Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Secret Influences 8: Dali Denied

Like many a young male student I went through a Salvador Dali phase around 1988-89. The presence of his art on dorm walls appears not to have abated over the last two decades--one look around the Imaginus poster sales on Canadian campuses will reveal scores of Dali prints on display, many of which sell out.

As an undergrad I was under the sway of Dali with reproductions of "The Persistence of Memory," "Metamorphosis of Narcissus," "Swans Reflecting Elephants" and several others on my residence walls. Even though I was a perpetually broke student I managed to save up enough coin to purchase the two-volume Taschen hardcover edition of Dali's complete paintings: at the time, and for many years after, it was the most expensive book I owned.

But as deep as the obsession was, it was also fleeting. I think it was particularly the effect of reading through the collected painting that Dali lost his lustre: his work soon became repetitive, his tricks obvious, and his psychoanalytic symbolism immature. His posters soon came off the walls, and I eventually sold the Taschen collection to help with the rent during one sadly destitute month.

And this rejection occurred even before I knew about Dali's politics and repugnant personality.

One of the hardest things about teaching my course on Surrealism at York is trying to convince students that Dali is relatively unimportant to how Surrealism, as envisioned by Andre Breton, arose and evolved. In fact Dali became the public face of Surrealism only in a Hollywood or Disney sense; to the literary Surrealists he was a sell-out, a clown, an avaricious opportunist. Breton memorably dubbed him Avida Dollars, an anagram of Dali's name which deservedly caught on and stuck with Dali until his death.

But this wasn't just professional jealousy--even stronger than the Surrealists' distaste for Dali's greed was their rejection of his clearly fascist politics. And it was not just Franco whom Dali courted, but dictators and despots of all types as this opinion piece by Vicente Navarro from a few years ago makes shocking clear.

I do get some leverage at my dismantling of Dali after showing Un Chien Andalou, and informing the class about Dali's cowardly snitching during the U.S. anti-Communist period, an action which resulted in years of hardship and exile for Luis Bunuel. Strangely, most students find this the most telling evidence of Dali's idiocy, rather than his fascism, which I suppose they might justify by Dali's desire for "stability" in his homeland (but what about Picasso and Miro, I say, they were never fascists....)

So while many of Dali's images may be indelibly inscribed somewhere in my subconscious, these days the only lasting influence from Dali on me would be his "paranoiac-critical method," a system of composition where one would get into a certain mental state and contemplate an object until phantom images and associations would arise which were related to the object but not in a direct or rational way. This appears in countless Dali paintings from eggs turning to sunsets to a bust of Voltaire disappearing into a slave market. As even Breton admitted, this method works well, even for poetic composition, and I've used it in the past to generate some pieces such as "Hydra" where a mediation on the mythical monster transformed into an exploration of an industrial assembly job I once worked at, and it also appears in some of my recent translation projects such as "Stanzas" and "Etc Phrases."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Welcome to the Occupation

The windiest and coldest day since fall began for the beginning of the Toronto occupation. All peaceful and beautiful from what I could see.

Stay warm & stay strong guys. Peace.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

LangPoets at the Occupation

From Charles Bernstein's blog at Jacket2:

Wish I could be there too -- waiting for it to come to Toronto, October 15th. Info here and at the URL below.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


I suppose this should be filed under "not-so-secret influences," and, indeed, there is likely no pop band that has influenced my poetics as much as REM. This is probably obvious, even from the first sequence from my first book dyslexicon. In "Circa Diem," my Cubist portraits of pop albums, REM's fourth album makes the cut (although the title was "corrected" by an over-zealous copy editor to read "Life's Rich Pageant"). Here it is in its entirety, and as it was first composed:


Cole Porter allusion speculation. Buck shot on the cover nevertheless. Insurgency discovery. Simian grappling the cost of murder shoes. Could base the project on bios and feedback. The curve produced follows the narrative too closely to be experiential. Nee experimental. Sample the example. Business cards to distribute randomly when the order has fucked up. All so insistent or merely the ignition. The source of John revealed subconsciously.
     Actually bury the initial remarkable. These days speed provides sentience. Name three. Trains of winter reckon a possible live bait. It can be realized. It can achieve mastery. Nod to those who live with the knowledge. Patricide is appropriate wherever you sow.
     Carbon does begin to decrease in momentum. An agreement among several parties. Fear of looking behind oneself. Revelation of certain peculiarities can bring closeness or abjection. Tonsorial narration alacrity. Idle time can sever hands.
     Always the question. Also the statement. Mood shift nightly. Would edit others when wished transcendence is found in failure. Native words announced properly create news nations. Take a picture here. Je me souviens. A proper finding the apocalypse has a lapse in it with the movement of a latter letter.
     Saves more frequently. Time ends when scavengers appear. Give a Roosevelt aphorism. Two sips to the swallow. Knitting factors. Last chance to preserve. It jams and gels.
     Latin and leave it at that.
     Ghost writing assumed. Get to the point at which it shatters. Flowers grow inside the condition. Say no to shrugs. Say it can receive. Fondness despite her politics. Vinyl caught by the speller. Buy memory when it's cheap.
     Possible trio to go. Absolut Georgics. The difference between the key to want and the lack of need. Change is belief. Young honourable and true. Other situations perfection avoidance brutality manifestos. Spirit in which was perceived. Horse gifts provide sport slippage and fertility. Greek was all to me.
     Question to come. Capital neighbour. Winks without intention. Overlook the glass I drop. Rhyme frost too wicked for good. Light strength pioneer. Trailer talk still holding court with those inferior to the shorn scalp the magic loot the quizzical paradox the pavement certitude the confidence that only the lost can exude.
     Assumed when passage was paid days of future passed. Honky tonk without purposity. Curious mammals. Has that smell that excites still. Almost left to the last. Improvident visitations. Amazing works of giants. Despair of classicism frequently. Wolves knew the presence knew whine was need. Cup of rye. Toothpick speck. All free now. An H becomes the cross that the generation bears happily. Price of fans. Three for one dollar.

I listened to REM intensely throughout the 1980s and 1990s until Automatic for the People, after which my interest declined fairly rapidly, although I would still pick up each album as they came out and references to them continued to appear in my writing: "Three Miles of Bad Road" (a nod to "Crush with Eyeliner" from Monster) became a title of a poem in Torontology, and a shout-out to "Sad Professor" (from 1998's Up album) shows up as recently as Double Helix.

Although it was primarily the lyrics of REM that intrigued and inspired me, there was also the whole mystery of the band in its early incarnation (pre-Out of Time): the strange imagery and album covers (which my high school friends and I poured over obsessively), the blurry photos and videos of the band, and the invocation of a southern gothic (which appeared to us as an odd mixture of religiosity and dark sexuality). It seemed the band evoked a whole culture that was somewhat alien, but was also what was really going on in the late 1980s politically and socially for kids in Reagan and Mulroney's North America. They were self-consciously "arty," at least compared to the heavy metal bands that we mostly listened to, but never artsy for art's sake. In fact it does say quite a bit about their common touch that they could appeal to a working class kid from Oshawa (who, for example, at that time found The Cure a little too outre), and motivate him enough to start writing poetry and experiencing "alternative" culture and politics. And, as I noted above, it wasn't just the sensitive outsider-type that REM spoke to, but to a general popular youth zeitgeist at the time. For my peer group, phrases from REM songs even became part of our shared cant. Case in point, "Feeling Gravity's Pull", a stellar track from Fables of the Reconstruction, became our choice term to describe drunkenness, as in "Hey man, are you drunk yet?" "Yeah, I'm feeling gravity's pull." The video also happens to be REM at one of their coolest points, before real fame came, and still making groundbreaking and unique sounds:

R.I.P REM, a band that, to paraphrase D. Boon, "could be [our] life."