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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Barry Taylor: Listen Closely


Abbas Kiarostami: ABBAS KIAROSTAMI RAIN (27) 2007
 Rain (27): photo by Abbas Kiarostami, 2007 (Purdy Hicks Gallery, London)

I sit on a cold stone,
tired, and watch her walk
– ‘just a short way’
on, between leafless trees,
down the narrowing lines
of the lane’s grey verges,
into the shadowed fold
of the gathering hills
and the evening, my eye,
her figure, wavering
at the vanishing point.

She is turning there
to nothing; I am sitting
still, and learning
the sound
the world will make
without her.

Rain: photo by Abbas Kiarostami, 2005 (Purdy Hicks Gallery, London)

Abbas Kiarostami: ABBAS KIAROSTAMI RAIN (23) 2007

Rain (23): photo by Abbas Kiarostami, 2007 (Purdy Hicks Gallery, London)

Eyes should be washed, we should see things in another way. ...
Words should be washed.  
Word itself should be the wind, word itself should be the rain.
...-- Sohrab Sepehri: from The Footsteps of Water, 1965


TC said...

The great Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami (b. 1940) spoke about his still photography in a 2009 interview:

I never really learned photography. During the revolution of 1979, it was impossible to make films, and I escaped from the city and found shelter in the countryside. I started making pictures, and they became like gifts to take back to people in the city. I could share the landscape with them through photography. I prefer the countryside to cities. This is also true of my films: I have made more films in rural societies, and villages, than in towns.

The idea for this series of "rain" pictures is one I had a long time ago. I had spent years looking through my car windscreen, admiring the rural landscape, admiring the raindrops and the effect of light on them. I tried taking photographs through the windscreen, but at that time I was using film, and I could hardly ever get the right light effect to make the pictures work.

It was only when digital cameras arrived that I thought: now I can go back to this idea. I could work with very little light, and while I was driving. I drove with one hand on the wheel, and used my other hand to take pictures. But maybe I shouldn't say that – I wouldn't want to promote bad driving.

I've often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us, unless it's inside a frame. So I took my car windscreen as a frame, and I turned off the windscreen wipers so as not to wipe off the rain – I wanted the raindrops to remain on the glass. Everything we can see in the photographs – the yellow-brown, the green, the black – we owe to the light. It's the reflection of the light on the raindrops that gives the pictures these subtleties and nuances.

There are, of course, technical aspects to digital cameras that make them good to use. But, more generally, they give you a certain nerve, a boldness, in the way you take pictures.

Digital photography is, by definition, unfinished. You don't feel that after every 24 or 36 shots you have to change your film – you know you can go on for ever if you want. You can see the result immediately, and find out if your original idea is worth going on with or not, whether it can be corrected, whether it can be improved. Photographing with film is more thoughtful and reflective; you have to be sure, and define your time more precisely, before starting work.

It's said that in the beginning was the word, but for me the beginning is always an image. When I think about a conversation, it always starts with images. And what I love about photography is the inscription of a single moment: it's completely ephemeral. You take the photograph, and one second later, everything has changed.

TC said...

Abbas Kiarostami: Opening the window

Wooden Boy said...

First time I'd seen Kiarostami in an interview. There's too many films that "take you hostage" these days - grandstanding nonsense.

"learning the sound the world will make without her"

A small grief delicately put.

Hazen said...

Just today we were having this conversation, after paying a visit to an old friend wounded by age and the chance working of the limbs. For us, now, it’s that time when the order of our going poses some questions. It’s already a different world, even before one steps out of it.

Beautiful poem, and photos too . . . through a glass wetly.

TC said...

Many thanks, Duncan and Hazen.

Hazen speaks for us out on our own particular precarious limb here, as well, when he says:

"For us, now, it’s that time when the order of our going poses some questions. It’s already a different world, even before one steps out of it."

"A small grief delicately put" would probably stay within Kiarostami's request for restraint, modesty and discretion.

For me, here, it's the sense that the grief may well be large, and its containment within the formality of the poem not easily achieved, that suggests we are in the presence of an attitude of respect toward both the high demands of the art and the ultimate seriousness of the occasion.

To write well (without sentimentality) of a bereft state... how many are capable.

Hardy, so famously expert in this department (though in his case it was so often rueful retrospect that lent much of the pathos to the view) comes to mind.

(A good part of the reason why he continues to be read, it could be suggested.)

