playing with style

Genre is a slippery thing – is there a set borderline between fiction and nonfiction? While nonfiction is often defined by fidelity to fact and logical cohesion, the genre has a companion history of texts that use the fragmentary, suggestive, and inconclusive. There are essays that destabilize unwavering narration, logical progression, and rhetorical coherence. Creative nonfiction is an elastic genre.

Like in really good photography, you start to wonder: is it true or is it fiction – ?

Todd Hido: Untitled #2621, 2000


Todd Hido (born 1968, Kent, Ohio) is an American contemporary artist and photographer. Currently based in San Francisco. Deeply interested in the topic of housing in the United States, Todd Hido’s large, colored photographs of American suburbia emphasize feelings of isolation and anonymity. Hido’s images have a very narrative, almost cinematic quality to them

We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward.

I’m reading Lisa Carver’s Reaching Out with No Hands. Reconsidering Yoko Ono. It’s a very amusing and well written book. Carver has a strong personal tone – her text is filled with respect for Ono’s work. Here is why, according to Carver, Ono is such an important artist:

Yoko Ono is not pretty, she is not easy, her paintings aren’t recognizable, her voice is not melodious, her films are without plot, and her Happenings make no sense. One of her paintings you are told to sleep on. One of her paintings you are told to burn. One of her paintings isn’t a painting at all – it’s you climbing into an outdoor bathtub and looking at the sky. Most of her stuff is not even there. Thats why I love her. This is why we need her. We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward. We need more impossible in our culture.

Go out and and capture moonlight on water in a bucket, she commands. 


We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward. Isn’t this just a very good and precise observation?


Consecrating ones life to an imbecility

I suppose, as a poet, amongst my fears can be counted the deep-seated uneasiness that one day it will be revealed that I consecrated my life to an imbecility (to something intrinsically unnecessary and superfluous – and thereby unintentionally cruel).

In an intriguing essay called “On Fear”, Mary Ruefle touch upon a problem I have been struggling with lately (the so-called: why not do something important with your life?!!! question). But even more interesting; Ruefle presents a lot of thoughts I’ve never ever considered, like:

  • The industrial world destroys nature not because it doesn’t love it but because it is not afraid of it.
  • Fear is desire’s dark dress, its doppelgänger.
  • Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide (D.W.Winnicott).
  • Fear is to recognize ourselves. (Kierkegaard says: What is education? I should suppose that education was the curriculum one had to run through in order to catch up with oneself).
  • Poetry is no more than a broken whisper – to talk about anything, just to talk, becomes an operation in itself, a means of assuaging fear (Szymborska).

Ruefle’s essay (or lecture) is not only interesting for its content; Ruefle’s style is a show in itself. While writing she is constantly questioning her own statements and beliefs, contradict herself, challenging us – encouraging us to make our own digressions into sense and nonsense. In other words: This is truly inspirational reading!

(Even when fear is the topic) …

Tony Hoagland said: fear was the ghost of an experience: we fear the recurrence of a pain we once felt, and in this way fear is like a hangover. The memory of our pain is a pain unto itself, and thus feeds our fear like a foyer with mirrors on both sides. 

SAM_0232Kvassheim fyr, Jæren

Lovely Blueness

Just the other day Jim Elkins made me aware of a very fine text on blue written by Colm Tóibín.

 In 2004 Colm Tóibín curated an exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin called ‘Blue’ which consisted of blue objects from the collection. The following passages are derived from In Lovely Blueness: Adventures in Troubled Light, Tóibín’s introductory essay to the exhibition:

[...] Blue comes to us through silence and mystery and much argument. The word we use to describe blueness was not in every language, or arrived later than words for white and black, red and yellow and green. In ancient Greek, as far as we can make out, the word for black may have been the same as the word for blue. In modern Catalan the word for blue (blau; blava in the feminine) is the same as the word for bruise, deriving from the Latin word for bruise, blavus. No one now believes that Roman and Greek eyes were too primitive to see the colour blue, but it was not an essential term in the lexicography of colour and, with the exception of work in mosaic and in some illustration, it was not used as one of the central colours in Greek or Roman art.

