Saturday, January 19, 2008

Holzer's Projections of Poetry/Dreamscapes as Big as Our Molochs

Jenny Holzer's latest projections of poems by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish bring what I'm calling "lang/scape" poetry into the officially sanctioned realm of legitimate art; if the Freeway Blogger and Sidewalk Blogger--not to mention the hosts of anonymous graffiti artists and activists--work with fugitive palettes and under cover of night, Holzer's projections are stable, known art installations, though they share with these more transient art actions a transience and vulnerability to the conditions of their projection. Holzer has chosen a number of starkly beautiful political poems whose language has a kind of relative transparency that invites a common reader, yet the page for these readers is against a great building.

Here's one of the Szymborska poems and projections:

"The Joy of Writing"

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word "woods."

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

By Wislawa Szymborska
From "No End of Fun", 1967

And here is one of the Darwish poems, "He Embraced His Murderer."

"He Embraced His Murderer"

He embraces his murderer. May he win his heart: Do you feel angrier if I survive?
Brother...My brother! What did I do to make you destroy me?
Two birds fly overhead. Why don't you shoot upwards? What do you say?
You grew tired of my embrace and my smell. Aren't you just as tired of the fear within me?
Then throw your gun in the river! What do you say?
The enemy on the riverbank aim his machine gun at an embrace? Shoot the enemy!
Thus we avoid the enemy's bullets and keep from falling into sin.
What do you say? You'll kill me so the enemy can go to our home
and descend again into the law of the jungle?
What did you do with my mother's coffee, with your mother's coffee?
What crime did I commit to make your destroy me?
I will never cease embracing you.
And I will never release you.

Darwish's poem evokes the mythic moment of Jacob wrestling the angel--that archetypal struggle between man and god, between self and other, brother and brother--as a way of writing about the inextricable relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

Holzer's project of projections is, on some level, the poet's dream--the fantasy that his inner/outerscapes of language could find themselves manifested concretely in the world. But the evanescence of them, their anti-monumentality, suggests dreams themselves; such projections are only possible at night, or by dint of electronic lights (another of Holzer's models). So unlike the Molochs of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, in external renditions and black sites and invisible prisons, these lightmoths (not butterflies, really) presage their own mortality.

Would that we could drag them into day.

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