Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Time and Space.

Yesterday, I received my Alumnae Quarterly magazine, and it featured one of my college classmates' new books, Spiral Jetta (Erin E. Hogan). In it, she traces her road trip in her VW Jetta to see land art installations (think: Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy) of the American west. She originally went because she was "'really interested in the way that land art transforms your sense of space'." But what she discovered instead was that "'[i]t didn't have as much to do with space but [instead] with time'."

My sister is an artist who has done land art projects and made similar observations. About her work, River Print, in which she reproduced her thumbprint in rocks in the middle of a river island, she says: "I was watching time (the river) and timelessness (the unchanging mark of my thumbprint) intersecting."

What spoke to me most in all this insight, however, was the observation that Hogan made about her own self in relation to the land art objects: "she once again realized that the work was not about objects in space but 'time and change and having a fixed place that the universe revolves around. I had always thought [the fixed place] was me; but these works were that fixed place'."

As a poet writing about objects, I am aware of the criticism that the descriptive image and the poetic list of objects is merely an opportunity for the artist to project self onto the concrete world, into the written word. So I am interested in the loss of self experienced by Hogan when faced with an object-in-time. The way that time interacts with an object, alters it, transforms it, entirely independent of the self--although dependent on the poet's eye to bring that to the page, which may mean that no loss of self is possible after all.


  1. I was really taken with Goldsworthy after I heard him talk about the
    impermanence of his work. The idea that nature and time transform his
    work is exciting because it disconnects the work from him and makes it
    --more. I love this idea that the artist is only part of the cycle of
    the object's evolution and transformation. I also found it interesting
    and a little surprising (I don't know why) that an artist so obsessed
    with this concept of impermanence in his work documents his projects
    photographically--hence capturing them, in a sense--halting their
    development. Perhaps the photo is it's own piece? Just like portraits
    of people, people that are constantly moving and changing. Obviously,
    the original, is still changing out there somewhere. The photo is a
    reminder of a time--not an accurate document of a complete work. It's
    silly, I suppose, but I found it a little sad that in order to show or
    catalog his work that he has to fix them in time this way. It also made
    me wonder if film (as in the film about him made recently) was more
    appropriate than still photography for representing what it is he does
    as an artist. He was at least able to convey a sense of motion and time
    in the film.

    Does a poem change when it is given voice, read aloud, sent out into
    the world? Once it is written or published, is it fixed in your mind?

    I am thrilled about this blog. I have missed you. I will try not to
    make a nuisance of myself.


  2. Tracie, The whole issue of self-focus and self-reference when it comes to art-making
    (of any ilk) is such a hard one for me. I fear we're all implicated and not
    for the better. Poets think they're talking about some "other" thing or
    person, but since we control the entire representative act from start to
    finish, and since we expose our moves on the page--"oh, look at
    this!...isn't that cool? let me show you THIS thing, that I imagine in THIS fact, I really think it looks like [insert simile here]." It isn't
    pretty. Even when we erase the first-person pronoun from the poem entirely,
    I'm not sure it gets us off the hook. We still control what the reader sees
    and how she sees it. It's really still about US. How good we are at
    SHOWING. Or representing. Or finessing the thing itself into something the
    reader never even thought about before. "Oooooh! Isn't it great what we
    can do with words (or paint or marble or film)?" We don't need to be
    braggarts--and most artists I know aren't temperamentally that way at
    all--to be implicated by ego. The mere act of creation does that for us.

    I guess I think everything is fixed in time. The minute we start trying to
    talk about something, let alone represent it in art, it's a fixed thing,
    subject to our perspective, which is all about time. This is the great
    philosophical "if a tree falls in a forest..." question. Does anything
    exist without an observer? Does language (and in this usage of the word
    language, I mean all representation, all signifiers, including all art)
    necessarily bring the world into an existence it doesn't otherwise have?
    Even if you take a walk into a wilderness that no one has ever seen before,
    you are understanding it--representing it in your head--using language. You
    call it into being that way. And there's no escaping it. There's no
    engaging with anything without processing it through our senses, and our
    brains, which will automatically categorize everything we see into a set of
    signs we've come to understand. That's a tree. That's an animal. And so

    I didn't really consider my poems done until the book was taken. Now,
    they're done. But that's not true for everyone who writes.

