Tuesday, February 19, 2019

the history
new tag for Wilson
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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.  

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Film is narrative by definition, even more so than literature. Until recently you couldn’t push rewind; you still can't in the theater. To dream of a non-narrative film is to dream of turning time into the timeless, a human being into an immortal one, into an idea. Ideas feel no pain; they don’t ‘die’.  An idealist working in narrative is always returning to the scene of a crime. That’s why the narrative art of idealists is either formal, hieratic, distancing, or reduces to melodrama, the narrative form of kitsch, either way to forms of pre or post or anti humanism.

Hollis Frampton was a friend of Andre and Stella, and following all the rules of Greenbergian Modernism applied to film, using the  “characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence”.  Remember my mother’s insistence–and she was only half a decade years older than any of them–that’s Eliot’s poetry was “about language”.  

Frampton was the son of a coal miner. He was born in Ohio. He says he barely spoke when he was young and described himself as having been “borderline autistic”.  At 15 he wrote himself an application to Phillips Academy Andover, and was accepted in full scholarship.  That’s where he met Andre and Stella. Later he decided he wanted to be a poet and started a correspondence and then friendship with Ezra Pound, but he decided he wasn’t a good poet, and switched to photography and film.

J. Hoberman  calls Frampton’s film-cycle Hapax Legomena  “crypto-autobiographical”. At the same time he quotes Frampton referring to himself as a “a spectator of mathematics like others are spectators of soccer or pornography”[i], again the same dichotomy of incorporeal formalism and base physicality.

Zorn’s Lemmabegins with a black screen and a woman’s voiceover, an unprofessional reading of the 24 couplets  (without I or U, following custom derived from Latin,)  of  The Bay State Primer, from 1800. 

 In Adam's Fall/ We sinned all.
 Thy Life to Mend/ God’s BookAttend.
 The Catdoth play/ And after slay.
 A Dogwill bite/ A Thief at night.
 An Eagle'sflight/ Is Out of sight.
 The Idle Fool/  Is Whipt at School. …

The second section begins with the a montage, each shot lasting one second, -24 frames- of close-up images of the 24 letters of the Roman alphabet  (without J or V- reversing/mirroring the above ) in order,  each formed by typing into a sheet of tin foil.  At the last letter the alphabet begins again, this time formed by footage of signs and lettering on Manhattan streets, again each for one second­ –24 frames. The first shot is a hand holding up a large plastic letter A. Shots continue to loop through the alphabet, the photographs for each letter changing with every repeat. Some of the shots are stable, some  hand held, shaky, with camera motion. Gradually over repeated loops the words are replaced with wordless images. The first four substitutions are a bonfire at night (X),  reversed footage of waves breaking on a beach (Z)  a tracking shot of cattails in the wind (Y)  steam from a street vent (Q), for the four classical elements:  fire, water, earth and air.  Some of the substituted shots are repeated on each loop, some, peeling and eating a tangerine, changing a tire, continue on each loop where they’d had left off. The second section ends when all the words have been replaced  images, which coincides as well with the endings of the continuing shots.

The final section begins with an empty shot of a winter landscape with a tree line in the distance. A man and a woman walking with a dog pass the camera from behind and begin to  move out into the distance. Six female voices in succession recite individual words, timed by a metronome at one second each, from a section of  “On Light, or the Ingression of Forms”, by  Robert Grosseteste, a 13thcentury English prelate and scholastic philosopher. Frampton used his own translation[ii] By the end of the reading, the figures have moved out of sight.

The first bodily form I judge to be Light. For Light, of itself, diffuses itself in  every direction, so that a sphere of Light as great as you please is born instantly from a point of Light.
But Form cannot abandon Matter because Form is not separable and Matter cannot be emptied of Form. 
Form is Light itself or the doer of its work and the bringer of dimensions into Matter. But Light is of a more noble and more excellent essence than all bodily things. 
Since Light, which is the first Form created in first Matter, could not 
abandon Matter, in the beginning of Time it drew out Matter along with itself 
into a mass as great as the fabric of the world.
When the first sphere has been completed in this way, it spreads out its daylight from every part of itself to the center of the whole. This daylight, in its passage, does not divide the body through which it passes, but assembles and  disperses it. And this assembling which disperses proceeded in order, until 
the nine celestial spheres were perfected. 
Matter for the four Elements was assembled within the ninth sphere, which is the sphere of the moon. The ninth sphere, engendering daylight from 
itself, and assembling the Mass within itself, has brought forth Fire. 
Fire engendering Light has brought forth Air. 
Air engendering from itself a bodily spirit has brought forth Water and Earth….

