Monday, May 16, 2011

Briefly on Writing and Criticism and a Few Poems: Yukio Mishima, Sean Landers, David Salle, Dave Adamo

There is a distinct history between art and poetry. Many, if not the best, art critics were poets first or as well. O’Hara, Baudelaire, Schjeldahl, etcetera. What makes a good critic? Language darling. Language. To be a good writer is necessary to be a good critic. Decorating your house with your opinions is never interesting to anyone, not even your significant other. Having taste is of course required, having influence can take even a poor writer to the top of this misguided art world but these things are in the end, inconsequential. When you read good writing, you know it. There are some really crappy books, novels, poems, short stories, criticism etc. out there and the sheer volume and ascendancy of certain writers can make one mildly to acutely depressed but alas, I have hope. I have hope that writing like art, like music, like fashion and all else will equilibrize. I try to be zen about this because if not I may actually stab my eyes out.


Now I will insert a lengthy, but I think, prescient quote from Yukio Mishima’s novel Forbidden Colors, 1968. This is about a young man, Yuichi, who meets a famous old writer, Shunsuké, and reveals himself to be gay but he is ashamed of this. Shunsuké makes it his mission to make Yuichi, the embodiment of beauty, to destroy women. In this surmised excerpt, Shunsuké talks about the idea of beauty and criticism. My heart beat a bit faster when reading the below:



“True beauty makes men dumb,” began the old man, in spiritless tones. “In the days when this faith had not yet been destroyed, criticism was a profession unto itself. Criticism strove to imitate beauty.” With his cashmere glove, Shunsuké stroked the air and gestured with his fingers. “In short, criticism, like beauty, sought above all to strike men dumb. We can’t call this an objective so much as an anti-objective. Criticism’s method was to evoke silence without calling on beauty. It depended on the power of logic. The logic that is criticism’s method, with beauty’s coercive power, must impose silence forcibly. This silence must depend for its effectiveness, as the end product of criticism, on creating the delusion that here beauty exists. A vacuum must be given shape as a surrogate for beauty. In this way only, criticism succeeded in being of use in the process of creation”…


“Beauty has become a stimulus to garrulity. It has gotten so that on confronting the beautiful one feels duty bound to say something in a great hurry. It has gotten so we feel we must convert beauty right away”…


“With this the age of criticism began. Criticism came to function not as the imitator of beauty, but as the converter of it. Criticism marshaled its forces in the direction opposite of that of beauty. Critics who earlier were followers of beauty now became the stockbroker of beauty, the process servers of beauty…criticism had to flaunt its sad sovereignty as surrogate, standing in for beauty. Beauty itself struck no man dumb; much less so did criticism…Beauty makes men everywhere chatter. In the end thanks to this loquaciousness, beauty is artificially propagated. The mass production of beauty has begun. Thus criticism, turning to these numberless imitation beauties-born from essentially the same place itself-has heaped vile oaths upon them”…



Wowzers, right?! I think the above is so brutally on point. The fact that it is Mishima writing this is also pulse increasing. There is no “lens” that he is writing from, no historical fact checking and emphasis. It is hyper subjective but then duh, isn’t all of this? People quote other people because they have said/written something that resonates at a core level with them. The more authority the originator of the quote has, the closer you are to your PhD, your next grant or artist in residency. It’s fraught, it’s dumb, but there are rules to everything.


Back to where I started, I think to enjoy writing and then to be good at it is the only place to even begin good art criticism. A more “heady” investigation of this to come at a later date, but for the moment I really wanted to share that Mishima quote. The real trigger for all this is that when I see art, I think things (nuh doi) and a lot of times it is not only a visceral emotional and bodily response but also actual words. Words pop up and make a paint-ball-splatter-web until I can formulate my opinion about a work of art. I went to a few exhibits this past week and I would like to now give brief word jangle of these in the form of a rhyming poem. I have been reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (now that’s someone who knows language!) and I’m at the part where Huck is in the Grangerford’s home and he talks of Emmeline, who died at fourteen, but she was a creative child who drew and wrote poems for all who died in the town. Inspired by the ease in which Twain conveys a dead fourteen year olds poems was charming and I will now, relinquish any sense of pride and do such a thing for a few shows I recently saw.


Sean Landers


A shipped sailed out with murky sky

With only one passenger on board

An unhappy clown who was unable to cry

Was silent as the waves roared


The water is bluest when it is wet

He stood waiting for the sight of the crows

He was not to meet a fate alone as he met

A woman with a similar nose


Forever they wait and steer a course

Which neither remember to where

All they can do is stare with force

The sadness that is in the air



David Salle


This is the memory of memory

Her legs up, the chair

This is an accumulation of ephemeris

Her face unclear behind the hair


There is no magic here

There is only mystery

There is a light to fear

There is a whisper of histories


She was found just like this

In an offering pose

She will be tragically missed

This acrobatic rose



Dave Adamo


O Woodsman, Woodsman follow this path to me

This is not a world that is real

Saved by his ax cutting the tree

Evidence of a visit in the splinters and orange peals


He slew them all, chip by chip

Then made unsuitable thrones

And a boat for a journeyed dip

And a ladder to be alone


Its magic in these stones and wood

We can all lie on the bed of pine slivers

You can play the wolf and I will be riding hood

But there is now one here, only a shiver