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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Visionary Art

Dream: A Journal by Larry Vigon, Introduction by Marvin Spiegelman (Quantuck Lane) 74 color illustrations Larry Vigon is a world-renowned graphic designer and co-founder of the design firm Vigon/Ellis. Beginning his career designing record albums for Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, Bonnie Raitt, and hundreds of others, Vigon has influenced virtually every form of print, broadcast, and interactive media with his design for such clients as IBM, Epson, Sony, DreamWorks, and The Los Angeles Opera. He lives in Los Angeles. Marvin Spiegelman is a prominent Jungian analyst whose recommendation resulted in this book.

In 1989, at the suggestion of his analyst, designer Larry Vigon began to record every dream he could remember. He wrote each into an 11 x 14-inch sketchbook, along with an acrylic painting inspired by the dream. The result, over time, is an astonishing body of work, represented by the selections in this beautiful full-size facsimile volume. After seeing advance materials for the book, a writer in Graphis magazine said it "preserves the intimate presentation of the original warts-and-all artist's notebook—with words scratched out in first-draft fashion, blobs of ink, traces of transferred paint throughout, all the glorious imperfections. Unmediated as it is, Vigon's work functions like a form of meditation. At the same time the quality of the painting is that of finished art, so we experience the journal as a kind of heightened sketchbook of the unconscious.".

On a sunny Saturday last winter, I met Larry Vigon in his Los Angeles studio. He opened his journals and talked about his personal creative process. "Within my work there's none of the self-consciousness that comes with more formal painting. This is just for me."

The form of the artist's sketchbook subliminally leads us to consider the work as a series of quickly captured images from life, or in this case from dream life. At the same time, the quality of Vigon's painting is that of finished art, so we experience the journal as a kind of reified, heightened sketchbook of the unconscious, and in this context the images successfully deliver the power of the archetypes they depict. This impression is reinforced all the more by the warts-and-all presentation, with words scratched out in first-draft fashion, blobs of ink, traces of transferred paint throughout, all the glorious imperfections that situate us at the point of creation. There is a real pleasure in viewing this work in its original state and it can be almost overwhelming.

Vigon's images animate the writing and the writing anchors the images, in a kind of perfect equipoise of the surreal. Originally, the journals were intended to be seen by no one except his analyst. Gradually he began showing them, and now finds great pleasure in sharing them. "I finally want to get this out into the world and show it to people. I think it's worth it, but it's taken all these years to build the body of work and the skill level." The journal remains an extremely satisfying exercise of his talent, apart from any therapeutic or career-oriented considerations.

In fact, the journal includes more than just dream-derived images; it also contains quite a few free-association paintings, some of which have evolved from telephone pad doodles. Often, a dream narrative randomly collides with an image lifted from another stratum of the imagination, generating a kind of self-created exquisite corpse effect. Some-times these accidental pairings seem strangely apposite, for instance when a painting of a stuffed rabbit, wearing an expression of carefree dementia, stands across from a graphic description of manic sexual activity.

Vigon doesn't edit. The intensely personal and sometimes disturbing content of the dreams comes through unfiltered. "Working as an artist I can't edit the good dreams, the bad, or cut out the sexual stuff—it's either all or nothing. When you're not afraid to show yourself, your artwork becomes more accessible, real, and human." Unmediated as it is in that sense, his work has moved beyond its therapeutic function to a point where he sees it now as more akin to meditation, a form of meditation available to anyone without regard to literary or artistic ability. "There's something the 20 minutes or so it takes to write down a dream and reflect on it," he says. "That period of introspection before you face the world is time well spent."

Remote Viewing : Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing by Elisabeth Sussman, (Whitney Museum of American Art) New painting and drawing is the subject of Remote Viewing, which accompanies an exhibition at the Whitney Museum. The book brings together eight artists, some well known, others emerging, all of whom create new worlds that exist somewhere between abstraction and representation.

