A Brief Anthology of ‘Quotations’ – An Homage to the Final Chapter of Susan Sontag’s On Photography
Susan Sontag closes her seminal book On Photography with a “brief anthology of quotations”—compiling remarks from various brilliant people on the topic. Sontag writes:
The final reason for the need to photograph everything lies in the very logic of consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up—and, therefore, to need to be replenished.
There’s always a new thing to look at, the same way there’s always a new way to say that. The following statements are a variation on Sontag’s original collection of quotes—misheard, translated, or reimagined for the year 2014 and for replenishment’s sake. This isn’t what they said, but it’s what they meant.
Beauty, you’re under arrest. I have a camera, and I’m not afraid to use it.
—Julia Margaret Cameron
I love looking at famous people. Because of the way they look. Because of the way photography makes them look famous.
I can only see beautiful things when I’m fucked up.
If you can take photographs with language, I’m taking one right now.
Werner Herzog Writes Poetry with Film, Writes James Franco
Here’s the thing about Werner Herzog: He’s both old and new school. His technique is largely self-taught because he never went to film school. Werner grew up in the mountains of Bavaria, Germany, in an area so rural that his first telephone conversation happened when he was 17. He saw a couple of short films as a child, projected on a wall. They meant little to him. He began by writing poems, but in his late teens he had a spiritual epiphany and realized that film would be his medium. Werner wanted to write his poetry with film, but he had no money to do so.
That lack of funds for filmmaking early in his career seemed to have left an impact on his process. Queen of the Desert—the film I just worked on with him and Nicole Kidman—was shot on a digital camera. But even though we could shoot as much as we wanted with little expense, Werner would stop after we got one or two good takes and say, in his distinct German accent: “When I was young and working as a stone mason, saving money for every scrap of celluloid I could, I would be happy with this, with one good take, because film was like gold.” After a week, he seemed to loosen up a little. Sometimes we would do four or five takes, luxuriating in the freedoms of digital technology.
Werner always claps the slate himself. This job is usually relegated to the second assistant camera operator, but Werner wants to be in the middle of everything. He wants filmmaking to be a material process—something closer to a moving sculpture than a performance caught through a lens. He wants the movie to reveal the human struggle, the human condition, human passions, and he wants his hands all over it, deep in its essential tissue.
What of the Ottava Rima in Byron’s ‘Don Juan’?
Lord Byron’s use of ottava rima—a form of poetry with an ABABABCC rhyming pattern—in his mock-epic poem Don Juan stems from his belief to deliver seriocomic material. The poem builds up content, alternating rhyming lines then cinches with a facetious end. Byron first used ottava rima in 1817 for Beppo: A Venetian Story—a good match for the extensive and quasi-exotic love story. So, it’s natural that he took up the same seriocomic tone of the ottava rima a year later, when he wanted to satirize Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey forms that he had just been using. Eventually this project turned into his long satiric poemDon Juan, a long and erotic adventure tale told in 17 sections. Regardless of how or why Byron decided on ottava rima for Don Juan, the form undoubtedly influenced the poem’s content through tone, pace, and lineation.
For a poem, Don Juan is a new approach to content, breadth, and action. In his essay, “Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel,” Bakhtin claimed that all forms of literature look forward to the novel and that in times when “the novel reigns supreme, almost all the remaining genres are to a greater or lesser extent novelized.” In drama, examples include Henrik Ibsen, Richard Hauptmann, the entirety of Naturalist drama, and epic poetry like Childe Harolde and Lord Byron’s Don Juan.”
