Saturday, November 28, 2015

FEATURED ESSAY


LOGOS AND PRESENCE
IN THE ONTOLOGICAL EPOCH
DAVID-BAPTISTE CHIROT AND THE NEW REALISM:
L’EXPLICATION DE L’AMOUR MARXISTE

By Tom Hibbard 


“The world is the manuscript of an other, inaccessible
to a universal reading, which only existence deciphers.”
                                                     -Karl Jaspers


  
Though the material of his current work is by no means unfamiliar, it seems that the world of David-Baptiste Chirot’s art could be described as a radically “new world.”  On the other hand, it could be, like the stars we see today with our naked eyes, actually a world whose temporality is nearer the
beginning of the universe.  Perhaps it is a world we have seen previously which we will see again.  Perhaps it is a world revealed by gravity and black holes.  Perhaps it is a “paradis artificiel” spoken of by the poet Baudelaire, a world constituted only as a dream.  Perhaps it is a dead world or perhaps a living world that leads us to life.  Perhaps it is a world of eroticism or else a world of rationality. A world that is random or a world directed by fate.  A world based on sight or a world based on blindness. An “imitation” world, “infinitely deferred”—a world that knows nothing about itself and is capable only of knowing nothing about itself—or  a world whose prodigious imagination, that “lives by truth,” “breaches” its own understanding and continually escapes and rediscovers itself.  Is it a world ruled by “happy endings” or a “chaotic” world of “free will”?  Perhaps it is a failed world of madness or a new born world of vision.  Perhaps.  Perhaps,  

In terms of Modern literature (art, music, sculpture, etc.), the main premise is that all of these worlds are possible, and none of them is certain.  For the Modern epoch “[art] has been part of the culture of conflict.”  In the Modernist cosmology, the question was never, between one side or the other, which side is “right.”  The logos that gave birth to Pound’s Cantos and Joyce’s Ulysses was fueled with inadequacy and error, multiplicity and consequence.  In the Modernist cosmology, self-effacement, sadness, displacement, contradiction, constitute reality itself, and poetry is paradox.   As Muriel Rukeyser writes in the late 1940s—echoing other 20th Century writers from all countries and cultures—   

We cannot isolate the causal factors of a society and its culture without their relationships; and in our culture, with its demand for permanent patterns, we see a complicated danger, not caused by the flaws of any one method, but by the balance which has been attained, a balance of the perpetual conflict, in which everything and every quality is set against another thing or another quality. 

I see the truths of conflict and power over the land, and the truths of possibility.

In an attempt to assuage “the soul’s distress” created by the unthinkable murk and complexities of “modern society” and civilization, new sciences, reconciling new philosophies and new aesthetic theories were put forward.  These ideas have altered the art forms of previous epochs and brought about new art forms, new media, disciplines and cultures.  For example, concerning so-called literature, in France, Roland Barthes, in a brief 1967 essay titled Death of the Author, writes

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.
 
Thus the modern epoch is unquestionably one of disorientation, multiplicity, empiricism, ambivalence.  Indeed, in The Death of the Author, Barthes believes himself to be describing not
merely a new world in the sense of a changed world but a new world in the sense of a world perceived in a different manner, that alters the way human beings think about things.  In other words, the philosophical theoretical bump-and-grind of the 20th Century had arrived at a change not only in degree but in kind—a wider conceptuality, an heightened ability of perception.  Barthes writes,

The removal of the Author…is not merely an historical fact or an act of writing; it utterly transforms the modern text….

Concerning the text, Barthes says that without the Author, “The temporality is different.”  He says the text no longer belongs to the Author, that the Author no longer “nourishes” the text nor has an hierarchical relation to it like “a Father to his son.”  Barthes says that it would be better if the text “from now on” would be called “writing” rather than “literature.”  The new “scriptor,” says Barthes, no longer writes about individual “passions, humours, feelings, impressions.” 

…linguistics has recently provided the destruction of the Author with a valuable analytical tool by showing that the whole of the enunciation is an empty functioning perfectly without there being any need for it to be filled with the person of the interlocutors.

