Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Library of Dust": an exhibit of neglected remains

From poet C.A. Conrad comes this link to David Maisel's Library of Dust. Here's an article at boingboing about this extraordinary exhibit, which was mounted at San Francisco's Haines Gallery in 2008. A book featuring Maisel's photographs of copper cremation cannisters found at the abandoned Oregon State Hospital (filming site of Milos Foreman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is published by Chronicle Books; the Oregon State Hospital is currently slated for demolition. Conrad remarks, with the sweet irony that only all we the living can afford, "these people were so neglected, so hated for their conditions while living, but now people (can) flock from all over to see the urns of their remains."

From David Maisel's website: "Library of Dust depicts individual copper canisters, each containing the cremated remains of patients from a state-run psychiatric hospital. The patients died at the hospital between 1883 (the year the facility opened, when it was called the Oregon State Insane Asylum) and the 1970’s; their bodies have remained unclaimed by their families. The approximately 3,500 copper canisters have a handmade quality; they are at turns burnished or dull; corrosion blooms wildly from the leaden seams and across the surfaces of many of the cans.

Numbers are stamped into each lid; the lowest number is 01, and the highest is 5,118. The vestiges of paper labels with the names of the dead, the etching of the copper, and the intensely hued colors of the blooming minerals combine to individuate the canisters. These deformations sometimes evoke the celestial - the northern lights, the moons of some alien planet, or constellations in the night sky. Sublimely beautiful, yet disquieting, the enigmatic photographs in Library of Dust are meditations on issues of matter and spirit.

The room housing these canisters is an attempt for order, categorization, and rationality to be imposed upon randomness, chaos, and the irrational. The canisters, however, insistently and continually change their form over time; they are chemical and alchemical sites of transformation, both organic and mineralogical, living and dead. The Library of Dust describes this labyrinth, and in doing so, gives form to the forgotten."

Maisel, quoted here from the article at boingboing: “There are certainly physical and chemical explanations for the ways these canisters have transformed over time ... but perhaps the canisters also encourage us to consider what happens to our own bodies when we die, and what may happen to the souls that occupied our bodies. Matter, these canisters show, lives on when the body vanishes, even when it has been incinerated to ash by an institutional practice."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The naughty bits, 1973: celebrate Banned Books Week with "Slaughterhouse Five"

It's ALA's Banned Books Week, 2014. The outrage of Huckleberry Finn is still a thrill, over 120 years since its publication. Congratulations to Mr. Twain, who continues to make the national conscience uncomfortable more than a hundred years after his death.

Here are the naughty bits of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, a book often banned and often cited as objectionable, as enumerated in the dissenting opinion of Justice Powell in the 1973 Supreme Court decision. For more First Amendment decisions and lots of fun reading, visit the First Amendment Center.


"The excerpts which led the Board to look into the educational suitability of the books in question are set out (with minor corrections after comparison with the text of the books themselves) below. The pagination and the underlinings are retained from the original report used by the board. In newer editions of some of the books, the quotes appear at different pages. 



29 'Get out of the road, you dumb motherfucker.' The last word was still a novelty in the speech of white people in 1944.

It was fresh and astonishing to Billy, who had never fucked anybody . . .'

32 'You stake a guy out on an anthill in the desert -- see? He's facing upward, and you put honey all over his balls and pecker, 
and you cut off his eyelids so he has to stare at the sun till he dies.'

34 'He had a prophylactic kit containing two tough condoms 'For the prevention of disease only!' . . . He had a dirty picture of a woman attempting sexual intercourse with a shetland pony.'

94 & 95 'But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected . . . The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ who didn't look like much, was actually the son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought . . . 

Oh boy -- they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch this time! And that thought had a brother: There are right people to lynch. 

People not well connected . . . . The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really WAS a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections then he had . . . . So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn't possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought . . . since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was. And then just before the nobody died . . . . The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son . . . God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections.'

99 'They told him that there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals. There could be babies without female homosexuals.'

120 'Why don't you go fuck yourself? Don't think I haven't tried . . . he was going to have revenge, and that revenge was sweet . . . It's the sweetest thing there is, said Lazzaro. People fuck with me, he said, and Jesus Christ are they ever fucking sorry.'

122 'And he'll pull out a gun and shoot his pecker off. The stranger'll let him think a couple of seconds about who Paul Lazzaro is and what life's gonna be like without a pecker. Then he'll shoot him once in the guts and walk away. . . . He died on account of this silly cocksucker here. So I promised him I'd have this silly cocksucker shot after the war.'

134 'In my prison cell I sit . . . With my britches full of shit, And my balls are bouncing gently on the floor. And I see the bloody snag when she bit me in the bag . . . Oh, I'll never fuck a Polack any more.'

173 'And the peckers of the young men would still be semierect, and their muscles would be bulging like cannonballs.'

175 'They didn't have hard-ons . . . Everybody else did.'

177 'The magazine, which was published for lonesome men to jerk off to.'

178 'and one critic said. . . . 'To describe blow-jobs artistically."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard' (Charles Wright)

"After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard" 
(Charles Wright)

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
                                         looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
                       I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
                  Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
                                           up from the damp grass.
Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.

"After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard" by Charles Wright originally appeared in the collection Chickamauga [1995]. Charles Wright was educated at Davidson College; his first book of poems, The Grave of the Right Hand, was published in 1970. His most recent collection, Caribou, was published this year. In a 1989 Paris Review interview he was asked about his early poetry written in the Army while stationed in Italy. Wright commented:  "If one has to write poorly before one can write well—which I think is true—and if that can be extended to read that one has to write deplorably before one can write extraordinarily well, then I definitely started in the right place for the latter. I suppose it’s nostalgia that makes me keep them. That and the sense of duty that one shouldn’t destroy one’s stunted darlings. Keep them out of sight, yes, but don’t abuse them. Rather like the retarded greataunt in the attic, that mainstay of Southern gothic." He is the current Poet Laureate of the United States.