Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Reverend Howard Finster

 [Allen Ginsberg sitting on a Howard Finster chair in Paradise Garden, Pennville, Georgia, 1988]

The Reverend Howard Finster, Baptist preacher and internationally-renowned folk artist passed away 15 years ago. This year (2016) is the Howard Finster Centennial. A centennial show is currently up at the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia (up until February 5, 2017)

A colorful and ubiquitous figure (particularly in the 1980's) and extraordinarily prolific (it is estimated he made over 46,000 individual art works), he claimed to be divinely inspired.

[Howard Finster - Self Portrait as a Young Man - 29000.344 (Finster's 29,344th art work), via Nina Laden, created, as he recorded, May 14, 1993]

Howard Finster:  " day I was working on a patch job on a bicycle and I was rubbin some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o' my finger, and there was a human face on it…then a warm feelin' come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, "Paint sacred art""  

Each individual art work was conceived as a divine gift, but perhaps his greatest achievement/creation was in Pennville, Georgia, his immediate environment - Paradise Garden  - You can take a video-tour of the place - here, hear Howard speak of it here
 (and more unedited footage of the location here and here)    

Curious how, here on the Centennial, his influence appears to have waned just a little bit. Norman Giradot, author of the most recent biography, Envisioning Howard Finster - The Religion and Art of a Stranger from Another World, addressed this earlier this year - "Whatever Happened to the Late Great Folk Artist Superstar and Cultural Hero Howard Finster?
and Philip March Jones addresses similar concerns    

Friends gathering in the Garden at this years "Finster Fest" remember him

Here's poet Jonathan Williams' remembrance of him 

And Allen?  -

From John Turner's 2009 article in Raw Vision magazine - "When Allen Ginsberg Met Howard Finster"  

JT: I curated a retrospective on the work of the Reverend Howard Finster for the Museum of American Folk Art in 1989. The poet Allen Ginsberg came to a pre-opening party of the exhibition for a :meet and greet" with the artist. He told me that he had been down to Paradise Garden in Georgia a few years earlier, but that Howard wasn't giving sermons to visitors that day, He said that he enjoyed seeing the artwork in the Garden, took many photographs and bought a Finster cut-out in the gift shop. He asked me if I could introduce him to Howard and I said, "Sure, my pleasure". He then motioned me to the side of the room, where we continued our conversation. He said, "I want you to introduce me as a homosexual. Tell him that I was born that way". He went on to tell me that several of is friends who were familiar with Finster's work thought that he was anti-gay and that in some of  his paintings he had written that AIDS was God's revenge for homosexuals. Now the stage was set in a way that I hadn't anticipated and potential trouble was brewing - it was up to Finster to give a good or bad "performance".

 I brought Allen up to the table where Howard was signing exhibition posters and motioned to him that I wanted him to meet someone. I knew Howard well enough by then (having written a biography on him) to know that he was impressed by celebrities (from wrestlers to politicians) even if he didn't know who they were.

So I said, "Howard, this is a famous poet. He writes poetry, like you do. His name is Allen Ginsberg. He is a homosexual. He was born that way". Howard turned his head away very slowly and paused for what seemed an eternity and then looked directly at Gimsberg and said, "What is, is". 
A smile came over Ginsberg's face and he said, "I'm glad to make your acquaintance. Can I take a few pictures of you?"

A while later I took a cab with Ginsberg over to the Paine-Webber building and gave him a tour of the exhibition.

                          [Sculpture in Paradise Garden - Photograph(s) by Allen Ginsberg © Estate of Allen Ginsberg]

AG: "I think Finster is a poet; Why not? Bob Dylan thinks of himself as a poet primarily, more than that as a musician. Finster writes verses and there are inspired moments in the verses. There are moments when you get "genius" phrasing that is extraordinary. For example, the phrasing on his one particular tower ("Castle of Words") has  "..the door to the other world is to step through your shadow". That is somewhat Blake-ian"

"It is always laboring to read through any of his paintings or the books he has written. He doesn't edit. Maybe someone needs to make a printed edition of Finster's writings, like Blake's, with rge "genius" just in boldface so that people can scan."

"His writing is very repetitive and primitive in the sense of the religious message. I find his constant fundamentalist Christian core a little bit repulsive and obnoxious, even provincial for a man of such scope and energy. I don't myself follow the Western notion of  a monistic reference point to the universe. So that is a bit of puzzlement to me how the grander scope of his visionary insight became solidified to the more limited notion of  Christ, Heaven and Hell.
Because there are so many vast religions, including Buddhism, which he apparently admires, which don't require that conceptualities [sic] and solidification. The Hebrews used to say, "You can't make an image of the divinity. You can't reduce it to a word, because no image or word can displace the event of the universe."