Each of the featured artists-Franz Ackermann, Steve DiBenedetto, Carroll Dunham, Ati Maier, Julie Mehretu, Matthew Ritchie, Alexander Ross, and Terry Winters -is part of a revitalization that has been seen in recent years in contemporary painting and drawing. Their work grapples with the overwhelming abundance of information now present in our lives, information that is historical, scientific, technological, geographical, visual, literary, hallucinogenic, mass-media, or otherwise, and shares a fascination with assertive color, invented form, and the construction of dynamic spaces. The book includes color illustrations of works in the exhibition as well as studio photography of each artist.

Mechanical Occult: Automatism, Modernism, and the Specter of Politics by Alan Ramon Clinton (Peter Lang) In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, technology and spirituality formed uncanny alliances in countless manifestations of automatism. From Victorian mediums to the psychiatrists who studied them, from the Fordist assembly line to the Hollywood studios that adopted its practices, from Surrealism on the left to Futurism and Vorticism on the right, the unpredictable paths of automatic practice and ideology present a means by which to explore both the utopian and`dystopian possibilities of technological and cultural innovation. Focusing on the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Butler Yeats, Alan Ramon Clinton argues that, given the wide-reaching influence of automatism, as much can be learned from these writers' means of production as from their finished products. At a time when criticism has grown polarized between political and aesthetic approaches to high modernism, this book provocatively develops its own automatic procedures to explore the works of these writers as fields rich in potential choices, some more spectral than others.

If one were pressed to name the most persistent structuring opposition in stud­ies of modernism, the opposition between science/technology and spirituality would definitely contend for top honors. Ezra Pound, who played an important role in setting the stakes for modernist artists, publicly tipped the artistic scales in favor of technology. His soberly titled essay "The Serious Artist," published in 1913, declares that the "arts, literature, poesy, are a science, just as chemistry is a science."' The overt goal of art, in this formulation, is to investigate those elements of humanity that fall outside the scope of other sciences. Pound's unstated aim, as we now understand it, was to grant the arts a status equal to the newly valorized discourses of science and technology. T.S. Eliot, with his description of art, in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," as a process of depersonalization analogous to "the action which takes place when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide," seems to concur? As much as the poems of these two figures resist formal analysis, their critical writings helped legitimize the scientific ideology that informed the minute dissections of the New Criticism.

In this version of modernism, W.B. Yeats is viewed as a great (many would say the "greatest") poet whose lifelong interest in occultism renders him marginal to the general thrust of the modernist "international style." Futurism, by contrast, may not have produced as memorable a body of art, but was more central to modernism in its investigations of societal mechanization that "had captivated most of the European artistic community." And there has been little, on the critical front, to change this state of things. If New Critical methodologies were challenged by structuralist methods in the 1950s and then the deluge of so-called "literary theory" that entered the English speaking world in the 1970s, the scientific ideologies of the New Criticism were actually reinforced by these imports. The ready incorporation of linguistics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy by English departments, while it inarguably resulted in a number of illuminating collaborations, also signals a desire for the humanities to adopt the systems of highly specialized language one associates with "hard science."

Somewhat ironically, it was the return of the very historical approaches originally displaced by the New Criticism that enabled the dominance of the "international style" to be questioned. Although inspired by an interest in such unabashedly occult figures as Yeats and Strindberg, contributors to the New York Literary Forum of 1980 began to argue for occultism's centrality based upon its ubiquity in turn-of-the-century culture. If "around 1900 Satanism be-became a European craze," then it is the duty of historically-minded critics to investigate such Black Mass appeal' Of course, interest in spiritualities of all kinds had swept through Europe, and so it was only a matter of time before such avatars of the international style as Pound and Eliot were also implicated with the occult. This turn in Modernist studies allowed James Logenbach to look with renewed vigor at the time Yeats and Pound spent together at Stone Cottage, while in The Birth of Modernism Leon Surette made the controversial claim that Eliot sought Pound's help in editing The Waste Land due to Pound's expertise in occult literature! Of course, the New Historicism gave even more ammunition to the technological side of the debate, as evidenced in such encyclopedic works as Cecelia Tichi's Shifting Gears and Lisa M. Steinman's Made in America: Science, Technology, and American Modernist Poets. What neither of these two approaches acknowledged was the truly uncanny nature of science and technology itself, those elements of technology that allowed for spiritualist apprehension at the turn of the century.

