Monday, July 20, 2015

`People Who Find Harsh Realism Exhilarating'

I’m always reading Guy Davenport, as though we were forever resuming an often interrupted but never concluded conversation, and not so much the stories as the essays, translations and other nonfiction. My Heraclitus is his. Guy stirred my appetite for aphorism with Herakleitos and Diogenes (Grey Fox Press, 1979; included in 7 Greeks, New Directions, 1995). Here is Fragment 40:
“The most beautiful order of the world is still a random gathering of things insignificant in themselves.”
I read this for the first time while editing a weekly newspaper in Northwestern Ohio, my first job in journalism, a trade for which I was entirely untrained. “Editor” sounds grandiose, though it was my title. I wrote and edited most of the copy, and took photographs, which is how I taught myself to use a .35-mm camera and process film. Some of my favorite modern artists have been photographers – Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Wright Morris – and for a few years I presumed to ape their art. In the summer of 1980 I pulled over when I spied a collapsed barn partially concealed by weeds and vines. In the fallen building I discovered a readymade still life – knotted boards, a rusted spiral of cable, a dried-out thistle and, at the center of this arrangement of diagonals and loops, an empty bird’s nest: “a random gathering of things insignificant in themselves.” I captured a perfectly realistic abstraction. The Toledo Blade sponsored a photo contest, I entered and won in some non-portrait, non-landscape category, and the paper reproduced my picture in its Sunday supplement. I’ve hardly taken another photograph.
“Everything flows; nothing remains. [Everything moves; nothing is still. Everything passes away; nothing lasts.]” (Fragment 2)
Somewhere I have a copy of that Sunday supplement, but no prints or negatives. I last visited Williams County twenty-five years ago, during the same trip in which I visited Guy Davenport for the first and only time. Presumably, the barn has dissolved into the soil or been replaced by a parking lot. I’ve just learned that Jack Bryce, the guy who gave me that first newspaper job a lifetime ago has died at age ninety-three. Jack didn’t teach me how to write but gave me the opportunity to teach myself while getting paid to do so. I think of Jack, a serious jazz fan, whenever I listen to Bill Evans, who died Sept. 15, 1980. At Jack’s urging, I wrote a eulogy for Evans and published it in our weekly. This convergence – Davenport/Heraclitus/Jack Bryce/Bill Evans – condensed while reading Eva Brann’s The Logos of Heraclitus (Paul Dry Books, 2011). After identifying him as the only solitary, non-conversing figure in Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens, the one writing with eyes averted, she writes:
“That is Heraclitus, an engaged solitary, an inward-turned observer of the world, inventor of the first of philosophical genres, the thought-compacted aphorism, prose that could contend with poetry. It is linguistically ingenious, teasingly obscure in reputation, but hard-hittingly clear in fact. Each saying contains a concentrated drop of meaning—the kind of writing one would often stop to look away from. Such a style, tense and beautiful, seems to be favored by people who find harsh realism exhilarating.”

1 comment:

Subbuteo said...

Penned this the other day.

"A determinist philosopher denied free will feeling that philosophy was in his DNA."

Was wondering, would it qualify as an aphorism?