Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, June 12, 2007



Jordan Davis, in comments to this post by Jonathan Mayhew, proposes the idea that in the arts, “Canonical history rewards the best differentiators, not necessarily the most reliable makers.”

Several years ago, I came across two versions of the Biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes, one by Caravaggio and one by Artemisia Gentileschi. Caravaggio gets into more of the art history books because he invented the style, and Artemisia is his follower. But her version of this scene blows his away. His Judith is a dainty thing, with an expression of “eww” as she daintly separates Holofernes’ head from his neck as if she were sitting at table eating a chicken breast. Artemisia’s Judith puts her muscle and her weight into the brute physical act of butchery.

In poetry, Pound is the master because he invented a strong modernist style, and yet I prefer many of his followers as poets to him -- H.D., Williams, Olson, Zukofsky. In music, John Cage opened up worlds of sound and ways of listening, and yet much of his music displeases me to listen to. I heard him read in college, though, and his reading was beautiful music.


"You mean that sound that sounds like the cutting edge of life? That sounds like polar bears crossing Arctic ice pans? That sounds like a herd of musk ox in full flight? That sounds like male walruses diving to the bottom of the sea? That sounds like fumaroles smoking on the slopes of Mt. Katmai? That sounds like the wild turkey walking through the deep, soft forest? That sounds like beavers chewing trees in an Appalachian marsh? That sounds like an oyster fungus growing on an aspen trunk? That sounds like a mule deer wandering a montane of the Sierra Nevada? That sounds like prairie dogs kissing? That sounds like witch grass tumbling or a river meandering? That sounds like manatees munching seaweed at Cape Sable? That sounds like coatimundis moving in packs across the face of Arkansas? That sounds like--"

Donald Barthelme’s short story “The King of Jazz” might have laid to rest forever impressionistic music writing -- except that it shouldn’t have. There are all sorts of ways to experience music, and the impressionistic, imaginative response that Barthelme parodies with such virtuosity honors the power of music to activate layers of the brain that had lain dormant until the music arrived. Still, Barthelme’s parody is delightful. (My friend Jay showed this story to me more than 20 years ago.)

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