Category Archives: experimental film

Robert Zend – Afterword: Citizen of the Macrocosm

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Afterword: Citizen of the Macrocosm

COSMIC HAND

          Robert Zend admired Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy for his unwillingness “to accept any label, either for himself or for others”:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

He didn’t identify with any group; he belonged nowhere, but this non-belonging meant for him an extremely strong belonging to Man, to Mankind, to Humanity.1

          Zend similarly disregarded boundaries in seeking out like-minded writers and artists around the world, in shaping themes exploring the connectedness of all humanity and a cosmic sense of place, and in creating art using the most humble and mundane objects.
          National culture is a fuzzy proposition, and this is true for the countries where Zend found kindred artists and writers. At a certain point, the idea of nation becomes merely a convenient rubric to demonstrate his cosmopolitanism. For example, within Canadian culture are the cultures of many nations. In turn, the cultures of those nations cannot be thought of as pure but are often congeries of contributions from many peoples across history. As Zend resisted the notion of labels and boundaries, my use of them here might seem to contradict his convictions.
          But nations, perhaps especially one such as Hungary, whose language and culture evoke in many Hungarians fierce sentiments of belonging, are of course not totally artificial cultural constructs. And although Canada’s historical quest for a cohesive national culture has been eroded over the decades by the crosscurrent trend toward a national policy of multiculturalism, Canadian cultural protectionism has cast an enduring shadow on any debate on national identity.
          Zend had Hungarian cultural roots, and part of his cosmopolitan Budapest heritage was also the thirst to look beyond borders to find literary and artistic kin worldwide. This desire was integral to the freedom that he so valued. In Canada, he had close ties to immigrant as well as Canadian-born artists and writers. Thus his Canadian heritage and legacy are based not so much on national identity as on multicultural affinities.
          In the afterword to Oāb, he lists his “spiritual fathers and mothers” as well as “chosen brothers and sisters.” They include poets, artists, sculptors, short story writers, novelists, philosophers, literary theorists, actors, and filmmakers from Argentina, Canada, the United States, France, Austria, Germany, Ancient Greece and Rome, Romania, Flanders, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Hungary, Great Britain, and Belgium. In short, his tally of creative family is a model of interdisciplinary and cosmopolitan openness.
          Zend was a Canadian original: born in Hungary and adopted by Canada, he wrote about both places. He was also a citizen of a broader community of writers and artists and wrote about realms of cosmic dimension. His cosmopolitan outlook is a part of Canadian cultural history. It is a remarkable achievement and an homage to what he most admired in other writers, artists, and cultures without regard to borders.
          Thank you for reading my series on the life and work of Robert Zend — I hope you enjoyed it. It has been a great pleasure to work on this project.

A Special Announcement —
The Robert Zend Website


          One important matter remains: in a few days, I’ll announce the completion of a significant project recently undertaken by Zend’s daughter Natalie Zend: The Robert Zend Website. This valuable resource provides information on acquiring his books and art and offers information to anyone interested in learning more about his remarkable life and work. Stay tuned . . .

Acknowledgements and Bibliography

          Below is a list of heartfelt acknowledgements to the many people who have kindly assisted my research. Particular gratitude goes to Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori, who so generously contributed to this project. Please do not hesitate to let me know if I have overlooked any person or institution.
          And for anyone interested in the sources I used during my research, I include a Bibliography at the end of this post.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful for the kind assistance and generosity of the following:

The family of Robert Zend: Janine Zend, Natalie Zend, and Ibi Gabori

Rachel Beattie and Brock Silverside, curators of the Zend fonds at Media Commons, University of Toronto Library

Edric Mesmer, librarian at the University at Buffalo’s Poetry Collection and curator of The Center for Marginalia, and the other wonderful librarians of The Poetry Collection for their research assistance

Brent Cehan and other librarians of the Language and Literature division of the Toronto Reference Library

The librarians in the Special Arts Room Stacks at the Toronto Reference Library

The librarians at Reference and Research Services and at the Petro Jacyk Central and East European Resource Centre, Robarts Library, University of Toronto Libraries

Susanne Marshall (former Literary Editor for The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Irving Brown

Robert Sward

bill bissett

Jiří Novák

Bibliography

“Administrative history / biographical sketch.” Robert Zend fonds. Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries, Toronto, Canada. http://mediacommons.library.utoronto.ca/sites/mediacommons.library.utoronto.ca/files/finding-aids/zend.pdf

Bangarth, Stephanie, and Andrew S. Thompson. “Transnational Christian Charity: the Canadian Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the Hungarian Refugee Crisis, 1956–1957.” American Review of Canadian Studies 38, no. 3 (2008): 295–316. General OneFile. Web.

The Book of Canadian Poetry. Edited by A. J. M. Smith. Toronto: Gage, 1943.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Comments on back cover of Daymares: Selected Fiction on Dreams and Time by Robert Zend. Vancouver: CACANADADADA Press, 1991.

———. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. Edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New Directions, 1964.

