An Unenviable Situation

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Koerner in 2019 on Bruegel: In Love with Multiplicity
Sauerländer in 1996 on Koerner and Baldung: The Return of the Repressed

I've said it before, here or elsewhere; I've never forgotten Sauerländer's review: describing an art historian manifesting his own sense of the present in his description of the past. And now the historian has moved from a description of faded, decadent, idealism to a new acceptance of the multiform. Koerner's claims for Bruegel vis-a-vis Titian and Velázquez are silly, but I love Bruegel; I feel for his work as Koerner does.

And it all follows the transition I've been watching and describing since I was a teenager. I smiled in 1996, and I smiled today. And everything I write is unpublishable.

The exhibition celebrated the master’s hand by detailing, in explanatory displays and photographs in the side galleries, Bruegel’s artistic process layer by layer. This new emphasis on materials and making was a welcome corrective to most previous scholarship, which had been concerned with meanings. There has never been a better painter than Bruegel. Always flawless in his design and execution yet different in each of his works, the peerless painter of the low-life genre yet attaining a monumental vision of the whole, a virtuoso in the ways he manipulates paint yet never contrived, he makes his only rivals (Jan van Eyck, Titian, and Velázquez) seem limited, repetitive, or artificial by comparison. 
Along the entire left edge of Christ Carrying the Cross, a framing tree curves in and out of the unpainted edge of the panel, its bark roughly the color of that naked wood. Bruegel has so much to say that presses up against this narrow strip: in details that only the closest inspection brings to light, he has squeezed in a little gallery of everyday life, including a poor young couple dragging a basket with newborn calves toward town, in reverse of the great counterclockwise parade. He captures the quiet resistance of the ordinary—what W.H. Auden celebrated in “Musée des Beaux Arts,” his poem about Bruegel: the “untidy spot/Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse/Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.” 
The exhibition obscured this important aspect of his work by making Habsburg sovereignty the starting point and frame of Bruegel’s oeuvre. In the first gallery, the artist’s earliest sketches followed visual documents showing how his works had hung in the imperial collections. This made the Habsburgs seem as if they had been his patrons, when of course he pitched his prints to a very broad audience, and the main client for his paintings was a well-to-do burgher not unlike himself—Jonghelinck’s brother Jacques, who made his living as a sculptor and medalist. 
Much more crucially, Bruegel was profoundly skeptical of sovereign power. In his world, attempts at mastery inevitably fail: Icarus plunges unnoticed into the sea, King Saul falls on his sword, and the Tower of Babel leans as it spirals into the sky, structurally flawed and doomed to fall even without divine intervention. And meanwhile the powerful are foolish, violent, and cruel. In Christ Carrying the Cross, soldiers wearing the red garb of Habsburg mercenaries force Christ to crawl to Calvary; in Massacre of the Innocents, Herod’s army wears Habsburg uniforms. After the Protestant revolt of 1566, Spanish forces marched on the Netherlands to crush dissent and stamp out heresy. Arriving in 1567, the Duke of Alba placed the region under martial law, disbanding citizen militias, replacing native officials with Spanish ones, and executing many thousands, including the Counts of Egmond and Horn, who were beheaded in the Grand-Palace of Brussels, just a few blocks from Bruegel’s workshop on the rue Haute. Alba also clamped down on peasant customs and festivals, like the ones the artist lovingly portrayed.
In Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, Fitelberg, a Jew from Lublin living in Paris, says to Leverkühn, the German composer: “You probably do not realize, cher Maître, how German is your répugnance, which…I find characteristically made up of arrogance and a sense of inferiority….” Like Mann’s novel, Koerner’s discussion of the tension between the godlike self-elevation and the sinful fallen state of the artist is a commentary on the intellectual and spiritual turmoil of German art. One certainly cannot imagine a similar book being written on Venetian or Florentine art of the same period. And in a curious way Koerner himself seems deeply—or should we say narcissistically?—involved in the ambivalences of the obscure topic he has chosen for his remarkable book. It is this involvement which makes one think not only of Leverkühn but also of Thomas Mann.
Koerner’s book is difficult to argue with. It is enormously learned but it proceeds less by arguments than through the use of an evocative rhetoric and ingeniously chosen associations. Koerner himself is well aware of his own suggestive technique and illuminates it with a telling biblical metaphor:
Does not the whole character of our interpretation represent the kind of knowledge precipitated by the bite into the apple: fallen knowledge as the advent of a plethora of meanings without the authority of a meaning, and as the loss of an unequivocal and “natural” access to things and to the meaning of things?
The loss of stable meanings and established authority, and the resulting uncertainties about truth and falsehood, according to Koerner, are thus not simply the product of our postmodern and poststructuralist age, but have been with us since the Fall. Against “a plethora of meanings,” arguments are of little help. But Koerner is much too intelligent and self-conscious a writer not to see the traps in which fallen knowledge may be caught. “One sometimes wonders,” he writes, “whether what art historians discover as the implied beholder is not really a reflection of themselves transposed in the historical material.” Turning narcissism into a method of interpretation was perhaps the price he has had to pay for writing a stimulating book that offers deeper and more disturbing insights into German Renaissance art than most earlier scholarship.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Writing, rewriting. Rougher, still not done. Some of the sources aren't footnoted. All in the manuscript.

And since it includes Warhol and Hitchcock
Continuing from here, and here.  I haven't put Babbitt into the manuscript, but I will.
Earlier mention of Sharits here.

There are other examples both more extreme than Frampton’s, and less.  Paul Sharits’ T,O,U,C,H,N,G restages Duchamp’s demispheres and Anemic Cinema, as desperation. The flickering image of a man with his tongue sticking out between the blades of a pair of scissors is such an obvious image of castration that it renders anything else secondary. Add to that the voice repeating the word “destroy-destroy-destroy-destroy…”  –the auditory equivalent of a flicker– and you get an art of symptom described by the artist and appreciative critics as “structuralism”.  

I wish to abandon imitation and illusion and enter directly into the higher drama of: celluloid two  dimensional strips; individual rectangular frames;  the nature of sprockets and emulsion; projector  operations; the three dimensional reflective screen surface; the retinal screen; optic nerve and individual psycho-physical subjectivities of consciousness.  In this cinematic drama, light is energy rather than a tool for the representation of non-filmic objects; light  as energy is released to create its own objects,  shapes and textures. Given the fact of retinal inertia  and the flickering shutter mechanism of film projection, one may generate virtual forms. create actual  motion (rather than illustrate it), build actual color- space (rather than picture it). and be involved in  actual time (immediate presence).[i]

This is  the denial of representation in the presence of representation in its most blunt form. It’s not the elision and denial of Eliot or James; it’s exhibitionism and denial, more absurd than the earnest description of Mapplethorpe photographs, if only because Mapplethorpe himself didn’t write them. T,O,U,C,H,N,G, like so much 20thcentury art –Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, like all philosophy is the theological literature of rationalism – is about the desire and refusal of  contact, wanting and refusing to be touched. It didn’t shock me or offend me the first time I saw it. I saw the antecedents. I’d never go out of my way to argue that it was ‘bad’. But I was shocked to hear the film described as formal and not pathology and ritual. 

…Paul went to the piano and he sat down at the piano and he had a wine glass and he was out of his mind and he beat the wine glass on the piano and then he beat his hands on the glass until he was just bleeding and numb and dizzy. He started to get up and I happened to be at his elbow and I said “Whoa, whoa, Paul, wait, whoa wait a minute,” because he was gushing blood everywhere, and I said, “Is anyone a doctor here? Is anyone a doctor?” And the place was completely packed shoulder to shoulder at this party, so one of the people near by was a doctor. Paul was just in a daze and I said, “Look at this—is this life-threatening?” And he said, “No, it’s not life-threatening, it’s O.K.,” and I said “Paul, go for it, just hold your hands up and walk around.”  And Paul went around bleeding out of his hands with his hands held in front of him, almost like Frankenstein and created a swath of horror in front of him. It was a very startling moment, and there were other episodes that people will happily relate to you, in which Paul wrecks a car or climbs up on top of a roof and drops off and breaks his this or that. Paul went through a series of things where he acted out and finally what I began to notice about these things is that Paul would never hurt anybody else. He may have once or twice actually done something that was importune, but only secondarily, and it was mainly something that hurt Paul somehow, and always in a very flamboyant situation. He liked to live dangerously. Paul liked life. He seemed like he needed this kind of way of doing things. He really did. 

He lived on a special plane somehow that normal people can’t touch.[ii]

Sharits behavior is less unnerving than the equally pathological response of his friend and fellow avant-gardist Tony Conrad. This is the hip, underground, American Modernist version of the American straight-world, Time-Life­–CBS view of Warhol as a celebrant of style. But glamour is vanity. Warhol's Jackies and Marilyns and Disasters and Electric Chairs were all equally memento mori. He watched people who were out of control and let them be, as Callie Angell put it, out of a Catholic understanding of free will, while Conrad is a voyeur blind to his own desires.  The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny. 

“Paul, go for it, just hold your hands up and walk around.”  A medical professional would call this enabling.
But Hawthorne and Lawrence, and Tarantino, Spielberg and Pynchon, novelists and filmmakers, are not ‘artists’, and Frampton and Sharits are. Their work is shown only in the context of the contemporary art world as defined by Arthur Danto. And American philosophy is optimistic.

It’s telling that Fried makes an exception for film, which he refers as “the movies”,  ignoring the vanguardists entirely.     

It is the overcoming of theatre that modernist sensibility finds most exalting and that it experiences as the hallmark of high art in our time. There is, however, one art that, by its very nature, escapes theatre entirely—the movies.* This helps explain why movies in general, including frankly appalling ones, are acceptable to modernist sensibility whereas all but the most successful painting, sculpture, music, and poetry is not. Because cinema escapes theatre— automatically, as it were—it provides a welcome and absorbing refuge to sensibilities at war with theatre and theatricality. At the same time, the automatic, guaranteed character of the refuge—more accurately, the fact that what is provided is a refuge from theatre and not a triumph over it, absorption not conviction—means that the cinema, even at its most experimental, is not a modernist art.