    I needed a blog that was going to do some work for me; so, thanks, for
    helping me to think.

  3. I remember reading something by Lucy Lippard a long time ago about
    naming and how naming is destructive and limiting. I think it is a
    shortcut, an abbreviation, a quicky key stroke that makes us stop
    thinking and seeing. Ack. I also think it is necessary. I certainly
    believe it cannot be undone. Do we need it to? Do you believe there is
    some truer perception to be had? Are you feeling disconnected from some

    I am flashing on Oliver Sachs and patients that retain no memory but
    that have language and music after head trauma. Where does memory and
    genetics fit into this?

    The whole Allegory of the Cave thing makes me tired. I believe we are
    all appropriating appropriations and that this IS reality now. Maybe it
    always was. There are finite minute distinctions and for me--most
    days--it is enough. Is that bad? The evolution, the process is where
    the truth (whatever that is) lies for me. I don't think I believe in

    YOU have made me think. I am going to stop now though before I say
    something to embarrass myself. I think I have become less enlightened
    and more intuitive in my tired mama state. I should NEVER talk about

  4. Well, I feel like a dufus, coming in to comment behind such eloquent, thoughtful conversations between you and Tracie. Though I am delighted to have access to you via this new blog, I am too drained to offer much more than this - I love Andy Goldsworthy. And - the Spiral Jetta reference lead to my local library reservation of Smithson's Spiral Jetty book.

    Ok, I do have one other thing to say. CONGRATULATION ON THE PUBLICATION OF YOUR BOOK and winning the 2009 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize. I'm very, very proud of you.

  5. "I guess I think everything is fixed in time."

    And yet time is the least fixed and most impermanent ephemera of all. That last second is gone, forever, now; the sights, sounds, objects, that existed in that moment are all changed, unlike they were and unlike what they will be. Inside that rock a feldspar grain decomposed to clay; it will never be a mineral again after that moment and will not be the clay that it will become in the next thousand years.

    So, in that sense, aren't your poet's words are the snapshot of a moment, as the poet saw it from her/his perspective, a permanent record of impermanence?

    And in that respect how different is that from what we all do? The universe we see is, ultimately, for us, the universe that exists inside our heads. We try and see it from others' perspectives...we can even try and imagine it without any human perspective at all...but it remains a uniquely personal interpretation. When we read poetry - or prose - we get (hopefully) a glimpse of that "other" viewpoint. But by the act of reading it we make part of it ours, no? We filter it through our experience, and through our vision...

    FDChief (sorry for the anonymity, the comment thing is being exceptionally rude this morning...)

  6. Right, John. That's it exactly. Everything is fixed in a moment. As a scholar, I was trained as a New Historicist--meaning, the first question I ask of a Shakespeare play, for instance, is--what was going on in the culture of England/London/Europe during THAT YEAR that gave rise to this play? I don't ask questions about how it speaks to us--unless we're talking about a specific production of it in 2003, for instance. Then I ask questions about 2003 that gave rise to the concerns emphasized by that particular production.

    The way to get out of our own heads when we study literature is history, of course--although the questions we ask are always informed by our own experiences--not just inside our heads, but also of our culture. As a poet, I don't believe what I write is exclusively personal. I also think that culture writes itself through me, into me. I'm sure there are things going on in my poems that I am not entirely conscious of. It will take a scholar (oh, if only I could be so lucky!) to decipher the way my culture is reflected in my poetry.

    And, yes, of course: time is always marching forward. It is fixed in objects--in art, in tree rings, in baubles and bits--not in people. And, as I said up above, it's all about our perspective...the observer question.