Botar, Oliver, to Janine Zend. Email. 9 April 2001.

Buzinkay, Géza. “The Budapest Joke and Comic Weeklies as Mirrors of Cultural Assimilation.” In Budapest and New York: Studies in Metropolitan Transformation, 1870–1930, edited by Thomas Bender and Carl E. Schorske, 224–247. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994.

Catalogue. Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (National Széchényi Library) in Budapest, Hungary.

Cavell, Richard. McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

Clarity, James F., and Eric Pace. “Marcel Marceau, Renowned Mime, Dies at 84.” New York Times. 24 September 2007.

Colombo, John Robert. Ottawa Journal. 11 May 1974. 40.

Day, Lawrence. “Re: Handbook 386(b) – Ken Field.” Chess Talk. 27 August 2008. http://www.chesstalk.info/forum/printthread.php?s=bea6d4e5851d02610f6670258010f473&t=375

———. IMlday. 23 September 2004. http://www.chessgames.com.

Donaghy, Greg. “An Unselfish Interest? Canada and the Hungarian Revolution, 1954-1957.” In The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, edited by Christopher Adam, Tibor Egervari, Leslie Laczko, and Judy Young, 256—74. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010.

Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. “Hungary: The Great Depression.” Library of Congress Country Studies. 1989. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/cshome.html.

Ferrazzi, A. Portrait of Giacomo Leopardi. C. 1820. Oil on canvas. Casa Leopardi, Recanati, Italy.

“Fiftieth Anniversary of the Hungarian uprising and refugee crisis.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 23 October 2006. http://www.unhcr.org/453c7adb2.html.

Fifield, William. “The Mime Speaks: Marcel Marceau.” The Kenyon Review 30, no.2 (1968): 155-65.

Fleeing the Hungarian Revolution, Settling in Canada: Photos and documents of Robert, Ibi and Aniko Zend’s voyage November 1956 – April 1957. 1956 Memorial Oral History Project: Materials accompanying Eve (Ibi) Gabori’s interview, 31 March 2007. Prepared by Natalie Zend, 24 June 2007.

Fosler-Lussier, Danielle. Music Divided: Bartók’s Legacy in Cold War Culture. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007.

Frye, Northrop. Afterword to Daymares: Selected Fictions on Dreams and Time, by Robert Zend. Vancouver: Cacanadada Press, 1991.

Gabori, George. When Evils Were Most Free. Deneau, 1981.

Gabori, Ibi. Interview 01544-2. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute. Accessed online at the University of Toronto Library.

Gould, Glenn. “If I were a gallery curator . . .” Dust jacket of From Zero to One by Robert Zend. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.

Hahn, Lionel / McClatchy Newspapers. Photograph of Marcel Marceau performing in Westwood, California, in 2002. Available from: The Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2003899052_marceau24.html.

Hamlet. Directed by Lawrence Olivier. London: Two Cities Films, 1948.

Hidas, Peter. “Arrival and Reception: Hungarian Refugees, 1956—1957.” In The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, edited by Christopher Adam, Tibor Egervari, Leslie Laczko, and Judy Young, 223—55. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010.

History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Volume 1. Edited by Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2004.

Hungarian American Federation. “The 1956 Hungarian Revolution in Photos.“ The 1956 Hungarian Revolution Portal. http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/1956/photos.htm.

Jones, Frank. “The first time I met Ibi Gabori.” Toronto Star. 29 February 1992. K2. ProQuest. Web.

Józsa, Judit, and Tamás Pelles. La Storia della Scuola Italiana di Budapest alla Luce dei Documenti D’Archivio [The History of the Italan School of Budapest, in Light of Archival Documents]. http://web.t-online.hu/pellestamas/Tamas/bpoliskol.htm#_Toc189916144.

Kafka, Franz. “An Imperial Message.” Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 1971. 4–5.

Karinthy, Frigyes. “Chain-Links.” Translated by Adam Makkai, edited by Enikö Jankó. http://djjr-courses.wdfiles.com/local–files/soc180:karinthy-chain-links/Karinthy-Chain-Links_1929.pdf.

———. A Journey Round My Skull. New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2008.

———. Tanár úr kérem [Please Sir!]. Budapest: Dick Manó, 1916.

———. Voyage to Faremido: Gulliver’s Fifth Voyageand Capillaria: Gulliver’s Sixth Voyage. Translated by Paul Tabori. London: New English Library, 1978.

Kearns, Lionel. By the Light of the Silvery McLune: Media Parables, Poems, Signs, Gestures, and Other Assaults on the Interface. Vancouver: Daylight Press, 1969.

Kieval, Hillel J. “Tiszaeszlár Blood Libel.” The Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 2010. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Tiszaeszlar_Blood_Libel.

Koehler, Robert. “Pantomimist Marcel Marceau in Performance at Segerstrom Hall.” Los Angeles Times, 11 February 1988. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-02-11/entertainment/ca-41839_1_marcel-marceau.

