for email announcements about new blog posts, then visit the new page and sign up for the RSS feed which will serve the same purpose (but no more emails—you’ll just get an update on your news feed). Alternatively, we tweet when there’s a new post, and we also send out an email to our regular mailing list once every 4-8 weeks with a list of the most recent blog posts. For the next couple of months we’re focusing on women artists and hybrid forms, so there are some fascinating posts ahead. We hope you’ll keep up!
NANCY SPERO (1926 – 2009, born in Cleveland, Ohio) is regarded as a pioneer in feminist art whose work confronts social and political injustice with creative ingenuity. Galerie Lelong is currently exhibiting Nancy Spero: From Victimage to Liberation: Works from the 1980s & 1990s through February 16. Insights into the lineage of Spero’s work are abundant in Catherine de Zegher’s essay, excerpted below. Siglio’s publication of Torture of Women (1976) translates Spero’s epic 125 ft. work into nearly 100 pages so that readers can experience this fierce and enduring contribution to contemporary art, to feminist thought and action, and to the continuing protest against torture, injustice, and the abuse of power outside of the exhibition space.
TONGUE, TORTURE AND FREE REIN BY CATHERINE DE ZEGHER
All rights reserved. Published here with permission of the author. © 1998 the author. Essay originally published in Nancy Spero, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK.
1969-1972: The Codex Artaud
These sentences are just a few from the numerous quotes that Spero was copying in her notebooks from the writings of the French poet Antonin Artaud. (1) As if, having abandoned oil painting, she wanted to continue gesticulating and to painstakingly exercise, to articulate the joints of her fingers by transcribing and pen-pushing. First she used left handed writing—to parallel the poet’s unstable mental and physical condition, but also his marginalization—then a bulletin typewriter for more extended, still fractured excerpts. Like the brush, the pencil and typewriter endowed her hand with a voice. Meanwhile the pages of transcription enabled her to acknowledge Artaud’s resentment and violent response to suffering and exclusion. “Artaud screams and yells and rants and raves about his tongue being cut off, castrated. He has no voice, he’s silenced in a bourgeois society.” (2) Her hands being her voice, for Spero to gesticulate while copying (the poems of a desperate and ill man) meant, on the one hand, the mimicry of muteness and difficulty in articulating (as a woman, as an artist, as a victim of arthritis), and on the other hand, the literal sign of the human capacity for word-making, for moving beyond the boundaries of her/his body into the external, sharable world.
Obstinately the artist “talked with her hands,” although she realized that, unlike any other state of consciousness (psychic, somatic, or perceptual), physical pain resists verbal objectification in language. Because bodily pain has no referential content—it is not of or for anything, and thus takes no object—it remains a difficult task to convey the experience of pain itself. The knowledge, however, that “whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language,”(3) stimulated Spero even more to develop her sign language in order to record exactly the possible passage of pain into speech, into the public realm of communication. The tongue was her weapon. Though she felt “like a nonartist, a nonperson,” she was determined to practice the organs of speech, to act, and to confront language with its own limits, with what is in a sense a “nonlanguage” (as Gilles Deleuze defines it: “violence that does not speak, eroticism that remains unspoken”). However, like in “pornological” literature, “this talk can only be accomplished by an internal splitting of language: the imperative and descriptive function must transcend itself toward a higher function, the personal element turning by reflection upon itself into the impersonal.”(4) Les Anges, Merde, Fuck you, Smoke Lick, Sperm Bombs, Helicopters, and Victims from the earlier War Series expressed her existential anger and mirrored back protest against an interior and exterior hostile world. Her night-dark Angels became Nightmare Demons to be exorcised from the body.
In the four years of working with Artaud’s writings Spero sensed: “his disapproval of what I was doing—a woman artist excerpting and fracturing his already fractured screams and pleas.”(5) Using the typewritten quotes in tension/in relation with hand-printed hybrid images of paroxysmic bodies and free-floating heads with their tongues sticking out, The Codex Artaud retrieves collage techniques, that insert graphically or mechanically produced imagery. Pinned directly to the wall, the series consists of thirty-two horizontal or vertical scrolls of paper (approx. 52 cm high x 48 cm, 201 cm or 316 cm long). In an imperfect way, sheets of paper chosen carefully for their fragile and transparent qualities (reminiscent of Artaud’s description of pain as “le sentiment d’être en verre et brisable”/”the feeling of being made of glass, breakable”), are glued together to create Spero’s lengthy codex. Onto the pictorial surface disparate narrow strips of paper rhythmically carry along her typed arrangements of Artaud’s words as concrete poems. In fact, by taking up the copied fragmentary lines of Artaud—listed by Julia Kristeva as a radical author of a ‘feminine’ tradition—the artist not only introduces the potential for a “feminine writing,” but also joins the disruptive features of the “semiotic”(6) to the cut-and-paste techniques of the collage. The figures considered as hieroglyphs, extensions of the texts, explode in an undefined space disengaging images and words from any ‘normal’ milieu.(7) The scrolls as spaces of inscription unfold this extensive scatter of painted, cut out and collaged heads, tongues (defiant and phallic) and grotesque bodies (part human and animal or insect- and snake-like) next to the writhings/writings of drive and torment, like a story without a beginning, middle or end. In a multiplicity of viewing points, the beholder can start anywhere, and while reading, move in any direction according to her/his wish.
