February 20, 2005
From Stanley Cavell
On the evening of February 24, 2005
I will not be where Cathleen and I want to be, in Albuquerque with others of Gus’s friends gathered with his family, but instead I am to give a talk that evening some five thousand miles from there, at the Cinematheque in Lisbon, as I agreed some months ago to do, introducing a series of a dozen films they have scheduled there beginning with It Happened One Night and The Lady Eve and The Philadelphia Story. These are three of countless films Gus and I spent time on together and I thank him for that in a book I wrote about such films. I thank him in other books for other conversations. But I profited from those conversations beyond any thanks I know how to give. And I know that others trying to get on with writing books or making other things have the same causes for gratitude I have and feel the same way I do. What I do not know is of anyone else whose range of friends, and whose care of his friends, was as great as Gus’s. He knew people, and kept up with people, from all the lives he had led, or was living, seeming to have room in his memory for writings and images made by everyone, famous and not, that he had ever come across who showed a talent for doing something or saying something or playing something distinctive, and Gus had the rare knack and the tact of forming words of encouragement for them. There kept being new names, some strange to me, some known to many, entering his conversation, or into one of his delirious monologues from a theater of his own. He finished some memorable projects, and I believe others also must have tried and cried to get him to finish more, small and large. It is frightening to think how many unfinished projects there must be heavy evidence of, ones he was right never to give up on. This means that numbers of people who would have cared to know may not know what we know. But we know it. And I join in celebrating it.
Allan Graham: As REAL as thinking
SITE Santa Fe presents an exhibition by New Mexico-based artist Allan Graham featuring a comprehensive overview of his work. The exhibition, entitled Allan Graham/TH: AS REAL as thinking, is curated by Kathleen Shields. The unusual title of the exhibition comes from AS REAL as thinking, a line from a Robert Creeley poem together with TH that stands for Toadhouse, a pseudonym that Allan Graham worked under for part of his career.
Born in 1943, Allan Graham has lived in New Mexico for nearly 35 years. Among other exhibitions, Graham showed Cave of Generation at the Fisher Landau Center, Long Island City, New York in 1992 and The Collection of Panza di Biumo, Artists of the 80s and 90s at Museo D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Trento and Roveretto, Italy in 1996. Collections of Graham’s work are at the Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Switzerland; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Allan Graham/TH: AS REAL as thinking will present selected works from the past 15 years in individual, yet interrelated, installations that both underscore the experience of the respective groups of works and tie together the forms and ideas that underlie them. Concurrently, SITE Santa Fe will present a gallery of paintings, selected by Allan Graham, by his friend and fellow artist Oli Sihvonen (1921-1991).
AS REAL as thinking will include works such as Judas Hangs Himself, 1984, a pivotal piece in which the painting support seems to have turned inside out or its surface to have been split and turned in on itself and Moon II, 1986, representing the period during which Graham abandoned the traditional painting format to create a series of large, eccentrically shaped, monochrome canvases.
Also part of the exhibition, TIDE, 1995, featuring four sets of cast bronze coffee mugs placed on the floor suggests the simple beauty of everyday objects while offering subtle allusions to intersections of presence and absence, fullness and emptiness.