"Finster also has this evasive "above the battle" insight that you might find in Gregory Corso, or (Pablo) Picasso. He obviously has seen something and understands something, but when it is spelled out in certain detail politically, morally and ethically, you are not certain where he stands.

I thought that was a very tolerant answer for someone who reviles sodom in his art. There was also a certain capacity for "negative capability" there (what (John Keats) called the ability to hold contradictory ideas in mind, "without an irritable reaching out after fact and reason". 

"His misuse of certain words and mis-spellings is very charming - dyslexic. It gives additional insight and that insight is from his own brainpan rather than imitative from other people or ideas in books. From that you get the impression of raw thought.

(William) Blake successfully combines word and image. So does Adolf Wölfli. I'm a photographer and I write long haiku-like captions on my photographs, so I'm interested in the conjunction of word and image. All through China and Japan there were calligraphers and ink brush geniuses wgo would write long and short poems accompanied by landscape paintings. Many of his drawings, such as the partition of his skull ("My Brain Is Like A Wire House") are parallel to the tantric arts, which delineate the chakras and even explain them. Some of his work even reminds me of acupuncture charts.

His paintings are fantastic. There is a certain amount of eidetic trickery, that is to say, seeing faces in clouds. It is very conscious and has a sort of confidence, like Blake had with those imaginative projections. They are in a sense as real as any other "takes" on the appearance of the phenomenal world. Blake also believed that the human imagination was one of the major elements of human form. Blake had it divided into body, feelings, art, intellect, and imagination.
Imagination is the great loophole, which will deliver people from being idiot savants, like (Albert) Einstein or Edward Teller. It can also deliver mankind from its muscle-bound materiality and hyper-sentamentalist love. Howard believes in his own imagination and now the question is, "to what extent does he actually find himself surrounded by three or four dimensional worlds when he opens and closes his eyes"?  I don't know. 

I had the experience of having visionary transport and even hearing voices myself. Those experiences were certainly crucial experiences in my life. So I don't doubt that they have the dimension of other phenomena. On the other hand, there is an old Buddhist phrase, "If you see something powerful, don't cling to it. If you see something beautiful, don't cling to it."
Emptiness is the grand palace. There is no Heaven and Hell, Howard seems to be clinging to his visions, so there is an element of the shadow of evil. There is always this little question of Finster, "Is he nuts? Is he another neurotic genius or is he a supreme visionary?" I would have to say that he is a supreme neurotic genius, which isn't so bad.
Howard is able to communicate the energy of living in the world with an unobstructed imagination. Certainly the exuberant beauty of his work is moving, like (William) Blake's, who says, "Exuberance is beauty."

                                                      [Allen Ginsberg and Howard Finster]

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 290

                                                  [Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's birthday today
 - from Richard Holmes' definitive biography:
" (William) Wordsworth called him "the most wonderful man" he had ever known; but many subsequent biographers have been skeptical. It would seem possible to write an entire book on Coleridge's opium addiction, his plagiarisms, his fecklessness in marriage, his political "apostasy", his sexual fantasies, or his radiations of mystic humbug. 

And indeed, all these books have been written. But no biographer…has tried to examine his entire life in a broad and sympathetic manner, and to ask the one vital question; what made Coleridge - for all his extravagent panoply of faults - such an extraordinary man, such an extraordinary mind."

Allen noted the "mystic humbug" (not exactly) - the Neo-Platonism and gnostic wisdom  derived from, in good part, Thomas Taylor's highly-influential translations. (Taylor was also a conduit to Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake)

and, as for the drug-use?

Allen, from the 1971 Partisan Review interview:
"What went on in the Humphry Davy household on Saturday midnight when Coleridge arrived by foot, through the forest, by the lakes?"
"Laughing Gas" - Nitreous Oxide - We now know quite a lot about that encounter: 

from Coleridge's notes concerning his nitreous experiments:

"The first time that I inspired the nitreous oxide, I felt a highly pleasurable sensation of warmth over my whole frame, resembling that which I remember once to have experienced after returning from a walk in the snow into a warm room. The only motion that I felt inclined to make was that of laughing at those who were looking at me…."   