In a way the whole visual construct of dispersed textual and graphic elements, lacking any preordained coherence or fixedness, aspires for the “semiotic”: not as much for the nostalgic chaos of the inarticulate pre-linguistic but rather as demonstration of the language-destroying process of bodily pain. It indicates how “physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned…”(8) Over the course of Spero’s many scrolls it becomes gradually apparent why torture and pain should so crucially entail, require even, this shattering of language. “Often, a state of consciousness rather than pain will, if deprived of its object, begin to approach the neighborhood of physical pain; conversely, when physical pain is transformed into an objectified state, it (or at least some of its aversiveness) is eliminated. A great deal, then, is at stake in the attempt to invent linguistic structures that will reach and accommodate this area of experience normally so inaccessible to language; the human attempt to reverse the de-objectifying work of pain by forcing pain itself into avenues of objectification is a project laden with practical and ethical consequence.”(9)
1976-1979: Notes in Time
Leaving spaces blank, brief typewritten descriptions of torture are collaged onto the long paper scrolls: revealing descriptions… not a narrative, not a fiction, but eyewitness accounts so horrifying as to be a hard to read…a report calling for a report. Yellow letters of a printers’ wood type alphabet head the first of fourteen panels (51 x 3180 cm overall) of Torture of Women (1974-1976): ‘Explicit Explanation’. Initially Torture of Women was planned as part one of Notes in Time, which consisted of twenty-four panels (51 x 6398 cm overall) and resulted from several years of stockpiling records, images and quotations. Again, in a solitary act, Spero has been transcribing information from verbal documents gathered by Amnesty International during the dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador. Since she intended “an art that depersonalizes the subjective portrayal of the individual,” (18) she moved away from Artaud’s investigations of suffering mediated by art—it seemed to her “that because artists so successfully express suffering, they may themselves collectively come to be thought of as the most authentic class of sufferers, and thus may inadvertently appropriate concern away from others in radical need of assistance” (19)—to the case histories of tortured women political prisoners in actual reports. Paralleling this development, Spero’s increasing use of the mechanically reproduced word- and-picture-printing could be considered as an attempt to depersonalize hand-writing and deskill painting altogether. At once, the medium of printing allowed her to overcome the stiffening torture in her hands, paradoxically confronting personal implication with the specific accounts of physical and mental abuse that she was seeking to represent. Complying with the strategy of Amnesty International, the artist aimed to communicate the reality of physical pain to those who are not themselves in pain, in order to bring about cessation or torture. The way to approach these collages, which include officially published, though very private descriptions of utter cruelty, is as a contribution to the passage of physical pain into the public realm of shared discourse. Embedded in this aim is the assumption that the verbalization of pain appeals for the collective task of diminishing, and eventually eliminating pain. (20).
Inevitably, this indicates how the problem of torture is inextricably linked to the problem of power, for empowerment in its legitimate as in its fraudulent forms is always based on a transformation of body into voice. The negative use of the ‘language of agency’ (in other words, the verbal strategies revolving around the verbal sign of the weapon) achieves the full extremity of its sadistic potential in torture. To further quote Elaine Scarry: “Torture inflicts bodily pain that is itself language-destroying, but torture mimes (objectifies in the external environment) this language-destroying capacity in its interrogation, the purpose of which is not to elicit needed information but visibly to deconstruct the prisoner’s voice. (…) The prolonged interrogation also graphically objectifies the step-by-step backward movement along the path by which language comes into being and which is here being reversed or uncreated or deconstructed.” (21) Since the voice is a final source of self-extension beyond the boundaries of the body in a much larger space, inflicted pain and blanks in speech contract the universe down to the immediate vicinity of the body or swell the body to fill the whole universe. World, self, and tongue are lost through the annihilating power of pain. It is the prisoner’s steadily shrinking ground that wins for the torturer his/her magnifying sense of territory: “the absence of pain is a presence of world; the presence of pain is the absence of world.” (22) Across this set of inversions, illusion of power. (It is, of course, precisely because the reality of that fictionalized power is so highly contestable, the regime so unstable, that torture is being used.) (23)
Clearly, Spero’s series of Notes in Time demonstrates that the ‘language of agency’ has on the one hand a beneficent potential and on the other hand a radically sadistic one. The two uses are not simply distinct but mutually exclusive. (24) Her work enables the reader to unravel this collapse of making into unmaking which occurs because of the referential instability of the verbal sign: its alteration as weapon, tool, or artifact. “Violence in language is a violation. It is a destroyer of society, a breakdown. Artaud as pariah, and the women who have been tortured each give testament of this breakdown. There are great differences in the two themes yet they are both powerful indictments of society” (25) Increasingly, it becomes intelligible how Spero is exposing the political and perceptual consequences of inexpressibility. Elaborating Notes in Time the artist added more depictions of ‘lovers’ (small versions derived from her former Paris Black Paintings) and athletic, erotic, dancing women, in a diverse borrowing from fantastic or mythological sources to art historical references (Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sumerian wall paintings, aboriginal art, Greek vase paintings, Roman sculpture, medieval manuscripts, etc.), to current and popular magazines. It is within the frame of an already existing array of artifacts representing women that her introduction of new images takes place. Within this frame, as a counteracting move, she decided to make “woman the protagonist”: independent, plain-spoken, uninhibited, unbridled, sensual and liberated, even if she knew this wasn’t really the case. “Parler-femme, speaking (as) woman,” looking for “the blanks in discourse” (Irigaray), and claiming that women need a language, it is Spero’s aim to think woman-as-subject in the symbolic, which conditions the coming-to-be of woman-as-subject in the social. And it is, inversely, women’s affirmation as social subjects that allows them to rethink subjectively in language. (26) As images of agency, images of physical autonomy, and sometimes of obscenity, her triumphant female figures could stand up against the weight of the accounts which speak only of women’s victimage. (27)
Nevertheless, besides the combination of death instincts in the unconscious with life instincts, Eros and Thanatos, what is the meaning of the encounter of violence and sexuality, pain and pleasure, in such abundant textual and visual language as Spero’s? How are we to account for the violent (imperative and descriptive) language linked with eroticism? Perhaps, since her selection of images consists mainly of an idealized range of procreative and exalted bodies of women, its contemplation may also occur in a mystical or idealistic frame of mind—a frame in which masochism seeks historical and cultural confirmation. (28) Thus fashioned as powerful the female images have a terrific/terrifying effect as well, generating on the one hand, a collision with the demonstrative use of language related to the omnipotence of its sadistic author, and on the other hand, a correspondence to (or a pact with) the masochist’s desire for submission and cooperation in his/her educational undertaking. For if “the masochistic hero appears to be educated and fashioned by the authoritarian woman[man], it is basically he [she] who forms her [him], dresses her [him] for the part and prompts the harsh words she [he] addresses to him [her]. It is the victim who speaks through the mouth of his [her] torturer, without sparing [her]himself.” (29) Further reading of Deleuze, who endorses Georges Bataille, reveals that, “paradoxically, only the victim can describe torture; the torturer necessarily uses the hypocritical language of established order and power” and keeps silent. (30) Lifting into the realm of the intelligible by the whole technique of dialectical reversal and disguise, Spero’s working method implies displacements in the allocation of roles and discourse. The artist mentions the torturers’ silence and cruel attitude, but uses them to make self-contradictory statements to other people. Simultaneously, she is aware that “there is a certain natural repugnance in a healthy person’s recognition of other’s pain, deformity—either mental or physical—an intolerance by the observer of the victim, the sufferer.” (31) Overstepping masochistic bondage and humiliation, Spero’s juxtaposition of celebratory figures next to the printed abominable writings conveys the potential of expressibility, as Scarry describes it: “To witness the moment when pain causes a reversion to the pre-language of cries and groans is to witness the deconstruction of language; but conversely, to be present when a person moves up out of that pre-language and projects the facts of sentience into speech is almost to have been permitted to be present at the birth, or rebirth, of language itself.” (32)
1. In a conversation Yve-Alain Bois mentioned the author that Henri Matisse used to copy in calligraphy pages of Mille et une nuits, Don Quichote, etc… probably just to practice the flexibility of his fingers when he was not painting. At the end of his life he used collage techniques in response to his physical condition.
