Monday, February 11, 2008

Williams' Hangover

In his biography of Williams, Paul Mariani describes a trip Williams and Floss took to Paris, and a humbling evening out with the Parisian intelligentsia. The morning after, Williams must have felt like Pa Kettle and Andy Capp combined, and was perhaps confirmed in his commitment to the local environs of le Jersey. But that’s nothing that a little flaneurie and warm water won’t cure:
The next morning, suffering from a bad wine hangover, Williams downed six glasses of warm water and went out for a long walk. When he came to the Place François Ier, he was suddenly taken by the French austerity of design he saw in that medieval edifice, "gray stone cleanly cut and put together in complementary masses," unlike anything he'd seen before. That quiet moment of insight into that other France restored his sense of balance and he felt chastened. There was, after all, still much good in France.
It took me a while to map the Place François Ier, because the way it’s typeset in Mariani’s book, one would imagine Ier to be a word unto itself. But it was not until I realized it was 1er (i.e. François Premier) that I was able to zero in. After my own little hangover from two mini-bottles of cognac and no sleep after the flight over, and not before walking through Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, the salles of the Louvre and the grounds of the Tuileries—all lively and radiant today—did I make it to this dismal little “place.” It was the only corner of Paris not sunny on this February day, and it seemed nothing more than the gallic version of a gated community. I was struck by the same thoughts gnostics must have had when then reflected upon the idiocy of the demiurge. Is the designer of Paterson just a complete imbecile, bent on his own contrarianism and unable to have a fine time exchanging ears with the surrealists? Looking back on the passage in Mariani again, I think I am still confused because while what is being described is one edifice, the reference is to the whole of Place François 1er. Nevertheless, while I was there, further attention revealed that perhaps the Place Francois 1er was once stunning and austere, but that it has been uglified over the years by more recent additions distracting from the symmetries and beauty of the buildings as they radiate from the center of the traffic circle. There may be, after all, still much good in Place François 1er.

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Anonymous Jonathan said...

"gray stone cleanly cut and put together in complementary masses..."

I wonder where this information comes from? It seems to be from a journal or similar, perhaps a letter.

I suppose the masses are the buildings facing each other across Place Francois 1er.

So it would be the whole conception that impressed. The grand scheme made out of simple, cleanly cut stones...

And perhaps also this radiation of roads giving the idea of being at the centre of a certain universe, and the implication that it might be possible to construct such a "centre" anywhere, given consistancy of material, an artist's eye and enough time.

6:39 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Joe Milutis said...

But isn't that layout the effect of Hausmannism (now that I think about it) and thus nothing to do with the medievals? Maybe Williams was just writing notes--that were never corrected/confirmed--and Mariani picked up on them as an allegory for modernism, rather than a accurate description of a real place.

9:24 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Joe Milutis said...

and maybe that's what you said anyway, although I rushed reading the last paragraph and didn't pick it up on first read.
This maybe has nothing to do with Francois Ier, or even Paris.

10:22 AM, February 15, 2008  

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