His or her writing is “rather this immense dictionary.”  “Life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs.”  The “book,” then, is singularly the logos, which we describe.  The Author no longer precedes or dictates the text that he writes but, rather, ever more intently searches out the world as it presents itself and as it is.  “The modern scriptor,” says Barthes,

on the contrary, the hand, cut off from any voice, borne by a pure gesture of inscription (and not of expression), traces a field without origin—or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins.

In light of the innumerable times that humbling discoveries about the universe in which it lives has pushed humankind out of the limelight, Barthes’ idea of the Death of the Author has the ring of truth.  However, if “the Author” has passed on, it is only to be resurrected as a scientist, botanist, successful butterfly collector, calligrapher, archeologist.  It’s true I think that writers need to be or want to be more hard-working and scholarly than previously (which certainly seems the case with Barthes himself).  But that doesn’t mean they want to or should be allowed only to write dictionaries and telephone directories.  In the light of Barthes’ essay, the question becomes what, then, are the origins of “language itself.”  What is the change that has taken place, and in what way does it affect the importance of writing and art?

To answer this question I think the word “language” and the word “logos” need to be equated.  For one would think that the logos has a great deal to do with origins and, in a sense, would be all origin.  Language also should be identified with the beginnings of Creation, knowledge, life, civilization.  “In the beginning was the word.”  Language is the mark of existential meaning.  It’s the purpose of
language, then, to search out its own depths. In that case it would seem that, once Barthes  has dismissed our naive Author, he (Barthes) has only revealed a much more interesting and complex “Being” and plane of discussion.   For, as we encounter it in its early incarnations, in cave paintings and petroglyphs,  hieroglyphics and cuneiform monograms, scrolls and hand-written records, the origin of language, the logos, only becomes more dimly mysterious and inexplicable.  In its autonomy it vanishes from sight.  Creation becomes a magnificent limitless dead end.  The problem is, just as Barthes describes, in so far as language, “the word,” the logos are concerned, there is scant evidence of origins, yet everything is seen in an illuminating originary and philosophical light.  Though the new author, the “scriptor” selflessly seeks to perform the task of exploring the absurdity of existence and the character and structure of the logos, this task cannot be done without evidence, metaphor, “feelings,” diversity, system, without the endlessness and separation of the Other (other people).  Though in the logos is the kernel of form, the problem shifts to something else, a different idea, a more pressing problem:  that of “presence,” a language (asemics, Saussure) or substance that remains not annihilated or silenced but enigmatically surviving and all the more puzzlingly affecting and purposeful, yet illegible.  As Vladimir Lenin quotes the idealist philosopher George Berkeley,

“The connexion of ideas does not imply the relation of cause and effect, but only of a mark  or sign with the thing signified.”     

**

This, then, is the “new world” of David Chirot’s “visual poetry,” one in which, if I may say so, he seems to find himself rather comfortable.  It is a world whose common features go beyond superficial disparity.  This is a world in which logic is our only tool but also our only reality.  In many ways, Chirot agrees with Barthes in terms of the Death of the Author.  Chirot’s work depicts the origins of language.  For  Chirot, the “book” of the ephemeral and the eternal exists a priori in the beautiful and interesting wonderland of the infinite—as it always did.  The journeyman artist-artisan, whom in Chirot’s work is only partially formed, “finds” the the novel, the message, the poem, the Being latent in the metaphysical geology and hard rock of profusion and liberation.  There is no history only “historicity.”  There is no time only “duration.”  Chirot’s visual poetry is the rustic ark of civilization which must continue to aimlessly float upon the flood of its own self-doubt and self-questioning until it once  again finds a place of rest on dry land.  But that resting place is only temporary. In an artwork such as “Poems Without Poets,” Chirot uses “actuality,” the torn up sidewalks, the rugged worn surfaces that remember and memorialize the unfinished lives of “the people,” the sad panorama of the oppressed, murdered neglected masses of humanity, the dropped bombs, the voyages and migrations, the economies of need-versus-death in such a way that the adversity of winds and storms has etched the graphic furrows and “words” into an exposed composition that contains more compassion and “impressions” than any human hand could ever convey.  Like Philippe Soupault’s The Last Nights of Paris, aided by “a prostitute, a sailor, a dog,” Chirot seeks to catch a glimpse of the mutilated, the missing and the dead.   

