16 September 2009

Streets of Crocodiles

Wearily I crawl from my bed at around 7:30 each weekday morning to hastily and haphazardly have my coffee before running out to Elysian Fields Avenue where I catch the bus to UNO. No matter how brief the previous night's rest were, I find that this occasion, of boarding the bus, joyous, wondrous, a pleasure taken almost to the point of extravagance. It is, perhaps, that I have spent so many of my days in the country, where I would have to drive myself an hour in either direction to come upon any semblance of civilization, that public transportation has come to enchant me so. I find it almost magical to pay my $1.25, locate my seat, and be shuttled in seconds through the time and weather worn streets of this entropic or, I should say, post-apocalyptic, city. Since I own a car, I could drive, but when I forfeit the stress of having to dodge traffic and find convenient parking, I gain wonderment. It is as if paying a fair to the circus, for what strange sites these city streets are filled with. I'm mesmerized by the city and its people, every decrepit alley, every dank, weed and wildflower choked lot, every face lined by time and ravaged by circumstance.


Lately, on my journeys to and from the university I've been reading Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles (Sklepy Cynamonowe). My eyes turn from the Schulz's fantasia of words and images in pre-war Poland to the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans--universes vastly different, yet remarkably similar. I find myself searching for similar mythical spaces, where time and matter momentary breach its stagnant canals, and briefly swallow surrounding real space in its dazzling flood. As you can imagine, New Orleans is chock full of such spaces. . . like worlds inside books, streets nestling other streets:

"Deep inside the town there open up, so to speak, double streets, doppelganger streets, mendacious and delusive streets. Enchanted and misled, one’s imagination will produce false maps of the ostensibly long known and familiar town where those streets have their places and names, while the night, in its inexhaustible fecundity, will find nothing better to do than produce continually new and fictitious configurations?"

There is no lack of such strange figures, only less elegant, more ragged (especially in this park of town).



Schulz was also an artist, as you can see--perhaps more well known as such in his own time. A jew, he was granted protection under the nazis by an official who was taken by his artistic ability. However, this didn't grant that he would forever survive the war. He had been commissioned to paint a mural in a child's nursury--an artistic feat that later resurfaced, painted over, decades later on the other side of the war, on the other side of the Polish-Ukraine border, and has since been transported to the jewish state of Jerusalem--was shot dead while venturing to work outside of the ghetto alloted the jews.

15 September 2009

Olga Tokarczuk


I have been delighting over Olga Tokarczuk's novel House of Day, House of Night. And am equally excited about the forthcoming publication of Primeval and Other Times by the ever wonderful Twisted Spoon Press in Prague. Apparently Tokarczuk has a relatively substantial body of work, not to mention broad recognition in Poland, so it is unfortunate that these are the only books of hers that have been translated into english (both of which have been translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones).



05 September 2009

The Magical Image Brought Back From Imprisonment, part one

"A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, photographs--especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past--are incitements to reverie. . . all such talismanic uses of photography express a feeling both sentimental and magical: they are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality."

from, Susan Sontag's On Photography



In the essay "The Image World" from her essential book On Photography, Susan Sontag supposes a spiritual unity between reality and the artistic graven image for primitive peoples. Images had, through shamanic cohesion, been fused with the reality they sought to represent. In more advanced civilizations, after that core Platonic myth, the image has been divorced and sundered further and further away from the material, both physical and spiritual, becoming only a darkened shadow in the deepest, most pathetic dreams of something more sublime, more unfailing and more real.



As mere witnesses to the unfolding of such diluted dramas, to us, the audience, images have become more real than the event itself: "It is common now for people to insist about their experience of a violent event in which they were caught up--a plane crash, a shoot-out, a terrorist bombing--that "it seemed like a movie.""


Primitives have a tendency of to be "apprehensive," Sontag says, of the camera stealing parts of themselves; modern people of industrialized countries feel as though they "are made real by photographs." However, these statement only signify contrary emotional positions, either a desire to avoid or seek out, and not ontological suppositions of reality in relation to the image. It would seem Plato's myth of the cave has made an uroboros of itself with the advent of photography.