See also "The Complete Angler" by Donavan Hall (@theangler)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New York local

While I read that many were underwhelmed by Juno, the blizzard of 2015, its leavings occupied my attention for most of yesterday.  Our house must be the point where all the snow in the neighborhood collects.

Having shoveled out yesterday, this morning, I woke early and went down to the brewery, crunching through the foot-thick layer of white till my feet were numb with cold.  Mike and Other Mike were already hard at work on our new New York Saison, a beer brewed from locally grown and sourced ingredients.  Everything in this beer is 100% New York.

While the Mikes worked on that, I busied myself with kegging Sixty-Seven, a Saison Brune, which Secret Engine will be releasing in craft beer establishments across Brooklyn and Manhattan.  The beer is named after the address where Mike Mare developed the recipe.

Coming up this weekend is our annual (fifth? sixth?) Long Island Nano Cask Fest.  We will start pouring at 1 pm.  “Nano” here refers to nanobrewery.  We are trying to limit participation in this festival to true Long Island nanobreweries and there’s quite a few now.  Given the number of breweries we are able to be more selective this year and hopefully in years to come there will be some kind of friendly, but heated competition to get a beer selected for inclusion in this small festival.

Our focus has always been on the small and the local.  Which is why we are trying to brew with mostly New York grown and sourced ingredients.  Still, the economic incentive is small since locally grown grain and hops are way more expensive than the industrially produced variety.  You could say that we are subsidizing these all-local beers (taking a loss), but our collective brewing project isn’t (and never has been) a capitalist venture.  People and the joy of living are more important than any amount of money.

We hope you are able to join us this Saturday for a wonderful little festival.  Details are on our web site.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Löwy on Bensaïd

A few months ago I started reading Daniel Bensaïd’s memoir, An Impatient Life.  Rasan recommended the book and teased me by pointing out that Bensaïd makes reference to Éric Rohmer, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguarite Duras, Marcel Proust (of course), and many other figures.

Excited to be adding to my knowledge of the modern French Left, I started reading An Impatient Life but I really struggled to find some kind of handhold.  This is not a beginner text for someone curious about radical politics in twentieth century France.  Instead, it’s an account for those who already know the history well, but desire to take stock, or reassess the path of the journey.  Rasan kept telling me to stick with it and I would soon get to parts of the book that I could sink my teeth into.

I changed my approach to the book.  I read it like a novel.  That was good for another couple of chapters.  Rasan, who was by now hundreds of pages ahead of me, told me about Bensaïd’s view of Walter Benjamin and that led us both to Michael Löwy’s Fire Alarm, a talmudic-style commentary on Walter Benjamin’s Theses “On the Concept of History”.  Reading and discussing Fire Alarm has preoccupied Rasan and me for the last couple of weeks.

Last night, I was looking for a copy of Bensaïd’s Walter Benjamin, sentinelle messianique: À la gauche du possible.  I don’t think it’s been translated into English, so I’ve ordered the French original (which shipped today).  During my search, I turned up a few interesting articles on Bensaïd including the obituary that Michael Löwy wrote for Against the Current.  The short article is worth reading and provides an essential overview of Bensaïd’s intellectual career.  Near the conclusion Löwy writes:
Among all of Bensaïd’s contributions to the renewal of Marxism, the most important, in my eyes, is his radical break with the positivist, determinist and fatalist ideology of inevitable Progress that so heavily weighed on “orthodox” Marxism, particularly in France. His re-reading of Marx, with the help of the 19th-century revolutionary Auguste Blanqui and 20th-century philosopher Walter Benjamin, led him to understand history as a series of crossroads and bifurcations; a field of possibilities whose issue is unpredictable. Class struggle is central in the historical process, but its result is uncertain, and implies a part of contingency.

Of course, this contingency is a central message in Löwy’s Fire Alarm and his reading of Benjamin’s Theses.  The future utopia, the Kingdom of God, is not guaranteed or inevitable.  Marxists and people of faith (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) should not sit around and wait for the intervention of History or God to bring about the Kingdom.  If there is to be a Second Coming, then it’s up to us to make it happen.
The revolutionary is therefore a human being who doubts, an individual who puts an absolute energy at the service of relative certainties — in other terms, someone who tries, obstinately, to practice that imperative requirement called for by Walter Benjamin in his last writing, the Theses “On the concept of history” (1940): to brush history against the grain.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Angel of History

Walter Benjamin’s vision of the Angel of History was inspired by a painting by Paul Klee, “Angelus Novus.”

A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

This quotation is from Thesis IX in Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History” (the full text is available on various web sites).

While researching Cy Twombly's Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) I chanced across a quotation from Paul Klee which I used as the title for my first “scribble drawing”: Writing and drawing are fundamentally the same.

Through Twombly, I made the connection between my writing / drawing act, Klee’s angel, and Benjamin’s vision of history.

For my first drawing I made use of only charcoal black.  Because Klee’s angel painting is color, I decided to experiment with a few of my colored pencils.  Yellow did not produce the desired effect.  At the end of the drawing process I still felt like I needed some charcoal black to lend a degree of seriousness to the painting that a fully colored rendering seemed to lack.

Obviously, Klee wasn’t thinking about Benjamin’s vision of the Angel of History, so my drawing expresses an expanded context and possibly an explicit rendering of the storm of progress in the form of the charcoal black that seems to hover above each of the angel’s wings.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Writing & drawing

On Saturday, I went by the Morgan Library to see Cy Twombly’s Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), together with twelve of his “drawings” which are related to the Treatise.

Cy Twombly’s work has stuck (like gum on the bottom of my shoe, I keep noticing it) with me ever since I saw The Italians at MoMA back in 2001.  For more than ten years (off and on) I’ve written about Twombly’s drawings and paintings — not in the way that an art critic would write about art, but the way a man with a piece of food stuck between his teeth tries to dislodge the speck of food with his tongue (but it won’t dislodge).

I spent about 45 minutes at the Morgan Library with Twombly’s Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) and took down several pages of notes which I plan on expanding in the coming days for a writing project I started (restarted?) last month.

Today, I was reading Richard Leeman’s book on Cy Twombly and found a quote by Paul Klee:

Writing and drawing are fundamentally the same.

I heard that said about handwriting (something I do regularly, into bound notebooks, onto lined paper with an ink pen), but Paul Klee’s statement could be understood more broadly.  I’m a writer; therefore, I am a drawer.  I decided to test the hypothesis.

In the space about fifteen minutes I made three drawings inspired by Twombly’s scribble phase and by Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus.

Patrick asked me what I was doing:  Pop, why are you scribbling into a notebook with your eyes closed?

Good question.

As I justified my experiment, the thought came to me that this is actually an interesting project: to draw in this way and to record my thoughts along the way.  I took a photograph of the first drawing.

I’d read that in the 1950s when Twombly was in the Army, he would draw at night, in the dark, so that he couldn’t see what he was doing.  So the eye was useless to him.  The drawing was the function of the hand.  To make this drawing, I closed my eyes and used my right hand.  I opened my eyes a few times just to check my progress.  Then stopped when I thought the drawing was done.

The whole process took just under a minute.  I realized immediately that I could fill an entire notebook with such scribbling in an afternoon.  Good or bad?  (Art in the age of mechanical reproduction?)  Will it be necessary to impose limits on my production of such drawings?

Patrick had a good question.  Pop, why is that when you draw in your notebook it looks like a five year old did it, but they hang Cy Twombly’s scribble-drawings in a museum?

Good question.

This is just the beginning of that inquiry.