Thursday 30 July 2009

on mountains most separate


Nah ist
Und schwer zu fassen der Gott.
Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst
Das Rettende auch.
Im Finstern wohnen
Die Adler und furchtlos gehn
Die Söhne der Alpen über den Abgrund weg
Auf leichtgebaueten Brüken.
Drum, da gehäuft sind rings
Die Gipfel der Zeit, und die Liebsten
Nah wohnen, ermattend auf
Getrenntesten Bergen,
So gib unschuldig Wasser,
O Fittige gib uns, treuesten Sinns
Hinüberzugehn und wiederzukehren.

Friedrich Hölderlin

Near is,
And difficult to grasp, the God.
But where danger threatens
That which saves from also grows.
In gloomy places dwell
The eagles, and fearless over
The chasm walk the sons of the Alps
On bridges lightly built.
Therefore, since round about
Are heaped the summits of Time
And the most loved live near, growing faint
On mountains most separate,
Give us innocent water,
O pinions give us, with minds most faithful
To cross over and to return.

(tr. M. Hamburger)


technical problem

i don't know what happens, but i can't post any more photographs because their quality is very low after uploading (this is visible even in small format): blotches of pixels ruin the entire image. i became aware of this problem on Tuesday and hoped it would solve itself, but that hasn't been the case. friends of mine have reported the same issue. has any of you had a similar experience? any advice?

Friday 24 July 2009

that Foolishness, that lightness (also: instead of ars poetica)

Once again, I will go against the routine of the Floating Bridge: today's post will be about photography, among other things. And to make it even worse, it will be, up to a certain degree, self-referential. I would like to let you know how the Beautiful Foolishness of Things, my current project with Michael Tweed, is going.

Simple things (joy is always simple): that I am grateful and would like to thank all those who follow it, who have written to me about the Foolishness and encouraged us to continue.

Also, that I am very happy with the gentle way of its unfolding, its twofold vision entwined into a subtle contemplation of what is at the heart of what, essentially, is not, a gaze whose decisive sign seems to be, above all, the tenderness. The subject who becomes and the things which are meet through tenderness at one point that reveals their same, intimate nature: the vulnerability, ephemerality of being, always on the threshold of fading away. Our prayer for tenderness: the photograph, that one 'takes' of the world, an aggressive grasp of what faces us as 'the other', the word which is bound to reify - can they become a caress, as light as breath?

This is Her way. The Foolishness tells Her myth. A gaze which doesn't imprison or impose its presence upon the world, but quietly awaits for presence to manifest itself as grace. A gentle withdrawal into the in-between, which, to paraphrase Dogen, shouldn't be simply confused with nonbeing or forcefully asserted as being.

and if she needed to withdraw,
which wasn’t often,

it was never away from

but only between.

I had my fears, at the beginning, that Michael's words and my images would fail to speak together - that 'mitsprechen', wherein the voices become one, without sacrificing their own nature. I have wondered why this hasn't happened, why, on the contrary, their speaking-together flows so effortlessly. This lies, perhaps - I have tried to answer - in the specific nature of what each 'foolishness' represents, and which could be called, if I am allowed to invent such a word, a photo-waka. I can even imagine the kanjis for it: 写真和歌. I don't mean that Michael's poem is a waka illustrating the image, but rather that photograph and poem combine to form a peculiar kind of waka. In what follows, I will try to explain what I mean by this. If the Japanese poetry discussion is based on a series of essays I will indicate in the notes, the thoughts on photography are merely my naive... how to call them? musings which have no intention whatsoever to say something true or meaningful about photography in general: it is only my way of living photography as a path of spiritual experience, as a form of contemplation.

Waka is a classical form of Japanese poetry which relies on brevity (31 syllables) to articulate, in a single unit, a specific form of subjective consciousness which is, in fact, fundamental to all types of Japanese arts (representing, at the same time, a spiritual way, or path: 芸道、geido). The essence of these arts is that they are centred on reaching an alignment, a perfect correspondence among the state of mind of the subject, the material used by a specific art and its expression (words, flowers) and nature. When this particular configuration is established, there emerges something which transcends it: a sudden experience allowing the subject to become aware, in Buddhist terms, of the ultimate Reality, the void pervading all being - the absence in presence, the emptiness in fullness, the discontinuity in the whole.