And here's Allen's 1959 reading the first part of his 1958 poem "Laughing Gas" ("High on Laughing gas/I've been here before/The odd vibration of  the same old universe..") 

We quoted last week Allen's 1996 Bob Dylan Nobel recommendation, but kudos should also be properly offered to his friend and editor, Gordon Ball
As he notes here, in this Washington Post piece:

" was in August of 1996 that I first wrote the Nobel Committee, nominating Dylan for its literature prize. The idea to do so originated not with me but with two Dylan aficionados in Norway, journalist Reidar Indebrø and attorney Gunnar Lunde, who had recenly written Allen about a Nobel for Dylan. Ginsberg's office then asked if I'd write a nominating letter (Nominators must be professors of literature or linguistics, past laureates, presidents of national writers' groups, or members of the Swedish Academy, or similar groups). Over the next few months, several other professors including  Steven Scobie, Daniel Karlin and Betsy Bowden endorsed Dylan for the Nobel. I would go on to nominate Dylan for the next dozen years. This year he finally won." 

And also from the Washington Post  (Hillel Italie's AP story) - Lawrence Ferlinghetti's response - "Bravo for Dylan" - "Ferlinghetti told AP that he had "always considered Dylan a poet first.He had said that decades ago he had hoped Dylan would release his material in print form through the publishing arm of Ferlinghetti's celebrated City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Alas, Ferlinghetti said, "he became famous" and lived on as "a song and dance man"

Joan Baez's response to the news - "The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan. The rebellious reclusive unpredictable artist/composer is exactly where the Nobel Prize for Literature needs to be. His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire, spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury. mystery, beauty, and humor, than Bob's. None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again."
Tom Waits -   "It's a great day for Literature and for Bob when a Master of its original form is celebrated. Before epic tales and poems were ever written down, they migrated on the winds of the human voice and no voice is greater than Dylan's."
and this (ever-astute) from another poet-troubador, Leonard Cohen - "To me (the award) is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain."

Dylan's own response? -  Well, he's remained very much in character, by not giving a response, being purposefully enigmatic ("The Nobel Prize Committee has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, five days after he became the first musician awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan, 75, is yet to respond to the accolade")

Allen's response? - Well, we're grateful to George Drury and our good friend Charles Bernstein over at PennSound for this remarkable piece of prescient audio ( "I'm reading Bob Dylan's Writings and Drawings book", Allen declares), recorded 1974 in Buffalo, upstate New York
-  ("On Reading Dylan's Writings""A Poem For The Laurels  You Win":
"Now that it's dust and ashes/Now that it's human skin/Here's to you Bob Dylan/A poem for the laurels you win/ Sincerest form of flattery/Is Imitation they say/I've broken my long line down/To write a song your way/ Those "chains of flashing images"/That came to you at night/Were highest farm boy's daydreams/That glimpse the Angels light./ And tho' the dross of wisdom come/And left you lone on earth/Remember when the Angels call/ Your soul for a new birth./ It wasn't dope that gave you truth/Nor money that you stole/--Was God himself that entered in/Shining your heavenly soul."    

The Pompidou Center's Beat Generation show is now down - but, great news, it resurfaces again, in a slightly-scaled-down version, next month at ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany (Jean-Jacques LebelPhilippe-Alain Michaud and Peter Weibel will be the co-curators)

William Burroughs in China - Following on from his Kerouac one and Ginsberg one, David S Wills delivers another installment of Beat-Generation-in-translation - Chinese book-covers  

Cause for celebration. Next Tuesday (the 25th) is Allen's teacher, Gelek Rinpoche's birthday.

                                                                            [Gelek Rinpoche]

For previous Gelek Rinpoche postings see here, here and here

And, for those in the New York City area, make a note of this -  Saturday November 5 at The Great Hall of Cooper Union - a White Tara Initiation, led by Gelek, free and open to all (seating is limited so registration to reserve space is required)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rimbaud's Birthday

                                                             [Allen Ginsberg]

Arthur Rimbaud's birthday

For Rimbaud on the Allen Ginsberg Project - see here and here and here 

A defence of Rimbaud  by Allen Ginsberg

from a letter from Allen Ginsberg to (Professor) Lionel Trilling, September 4, 1945 [sic]:

...That you are unable to understand why I make so much of Rimbaud, dismays me somewhat. Though I should dislike to be over-bumptious about it, with your kind permission, I must witness his defense. I fear that since you have read  Rougemont's Partie du Diable you possibly approach Rimbaud viewing him as another eccentric French Satanist somewhat in a class with Maldoror, fit to be the prophet of the Mexican Hashish Surrealist Quarterly. Rimbaud had an attack of Diabolism somewhat appropriately at the age of puberty and lost it , as far as its meanings go, soon thereafter as far as I've been able to tell. I would say that, to his credit , he surpassed the more highly advertised and shallow spiritual struggles of Baudelaire-Dandyism and diabolism as puerile reactions of the puritan temperament to the "vulgar complacency" of the times. I think of Rimbaud as a hero in the sense of having a violent, varied - and finally mature - response to a fairly representative social situation.Not that of a provincial 19th Century Frenchman, that of a Western man. He was flexible enough to change his ideas to correspond to his experiences , and in consequence ran the gamut of political , religious, nationalistic, and esthetic visions and verdicts that have attacked the significant figures of modern poetry. I approve of Rimbaud because unlike the heroes of the Columbia (University) Bookstore, he survived and mastered these visions, and rose above them to a solution to the "problems" of our time which as yet our writers are first discovering. As I remember, in his earlier years he underwent the Dedalus Pontifex religious dilemma in an abridged form, and turned political after loss of faith. After divesting himself of the notions of the usual politically conscious writer (entertained in our time by the Book of the Month Club "Talentgang" perhaps), he turned, in the usual developmental groove, to aesthetic salvation. Here the development of the poor poets of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century seems to have stopped - unless like (W.H.) Auden and (T.S.) Eliot they have crawled back into the womb of the virgin. Pragmatic religion bores me at this point and so I continue with the fortunes of Rimbaud - who at his stage of the worship of Orpheus, with the concomitant illuminations, Satanism, "dereglement de tous les sens", his physical and moral depersonalization, had the most amusing circus of them all - Yeats, Joyce, Rilke, James, Wilde, Flaubert - while it lasted. I think that he pursued this orphic wonder, experience for art's sake, the unsocializing of the animal, more effectively than any modern writer - probably because of his youth. 

At the same time I sense in him an ability to make contact with his culture personally, to actively live in it  and be of of it - and this in an artist has completed the circle of absolute artistic depersonalization, paradox or not. I think that this "realistic" contact is unknown to the other exiles at his time, except Dostoyevsky and the later Joyce. In the period of the early Season in Hell, Rimbaud felt out his culture - his Charleville and his Paris - and analyzed it , in more primitive terms, to the same effect that Freud and Spengler later did. He went deeper than the reformism of Butler, the ivory-towered amorality of Mallarme. dug deeper for a faith than Dedalus did in finding himself in art. The reason for this I think in regard to the "Aesthetic adventure" is in Rimbaud's use of art constantly as a key and not a mystical telos. He wound up with a Bohemian version of the 1920 Fitzgerald, though less provincial, less superficially idealistic, a master of exterior circumstance. He presents by implication and statement the sociological, not the abstractly ethical, "spiritual" problems of his time. His struggle concerns not merely the unpoetic machine  versus faith, which is naive; nor individual power versus collective boorishness, as in Nietzschean anarchy; he presents not diffused evils to be conquered, or wicked individuals to be curbed, or heroes to emerge, and dragons to be killed - but he knows a complex anthropological unit in what appears to him to be in a stae of cachexy - a whole syndrome of ills adumbrating a cultural decline. He  fixes the symptoms somewhat in Freudian terms as the conflict between the anarchic impulses of the individual psyche and its needs, and the mores of a categorized protestant civilization which is crippled because it conceives of pleasure as evil. He is interested in types representative of a neurotic culture, one ridden with anxiety and tension, the civilization of the false passport, insecure, confused, in sum, chaotic. The important person is the outcast (not the literary egoist), but, as in the Satyricon of Petronius, the keen levelheaded men of basic understanding, In the army, one of his practices is to gold brick. He is the type (in civilian society) that is master of his corner of reality, who cuts through the confusion of the disorderly culture to achieve his individual end - the Raymond Chandler hero, the sharp-eyed gambler, the dead-pan cardshark, the tense tendoned gambler, the "hood" - the types that are comng into prominence now in the movies (Alan Ladd) in James M Cain, in (John) O'Hara. There is an interest in the psychopath who moves in his pattern unaffected by moral compunction, by allegiance to the confused standards of a declining age. 