*Exactly how the movies escape theatre is a beautiful question, and there is no doubt but that a phenomenology of the cinema that concentrated on the similarities and differences between it and the theatre—eg., that in the movies the actors are mot physically present, the film itself is projected away from us, the screen is mot experienced as a kind of object existing, so to speak, in a specific physical relation to us, etc. –would be extremely rewarding.  Cavell, again, has called attention, in conversation, to the sort of remembering that goes into giving an account of a movie, and more generally to the nature of the difficulties that are involved in giving such an account.[iii]

The footnote is taken from the essay as published in Artforum and later in Battcock's anthology. Reprinted in 1998, beautifulis replaced with difficultrewarding has been stripped on its modifier, and the last sentence with the reference to Cavell and memory has been removed.[iv]  

The last paragraph 

This essay will be read as an attack on certain artists (and critics) and as a defense of others. And of course it is true that the desire to distinguish between what is to me the authentic art of our time and other work, which, whatever the dedication, passion, and intelligence of its creators, seems to me to share certain characteristics associated here with the concepts of literalism and theatre,' has largely motivated what I have written. In these last sentences, how ever, I want to call attention to the utter pervasiveness—the virtual universality—of the sensibility or mode of being that I have characterized as corrupted or perverted by theatre. We are all literalists most or all of our lives. Presentness is grace. 

The final sentence almost makes me laugh­… Sharits’ “immediate presence”.

In 2004 MIT press published Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s.  Chronophobia: the fear of time. The author calls it a neologism, but it isn’t. It’s also at the core to the author’s own writing. Pamela M Lee, now at Yale has the tile “historian and theorist of contemporary art”.  Forgetting the Art World, came out in 2012,  48 years after Danto named it. Her most recent book is  The Glen Park Library:A Fairy Tale of Disruption,  “How Silicon Valley, the dark net, and digital culture have affected our relationship to knowledge, history, language, aesthetics, reading, and truth.” 

Art historian Pamela Lee reads this event as a fairy tale of disruption rather than an isolated episode in the history of the dark net, Silicon Valley, and the relationship between public libraries and digital culture. Lee argues that the notion of “disruptive” technology in contemporary culture has radically affected our relationship to knowledge, history, language, aesthetics, reading, and truth. Against the backdrop of her account of Ulbricht and his exploits, Lee provides original readings of five women artists—Gretchen Bender, Cecile B. Evans, Josephine Pryde, Carissa Rodriguez, and Martine Syms—who weigh in, either explicitly or inadvertently, on the nature of contemporary media and technology. Written as a work of experimental art criticism, The Glen Park Library is both a homage to the Bay Area and an excoriation of the ethos of Silicon Valley. As with all fairy tales, the book's ultimate subjects are much greater, however, and Lee casts a critical eye on collisions between privacy and publicity, knowledge and information, and the past and future that are enabled by the technocratic worldview.

The foreword is written by a curator at MoMA. Again it’s the aestheticization of politics, and the aesthetic shared by philosophy and luxury commodities, but also now an almost explicit combination of (ersatz) moralism andtechnocratic decadence. No longer even sincere hypocrisy or earnest contradiction; it’s a blank obliviousness, the innocence of the children of the conflicted and hypocritical who’ve never had to even pretend to face real politics. 

Chronophobia isn’t wrong about the 60s any more than the curators of the Duchamp exhibition were wrong to mention David Lynch. But they ignored Hitchcock, and so does Lee. There’s plenty of discussion here of “nuclear apocalypse and entertainment”; there’s an interesting chapter on Tinguely and Homage to New York, but no mention of Kubrick and Strangelove. There’s discussion of the Jonathan Edwards and Fried’s earnest academic moralism –hard to ignore since Fried begins and ends with him– but none of the deeper because visceral Puritanism in the work of  Judd or Andre. 

Lee ignores Hitchcock, but so does Barbara Rose. Lee has a chapter on Bridget Riley. Op art and visuality, describing an art not of communication but  effect. The connections by now should be clear.

To what extent do we see this painting? In what lies its retinal appeal? To what extent do we not so much see it but feel it, experience the picture less as an abstraction than as a woozy sense of gravity visited on the body—a body endlessly subjected to the vagaries of time? Stand a little longer, look a little harder, and then what happens? In time, the surface begins to flicker, like a stroboscope; or wave, like a lenticular screen. Look longer still, and surprising colors—psychedelic phantoms—emanate from between the lines. Spangles of gold, pink, and green burst and flash, lining the eyelids, rattling the skull. The eye is enervated while the body feels something else: nausea, perhaps, or even a blinding headache. 

…Op’s virtual fetish of visuality occasions a reading of the body under the conditions of a shifting technological culture and, more to the point, how the time of that body speaks to the repressive consequences of a burgeoning technocracy. The body, I want to argue, is the blind spot to Op’s obsession with the technological; and it is its temporality that gives the lie to this. The body performs what Op’s supporters insistently failed to see. More often than not, this body is
a specifically gendered body, feminized and thus deemed impotent. 

Lee, following the logic of the academic culture that made her, she’s now an editor at October, both condescends to Riley and defends her: critics description of  passivity and impotence is merely the dismissing of the female. We’re back to another version of the art of the index, an art that can be read as an art of ideas, of intention, whether admitted or not. Somehow or other, art has to have a core of optimism.

This notion is critical to the deepening suspicion, even paranoia, about Op. Nevertheless, Op was considered user-friendly stuff in spite of the aggression attributed to it, its eye-hurting glare, virtually hypnotic powers, and nausea-inducing effects. As Barbara Rose put it cynically: “Op is absolutely gratifying in this respect because you know that you have gotten the message once nausea or vertigo set in.” 

The title of  Rose’s review is “Beyond Vertigo: Optical Art At The Modern”.  Lee makes one reference to Hitchcock elsewhere, mentioning him in his connection Saul Bass—“the graphic designer best known for his title sequences to Alfred Hitchcock”, but no mention of their most famous collaboration.  I dealt with this more than 30 years ago. 

What is interesting about [Peter] Halley's art is not its critical function but its subjective viewpoint. The paintings are the product of a perverse asceticism, impotent in the face of a physical reality that it can not accept, …prisoner of a world where meaning has atrophied, and where the leveling that has occurred of all forms to one measure, capital, has mirrored itself in the leveling of all forms to information. The work is an allegory of alienation. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is an early precedent here as it is to all later artistic use of psychedelic imagery, images of the subconscious, Op-Art patterning or illustrations of drug-induced states. Pynchon uses similar terms, central to the American romance –what it has become– and its relations with the physical world and the psychosis of modern life. These are images of the loss of the self, unable to define its surroundings, to distinguish itself from them, and thus being relegated to passive observation. 

The language is stilted, but it makes the point.  The illustration –graphic stimulus– of immediate sensorial effect is experience without effort, passive. Much of the art of the 1960s describes that experience.  Lee quotes a newspaper editorial responding to the exhibition. 

And what is the point of this, someone will ask? Well the point is this, that art is the expression of the age. The pressures and upheavals of our time have the same effect on our observers: Now you see it, now you don’t. Now the facts are clear, now the facts are muddled grey. The distortion of old values, and the crowding of new cultures, presents a peculiar aspect to the eye. It is painful.
Who is to tell what are the facts in Viet Nam, for instance? The government of one day is not the government of the next; the actions of our own officials there are deliberately distorted, and friend slips into foe and back again. The alliances with Europe are not what they seem, and the image of the Communist world clashes with reality. . . . It is all painful. 

Lee adds, “One might forgive the authorless editorial its tired clichés about art (‘art is the expression of the age’)" .
And what else is it?  And what else is she?  Lee is roughly my age. After undergraduate years at Yale she went on to The Whitney Independent Study Program. We have mutual acquaintances if not friends –on my part– in common, the people I refer to when I say I was told I couldn’t be a leftist because I worked with my hands, the equivalent of telling a writer that someone else should do the work of writing. They dealt with ideas and concepts, the idea of art and the idea of politics, neither of which are synonyms for the things themselves. Their politics was the politics of  design.

The weakness of Chronophobia becomes clear once you realize she needs to take “Art and Objecthood” seriously as anything more than a relic, her belief that it must be more than a product of its age, because it was written by an academic, about art. 

This book takes the oblique view of technology and art in the 1960s and it does so with a concept introduced at the outset: the matter of time. Time and technology, I want to argue, are twinned phenomena in that decade; and works of art provide special insight into this relationship as much as they model that relationship in turn. Time, we shall see, plays no small role in the richly diverse practices that constitute sixties art making. From performance to painting to sculpture to “new media,” time becomes both a thematic and structural fixture, an obsession, for critics, artists, and audiences of that moment. It will come to signal something about technological change.

The “richly diverse practices that constitute sixties art making”  include literature, music, and film: Pynchon, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Coltrane, Kubrick and Godard, Tarkovsky, Varda, Mailer, Bitches BrewCatch 22, Playtime, Alphaville and Woodstock. Lee makes references to Slaughterhouse Five and an article by Pynchon from 1984 but as with her discussion of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures,... 

[i]  Paul Sharits, "Notes on Films/1966-1968”, Film Culture 47(Summer 1969) p.13.
[ii]  Tony Conrad, “On Paul Sharits: An Excerpt from ‘I Was a Flawed Modernist’”, The Brooklyn Rail, April 1 2017,
[iv]  Jonathan T. D. Neil, “’Structural Film,’ as Technique of History”, 2004 unpublished

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

I teach a standard Contemporary Moral Issues/Applied Ethics course once a year, usually in the Spring, in lecture format, usually with 80-100 students (but this year with 170). Normally about 70% of the students are seniors, and about 70% are business majors (it meets an ethics requirement in the business major). We discuss topics such as abortion, inequality in education, parental licensing,...
I really don't keep up with this shit.