P. Adams Sitney 

In Zorn’s LemmaFrampton followed the tactics of his two elected literary masters Jorge Luis Borges and Ezra Pound. From Borges he learned the art of labyrinthine construction and the dialectic of presenting and obliterating the self. Following Pound, Frampton has incorporated in the end of his film a crucial indirect allusion; it is to the paradox of Arnulf Rainer’s reduction.* In Grosseteste's essay, materiality is the final dissolution, or the point of weakest articulation, of pure light. But in the graphic cinema that vector is reversed. In the quest for sheer materiality - for an image that would be, and not simply represent - the artist seeks endless refinement of light itself. As the choral text moves from Neo-Platonic source-light to the grosser impurities of objective reality, Frampton slowly opens the shutter, washing out his snowscape into the untinted whiteness of the screen.[iii]

* Arnulf Rainer. 1960 film by the Austrian filmmaker Peter Kubelka, made up of cuts between black and white leader with changes so small, down to one or two frames, that the viewer is unable to register them. It’s a film about film, made to be read about, and ‘understood’ but not experienced. 


Zorn’s Lemma manifests the same paradox we’ve seen before, depending of whom we’re talking about, of autism and the closet: the expressive and insistent denial of expression, of the self. Wanda Bershen, writing in Artforum in 1971, fittingly considering the date, sees this anti-Humanism as liberating. 

Having established itself as belonging to the generic category of "film," Zorns Lemma proceeds to totally ignore normal movie conventions. Not only does the structure lie bare, unclothed by any vestige of "content," but that structure is self-constructed. The film maker has provided a set of conditions and allowed them simply to take their course as if programmed by a calculating machine. A 24-letter alphabet at 24 f.p.s. provides the entire structural frame of the movie. The implication here, of course is that the artist is less "responsible" than usual for his work. Rather than an inventor or "maker" he is a kind of "engineer," a director of forces which already exist in his world.

The 24-letter alphabet is man-made, while the 24-f.p.s. film speed is a requirement of film machinery. Philosophically this suggests a considerably less egocentric concept of the artist than has prevailed even in the earlier decades of our own century. And if the artist is not permitted full control of his creation, neither is the audience. Room is left for real interaction, for real discourse, in "real time" between the spectator and the thing observed. A work like Zorn's Lemma is incomplete without the viewer's participation. If the film is indeed a model for the general category of film-viewing, that fact has broad implications. What does it mean for an event to be "complete"? Does not each interaction of each viewer with each event (or object) produce a unique situation? Is not experience (and therefore knowledge) of every sort finally subjective, and personal, and beyond a certain point, incommunicable?[iv]

Rather than an inventor or "maker" he is a kind of "engineer," a director of forces which already exist in his world. Remember Daston and Galison. This is also a twist on Bourdieu’s mocking of the “singularity of experience” in art, since it “elaborates no laws”[v], and therefore is merely a function of banal entertainment. And now we have an argument that rules and laws promote a singularity of experience because there is no author. Bourdieu’s bureaucratic dehumanization has become a celebration of atomization. 

Allen S. Weiss, writing in October in 1985 is both more aware of the conflicts and more committed to radical esotericism, so even more committed to erudite denial. I’ll begin where he does. 

Copulation and mirrors are abominable. For 
one of those gnostics, the visible universe was 
an illusion or (more Precisely) a sophism. 
Mirrors and fatherhood are abominable 
because they multiply and disseminate that 
universe. 
—Jorge Luis Borges 

I do not believe there is such a thing as a 
perfect appearance. Even an epiphany is not 
in the theological sense a perfect appearance. 
Appearance itself is imperfect, 
— Hollis Frampton 

To the abominations of copulation and mirrors one might add cinema. In a world where error, as Nietzsche teaches us, is the very precondition of thought, truth and beauty are always proximate to sophism and illusion, Cinema disposes of yet another set of codes which are available for ideological misappropriation. This disposition by means of seriality, exemplification, listing, and cataloguing operates within the limits of two antithetical functions. Either such listing is a subversive activity, destroying all taxonomic schemes, or lists serve as formal Imperatives, constituting structures and systems. In the former case, a hermeneutic schema entails a de-centering and de-totalizing logic of events, operating according to the aleatory conditions of' existence. In the latter, a hermeneutics entails a centering and totalizing logic of structures and formal systems, constituting a determinate axiomatics.

