Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Geology of Aura

“Dig in—and you have/ a nothing.” Warhol and Williams are strange bed(rock) fellows when talking about geology. Geographically Warhol’s Pennsylvania has a similar psychic distance from New York City as Williams’ New Jersey, with the artists differing on exactly what to do with their connection to these originary environs. Warhol’s relation to the past and history in general is limited to brief anecdotes about his Polish mother and his sick bed, or wonderment towards things old but ahead of their time (Hitler’s prescient use of lighting) geared as he was towards the now, and the glamorous blank of futurity (or the blank futurity of glamor). However, reading The Philosophy of Andy Warhol for the third time now, I’m struck by the inconsistency of a certain passage with regards to the rest of the book’s style, and it’s a passage that reminds me of both the structure and the poetic tenor of Williams’ geological cross section passage.
‘I get very excited when I read advertisements for perfume in the fashion magazines that were published in the 30s and the 40s. I try to imagine from their names what they smelled like and I go crazy because I want to smell them all so much:

Guerlain's: "Sous le Vent"
Lucien Le Long's: "Jabot," "Gardénia," "Mon Image," "Opening Night"
Prince Matchabelli's: "Princess of Wales," in memory of Alexandra
Ciro's: "Surrender," "Réflexions"
Lenthéric's: "A Bientôt," "Shanghai," "Gardénia de Tahiti"
Worth's: "Imprudence"
Marcel Rochas’: "Avenue Matignon," "Air Jeune"
D'Orsay's: "Trophée," "Le Dandy," "Toujours Fidèle," "Belle de Jour"
Coty's: "A Suma," "La Fougeraie au Crépuscule" (Fernery at Twilight)
Corday's: "Tzigane," "Possession," "Orchidée Bleue," "Voyage à Paris"
Chanel's: brisk "Cuir de Russie" (Russian Leather); romantic "Glamour"; melting "Jasmine"; tender "Gardénia"
Molinelle's: "Venez Voir"
Houbigant's: "Countryclub," "Demi-Jour" (Twilight)
Bonwit Teller's: "721"
Helena Rubinstein's: "Town," "Country"
Weil's: Eau de Cologne "Carbonique"
Kathleen Mary Quinlan's "Rhythm"
Lengyel's (pronounced "len-jel"): "Impériale Russe"
Chevalier Garde's: "H.R.R.," "Fleur de Perse," “Roi de Rome”
Saravel's: "White Christmas"’
This craziness of imagination thwarted is precisely the blank awe one has when faced with the simple list of Williams’ geographical layers. Earlier on in the book, Warhol—one of the “pure products of America” gone crazy—talks about how people in his circle treat him, versus strangers who are enchanted by his “aura:” “‘Aura’ must be until you open your mouth.”(77) Smell, then, is this kind of “nothing” message like aura: it telegraphs out; communicates a wordless fascination . . . identity without knowledge, mixed in with the “auratic” value of another (Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein . . . merging with the ecosphere of aristocratic old ladies.*) Warhol’s own mix of “make it new,” seems to break down when faced with the unknowability of perfume combinations past, under distant labels, unretrievable essences . . . a nostalgia for “essence” in the service of the evacuation of essence. Warhol’s “geology” however does not remain to take a core sample; only old fashion magazines do, which he probably wants to get rid of anyway. So, after this list, he engages in a catalog—again uncharacteristic, and almost Whitmanesque—of the smells he does encounter in his immediate environment:
“When I'm walking around New York I'm always aware of the smells around me: the rubber mats in office buildings; upholstered seats in movie theaters; pizza; Orange Julius; espresso-garlic-oregano; burgers; dry cotton tee-shirts; neighborhood grocery stores; chic grocery stores; the hot dogs and sauerkraut carts; hardware store smell; stationery store smell; souvlaki; the leather and rugs at Dunhill; Mark Cross, Gucci; the Moroccan-tanned leather on the streetracks; new magazines, back-issue magazines; typewriter stores; Chinese import stores (the mildew from the freighter); India import stores; Japanese import stores; record stores; health food stores; soda-foundation drugstores; cut-rate drugstores; barber shops; beauty parlors; delicatessens; lumber yards; the wood chairs and tables in the N.Y. Public Library; the donuts, pretzels, gum and grape soda in the subways; kitchen appliance departments; photo labs; shoe stores; bicycle stores; the paper and printing inks in Scribner's, Brentano's, Doubleday's, Rizzoli, Marboror, Bookmasters, Barnes and Noble; shoe-shine stands; grease-batter; hair pomade; the good cheap candy smell in the front of Woolworth's and the dry-goods smell in the back; the horses by the Plaza Hotel; bus and truck exhaust; architects' blueprints; cumin, fenugreek, soy sauce, cinnamon; fried platanos; the train tracks in Grand Central Station; the banana smell of dry cleaners; exhausts from apartment house laundry rooms; East Side bars (creams); West Side bars (sweat); newspaper stands; record stores; fruit stands in all the different seasons—strawberry, watermelon, plum, pleach, kiwi, cherry, Concord grape, tangerine, murcot, pineapple, apple--and I love the way the smell of each fruit gets into the rough wood of the crates and into the tissue-paper wrappings." (152-53)
* or drag queens, who, like Jack Smith, he considers living archives, see p.54.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Punching In

It's kind of weird, a video that originated in a blog ending up at a big-screen festival, but there you go: a video from New Jersey as an Impossible Object will be in Berlin's Zebra Poetry Film Festival at the end of this week. I love how Google translates my description: "A punch card combines the infinite world of work, nature and the machine. The punch card that interfaces the vast worlds of labor, nature and machine. The punch card that interfaces the vast worlds of labor, nature and machine."