07 January, 2015

Long Ago in a Place Very, Very Close By

After six and a half years of activity, this is the final transmission from the observatory here at Waves of Guide. Energy is being redistributed to alternative projects of poetry, love and livelihood. Thank you to all receivers for your receptive attentions. May they guide you now along the waves of this river-bound life.

- G.D.B.


"Every force evolves a form"

- an old Shaker saying

Is it not astounding to have, hold or witness the evidence that in many parts of the ancient world there are drawings that were made on stone, designs placed into architecture or songs composed with music & dance which are the preserved teachings of peoples both dead and everlasting? If a message were so worthy of the time and effort spent to express it by its creators in any of the above medium, at special times and with the right methods that fulfill and transcend the challenge of the medium's substance, it must either have been a steadfast representation of the craft and artisanal work in its point in history - or something more valuable than the material itself.

Regarding song, if its message isn't a real piece of mettle to outlast linguistic change, the knowledge it contains through the chosen medium will most certainly perish due to its partiality to history. Let us call such works of art or architecture of the highest value, those creations which are a representation for all current and future free members of humanity to appreciate, embodiments of "universal perception." Universal, because even in different places of the world, with different peoples from different cultures, they were works made not by a machine pressing plastic together but by human hands enacting the fullness of their knowledge and attention upon the work. As a part of the mass of unknown descendants now ready to receive and appreciate these forms, we could see beyond our subjective interpretations, try and match the research upon the museum plaque and truly place the context of the site within our experience of their transmission. If we could, we might not hurry to solve our secret despair at the meaninglessness of dumbfound wonder.


The above two paragraphs would be at home in an introductory study of one of a small number of scholars that are no longer at work today, and may never be again. Writers who claimed and supported by their research the notion that art & architecture are both meant to convey something to an observer. I'm thinking of A. Coomaraswamy, Otto von Simson, E. H. Gombrich: 20th-century writers on the intrinsic value of art - value that does not lie in the observer but in the expression of the thing itself.

The great and ennobling tone of the above uses terminology that we now associate with the media theory of Marshall McLuhan. Understanding my point revolves around a hinged ontology, like that old parabolic question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? If we affirm the egg, we say that the chicken which hatches from it must've had its parent. If we say the chicken, then we can't go very far before denying that this Adamic chicken could've sprung of itself without first having come from its very own egg - and then we're back to the beginning. When it comes to the medium and the message, McLuhan affirms that the chicken is the egg: A postulate we can't accept when it comes to those creatures, nor to any living thing. If art cannot be described as alive, at least not sentient, it does participate alongside life. Art has done so in our species' history for over 30,000+ years, as the most recent find of drawings & prints in 1994 in the Ardeche's Chauvet Cave.

We can watch Werner Herzog's 2010 film Cave of Forgotten Dreams to receive an opportunity to appreciate the most ancient art there is at Chauvet, but there will always be a tight and translucent scrim over their creators' past(s), not much unlike the original dioramas of Daguerre. View the film anyhow - there is something remarkable about the way the animals were applied on the prepared cave walls. It gives something to the observer - the impression of the very mass and activity of long extinct cave bears or European lions. The image can still speak to us in the medium by which it was made, though the message is any scholar's guess - which is usually an informed and well-researched return to the first hypotheses: hunting and/or shamanic ritual. Add this late 20th-century find to the dolmens of the Caucasus, the salvaged Antikythera, and many other "mysteries" - mysteries, because the culture and the language which contained them are no longer and we only give these objects our clinical gaze when they end up behind glass.

It might not be for us to despair over any of this. The grief over such loss of meaning (if there was some) may have already been suffered by the immediate descendants of any of these works. No need to shed crocodile tears. Perhaps for as much as has been uncovered there will be much more that remains hidden or lost. But I do find that in great poetry, even in pastorals or lyric poetry, the formal structures (meter, rhyme, etc.) are designed to accommodate for both the medium (the composed words of a spoken language) and the message (the poet's craft). By this interaction of the written and the spoken, there can be a third thing, or a relationship of accordance with what is represented in the poem of reality with what can be observed in reality. Because both the medium and the message have been enriched by its own history within and without literature, readers' knowledge & understanding of these histories will afford the opportunity for them to be present in the poetic relationship between sound & light. An unintelligible poetry may find at its root the lack of such a principle relationship.

But what of it? What if the poet, living in your own time, gives you an uneven solution to the problem of poetry and its composition - a message and a medium? It may surprise you, shock even, to get you out of your head and back into your body via the heart, the hand, any parts of you that were cold. When you stop feeling alone for a moment and know that someone else also hates this or loves that, the memory of it all lapses just as easily as it arose. It is very difficult, increasingly so, to remember even just one whole day, when one is absolutely awake and can recall everything about it, without this ready-made judgment of 'liked' or 'disliked'. It may be possible that by spending time with great poetry, ancient and modern, this attention and awareness can be aided, where with poorer poetry it cannot. The poorer poet only accomplishes the shock and not the sustain, where as the greater one stays with the readers as a guide or a teacher. Below is a photo of Robert Duncan, a recent teacher of mine through his posthumous work The H.D. Book. Here are a few of his words:

"In sound and sense it is the music of inner relationships that moves me." 

And in turn, one is moved and can move, as Orpheus did so with his lyre.


My photo
Portland, OR, United States
For the Observatory's Grand Opening