Gus Blaisdell, Stanley Cavell, David Jones – Living Batch Bookstore Albuquerque, New Mexico
Excerpt of Stanley Cavell’s Forward from Gus Blaisdell Colllected.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
∙ xi ∙ Foreword Stanley Cavell ■ Only for the months Gus came to Cambridge and, whatever else caught his interest, participated in my seminar every week at Harvard on film and philosophy through the fall of 1984, did we spend the kind of time together that those who knew him through years in Albuquerque could count on. They will be able to testify better than I to the radiating figure Gus assumed among interlocking or mutually shunning groups of writers and intellectuals, artists and academics, and other offshoots knowable from the vicinity of the famous and inspiring bookstore he molded and tended a block or two from the University of New Mexico. Yet while Cathleen and I visited Albuquerque over a couple of decades just three or four times, for a total of probably no more than two or three weeks, the man I knew is fully continuous with the marvelous sketches rendered by Ira Jaffe and David Morris, just now reaching my inbox. They both refer to Gus’s sometimes singling out my writing for special praise. I too, of course, was sometimes struck by this. Since I was aware of the range of gifted people Gus knew, I explained this periodic favoring of my work as his taking heart for his own work, specifically, from my varying efforts to resist the isolating or insulating of philosophy and the arts from each other in so much American writing in the field. I suppose it is since his death, and noticing my eightieth year come and go, that I have come to see Gus’s unique, tireless way of weaving isolation with intimacy in a further, I would say more particular, light. If Gus had vowed to various of the gods in his care that in case he could not complete the projects of writing he had in mind, along with myriad drafts in hand, he would nevertheless take the time to see to his artistic and intellectual and moral immortality by permanently etching his spirit on the consciousness, and beyond, of friends and strangers. Often with apparent xii ∙ foreword abandon, but so characteristically, in return, incorporating a fragment associated with a companion, present or absent, of any depth or era whose talent he had tasted and had instantly and endlessly metabolized, he could hardly have been more faithful and successful in this mission. How else can one explain the eerie agreement among his untotaled company of friends and strangers concerning his learning and accomplishments (abstract and concrete ), and his love of learning and accomplishment, and hence sometimes, his all the more intimately self-punishing hesitations before his ambitions for his own writing and philosophy and languages and passionate curiosities , his own angles of world sense? There is, I take it for granted, ready agreement that Gus’s capacities for friendship and for original modes of conversation—conversations characteristically demanding of him turns of improvised impressions, some doubtless lovingly burnished over years, of characters real or abstracted or invented, from rappers to orators, across all races—were touched with genius. But, as my speculation just now about his divine bargain was meant to mark, there is no comparably shared understanding about the motivation, or say, rather, the ferocity of energy, that brought him to and served him in fashioning, and attacking, his version of existence. Many of us will have been beneficiaries of his encouragement.The capacity to praise pertinently is terribly rare and must have taken various emphases within Gus’s circles among those who benefited from it. In the rest of my few pages here, I want to say something more particular about how this was between Gus and me. Several people have asked me about an unusually regular series of phone calls that engaged us for some time following Gus’s return to Albuquerque. (At the end of that Harvard fall term, just after the middle of December, Gus drove me in his truck to the Boston airport for my lonesome departure to Jerusalem to join a literary/philosophy group half way through its year of work, Cathleen and our two sons meant to follow some weeks later. So the series of phone calls probably began when I returned at the beginning of the following summer.) Gus and I had learned that we each began work early in the day, and though our different time zones prevented the simultaneity of the hour, we managed effectively to begin a number of our days with a call. My understanding of the…
a poem discovered, unfinished, unsent,
from son to father
Dreamenwound so enhanced
High noon shadowless except
Under the soles of your boots
Glaring blaze of noon a sound
Silences engulf and swelter
“How can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods”
Around him throng the fathers
To press his gory hands
Horizon for these notions disappear
Erasing the ideas. A blackboard
Once had diagrams of the offense
Navy beats Army yesterday. And I say
This one is for you, my old dead dad.
For whom I was always being
Knocked galley west, my timbers shivered
The sun was always over the yardarm
Somewhere in the world. Aye, matey!
The Snake said, It’s the black spot for ye!
Can’t get back the dreamenwound
Lost in the bacon, toast, and scrambled eggs
In this morning’s breakfast
At the Frontier, another horizon, a limit To discoveries mainly indigestive.
a letter finished, sent, father to son
Dear Luc 12-6-84
Here’s a little something. Have a fine Christmas.
