Follow the link below to a Library Exhibit at Roger Williams University
Read letters to, from, and about Ernest J. Gaines, including several to Gus Blaisdell, editor of the New Mexico Quarterly.
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…
On a postcard from Lewis Baltz to Geoff Young:
Dear Geoff, Just returned from Paris to find your ‘O Hermie, O Augie’ (an edited collection of letters between Geoff and Gus) waiting for me. I’ve never properly mourned Gus because I’ve never really believed that he is dead. I’m perfectly prepared to accept the Death of God, even the Death of Art, but the Death of Gus is inconceivable. Hearing his voice–loud and clear–in ‘O Hermie’ reconfirms my belief that Gus is immortal and eternal.
Below find an excerpt of Bldgs by Gus Blaisdell, his first essay on Lewis Baltz. Originally published in Three Photographic Visions, 1977. Republished in Gus Blaisdell Collected, University of New Mexico Press 2012.
I regret that I must begin in a quandary. But since I am in it and have been in it ever since I first began trying to think and write about Lewis Baltz’s photography over two years ago, this quandary is not only the place from which I must begin but it may also be the place in which, entangled, embroiled, and exasperated once again, I am forced to conclude.
Allow me to elaborate in a figure so that I may come to the various questions which will clearly indicate the ranges of my confusing (but not inchoate) concerns.
In the room in which I am presently writing this essay everything is concrete. That simple italicized phrase struck me the other morning with all the philosophical force of a secular revelation. And it persisted throughout the whole day, nagged during the conscious moments of a fitful night, and was still hauntingly present this morning when, in a mood of exasperation bordering on despondency, I once again sat down to yet another revision of my seemingly endless, as yet unfinished essay on the work of Lewis Baltz–my project a pile of notebooks, pages, file cards, jots and scribblings that has been with me nearly every day since that day in 1975 when I unexpectedly received in the mail a complimentary copy of The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California. As I leafed through the book it steadily dawned on me that Baltz was doing something in photography specifically and in art generally that had not been done before in either domain. His work stood forth as a summary limit and an extension, a point at which the promise in the work of others was engendered and fulfilled, and a point beyond which nobody else had gone. So strong was this conviction that it expressed itself paradoxically, that Lewis Baltz was a painter who had chosen photography instead of paint in which to make significant objects. The paradox here is not in the apparent restrictions consequent upon such a choice but in the media Baltz would be crossing and in the successful translations he would have to achieve. A painter who used photography–there was something of Japanese aesthetics in that, and in the restriction of means and the accepting of the automatisms that constitute photography, further limiting this medium to work in black and white fixed images.
Again, the above also had the philosophical force of worldly revelation and it has persisted, often annoyingly, throughout the years that have lead to the present writing in this room in which everything is concrete. Nothing here is abstract unless it is my mind or the meanings my written words may carry as my sentences achieve equilibrium. Everything in this room except mind and meaning is photographable, will yield an individuated aspect that can be fixed upon film. (The difficult “things in this room” that are not obviously individual and thus fixable are light, dark, and the shadows cast by the interruption of light by objects. None of these seem either trivially concrete or plainly abstract. Penumbral seems to be the accurate term here. And the penumbral is difficult for photography not only as object matter–what the camera points at out there–but also as subject matter, what gets fixed in the frame and shown in the print; and what takes its further meanings, beyond the frame and outside the print, from whatever network of knowledge happens to contain the print centrally and essentially like an idiom or a poem.)
The only conceivable thing in this room which might be wholly abstract in relation to every other photographable thing is a photograph by Lewis Baltz, Maryland 24, a photograph which is endlessly a reminder of this quandary in which I daily encounter my thought…
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.
Notes on Remarriage Comedies aka comedies of equality or dailiness…
Classical comedy (cc) involves a young pair overcoming obstacles who get together for the first time. Ends in festival, feast, wedding; the old ratify the young, the young acknowledge the old, and society is assured of continuing.
Remarriage comedy (henceforth, rem.) involves an older pair, seeking a divorce, who end up getting back together, together again. Privacy (rem) is studied as opposed to the public ( classical comedy).