2. Nancy Spero in the interview with Jo Anna Isaak in Nancy Spero (London: Phaidon Press), 1996, p. 10.
3. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 1985, p. 4-5
4. Gilles Deleuze, Masochism. Coldness and Cruelty (New York: Zone Books), 1991, p. 22-23. In his study Deleuze regards the novels of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and also of the Marquis de Sade as “pornological literature.”
5. Statement of the artist, 10/9/1996.
6. For Kristeva the “semiotic” refers to the actual organization, or disposition, within the body, of instinctual drives as they affect language and its practice, in dialectical conflict with the “symbolic.”
7. Nancy Spero in the interview with Barbara Flynn, ibid., p. 1.
8. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 4
9. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 5-6
10. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 11
11. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 27-59
12. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 20
13. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 37
14. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 27
15. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 13
16. Nancy Spero in the interview by Barbara Flynn, ibid., p. 4
17. It is Spero’s joining women artist’s action and discussion groups, such as WAR (Women Artists in Revolution) in 1969, and the Ad Hoc committee of women artists, and AIR Gallery, an all-women’s co-operative gallery founded in 1972, that in a way made it possible for her to occupy a position as a woman artist.
18. Jo Anna Isaak in the interview with Nancy Spero, ibid., pg. 24
19. Gilles Deleuze, ibid., pg. 21
20. Gilles Deleuze, ibid., p. 22: “The ascent from the human body to the work of art and from the work of art to the Idea must take place under the shadow of the whip.”
21. Gilles Deleuze, ibid., p. 17
22. Statement of the artist, 10/9/1996.
23. Elaine Scarry, ibid., p. 6
This November, Siglio is releasing a collection of rarely seen, hard-to-find, and previously unpublished works by the artist Jess called O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica (edited by Michael Duncan). One of our (many) ambitions with this book was to make sure the works were truly legible. Jess’s verbal and visual density is virtually impenetrable in most reproductions. The large-scale works, even when exhibited, provide much more to examine and ponder than any sane person could possibly accomplish during a single gallery visit. Many of the works were made as artist’s books, so in both exhibitions and publications, you most often get to see only a single spread. In this book, you can spend a long time looking, discovering the kaleidescope of details that compose the infinite universe of each Jess work.
The design of the book contributes to that legibility in multiple ways—it lays flat so that little is lost in the gutter; the images are reproduced very large and as close to actual size as possible in most cases; the entirety of each artist’s book is included; and we made the book as exuberant as Jess’s work with little surprises to discover here and there. (The single large-scale work we included is a 19″ x 25″ posted that’s hidden as the inside of a french-folded dust jacket). There is also, of course, the tactile joy of the uncoated paper (which I discussed in the earlier “Proof” post about Siglio’s October release The Address Book by Sophie Calle). Steve Heller also revels in this particular detail on The Daily Heller blog.
So here’s the thrill of the final batch of match proofs—an enormous stack for the 192-page book! A little taste of what’s in store in the book itself…
Part two of our summer vacation: a desert performance.
After leaving St. George (where the used bookstore in town was definitely a locals-only attraction), we headed up to Wendover, right on the Nevada border and west of the Great Salt Lake and the massive salt flats. Wendover is a haunted, decaying place on the Utah side of the border where the mostly abandoned Wendover Air Base has a small museum, and the (amazing) Center for Land Use Interpretation has an artist residency program and a small gallery. From 1940-1943 it was the largest military installation in the world as the training ground for the atomic bombs drops on Japan. Now it’s made up of crumbling barracks filled with birds’ nests, walls pock-marked with bullet holes from military training, and a kind of cemetery of impenetrable concrete bunkers that seem to have not been opened for years. Some of it is being renovated for historical purposes (including the hangar where the Enola Gay was housed), while other parts of the base have been converted for commercial use to ferry “high rollers” (who goes to Wendover to gamble?) to the Nevada side of town—where the casinos are the tallest buildings for at least a couple hundred miles.
We met up with William Wylie, a photographer and a professor at University of Virginia, his colleague Grace Hale (who teaches History and American Studies at UVA), and the group of students they took on a two-week road and camping trip to visit Land Art sites across the Western U.S. They were happily recruited to take part in this temporary art work in the middle of the desert.
“Wendover Walk” is part of Richard Kraft’s ongoing 100 Walkers series of performance and installation works in which walkers wearing sandwich boards and bowler hats move through the city or landscape, creating incongruities with their surrounding environment. The sandwich boards do not advertise a product or an ideology; instead, they use words and images drawn from a large set of taxonomies (land and cityscapes, appropriated images from children’s books, images of taxidermied animals, photographs of sky, clouds, airplanes, and helicoptors, portraits of people at Speaker’s Corner, 17th century London street calls, sound words from comic books, etc., etc.) that disrupt and alter the frame in which to see the everyday world. Performances have previously taken place in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London, just outside Little Sparta in Scotland, and along Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria.
This walk differed from others in that rather than following a linear route, the walkers used the desert as a kind of stage and followed unseen labyrinthine routes within it as if hemmed in by borders in this incredibly vast and empty space. It took place on the southwestern edge of the Wendover Airbase.
The performers were Christina Avalos, Quincy Darbyshire, Luis de Roux, Helena Groves, Grace Hale, Maeve Hoyt, Julia Loman, David Morales, Mitch Oliver, Elise Sokolowski, Courtney Springer, and William Wylie. (I photographed the piece while Richard videotaped it.)
