Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mister Meshugge

From George Grosz, An Autobiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 90-91—

It was in a café [in Berlin] that I first heard a jazz band. People called it a noise band. It was not a jazz band in the American sense, but more of a café orchestra gone crazy. Two or three musicians with saws and cow bells would parody the general melody with rhythmic interruptions. The conductor called himself Mister Meshugge [Yiddish for Mister Crazy] and acted like a madman. He would pretend he had lost control, would break his baton to pieces and smash his violin over the head of a musician. At the end he would grab the bass and use it as a weapon in the ensuing battle, finally throwing the splinters into the audience that screamed with delight and threw them back. Throughout the performance waiters kept on serving the musicians more beer and drinks, increasing the general gaiety. Meschugee would grab instruments from the hands of the musicians, and sing and dance. Suddenly he would jump onto the piano, pretend he was a monkey, scratch himself, grab a large glass of beer to toast the audience, but then, quick as a flash, pour it down one of the trumpets. The audience was convulsed with laughter.

Fish to Fish

From Magda Bogin, Natalya, God’s Messenger (NY: Scribner, 1994)—

We slip through our lives like water, says my aunt. What we know is a blur. But history does not repeat itself. Little by little, knowledge is passed on. Fish to fish, we press small morsels of the truth into each other’s mouths as we swim past.

An Artist's Loyalty to Form

From William H. Gass, Finding a Form (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), p. 35—

I believe that the artist’s fundamental loyalty must be to form, and his energy employed in the activity of making. Every other diddly desire can find expression; every crackpot idea or local obsession, every bias and graciousness and mark of malice, may have an hour; but it must never be allowed to carry the day. If, of course, one wants to be a publicist for something; if you believe you are a philosopher first and Nietzsche second; if you think the gift of prophecy has been given you; then, by all means, write your bad poems, your insufferable fictions, enjoy the fame that easy ideas often offer, ride the flatulent winds of change, fly like the latest fad to the nearest dead tree, but do not count the seasons of your oblivion.

Walker Evans Recalled

Photographer Dorothea Lange (when asked her opinion of American photographer Walker Evans, who, like her, had been employed by the Farm Security Administration during the Depression) in an Archives of American Art oral history interview, conducted by Richard K. Doud, on May 22, 1964—

A problem child. But I don’t know whether he’s a problem child to himself. But when anyone asks me what I know about someone who’s an artist, I can only answer, “Please, look at his work.” Because if you want to know anything about a person, doesn’t his work tell you? I mean, how can you know more? Walker Evans is, in my opinion, an extraordinary man. He had extraordinary eyesight. There is always a little twist in it somewhere, there is a bitterness, not always, I take that word out, and there is an edge, a bitter edge to Walker. That I sensed; and it’s pleasurable to me. I like that bitter edge. He seemed very straight and very true. I don’t care if he’s a son-of- a-gun.

Esthetics and Ecopoetics

From Frederick Turner,  “An Ecopoetics of Beauty and Meaning” in Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts (Lexington KY: Icus Books, 1999), p. 125—

Perception constructs a precise, individuated world of solid objects “out there,” endowed with color, shape, smell, and acoustic and tactile properties. It is generous to the outside world, giving it properties it did not necessarily possess until some advanced vertebrate was able, through its marvelously parsimonious cortical world-construction system, to provide them. Perception is both more global, more holistic, than sensation—because it takes into account an entire outside world—and more exact, more particular, because it recognizes individual objects and parts of objects...What is this awareness that is to perception what perception is to sensation, and sensation to reaction? The answer is: aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience is as much more constructive, as much more generous to the outside world, as much more holistic, and as much more exact and particularizing than ordinary perception, as ordinary perception is than mere sensation. Thus by ratios we may ascend from the known to the very essence of the knower. Aesthetic perception is not vague and “touchy-feely” relative to ordinary perception; quite the reverse. This is why, given an infinite number of theories that will logically explain the facts, scientists will sensibly always choose the most beautiful theory. For good reason: this is the way the world works.