The ultimate source of creativity for the waka poet is what the Japanese call 'kokoro' - which could be understood as 'pre-phenomenal mind' or 'awareness', a state of subjectivity which can be neither grasped by cognitive activity nor articulated in any linguistic-psychological way. Toyo Izutsu writes: "As the mental concentration of the poet reaches the uttermost, out of the absolute serenity of his creative subjectivity showing no sign of vacillating this way and that - there, naturally and efortlessly, emerge, in spite of himself, poems'.

the infinity within,
it too would gently
reveal itself.

As far as I understand it, this is also the case with Michael's process of creation, co-extensive with his Buddhist practice of contemplation, which allows - however
not by intentionally seeking or forcing it to appear - the spontaneous manifestation of thoughts/words (omoi, kotoba) and feelings (yojo) from that all-pervading yet never phenomenologically articulated Self-Awareness. But, and I see here the first fundamental similarity between the two types of creation, isn't photography born in exactly the same way (at least that kind of photography which fascinates me, the opposite of the conceptual approach): an intense yet effortless concentration of body and mind, which have overcome their duality, and thereby become the empty ground - empty exactly through or within the utmost fullness of being - allowing for that instant of revelation to take place, for something to emerge which transcends the photographer's self and becomes the expression of reality itself? What happens in that moment is a kind of spontaneous 'casting off body and mind', to use Dogen's famous phrase 'shinjin datsuraku' (身心脱落), experience which lies at the heart of the Japanese Buddhist contemplation. And the amazing thing in the case of photography is that the distinctions between hand-eye/tool (camera) are similarly abolished for that shortest instant of time. Everything melts into one gaze, one act of absolute concentration of creative energy.

Exactly as in the case of the waka poet, "vacillating this way and that", or the mind taking the lead and obscuring the non-dualistic awareness which becomes manifest, leads to failure. One has to be totally present there, absorbed into that moment and act, one has to become the presence itself. That single moment when one pushes the button, that release of the shutter which reveals the fundamental discontinuity of the world inside the flow lies beyond conceptualization and, as such, cannot be explained but only approached as a 'living experience' - the same way Zen stresses the fact that one has to undergo the same spiritual experience expressed in a koan, for example, and not merely try to 'understand' it on a discoursive level.

The idea of discontinuity leads to another important similarity between waka and a photograph, in this interpretation which perceives them as living spiritual realities and not merely as dead objects, products of the intellect. Let's take the waka first. Toyo Izutsu sees its specificity in its 'field'-structure: its extreme linguistic condensation allows the poem to constitute an a-temporal unity in which every part is perceived simultanuously and a multitude of meanings reverberates at the same time, at every point of the 'field', 'bringing into being a global view of the Whole'. Thus waka can be seen to represent a spatial expanse in which time, as implied in every succession of words articulated in a syntactic flow, is annihilated and the semantic content is given as a whole, at once. In this way, it may seem, waka tries to transcend the very nature of the material it is made of, since language manifests itself as a linear succession of words which can unfold their meaning only in a temporal sequence.

Yet what the waka-poet aims at, struggling with this intrinsic limitation of language, is given freely and naturally in photography. If time is annihilated in waka, time is held still in a photograph, suspended, and the different parts of the image are perceived instantly, as a whole. In a way, the photograph could also be understood as a non-sequential 'field' whose unity is grasped instantly, beyond the linguistic activity of the subject. Usually, the photograph is analyzed in terms of the past, a dead and frozen time which captures, in a way mummifies reality: from Barthes's 'that-has-been', a footprint or a death mask, to Sontag's 'way of imprisoning reality, of making it stand still' or Hutcheon's 'all photographs are by definition representations of the past'. But if time is made to stand still, then subjectivity can thus break from the normal flow and find itself in an eternal 'now', experience the essence of time as time-being, or being-time (
有時, uji), as Dogen describes it - simultanously flow and eternal moment (an analogy would be, perhaps, the Einsteinian wave/particle nature of light). The past hours are absorbed in the I, they may 'seem to be elsewhere but are actually in the absolute, eternal now'. Each particular moment of time embodies simultanously all the time-being of the world.

time was simply
the expansion of her being

in which all things

were revelation.

But speaking in terms of processuality, what actually interests me here: in that 'now' which seems to suspend time, the absolute of the moment when the button is pushed, there takes place an encounter between the creative consciousness and the world, which produces - or better - lets emerge a new reality, by its own accord. In that act, as I experience it, a hidden reality reveals itself, which is neither a merely mechanical copy of the world as it is, nor the expression of the human subjectivity, but something which incorporates and transcends both and embodies the time-being of both self and world.