BEFORE THE PERFORMANCE: GETTING READY AND WAITING
AFTER THE PERFORMANCE: THE GROUP PORTRAIT
(and) Arranging One’s Books, Part Five: A used bookstore in St. George, Utah
On a road trip up to Wendover, Utah to do a walking performance (What Did You Do on Summer Vacation, Part 2 next week) and to see the pictographs and petroglyphs in the desert (Part 3 soon), we stopped at a used bookstore in St. George. A somewhat different selection than what I might find here at home in Los Angeles and apropos of the last night of the Republican National Convention. We left the bookstore empty-handed.
(Apologies for the blurriness. All the photos were taken with my iPhone.)
In the parking lot, on the way in.
I found an address book on the Rue des Martyrs… I will contact the people whose names are noted down. I will tell them, “I found an address book on the street by chance. Your number was in it. I’d like to meet you.”… Thus, I will get to know this man through his friends and acquaintances. I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him.
—from The Address Book by Sophie Calle
Originally published as a daily serial in August, 1983 in the French newspaper Libération, The Address Book by Sophie Calle is one of the artist’s most controversial works. In twenty-nine image+text entries in which she narrates her encounters with people listed the address book, she collages together a fragile but intimate portrait of a stranger—a man in absentia. When Pierre D., the actual owner of the address book, protested this invasion of his privacy, Calle agreed not to republish the work until after his death. Now, almost thirty years after the original work appeared in French, The Address Book is available for the first time in its entirety in English.
Because the original work appeared in a tabloid-sized newspaper with one entry each day, the first challenge was redesigning the layout not only for the much smaller page (the trim size of this book is 5.25″ x 7″) but also for the rhythm and flow of a book in which those entries accumulate. Calle also wanted this book to have the feel of an actual address book: paper without pretensions, a nice fit in the hand, a sense of utility and simple elegance. After the design, the biggest challenge was getting the right combination of ink and paper.
Photographs and artwork are most often printed on coated paper because the ink doesn’t soak in and the ink dots stay small; therefore, details pop, and solid colors are more saturated and uniform. Uncoated paper is a sponge and the surface is often toothy, so the images can lose contrast and detail; it even prints at a lower resolution because the ink dots spread wide. But this kind of paper has character (in every sense). It signals a measure of contrariness, a resistance to the slick, glossy and fetishistic in favor of the tactile, the everyday, the kind of beauty that, instead of styled, is found or framed. (We’ve printed other Siglio books on uncoated paper, most recently O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica.)
So we embarked on a long process that began with the first proofs (1 – 2) in March on a lovely creamy paper but the blacks went dull and gray. We tried different, whiter stocks (3 – 5), then we adjusted the files, tested various combinations of ink and varnish (6) to get the richest blacks, then pulled the penultimate proof (7) in late June to determine the last tweaks. Meanwhile (8 – 9), we got ozalids which are basically “bluelines” to check that everything is positioned properly on the page and that the signatures are correct (the signatures are sets of 16 pages from which the book is assembled). This was a longer process than usual because Calle’s photographs required just the right balance between evoking their original life on newsprint (which prints at an even lower resolution) and having these images come alive in the book. When the samples finally arrived, we ripped open the package (10) and were very happy to find a book (11) that is everything we hoped it would be.
The Address Book by Sophie Calle is officially out October 31. You can get more information about the book and pre-order it (to ship in September) on the siglio website.
It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers includes twenty-six works that do not fit neatly in any category and thus, because they are unwieldy, uncontainable, and inimitable are often relegated to the margins, or known by one world but not another. One of my ambitions in editing this book (read the complete editor’s afterword here) was to make space for those artists and writers who have been under-recognized or slotted into a category that doesn’t allow for a full reading of their work. While the collection provides generous excerpts or the entirety of certain works, the Siglio blog gives me an opportunity to create a different kind a space—a hub of information so that readers can follow the many tentacles of such artist’s and writer’s lives and works, but also a space for them to continue to speak for themselves.
The first in this series was “Hand, Machine & Mind: Molly Springfield’s Translation“ in which we posted a complete work that is only available in the It Is Almost That limited edition and which converses with the work she included in the collection. This second one, for Unica Zürn (whose House of Illnesses is excerpted in It Is Almost That), is different in that we aimed to gather disparate information and create a kind of collection so that readers new to her work might become better acquainted with it and those who know it might find something unexpected. And when I say “we” what I really mean is Siglio intern Jasmine Francis who created and shaped this entry to be an excellent alternative (in both content and spirit) to the traditional Wikipedia page. Look for more entries in the coming months: up next Charlotte Salomon!
—Lisa Pearson, publisher, Siglio
UNICA ZÜRN: From my earliest childhood, the first woman’s eyes I encountered conveyed the same uncontrollable anguish spiders cause me…This is why I very soon divided myself into two halves. (1)
A LITTLE ABOUT UNICA ZÜRN
Unica Zürn was born in 1916 in Berlin-Grunewald as Nora Berta Unica Ruth. Her mother was Helene Pauline Heerdt, and her father was Ralph Zürn, a writer and editor and cavalry officer who was stationed in Africa; he often brought Zürn exotic, ephemeral gifts he had collected in his travels. Her parents divorced in 1930. During her childhood, Zürn often dreamed of a male fantasy figure she dubbed “the man of Jasmine.” She left school at the age of fifteen, and in 1933, after a stint at business school, she worked at the studios of Universum Film AG in Berline as a shorthand typist. From 1936 to 1942, she wrote for commercials.
In 1942, Zürn married Erich Laupenmühlen and had two children with him, Katrin (born in 1943), and Christian (born in 1945). After divorcing her husband and losing custody of her children, she developed a relationship with the painter Alexander Camaro, who introduced her to painting. Around this time (1949-1955), she wrote short stories, reports for journals in Berlin, serials for newspapers, radio plays, and skits for a cabaret called “The Bathtub.” She separated from Camaro in 1953, the same year that she met Hans Bellmer in Berlin during an exhibition at the Galerie Springer.
Bellmer, a German Surrealist, encouraged her to pursue “automatic” drawings and to work on her anagrams (poems resulting from the rearrangement of the letters of a word or phrase in order to produce a new word or phrase, using all the original letters only once). Zürn also experimented with oil painting, but quickly abandoned the pursuit. Her drawings and anagrams were presented under the title Hexentexte by the Springer Berlin Gallery in 1953. In the same year, she had her first solo exhibition of automatic drawings in the Galerie Le Soleil dans la Tete in Paris (where she also had another exhibition in 1956). In attendance were well-known artists, writers and philosophers such as Breton, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Joyce Mansour, Victor Brauner, and Gaston Bachelard.
