Friday, May 20, 2005

Jackson Pollock vs. Andy Warhol

Wow, one would almost think Ron Silliman had read my dig at Andy Warhol in my last post from reading his latest: “any history of American painting of the last century that doesn’t put Warhol on the same plane ultimately with Pollock isn’t credible.” Silliman is responding to a questionnaire, and his answers are an interesting summary of “post-avant” thought.
The best art in any medium is that which expands our understanding of the possibilities of the medium itself. … A poet who directly understands & confronts his or her medium has an opportunity to address questions such as truth. One who uses language instrumentally, as a second-order mechanism to get at some “truths” that lie elsewhere is not only a bad writer, but a dishonest one.

I realize this sort of thinking is pretty standard, but it still amazes me. Can anyone really believe that when Whitman wrote “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” or Dickinson wrote “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died,” or Joyce wrote Ulysses or Creeley wrote “I Know a Man,” they were not trying to get at some truths that lay “elsewhere”—outside of language? Weren’t some of the best and most experimental artists of the last century (e.g., John Cage) trying to get at truths that lay “elsewhere” (e.g., a non-Western, Buddhist vision)?

I’d say that Ron Silliman’s own best work gets at truths that lay elsewhere too, which I think just means that, like a lot of great artists (e.g., Ezra Pound), his best work violates his own principles. In getting at truths that lie elsewhere, I think of course the best writers do expand the possibilities of language, but it’s only because they’re trying to get at truths that lie elsewhere that the expansion is genuine, not gimmickry.

1 comment:

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