Opposition to freedom of speech.
Liberal Fascism: Jonah Goldberg is the poor man's Foucault.

Some people would want children taken away from parents for teaching them that Zionism is racist.

Literacy tests for voting, since the American people are responsible for the deaths for millions.
How about abortion licenses, since some women are just irresponsible.

Abortion is legal because it's better to allow an irresponsible woman to abort a fetus that may be near viable than have the state chain her to a bed till she gives birth; a trimester is a measure of time not moral truth. We do not grant the state the right to micro-manage. Democracy's a bloody mess and needs to be.

Democracies have freedom of speech not because governments grant it but because the government is not granted the power to take it away.

This post is getting a lot of hits these days.

The Discovery of Experience

Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

I'd forgotten I already had tag for Brighouse.

Freedom of speech is predicated on the assumption that experts are not what they pretend. It is not about personal freedom but self-government.

"The focus is on the freedom of a people, not on freedom of persons: on the plural, not the singular."

I wrote that before I'd read Arendt on plurality. I was raised with it.

Liberalism is garbage.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The modern definition of individualism expands out of the private realm that Arendt calls the 'social', as opposed to the public and political. The individualism of the Greeks was public. She uses the same word for both. Modern individualism includes the realm of business, private gain as public goal. Mixed with this is the sense that the new model brings with it an immunity from judgment, at least if you follow the law. Law becomes a border best handled by pedants. Modern individualism is Liberal as opposed to republican, no longer founded on a public/political model of individualism, of debate beyond self-interest. Virtue has been replaced by regulations. Greek political debate was debate among equals.

Liberalism spawned libertarianism, but sports are a public activity following the older model. Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain argument only works in the context of formalist liberalism and liberals have no logical answer. But Chamberlain wasn’t interested only in money –the private realm– but in money and fame and glory and respect. He needed his audience as they needed him. If he did something to really annoy them, they’d walk away, no matter how good he was. People didn’t pay money to watch Evel Knievel jump over a row of trucks, they paid for the right to watch him die trying.  Performance is a social activity, not simply a financial one. We're back to the distinction between law as idea and law as practice, between philosophers and lawyers, academics and actors, in politics or on the stage, between pedants and comedians.

The Human Condition

The Rise of the Social
The emergence of society—the rise of housekeeping, its activities, problems, and organizational devices—from the shadowy interior of the household into the light of the public sphere, has not only blurred the old borderline between private and political, it has also changed almost beyond recognition the meaning of the two terms and their significance for the life of the individual and the citizen. Not only would we not agree with the Greeks that a life spent in the privacy of "one's own" (idion), outside the world of the common, is "idiotic" by definition, or with the Romans to whom privacy offered but a temporary refuge from the business of the res publica; we call private today a sphere of intimacy whose beginnings we may be able to trace back to late Roman, though hardly to any period of Greek antiquity, but whose peculiar manifoldness and variety were certainly unknown to any period prior to the modern age. 
This is not merely a matter of shifted emphasis. In ancient feeling the privative trait of privacy, indicated in the word itself, was all-important; it meant literally a state of being deprived of something, and even of the highest and most human of man's capacities. A man who lived only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the public realm, or like the bar- barian had chosen not to establish such a realm, was not fully human. We no longer think primarily of deprivation when we use the word "privacy," and this is partly due to the enormous enrichment of the private sphere through modern individualism. However, it seems even more important that modern privacy is at least as sharply opposed to the social realm—unknown to the ancients who considered its content a private matter-—as it is to the political, properly speaking. The decisive historical fact is that modern privacy in its most relevant function, to shelter the intimate, was discovered as the opposite not of the political sphere but of the social, to which it is therefore more closely and authentically related.... 
This modern equality, based on the conformism inherent in society and possible only because behavior has replaced action as the foremost mode of human relationship, is in every respect different from equality in antiquity, and notably in the Greek city-states. To belong to the few "equals" (homoioi) meant to be permitted to live among one's peers; but the public realm itself, the polis, was permeated by a fiercely agonal spirit, where everybody had constantly to distinguish himself from all others, to show through unique deeds or achievements that he was the best of all (aien aristeuein).34 The public realm, in other words, was reserved for individuality; it was the only place  where men could show who they really and inexchangeably were. It was for the sake of this chance, and out of love for a body politic that made it possible to them all, that each was more or less willing to share in the burden of jurisdiction, defense, and administration of public affairs.

It is the same conformism, the assumption that men behave and do not act with respect to each other, that lies at the root of the modern science of economics, whose birth coincided with the rise of society and which, together with its chief technical tool, statistics, became the social science par excellence. Economics—until the modern age a not too important part of ethics and politics and based on the assumption that men act with respect to their economic activities as they act in every other respect35—could achieve a scientific character only when men had become social beings and unanimously followed certain patterns of behavior, so that those who did not keep the rules could be considered to be asocial or abnormal.

The laws of statistics are valid only where large numbers or long periods are involved, and acts or events can statistically appear only as deviations or fluctuations. The justification of sta- tistics is that deeds and events are rare occurrences in everyday life and in history. Yet the meaningfulness of everyday relationships is disclosed not in everyday life but in rare deeds, just as the significance of a historical period shows itself only in the few events that illuminate it. The application of the law of large numbers and long periods to politics or history signifies nothing less than the willful obliteration of their very subject matter, and it is a hopeless enterprise to search for meaning in politics or significance in history when everything that is not everyday behavior or automatic trends has been ruled out as immaterial.

However, since the laws of statistics are perfectly valid where we deal with large numbers, it is obvious that every increase in population means an increased validity and a marked decrease of "deviation." Politically, this means that the larger the population in any given body politic, the more likely it will be the social rather than the political that constitutes the public realm. The Greeks, whose city-state was the most individualistic and least conformable body politic known to us, were quite aware of the fact that the polls, with its emphasis on action and speech, could survive only if the number of citizens remained restricted. Large numbers of people, crowded together, develop an almost irresistible inclination toward despotism, be this the despotism of a person or of majority rule; and although statistics, that is, the mathematical treatment of reality, was unknown prior to the modern age, the social phenomena which make such treatment possible—great numbers, accounting for conformism, behavior- ism, and automatism in human affairs—were precisely those traits which, in Greek self-understanding, distinguished the Persian civilization from their own.

The unfortunate truth about behaviorism and the validity of its "laws" is that the more people there are, the more likely they are to behave and the less likely to tolerate non-behavior. Statistically, this will be shown in the leveling out of fluctuation. In reality, deeds will have less and less chance to stem the tide of behavior, and events will more and more lose their significance, that is, their capacity to illuminate historical time. Statistical uniformity is by no means a harmless scientific ideal; it is the no longer secret political ideal of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine of everyday living, is at peace with the scientific outlook inherent in its very existence. 

The uniform behavior that lends itself to statistical determination, and therefore to scientifically correct prediction, can hardly be explained by the liberal hypothesis of a natural "harmony of interests," the foundation of "classical" economics; it was not Karl Marx but the liberal economists themselves who had to introduce the "communistic fiction," that is, to assume that there is one interest of society as a whole which with "an invisible hand" guides the behavior of men and produces the harmony of their conflicting interests.36 The difference between Marx and his fore- runners was only that he took the reality of conflict, as it pre- sented itself in the society of his time, as seriously as the hypothetical fiction of harmony; he was right in concluding that the "socialization of man" would produce automatically a harmony of all interests, and was only more courageous than his liberal teachers when he proposed to establish in reality the "communistic fiction" underlying all economic theories. What Marx did not— and, at his time, could not—understand was that the germs of communistic society were present in the reality of a national household, and that their full development was not hindered by any class-interest as such, but only by the already obsolete monarchical structure of the nation-state. Obviously, what pre- vented society from smooth functioning was only certain tradi- tional remnants that interfered and still influenced the behavior of "backward" classes. From the viewpoint of society, these were merely disturbing factors in the way of a full development of "social forces"; they no longer corresponded to reality and were therefore, in a sense, much more "fictitious" than the scientific "fiction" of one interest. 
A complete victory of society will always produce some sort of "communistic fiction," whose outstanding political characteris- tic is that it is indeed ruled by an "invisible hand," namely, by nobody. What we traditionally call state and government gives place here to pure administration—a state of affairs which Marx rightly predicted as the "withering away of the state," though he was wrong in assuming that only a revolution could bring it about, and even more wrong when he believed that this complete victory of society would mean the eventual emergence of the "realm of freedom."37

To gauge the extent of society's victory in the modern age, its early substitution of behavior for action and its eventual substitu- tion of bureaucracy, the rule of nobody, for personal rulership, it may be well to recall that its initial science of economics, which substitutes patterns of behavior only in this rather limited field of human activity, was finally followed by the all-comprehensive pretension of the social sciences which, as "behavioral sciences," aim to reduce man as a whole, in all his activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal. If economics is the science of society in its early stages, when it could impose its rules of be- havior only on sections of the population and on parts of their activities, the rise of the "behavioral sciences" indicates clearly the final stage of this development, when mass society has devoured all strata of the nation and "social behavior" has become the stand- ard for all regions of life.

34. Aien aristeuein kai hypeirochm emmenai allon ("always to be the best and to rise above others") is the central concern of Homer's heroes (Iliad vi. 208), and Homer was "the educator of Hellas."

35. "The conception of political economy as primarily a 'science' dates only from Adam Smith" and was unknown not only to antiquity and the Middle Ages, but also to canonist doctrine, the first "complete and economic doctrine" which "differed from modern economics in being an 'art' rather than a 'science' " (W. J. Ashley, of. tit., pp. 379 ff.). Classical economics assumed that man, in so far as he is an active being, acts exclusively from self-interest and is driven by only one desire, the desire for acquisition. Adam Smith's introduction of an "invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of [anybody's] intention" proves that even this minimum of action with its uniform motivation still con- tains too much unpredictable initiative for the establishment of a science. Marx developed classical economics further by substituting group or class interests for individual and personal interests and by reducing these class interests to two ma- jor classes, capitalists and workers, so that he was left with one conflict, where classical economics had seen a multitude of contradictory conflicts. The reason why the Marxian economic system is more consistent and coherent, and there- fore apparently so much more "scientific" than those of his predecessors, lies primarily in the construction of "socialized man," who is even less an acting being than the "economic man" of liberal economics.

