Monday, November 09, 2009

The Early Work of the Dead

'Primitive' flickers.

"What we call the twentieth century ended in 1915. Those artists who survived the collapse of civilization at that point completed the work they had planned before then, when they looked forward to a century of completely different character. Joyce wrote his Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, both implicit in the nineteenth-century idea of literature. Proust, aware that tanks were crawling like monsters out of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne over the poplar-lined road to Illiers, completed his account of the world which the war obliterated as the brimstome Sodom.

"What the war blighted was a renaissance as brilliant as any in history which we can only know by the survivors and by the early work of the dead—the Alain-Fourniers (Battle of the Meuse, 1914), Sant' Elias (Monfalcone, 1914), Apollinaires (1918), Gaudiers."
—Guy Davenport, "The Pound Vortex"


The archaic, in aesthetics, provides a wellspring. The very fertile period of the flowering of the late 19th century (which existed, depending on how you slice it, up until 1913 or 1914; also the same time as the emergence of the feature film), when cinema was new, found one kind of reimagination in the flicker films. "Failures" they were, perhaps, but transfixing and alluring failures more durable than ninety-nine out of a hundred cinematic "successes," I'd say. The history of audiovisual art & communication is seasoned liberally with attempts to reach a neutralization, a ground zero or originary moment, in the very medium that allows an image to come into presence. Always trying to go back home, or to revisit the old family's pantry, to scrape away layers of paint and get at the hardwood. Flicker films tried it; Rossellini tried it; television tried it (we will control the horizontal, we will control the vertical); I think what we see in instances of people or movements or moments conceiving of a productive erasure (or call it whatever) is that the pathways one might have meant to get to but didn't. Time passed, last year's paths got overgrown, and now one searches for them. Depending on one's philosophical outlook, and how far one travels, we could say that one looks for homeland, or a second chance, or simply a new adventure.

This is interesting to me because it crystallizes perfectly my own intellectual state. But whether I am intrigued by the aptness or the comparison or construct the comparison merely to correspond to my intellect still escapes me ...

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