Hollis Frampton's film Zorn’s Lemmais structured according to a twofold axiomatic system. The first axiom is indicated by the film's title, which refers to mathematical set theory: "Zorn's lemma. The maximal principle: If T is partially ordered and each linearly ordered subset has an upper bound in T, then T contains at least one maximal element." The second axiom derives from the mystical philosophy expounded by Robert Grosseteste in On Light, or the Ingression of Forms, which offers a combination of neo-Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy to express a theology, ontology, and cosmology of light. A section of this text is read in the third part of the film. 

These two axioms are already figured within the text recited in the first part of the film, the eighteenth-century Massachusetts elementary school lesson book called The Bay State Primer. The production of the sets and subsets in the  second part of the film is determined by a system of substitutions and progressions ordered by the (abridged) twenty-four-letter alphabet of the English language used in the primer. The mathematical axiom is operative in the alphabetical order of the text; the theological axiom is operative in the biblical content of the text. Thus the twofold axiomatic system is articulated according to a double coding: structural and ontological. [vi]

Here he adds a footnote

Thus Annette Michelson is correct to claim that in this film Frampton "translated the contradistinctions between lyric and analytic modes" (Annette Michelson, "About Snow," October, no, 8 [Spring 19791, p, 116), Here, the lyrical is an expression of the mystical praise of God, a  poetic mode of knowledge; the analytic is an expression of the mathematization of sign systems, a "scientific" mode of knowledge. Both trades are expressed by Grosseteste's onto-theoÎogy,

All of this once again is reactionary, as intellectualism and as art. Frampton exhibits a high-brow variant of Mapplethorpe’s self-destruction,  like Borges through asceticism rather than orgasm, but still it’s Arendt’s Vita Contemplativa via nihilism and scholastic philosophy, old and new, because the alternative, mere subjectivity, can never be a truthFrampton speaks about mathematics and irony, but the ending of Zorn’s Lemma is sadness. “He aspired to recognition as a ‘stoic comedian’”[vii] The phrase comes from Hugh Kenner, writing about Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett.  And this from Kenner’s 1962 article, “Art in a Closed Field” 

Let me put this as flatly as possible: the dominant intellectual analogy of the present age is drawn not from biology, not from psychology (though these are sciences we are knowing about), but from general number theory. [viii]

Frampton’s model was Flaubert, but again it was the Flaubert’s statements, the Flaubert of Bourdieu and pretensions to science, not the novels themselves. Frampton’s art aspires to the art of “Modernism” the art of positivism, an art we only look at now, if we do, because the artist failed in his goals.

The weakness in Frampton’s films is the gap between the earnestness of his desire to make an art without subtext, and the subtext’s insistent presence. The amateurish ‘plainness’ of  the technique, from camera to voiceovers, combined with the rigor of the ideas, mean that the sadness is left to leak in around the edges. And it’s almost shocking to me how much the sadness, the sense of loss, is ignored by critics. His hyper-rationality combined with his intellectualism –two distinct things–­ combine to undermine whatever instincts he had that might have allowed his subtexts have free rein, the advantage artists have by following their craft more than intellect so that their contradictions are allowed to flower. Being an ironic control freak doesn’t make you any less a control freak.  As Callie Angell said to me about Warhol, “People say Andy said he was a machine, but he didn’t. He said he wanted to be a machine, and that’s not the same thing at all.”  Warhol had a brilliant eye. His technique was mechanical, but the humanity of the people in his films pours out almost uncontrollably.  Frampton’s eye was mechanical. He made a scholastic art of citation, committed as idea, not as art. The art is there, but he undermines it, undermining rather than using own subjectivity, needing to leave himself an out, as a conceptualist and critic. He was a brilliant man, with an IQ tested as a child at 187, and his fits the model of early 20thcentury allusive representation, of Eliot et al. to a T. He did everything to fit the bill, and not strategically. After writing to Ezra Pound he ended up moving to DC and visiting him every day for two years until they had a falling out, apparently over the color of Aphrodite’s hair. This could read as the debate of mad poets out of  The Horse’s Mouth, but it seems closer to debates among players of Dungeons and Dragons over Cthulhu.

Frampton wasn’t a nihilist like Borges, or a sadist; at heart he was earnest, behind a wall of erudition. His last completed work was his most emotionally direct. You get the sense that he was growing out of isolation. This he shares with Wittgenstein and Eliot, and also Robert Wilson as I’ll make clear later.