In Chapter 1, Clinton addresses this disparity which, although it has received some attention in works such as Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book, R.B. Kershner's work on spirit photography, and Helen Sword's Ghostwriting Modernism, is worthy of further elaboration. Clinton does this by focusing on what Gregory Ulmer calls, citing Gilles Deleuze, a "switch word," which is a word that paradoxically moves between two series. For purposes of bridging the gap between technological and spiritualist approaches to Modernist studies, I find the word-concept of "automatism" to be the most illuminating. Although automatism was once thought to be a fringe element of certain avant-garde and spiritualist circles, the word's roots actually render it equally at home in a Taylorized factory, a séance, or the office of Friedrich Nietzsche, the first philosopher to own a typewriter.

Chapter 2, "The Mechanical Occult," examines the history of occultism's claims to be both a scientific discipline and a politically subversive practice. While its associations with charlatanism and Orientalism complicates these claims considerably, occultism's persistence in popular culture demands its enlistment in any comprehensive program of cultural studies.' In its investigations, this chapter guides the reader through topics such as historian Carlo Ginzburg's investigations into witchcraft and leprosy, French literature's ongoing fascination with all things satanic, and such popular figures as Aleister Crowley and rock star Marilyn Manson. Finally, chapter 2 elucidates the critical methods, including procedures based on the tarot deck and the I-Ching, Clinton uses to reinvestigate the poetic ideologies of Pound, Eliot, and Yeats (Chapters 4—6 respectively), those high modernist poets whose combinations of experimental aesthetics and conservative ideologies (as discussed in Chapter 3) present the greatest challenge to the utopian claims of the avant-garde.

As the fascist, anti-Semitic, and generally conservative ties of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and W.B. Yeats have become more and more commonplace, critics have attempted to explain the apparent discontinuity between closed ideological views and open artistic styles. Most cynically, perhaps, John Strychaz argues that modernist writing possesses the one element shared by all closed professions: a specialized discourse requiring years of training to master.' This hyperbolic view of high modernism has a much broader history than its resurgence in the cultural studies scholarship of the 1980s, even finding one of its strongest expressions in Jean Paul Sartre's What is Literature?! In this work, Sartre makes an argument for so-called "engaged" literature and simultaneously disparages literary practices which a re not engaged. In his insistence that one should always be able to ask a writer, "What is your aim?", Sartre implicitly creates an atmosphere that is hostile to the same types of modernists that Strychaz discusses. The engaged notion that form should not obscure content tends to make Sartre suspicious of more experimental or self-consciously literary forms of writing. At his most vitriolic, Sartre claims that professional critics are "cemetery watchmen" who have sought to escape the real demands of life. In Marxism and Form, Fredric Jameson explains these polemics by reminding us of Sartre's commitment to Marxism, one overlooked by American critics who do not realize that, historically speaking, "in Europe Marxism is an omnipresent, living mode of thought, one with which every intellectual is bound to come into contact." Thus, most of Sartre's great literary and philosophical works were produced concurrently with his studies in Marxism. And, to Sartre's credit, the questions that he asks of literature are part of his larger attempt at a "rectification of [this] idealistic pseudo-Marxism" which, instead of granting a measure of choice to writers in their artistic production, makes essentialist assumptions about the nature of a writer's aesthetic production based upon his or her class affiliations.'° On this level, Sartre's method would seemingly be more applicable to the very writers he disparages, especially those modernists whose stated political views oftentimes seem utterly contrasted with their artistic production. Unfortunately, Sartre's widespread vilifications in What is Literature?, which lack the subtlety of his philosophical writings, not only counteract this specificity, but lend themselves to a more general (in critics such as Strychaz) and thus less effective critique of modernism.