I was allowed to accompany Bellmer during all the portrait sittings: Man Ray, Gaston Bachelard, Henri Michaux, Matta, Wilfredo Lam, Hans Arp, Victor Brauner, Max Ernst…There are those who must be adored and others who adore. I have always belonged among the latter. Being full, constantly full of wonder, admiration and adoration. Remaining in the background, watching, looking—that is the passive manner in which I lead my life. (2)
In 1954, Zürn moved to Paris with Bellmer and met Man Ray, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, and Max Ernst. In 1958, she participated in a series of photographs with Bellmer, who tied her up with ropes so tight that they cut into her naked body. The photos were called “Unica Tied Up,” and Bellmer’s 1959 exhibit Doll (La Poupee) that included these photos were a success. In 1959, Zürn’s own work was included in the large surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Cordey in Paris.
In 1957, Zürn met Henri Michaux, identifying him with “the man of Jasmine” from her dreams and took the drug mescaline with him. Zürn’s mental health began to deteriorate that same year. After stays at multiple clinics prompted by a nervous breakdown and schizoprenic crisis, the administration of psychoneural drugs, and two suicide attempts, she returned home in a wheelchair, where she destroyed many of her works. Later that year, she was then taken to the Sainte-Anne clinic in La Rochelle (and remained there for three years). Henri Michaux brought her drawing materials so she could continue to work. After this, she was interned in various other psychiatric clinics, including “La Fond” in La Rochelle (1966) and Maison Blance at Neuilly-sur-Marne (1969 and 1970). One of her doctors was Gaston Ferdiere, who was considered a friend of the surrealists.
Her illness provided inspiration for much of her writing, including The Man of Jasmine, which was written between 1963 and 1965 and a sketchbook of drawings, created from 1963-1964, entitled “Oracles and Spectacles” (one of her unpublished works). She published Dark Spring in 1969, while The Man of Jasmine was published posthumously in 1971. An expanded section from The Man of Jasmine, entitled The House of Illnesses, was published in 1986.
On April 7, 1970, Bellmer, now paralyzed from a stroke in 1969, informed Zurn that he could no longer be responsible for her. On October 18, 1970, she was discharged from La Chesnaie de Chailles, an asylum. The following day, she committed suicide by jumping from a sixth-story window in the apartment she shared with Bellmer. Bellmer, who died in 1975, was buried next to Zürn at his request at the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Their grave is marked with the words Bellmer had written for Zürn’s funeral wreath, five years prior: “My love will follow you into Eternity.” (3)
- (1) Unica Zürn, Gesamtausgabe (Berlin: Brinkmann and Bose, 1988). Cited in: Unica Zurn: Dark Spring, curated by João Ribas, edited by Jonathan T.D. Neil and Joanna Berman Ahlberg, Drawing Papers 86 (New York, NY: The Drawing Center, 2009).
- (2) Unica Zürn, Notes of an Anaemic, 1957, published in Das WeiBe mit dem roten Punkt (Berlin, 1981). Cited in: Introduction to The Man of Jasmine by Malcolm Greene (London: Atlas Press, 1994).
- (3) This biography assembled from the following sources: Ubu Gallery, Wikipedia “Unica Zürn,” Wikipedia France “Unica Zürn,” Art Brut, Atlas Press, and the essays by João Ribas and Mary Ann Caws in “Unica Zürn Dark Spring” (from The Drawing Center catalogue).
ZÜRN, THE ARTIST
In a letter to Gaston Ferdiere, the doctor who Zürn shared with Hans Bellmer (and Antonin Artaud), Bellmer writes:
During a relaxed after-dinner conversation at my mother’s house, Unica was doodling distractedly (the way one does while on the telephone). With my clearly experienced eye I immediately recognized her remarkable gift for automatic drawing. I pointed it out to her: after two or three days, she was making, with intense delight, drawings of which each one was of good quality. (1)
.More of Zürn’s early work can be found here.
On May, 1956, Zürn has her first solo exhibition in Paris at the Gallery “Le Soleil dans la Tête.” She sold four paintings:
So my show is over […] The drawings were sold, like something like this: the first was like a rabbit, with breasts on the chest, with bones and a ghost in the stomach (ink China black). The second was, as said Hans, a sort of “buffalo-bug” […] The third was a “sole traveler” attached to a repulsive octopus […] The fourth was […] kind of a big bell, from which emerged other insects. (2)
. Zürn writes in an excerpt from her novel The Man of Jasmine:
One day at Wittenau the head doctor had called her to a room in which a group of students and psychologists from other clinics was assembled, and asked her to comment on her drawings as he showed them to the others. The drawing Recontre avec Monsieur M (ma morte) prompted a discussion, and she was asked: ‘Why did you cover the entire surface of the paper right to the edges? On the others you’ve left the space around the motif white.’
And she had answered: “Simply because I couldn’t stop working on this drawing, or didn’t want to, for I experienced endless pleasure while working on it. I wanted the drawing to continue beyond the edge of the paper – on to infinity…” (3)
The pen ‘floats’ tentatively above the white paper, until she discovers the spot for the first eye. Only once she is ‘being looked at’ from the paper does she start to find her bearings and effortlessly add one motif to the next. (4)
- (1) Unica Zürn, co-written with Hans Bellmer, Letters to Dr. Ferdière (Biarritz: New Editions Séguier, 1994).Cited in Automatic Woman: The Representation of Women in Surrealism by Katharine Conley (Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press, 1996)
- (2) From a letter published in The Complete Works of Unica Zürn, (Berlin: Brinkman and Bose, 1988-1999). Cited in Dictionnaires et Encyclopédies sur ‘Academic’
- (3) Unica Zürn, The Man of Jasmine, trans. Malcolm Green (London: Atlas, 1994). Cited in: Esra Plumer, “The Comfort of Standing Next to Walls” (Online Publication, 2009).
- (4) Unica Zürn, The Man of Jasmine, trans. Malcolm Green (London: Atlas, 1994). Cited in: Unica Zurn: Dark Spring, curated by João Ribas, edited by Jonathan T.D. Neil and Joanna Berman Ahlberg, Drawing Papers 86 (New York, NY: The Drawing Center, 2009).
