Daily Archives: September 20, 2008

NEA Funds Construction of $1.3 Billion Poem

WASHINGTON—The National Endowment for the Arts
announced Monday that it has begun construction on a $1.3 billion, 14-line lyric
poem—its largest investment in the nation’s aesthetic- industrial complex since
the $850 million interpretive-dance budget of 1985.

“America’s metaphors have become strained beyond recognition, our nation’s
verses are severely overwrought, and if one merely examines the internal logic
of some of these archaic poems, they are in danger of completely falling apart,”
said the project’s head stanza foreman Dana Gioia. “We need to make sure
America’s poems remain the biggest, best-designed, best-funded poems in the

Gioia confirmed that the public-works composition will be assembled
letter-by-letter atop a solid base of the relationship between man and nature.
The poem’s structure, laid out extensively on lined-paper blueprints, involves a
traditional three- quatrain-and-a-couplet framework, which will be tethered to
an iambic meter for increased stability and symmetry. If the planners can secure
an additional $6.2 million in funding, they may affix a long dash to the end of
line three, though Gioia said that is a purely optimistic projection at this

The poem is expected not only to revitalize the community, Gioia said, but
also create jobs for the nation’s hundreds of out-of-work poets. According to
the proposed budget, the poem’s 224 authors have allocated $4 million for the
final rhyming couplet, $52 million to insert hyphens into the word “tomorrow” so
it reads “to-morrow,” $7.45 for a used copy of John Keats’ Selected Poems
for ideas and inspiration, and $450 million for a simile likening human fate to
the wind.

Some experts, however, say the poem is already at risk of going over budget,
citing the soaring $5,000-per-square-inch cost of vellum, and an ambitious but
perhaps ill-conceived $135 million undertaking to make the word “owl” rhyme with

“We’ve already put 200 hours of manpower into the semicolon at the end of the
first stanza,” said Charles Simic, poet laureate of the United States and head
author of the still- untitled piece. “And I’ve got my best guys working around
the clock to convert all the ‘overs’ in the piece into one-syllable ‘o’ers.’ I
got [Nobel Prize winner Seamus] Heaney and [Margaret] Atwood stripping all the
V’s and tacking apostrophes in their place. It’s grunt work, but somebody’s got
to do it if this poem’s going to get done.”

Gioia denied allegations that the poem is being mismanaged, claiming that he
has implemented several measures to keep the project on schedule, including
giving no more than two words to each poet, limiting alliteration and assonance
to a maximum of three words per line, cutting out all extraneous allusions to
Eliot and Yeats, and restricting any unwieldy metaphors hinting at the vast
alienation of modernity.

Although the poem is still in the early stages of construction, it has
already come under fire for serious structural issues, including a shaky
foundation and a half-dozen partial synecdoches.

“This poem is an eyesore,” said literary critic Stanley Fish. “The whole
right side of the verse is barely being held up by a load-bearing enjambment,
and it seems as if they just sloppily patched up all the holes in the piece with
plagiarized Rod McKuen passages.”

In addition, the tenuous line that was being drawn between the narrator’s
mortality and winter unexpectedly collapsed on itself Monday. Two poets were
killed in the incident.

“Sure, some of the imagery might be beautiful, but is this poem actually
going to be useful?” Fish said. “Or are people just going to look at it and go,
‘Huh. Interesting.’ Why not put this money toward something everybody can enjoy,
like a TV pilot or a New Yorker cartoon caption?”

“The government needs to stop throwing billions of dollars at the arts,” he

Fish cautioned that previous attempts to funnel money into poetry had been
cut short before they were fully completed, resulting in the large number of
unfinished, million-dollar poems that are still lying unread across the country
to this day.

via The


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The Alchemical Dream

In The Alchemical
a film produced by Sacred Mysteries and directed by Sheldon Rochlin, visionary
author and counterculture luminary Terence McKenna relates some of the curious
history of European alchemy, and the attempted creation of a religious utopia
based on alchemical principles. Dressed as the famed Hermetic magician John Dee,
McKenna strolls wistfully through the crumbling ruins and sweeping castle vistas
of Eastern Europe discussing the lost secrets of alchemy. He gives us a tour of
the last remaining alchemical laboratory in Heidelberg, and tells a fascinating
story of political intrigue and bohemian experimentation in the 16th century.

The alchemists were after what McKenna describes as a “magical theory of
nature.” They used precise and calculated methods that would pave the way for
the future intellectual development of some important sciences such as
chemistry, biology, phenomenology, and psychology. Their intention was to
transform the human spirit and the physical body itself into something divine
and wholly other, something resembling the odd and spectacular alchemical art of
the time. They experimented with myriad combinations of special chemicals,
magical formulas, and complex distillation processes designed to produce the
fabled “philosopher’s stone”: a metaphorical goal which can be read in many
ways. In essence, the alchemists were trying to bring heaven down to earth by
merging spiritual mysticism with the physiological exploration of alchemical

According to McKenna, the group of European alchemists who centered around
John Dee and the British court of Queen Elizabeth I in the late 1500’s believed
that the spiritual philosophy of alchemy was so profound and full of potential
that it should be embraced as the popular religious paradigm of the day. The
Christian preacher Martin Luther had started a Protestant reformation in 1517
with the 95 Theses and now, a century later, Dee felt that the world was ready
for an alchemical reformation. With this idea of a religious reformation in
mind, Dee and a group of court alchemists traveled to the palace of King
Frederick V of Bohemia in 1618 with the intention of establishing a new
alchemical kingdom.