Denmark’s Controversial Teenage Muslim Superstar Poet
Yahya Hassan is an 18-year-old Muslim Palestinian immigrant to Denmark who has become a social critic, celebrity writer, and general shit-stirrer—all thanks to a slim volume of poetry. Since the release of his self-titled debut collection in October, he’s been all over the Danish media, at least in part due to his subject matter. His poetry, written in all caps in Danish, is full of rage directed at his parents’ generation, a group of Muslims he accuses of hypocrisy and abandoning their children. He’s penned lines like:
YOU YOU’RE A MUSLIM? / YOU YOU DON’T KNOW/ IF YOU WANT HALAL OR HARAM / YOU YOU KNOW YOU WANT HARAM / BUT YOU YOU PRETEND YOU WANT HALAL / YOU YOU DON’T WANT PIG / MAY ALLAH REWARD YOU FOR YOUR FOOD HABITS.
Some of his poetry documents an abusive childhood; Yahya grew up in a poor neighborhood of Aarhus, and flirted with crime from an early age. He blames much of that on his mother and father. “As soon as our parents landed in Copenhagen airport it felt as if their role as parents was coming to an end,” Yahya told the Danish newspaper Politiken in the interview, published on October 5, that turned him into a teenage social commentator.
Charles Bukowski Wouldn’t Have Gotten Drunk at a Bukowski-Themed Bar
Charles Bukowski was a drunk. Not just a drunk, but the drunk. Nearly two decades after his death, he remains the patron saint of drunks. That being the case, naming a bar after him makes sense. It’s been done, many times, before: New York City, Glasgow, Boston and Amsterdam all possess watering hole homages to the alpha male author. Santa Monica’s week-old Barkowski can now be added to that list.
The deification of Bukowski, and other tortured, inebriated artists of his ilk, is a task best undertaken by those who have not experienced actual suffering. There is no better place to find said demographic than Santa Monica, California, a bourgeoisie beachside burg more well-known for its outdoor shopping mall than its self-destructive poet population. According to Barkowski’s website, its namesake’s “writing was influenced by the social, cultural and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.” Santa Monica is not Los Angeles. Los Angeles, or at least Bukowski’s Los Angeles, is where you go when you want to drink $3 draft beers surrounded by human detritus. Santa Monica, however, is where you go when you want to pay $9 for a poorly poured, half-filled glass of Chimay. Barkowski sells poorly poured, half-filled $9 glasses of Chimay.
Barkowski’s interior is essentially the same as that of its predecessor, the Air Conditioned Lounge; nothing has been done to alter its nondescriptly modern black and red color scheme and padded leather walls. Enormous glamour shots of Buk’ drinking and gazing into the distance, alongside framed printouts of trite quotes about women and incarceration, are the only things that differentiate the new bar from the old. In one photo, he’s shown cradling a Schlitz tall boy; in the interest of synergy, Schlitz tall boys are available at the bar. For $7. If Schlitzes were $7 in Bukowski’s day, he wouldn’t have been able to afford a drinking problem, and Barkowski would have a decidedly different theme (“Papa y Beer Hemingway’s,” perhaps?). When it came to preserving the authenticity of the Bukowski theme, $7 Schlitzes and the “A” health rating sign hanging above the bar were but two of a myriad inaccuracies.
Why Walt Whitman Was the Original Kanye West, According to James Franco
In this age of social media, self-promotion is the name of the game. We all have our little avatars, our little pictures and texts that we put out into the electronic world, that we hope get “liked.” Walt Whitman too was a self promoter, a performer, a purveyor of self.