Others explain the failure of the avant-garde to enact sweeping change not in terms of obscurity or difficulty, but in terms of an historical or even fundamental split between aesthetics and politics. In this vein, Peter Burger declares the death of the historical avant-garde in the same breath with which he defines it. Although the avant-garde seeks to erase the divisions between art and everyday life by attacking art as an institution, this attempt is rendered anodyne now that "the protest of the historical avant-garde as institution is accepted as art." Although this latter view may be lauded as a sober antidote to the avant-garde's overly exuberant utopianism, it must ultimately be rejected as self-fulfilling and self-defeating. While Clinton does not pretend that the connections between aesthetics and politics are fundamental or simple, artistic study or production would suffer complete ideological enslavement if the critic did not constantly propose new models for the way in which art and praxis continually produce one another. In Terry Eagleton's words, the study of aesthetics must be taken seriously because, no matter how complex the relationships may be, "the aesthetic is for a number of reasons a peculiarly effective ideological medium: it is graphic, immediate and economical, working at instinctual and emotional depths yet playing too on the very surfaces of perception." Chapter 3, keeping Eagleton's description of a charged aesthetic medium in view, uses a series of vignettes relating the practices of high modernism and Hollywood to suggest how the experimental aesthetics of writers such as Pound, Yeats, and Eliot can actually serve the ends of reactionary politics. Any discussion of "charged" but inherently separate aesthetic media (such as film and literature) owes some debt to Michel Foucault's discussions of the episteme. Foucault's paradoxical notion, which undergirds my investigations of all forms of auto­matism, allows for the historical complexities that can make aesthetic production seem both engaged and utterly separate from other historical occurrences. In describing an historical episteme, Foucault is attempting to chart a "structure of knowledge" that is both limited by its lack of specificity and enabled by its applicability (like a formula) to various situations." In this vein, Foucault's method would seem to possess a high degree of predictability, one that would even justify a mode of criticism which seeks to find direct relationships between literary productions and their historical situations. Unfortunately, Foucault does not describe formulas or templates to which every event is molded, but rather "configurations" of "intrinsic possibility" These possibilities are better understood in terms of the contemporary sciences of probability than in terms of more antiquated notions of causality. As a result, the materialist study of literary products becomes simultaneously more difficult, more mysterious, and more tentative.

Transfigurations illustrations by Alex Grey (Inner Traditions) Ten years of visionary artwork from a rare artist embraced by critics, spiritual leaders, and the general public during his lifetime. It includes essays on Grey's work by the renowned art critic Donald Kuspit and by Stephen Larsen, author of Fire in the Mind: The Authorized Biography of Joseph Campbell. Transfigurations is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Sacred Mirrors, one of the most successful art books of the 1990s, having sold more than 50,000 copies and appearing in five languages.
Every once in a great while an artist emerges who does more than simply reflect the social trends of the time. These artists are able to transcend established thinking and help us redefine ourselves and our world. Today, a growing number of art critics, philosophers, and spiritual seekers believe they have found that vision in the art of Alex Grey.
It includes all of Grey's major works completed in the past decade, including the masterful seven-paneled altarpiece Nature of Mind, called "the grand climax of Grey's art" by Donald Kuspit. Grey's portrayals of human beings blend scientific exactitude with visionary depictions of universal life energy, leading us on the soul's journey from material world encasement to recovery of our divinely illuminated core. 

Contents: Foreword, Albert Hofmann, Transfigurations, An Artist's Journey, Stephen Larsen, Early Years, Performance Rites, Hieros Gamos: Sacralizing Relationship, Interview with Alex and Allyson Grey, The Sacred Mirrors, Transfiguration, Alex Greay's Mysticism, Donald Kuspit, Art and the Integral Vision, A Conversation with Ken Wilber and Alex Grey, Nature of Mind, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, World Soul, Cosmic Christ, Acknowledgments


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