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Three Films

for Gary Doberman

My layman's sense of this art finds a diversity of connections. Most generally, the nostalgic fact of first permission to be 'entertained' or, more truly, to see things which otherwise could not be felt as 'real.' Hence—as with Jack Kerouac's lovely evocations of Saturday childhood afternoons in wonder of local movie house—it was that miraculous 'outside' coming into one's sight, scrunched down in seat, stuffed with popcorn, kids again in that insistent impulse of, "what's going to happen now? " I think of how peculiarly rare is that occasion, in a common life, when "the house lights dim" and there is no question of the legitimacy of specific anticipation, no judgment other than one's pleasure .

An art, any art, would seem to me to have to be interesting , so to speak. And what, among other things, would seem so is that fact of a revelation, that an information occur—again, that something happen .

I've never felt that the arts had to be taken care of, in some charitable way, and I've loathed the often pretentious context of interest, primarily social, which used the activity for a badge of its own taste and/or its authority. Ezra Pound years ago made a very simple statement in contradiction: "Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions, after which your taste can take care of itself . . ." We surely will not all have the same "taste" but the arts

Robert Creeley, Was That a Real Poem & Other Essays , ed. Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif.: Four Seasons Foundation, 1979).


are not 'about' 'reality,' nor are they merely instances of possible social agreement. No doubt they all make manifest factors of specific social habit and history—and that is interesting. But for me , selfishly enough, they begin at the beginning, which is to say, they constitute physically real acts, things, and occur in the world as objects of that order, to find use, effect, as all else in possible human experience will or will not.

As a writer I have been endlessly fascinated by the apparent fact that words, language, constitute a particularly human creation. I don't at all mean that we each one 'made it up,' that is, thought of an apple and then searched around for the appropriate 'word.' As Wittgenstein suggests, it is very difficult to think of thinking apart from the functions of language. However obvious it is to remark it, a dog does not 'talk' in the same way that we humanly do. Its barks, yelps, whines, etc., are not demonstrably an abstraction of something 'out there' into something 'in here,' my head, call it, where indefatigable, shoe string , and water may all find a place with no immediate necessity to be here otherwise at all. Sigfried Gideon in his book The Eternal Present proposes early on that the arts have a significant initial relation to the human ability to abstract and therefore to symbolize —and that, humanly, this power has both its obvious wonders and, equally, its distortions and evils. He would point to a crisis thus gathering in the Renaissance and coming to culmination with Descartes' famous statement: "I think, therefore I am . . ." Many ways now active in thinking, feeling, proposing, using 'the world' can contest his assurance, and the ego, the castle of this proposition, has long since been made to yield.

But, you see, there was never a "castle," certainly not here, in this room—and though I might track it as "castellum" or as some memory of King Arthur and his knights—did he even have, to speak precisely, an actual castle —or how shall we now realize this thing which will in turn help us, apparently, to make actual "ego" . . . A metaphor? Symbol? A figure of speech —which instantly I translate to the shadowy formation of some charming body, tentatively, shyly, approaching—"a fine figure of a woman"—which in turn provokes instant memory of a crony's accounting of Hardy's somewhat peculiar fascination with hangings, in this case of a woman: "She was a fine figure of a woman, against the morning sky . . ." Death invites, day invites—which D shall we follow?

Because—which word itself is only, dearly, language "because" there is no 'because' other than in mind—it seemed to me (and seem is the passive form of see ) that we , which is to say, no longer


only I , had been wandering in a seeming field of flowering possibilities which words precisely make actual to human attention and delight.

So my pleasure, as an artist, has had an abiding interest in that fact. Louis Zukofsky—extraordinary poet of our mutual lives in the habits of the English-speaking world—picked up Wittgenstein's: "A point in space is a place for an argument . . ." But do I quote either correctly? Is it possible to make an 'incorrect' statement, or is virtue, forever and ever, its own irreducible reward? That is, in language, what is said is always the case—at least, for what is said, if not for what is not .

But sitting again in the Maynard, Mass., movie house—the Colonial, as I recall, as opposed to the People's Theater—we are waiting for the movie to begin, presumably a western, and are we to think of it as a 'future' which will or won't be 'correct'? I emphasize this aspect of 'correctness' for many reasons—some personal, e.g., I dislike intensely right people who tell me I am wrong; some rather shabbily philosophic—"is this for real?"—and some quasi-scientific—I would like to know if there might be ultimately a correct way of living in the world, etc., etc. In poetry there has been, I think, a marked respect for Coleridge's having called for "a willing suspension of disbelief." Shakespeare well before that—and I am sure many, many others in parallel situation—had asked that of his audiences, simply to admit the power of human gesture and language to transform an otherwise crunky approximation of the coast of Bohemia to affective, actualizing 'reality.'