Freud asks, What does the woman want? Consider inflections: peevish, exasperated, impatient. Better, rephrase as, Given male desire is figured dramatically by the Oedipus complex, What is the form of female desire?
(Note. Freud argued that the Oedipus complex was universal, applying to humans regardless of sex. Questionable.)
Rem answers, what the woman wants is education. Education means leading out the best self, not indoctrination—seeking the attainable but as yet unattained self(of both). Who has education to give?
Men do, and the form this takes in rem is that the men endlessly lecture the women. (Possible shadow: the man could be pretending to provide education but really be [ seducing ] the woman, turning her into his private toy for his pleasure.) So the creation of the new woman is the business of men. But in truly transforming the woman the man must himself undergo change—such that the couple transformed is a new birth or vision of the human. That a man can walk in the direction of his dreams we all know; but that a woman can, and with the right man, is some of the news this genre brings.
This is accomplished in Cavell’s and Milton’s terms only through a meet and happy conversation, where “meet” means “just”: helpmeet, as in Genesis, not helpmate. These conversations (and lectures) take enormous amounts of time. The price for the woman is that no sense of “mother” applies to her: she is not one and her own is not present. (Sexuality between the two trying to divorce is a displaced issue; in cc it is central issue.)
Part of the change required of the man is humiliation. Essential to this is the fact of what I will call mutual forgiveness (a form of Gratified Desire?), acknowledgment.
The father is always on the side of the woman’s desire, unlike cc where he can be the first obstacle.
Since privacy is studied, often in a place of perspective called a green world, or in the rem genre, Connecticut; the marriage to work is beyond the sanction or church, state, or society. The real scandal is love, the outlaw status of its truth (p. 31) (Sherwood forest is a green world, as is Eden—to which we can’t quite return; and Shakespeare’s Arden). The feature of the green world allows the couple to feel that they have grown up together(p.31). An incestuous relationship is changed into one that can stand public scrutiny. Questioning this is one reason why Amanda Bonner takes their [private] marriage to court.
A constant threat to rem is that at any moment it can become melodrama. Adam’s Rib frames the Bonner’s marriage with the melodrama of the Attinger’s marriage. It is from Adam’s Rib that Cavell will derive the melodrama of the unknown woman.
*from Gus’s computer
Gus Blaisdell Collected editors William Peterson and Nicole Blaisdell Ivey will be DISCUSSING GUS Saturday January 5th 3:00 pm at Bookworks 4022 Rio Grande Albuquerque, New Mexico
A note from Pulitzer prize-winning author,N. Scott Momaday, discussing GUS BLAISDELL COLLECTED (Gus was editor on Momaday’s second book, The Way to Rainy Mountain, published by UNM press).
Dear Nicole,The book is a clear mirror of the man. It is beautiful and moving. Gus and I made a legendary journey to Rainy Mountain in the hard weather that shapes mind and memory. It was a quest, a journey eminently worth making.With deepest thanks.Scott
DISCUSSING GUS at UNM bookstore Wednesday December 5th at 4pm
For a jacket-copy intro to the author it would be hard to improve on the capsule snapshot by artist, poet, and publisher (and one-time Living Batch employee), J. B. Bryan, in the little Festschrift chapbook he prepared for the memorial “Celebration of Gus Blaisdell” in 2005:
Gus lived as a man of discerning mind & precise locution, as well as blurted expletive. The oppositional was his blessing & curse. Sharp, jagged, uncannily quick-witted, he sought how to see, how to know, how to lay it down. Outrageous, often enraged, he liked the scat in scatological, he could insult, he could adore, a mimic ribald & hilarious, elegant steel trap crankiness, photographic memory backed by a deep catalogue of reference wielded with fierce conviction. Within this shone profound appreciation for beauty (film, Monk, Matisse, Utamaro, photography, poetry, prose, mathematics, found objects, etc., etc.) & its precise articulation. His writings have hard-fought style with a content that requires slow, deliberate reading. Language & lingo, philosophy & logic argued toward revelation inside his own difficult critique.