HANS BELLMER: The female body…is like an endless sentence that invites us to rearrange it, so that its real meaning becomes clear through a series of endless anagrams. (1)
UNICA ZÜRN: If woman is to put into form the ‘ule’ [Greek: matter] that she is, she must not cut herself off from it nor leave it to maternity, but succeed in creating with that primary material that she is […] Otherwise, she risks using or reusing what man has already put into forms, especially about her, risks remaking what has already been made, and losing herself in that labyrinth. (2)
In 1958 Bellmer took photographs of Zürn after wrapping her nude body with twine. It was printed in Le Minotaure and titled “Keep in a cool place.” (3)
A portrait of Hans Bellmer by Zürn, 1965
I always need a companion to tell me what to do…They just have to say “now you do this, now you do that.” (4)
- (1)Webb P.& Short R., Hans Bellmer (New York: Quartet Books, 1985). Cited in: Miranda Argyle, “Hans Bellmer and The Games of the Doll” (Online Publication, 2004).
- (2) Quote cited in: Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Gardex by Susan Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990).
- (3) Miranda Argyle, “Hans Bellmer and The Games of the Doll” (Online Publication, 2004).
- (4) Unica Zürn, Gesamtausgabe (Berlin: Brinkmann and Bose, 1988). Cited in: Unica Zurn: Dark Spring, curated by João Ribas, edited by Jonathan T.D. Neil and Joanna Berman Ahlberg, Drawing Papers 86 (New York, NY: The Drawing Center, 2009).
ZÜRN, THE WRITER
Hexentexte (The Witches’ Texts) (1954)
“ANAGRAMS are words and sentences resulting from the rearrangement of the letters in a given word or sentence… Man seems to know his language even less well than he knows his own body: the sentence too resembles a body which seems to invite us to decompose it, so that an infinite chain of anagrams may re-compose the truth it contains. At close inspection the anagram is seen to arise from a violent and paradoxical dilemma…What is at stake here is a totally new unity of form, meaning and feeling: language-images that cannot simply be thought up or written up. They enter suddenly and for real into their interconnections, radiating multiple meanings, meandering loops lassoing neighboring sense and sound.” —Hans Bellmer, Afterword to Hexentexte
It is a very beautiful day. The woman looks around and thinks: “there cannot ever have been a spring more beautiful than this. I did not know until now that clouds could be like this. I did not know that the sky is the sea and that clouds are the souls of happy ships, sunk long ago. I did not know that the wind could be tender, like hands as they caress – what did I know – until now? (1)
She wants to look beautiful after she is dead. she wants people to admire her. Never has there been a more beautiful dead child. (2)
She steps onto the windowsill, holds herself fast to the cord of the shutter, and examines her shadowlike reflection in the mirror one last time. She finds herself lovely. A trace of regret mingles with her determination. ‘It’s over,’ she says quietly, and falls dead already, even before her feet leave the windowsill. (3)
An assessment: “Preadolescent sexuality merges with depressive fantasy—to devastating (if ineffably morbid) effect in this once-notorious novel by a German writer and artist (1916–70) who, like this novel’s young protagonist, took her own life shortly after its (1967) publication. She’s a nameless suburban girl who’s provoked, by her slovenly mother’s indifference, her beloved father’s long absences from home, and her own claustrophobic self-absorption, into masturbatory daydreams and tentative baby steps toward adult sexual expression. The story’s (expertly caught) tone and rhythm are indeed hypnotic . . . and Zürn caps it with a marvelously bleak, brisk final scene. Unusual and memorable fiction.” (4)
Someone travelled inside me, crossing from one side to the other. I have become his home. Outside, in the black landscape with the bellowing cow, someone is maintaining that they exist. From his gaze the circle closes around me. Traversed by him inwardly, encircled by him from without — that is my new situation. And I like it. (1)
From the introduction: Zürn’s texts suck one into her world; it is as difficult to break loose as it was for the writer herself. This despite, or perhaps, because of her use of the 3rd person (Zürn’s original manuscript of The Man of Jasmine even attributes the book to “the wife of Hans Bellmer”). Her agency is removed in these texts, like that of the central character, almost as if she has become a medium to her own self. But sometimes she hits back. The Whiteness with the Red Spot, in which she writes in the first person, is a damning condemnation of her contingency, her “training,” the illusions of hope and happiness she had projected onto the other, the man, and in the short texts The House of Illness and in the short Les Jeux a Deux she employs a subversive, laconic humour. Her anagrams even reveal overt aggression…And if her main texts seem strangely subdued by comparison, it should not be forgotten that they were written under a strong inner compulsion, against the advice of others…which jeopardised her ‘normal state.’ (2)
- (1) Unica Zürn,The Man of Jasmine (London: Atlas Press, 1994). Automatic Woman: The Representation of Women in Surrealism by Katharine Conley (Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press, 1996)
- (2) Malcolm Greene, introduction to The Man of Jasmine (London: Atlas Press, 1994).
Since yesterday I know why I am making this book: in order to remain ill for longer than is correct. I can slip in a fresh page every day…My better half, which is clever and wise, wants me to remain ill for sometime, for it knows that one can gain from an illness such as mine. My worse half wants me to return to my few duties, yes, feels that it is time for me to show some consideration for my surroundings, which, incidentally, are not large…Perhaps I should now quickly smuggle another couple of empty pages into this book? Forgetting one’s duties has for me the taste of sweet cream. (1)
A description: Written and drawn during a bout of fever induced by jaundice, The House of Illnesses (Der Haus der Krankenheiten) traverses a kind of mirror world in which happiness is torment, traps are set to improve one’s health, and mortal enemies attack their enemies with virulent love. The narrator’s ailment was caused by her mortal enemy, a sharpshooter whose bullets removed the hearts of her eyes. Her stay in the House of Illnesses is supervised by Dr. Mortimer—adversary, stooge, the embodiment of her “personal death, and ultimately the figure that releases her. Zürn writes at the end of the work that she began the book on the twelfth day of her own illness, Wednesday, April 30, 1958, and she finished it ten days later. (2)
- (1) Unica Zurn, The House of Illnessses (London: Atlas Press, 1977).
- (2) Lisa Pearson, introduction to “The House of Illnesses” excerpted in It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists and Writers (Los Angeles: Siglio, 2010) .