36. That liberal utilitarianism, and not socialism, is "forced into an un- tenable 'communistic fiction' about the unity of society" and that "the com- munist fiction [is] implicit in most writings on economics" constitutes one of the chief theses of Myrdal's brilliant work {op. ck., pp. 54 and 150). He shows con- clusively that economics can be a science only if one assumes that one interest pervades society as a whole. Behind the "harmony of interests" stands always the "communistic fiction" of one interest, which may then be called welfare or commonwealth. Liberal economists consequently were always guided by a "communistic" ideal, namely, by "interest of society as a whole" (pp. 194—95). The crux of the argument is that this "amounts to the assertion that society must be conceived as a single subject. This, however, is precisely what cannot be conceived. If we tried, we would be attempting to abstract from the essential fact that social activity is the result of the intentions of several individuals" (p. 154).

37. For a brilliant exposition of this usually neglected aspect of Marx's rele- vance for modern society, see Siegfried Landshut, "Die Gegenwart im Lichte derMarxschen Lehre," Hamburger Jahrbuch fitr Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftspolitik,Vol. I (1956)
Arendt, Truth and Politics
Political thought is representative. I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoints of those who are absent; that is, I represent them. This process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else, and hence look upon the world from a different perspective; this is a question neither of empathy, as though I tried to be or to feel like somebody else, nor of counting noses and joining a majority but of being and thinking in my own identity where actually I am not. The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind while I am pondering a given issue, and the better I can imagine how I would feel and think if I were in their place, the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking and the more valid my final conclusions, my opinion.
(It is this capacity for an "enlarged mentality" that enables men to judge; as such, it was discovered by Kant in the first part of his Critique of Judgment, though he did not recognize the political and moral implications of his discovery.) The very process of opinion formation is determined by those in whose places somebody thinks and uses his own mind, and the only condition for this exertion of the imagination is disinterestedness, the liberation from one's own private interests. Hence, even if I shun all company or am completely isolated while forming an opinion, I am not sim- ply together only with myself in the solitude of philosophical thought; I remain in this world of universal interdependence, where I can make myself the representative o f everybody else. Of course, I can refuse to do this and form an opinion that takes only my own interests, or the interests of the group to which I belong, into account; nothing, indeed, is more common, even among highly sophisticated people, than the blind obstinacy that becomes manifest in lack of imagination and failure to judge. But the very quality ofan opinion, as ofajudgment, depends upon the degree of its impartiality.
Baehr, editor's introduction,  The Portable Hannah Arendt
To make matters worse, compassion tends to generate an attitude of suspicion whose paranoia is exceeded only by the zeal that accompanies it. Whereas deeds and words have an "objective" reality (they can be seen and heard), emotions such as compassion reside in the invisible recesses of our inner life. If they are to shine in public as a beacon of policy, they must be professed, but the more a person feels bound to profess his sin- cerity the more it appears that his action is prompted by ulterior motives: "me thinks he doth protest too much." So begins the search to find the hypocrites, a quest that can have no intrinsic terminus because the feelings of the heart are ultimately immeasurable and constantly in flux. Further- more, the bloodhounds of suspicion follow a scent that all too often turns out to be their own. Because compassion is a matter of changing mood and sensation rather than something stable like a physical artifact or visible like ahuman deed, even its exponents can never feel certain ofwhether they are paragons of empathY, or just phonies in disguise. The result is an even greater desire to demonstrate their feelings as unfeigned and to continue a cycle of behavior that is at once bloody and self-destructive. For Arendt, the opposite of compassion is not cynical indifference to the plight of those who suffer, but rather solidarity and respect, principles that may be occasioned by an emotion, but which in their generalized concern for human dignity (of the fortunate and of the unfortunate alike), their rejection of condescension and self-righteousness, their realism and sense of perspective offer superior resources for dealing with oppression and exploitation than the passions and sentiments of the heart.
Arendt On Violence
Progress, to be sure, is a more serious and a more complex item offered at the superstition fair of our time. The irrational nineteenth-century belief in unlimited progress has found universal acceptance chiefly because of the astounding development of the natural sciences, which, since the rise of the modern age, actually have been "universal" sciences and therefore could look forward to an unending task in exploring the immensity of the universe. That science, even though no longer limited by the finitude of the earth and its nature, should be subject to never-ending progress is by no means certain; that strictly scientific research in the humanities, the so-called Geisteswissenschaften that deal with the products of the human spirit, must come to an end by definition is obvious. The ceaseless, senseless demand for original scholarship in a number of fields, where only erudition is now possible, has led either to sheer irrelevancy, the famous knowing of more and more about less and less, or to the development of a pseudo-scholarship which actually destroys its object.* It is noteworthy that the rebellion of the young, to the extent that it is not exclusively morally or politically motivated, has been chiefly directed against the academic glorification of scholarship and science, both of which, though for different reasons, are gravely compromised in their eyes. And it is true that it is by no means impossible that we have reached in both cases a turning point, the point of destructive returns. Not only has the progress of science ceased to coincide with the progress of mankind (whatever that may mean), but it could even spell mankind's end, just as the further progress of scholarship may well end with the destruction of everything that made scholarship worth our while. Progress, in other words, can no longer serve as the standard by which to evaluate the disastrously rapid change-processes we have let loose.
*for a splendid exemplification of these not merely superfluous but pernicious enterprises, see Edmund Wilson, The Fruits of the MLA, NY 1968
[I've removed other footnotes]

Sunday, April 14, 2019

At this point it's been seven years, reworking the first two minutes, and a few things later on.  I think again, at least for now I've solved the biggest problems I was having.

The point was always to move from overtly formal to 'formless'. After about seven minutes it's the straight footage, in the order it was shot, recording my decisions, without color manipulation or correction. But I didn't wait for things to happen. I turned the camera on to look, and turned it of when I stopped.

Early on when I had someone else do the color work I realized he'd darkened a shot to hide the fact that someone was looking at the camera. That's not something you want in documentary filmmaking. But I realized that I'd used it on purpose.  I was cutting the first section for comedy; it made me laugh but I hadn't thought about why. The footage is full of them and I'd telegraphed them all. I was making something theatrical and also voyeuristic, as street photography is, making art out of people's lives and their annoyance is the counterpoint, the world looking back, the gaze photojournalism ignores. If I didn't have actors at least I could give the strangers I photographed without permission the chance to say fuck you. And they do.

Art is a lie, but Baudelaire was right to say that good art acknowledges both object and subject, "the world external to the artist and the artist himself." His mistake was to think this was new.

Two, or three, very different forms of artifice, artificiality. The change as the music changes between the second and third section is clear enough. And the last two sections may get boring. That's ok.

And since I'm putting it up again I might as well repost this as well. The two films, videos whatever you want to call them, that I've completed, more or less, in the past ten years

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Last week on a whim I approached the Resnick-Passlof Foundation with a proposal for an exhibition, joining the abstractions for which Resnick became famous with his last figurative works, and putting both in a larger historical context. I referred half-jokingly to a Jewish sense of materialism, a vulgar as opposed to idealist physicality  I mentioned Pissarro but also specifically, given the overlap, Soutine –I was thinking also of Titian and Rembrandt, the materialism of trading cultures.

Soutine's name brought out a surprisingly enthusiastic response. Resnick loved Soutine's work, and I read later in the week that Resnick had said he'd been a huge influence for painters in the late 1940s. Picasso's work had become stale and Soutine's paint handing had been a revelation.

This fit with something else I'd been thinking about: the interest in the tactile as opposed to the merely visual in post-war art. The sense that physicality in paint, impasto, often but not always coincides with a sense of pictorial depth, not geometrical but the perception of distance from the human viewer.  Wölfflin etc. Also a relationship between the formal simplicity of iconographic art and serialism, minimalism etc: the sense that structure is a given, a ground, allowing other interests to come to the fore.  See the relation Fontana's abstract 'paintings' to his figurative sculpture. And in the age of photography and film, paintings are still things, not images of things. For sculpture, see my responses to Fried et al.

And then there's the odd mix of personal and impersonal, the subjectivism of CoBrA the emptiness or void of the Zero school being the technocratic grid within which individual human beings live their lives, see: Kubrick/Piranesi.

As I said in a letter to the foundation director
Some of the work is cool, some is hot, much of it is dark again responding to post-war optimism of the boom years,  but the focus on physicality is a common trait.
My mistake was to say that all of this went against 'formalism'.  I said specifically that it separated de Kooning's women from this abstractions, which although I didn't say it, quickly became mannered.

After the meeting I'd sent a thank-you note and received a detailed reply, cc'd to a trustee.  My response to that a day later, with a more detailed description and a link to images on a private page I'd set up got no reply. I dropped in after work on Friday, since I'm working in the neighborhood, and it was clear immediately that I had no reason to be there. The director barely looked up from his computer screen. My proposal was "interesting"; his tone was curt. I mumbled a few words, an attempt at something if only to lead into a goodbye, but the conversation was over.

Resnick's late switch to figuration surprised people, but not as much as Guston's switch to cartoons and black comedy. I remember people being nonplussed. It was seen as a step backwards, a betrayal of progress.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the stupidity of what happened this week.




de Kooning

Ryman (L) Fontana (R)




Appel(L)  Dubuffet (R)



Ryman (L) Manzoni (R)


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus" It means just what it says. Ferdinand I was a Catholic absolutist.
Justice is for and of god. Kant's twist is silly, Arendt's obliviousness to history is just odd. Spinoza was writing after Westphalia.