[...] Blue mostly came from far away. Woad was made in the brutish north and frightened Julius Caesar (‘Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem, atque hoc horribiliores sunt in pugna aspectu’); indigo came from India; lapis lazuli from the east. Blue, for the most part, was distant and expensive and somehow, for the Greeks and the Romans, it was associated with barbarians, some of whom had blue eyes and others blue robes. The main colours in which the Greeks and Romans worked were black and white, red and yellow. In the late Middle Ages, red robes were the most expensive.

Tóibín continues showing us how names of colors have changed through history, and he points out how difficult it is to translate color names both over languages and time. e.g: ‘The emphasis on colour intensity,’ Michel Pastoureau writes in Blue, ‘led medieval people to perceive colour very differently than we do now: for the dyer or painter, and for their clients and publics, heavily saturated colour was often seen (or imagined) as closer to another bright colour than it was to a weaker, less concentrated tone of the same colour.’

[...] for both Western and Arabic writers, colour was subservient to light. Boethius said that colour was an accident. Scholars such as Averroes made light a far more important structural concept than colour, believing that the colours of art were finite while the colours of nature infinite. These theories of colour and light would lead to Goethe’s most beautiful phrase: ‘Colour is troubled light.’

[...] ‘With a new social order,’ Michel Pastoureau writes, ‘came a new order of colours.’ [...]  Part of the reason for the growth in blue’s popularity was progress in France and England in the cultivation of woad and improvement in dyeing techniques. ‘In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,’ Michel Pastoureau writes, ‘blue at long last became a first-rate beautiful colour – the colour of Mary and royalty, and thus the rival of red. During the following four or five hundred years, these two colours shared the preeminent position over all others and in many spheres formed a partnership of contrast: red versus blue meant the festive versus the moral, the material versus the spiritual, the near versus the far, the masculine versus the feminine.’ By the late fourteenth century the French poet Guillaume de Machaut could write: ‘He who would rightly judge colours and pronounce their true meaning, must place before all others beautiful blue.’

 A century later, map makers began to make water blue instead of green.

For an avid student of blue like me, Tóibín’s essay is a true treasure!


Vermeer: Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665)
Oil on canvas, 46,5 x 40 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague

(Question to self: How come I think of Vermeer’s painting of the girl with a pearl earring as a blue painting?)


art on art

Maggie Nelson wrote Bluets under the influence of – amongst others – Joan Mitchell. Bluets is a good example on how art inspires more art, and on interconnectedness (which again verge at the literary term intertextuality) within a larger field of art, transgressing both genre and time.

The work below is an explicit re-staging of art:

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (1993), Jeff Wall © Jeff Wall

Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri (c.1832), Hokusai (1760-1849)

A Sudden Gust of Wind recreates or transplants the scenery from Hokusai’s woodcut series The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji into the setting of British Columbia. In order to achieve a seamless montage that gives the illusion of capturing a real moment in time, Jeff Wall needed over a year and 100 photos to stage the scene. Mt. Fiji is missing, but the figures’ poses and the movement of a stack of papers in the wind make it easy to recognize the famous work Sunshu Ejiri.

You might also remember me writing about Wall in an earlier post, another example of his interesting appropriations.

Appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects. It is a strategy that has been used by artists and writers for centuries. Art on art: appropriation, intertextuality, collages – opens up for many kinds of readings, dependent on the reader/viewer’s competence and experience. It’s not like you cannot enjoy Wall if you haven’t seen Hokusai, or Nelson if you haven’t seen Mitchell, but knowing the references create a kind of surplus value. For the artist appropriating is also a way of making connections, becoming a part of the larger community, finding ones place in the greater world of art and artists.

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (detail)

… a leap from red to blue

After having spent several bewildering & enchanting days in company of Carson’s Autobiography of Red, I’m moving on to blue, or more precisely BluetsBluets, by Maggie Nelson is (if I am to be honest), in its own ways, just as amazing as Carson’s Red.

