Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

There are many reasons to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, but I went with a single purpose in mind: to see the extraordinary collection of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. There are more of Bruegel's great paintings gathered here than anywhere else in the world and they can be viewed in the Bruegel room, Salle X of the Picture Gallery. These are paintings of breadth and grand sweep down the ages, they have charmed and haunted viewers for hundreds of years. Today, you can be with them, you can sit on comfortable couches nearby and look at them for as long as you like, you can study them in comfort.

Bruegel Room, Salle X

I visited in November, on an overcast Sunday, just before noon. The museum was not very busy. In fact, for brief moments I was alone in Room X, not even a museum guard in casual surveillance. Just me and Hunters in the Snow and Peasant Dance and Tower of Babel. Just me and Bruegel's 445 year old vision.  Oddly, two additional Bruegel Works, the playful Children's Games and the wild Fight Between Carnival and Lent, were in a special room and shared gallery space with a temporary exhibition of work by Ed Ruscha, a somewhat incongruous pairing. But no matter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Haunted Lion


Absorbing memories I'll never remember, there is only mist, the
silhouettes of ghosts
fair trade products in a global economy of loss
cobblestones wet with laughter, with the lightness
of being ephemeral
like an insect
like the gossamer web of spiders starving for lack of flies
Somewhere I wrote it down, or tried to, or meant to,
notebooks obsessed with retaining what cannot be retained,
the Danube flows inexorably through history's banality,
commissars regimes kings queens popes of absurdity,
only Art mounts a real challenge to dissipation, to the
rotting of shoes and the cough of Power, stark words
etched sentence by sentence, paint strokes against decay,
raw sculpture against the elements.
Fate decides otherwise. Fickle belief. Ideologies drift
like poisonous pollen until the bees sicken and die.
Blood on rock. Castles of hubris, the court jester
has always mocked the king. Disdain bears no allegiance.
Crowns rust. Chintz in the second hand shop. Topple
the busts from their pedestals. Sheer the sheep
for their wool time and time again 'til the crowd
bellows for mutton. Listen to the fat sizzling in the fire.

Budapest, 2012

Looking for Ginsberg in Hungary

There's a row of used book shops on Karoly Ut in Budapest, venerable shops with handsome collections of Hungarian volumes of many kinds and subject matter. In particular, I went looking for Allen Ginsberg and found two copies of A Leples Bitang (The Shrouded Stranger).

Ginsberg was popular and appreciated in Hungary, his intrinsic message of individual freedom resonated with Hungarian youth, writers, and artists who lived under Communist dictatorship. With poetry celebrating democratic sensibilities and championing free expression, Allen Ginsberg was well-represented in Hungarian publications, aided by the enthusiastic translations of Eorsi Istvan.

The volumes, in hardback, cost 800 and 1000 forint respectively (approximately $4-5 each).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Norman Mailer and Bantu Philosophy

Norman Mailer, in The Fight, his book on the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire in 1974 ("The Rumble in the Jungle") writes about his encounter with the ideas of Bantu philosophy:

"Given a few of his own ideas, Norman's excitement was not small as he read Bantu Philosophy. For he discovered that the instinctive philosophy of African tribesmen happened to be close to his own. Bantu philosophy, he soon learned, saw humans as forces, not beings. Without putting it into words, he had always believed that. It gave a powerful shift to his thoughts. By such logic, men or women were more than the parts of themselves, which is to say more than the result of their heredity and experience. A man was not only what he contained, not only his desires, his memory, and his personality, but also the forces that came to inhabit him at any moment from all things living and dead. So a man was not only himself, but the karma of all the generations past that still lived in him, not only a human with his own psyche but a part of the resonance, sympathetic or unsympathetic, of every root and thing (and witch) about him."