I don't see—my thinking has so occluded my sight—how I'm now to enjoy anything at all in this situation. The movie seems hours in beginning, preoccupations proliferate and I'm again literally in this room, which is not 'this one' but another where I sit writing these words. Behind me, flat on a small cabinet-table, there is the severed muzzle of a literal bear's head, with intensely affecting eyes, although they are not 'real,' whose patience in that situation provokes and touches me. Where is the rest of his sad body? What was his life? He is a mute 'speaking' head no longer in time but as object—a whole world somehow attendant but never to be entered except by speculation: when was he otherwise? Where?

In some grotesque way, then, this part can manifestly stand for that whole—whether one means the 'all of it' or the gap, the space, the proposed 'rest of him' would imply. The interest for me here is in the fact that what's here can so clearly include all that apparently isn't. In fact, there is finally nothing else to be here at all, but


what is here. One is amazed that, humanly, so much value can be given to what is absent as against what's present. Too, the root of that word, absent , would seem to be literally, to be away —which is presumably impossible, if one is anywhere at all.

Enough of this, so to speak. Clearly I like talking—I love the places words are, the things, the goings on, the mistakes and the accuracies. Writing is not, finally, some limited situation of dogmatic intentions. You must remember that film-making also wants to play, pun, echo, mistake, start over—and always is, at each point, only where it is, and all else that might be is there too. Bear with me , like they say.

Walking down streets daily, have you noticed that what's there is somehow true enough, i.e., it really seems to be there before anything else? I'd suppose that people who came upon the escaped hippo in that pond south of Los Angeles, assuming they knew nothing of its escape, would feel consternation, but its being there primarily would be their first impression one would think. Now if they didn't find it particularly interesting, to see such a thing, they are surely acting legitimately if they simply walk on by. But it doesn't seem so acceptable if they say, "Why isn't it a giraffe, or the jolly Green Giant, or President Roosevelt?"

Film, as poetry, as the language arts more generally, is a serial art. One thing 'comes after' another: words, images. Often it's thought that artists in these mediums are extraordinarily conscious of specific intentions. No doubt some, even many, are. They have something to say. They think of the various possibilities open to them of saying it. They make resolution, and then they make the so-called art. Franz Kline said, "If I paint what I know, I bore myself. If I paint what you know, I bore you. Therefore I paint what I don't know." He isn't saying that he paints what he doesn't know how to paint—but that he paints what he cannot conceptually enclose as intention. And he is doing it with consummate intelligence of the possibilities inherent in such an 'open' situation—where what happens takes precedence over what 'should' happen—and with most alert perceptions. That's the point, for me at least, that the world be let in, that all the range of the art's powers of revelation, of doing something, be admitted. William Carlos Williams had a lovely qualification of the alternative: "Minds like beds, always made up . . ."

So—one thing after another , and what that factor has as powers . . . Have you ever played that game with others, where a piece of paper is folded, then one of the company begins a drawing, leaving


a little bit of its line visible on another face of the fold adjacent, so that the next person continues the drawing with only those edges of line as a locus—and so on, till the paper is exhausted? Then the paper is opened up to show the whole 'image'—and it is provocative because no one could anticipate what the image so constructed would be. The congruence, rather the contiguity there used seems to me a very sturdy element in either film or poetry, and in human life as it is consciously experienced: "One day after another./ Perfect./ They all fit."

One would like to say, with respect to a poem, read the words —don't limit yourself to a preoccupation with what isn't being said. Again Pound is most useful: "You can't blame a man for not doing what he isn't trying to do." I tend always to take things literally, for whatever reason—that is, it took me some years to recognize that the name of a cafe in Santa Fe, LY 'N BRAGG , was not, specifically, the two names of its owners. So, in seeing anything, whether metaphorically or physically, I tend always to begin at that beginning of what it is that is there. Thus I'd want to say, look first, think later—and of course I want it to the ends of the world.