Anonymity, pseudonyms, impersonations, poets who write their own coming silence and "disappearance" as an "I is an other," the deliberately unrecognized and unrecognizable poet…

Having lived in Indiana and also Russia and Poland, Chirot, is well-schooled in life’s fluctuations.  Some of his favorite artists are Baudelaire and Rimbaud, those effigies, those iconoclasts and travelers aware that, as Frederick Engels states, “the most pitiful reality corresponds with the most high-sounding phrases,”  Engels quotes Charles Fourier stating that “under civilization poverty is born of superabundance itself.”  In the same way, meaninglessness is created by excessive power.  Far from cynical or nihilistic, Chirot might perceive in the writings of a figure such as Marx the pre-empting languages of aimlessness, self-seduction, self-extinction, pure methodology or, most certainly, “exchange value.”  

For Chirot this fascinating anonymous nature, close to us on our daily strolls, yet always disappearing quickly around the corner, always saying less than we ask, always communicating only in clues,
never giving a conclusive answer, always setting us free, is located in “found” material. 

I have a deep belief in the uncanny existence and experience of the found.  Found materials are all around us….Since I spend a great deal of time walking about in the world, there is no end to the materials for use.  Each day, no matter how many times one may have walked the same streets and alleys, there is every [day] something new—or something one had not noticed before—to work with, to learn from, dream on. 

Working in the streets, one encounters a great many people also—the work is part of the environment, its daily notations, rhythms, interaction.

Yet from Chirot’s work we are able to discern that the encouraging book inherent in the littered street or the poetry of the grime of the bus stop’s abandoned corner cannot be described as a mere dictionary or directory unless it is a dictionary of tears or a directory of terror.  Rather than closing the doors of “passions, humours, feelings, impressions,” Barthes has opened them up, like a Freudian dream, for access.  Presence is different from logos.  The logos is conceptual.  Presence is substantive.  The logos  is inviolable.  Presence is incorruptible.  Like the “trace,” presence is actual, and everything associated with it is actual and actually exists.  According to Jacques Derrida, “…at the same time as  the science of nature, the termination of absolute presence is constituted as self-presence, as subjectivity.”  The Death of the Author takes us from a circuitous cause-and-effect static hurtful inconsiderateness, that keeps us up all night, to a deeper, less prohibitive, more outwardly directed, heightened sensitivity, that frees the humanity of the writer in a moving verbosity.  The full meaning of objects is no longer determined objectively but subjectively, from human care and gratuitous understanding. The logos is the structure of Being, multiple and diverse.  Presence is the  evidence of Being, ineradicable and basic.  On many occasions, Derrida refers to the “book” inscribed in presence or existence, the book “eternally thought” as a “natural” writing.  What Derrida is driving at is that a writing that has to do with presence, that is “found” as an inscription in the world at hand, the writing in fact described by Barthes and performed by Chirot, that becomes even more subjective and affecting than previously, is a writing of greater humanity and freedom not less.  In killing off the Author, Barthes reestablishes the Author’s place at a higher level of competence and accountability.  The “scriptor” in leaving behind the role of “Author” leaves behind, in Derrida’s words, “a writing that is sensible, finite, and so on,…designated as writing in the literal sense.”  In the newly redefined relation to its subject matter, the scriptor embraces “a natural, eternal, and universal writing, the system of signified truth…”     

Writing in the common sense is the dead letter, it is the carrier of death.  It exhausts life.  On the other hand, on the other face of the same proposition, writing in the metaphoric sense [as opposed to the literal and “linear” sense], natural, divine and living writing, is venerated; it is equal in dignity to the origin of value, to the voice of conscience as divine law, to the heart, to sentiment, and so forth.

