Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 42: May We Be Arrows of Light and Breath + Christopher Kempf

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 42: May We Be Arrows of Light and Breath + Christopher Kempf

Hear me, O islands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
            --Isaiah 49

On a day that Brussels is beset by suicide attacks, I’d planned to share what I think of as my 9/11 poem: “you look at me / looking at you.” May all of us hold each other in the light, though we also hold so much dark, hold each other—not just the Belgians, but the Congolese, not just the French but the Algerians, not just the Americans but the Afghanis and Iraqis and Syrians and Mexicans and Guatemalans and Colombians and Nicaraguans, all people—all made in the image of Love. May our arrows be of light, of love.

“You look at me / looking at you” commentary by Christopher Kempf

A picture is a sum of destructions.

Simple, of course, to understand Picasso’s statement in light of his most famous works—Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Nude Descending a Staircase, Guernica. These are violent paintings, we know, the destruction Picasso speaks of not merely, as he intended the statement, a matter of process—of removing paint rather than adding it—but a matter, too, of form and perspective, of cutting and partitioning and twisting and deforming and destroying the artist’s subject in the name of seeing anew. In the name, that is, of art.

More difficult—the is.

A picture is a sum of destructions.

Not that a picture represents, say, the bombing of a Basque village by German and Italian warplanes, but that it is that.

Or is part of that.

Or is the sum of that. Is made possible by that. Is birthed from that. That a picture is the sum of whole back-histories of violence and exploitation and oppression that are neither held of from nor delimited by the picture’s frame.

That a picture—any picture—is a form of privilege. That a poem is.

That it is a form of violence.

I am writing this under the generous employ of a University which invented the atom bomb and whose economists, in the 1970s, sustained and legitimized the brutal, neo-liberalist dictatorships of South America. “The [Chilean] secret police would dispose of some victims by dropping them into the ocean from helicopters ‘after first cutting their stomach open with a knife to keep the bodies from floating.’”  I am grateful for my paycheck.

I is a sum of destructions.

“You look at me / looking at you.” 

This—how we might see ourselves and our art. As from the outside.

That our art might better recognize itself as nested, matryoshka-like, within systems of oppression from which it is inextricable. From which it benefits. “A kind of seeding, this seeing.”

Baudelaire—“hypocrite reader.”

Luke—“cast first the beam out of thine own eye.”



Christopher Kempf is the author of Late in the Empire of Men, which won the Levis Prize from Four Way Books and is forthcoming in March 2017. Recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, he is currently a Ph.D. student in English Literature at the University of Chicago. For an example of Kempf’s work, see https://newrepublic.com/article/114456/call-duty-modern-warfare-poem-christopher-kempf


John F. Marok said...

Beautiful ... thank you.
However, Picasso didn't paint " nude descending staircase" ... that was Duchamp. (small point but I'm a painter).

John F. Marok said...

Beautiful, thank you.
However, Picasso didn't paint "Nude Descending a Staircase" ... that was Duchamp.
Small point but I am a painter.
My Regards,

Josie Setzler said...

A friend of mine who is Muslim posted on Facebook today after the news about Brussels that she was "afraid of today," that she knows that her "identity as a Muslim will be re-criminalized." Fear and destruction from all sides. "You look at me/looking at you." So much to grieve.

Philip Metres said...

Thanks, John. I'll tell Chris.

Philip Metres said...

Thanks, Josie. It's crazy. And did you hear about Ivory Coast? A terrorist attack there as well, that isn't getting a quarter of the attention.