Williams—possibly in a somewhat defensive sense—said of a poem, that it was "a small or large machine made of words." The Abstract Expressionists insisted, with delight, that a painting was "a two-dimensional surface covered (or not) with paint"—and presumably the factual, physical situation of a film is equally to be insisted upon. I know that Brakhage likes to remind us that a 'moving picture' is a sequence of rapidly changing single, static images. If presently we are flooded with preoccupations of this kind, seemingly—I am thinking of the didactic, actually self-dramatic, insistence on process and its physical occasions—do recall that Brakhage is revealing the means of the film (much as Méliès asked Pathé to do), not the ends possible, which he has also so brilliantly shown us. I do believe, to say it, that life is its own reward—but I get absolutely irritable if it has always to be a situation of, "look, Ma, I'm dancing!" I never did like dentists who explained what they were 'going to do' to me.

System  . . . One time in college a friend, an Englishman, John Hunter, discovered a 'system' wherewith to win at the races. We all put in what we had, so that he could go to the racetrack in Providence, R.I., and win us a bundle. We put him on the train, and waited. Late that night comes a call from John, that he has indeed won—but in the celebration of that fact, has now spent all the money, etc. All these years later—I think my share would have


been something like $78.27, not very much but surely something —that system really impresses me, and I finally had or have no argument with John's spending the money—but that's not the 'system' you understand. I mean, it's John, that pleasant, flush-faced sober-seeming bright English friend then, and that he won , you dig it? We beat the System! Terrific! Which is the only comment on structuralism I'd like to make at this time.

Personal  . . . "and art is art because of you . . ." We are a personal so-called society, brothers and sisters. Don't get personal with me, was what she said. I think persons are some of the nicest people I know. "To tell what subsequently I saw and what heard . . ." Speak for yourself, John.

And so—to work!

Western History , Stan Brakhage

As Archie Moore once put it, via Melville, "The eyes are the gateway to the soul . . ." And another useful point, that Charles Olson was wont to emphasize, is that for primates the eyes constitute the most crucial sensory agency. What's called 'image,' then, means for us a most significant information, whether we consider it as an interior condition, that is, the image in the word imagination , or else the outside, those images we will momently see. If an imposition of necessary exterior 'meaning' anticipates our experience, clearly we'll see what we'll have of whatever necessity to see; for example, a driver's test will require us to see the forms of triangle, square, rectangle, and circle as significant bits of information concerned with "stop," "caution," speed limit, etc. It would be impossible, I think, to discover anyone who did not have a habit of "seeing things" in particular patterns of received and/or habituated idea, as in "seeing red," for one instance. If the usual situation of literary narrative is then imposed on the activity of film, expectably the visual activity becomes a support of the story otherwise the case—as in a play or usual movie.

Brakhage tells a story without exception, but my point is that it is a story of visual information, not of literary details. In his earlier work, Desistfilm , for example, there was the grid of this other order, a narrative that might have been told in words. One might say that also of Anticipation of Night —but by this time the narrative is moving primarily as a visually defined activity, although the 'story' is still very clear in other possible terms.


As you see this film, you might think too of its title—although far better to put such preoccupations out of your mind. They are appropriately left to the occasion of afterthoughts in this case. But the film is, nonetheless, a particular experience of "history" and of "Western history" in particular. Since this is not a test, you will not be expected to tell me or anyone else why.

You will certainly see many things that you'll recognize very simply. Colors, surely—forms, movements, even places and things. You'll be interested, I hope, by the pace of their interaction and by their divers contents more singularly. In short, you'll be seeing a specific rhythm of visual activity which is itself an obviously definite information. Much as in the case of poetry, these rhythms and the pace thus defined will have a very significant role. The parallel with constructs in music is useful also.

I remember asking Robert Duncan one time to identify for me all the ways in which rhyme might occur in poetry. So he rehearsed the familiar situation of sounds, e.g., full rhyme, go blow; assonantal rhyme, get gain; rhymes of rhythm, until outside; rhymes of parallel constructs, in the box, up the hill —and so on. Again you might consider how visual instances of rhyming are used here.

Finally, this is, simply, a beautiful film—which constitutes the possibility of that literal pleasure I'd earlier spoken of. It delights the eyes with an intensive proposition of their very literal function: to see .

Domicile , Gary Doberman

Think of a couple of things, like they say: "Limits are what any of us are inside of . . ."; "Verse consists of a constant and a variant . . ." Already the world is here, truly, and anyone who has ever had experience of actual confinement—jail, hospital, body, army—common to human state can't really be patient with any assumption that we need to do it to ourselves. "The way out is via the door . . ."

