Jack Goldstein’s Aphorisms

Before considering Two Boxers, that earlier thought about Goldstein’s link to the Romantic Sublime in Under Water Sea Fantasy came back to provoke a second look at my notebook.

One of the notable things about Jack Goldstein is that he often writes very well: among the Totems, a hybrid gathering of graphic notes and asides compiled during the later 1980s and early 1990s, with overtones of concrete poetry, we find a range of aphorisms, many seeming to offer comments on fiction and poetics, or oblique instructions on ways of achieving a version of Keats’ ‘negative capability’ – that proposed removal of the certainties of the self from poetry that opens a door into direct experience:

Negative capability: “…that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…”, was Keats’ own formulation in a letter of 1817.

For Goldstein as well as Keats, it seems that the individual sensibility and the personal experience might suffuse the work and give it emotional resonance, but any sense of the art as a self-expression or presentation of certain viewpoints is held at a distance from the immediate impact of images, standing in their own right, and representing themselves. We can read authorial ‘voices’ into what we see and read but these do not intrude between the viewer and the unstable meanings each image generates in its own right. 

It seems worth adding here some of the lines in the Totems series (1988 – 1996) that caught my attention, and found their way into my notebook yesterday. They strike chords with some of the ways of working I seem to have adopted over the years, and open a few doors into possible refinements and fresh explorations…

“The search for ‘truth’ is a search about ‘form’…”

“Men hoped that the number of ideas in their heads could be brought into exact correspondence with the number of things in the world” 

“The dreamer awakes not ‘from’ a body, but ‘to’ a body”

“The Sun seems to withdraw during its eclipse”

“Signatures can always be faked”

“The immediacy of fictional characters”

“The sentence breaks off where the human voice begins”

“Using his mirror image he discovers how to make himself disappear”

“What mattered to him was that which was too great for the human eye”

“And the ‘whole’ could at every moment be lesser than one of its ‘parts’…”

“When the image is new, the world is new”

“He forgets everything in order to be able to do something”


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