I also think of you a lot, concern and love, not worry and irritation. I too had trouble finding my place in a world that mostly scared me and one for which I felt almost completely inadequate: I was school smart but not worldly wise. I stumbled along and was lucky – as I said to you the last time we were together, if I could give you anything I have it would be my luck. But luck, it now occurs to me, is not passive. Good sense can be made out of believing we have a hand in our luck, we help make it, get ourselves in shape for it and ready ourselves to receive it (Religious people call this Gods grace because you can’t bargain for it. He gives or withholds it nobody knows how or why.)
You have a good heart and a sound intelligence. Anger and fear can offset the first, even ruin it. It is more important to have a good heart than a fine or great mind, and you have that, strong like your ability at basketball. I wonder how we could put it to the wonderful use it deserves?
Schools are odd places. They speak a strange language. Many people learn it, get the hang of the jargon – for that is what it is: plain English could as easily be spoken. But as with anything strange or foreign it can be translated into the more basic, plain and direct words of your own experience. You have to get the hang of it. One of the most important things we can learn is to be good listeners and to feel what other people are feeling, where they are coming from, their need, desires and wants. Would you feel ignorant if hearing Japanese spoken by me you didn’t understand what I was saying? No, because you could ask me to translate that into English and would know that if you could or wanted to you too could learn that odd language. Academese, the jargon spoken in schools, is just a sublanguage of English – like hipsters, bloods and Valley girls, and them argols. Learn to listen and feel, and don’t be fearful or angry. I’m reminded of something Gandhi said when he was asked by his disciples what they should do once he was gone. “Be a little kinder,” was all he said; great words, great feelings put directly and simply. Feel them. And you already have the kindness; the smarts can be picked up much more easily.
As you can see from where I began this note I’d not planned such a long letter. I guess I wanted to chat with you on the page. I want you to know these things I feel about you – kind, intelligent and loyal and loving. Nothing could be better. Your withdrawal from the world is also the world’s loss. God knows how much help it could use, how much goodness it needs –
If I go on I risk repeating myself. KISS, I tell myself. Keep It Simple Stupid, a fine rule for writing.
Don’t doubt my feelings for you.
I love you,
From the abq journal 1996
Living Batch’s Last Day Dec. 24
The Living Batch, one of the oldest bookstores in New Mexico, is closing next month, after being in business on the same block for 27 years.
On Dec. 24 it will shut its doors at 106 Cornell SE, which is next door to the Frontier restaurant.
“The main reason we’re closing is that I don’t want to do it any more,” said owner Gus Blaisdell, a parttime film instructor at the University of New Mexico.
But that decision is influenced by several factors.
One is the arrival of the mega-bookstores in the Northeast Heights.
Their immediate effect is that a variety of customers no longer shop at the Living Batch.
“Before the superstores, we discovered that the most interesting sale days in our store were weekends. People drove from all over the city to come and shop,” Blaisdell said.
Another factor is his disenchantment with mainstream publishing.
“The price of books is excluding young readers,” he said, noting that three hardback books can retail for as much as $100.
Blaisdell said he’s considered, and rejected, the notion of reducing the store’s space and narrowing the subjects to what the Living Batch specializes in — alternative fiction, poetry, politics, art and architecture, psychoanalysis and works from small presses.
If the store changed its direction and size, Blaisdell said, there probably wouldn’t be sufficient readers to buy books “in these prices, in these times in Albuquerque.”
In addition, he said, none of his children nor present or former employees expressed interest in maintaining the bookstore.
“A literary period of mass readership for the small bookstore is passing out of democratic politics,” Blaisdell said. “I think inexpensive books should be available to a large number of people, if they want to read.
“So, through various circumstances, we have become extinct.”
I GREW UP during the 1950s in the then rapidly expanding university town of Davis, California, living with my family in a brand-new tract-housing development at the very edge of a vast expanse of barley, alfalfa, sugar beet, corn, and tomato fields. My youthful roaming on foot and by bicycle regularly brought me and my friends into other nearby neighborhoods as they were being newly constructed, along with visits to some of the canneries and industrial buildings then sprouting up throughout Yolo County. We didn’t know it then, but we were living within a microcosm of the American West that was being transformed before our eyes.