Equally measure is a human preoccupation, even a responsibility, recalling Robert Duncan's "Responsibility is the ability to respond . . ." William Carlos Williams said in his humanly dear epic Paterson , "To measure is all we know . . ."

The artist has specific responsibility in that he or she is often in a territory of hitherto unacknowledged significance. As Pound put it, "Artists are the antennae of the race," and grand though that statement may seem to some of you, recall that artists in our present


society have significantly made us aware of crises in our human world otherwise unattended. I am thinking, for example, of Allen Ginsberg's Howl .

In this film there is a simply accessible constant which you will have no difficulty in recognizing. There is an equally apparent variable . So your question—to phrase it poorly—might be, what is it that is being measured here? I know, intuitively and quite otherwise, that something, some factor, some common event, of human life is here manifest in a most literal way. Well, if you saw a person walking toward you, would you presume it to be a table? There is the circumstance, of course, when the inoffensive hat stand, in the dark, becomes the inexplicably malign monster. And the monster is as "real" as the hat rack. But first things first, so to speak—so consider, literally, again, what you are seeing.

The materials of this film are personal, comfortably so. Nothing in that way distorted or untoward. But the choices of the artist are both crucial and defining, and there is evident attention to what he has called boundaries . One is also impressed that there is such confident articulation of resources particular to film, marked technical skill—"without which nothing."

To contradict, in a way, what I've been thinking about here, I recall a friend of years ago, Tim Lafarge, who used to dance with Merce Cunningham. He told me at one point he used to work out by putting a dime on the floor of a closet, then getting in, locating himself on it, the dime, and seeing what bodily rhythms and articulations were then possible. So at various times and in various needs, there is great interest and use in devising the limits which increase perception of the resources also present nonetheless. "How to dance sitting down . . . ," for example, which is my own preoccupation as I try to write these words—not at all metaphorically, because it is an absolutely physical event for me.

This too is a beautiful film, factually, with a lovely shifting counterpoint in the pacing. Like an old slow blues, after some up-tempo number—so, read it and think.

Short Films 1975 , Stan Brakhage

Being myself a very personal writer—which is to say, one who speaks always for himself despite the hopeful community I'd also insist upon in that fact—I'm dismayed, and often irritated, that the personal as a situation in experience of otherwise content comes now


under attack. I grew up in a time which used to propose a kind of contest between the objective and subjective. That should really date me for all of you. Anyhow, people used to say things like, "let's take an objective look at the facts" or, "you're getting too subjective." For the true scholars present, there's a piece I then wrote called "A Note on the Objective," Goad , Summer 1951, collected in A Quick Graph —and I really haven't changed a bit apparently in the twenty-seven years since. It isn't that I love myself in some overbearing way, or that I think I have some privileged and authoritative information of the world. But for me it is true that this complex piece of meat, me , is factually the author of that 'world' the also present 'I' has as experience. Did you know, for example, that the word world comes from a root in wiros (Germanic), which means "life or age of man . . ." I presume they left the article out, because there never was "man" without one or the other. Ok. So much for 'objectivity,' though a heavy humanism would bore me equally.

But as Allen Ginsberg has it in "Wales Visitation": "Particulars!" Or, Williams, "To tell what subsequently I saw and what heard . . ." I am amazed that people can think there is either information or record without the agency of the human—that is, for humans, no matter what the birds may be saying to one another otherwise.

So this last film is certainly personal , and I love it. I take a lot of trips, I get stuck in drear motels, I dream of home. There are two lovely instances of language in this film which are really right on , like they say. Be it also said that Brakhage is very aware of the powers of language, and thank god he is not here tonight to hear me lay it on his valuable creations. So—enough of that.

But —which is truly a great word, isn't it?—you know, like, it never is the last word no matter what happens, death included. But—don't we care what others feel in this life, how they literally have a life? This film is so wisely, gracefully, real to that demand. I could never so actualize my feelings in those places where these images were collected, never substantiate those moments of true consternation, yearning, witness, love as he does here.

"With your eyes alone / with your eyes / with your eyes . . . ," Ginsberg wrote in his never to be forgotten masterpiece "Kaddish." Hear it. We are all related, we are all here. See this world we live in.

Placitas, N.M.
June 19–20, 1978


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