This alchemical dream lasted for about a year before the Austrian dynasty of
the Hapsburg family got wind of the reformation plan and disapproved of
Frederick’s kingship, quickly dispatching an army to lay siege to the kingdom of
Bohemia and Frederick’s court. After a brief period of fighting Frederick was
defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain on November 8th, 1620, and the
Bohemian hopes of establishing an alchemical religious state were destroyed.
While the bulk of alchemical knowledge was lost to Western civilization after
this time, the intellectual threads of this esoteric philosophy can still be
found in the modern world.

As McKenna points out, this attempted reformation was not entirely dissimilar
to what happened in the social climate of America in the 1960’s with the
re-introduction of sacred plants into Western culture and the social upheaval
that occurred simultaneously. McKenna describes the drug revival of the 60’s as
a sort of “failed alchemy” whose ideal was to transform the human spirit, but
wound up as a splintered and marginalized movement, similar to alchemy. However,
although alchemy was lost to Western civilization for a few centuries, some of
the basic ideas can still be found scattered here and there in some esoteric
religious practices, mystical writings, transpersonal psychology and art history
books: themes of creativity, diversity, synchronicity, unions of opposites, and
personal psycho-spiritual exploration which were all an essential part of the
alchemical endeavor.

So while the dream of European alchemy may have apparently died in the 16th
century, the underlying motivation of the alchemists – a desire for innovative
and genuine spiritual experience – is a fundamental human characteristic that
can be traced through many different cultures and time periods. As an example of
this, at the end of The Alchemical Dream, McKenna makes an interesting
historical footnote about a young solider named Rene Descartes who was part of
the invading Hapsburg army which defeated the Bohemian kingdom. Shortly after
this time, Descartes was visited in a dream by an angelic apparition who
instructed him with a piece of advice which would fundamentally alter our world.
The angel said to him, “The conquest of nature is to be achieved through
measures and numbers.” Descartes would go on to become one of the most
influential scientists and philosophers of his day. For McKenna, this is a
perfect example of how the spirit of alchemy (the spirit of inner human
creativity) will continuously reappear at opportune moments and direct the
course of human events in mysterious ways which we can only begin to understand.

A trailer for the film is available on Google video. 

For more information or to request a screening, visit Sacred Mysteries.

via Reality
Sandwich | Tristan Gulliford

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Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov

Kunstmuseum Bonn Presents Today Bulgarian Artist Nedko Solakov – Emotions


BONN, GERMANY.- Kunstmuseum Bonn presents today Nedko Solakov – Emotions, on view through November 16, 2008. Nedko Solakov’s broadly spanned, sprawling and formally almost uncontainable work is thematically one great assault on any demand for the perfect, the definitive and the unequivocal. Beginning with his education in wall painting at the Art Academy in Sophia, the Bulgarian artist, born 1957, has developed an oeuvre just as humorous as it is playful, as biting as it is melancholic, and which fundamentally calls in question any kind of representative system. Since his exhibitions at Ujazdow Castle near Warsaw (2000), New York’s PS1 (2001), the Rooseum, Malmö and the Reina Sofia, Madrid (2003) and, at the very latest, since his participation in the Venice Biennale (2007) and documenta 12 (2007), Solakov has been at the cutting edge of current European art. Kunstmuseum Bonn is now devoting the first large, institutional survey of this important work in Germany, which includes artworks from the end of the 1980s to 2007, combined with pieces that the artist has created specifically for this exhibit.

In hardly any other work does the artist’s fundamental skepticism towards our longing for clarity and lucidity become so explicit as in A Life (Black & White), conceived in 1998, in which a painter paints the walls of a gallery white, while a second painter covers the white paint black, whose effort is in turn painted over by the first painter in white, for the entire duration of the exhibition.

Across the entire formulation of his work, it has been Solakov’s aspiration to compile an encyclopedia of the absurd, the arcane, a history of deviations, differences, embarrassments and broken utopias. The breakdown of the communist system at the end of the 1980s was a defining experience and, at the same time, the curtain-raiser for his search for a new, personal language (Encyclopaedia Utopia, 1989/90) with which the complexity and fragility of reality could be adequately expressed. Top Secret (1989/90), the publication of an index box, filled with a series of cards detailing the artist’s youthful collaboration with the Bulgarian secret police, which he stopped in 1983, at one fell swoop makes absolutely clear the artist’s method that is both provocative and rejects any kind of safety net. In Bulgaria, nineteen years after the changeover, the official files remain closed, and there are no publicly known documents on the artist’s collaboration.

His drawings, texts, videos, photographs, performances, installations, sculptures and murals scratch at the seemingly smooth surface of collective truths, call the givens of the art system and art market into question (A (not so) White Cube, 2001, Leftovers, 2005), reflect on failure as a metaphor of human existence with the help of his own publicly admitted anxieties (Fear, 2002/3), and discover the paradox in the course of political history as the dominant structure in Discussion (Property), 2007). Solakov’s ability to touch on all these different thematic fields in the form of stories that hold a precise balance between poetic-rhapsodic pleasure in the narration and constant ironic ruptures makes this work not only thoroughly unmistakable, but to the greatest degree also entertaining and humorous.

Re-blog via ArtDaily