Monday, January 14, 2008

Text Journal Entry #3 (Travis)

Entry from 12.20.07 - Thursday

Yesterday we went to Alex’s house, into his basement, his workshop. Wow. His life’s work is down there. It is beyond description. There is stuff down there that he has been working on for decades...and he is still working on most of it. Everything he works on is a constant process. There are more books than you could read in 20 years if you stayed down there and read every day...and almost everything is interesting to me. The whole basement is packed full of interesting stuff. All organized in a very chaotic way that I don’t understand, but Alex does in one way or another. Everything has a story and everything is interrelated somehow. I could literally spend years down there discovering new things.

Torben, Alex and I had an amazing conversation and got most of it on tape. I feel like we are documenting really important ideas. When Alex speaks and tells stories I feel like he is retrieving knowledge from a very ancient source. He has an ability to relate every issue, principle, thought, problem, or dilemma to what seems like timeless myths, legends, stories, etc. I suspect that comes from knowing the old Sicilian language, all the other languages he knows, the books he has read, the experiences he has had. The conversation was a constant process of discovery and rediscovery. We are exploring his idea about what he calls “biotexts”; a method he came up with for writing/doing poetry. Nothing he writes is wasted, everything is recorded, archived and explored. His edits become interesting visual pieces, show one step in the process of creating a poem, and take on a life of their own. This idea was inspired by many things...writing himself...seeing other writer’s and poet’s working process...we looked at published edits of Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” and Alex says that there are endless possibilities of endless versions of other Finnegan’s Wake’s. We looked at Coleridge’s poetry (or maybe it was Wordsworth...can’t remember) with similar edits...showing a process in the poet’s mind, based on certain choices, possibilities for different poems. Alex says that these editorial choices are completely based on taste and preference, which is completely arbitrary, what is a good choice one day may be a horrible choice the next day. He is interested in preserving that process rather than merely showing the very fruit of the laborious process. In that laborious process is something that transcends preference and taste. One specific influence on this idea is John Cage’s idea that doing art and engaging in creative processes needed to focus on and mimic nature NOT in it’s manifestations...but in it’s processes. Alex says (roughly) ‘look at a tree...a leaf falls of and becomes something else...seeds sprout new trees...when a tree dies it returns to the earth and becomes other plants...eaten by other animals...etc.’ Alex is not interested in capturing or completely focusing on a frozen image in time of that tree, but all of the processes that the tree goes through.

Alex brought up the very first portion of Nietzsche’s essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (also translated as “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”), where Nietzsche helps us realize that:

“In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that he floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world. There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees on the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.”

Reading this is a humbling experience to say the least, and this is only the first two paragraphs of a nearly 20 page amazing essay. In light of this Alex talked about how nature will move on without, nature will be fine without us, it has been for billions upon billions of years, so we had better learn how to live in harmony with nature...because it will prevail.

The ‘bio-text’ concept is an attempt to work in a harmonious way with the nature of things. So, in his ‘biotexts’, every iteration and every edit still shows, they can be ‘independant’ or ‘co-dependant’ of the larger body of the work. All of the work on one poem becomes several other poems, or several possibilities of other, different poems. They can take on lives of their own, they can map out the process of creating, they can show the thought process of the poet deciding among many words, forms, etc. Each little iteration in the process can stand alone as a single work, or work in conjunction with any number of the other iterations in the process to show and become something else. Everything has a process and everything is a work in progress. Every once in awhile something will come out and won’t be worked on or edited again...but in time the poem changes and is always changing and growing by itself. This ‘biotexts’ concept can be applied to life and all other art forms. We are attempting creating a biotext while making this film...maybe a The project is to document Alex’s work, so the actual film documentary we create is only a portion of the whole bio-project. Everything Alex has created is part of it. These notes are part of it. All of my thoughts are part of it. The blogs are a part of it. Alex’s Wikipedia page is part of it, and it is all a work in progress. How can we organize it all?

At some point I asked Alex why he thought this way of doing things has been sort of abandoned or not explored before. Was it because artists are to self-conscious about the process they engage in, the dead ends we come to, the possibility of failure or rejection? Alex’s response was interesting...he said this approach was part of a new attempt at understanding a more holistic worldview, as opposed to a specific/specialized world-view. The specialized worldview is not worthless and to be put down, it has its advantages and use, but we are now at a time where it is not useful anymore...we are in need of a more holistic way of viewing and engaging with the world. This movement towards a more holistic world-view is a breath in our time and space within a breath within a breath within a breath within a breath within a breath of the vast breath of all of nature that Nietzsche is talking in the quote above. I’m not doing the idea of “biotexts” any justice... Above and beyond this, the concept of the‘biotext’ is an attempt or a way of documenting processes and movements of both specialization and holistic-ism...maybe. It is huge.

I’m going to be looking at the footage that we captured on 12.13.07 of Alex’s performance at Gallery 110 in Provo and on 12.19.07 of our footage of our conversation with him at his house/workshop sometime this weekend. I’ve already seen portions of the footage that we captured at the Gallery 110 performance and it looks great. I think we are capturing Alex’s performance in an interesting way...we’ve talked with him, and amongst ourselves about ways to do this. Gallery 110 was our first attempt at it and so far I think we succeeded in some ways. Now, we’ve got to hone in on what works and try to get rid of what isn’t working when filming performances. We’ll see how our filming session of yesterday’s conversation went. I feel like we did a great job filming and mic-ing Alex actively while carrying an intense conversation.

Torben was a bit concerned about the lighting, but I feel like it is going to be just fine. We’ll see, and we’ll also work on better lighting next time we go down there. We are going to get some flood lights for the dark corners to create a lighter environment that will really bring the rich visual qualities and colors out of his workspace. Well they are already there...the camera was just having a hard time capturing that yesterday because of the minimal lighting from just single conventional overhead light bulb. Or maybe I should say that we were having a hard time getting the camera to capture that, while talking with Alex. I still feel like it was great as it was, but we can always improve. We are learning! I hope the audio is as good as it sounded on the headphones that we had. I only listened for one second and the levels seemed great. We were using a standard shotgun mic plugged straight into the camera by way of the XLR connection...which recorded audio straight onto the digital video cassette tape in the camera. I can’t wait to see how it turned out.

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