Rimbaud somewhere speaks  of watching the skies as a criminal avec son idee. And not only the criminal partakes of this attitude - even the Dos Passos intellectual, the business promoter, the political career man. These in a sense - or at least, I sense - these have almost become our representative heroes. No longer do they rebel against society, exile themselves, romantically disdain its ways for the ways of art. Art has dropped from its pedestal, the hero moves about in society as a shadow, not menacingly or aggressively, but coolly collecting his profits and faking respectability with varying degrees of consciousness

Yet even this stage of unrebellious anarchism is surpassed by Rimbaud. The Civilization, as he and most others seem to agree, offers no hope of personal salvation, no vital activity, no way of life within its accepted structure. His creative powers are not realized in the usual activities of the citizen - at the machine, in the office. Realizing that art was an escape - and merely an escape, a fool's paradise, a Dedalusian ivory tower - and admittedly so, considering the myths of the wound (Cocteau's) or the Wound and the Bow (Wilson's) which represent art as compensation for creative activity in life - Rimbaud amputated the wound and cast off the bow and went to Africa. This was the exodus from society not into the futile exile of the artist, but into living salvation in the land of the primitive, unrestricted, uninhibited. And he embarked to a rigorously active public life as a gun-runner and slave-trader. With Rimbaud as catalyst the problems that supposedly beset  the sensitive youths of the day are crystallized realistically for the first time, I think.

 And so I look to him as "prophet" of the present literary concern with anthropology and psychoanalysis, the shift in vision in society from the simple idealism of Sinclair Lewis to the complicated half-hidden Spenglerian Weltanschauung of (John) O'Hara, and, I predict, the whole crop of post World War II writers. Whether or not his pessimism prevails, his idee, his sociological approach rather than moral, has already prevailed. Secondly, he remains one of the earliest forerunners of our modern "classicism", the casting off of the aesthetic preoccupation in favor of personal activity, the relegation of art to a tool and not the salvation  of battered souls. Last, he is one of the few writers whose problems are recognizably limited to his age, as Freud's psychological structure reflects the mind of the middle European of the 19th-20th Century. In this sense there is less confusion in Rimbaud than in many other writers,who tend to universalize the conflicts in them peculiar to their time and place. In sum then, I admire Rimbaud not as the poet maudit, the decadent, but the representative hero, the  sociologically concerned, and in the highest manner politically minded poet. I think there will be many more Koestlers who, reflecting their time, unconsciously participate in his ideas, look at western culture avec son idee.

I see I have written a great deal and I have said nothing about his poetry as poetry. Season in Hell seems to me the most individually expressive poetry I have run across - more than any poet, I can understand the personality - half childish, half sardonic, somewhat sentimental, furious, jealously personal and strikingly dispassionate - from the poetry. I mean, it is so compressed and flexible that it contains whole visions in a single line. To me it is pretty clearly the work of genius, and so despite your lack of enthusiasm I continue to admire Rimbaud unabashedly…."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A 1980 "Teach-In"

                     [The format of the "Teach-In", derived from 'Sixties protests against the Vietnam War]

AG: And the other thing, simultaneously is a heating up of all the war protest groups - the Alliance To Resist War and Violence [sic], and there's now a classic "teach-in" going to take place (like in the 'Sixties - "teach ins"?). There's another "Teach-in" coming up, from Thursday on, Thursday and Friday, big "teach-in" at C.U. (Colorado University) . Simultaneous with Simon Ortega [sic -  Editorial note - confusing him with Daniel Ortega, Allen means Simon Ortiz], (no, just before Simon Ortega), that's going on simultaneously. So they'll be a film - The Intelligence Network, "a documentary of  U.S. Intelligence Agencies abuses", teachings on the Iranian Revolution, teachings on American economical and political crisis ) (that's on Thursday) Friday, films and a big teach-in on Afghanistan (which should be really interesting, if you want to get the other side, because there's probably some huge other side that we haven't heard yet [sic]). Then, eight to ten, "Oil Imperialism in the Middle East" (These are all sort of professors at C.U. or Iranian intellectuals or Afghanistani specialists.) Saturday, "U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East" in the morning, "Causes of World War III", from nine to eleven, "Registration for Draft and the Lessons of Vietnam", from eleven to twelve-thirty (so that'll be, like, a draft-counseling "t-in", teach-in), and then a plenary session in the afternoon "What To Do?" and a social get-together at the churches... So I'll put that up somewhere at Naropa.
So.. wanted to take care of both of these (announcements). It's really interesting, like, slowly things are cruising back to normal ...protest

[Audio for the above can be heard  here, beginning at approximately forty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in and comcluding at approximately fifty minutes in]