When I said that I considered each separate foolishness to be a waka,
I was referring exactly to this correlation between self and world, between spiritual realities and natural ones, which is the characteristic of Japanese Zen poetry. Because self and nature share the same essence, the Buddhahood, the nature references in the poem are meant to actualize "a state of subjective consciousness". As I see it, my photographs showing things and events of nature play the same role which the images drawn from nature play in classical waka: Michael's poems almost never contain nature-descriptive instances, but blend with the image to articulate a poetic-linguistic-visual field which sustains the contemplation of Reality.

For me, the Foolishness represents the exact opposite of the Bridge: the lightness. The living experience that only lightness and grace can offer a way out of suffering. And if I personally fail, there are others who don't. There is hope. As Makoto Ueda puts it:

"Life is constant suffering for those
who have not attained enlightenment; it is something to flee from for those who long for the life of a recluse. But those who have returned to the earthly world after attaining a high stage of enlightenment can look at life with a smile, for they are part of that life. Knowing what life ultimately is, they can take suffering with a detached light-
hearted attitude — with lightness."

with the tiniest,
most subtle of gestures,
or even with none,
all was accomplished.

Essays on Japanese aesthetics and philosophy on which I based my text:
1. The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan, by Toshihiko and Toyo Izutsu.
2. A Study of Dogen
by Masao Abe and Steven Heine.
3. Japanese Poetry: The Sketch of Metaphysical Perception, in Singing the Way by Patrick Laude.

Monday 20 July 2009


O you,
Who came upon me once

Stretched under apple-trees just after bathing,

Why did you not strangle me before speaking

Rather than fill me with the wild honey of your words
And then leave me to the mercy

Of the forest bees?

Amy Lowell

From kvond:

I’m not sure if you have this in mind with your affinity for “paralysis,” but Sappho’s beautiful use of the word λυσιμέλης

Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble,

the bitter-sweet, irresistable creature

comes to mind; the word is often translated “limb-loosening,” used to describe the powers of the creeping, undefeatable, sweetly-bitter creature Eros, who has returned. Limb-loosening of course is what Homer uses to describe what happens upon a death-blow in battle [sleep as well], but there is a word-play here, as μέλος (limb), also can mean a “song, or strain” (melody, the song-road). The loosening is both a re/lease of limbs and song, but also a death. But even more, there is a hint of the verb μέλω, “I care, I have concern,” so the limb-loosener is also the care-loosener.

Saturday 18 July 2009

last song

the unspoken question

endlessly asked

the last meeting

happening all over again

Meredith Monk - Last Song

S.B. wrote me that my post reminded him of this great song.
He also added:

"When does time run out?
When will we go?"

Thursday 16 July 2009

because tomorrow...

I ask nothing else but to speak simply, to be granted
this grace.
Because our song has become overloaded with so
many kinds of music that slowly it is sinking
and our art has been overlaid so heavily that the
gold has eaten away its face
and it is time we spoke the few words we have
because tomorrow our souls set sail.

Giorgos Seferis
An Old Man on the Riverbank

Sunday 5 July 2009

in that garden

i imagine you asking:
can pain subside?
is night the only answer?

i ask, in what makes, perhaps, the faintest echo of a leaf:
can our bodies still bear the fallout of grace?

before, i would have moved towards you, from within that unspoken, unfinished gesture which so oft has been the only way of revealing myself to you.

it is only time which moves in their throats, like a snake, splitting and trying in vain to shed its hours. in what should have been the raw skin of beauty, they turn from each other. when they have drunk all the red from the tulips and all the gold from the air
and all the black from the poppies, in that stillness. they turn to each other, cold to the bones, ready to tear up their paleness as well.

Friday 3 July 2009

I am veiled even to myself

Nadie puede salvarme pues soy invisible aun para mí

que me llamo con tu voz. ¿En dónde estoy?

Estoy en un jardín.

Hay un jardín.

Alejandra Pizarnik

(Piedra Fundamental)

No one can save me because I am veiled even to myself,

I who calls me with your tongue: Where am I? I'm in a garden.

There is a garden.

(Fundamental Stone,
trans. Zachary Jean Chartkoff)