Sandra said...

interesting interview...wonderful poem...!

erin said...

i've come a number of times to comment but it seems the rain has taken my voice.

loss without sentimentalization? jaccottet's notebooks come to mind.

but i sit for a moment and wonder why do we give such merit to loss without sentimentalization? i try to think of any loss that i might encounter and not sentimentalize and i can't. perhaps it is because we don't feel well enough compassion that we demand the furnace of brevity to cleanse sentiment from, ultimately, death? i don't know.

i drove through a rainy landscape tonight on the way home, the tamarack smudged like rothko's Saffron 1957 painting. i thought of these photographs, this poem))


TC said...

Sandra and erin, thanks very much.

erin, yes, these are such odd words we use really. Still they're the only ones we do have.

I thought to accompany Barry's poem with the Kiarostami photos for a reason having to do with what might be called, just for the sake of talking here, a kind of ethics of restraint, or aesthetics of restraint.

I suppose I was thinking of a Kiarostami movie which is about life and death, and makes us think seriously about these things, though there is not a moment of emotionalism or excitement anywhere in it.

Abbas Kiarostami: Taste of Cherry (1997)

I suppose i was meaning to suggest that, to Barry's credit as a man and as a poet, he reckons upon the most grave subject without ever violating the dignity of another person's life, or trying to upset or embarrass us with his own feelings -- and submerges a sense of immense personal loss beneath a composed linguistic surface that implies a civilization, which in turn honours the lost one by suggesting there is a collective understanding of life and death, and a language able, with all due respect and difficulty and possibility of not getting it right, to speak of these things so that others may share the understanding.

This as vs. going all to pieces, or burying the grief like a stone, far the easier courses, but certainly helping no one.

And well, too, I don't ever like the feeling emotions are being worked up, worked on, worked with. Or toyed or played around with. Mine or anybody's. If emotions are present, there are ways of knowing this that don't involve drama at all.

Word histories (pardon my dustiness!) tend to rear up at moments like this, bless their dry (or wet) little hearts.

In the 14th century, when it first occurred in English, sentiment was a word true to its roots.
1325-75; < Medieval Latin sentīmentum, equivalent to Latin sentī (re) to feel + -mentum -ment; replacing Middle English sentement < Old French < Medieval Latin, as above

By the 17th century the senses of the word had expanded, to include emotion and opinion. By the mid-18th, it had become intertangled to a degree with 'sensibility', signifying (on the upside) "a conscious openness to feelings," and (increasingly on the downside, as critical attitudes toward public exploitation of private feeling became more common) "a conscious consumption of feelings."

For instance one sentiment perennially subject to sentimental bloat was being held up for criticism by Samuel Johnson when on the evening of April 7, 1775 he declared to James Boswell that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"; this remains true to the present day; there is, to cite a contemporary example, no patriotic occasion the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani would let pass by without public lubrication, a kind of exercise which remains essentially dependent upon false sentiment.

By the 19th century, 'sensibility' had shaken off 'sentiment' much as a poor relation, and for good reason. 'Sentiment' came to mean self-conscious or self-indulgent displays of sentiment, and people who felt too much or who indulged their emotions were branded as 'sentimental'.

But those who so branded them were in turn of course branded as cold, cruel and hard-hearted.

Perhaps it comes down to a simple matter of sensibility after all...

Some commonly cited usages that any advocate of sentimentalism would likely have to come across sooner or later:

Oscar Wilde: "A sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it."

In Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus sends Buck Mulligan a telegram that reads: "The sentimentalist is he who would enjoy without incurring the immense debtorship for a thing done."

James Baldwin: "Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel...the mask of cruelty".

TC said...

In the history of ideas, sentimentality is generally regarded as a perpetration of the Victorian era.