The text below is from Gloria! his last completed film, words scrolling up a  computer screen as he typed.


These propositions are offered numerically, in the order in which they presented themselves to me; and also alphabetically, according to the present state of my belief.

1. That we belonged to the same kinship group, sharing a tie of blood. [A]
2. That others belonged to the same kinship group, and partook of that tie. [Y]
3. That she kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time. Each such pig wore a green baize tinker's cap. [A]
4. That she convinced me, gradually, that the first person singular pronoun was, after all, grammatically feasible. [E]
5. That she was obese. [C]
6. That she taught me to read. [A]
7. That she read to me, when I was three years old, and for purposes of her own, William Shakespeare's “The Tempest”. She admonished me for liking Caliban best. [B]
8. That she gave me her teeth, when she had them pulled, to play with. [A]
9. That she was nine times brought to bed with child, and for the last time in her fifty-fifth year, bearing on that occasion stillborn twin sons. No male child was born alive, but four daughters survive. [B]
10. That my mother, her eldest daughter, was born in her sixteenth year. [D]
11. That she was married on Christmas Day, 1909, a few weeks after her thirteenth birthday. [A]
12. That her connoisseurship of the erotic in the vegetable world was unerring. [A]
13. That she was a native of Tyler County, West Virginia, who never knew the exact year of her own birth till she was past sixty. [A]
14. That I deliberately perpetuate her speech, but have only fragmentary recollection of her pronunciation. [H]
15. That she remembered, to the last, a tune played at her wedding party by two young Irish coalminers who had brought guitar and pipes. She said it sounded like quacking ducks; she thought it was called “Lady Bonaparte”. [A]
16. That her last request was for a bushel basket full of empty quart measures. [C]

This work, in its entirety, is given in loving memory of Fanny Elizabeth Catlett Cross, my maternal grandmother, who was born on November 6, 1896, and who died on November 24, 1973.  

It’s a deeply sad film, the sentences scrolling up like the words of a melancholy computer: the memories of HAL.  The text is “bracketed by quotations” as Sitney describes them –with unnecessary detail– of  “two films from the Paper Print Collection of the Library of Congress”, though unnamed by Frampton, Murphy's Wake, and A Wake in Hell's Kitchen,both from 1903, short silent comedies about dead men who aren’t so dead after all and have fun at their own funerals, at the expense of the mourners. Frampton’s film is silent until the end of the 16 propositions, after which over the empty green screen we hear “an auditory quotation of  ‘Lady Bonaparte,' an Irish gig [sic]”. In fact  we hear the entire song, played by Finbar Furey. Then the second silent film cuts in, ending with the deceased, having scared off the last of his friends, left to dance and drink from an abandoned bottle of whisky.  The film cuts to black over which the typing begins again, the last sentence not rising off the screen like the  previous texts but to the top and fading to black. 

4. That she convinced me, gradually, that the first person singular pronoun was, after all, grammatically feasible. [E]

She helped him say “I”. She helped him to learn to accept a self, a subjectivity, what it means to be human.  

It’s a beautiful film, but a small one. To say that it’s more is to buy into a lie of a positivist art, an art of statements, and the lies that Frampton told himself and that his work undermines, but not strongly enough. 

    

[i]  J. Hoberman, “Hollis Frampton at Anthology: Here, There, Everywhere”. The Village Voice, March 25th2009 
 https://www.villagevoice.com/2009/03/25/hollis-frampton-at-anthology-here-there-everywhere/
[ii]Hollis Frampton, On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton,ed. Bruce Jenkins, MIT Press 2009 p. 194
[iii]  P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film:
The American Avant-Garde 1943–2000,Oxford University Press, 1974 (2002) p 369
[iv]Wanda Bershen, "Zorns Lemma," ARTFORUM, September, 1971, pp. 41-45. 
[v]Bourdieu, Rules for Art, p. xv
[vi] Allen S. Weiss, “Frampton's Lemma, Zorn's Dilemma”, October, Vol. 32, Hollis Frampton (Spring, 1985), pp. 118-128 
[vii]P. Adams Sitney, Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson, Oxford University Press 2008. p.102
[viii]  Hugh Kenner, “Art in a Closed Field”, The Virginia Quarterly Review,Vol. 38, No. 4 (Autumn 1962), pp. 597-613