Omoide No Tsukimi             for Ronald Johnson 1935—1998

Allan Graham, Moon 2, 1986, oil on canvas, 83 in.x 91in. Private Collection

Omoide No Tsukimi             for Ronald Johnson 1935—1998

It rises to self-awareness          

Horizon that is always with us  

Black north’s direction

Risen from the belly nightsky   

Phantom blot, inkblack Heian hair

Coiled black pythoness

On moonless nights

Monk sleeves trailed through wet grasses

It hangs eternal there, never sets or climbs

Fulgent Moon 2, lightning struck through

 

 

Lightning flash

Then back to black

What seams this darklight

But black holds back, insists

At backbehindness it sustains

Unreflecting primordial companion

All phases of the moon condense

Moon 2 takes breathing, animates itself

Without horizon other than itself, irregular oval of all moons

Even when full or crescent sickle thin slice on either end

 

 

Blindspot

At last Narcissus lies faceless

Bottom of unsounded pond

Face buried in a silken muck

Thankfully in reflection I am dark to myself

Tarbaby reflections of Moon 2

 

 

Glitters in the total void

Senses steep in unsounded dark

Where darkbather mind

And sunbather eyes intersect

The heart is black and madder

The soul is fishscale black

Thunder underneath the under

Heart and soul begin a fisted journey

To the behindblackness

At our backs we always feel

Always back there behind it all

From head to heel black chrysalis

Hangman’s hood or shiny bodybag.

–Gus Blaisdell

Moon2 is an all black painting by Allan Graham. My Japanese title means remembering moonviewing. The line beginning “Thunder . . . ”, set in italic, varies a line from a manuscript, “The Imaginary Menagerie,” by the visionary poet Ronald Johnson. [Gus’s endnote.]

FILM IS A FINE ART

Gus Blaisdell SITE Photo by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey

 Writings of Gus    *note to the department

 
Film is a fine art – those like music and painting that are goals or ends in themselves- – and a liberal art, the study of those reflective and critical skills necessary to freedom. Film must not be taught in isolation from the humanities and the other arts; nor must it be taught in isolation from history and politics. Given that this newest of our arts draws on so many other major arts in our culture – – on drama, opera, poetry, painting, literature – – it is reasonable to consider any of the humanities or the arts as film’s academic home.Today new voices are demanding to be heard, seriously challenging the canon and the curricula based on it. Given film’s appetite for the arts and its individuality or autonomy as a new art, film is as naturally crossgrained as it is “interdisciplinary”: it offers a radical focus for questions of cultural plurality (it is international in scope, naturally crossing cultural boundaries and declaring both similarities and differences between cultures). Film also questions stereotypes and other social constructions, for a stereotype is indeed a “social construction”, and it can be questioned. Film focuses such challenges, projects and screens them, and discovers the mechanisms in our culture that enables some voices while silencing others, that allow some subjects while relegating others to the margins. Moreover, if our culture has shifted from the word to the image- – I don’t believe this but I entertain the hypothesis- – then why be wail the fact when a film curriculum can obviously reverse this direction. In my experience of teaching and learning from film, movies motivate texts, lead naturally to reading and writing. I require my students to read a great deal, and texts central to our culture and of real difficulty; and even though I have only one assistant for the several hundred students in my classes I also require them to write.Film is presently uncanonical. Those whose work contributes toward a curriculum in any subject know that we cannot in advance design what we can only discover in practice. But film’s uncanonical nature is one of its great assets. We do not know what it can bear and to date we do know that putting it together with the best that a culture can produce is an unending and critical apposition, one worth serious, humanistic study. Unlike scraping the hulls of years of interpretations, film is in the process of discovery and revelation where interpretation is concerned.One principle of my teaching takes its inspiration from Henry James admonishing aspiring writers to, Yes, write from experience. But before that there is something even more important:  “become one upon whom nothing is lost.” But given the nihilisms and fashionable skepticisms of the day don’t we begin by believing that if we are anything at all then we are ones upon whom, if not everything, then surely most important things are lost? Then teaching might be inspired to recover from this despair the self that is best; and learn again how to have a voice in one’s own experience; to stop the incessant voice of rediscover and readmit voices lost and denied.In exposing my students to the best in the other arts and humanities, and to the best in film, it is my hope that these first impressions might prove of sufficient force that they would one day return to the films and texts. By not providing film the best environment we can, we are missing opportunities as teachers and we are missing them at the sacrifice of our students. My fantasy? If students arrive with literacy in images film can help to teach them other articulations, the critical challenge of finding words, the best words, for something, like any masterpiece, that we know is better than anything we can say about it – that this piece of music, story, poem, play or movie offers what any art, liberal or fine, promises: a view of immediate reality, even one that competes with it on the best terms.  Moreover, film offers a student a critical reflective voice in his own experience, surely a place to begin education.  If we deny the student this voice we are as teachers missing one of the great opportunities our democratic culture offers, an art that appeals to the many and can in its greatest instances hold its own with similar achievements in the other arts. I shall end by quoting from some private correspondence from my friend and mentor Stanley Cavell: (should film be denied admittance to a serious, humanistic study and there be no honorable reasons for its rejection – – I can see none – then such denial) “expresses an indifference to the education of a region of our students’ interests and sensibilities that not only directs a significant portion of their times of choice and conversation but which, among all such current times, is the region most likely to persist throughout their lives, whatever their careers.” My fantasy is that film, our new art, is bidding fair and should be heard in its bid for equal treatment among the liberal and the fine arts.

Film requires for its study a socially and intellectually coherent and expansive place rather than one defensive and cultish. If there is any institution in our democracy which denies that there is but one game in town, it must be the university. It is a church permitting, even encouraging, heresy, a constant redress of what we believed were our basic values.
 
*comments welcome