"The basic pattern of thought and feeling which
characterized the orthodox Victorian sensibility—
moral sentiments centered around the family and the
virtues of duty and earnestness; intellectual sentiments
centered around the ideals of intellectual sincerity
and tolerance; social sentiments centered around
the ideals of gentlemanliness and respectability—
produced what one of its critics called 'an epoch of
hearts uplifted with hope, and brains active with sober
and manly reason for the common good. Some ages
are marked as sentimental, others stand conspicuous
as rational. The Victorian age was happier than most
in the flow of both these currents into a common stream
of vigorous and effective talent' (Buckley). The dark
shadows cast by the positive qualities of the
Victorian sensibility were equally real, however,
the result of the fact that a sensibility harboring ideals
which were not logically related and which in some
important areas were in direct contradiction to one
another was inevitably subject to tensions that could
not always be successfully resolved. The more sensitive
Victorians were aware of these contradictions. John
Ruskin pointed out to his readers that while their
Evangelical religion told Victorians to love their
neighbor, their utilitarian economic principles told
them that the deepest instinct of man was to defraud
his neighbor. He could think of no precedent in history
for a nation's establishing a systematic disobedience to
the first principles of its professed religion. The Vic-
torians assimilated the contradictory attitudes as best
they could. The agonized personal crises and frequent
painful wrenchings of family relationships recorded in
the literature of the period reflected the tensions that
accompanied the attempt to reconcile them. At a still
deeper level a profound psychic ambivalence expressed
itself in other ways.

"One way was the sentimentality which marked the
popular literature and art of the age, the tendency to
present scenes of 'pathos feasting on itself.' The most
famous sentimentalist of the age was the novelist
Charles Dickens, whose treatment of grief and death,
particularly where children were involved, was
immensely popular. He was accused of handling the
death of little children as if it were some savoury
dainty which could not be too fully appreciated'
(Richard Stang, The Theory of the Novel in England
1850-1870). Sentimentalism likewise affected Victorian painting, which exhibited two prominent features: a love of literal detail and a tendency to exaggerate sentiment. The
connection between the literalism and the senti-
mentality was an important one: 'Victorian senti-
mentality is largely the imposition of feeling as an
afterthought upon literalness' (H. House, Ideas and
Beliefs of the Victorians). The scientific
love of fact was utilitarian in emphasis; the price it
exacted, evident in the autobiographies of Mill and
Charles Darwin, was a threatened loss of the capacity
to feel. The sentimental love of fact was mainly Evan-
gelical in inspiration, and the price it exacted was a
weakening of the capacity to reason. Evangelical liter-
ature and practice were not above exposing to public
view the agonies of a dying child or the delirium
tremens of the drunkard for purposes of edification.
The utilitarians, by contrast, agnostic or atheistic in
matters of religion, doubted the immortality of the soul
and the possibility of rewards in another life, and
therefore attached all the more importance to reducing
pain in the present one. The wavering between a
scientific and a sentimental view of pain reflected a
dangerous split in the Victorian sensibility.

Madden, William A (1973). "Victorian Sensibility and Sentiment". In Wiener, Philip P. Dictionary of the History of Ideas.

erin said...

ohmygod! so my ignorance carried me off on another wave away from truth! (i watched the interview but did not recognize the film maker.) but i know this movie! oh! (but please note my effusiveness of emotion!)how i love this movie! perfection to juxtapose this film with this poem.

ethics of restraint, or aesthetics of restraint - i do understand. to remove the excess of sentiment is to create the more concentrated truth. yes! and i agree, although it is not possible for me to achieve. i personally am the embodiment of the wound itself. i am victim of excess from the inside out. but drama... i deeply understand the importance of curtailing drama. drama is highly suspect.

however - and this is my point of curiosity - why is it that our dignity is violated, that we embarrass one another when we demonstrate and witness the depths of one another's feelings? there is a burying that takes place here, as well.

i so appreciate your responses, tom. very interesting))


TC said...


Well, I think each of us has her/his own way in these things -- and what's important is to be doing what one does in one's own way, which is the proper way, for one; while also admitting to oneself there are, yes, other ways.

I'm hesitant to encroach on Barry's privacy but I'm even more hesitant to attempt to speak of his motives and situation, as he, not I, would obviously be the best source on that; at the same time, perhaps he wouldn't mind, and our understanding and appreciation of his poem might well benefit, if we were to hear a bit of what he's said about it, after now seeing it up here, and seeing me dither on about what I take to be his ethic/aesthetic, for which, as I've said, I have much respect:

"The mysterious thing to me is that I entirely recognise and own up to that aesthetic/ethic without ever, in the writing of the poems, having a single idea about it - I'm tempted to say a single idea at all - in my head. I just pick up a stone I like the look of, get the feel of it, pick up another one and so on, and after a few weeks there's a wall which somehow you can tell is mine and not that other bloke's. Late starter that I am, this has been the central great unanticipated pleasure of writing for me - that transit between knowing nothing at all, consciously, about what's going on, and then eventually finding yourself with this new thing that you've made without ever actually meaning to. It's really exciting, isn't it?"