This is how the publisher presents Bluets:

A lyrical, philosophical, and often explicit exploration of personal suffering and the limitations of vision and love, as refracted through the color blue, while folding in, and responding to, the divergent voices and preoccupations of such generative figures as Wittgenstein, Sei Shonagon, William Gass and Joan Mitchell. 

Here is a taste for you:

1) Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it was a confession, …

2) And so I fell in love with a color – in this case, the color blue – as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.

7) But what kind of love is it, really? Don’t fool yourself and call it sublimity. Admit that you have stood in front of a little pile of powdered ultramarine pigment in a glass cup at the museum and felt a stinging desire. …

8) “We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it”, wrote Goethe, and perhaps he was right. But I am not interested in longing to live in a world I already live. …

13) At a job interview at a university, three men sitting across from me at a table. On my cv it says that I am currently working on a book about the color blue. I have been saying this for years without writing a word. …

14) I have enjoyed telling people that I am writing a book about blue without actually doing it. …

33) … At times I fake my enthusiasm. At others I fear I am incapable of communicating the depth of it.

51) You might as well act as if objects had the colors, the Encyclopedia says. – Well, it is as you please. But what would it look like to act otherwise?

Paul Klee: Blue Coat, 1940, 7 Oil and pigmented wax on paper © Albertina, Wien


Maggie Nelson (1973) is the author of four books of poetry and four books of criticism. She has won a number of awards, including a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction and a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her most recent book is The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning


Literary theory according to Jenny Boully

The experience of time translates itself into language, and language translates itself into distance, which translates itself into longing, which is the realization of time. (…) how sad and strange that I, Jenny Boully, should be the sign of a signifier or the signifier of a sign, moreover, the sign of a signifier searching for the signifies. 

- Jenny Boully: The Body, an essay

Sometimes texts just catch me, without me being able to explain why. But if I, in spite of my incapability, should try to find words for my enthusiasm for The Body I will choose sentences like:

  • I love how the narrator moves rapidly around in her own text
  • I love the combination of literary high & low
  • I like the way the narrator makes fun of herself
  • I love the way she lays herself bare, the rawness of it
  • I like the genre-breaking-quality; calling it an essay, when in fact it is poetry written as footnotes – or isn’t it?!

Intensifying my life

I’m reading Stephen Dobyns book of essays on poetry; Best Words, Best Order (1996/2003). I enjoy it a lot, but there is this view in the first essay called Deception, that I find rather difficult to understand. In a discussion on the difference between the novel and poetry, Dobyns say:

So in my poetry I believe I deal with the existing world and in my novels with alternative worlds. If I feel badly about the world, dislike its people, feel pessimistic about its future, then I can’t write poetry. Fiction I can write any time, because it is not connected to my immediate feelings about the world. I don’t need to love human beings in order to write it.


My question is: Why can’t he write poems when he feels bad about the world? Isn’t sadness, sorrow and loss amongst the strongest sources of poetry?

Dobyns goes on to discuss the standard Romantic formula for how poetry gets written, and adds on a very fine and respectful view on the role of the reader:

One writes when one is unable to remain silent, and what one does is to make a small machine out of words that re-creates the same feeling in another human being, any time, any place – meaning that without the reader, there can be no poem.

It can even be argued that it is the reader who makes the poem, because if the ideal reader cannot re-create the emotion of the poet’s words, then no poem exist.


I love how he here brings the reader into the completion of the poem, but I still don’t understand why he, as a poet himself, has to be happy and optimistic about people & the world to write?!

do you?

But if I feel hostile toward the world and dislike its people, I can’t write poetry – there is nothing I wish to say to the reader on the other side of the page except Go Away!

For me, writing a poem is to engage with the world, writing a novel is to escape from its immediacy


I might make a minor case into a central theme here, and you could rightly ask: why am I so interested in why Dobyns can’t write poetry when he is in a melancholic mood …

In my next post I will follow a different thread in Dobyns very fine book of essays.

… in poetry I am intensifying my life …