“I exist as I am, that is enough,” says Whitman in the 1855 version of “Song of Myself,”
If no other in the world be aware I sit content
And if each and all be aware I sit content (“Song of Myself,” 46)
These enlightened sentiments are typical of Whitman in thisr first edition of Leaves of Grass, but these renunciations of investment in fame are not wholly true. Whitman’s actions show that he decidedly did care if readers were aware of him. After the initial publication of Leaves of Grass, a run of 800 copies, he wrote at least three anonymous reviews, both touting and criticizing but ultimately publicizing in the boldest kind of language his own work. The following quote from an articlehe he wrote for the United States Review in 1855 called “Walt Whitman and his Poems” shows another view Whitman had of himself:
Who then is that insolent unknown? Who is it, praising himself as if others were not fit to do it, and coming rough and unbidden among writers to unsettle what was settled, and to revolutionize in fact our modern civilizations? … You have come in good time, Walt Whitman! In opinions, in manners, in costumes, in books, in the aims and occupancy of life, in associates, in poems. (“Walt Whitman and his Poems,” Whitman)
Love found you in a line and wanted to service you Love noticed little things Love took eleven days to call Love ate Indian food on a stranger’s porch Love told a ghost story that made you see love clearly for the first time Love danced to Bobby Darin with his tongue out Love was a warm wet place for critters to live Love tied a tourniquet Love was so warm the pests laid eggs Love was salt on a mango Love packed a large duffle with doorknobs but Love never asked you to carry it Love crawled to his side of the bed Love gathered everything and gave it to you Love bought bitters and took one glass from a set of four Love washed your dishes Love’s hair was black marbles you found mango on Love’s tongue you found he found you upsetting Love was a carry on you wanted love close but Love moved his body to the couch moved his clothes to the chair moved pieces of time so they fit to reveal a picture of skin Love isn’t asked to disassemble anything Love made home too homely Love made impossible to make Love became invisible Love didn’t answer
Spring Break: A Fever Dream, by James Franco
Image by Courtney Nicholas
Here’s the end of it all, and I’ll tell you why: because there will never be a movie or a character that is more important for this age than Spring Breakers and its protagonist Alien. As Harmony Korine’s friend Werner Herzog said to me on the phone call of all phone calls—I was out in North Carolina, sitting in a little Mexican restaurant called Cocula that I frequent on my lunch breaks from the low-residency writing MFA program at Warren Wilson College, just staring out the window that’s frosted over with a map of Mexico, at the dirty field across the roadway—when he told me that my performance in the film made De Niro in Taxi Driver look like a kindergartener, and that the film was the most important film of the decade. Imagine in a distinct German accent: “Three hundred years from now, when people want to look back at dis time, dey won’t go to the Obama inauguration speech, dey will go to Spring Breakers.”
I can’t even take credit for Alien. He is Harmony’s. As he says, Alien is a gangster mystic. A clown, a killer, a lover: the spirit of the age. Riff Raff wants to take credit for this creation, but that simplifies it. It is like Neal Cassady laying claim to Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty, which isn’t a great comparison because Kerouac was transparently and literally writing about Neal. Alien undermines all. He’s a gangster who deep-throats automatic weapons as well as Linda Lovelace would. He’s the guru of the age. He’s what you would get if you got every damn material thing you ever wanted and then relished in the realization that you don’t have a use for any of it. So you make one up. “Bring it on, little bitches, come to me, little bitches… We didn’t create this sensitive monster, y’all did. Look at his shit, that’s what y’all are working fo yo’selves.”
Untitled, a poem by Cass McCombs
Illustration by Albert Herter
Pages of poetry printed from her home computer
loose like the manuscript of life’s pages
loose and rough and running over to another page
of more poetry that may well belong to a different poem
but I’ve been reading it this way for a while
and built my own understanding
anyway the poet died today
she died and I regretted not asking more
I should have been lusty for her light
instead, I regret her death
indeed, death is regrettable
our friend, our sister
my true mother, our poet
is gone and we failed
All day before the news
I had every candle in the house
burning for her health
meditations on many saints, on Mary
even the ridiculous Infant of Prague
which reminded me of her wonderful sense of humor
but the flames are now out
No doubt she will touch us again, assist me again
Great Woman—have mercy on my stuttering
inject me with your magic fluid
the woman seed that goes against the grain
You who judge me
I hope you burn alive and become dust
I hope you are destroyed and disappear from this universe
Your days and nights filled with sorrow and pain
Tear open my chest and see what is inside
Only then can you understand
—Reading Taliban Love Poems in an Afghan Prison