Arendt, Truth and Politics
The subject of these reflections is a commonplace. No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues. Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician's or the demagogue's but also of the statesman's trade. Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, and for the nature and the dignity of truth and truthfulness, on the other? Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent and of the very essence of power to be deceitful? And what kind of reality does truth possess if it is powerless in the public realm, which more than any other sphere of human life guarantees reality of existence to natal and mortal men–that is, to beings who know they have appeared out of non-being and will, after a short while, again disappear into it? Finally, is not impotent truth just as despicable as power that gives no heed to truth? These are uncomfortable questions, but they arise necessarily out of our current convictions in this matter.

What lends this commonplace its high plausibility can still be summed up in the old Latin adage "Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus" ("Let justice be done though the world may perish"). Apart from its probable author in the sixteenth century (Ferdinand I, successor to Charles V), no one has used it except as a rhetorical question: Should justice be done if the world's survival is at stake? And the only great thinker who dared to go against the grain of the question was Immanuel Kant, who boldly explained that the "proverbial saying ... means in simple language: 'Justice shall prevail, even though all the rascals in the world should perish as a result.' " Since men would not find it worth while to live in a world utterly deprived of justice, this "human right must be held sacred, regardless of how much sacrifice is required of the powers that be . . . regardless of what might be the physical consequences thereof."[1] But isn't this answer absurd? Doesn't the care for existence clearly precede everything else–every virtue and every principle? Is it not obvious that they become mere chimeras if the world, where alone they can be manifested, is in jeopardy? Wasn't the seventeenth century right when it almost unanimously declared that every commonwealth was duty bound to recognize, in Spinoza's words, "no higher law than the safety of [its] own realm"? [2] For surely every principle that transcends sheer existence can be put in the place of justice, anq if we put truth in its place–"Fiat veritas, et pereat mundus"–the old saying sounds even more plausible. If we understand political action in terms of the means-end category, we may even come to the only seemingly paradoxical conclusion that lying can very well serve to establish or safeguard the conditions for the search after truth–as Hobbes, whose relentless logic never fails to carry arguments to those extremes where their absurdity becomes obvious, pointed out long ago.[3] And lies, since they are often used as substitutes for more violent means, are apt to be considered relatively harmless tools in the arsenal of political action.

Reconsidering the old Latin saying, it will therefore come as something of a surprise that the sacrifice of truth for the survival of the world would be more futile than the sacrifice of any other principle or virtue. For while we may refuse even to ask ourselves whether life would still be worth living in a world deprived of such notions as justice and freedom, the same, curiously, is not possible with respect to the seemingly so much less political idea of truth. What is at stake is survival, the perseverance in existence (in suo esse perseverare), and no human world destined to outlast the short life span of mortals within it will ever be able to survive without men willing to do what Herodotus was the first to undertake consciously–namely λἐγειν τα ἐὀντα,  to say what is. No permanence, no perseverance in existence, can even be conceived of without men willing to testify to what is and appears to them because it is.
1. Eternal Peace, Appendix I 
2. I quote from Spinoza's Political Treatise because it is noteworthy that even
Spinoza, for whom the libertas philosophandi was the true end of government,
should have taken so radical a position. 
3. In the Leviathan (ch. 46) Hobbes explains that "disobedience may lawfully be
punished in them, that against the laws teach even true philosophy." For is not "leisure the mother of philosophy; and Commonwealth the mother of peace and leisure"? And does it not follow that the Commonwealth will act in the interest ofphilosophy when it suppresses a truth which undermines peace? Hence the truthteller, in order to cooperate in an enterprise which is so necessary for his own peace of body and decides to write what he knows "to be false philosophy." Of this Hobbes suspected Aristotle of all people, who according to him "writ it as a thing consonant to, and corroborative of [the Greeks'] religion; fearing the fate of Socrates." It never occurred to Hobbes that all search for truth would be self-defeating if its conditions could be guaranteed only by deliberate falsehoods. Then, indeed, everybody may turn out to be a liar like Hobbes' Aristode. Unlike this fig- ment of Hobbes' logical fantasy, the real Aristotle was of course sensible enough to leave Athens when he came to fear the fate ofSocrates; he was not wicked enough to write what he knew to be false, nor was he stupid enough to solve his problem of survival by destroying everything he stood for.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

the history
new tag for Wilson

Family Spectacles 
Jill Johnston,  Art in America, December, 1986
Just a cursory reading of the literature about Robert Wilson's  work, along with remarks by Wilson himself, reveals one  striking, ever repeated, disclaimer: he doesn't mean anything by  it. I use that phrase to invoke the cliché whereby people apologize for something they did, hoping they have not offended: "I  didn't mean anything by it." It seems improbable that Wilson himself would ever say anything like that exactly, own  remarks about "meaning" focus on a differently expressed abdication of responsibility. He has said repeatedly that he likes to  leave things up to the audience. "The audience is free to draw its  own conclusions, we don't do that for them," In other words,  there are many possible meanings, and you are free to choose or  construe your own. Typically, Wilson's work elicits a binary  commentary: it is both formally beautiful and mysterious. One critic wrote that Wilson is "a brilliant designer and showman  whose willful obscurity is part of the package." Another that "structure is the subject most wonderful in its lack of  explanatory power...”
Robert Wilson's theater is of course well known for its subordination of text to design. The design is the thing—architectural  structure, spatial arrangement, physical gesture cum choreography, line, costume, decor, lights—above all, the lights. Wilson is nothing if not a lighting genius. He is a painter manqué (he  studied painting in the '60s, but became discouraged) who found his medium or "canvas" in the theater. A production by Wilson is  always certain to yield the most sumptuous visual delights. The temporality of the theater, normally a drawback for anybody  interested in making pictures, has become, in Wilson's hands, an  asset, for by slowing down his action to glacial tempo, the full impact of a "picture" is deployed, and the image is allowed to  change as well In Wilson's theater the action is integral to the  backdrop (lights and all special effects), forming a unified  pictorial field; the action doesn't stand out against its decor as in  conventional theater. Both decor and characters move slowly enough not to disturb the integrity of any single picture, which  may last for some time before dissolving into a new frame. But Wilson's characters do speak and play parts, and the text and  the "drama" of his work have consistently proved resistant to integration. 
During 1984-85, Americans had two major opportunities to  check out the Wilson oeuvre, which has been performed and developed largely in Europe since the early '70s, after the  staggering success of Deafman Glancein Paris in 1971. Einstein  on the Beach, seen in New York in 1977, was revived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984; three scenes from the CIVIL warS(a colossal multilingual conception six years in the making, projected as a 12-hour performance in five acts, 15 scenes;  and 13 entre-actes, or "knee-plays," and involving the contributions of innumerable artists from six nations) were performed in March 1985 at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.[1]  In addition, a relatively small work, The Golden Windows, first  shown in Munich in 1982, appeared for a week's run in October  1985 as part of BAM's now annual Next Wave Festival.  

The Golden Windows as well as the CIVIL warS or at least  the two sections of the latter—lasting two hours—produced  in Cambridge indicates some altering emphasis or development  in the dramatic and textual aspects of Wilson's work. In The  Golden WindowsWilson's text is more prominent than it has  ever been. While it makes no "sense," it is spoken by four actors,  an older man and woman, a young man and woman, as if it does,  or should. The piece is a “play" in three parts or acts, including a  prologue, lasting nearly two hours without an intermission. The  three parts take place during the evening, at midnight, and in early morning—in other words, in the dark. Wilson alters the  basic "picture" of the piece three times to suit the three acts or  time frames of the unfolding night. There is a looks like a sentry box or telephone booth—sitting on a "hill" or  the peak point of a raked stage, against a starry sky. Downstage  right there is a bench. The older man sits on it to speak the  opening lines. For the first part the little house is situated stage left, for the second in the center, and the third, stage right. 
There are several dramatic events in The Golden Windows  with no necessary causal connections among either them or the  characters. The only reliably causal event is the brilliant emission of light from the door of the "house" whenever it slowly opens to embrace or exude a character. The beauty of the  scene—night blues and stars and half moon and shafts of gold  Art America  and geometric/architectural purity—is abraded by a jumbled  and incoherent text. The pictorial integrity of the scene—its naturalistic relation of parts which remain consistent through-  out—is contradicted by characters who speak apparent nonsense  in loaded emphases or inflections, and who appear to have almost nothing to do with each other. They speak nearly exclusively to themselves or the audience. Their isolation from each  other, supported by the non-sequitur nature of the text, is the  most striking aspect of the play. 
There are three "meaningful" interactions amongst the four  characters: the older man hands the older woman a gun; the  older man embraces the young woman; the older woman for a period of time regards the young man as he hangs by the neck on  a rope from the flies, though her lines as she stands there  regarding him have no necessary connection with him. It's impossible, however, not to feel that it's he who may be the  object of her amusement as she laughs and laughs for perhaps  40 seconds, intermittently looking up at him. Certainly it doesn't  seem "nice." And some of their lines at this point suggest "meaning." As the boy or young man is lowered on his rope the  first thing the older woman says is "listen to me don't you know  that you are in my chamber and you are wanted in the observatory at once." Then in the lines which follow, spoken by the boy, it's possible to hear a "son" talking to his "mother":  

come here they had no evidence you are just attending to your duties  they are right under my nose O.k.? i will be back tomorrow afternoon  yeah outside outside line so what i just want to warn you east top of zoooooo in state cigarette i do not get it look Oh boy yeah i am sorry come on let us see here we are is everything alright is something wrong i told  you nothing i do not want to go to bed what is the matter 

Or these lines contain bits of dialogue between the two. All the  monologues appear to double as interior dialogues. According to  Wilson, he made his visual book separately from his text, and  then put them together, much the way John Cage and Merce  Cunningham have collaborated on their audio and movement scores, or Lee Breuer has developed his animation pieces with  Mabou Mines. There are a number of lines or monologues in  Wilson's text for The Golden Windows that could be just as suggestive for that particular moment in the drama as the lines  quoted above. At any rate, since there is no dramatic continuity,  story line or character development (let alone portrayal), any apparent connection among the characters or with their environment is purely fortuitous, random—not meant by the author, but  left for the audience to associate freely in the vacuum created by  an "unstructured" plot.  

