Wednesday, April 8, 2009
"i'm at war with the obvious"
i keep looking at the pictures & trying to figure a way to claim him as a southerner. i mean, he is. he was born & raised in the south. what i mean is trying to figure out what makes an artist a "southern" artist. what makes eggleston's vision first & foremost, a southern vision, a specifically "southern" way of viewing the world.
w/flannery, it's easy. it's what she wrote about. by that, i mean, what she totally focused on. i think only one of her short stories takes place OUT of the south. all of her novels are sunk so deeply in their southern settings, they can't be pulled out of that context w/o killing them. this somehow doesn't diminish their universality. it's as if the southern landscape from which she harvests her stories really was the dirt of all humanity.
i suspect the same holds for eggleston.
what strikes me as specifically original about photography as an art is that it literally delivers the artist's vision. there's a little hokey-pokey w/a few technical issues but what you see in a photo is pretty much what the eye of the photographer saw at the moment of cognition. this is a far cry from picasso claiming that he paints "objects as i think them, not as i see them."
in michael almereyda's terrific documentary on eggleston, "in the real world," the off-screen interlocutor keeps pushing eggleston to articulate an aesthetic, to make him put words to basically a reflexive action. the profoundly "laconic" eggleston is pretty much at a loss for words here. in fact, it's as if he doesn't understand the question. if, w/each breath, there was creation, how would/could anyone describe that?
flannery made it her life's work to fight nihilism. it's in her letters. she fought tooth & nail against it. nihilism would be "an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth." i think what we see eggleston, in the film, unable to conceive of is precisely the position of skepticism. how could anyone who records the everyday as eggleston does &, by doing, REFUSE to deny it, be a skeptic? the obvious, the everyday, can be seen & felt & heard. we may well have to decide on how we all see & feel & hear it but we ignore it at our own individual peril.
there's a scene in faulkner's "absalom, absalom" where someone(quentin?)watches sutpen wrestling his black slaves in the mud to the death for no reason other than sport. the setting & consequences are horrific & mundane, violent & formal. imagining that tells you all you need to know about a southern aesthetic that i feel in flannery & see in eggleston.