In his “rubBEings,” first published in issue 32 of Xerolage magazine, from Miekal And’s Xexoxial Editions, Chirot uses materials such as stencils, embossed parts from inside radios, dirt and grit from streets, print on utility pipes, eroded unsmoothed surfaces of all sorts, labels, house paint, unostentatious inscriptions to create timeless lettrist locales that achieve transcendence in a varied relativist Quantum version of Mark Rothko’s excellent expressionist duality of foreground-background.  These are far-reaching glyphs from an unknown place in time, from timelessness itself, presenting a spontaneous statistical, geometric representation, “objective correlative” and “simulacrum” of fundamental ontic and tribal patterns.  From a source that is both inanimate and “living,” both conceptual and physical, both special and ordinary, both frightening and exhilarating, that combines the forces of both normal wear-and-tear and nurturing, Chirot depicts not only a new landscape of universal meaning—a universal landscape—but the more vibrantly imagined Beings that might actually populate such a landscape.  Nothing is further or farther from the mechanistic literature of a dictionary or directory than Chirot’s perilous, menaced and reflexive, troubled, thoughtful, heroic and deeply romantic works; and, despite Barthes or because of him, no artist is more capable of this type of  understanding and consolation.  These paranormal creations patiently wait in evolutionary traffic jams for the humongous reconciling markets of charity to open relieving far-reaching floodgates for their agonizing listlessness and unbearable prematurely symmetrical iconic bankruptcy to appear and once again begin gushing and flowing.  Prisoners and teleological nightclubs hang precariously on the discardedd edges of solar outposts in the homeless homes of the heart’s ineffable revitalization.  As Chirot writes,

…something elusive, at the periphery of vision, of being--a sense of grace--an arc of beauty across the field of being, seeing, feeling, hearing…

I hope in my work that there is conveyed a sense that a public space
truly belongs to no one and is shared by everyone.

Eons of glacial infrastructures and inner requirements of nothingness wash away the plausible paths, the ghostly cemeteries of human-inhuman deception, unearthing distant paragraphs and selfless sentences of a more equal and long-lasting substantiveness.     

Epilogue

In a sense, in light of Barthes’ stubborn proscription against “origins,” there is no longer any discernible background or, as in Surrealist paintings, only one background, which is infinite negation and nothingness.  Linearity is negation.  Nonlinearity is meaning.  At the same time, in the foreground, there is no simulation, no callousness, no promiscuity, no negation, no holocaust, no refuse, no definitive version, no death.  Rather there is only origins.  Everything that stands is originary thoughtful timelessness, and everything outside of that is the irrelevant charred impracticable narrowness of bias, pretext, inertia, myopia, superficiality, appearance, dishonesty, literalness, annoyance.  Life—in both the dark spontaneous moment of discovery and articulation and the bright conceptual moment of the future—is reduced to nonlinearity, to perception.  Life is reduced to a varying planetary, non-gravitational life.  It is reduced from the degrading gestalt of effortless breathlessness to impossible nonfastidious moment-by-moment judgment and renewal.  It is reduced to the eternal realm of pure daily existence.  Rather than the coincidental melodrama of diverting situations that seem headed toward total cataclysmic destruction, there  remains only the drama of  whether our lives have meaning at all.  What comes into focus is so-called presence, “parousia,” pure meaning, dimensionality, depth, unadorned actuality, without looking back in a linear way.  From the “Modern epoch,” we—that is “humanity,” all living creatures—have, perhaps, moved into an “Ontological epoch” in which there is only Being and the nature of Being, existence, somewhat forgetful of time and place.  In this penultimate epoch, honor and privilege are based thinly on utility value, character and, using Henri Lefebvre’s word, being “proactive.”  Everyone is equally known, equally well-off and equally judged by their actions.  In the name of full credible long-lasting scientific knowledge rather than impulsive manipulative and corrupt exaggerations and presumption, there are no intercessions, no “soft landings” or exceptions for planet earth any longer, and the only distinction and payoff that is needed or sought is nothing more than the warming light of life itself. 



*****


Among Tom Hibbard’s recent credits are poems in Cricket Online Review and contributions to an Egyptian international poetry anthology.  Also Hibbard has had reviews and essays published in recent issues of Big Bridge, Galatea Resurrects and Word/ For Word.  His writings cover such subjects as Jack Kerouac’s poetry, the collages of Luc Fierens, visual works of Nico Vassilakis and John Bennett and the paintings of Emil Nolde.  Hibbard has an introduction to French Surrealism along with a number of translations of Surrealist poems in the new issue 18 of Big Bridge and a review of Eileen Tabios’ collection of prose, Against Misanthropy:  A Life in Poetry, in the inaugural issue of the journal The Halo-Halo Review.  His poetry collection The Sacred River of Consciousness is available online at Moon Willow Press.  He’s working on finishing a new poetry collection titled The Global People. 





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