Much later in life, when I moved to San Francisco in 1974 as a young artist and became a faculty member at San Francisco State University, I first met Lewis Baltz and encountered his photographs. Lewis was introduced to me by my good friend, Geoffrey Young, a talented poet and copublisher of The Figures press, who called my attention to Lewis’s Tract Houses of 1971 and his subsequent The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California of 1974. I immediately judged these photographic projects to be a compelling new form of acerbic visual literature, one whose content resonated fully with my own life’s experience.Geoffrey Young then rang my bell again in 1980, saying that he had hot in his hands a preview copy of Park City, Lewis’s brand-new photography book. It set forth another stirring visual survey created within the American West, one strongly supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, which documented a devastated tract of land extant not far from Salt Lake City that had been heavily mined during the nineteenth century. Here was another residential-real-estate boom in the making presented for visual contemplation, this one tied to that of rapidly expanding ski-resort areas then being developed in the West. And not only did Baltz present Park City as his own powerful visual essay of lament, he also tag-teamed it in his new book with a brilliant and insightful essay authored by the writer Gus Blaisdell. Up until this time, the only photographer I admired who had actively engaged a noted writer with his work was Robert Frank, whose introduction for The Americans by Jack Kerouac became a classic pairing of images and words that is still relevant today.
Lewis Baltz,Tract House #1, from the seriesThe Tract Houses, 1971,gelatin silver print, 5 1/2 x 9”.
Lewis Baltz,Tract House #13, from the seriesThe Tract Houses, 1971,gelatin silver print, 5 1/2 x 9”.
Lewis Baltz,Foundation Construction Many Warehouses 2892 Kelvin Irvine, from the seriesThe New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California, 1974.
I had a wonderful opportunity come my way later on, during the mid-’80s, when I was asked to nominate two artists to create works in response to the public land known as Candlestick Park located on the outskirts of San Francisco. Happily, both of my nominees, Lewis Baltz and David Ireland, were awarded such commissions. And here yet again was another track of devastated land to be carefully considered and documented by Lewis, an unnatural field of construction debris that had been dumped in vast quantities into San Francisco Bay as landfill in advance of a new sports stadium that was then built on the site. Once opened, it became the home of the Giants and the 49ers and also hosted numerous concerts. The park’s vast asphalt parking lots almost surrounded the entire stadium, an austere and rubble-strewn landscape that finally ended at the Bay’s waters.
I instinctively knew that Lewis would engage this spectacle in a trenchant manner, as he proceeded to do with his Candlestick Point project, 1989, and the new book that later accompanied it. He had a bit earlier in the decade taken a close look at another tract of despoiled bayfront land, on which one of California’s oldest maximum-security prisons stands in stark isolation against natural beauty of the most arresting sort. Many of us in the field of photography knew and admired Lewis for the fine work he did on both of these very public sites, but it was not until more than a decade later, here at the Yale University Art Gallery, that I was able to both purchase and exhibit his entire Park City survey, in 2002. It was shown simultaneously with Robert Adams’s What We Bought: The New World, 1973–74, and Emmet Gowin’sAerial Photographs, 1998, and Changing the Earth, 2002—commanding photographic surveys attended with important books that offer powerful visual evidence of how humankind has been continuously transforming the natural environment within which we all live and work.
Lewis “Duke” Baltz has now left us, but his brave and remarkable legacy of visual literature will no doubt endure for a very long time via his many photographs. They provoke serious thought, waves of unease, and a terrible sense of beauty that cannot be easily shaken once they enter one’s eyes and mind.
Jock Reynolds is the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Lewis Baltz, untitled, from the series Candlestick Point, 1989.