“We hear people talking all the time about Renaissance men. Gus Blaisdell was a Restoration rake, a creature of coffeehouses, bookstores, flaring arguments and happy reconciliations, crazy women and crazier experimentation. This book is a wonderful survey of his enthusiasms and complaints—and a fond memorial of his gift to New Mexico, and Albuquerque particularly. Gus was the absolute, undeniable, real thing. One of the few.”
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…
Gus at UNM Press 1966 by Arthur Lazar
Memorial tribute by Ira Jaffe
Life is decidedly less pleasant without the option of phoning Gus Blaisdell to have lunch or tea and share concerns and opinions. He had a gruff, dismissive side, so his warmth and its restorative effect could be startling. Also, he was more than funny. Victims and witnesses will testify that his wit could shatter the motor control and equilibrium of perfectly fit, healthy adults. Large audiences in museums and movie theatres, eager for Blaisdell’s accounts of the Beat generation or of Kurosawa’s cinema, proved as vulnerable to his wit as were individuals who simply joined him for drink or food. It’s unlikely he would have been so funny, or so sympathetic, were it not for his seriousness. In one of his essays he noted that social company had relieved philosopher David Hume of the despair that attended Hume’s skeptical reflections. This observation about Hume appears in Blaisdell’s essay “Skeptical Landscapes” which accompanies photographs by Lewis Baltz in the book “Park City,” produced by Artspace Press of Albuquerque and Castelli Graphics New York in association with Aperture, Inc. In meditating on unsettling photographs of arid landscapes that incorporate litter and fragments, the residue of abandoned mines, and what Gus termed “disheveled moments in the construction” of a ski resort near Salt Lake City, Gus focused at one point on what people mean by value and how they arrive at it. He writes, “The presence of waste, trash, litter, rubbish, tailings, scraps: of the shunted aside, discarded, junked, and thrown away—that there is such stuff implies an antecedent process of value, intention and purpose. Waste is an end-product, the consequence of value.” In my view Gus’s strong concern about value accounts for his seriousness as much as does his preoccupation with philosophical skepticism, with doubt about the existence of other minds and external objects. If, as he wrote, “at any moment thinking may reel, tip over, and fall into that bottomless pit full of nonsense,” such thinking partly concerns value. If life at moments feels haunting, nightmarish, and impossibly lonely, the cause in part is our reckoning with unthinking smugness about value, and, thereby, with injustice: “Anything that is,” he writes, “is a fit subject for philosophizing, and nothing can be excluded as of its nature unfit or unseemly; and especially not what the conventional wisdom, that collection of hardened, self-validating expectations, regards as beneath contempt, revolting and disgusting. For the world is unfair and the freedom of inquiry must often lie in the refusal to consent to the ways in which the world has been prepared for us—to the way opinion words the world for us.” I would like to read the inclusiveness of Gus’s words set in the context of philosophy to apply to people as well as things, and to suggest Gus’s aspirations and ours for equality and community in general. In this reading, nothing and no one is valueless or left out—socially, politically, or philosophically. Gus’s expansive statement helps account for his surprising bouts of patience, and for his love and thoughtfulness, as well as for his abstentions and dissents from conventional opinion and behavior. Incorrigible in a way, he also was courageous. One of his greatest determinations in an age of great busyness and speed was to keep time open for study and thought. Fortunately, lunch or tea with any number of us became such a time—for study and thought along with relief. We were all fit in our way, partly thanks to him.
Gus Blaisdell, writer and educator, died in Albuquerque on September 17, 2003, four days before his 68th birthday. Blaisdell created and taught popular courses in cinema studies such as “Teen Rebels” and “Poetry and Radical Film” for almost 25 years at The University of New Mexico, where his work helped to establish a program and then a department in media arts. Blaisdell also taught in the Department of Art and Art History, and served at UNM on numberous master’s degree and doctroal committees. Previously Blaisdell had taught philosophy and mathematics for six years at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. Blaisdell’s publications were as various as his teaching. His critical essays addressed still photography, motion pictures, painting, and philosophy, among other subjects, and he lecured widely in Europe and the United States. His book with photographer Lewis Baltz entitled “Park City” was published by Leo Castelli Gallery of New York City in 1981; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art published his monograph on painter Guy Williams the following year. A former student of literacy critic Yvor Winters at Stanford University, Blaisdell also composed books of poetry and fiction, including “Fractionally Awake Monad”, “Prose Ocean”, and “Dented Fenders”, all in the 1970s. Blaisdell savored friendships with internationlly renowned figures in the arts and humanities, including Baltz, philosopher Stanley Cavell, the writer, Evan Connell, poet Robert Creeley, and art critic Max Kozloff. Along with his teaching and writing, Blaisdell was proprietor for many years of the Living Batch bookstore, founded by Pancho Elliston, where Allen Ginsberg and other poets read and discussed their work amid the Batch’s legendary cornucopia of new and used books. Blaisdell also ran Living Batch Press, publisher of handsome, spacious books of poetry and prose by Clark Coolidge, Ronald Johnson, Geoffrey Young and others. As much as anything, Blaisdell relished warm and witty conversation, often conducted in the public sphere. He would meet friends, colleagues, and students in popular Central Avenue restaurants near UNM and Nob Hill to take up sundry topics of the day such as movies and politics. He seemed to value the raw, theatrical space of the boulevard as much as he did the classroom, though privacy and quiet were also essential to him. Born in San Diego, he became an unusually visible, vital presence in Albuquerque, the city he adopted in 1964 and came to love and serve. He died of a sudden heart attack on Central Avenue.
Donations in Blaisdell’s memory can be made to the Gus Blaisdell Scholarship in Critical Writing at the UNM Department of Media Arts.