The five star rating is for those who have a preexisting interest in Merton and Milosz. It's about as interesting a conversation as I can imagine on t...moreThe five star rating is for those who have a preexisting interest in Merton and Milosz. It's about as interesting a conversation as I can imagine on the challenges facing a Catholic writer/intellectual in the mid-20th century. The correspondence begins in 1958 against the backdrop of the Cold War; Milosz is in exile from Poland where he's lived through the worst of Stalinism; from his vantage point at the Gethsemane Monastery, Merton is horrified by the spiritual vacuum of nuclear-obsessed America. It concludes in 1968 (but is mostly over by 1965) when Merton has become more active in the broader life of the American peace movement (broadly construed) and Milosz has been teaching at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement and the rise of the counterculture. Both are grounded in the Catholic church, though neither accepts it at anything like face value. (At one point, Milosz speculates that Pope John XXIII may be the anti-christ.) Both are primarily concerned with the problem of living a life of artistic, intellectual and spiritual integrity in a world that presents competing solutions that are equally vacuous. I read this in psychic dialog with the letters of Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg; and those of Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan.
If you don't already know Merton and Milosz this is not the place to start.(less)
One of the very best books about how to watch film and the choices that go into what we see on the screen. Murchison was one of the truly great film e...moreOne of the very best books about how to watch film and the choices that go into what we see on the screen. Murchison was one of the truly great film editors. In the Blink of An Eye joins Lee Bobker's Elements of Film as my go-to books on cinema (and the movies, too!)(less)
Still the best introduction to the way films are put together. Read it in my junior year high school film class--the first offered at my high school--...moreStill the best introduction to the way films are put together. Read it in my junior year high school film class--the first offered at my high school--and it's informed the way I engage movies ever since. (less)
It's a bit difficult to figure out where to begin in describing this rich, multi-faceted gem. In part a biography of John Cage, Where the Heart Beats...moreIt's a bit difficult to figure out where to begin in describing this rich, multi-faceted gem. In part a biography of John Cage, Where the Heart Beats honors the composer/philosopher/sensei by understanding that his life took on meaning in large part because it inspired so many others to take themselves (not too) seriously, which is why the book's also a kind of group biography of those who either gathered around or shaped their journeys in response to Cage: Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Duchamp, the Fluxus artists among them. (I'd never really felt Rauschenberg before I read Larson on the white paintings. I get it now.) That points to another of Larson's achievements: providing quietly incisive "criticism" of works like 4'33 and a host of dance and performance pieces.
All of that's grounded in Larson's clear understanding of Cage's Buddhism, which developed in conversation with the brilliant teacher D.T. Suzuki and was in constant conversation with Huang Po and (though Larson doesn't emphasize this quite as much as I would have) the Tao Te Ching. Usually (and not inaccurately) cast as an engagement with the epistemology of perception, 4'33'' emerges as a manifestation of interpenetration, the sense that we're part of a field in which all beings occupy their own centers. By the time I finished, I was pretty much convinced that the art I love most deeply is part of an unfolding, and only rarely self-conscious, Buddhist tapestry. (I loved that Larson began with Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and, while I wished she'd come back to them, the whole point is that she, like Cage, provides tools to use in whatever way we choose.)
Stylistically, Larson made the perfect choice in constructing her text around (italicized) quotes from Cage. Among many other things, Where the Heart Beats is as good an anthology of the master's parables as we're likely to get.
Disappointing. I love Harjo's poetry (and to a slightly lesser extent her music) and was hoping this book of interviews and columns she wrote for the...moreDisappointing. I love Harjo's poetry (and to a slightly lesser extent her music) and was hoping this book of interviews and columns she wrote for the Muskogee nation's newspaper would enrich my appreciation (in the manner of Yusef Komunyakaa's Blue Notes). It didn't. There are a few phrasings that remind me of her poems, but mostly the interviews re-hash the same turf (the relationship between oral and written expression; Harjo's experience in the Iowa Writers Workshop; her relationship to the landscapes of New Mexico and Hawai'i) and after a while the answers feel canned. The high point, Harjo's definition of poetry as soul talk and song language, is in the title.
Read In Mad Love and War or She Had Some Horses. Forget about this one.(less)
I'm officially finished reading books about contemporary performance art and/or "relational aesthetics." This isn't as horrible as last year's one-sta...moreI'm officially finished reading books about contemporary performance art and/or "relational aesthetics." This isn't as horrible as last year's one-star book Relational Aesthetics by Bourriaud, but it still makes for excruciating reading. Like B, Jackson's mired in a theoretical debate which allows her to (I'm not making this up) defend a book which she acknowledges as "pompous and badly written." The debates consist of the worst sort of posturing, composed of claims to superior political and aesthetic insight. Claire Bishop seems to be the worst offender, though why anyone would care about what she thinks is beyond me. Jackson's writing frequently matches abstract nouns with verbs that require a human subject. She uses the "editorial we" in ways that consistently make me say "what we, kimo sabe?"
What keeps the book form being one star is the descriptions of actual works of art, most notably a production of Waiting for Godot which took place in post-Katrina New Orleans. The things she's interested in--the relationship between art and the various networks which support it; the changing contours of genre--are important. I think I'm basically in agreement with most of her conclusions.
Warm portrait of a personal and poetic friendship as it unfolds over the course of forty years. The correspondence goes through several phases: an ear...moreWarm portrait of a personal and poetic friendship as it unfolds over the course of forty years. The correspondence goes through several phases: an early stage during which both Snyder and Ginsberg are traveling the world, figuring out their spiritual and literary vocations; a middle phase set against the backdrop of the sixties, which, not surprisingly, circles around politics; and a final phase during which much of their time is spent working out details involving travel schedules and the upkeep of the homestead they bought together in the California mountains. (Snyder lived there; Ginsberg visited only rarely, despite his oft-stated desire to use it as a retirement retreat.)
I love both poets and there were times when their discussions felt like an internal dialog between the part of me which loves Ginsberg's New York (especially the pre-gentrification east village, where he lived) and the part of me which shares Snyder's love for the mountains. Snyder had a much clearer notion of what he was doing; Ginsberg knew that he often lost focus as he held together a large and chaotic community. (Probably the best definition of the "Beat Generation" is "people who knew Allen Ginsberg.") But both were serious in their pursuit of the dharma and their dedication to clarity of poetic perception.
This is a book for insiders. People coming to the writers for the first time should start with "Howl," "Kaddish," "Wichita Vortex Sutra," "Iron Horse" (Ginsberg) and either Turtle Island or The Real Work (poetry and essays/interviews respectively by Snyder.)(less)
Aggravating book. I'm almost entirely in sympathy with Bourriaud's sense of what art could/should do in the contemporary world: build communities, enc...moreAggravating book. I'm almost entirely in sympathy with Bourriaud's sense of what art could/should do in the contemporary world: build communities, encourage interaction between artist and "audience", resist the reducation of culture to just another product on the K-Mart shelf. But the writing is unspeakable--the worst sort of French theoretical posturing--citing authority, playing inside baseball, smugly self-righteous about its judgments. Almost everything Bourriaud's suggesting has parallels in the jazz tradition. Of which he apparently has never heard. Grad students who need to defend themselves against theory will find this useful. Otherwise, read some Baldwin or Terry Eagleton.(less)