The text of The Golden Windows is like many tiny pieces of a puzzle cast out of a barrel onto a gorgeous and coherent set.  For there is certainly a "picture," or plot, in the text; a narrative  which no amount of "free association" on the part of the  audience is going to put together. Even an audience that might  conceivably be adept at seizing "key" lines repeated throughout  the text, following them the way one does bits of thematic  material in a concerto, disregarding the "weather," as Wilson has characterized some of his texts (cliché phrases, trivia,  mundane observations, etc.), disentangling a kind of web of  attributions or rematching the lines to give them to whomever they really belong, will be unable to (re)construct the plot that  inheres in a puzzle like this. Only the author can tell us. And in The Golden Windowshe doesn't want to. He makes this plain in  his typescript: "don't tell anybody joe is in trouble….”; “i've  got a secret a big surprise… i won't tell you…"; "...well as long as you do not say what it is about." Later:  I’ve got a secret a big surprise i still will not tell”–“one  is for sure i have no memory …"—a line that Wilson finishes this way: “…which saves me from being sentimental and can make what i say more poetic afterwards." If Wilson has "no  memory" he may himself not know what his plot is. Here is  another line also clearly about his work, this one ending in a  kind of plea: "excuse me i have no comment i have offered you  hypnotism in my work please i i i ah i need your help”­– There are ironic comments: "i am going to figure this character out," or, "just yesterday i was thinking it would be a good story."  
Something big does happen, however, in The Golden Windows:  there is a murder and/or an accident and an earthquake,  the latter somehow symbolizing the former. All the commotion occurs in the middle, or midnight, scene. The first line in this scene is "after murder" repeated seven times. So we know the  murder has already happened. Who did it and how, where or  why, etc., remain mysterious. Indications are that perhaps the No. 1 character, the older man, is the culprit, inasmuch as No. 2, the older woman, says, "i can smell you are a real killer" when  they both happen to be on stage at once. She and the daughter  figure, the young woman, together say "please you are a murderer...  it is obnoxious"—lines spoken during the same evening scene, But during the midnight or calamity scene, after the young man has been lowered from the flies on his rope, after he has spoken a number of lines and has been raised again out of  sight (his boots dangle a while in the shadows above), the older woman/mother figure comes clearly into possession of the (or a)  murder weapon, a silver handgun given to her by the older man  as he exits the "house" in the expected shaft of golden light; all  this is accompanied by a voice-over singing quietly "happy  birthday. .  " The Older man says '"make a wish may not come  true" when he hands her the gun; holding it, she slowly and protractedly scans the area and the audience, pointing the gun all around.  

Wilson's female "murderers" are well known in his work.  His prototype was a Medea figure dating back to Deafman Glancewho took 40 minutes or more to stab two children, a boy  and a girl. The gun-toter in Einstein is patty Hearst. This one in  The Golden Windows who doesn't kill anything that we can see  becomes party to the natural catastrophe of an earthquake. As  she stands there holding her gun the raked stage splits apart into a lit crevice the shape of a lightning bolt, steam exudes from  the jagged chasm, the falls from the sky and lies on the  ground, enormous boulders tumble very slowly to earth, and a voiceover whispers repeatedly, "after murder…. " Is this the  "accident" referred to throughout the text? Perhaps it is. The accident, like the murder, is never identified, but rather surrounded by disclaimers. "It's nothing more than….,” or  "what happened you name it…." The accident may never  have happened, and references to it may simply be ironic allusions to the sort of thing one expects to happen in classic drama  or the naturalistic theater.  
Many dismal things are spoken of in The Golden Windows  besides the murder and the accident: night sweats, being driven  from home, being lonely, sorry, embarrassed, depressed, worried, confused, accused, persecuted, needing love, etc. And at least  three "dire" things occur—a man hangs on a rope; a lady points  a gun, an earthquake alters the set—but nothing really happens  because no context has been established. Whatever plot there is  has only been alluded to. The audience is asked to behold beautiful pictures—indeed they are beautiful—and to listen to  words and look at gestures which stand for different states of  being or feeling. The words are invested with feeling as spoken; the gestures are also "heavy"—further emphasizing their dissociation or dislocation. Certainly the audience is being distanced  from the possibility of identifying with, or understanding or  feeling anything for, the characters and their apparent plight. An audience may amuse itself trying to guess what it's all about. The author may be amused at setting up a kind of guessing  game. The author could be embarrassed to say anything directly  or straightforwardly—i.e. concretely—about the general human  condition, or his own personal situation or background, Beautiful  pictures obscure terrible stories. Life is terrible—who wants to know about it? Life could be just a beautiful picture, dreaming  through the night. This is the way to make life better. The  Golden Windows is a very interesting "play." In a way it is a  play about wanting to be a play. It contains all the elements,  presented raw, as if crying for an author to take responsibility for them. Near the end Wilson has his older man say, " . . i  will not rest until i have gotten to the bottom of these terrible  desperate sort of irony.

In the spirit of this line I approached Wilson several times like  a detective. This is not easy because: 1) he is as busy as a campaigning politician, his global appointments  made for him by a team of office workers and, 2) he is, as might  be expected, quite evasive. No doubt the two circumstances qualify each other. At first he seemed happy enough to see me.  He brought flowers and candy and lots of literature about his  work; and he stayed very late consuming wine and discussing enthusiastically his preoccupations with style and effect. Gradually I believe it dawned on him that I was interested in  biographical data. I had not accepted his work at "face value." I  was not "against interpretation."[2]1 had failed to choose or  construe my own meanings, The "pure, untranslatable, sensuous  immediacy of [the] images"[3]had left me cold. I might want to replace the work with something I might want intellectual  revenge. I might have a certain contempt for appearances. I  could want to tame the work, make it manageable and comfortable, etc., etc.[4]  the But no, this last would be impossible. Wilson's  work is itself quite tame. Then I might want to expose something  wild and savage that the work clearly contains. I could under-  stand my motives being suspect. I tried hiding them. I wasn't  sure what I wanted in any case. I am only sure that some knowledge of biography can enrich the appreciation of works of  art or help provide access to those that are densely veiled or  opaque to meaning.
Wilson is a charming guy, eager to please, irrepressibly good  humored. Sometimes he whoops and shrieks with laughter, a  very contagious explosion. I've known him since the '60s, but in  the most superficial way. We have a number of mutual friends.  In the early '70s we introduced people to each other. Quite a few  people I knew had become "Byrds." (Wilson established his Byrd  Hoffman Foundation in 1969.) I saw Deafman Glance in Paris in  1971 but missed the production of Einstein on the Beach in 1977 at New York's Metropolitan Opera. What particularly struck me  about Wilson's work as I heard or read about it, and then began  seeing it in the '80s, was its identification with huge mythic characters: Einstein, Edison, Stalin, Freud, Queen Victoria, the  King of Spain and most recently Frederick the Great, who is the  "hero" of a section of the CIVIL wars produced recently in Cambridge.  
In Wilson's oeuvre there are three types of heros [sic]: the (male)  child, the disabled, and the fabulously great. These three must  be aspects of the same person. They certainly are personas with  which Wilson himself closely identifies, though the "disabled"  aspect has permutated considerably since the days of his Deafman Glance, which starred Raymond Andrews, a deaf-mute black boy from Alabama whom Wilson legally adopted, and early  work featuring Christopher Knowles, a boy who was reputedly  brain damaged  
The "disabled" hanging boy/young man in The Golden Windows, for instance, is a professional actor. Anyway he is the  "hero" of the piece, if only because of his striking "condition"— assumed during the Prologue and during a prominent part of the  midnight section. Wilson has made no secret of his own early  difficulty with speech. Until he was 17 he apparently stuttered badly; and it is well known that he worked with handicapped  children in Texas and New York. Of his deaf-mute adoptive son,  Raymond Andrews, Wilson told me he was "born deaf and had grown up with people who didn't understand that his problem  was one of not hearing." In the early '60s Wilson was a consultant in New York for special education offering programs for  children with severe learning disabilities. His disabled boy-child turns up most recently in his the CIVIL wars as the "child" (in a  family of seven) and as Frederick the Great, the latter played by  a (yen-disguised) woman in the Cambridge production.  