Pierre Joris translated a few of Zürn’s Anagrams, which can be found on his website:
IN THE DUST OF THIS LIFE
Pale sieves a tired
Ax in the tree’s bosom.
In the foliage’s broom there is
in the lovenest of the building.
Sweetly fogs in its ice-bath
the Ibis’s blood. Masses
in the dust of this life.
ONCE UPON A TIME A SMALL
Once upon a time a small
warm iron was alone. No
Noise, no wine let in.
Lightly at the sea ran, while no
Ice was, thrush-pink in a
See-egg. All wink: tear
like all seeds. Sink in,
watergerm, no, alone –
in a pillow. All warmth
once upon a time’s a mall.
More of Zürn’s anagrams can be found in this excerpt from Anagrams, taken from the complete edition, volume 1 (1988).
ON UNICA ZÜRN
“Zürn’s life reads a bit like a Freudian case study…Zürn was herself equipped with a vivid imagination and, inspired perhaps by Oedipal yearnings, developed a rich interior fantasy life that is evidenced in her later drawings.”—Valery Oisteanu, artnet
“”The muffled scream that issues from Zürn’s drawings is surely the cri de coeur of a woman denied: deprived the love of her monstrously distant mother and the companionship of her absentee father, separated from her two children and refused possession of her own body by its transformation into a pot roast, among other things, by Bellmer. Her revenge is assimilation of the deformities these deprivations caused—her adamant presentation of herself as the twisted and manipulated creature that others have imagined. …Zürn’s virtuosity is that of an artist willing her madness to manifest itself on paper, rather than a mad person exuding symptoms in the form of pictorial expression”—Gary Indiana, Art in America
“Zürn’s body of work opens up the interior of a perceptual system of madness. The texts are located at an intersection, a point of transfer. Madness becomes the supplier of literature, literature transports madness. Both drawings and texts show the “image processes” (Zürn) or hallucinations haunting her. “I’m haunted as though I were the only home for something unknown” (4/1:36). It is not she who writes or draws, as images “stream in” or “arise” (4/1:53). A dictation she feels compelled to take down circumvents “sublimated elaboration” (Kristeva). For Zürn, some thing or other–what Lacan calls extimacy (“extimite,” a foreign body, composed of what is intimate)–seems to take charge in the missing place of authorship and sublimation. She is remote-controlled and the rote observer of a delirium that runs on ahead like a movie. She writes down what can be caught. The notes resist, as pure record, the inaccessibility of madness.” —Rike Felka, The Memorien of Unica Zürn
“For Zürn her body is an imaginary construct, capable of reconfiguration, like the anagrams she loves. This view is in keeping with Bellmer’s contorted dolls, who with their surrealistically flexible body parts represent distorted corporeal anagrams.” —Katharine Conley, Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism
“She drew phantasmagoric creatures, chimerical beasts with transparent organs and multiple appendages, plantlike abstractions, oneiric forms, amoebic shapes whose fractal membranes are filled in with multiple recurring motifs: spirals, scales, eyes, dots, beaks, claws, conical tails, leaflike indents. Some early and late drawings are sketches, loose, spare, and barely formed, containing multiple, differentiated, quasi-representational figures; others, often on larger paper, have a more “finished” quality, offering a clear inside to the entity, and an outside expanse of unmarked paper. Another batch, the most depressing, crowd out the picture planes with clusters of Munch-like heads, eyes, and mouths, set against cloyingly patterned backgrounds. These images were produced during one of the frequent institutional internments that followed Zürn’s being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1960.” —Bartholemew Ryan, Artforum
“In the art of Unica Zürn, the known is rederranged, the red-eared angel is crushed into a thousand eyes, as if in Tantrik diffraction, cranial shapes break into heads in telescopic profiles, with eye lozenge clusters of hanging pods. Abyss weevils percolate with seed energies.” (from “Unica Zürn” in Reciprocal Distillations 2007)
Blog entry by Jasmine Francis.
On Wednesday, May 9, there will be two celebrations of Joe Brainard’s work on the occasion of The Library of America’s publication of The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, (edited by Ron Padgett with an introduction by Paul Auster). One event is in Los Angeles and the other in Berkeley. I asked participants in both cities for photographs of a shelf where they kept any of their Brainard books to see what other books, authors, and artists Brainard rubbed up against. Most of the photos were taken with phones so, alas, they are a little blurry. A few that I particularly love are: the alphabetical ordering of Brainard (by way of Joe by Ron Padgett) nosing up to Bertolt Brecht or following Fernand Braudel; Brainard squeezed between Collette and Ex Cranium, A Night by Carl Rakosi; Brainard querüber from W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn; and Nicholas Bouvier’s The Way of the World resting on the heft of The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard in an overnight bag with other books and sundry items (toothbrush and pink furry slippers in the vicinity). Another little illegible detail: (in photo above) there’s a paper Colter Jacobsen wrote (“I’m Not Really Writing an Essay on Joe Brainard, I’m thinking”) for Bill Berkson’s class awhile back (he got an A+), on top of Paydirt. If you squint, you can find more serendipitous juxtapositions within and between photos (as well as a roster of some of the greatest indie presses—see how many you can spot)!
Complete info about both events is at the end of the post. Hope we’ll see you at one or the other.
—Lisa Pearson, publisher, Siglio
CONNIE LEWALLEN & BILL BERKSON
WEDNESDAY, MAY 9
In BERKELEY at the Berkeley Art Museum Theater, 2625 Durant Avenue, at 5:30 p.m.
A Celebration: The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, hosted by Bill Berkson, with featured readers Maxine Chernoff, Dick Gallup, Colter Jacobsen, Joanne Kyger, Constance Lewallen, Mac McGinnes, and Lawrence Rinder. At 6:30 p.m. there will be a special screening of Matt Wolf’s film I Remember: A Film About Joe Brainard. Admission to the evening’s event is $7. Free for BAM/PFA members, Cal students, faculty and staff, and with same-day theater or gallery ticket.
In LOS ANGELES at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Avenue, at 7:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Celebrates Joe Brainard, hosted by Lisa Pearson, featuring readings and visual presentations of Brainard’s works by Bernard Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Lewis MacAdams, Aram Sarayon, Ara Shirinyan, Michael Silverblatt, and Benjamin Weissman. The event is free. More info here.
