Friday, October 26, 2007

Rough for Television: Poetry and Comedy 3

It’s almost like Beckett: a comedian is suddenly humbled by an apocalyptic landscape, so that he can only get one punch line out, perhaps his best and only funny one ever: “That mattress has seen better springs.” Uncle Floyd, a native Patersonian, makes TV with “nothing,” and nothing comes of it. I watched his “best of” DVD over the weekend, a compilation of the kind of thing you might happen upon once-upon-a-time on a local New Jersey UHF station or, later, public access. His show is in the style of the “playhouse abject,” perfected by Pee Wee Herman, less well calibrated by the likes of Paper Rad. His comedy was perhaps ahead of his time, and thus we can grant him some leeway (the reverse of his piano playing which, while masterful, is a bit dull because uninnovative and past its prime.) But is he accidentally, or intentionally, Beckettian? It’s hard to say. We have been for a while under the spell of the new lameness, so that it’s hard to discern true idiocy from genius, arrested development from avant-garde. In the end, it could be merely a question of taste. I enjoy some Adam Sandler films (and not just the high-brow foray of Punch Drunk Love), and think DaxFlame is genius, whereas I don’t care much for Napoleon Dynamite, I never liked Andy Kaufman, and I think the new high-art emerging under the sign of Garfield and magic unicorns is a depressing mix of anti-intellectualism, infantalism, and 80s nostalgia. Perhaps, in the end, this phylogenetic line is just not my style. If Floyd perhaps had more self-consciousness and control, he might very well have made it into MoMA, but he’d still be a tin man for art. You have to have heart too (which is the je ne sais quoi that Pee Wee, Sandler and Dax share).
Imagine, if you will, William Carlos Williams on the set of Uncle Floyd, as Uncle Floyd, beaming out a couple miles via UHF to a couple Paterson homes of an empty evening, “I’ve written you a poem . and the worst is, I’m about to read it to you . [stacks papers on make-shift desk in television studio. Makes wry moue to off-screen technician. Teenage drawings of Alexander Hamilton, unicorns, “man like a city,” Sam Patch, Garfield, Ezra Pound on the wall behind him.] You don’t have to like it. [suppresses laugh, amused with himself] But, hell take it, you damn well better listen to it. [hollow laughter of off-screen claque]”

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Thing Itself!

In July, I took birdwatchers and filmmakers Michael Gitlin and Jackie Goss to Garret Mountain and Rifle Camp Park to look and listen for some fine feathered friends and talk about the references Williams makes to them. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day and too hot to see any wildlife, and Rifle Camp Park’s nature center—an unexpected find—was closed. If you go early enough the mountain teems with bounding doe and wild turkeys, in addition to birds of many stripe.
We discussed, again, the “realite!” section of Book V (p. 207), and I asked them whether bird mnemonics might help one understand what Williams was getting at, if he got at it at all—since as always, he seems to be to showing us the gap between the “getting at” and the “it.” There’s a kind of archaism to bird mnemonics, akin to the language of flowers, that responds to a worldview in which a deep appreciation of nature is more a function of the literary than the scientific. (I kind of like the illusion of objectivity that this form of bird sound analysis gives!) But there is still the dark wall behind the mirror of nature, making Williams wonder whether our apperception of it, literary or otherwise, is fundamentally flawed. Is “the art/ with which these flowers have been/put down . . . to be trusted” (213)? Need the brain “be grafted/ on a better root” (214)?

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