Seven figures represent a "real" family: child, father, mother, aunt, young man, young woman and grandfather, The  actors in these roles also double as other characters, e.g., Frederick the Great, Katte (Frederick's friend and lover, executed by  his father), and Sophie Dorothea (Frederick's mother, sister of George II). They all first appear in Act Ill, Scene E, in a large ear  which traverses the stage left to right after an ensemble of 18  Civil War soldiers (played by Harvard students in Cambridge)  has emerged (at dawn) from their tents to dress and prepare for  battle, accompanied by a voice-over humming the tune of "My  Merry Oldsmobile," ever so gradually more distinct as the light  comes up and the soldiers with their guns move into formation to  march offstage—everything of course in Wilsonian slow motion.  The "still" of the great car with its passengers disappears stage  right as the soldiers '*march" off in the other direction.
This whole scene is like an overture to what follows, Act IV,  Scene A, in which "the family" along with Frederick, Katte,  Sophie Dorothea and others, and the 18 young men, now playing  'scribes" or "men with poles" or "furniture movers" or "polar  bears" or "submariners," enact a number of pictures, These are classical Wilson, in the tradition of his Einstein and Stalin;  breathtaking theatrical effects. For special results Wilson relies  here on a huge screen suspended to the viewer's left upon which  are projected wonderful clips of animals and landscape and  scenes of destruction, Life-size projections of Frederick or "the family" duplicate their actual appearances on the stage below  the screen to the viewer's right. They could be live or on film (no  floor or other support is visible beneath them) but in actuality  they are on film, Frederick appears standing with his cane midst  a huge scape of ice floes, then against snowy mountain peaks. But juxtapositions of live action below and screen images are no  less spectacular, e.g., Frederick staggering (slo-mo) off stage as  the filmed statue of a man on a horse falls down over and over again. Later, stunningly, Frederick emerges live from a trapdoor  on his horse, a lifesize wooden white facsimile made from  paintings and constructed by the Cambridge Rep people. 
There are two other trapdoor marvels, in particular the  appearance of a pair of polar bears who emerge after a great big  silver bullet or rocketlike thing has descended over the hole  (having first slowly traversed the stage  effect as a whole suggesting an outrageous hair dryer closing  down over a white-haired lady crouching at a table (over the  hole or door). The object then emits smoke, in a burst of Handel. It's hard not to cheer when the bears appear.  
The text for these two sections of the CIVIL warSis by both  Wilson and the East German playwright, Heiner Müller. Wilson's  text is played in voice-overs for Act Ill, Scene E—typically his "weather," interspersed with lines indicating affect ("it is terrible" or "more hunger") or seemingly appropriate to the action  ("it is a terrible war" or  “… it's reported he's in the hospital”)–delivered in this in a matter-of-fact tone. Along with Müller's own text for Act IV, Scene A, Müller selected fragments  of texts by Frederick the Great and his father, by Shakespeare  (Hamlet,Timon of Athens), Empedocles, Racine (Phaèdre),  Goethe (Erl-King), Kafka (the letter to his father) and Friedrich Hölderin and Maita di Niseemi.  
In Heiner Müller it seems Wilson has found a collaborator as  important to him and his work as composer Philip Glass was to  him in the '70s—or more significantly, perhaps, his two handicapped friends, even earlier—Raymond Andrews and Christopher Knowles. Müller was born in 1929 in what used to be  Saxony to a working class father who was a political activist and  small functionary in the Social Democrat Party during the Weimar Republic after World War I. Wilson says Müller has  changed his life. In Cambridge, where I saw Wilson for another  long evening, sans flowers and candy, he asked me several times enthusiastically what I thought of Müller. Act IV, Scene A, of the  CIVIL wars, featuring Frederick the Great in vignettes from his  life, contains words by Müller that give Wilson's disabled protagonist an emotional weight and substance he has perhaps never had before.  

Wilson himself was born in 1941 in Waco Texas, to a  comfortable middle-class family, His father was a success,  ful lawyer who became a "town father." He was a district attorney as well as acting city manager, and he held office for a  time on the State Legislature. Wilson describes his paternal  grandfather, a successful businessman, as "this very powerful  man" whose eight children were crippled by him. Wilson's mother, he says, was a very silent remote woman who never  expressed any emotion—dominated by her husband, yet "quite  powerful in her silence." Wilson says his father was probably  afraid of her, She had been raised in an orphanage after her  father died and her mother was unable to take care of or pay for her six children, so she farmed them all out.
A disappointment to his father, who was a regular guy; Wilson  describes himself as an outsider to his family (he has a younger  sister), spending his time alone and staying up all night in his  room on his various the opening between  door and floor to hide the light. He still stays up all night. He likes to say it's because he's afraid he'll miss something. Several  lines in The Golden Windows (which occurs, of course, at night)  reveal his involvement with the night as a time to create his own world: "the night is for dreaming...," and, '"i told you i do not  want to go to bed," and, "you are not normal you have got to go  to bed," and so on. 
A charming and sad passage in Louis Aragon's open letter of  1971 to André Breton—the letter which virtually made Wilson's reputation in Europe and described Wilson's Deafman Glanceas  the "miracle" they had all dreamed Surrealism might become, as  "more beautiful" than anything in the world he, Aragon, had  seen since he was born—connects a father's tyranny with a child's drive to create. Aragon refers to a book called My Lifeby  Jerome Cardan, a mathematician, who wrote, says Aragon,  "about his childhood dreams, when his father forced him to stay in bed until the third hour of the day and he had time to notice  cities, animals, horses with their cavaliers, grass, trees, musical  instruments, theaters . , , soldiers, crowds, forms he'd never  seen, prairies, mountains, forests..."  
When Wilson was 18 or 20 and living temporarily in Waco,  perhaps during a college vacation, his father came to see a play put on by his son, the delinquent kids with whom Wilson worked  serving as performers. The kids were all nude in the play, and  his father's comment was that it was "not only sick, but abnormal”. At a rehearsal in Brooklyn for The Golden Windows,  Wilson Showed me admiringly the silver gun he would have his  "older man" hand to his "older woman" during the play. He said  it was a German Luger. I guessed that his father owned guns and  hunted animals. Wilson replied that indeed he did, and that along with football and the other "manly" sports, hunting was  something that failed to interest Wilson himself, though he tried  to please his father nonetheless. For instance, Wilson majored in  business administration at the University of Texas before going  on to Pratt in New York to study architecture,  

Of all Wilson's mythic great men, Frederick the Great may  offer the richest parallels to his own background and  aspirations. A brief biography of Frederick was included in the Cambridge program for the CIVIL warS:  

He despised the of his predecessor, his father, but he imposed  it throughout Europe with an iron will.... Frederick's youth was one  of constant battle With his father... Resentfully the boy learned his  parade-ground drills, but against his father's will he learned Latin,  cultivated his French, and assumed the manners of a dandy. His father  abused him publicly, caning him, kicking him, forcing him to kiss his  boots, calling him "a cringing coward, so effeminate ... that he can  neither ride nor shoot." Frederick learned to play the flute and  With his Sister Wilhelmina cultivated a love for plays, operas, and  ballets which (his father considered "godless things increasing the  kingdom Of the devil,"  

In Act IV, Scene A, of the CIVIL warS the father/son violence at  the heart of Frederick's story is much muted, and as is usual in Wilson's work, really transcended by pictorial splendor. Frederick, who became a great tyrant like his father, is depicted in his  glory, posing on his horse; with his cane in dramatic land. or  waterscapes; attended by costumed courtiers at his death, etc. One small event clearly represents a father's humiliation of a  son. The old man or grandfather knocks over a bunch of blue  blocks that the '"child" had been playing with, Heiner Müller's  text makes Wilson's father/son theme emotionally vivid. What is  all allusion or reference or avoidance in Wilson's own text and  imagery, becomes real in the words of Müller and his collaborative sources. 
This may be because Müller aggressively or consciously connects his texts with his own father story. In 1958 he wrote that his father, in 1933, was arrested while still in his bed.  

I woke up, the sky outside the window black, noise of voices and  footsteps. In the next room books were thrown onto the floor. I heard  my father's voice.... Through the crack of the door I watched as a  man hit my father in the face. Shivering, the blanket up to my chin, I  lay in bed when the door to my room opened. My father was standing in  the doorway, behind him the strangers, big, in brown uniforms. . . . I  heard him softly my name, I didn't answer. Then my father  said: "He is asleep." The door was closed. I heard how they took him  away.... 

Müller has said, "That is my guilt. I pretended I was sleeping.  This really is the first scene of my theatre" (my italics). His  experience of "Fascist brutality" and of his first "treason" in the  face of it became the trauma of his life and work Müller's father  was eventually released from prison, and father and son became estranged. His text for Wilson's the CIVIL uarS—spoken by  actor No. 6, the bits of his story about his  father: hearing him taken away by strangers in the night; later  seeing his father through the wire mesh of the prison camp gate; later still, when his father was living in West Berlin and Müller  had "defected" to East Berlin, seeing his father on either side of  a glass door in a hospital. "We stood, the glass between us,  looking at each other." Actor No. l, the "father" (played in  Cambridge by a large black man), speaks the first lines in this  act, taken from a letter to Frederick from his father, the king:  

Thy headstrong wicked will, which loves not thy father! For if one does  all—if one loves one's father over all—then all is done to please him,  not only when standing over you but when he turns his back Further•  more, thou knowest well I cannot stomach an effeminate fellow without  manly inclination, blushing likea girl, who cannot ride nor shoot, and at  the same time cuts an awkward figure—hair brushed like a fool's, not  properly groomed—and I have reprimanded you a thousand times  the subject, but in vain, no improvement seems forthcoming....

The lines are spoken during the first part (of 12) while the  family of seven is seated at table,  
There are many dinner table scenes throughout Wilson's  Wilson told me that when he was young his family had "formal" dinners three or four times a week and he would have  to wear a coat and tie. Once, when he was about 15 and late for  dinner (he says he was always late for everything—certainly he was late for our several appointments), his family was knocking  on his door, and he crawled out a window and came in through a  back door to a sitting room adjacent to the dining room; he had put a stocking over his head and had a flashlight (relating this,  he giggled) shining on his face: "very theatrical." He slowly and carefully opened the door; his father was seated at the other end  of the table. Here Wilson yelled, imitating his father's reaction. I  asked him what his mother did. He said she turned around and said, 'Oh it's only Bob."  
Especially affecting in Act IVI Scene A of the CIVIL wars is  the part called "Frederick the Great," in which Frederick crawls  downstage with his throne-chair on his back while the text of  Franz Kafka's famous letter to his father is spoken by seven characters, together and in alternation. 

Very efficient, at least toward me, your never-failing rhetorical means  of education: reprimands, threats, sarcasm, sneering and, curiously  enough, self-accusation. I don't recall your directly hurling verbal abuse  at me. It wasn't necessary; you had so many other means at your  disposal. .. . I was almost numbed by it, thinking, of course, it was  aimed at me. You even resorted to threatening violence—and it  terrified me—for example: "I'll slash you open like a fish."