Siglio releases Between Page and Screen by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse this month. Coupling the physicality of the printed page with the electric liquidity of the computer screen, Between Page and Screen chronicles a love affair between the characters P and S while taking the reader into a wondrous, augmented reality. The book has no words, only inscrutable black and white geometric patterns that—when seen by a computer webcam—conjure language. Reflected on screen, the reader sees himself with open book in hand, language springing alive and shape-shifting with each turn of the page. More on the book here. The following interview was conducted by Siglio intern Jasmine Francis on the occasion of the book’s release.
You have said that the aural and visual aspects of a poem are equally important and that the medium through which a work is read changes the reading experience. Could you talk about how this manifests in Between Page and Screen?
What I mean when I say the medium changes the reading experience is that our media are not transparent. We’ve known that since McLuhan, but we sometimes gloss over that fact. We treat printed books (and e-readers) as though they were all the same—as though they were simply vehicles for content. But of course that’s not true. We read differently when we’re piecing together Dracula on an iPhone (as I am during my commute to MIT) or holding a fine press edition in our hands. I’m not just talking about the cultural value placed on these different technologies, but how the physical experience of holding the “book” (how close is it to your face? what does it smell like? how much does it weigh? how do you mark your place?) and interacting with it influences our experience of the text.
I think Between Page and Screen wouldn’t be the same book if it were not presented in augmented reality. If printed on the page, then the text would seem to privilege the book object. If only on the screen, then it would seem computers had won out. Even reading the poems from the book in a screen capture, like those included here, takes a fundamental aspect out of the text—that uncanny feeling of holding an object in your hands while looking at yourself onscreen. Of moving your hands and body around in order to figure out how to make the words appear. Of getting used to the mirroring effect of the screen. Of seeing yourself and the text at once. You are constantly framing and re-framing the poems as you read. All of that is part of the reading experience.
Amaranth reads “A screen is a shield, but also a veil…”
You have also mentioned that there is a fluidity and a continuity— a kind of “give and take”—between the visual and the aural. When you take ones of the senses away, what’s potentially lost or gained? Particularly in Between Page and Screen, how does the visual presence of the language persist in sound?
In a broader sense, both the sound play and the visual shaping of the poem are closely bound up in the work’s content. The fluidity is probably most overt in the book’s puns and etymological wordplay, which draw the reader’s attention to the way words with a similar sound might actually share a common root, despite their different meanings. The visuals in the book play with those same etymologies. The pig poem, for example, is a collection of anagrams of the word “charcuterie,” which comes from the same Indo-European word root as screen. They seem worlds apart (cured meat and a gossamer veil?), but they are bound by etymology through things that shine. It’s a visual/concrete poem, but it’s also really fun to read out loud because of the way the anagrams bounce off one another sonically. Conceptually, they are all different ways of slicing “charcuterie.”
There is always a connection between the visual shape of the poems and their content, even in the prose poems, actually, which start out highly contained and eventually open up. But even in the most overtly visual pieces, like the pig, I’m interested in language behaving in playful ways that reward reading too. There’s one poem that looks like a stock ticker, for example. It scrolls across your screen from right to left, like a chain of market data. But if you voice the symbols, you piece together a little poem. It begins like this:
BE-2.41 TWE-1.02 EN+4.20 PAG-1.14 E-2.34 AND-0.34 SCR+.67 EEN+3.30a-1.19 book+0.38 spx-1.24
These are actual stocks—BE is Brompton Equity Split Corp, PAG is Penske Automotive Group, etc.—and the numbers are the stocks’ value change on the date I wrote the poem. Even though the poem appears in one long scrolling line, there are little rhymes and puns within it. And much of the language in it doesn’t mean anything unless it is sounded, unless the reader connects the pieces into words. To go back to the question of the visual presentation, I don’t think the poem does the same thing when it’s presented in lines on the page (where would you break the lines?), nor would it have the same effect printed in large scale on the wall of a gallery. It wants to move through the space between page and screen that the reader has opened up, the space where the book is allowed to speak.
Amaranth reads “Page don’t cage me. Why this mania…”
S and P attempt to define their relationship/the nature of their connection throughout Between Page and Screen. They almost come to a concrete definition (the “trellis”), yet P insists it is nevertheless a metaphor. I found something both climactic and resolving about this exchange because of the tension between the approach to and the retreat from the concrete. Does this tension define the book itself?
That’s a lovely reading. Certainly tension is at the heart of the book, or the hinge, or the spine. To be between is to be in a state of tension, isn’t it? Between means both separating two objects and joining them. Because the book is so much about our own relationship to reading and to the idea of the book, the tension between them is in a way our own—our relationship with page and screen is as fraught as their relationship with one another. We all have props, don’t we? I believe P’s claim that the trellis is a metaphor, that P isn’t entirely invested in order and training. I’ve seen many wild, unruly pages.
Amaranth reads “Dear S, that trellis is…”
Between Page and Screen is a love story, which is complicated by the inclusion of the readers’ face—what are we supposed to make of ourselves on the screen, alone in the background, watching ourselves read? Where do we fit?
It’s a bit voyeuristic, I guess, to watch this affair play out against your own face, but it also forces you to play both roles, to get between P and S. As much as it serves to highlight the tension, when I read or perform from the book and see my face behind the text, it’s also a reminder for me that any book, no matter the platform, is written for a reader—that without someone there to pull the book off the shelf, turn on the Kindle, boot up the computer or what have you, the text remains inaccessible. For me, given my own interest in how books are changing in light of recent technological shifts, that fact provides some sense of stability. I find it reassuring. As a reader is given a choice between these platforms, I don’t feel I need to take one side or the other—the death of books or deadening pixels of screens—instead, I can enjoy the juncture and move back and forth between the two, as most of us already do.
One of the things I love about using people’s webcams is that each reader sees something different when he or she opens the book. The context is completely different. A few friends have sent me screen captures of themselves with the book, and I love seeing their faces behind the poem. I’d love it if readers sent me an image of themselves with the book. It’s a great reminder that the reader is part of the text, and that it’s in his or her hands that the poems take shape.
Amaranth reads “P.S. A co-script posthaste postface”
Buzz Poole interviews Borsuk and Bouse for IMPRINT
Danielle Oliver interviews Borsuk and Bouse for THE DAILY BRINK!
David Shook interviews Borsuk and Bouse for “The Book 2.0” on MOLOSSUS