Commentaries - August 2014

On the lower frequencies ...

The variegated spaces of Fred Moten and ...

Fred Moten, The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions, 2014), 93 pp.—Moten’s third collection of poetry is an extension of the ideas and values not only in his Hughson’s Tavern (and to a lesser extent, in B. Jenkins) but also in Harmony Holiday’s Negro League Baseball and Erica Hunt’s penetrating, if overlooked, chapbook, a Day and its Approximates. The particular trajectory traced by Moten’s work reaches back to the fiction and, more important, essays of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, their mutual (though differently inflected) insistence on the “invisible” resources and resourcefulness that constitute Negro culture. In this regard, black culture, more or less the engine behind cultural nationalism, black power and the Black Arts Movement, is sometimes plagued by, for Moten, a kind of forgetting. However, perhaps because Holiday is younger than Moten, her work is more wistful, almost nostalgic, for the persistent, if dwindling possibilities, proffered by Black Arts. Moten’s most recent exploration of these ideas, The Feel Trio, is more defiant than his previous books and Holiday’s book, though that defiance may also be read as an oblique acknowledgement that African American culture, like black culture before it, is too plagued by a forgetting of its own history.

Ian Probstein: Three translations of Osip Mandelstam's 'Stalin's Epigram'

Komer & Melamid, Stalin in Front of Mirror (Tempera and oil on canvas, 72”X48”, 1982-83)

It is said that a translator is like a spy: if everything is fine, the author of the original is praised and the translator is barely noticed; if not, the translator is blamed. Having that in mind, I am going to discuss several translations of Osip Mandelstam’s “Stalin’s Epigram”, which cost him two exiles and eventually, life.

Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) led an unsettled life full of tribulations, wandering and exile. After his Stalin’s epigram of 1933, for which the dictator, who used to say that “vengeance is best when served cold,” never forgave the poet.

With Michael McClure & Jack Foley: Writing between the lines 1955/2013/2014

[The following work began with Jack Foley’s writing “between the lines” of Michael McClure’s famous poem, “For the Death of 100 Whales,” first recited at the famed Six Gallery reading in 1955 San Francisco.  With my own proclivity toward collaborative writing & thinking I came into the process a few months after Foley, which stretches the time frame of the final work to the almost present.  Typographically McClure’s original poem appears in roman type, Foley’s respones in italic, & mine in bold italic.  The McClure poem of course is the true jewel in the crown, and “the rest,” as someone said, “is commentary.” (J.R.)]

Witness Ed Ruscha and Tan Lin

Words inappropriate to the (p)age

Ruscha, Talk Radio 1987, Acrylic on canvas, private collection.
Ruscha, Talk Radio 1987, Acrylic on canvas, private collection.

What is a derelict void?

What does “museum studies” mean by “context”? What if it were “museological environment”? An artwork would be out of context until it was taken out of context. But what does it mean to take an object out of context? Or a non-object? It must be a kind of displacement that is more historical and geographical than it is temporal and spatial. Because the time of the piece must unfold in a serviceable manner, and the space must be arrayed contiguous to its virtuous features, the features that display “it,” the approximate museological environment conserves period and style. Old is good. “Modern” is bad, except as a paradigm. By paradigm here is meant “real-to-ready phenomena,” the kind that make my encounter with the object contemporaneous to it.