Wilson told me his father was "afraid to get close" to him. "It  was a strange thing to me, Jill…I was a strange creature in  the house." A critic described the 1969 production of The King of  Spain ending as the King of Spain "sings a little dirge and rises  slowly from his chair grotesque, beastlike ... raising his  huge and misshapen puppet head to confront the audience as the curtain falls."[5]comfort In his Kafka letter text for the CIVIL wars  Wilson incorporates a number of growls, "I (growl) recall your  directly hurling verbal abuse (growl) me It wasn't necessary you  had (growl) . . . ," and so on.  
Wilson's tale of how his father died includes a wonderful, and  as it turns out, specifically theatrical, growl. Incidentally, there  • is a dog in Frederick the Great's story. Part 10 of Act IV is called  "Dog's Death," Frederick plays with a dog, and later shoots it.  What's more a portion of part 5 calls for actor No. 2, the woman,  to growl continuously. In any case, when Wilson was 25 and  living briefly at home, he entered a mental hospital, which  released him six months later. He'd been wearing a long robe, had let his hair go long, and, whenever his parents spoke to him,  he had barked back at them like a dog. There had never been  any significant contact between himself and the other family members. His mother, he says, never even touched him until he  was leaving for college, when she kissed him on the cheek. 
Anyway, Wilson was in Cologne in 1981 while his father was  dying. He was about to do a performance to a sold-out theater at  the opening of the World Theater Festival. "The mayor was  there, the international press and I don't know who all . and everyone was after me: they were supposed to start at seven  O'clock, the Germans are very punctual, I told them the show  wouldn't be ready until nine, there was no way I could finish the technical work. I had five calls that day from Waco, Texas—  emergencies, my father was dying of cancer—so finally at about  five to nine I called him at the hospital. I said, 'Hi, Dad, how're you doin'?' He answered, 'Oh I'm doin' pretty good; how're you  doin?' and I said, 'Well, you know, Dad, I wanna talk to you, but  I've gotta do this performance now, I'm in Cologne, Germany,' I  said, 'Listen to this.' I turned the loudspeaker up where you  could hear the audience, I was in my dressing room (here Wilson  made sounds like a pack of growling dogs, imitating the  audience; then he laughed). 'I have to go out and perform for that German audience,' I said, 'I'm two hours late: And he said,  'You're two hours late? What the hell are you talkin' to me  for. . ' And he died right then."
When Wilson walked out on stage after the phone call, the  audience was furious. He just stood there. He'd told the stage  manager not to start until he moved. He said to me, " ... You  know something, Jill? You have to hatethe audience; if you don't  hate'em, you'll never win; you have to hate 'em, you say fuck  you…. And I walked out, I just stood there, there were boos,  they were throwing things, five minutes, all of it, I just stood there, they can wait an hour. I waited till it was very quiet, then  I started." The piece was called Man in the Raincoat, and Wilson  had slides of his father in it.
Possibly the most traumatic event in Frederick the Great's life  was the execution of his friend and lover, Katte, by his father.  This event is handled by Wilson and Müller inthe CIVIL warS,  Act IV, Scene A, by means of a curious superimposition of  genders and characters. The part is called "Frederick and  Katte." Frederick, already played by a female, now plays  Phédre; and Katte, also played by a woman, doubles as Hippolytus, both from Racine's tragedy, Phaédre. So the models for the  story, two young men, played by women in disguise, are further  removed or masked by having one play a woman, and  the other play a man, Hippolytus. Müller's betrayal theme  (Katte/Hippolytus is sacrificed by Frederick/Phédre to the  wrath of the father, Theseus) dovetails with Wilson's more hidden deception-and-mortification motifs, solved mythically,  impersonally, grandiosely, by the hero's accession, accompanied  by intimations of the hero's mortality. a tree is best measured  when it is downis the sub-title, or epigraph, to the CIVIL warS. When Wilson was in second grade he was asked what he wanted  to be when he grew up and he said the King of Spain. Wilson's  father/betrayal theme (i.e., not following in his footsteps) is reflected in his successful rebellion and rise to preeminence in  the theater.

Before his father died, Wilson made sure to corral him  somehow and bring him into the arena he had conquered.  This, he told me, was not easy. He invited his father to see  Deafman Glancein Paris in 1971. His father declined. Several  years later Wilson called from Paris again; he was doing A Letter  to Queen Victoria. It was 1974. Wilson's mother had died two years earlier. His father did go; Wilson had him picked up at the  airport and driven to the hotel, and then had a car take him to  the theater. The next morning his father returned to Texas without saying a word about the performance, But three weeks  later Wilson received a letter from his father which said, "Son,  your play,a Letter to Queen Victoria, had great poetry." Wilson  laughed uproariously as he told me this.
But in Wilson's estimation the nicest thing his father ever said to him was after the performance of Einsteinat the Metropolitan Opera in 1977. First his father remarked that Wilson must  have made a lot Of money—"you must be a wealthy ma,an." And  Wilson said, "No, I'm not. I produced this, and it cost a million  dollars." His father replied, "Ah, that's a lot of money"; and  Wilson said, '"Yes, it is, and I only raised nine-hundred-thousand,  so I'm a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand dollars in debt."  There was a long silence. At last his father delivered his encomium: "Son, I didn't know you were smart enough to be able to lose a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand dollars." 
Wilson describes himself as the weaker, backward son to his father. He says Stalin, the Shah of Iran, Frederick the Great—they were all weaker sons, and that Stalin became stronger after the death of his first wife. The Stalin play, The Life and Times of..., was centered on this single incident, portrayed as causing a fundamental change in the dictator's career. Wilson presented this play the year Of his mother's death (1973). 
The last words in Act IV, Scene A, of the CIVIL warS are from Goethe's Erl-King; "The father shudders, riding wild,/ In his arms he holds the gasping Child,/ Sweating, racing home to  bed;/ In his arms the child lay dead."
Nothing seems so meaningful to Wilson as the death of a child,  or two children, Years ago he saw a movie made by an experimental psychiatrist, Daniel Stern, showing mothers lunging at  their crying infants, who would recoil in what looked like terror.  The film had been slowed down to illustrate what "actually"  happened, This impressed Wilson tremendously. One time after recounting the film to me he said, "In some societies the first  born is killed." At some point he described his father to me as "terrified" of his mother. Giving directions to the woman who  played the role of Medea he said, "You don't know that you  murdered the children," The mothers in Daniel Stern's film, he  says, were surprised and horrified to see their aggressive reactions to their infants' crying. His voice was very low, almost a  whisper, when he confirmed that his own mother never  expressed any emotion: "Never, never, never...." 
It would be hard not to see Wilson's '"disabled" hero as this dead child: his mother (Stalin's wife?), his father ("terrified" of his mother), himself the first born (and only son), his sister (a  shadow figure in my interviews). Wilson, the grown man, "town  father" of an international theater,  . holds the boy in  clasps him tightly, keeps him warm." 
If his stories mean anything, his texts and pictures must, I  surmise, contain an unexpressed wish—that the culprits, as well  as the victims, in his family scenario, might experience/express their feelings, and come to terms with themselves. The glorification and embalmment of the hero (father and son), along with  the preservation of the "mother," precludes this process. Wilson  has cast this "mother" (and her "daughter") in many caricatured forms, incidentally, as well as in her more straightforward  guise. In The Golden Windows Wilson's characters are, presumably, ordinary people, a "family" of four, but they are as dead as  his grand and mythic figures. They have all arrived someplace,  and assumed certain in a picture. Their origins, and the process by which they got there, are mysterious. What's more, the places at which they've arrived may, to some audiences, not seem appropriate or desirable. What contemporary audience, for  instance, remains willing to accept the stereotype Wilson projects of the female murderer—a figure we can easily recognize  as the all-culpable mother? Or the female victim (e.g., the Patty Hearst facsimile in Wilson's Einstein) who deserves what she  gets, having turned, after all, into a gun-toter? (One thing she '"gets" is to look absurd and ineffectual with her gun.)
But the stereotype of the male super-hero—the weakling male  child who conquers all and wins his rightful throne, place, or  whatever—is equally at issue in contemporary (sexual) politics.  Both figures, the weakling male and the castrating mother—a classic twin archetype—are subsumed in Wilson's work. And yet,  with Müller as a collaborator, Wilson appears to be humanizing  at least the male half of this pair.
Müller's text for Frederick the Great provides a kind of "interpretation" of Frederick's past and present situation. Critical interpretation may further help to provide an understanding  of the author/hero's dilemma: namely; the inhibition against  connecting his past with his work. "In some cultural contexts interpretation is a liberating act. A means of revising, of trans-  valuing, of escaping the dead past."[6] The cultural context itself  requires interpretation. What is it in the culture that militates  against forging direct links between history and the work of  individuals?
In Wilson's oeuvre the sex-role stereotypes are so fully embodied, so completely assumed, that they are no longer recognizable  as human; their suffering individuality becomes opaque. What is it in the culture that forbids examination of parental sex typing?  And what is it in the culture of the art world that particularly  operates against this line Of questioning?
With his discovery of Müller, and current involvement in the  classics (directing Alcestisi n Boston, March 1986, King Lear in Hamburg, September 1987), it seems possible that Wilson's heretofore muted 'family romance" could erupt in the contextualized  drama he has till now held in contempt, or at the least be supported by an emotional texture that could de-mythicize his  figures—and bring them alive.  

[1]The Cambridge production drew from the Cologne section of the CIVIL warS—specifically, ActIII, Scene E, Act IV, Scene A; and the Epilogue to Act IV–and it ran from February 27 to March 23, 1985. Plans for a full Of  the work have twice fallen through for lack of funds: it was originally for the Olympic Festival in Angeles, then rescheduled for Austin, Texas, in October 1986. As of this writing, there are no current plans to produce the  piece in its entirety, although Act V, the Rome section, Will be performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dec 12-30 1986. In addition, during the fall and  winter of 1986 the 13 "knee plays" (which together constitute some two hours of performance time) will tour ten American cities, including New York
[2]The phrase is Susan Sontag's, and it is the title the essay that makes that argument. (Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, New York, Dell, 1969, pp. 13-23.)
[3]Sontag, p. 19
[4]Sontag, 17 et passim
[5]Calvin Tompkins. The New Yorker, Jan, 13, 1975, pp, 38-62.
[6]Sontag, p. 17.