Kossar, Leon. “Canada Heaven for Hungarians.” The Telegram, 30 April 1957.

Kramer, Mark. “The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises in Hungary and Poland: Reassessments and New Findings.” Journal of Contemporary History 33, no. 2 (April 1998): 163—214.

Lenvai, Paul. One Day That Shook the Communist World: The 1956 Hungarian Uprising and Its Legacy. Translated by Ann Major. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Leopardi, Giacomo. Canti. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010.

Lloyd, John. Portrait of Robert Zend. Cover of Beyond Labels. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1982.

Luther, Claudia. “Marcel Marceau, 84; legendary mime was his art’s standard-bearer for seven decades.” Los Angeles Times, 24 September 2007. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/sep/24/local/me-marceau24.

Madách, Imre. The Tragedy of Man. Translated by George Szirtes. New York: Puski Publishing,1988.

———. The Tragedy of Man. Translated and illustrated by Robert Zend.

Magritte, René. Le fils de l’homme. 1964. Magritte Foundation. http://www.magritte.be/portfolio-item/fils-de-l-homme-2/?lang=en.

———. Radio interview with Jean Neyens (1965), in Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, translated by Richard Millen, 172. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977.

———. Les valeurs personelles (Personal Values), Series 2. 1952. Magritte Foundation. http://www.magritte.be/portfolio-item/les-valeurs-personnelles/?lang=en.

The Maple Laugh Forever: An Anthology of Comic Canadian Poetry. Edited by Douglas Barbour and Stephen Scobie. Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1981.

Marceau, Marcel. Comments on front inner dust jacket of From Zero to One by Robert Zend. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.

———. Marceau, Marcel. “Marcel Marceau Paintings.” Encyclopedia of Mime. Available at http://www.mime.info/encyclopedia/marceau-paintings.html.

———. The Mask Maker./em> Available at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7ffi4_marcel-marceau-le-masque_fun.

———. Portrait of Robert Zend. Drawing (medium unknown). Dust jacket cover of From Zero to One by Robert Zend. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.

———. “This Drawing, Poem, and Zend During and After.” In A Bouquet to Bip by Robert Zend. Exile Magazine 1, no. 3 ( 1973): 121-22.

———. Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death. Film stills from 1965 performance. Available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5RLTZSrr4A.

Marcus, Frank. “Marceau: The Second Phase.” The Transatlantic Review 11 (1962): 12—18.

Marinari, Umberto. Introduction. Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks. Translated by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 3—26.

Martin, Camille. Entry on Lionel Kearns for The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2013. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/lionel-kearns/.

Messerli, Douglas. “Frigyes Karinthy.” Green Integer. The PIP (Project for Innovative Poetry) Blog. 30 November 2010. http://pippoetry.blogspot.ca/2010/11/frigyes-karinthy.html.

New Poems of the Seventies. Edited by Douglas Lochhead and Raymond Souster. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1970.

New York Café, Budapest. Photograph. Available at Famous Coffee Houses. http://www.braunhousehold.com.

Nichol, B. P. The Alphabet Game: A bpNichol Reader. Edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2007.

———. Art Facts: A Book of Contexts. Tucson: Chax Press, 1990.

———. “Calendar” (detail). Broadside. S.n, n.d.

———. Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer. Toronto: Coach House Press, 2004; originally released in Canada in 1974.

———. The Martyrology, Book 6 Books. 1987; reprint. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1994.

———. The Martyrology 5. 1982; facsimile edition. Toronto: Coach House Books, 1994.

———. Meanwhile: The Critical Writings of bpNichol. Edited by Roy Miki. Vancouver: Talon Books, 2002.

———. Merry-Go-Round. Illustrated by Simon Ng. Red Deer, Alberta: Red Deer College Press, 1991.

———. Zygal: A Book of Mysteries and Translations. Toronto: Coach House Books, 1985.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Birth of Tragedy.” Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Modern Library, 2000. 1—144.

Nyugat 1938, no. 10. Budapest. Frigyes Karinthy memorial issue.

Pirandello, Luigi. Right You Are, If You Think You Are. In Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks. Translated by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 69—118.

———. Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays. Translated by Mark Musa. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.

———. Six Characters in Search of an Author. In Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks. Translated by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 119—67.

Priest, Robert, Robert Sward, and Robert Zend. The Three Roberts: On Childhood. St. Catherines, Ontario: Moonstone Press, 1985.

———. The Three Roberts: On Love. Toronto: Dreadnaught, 1984.

———. The Three Roberts: Premiere Performance. Scarborough, Ontario: HMS Press, 1984.

Q Art Theatre. The Tragedy of Man publicity poster. Montreal: Q Art Theatre, October – November 2000.

R., Patrick. Robert Zend. “Memorial.” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10862727.

Rippl-Rónai, József. Portrait of Frigyes Karinthy. 1925. Pastel. Petőfi Museum of Literature. Available from Terminartors. http://www.terminartors.com/artworkprofile/Rippl-Ronai_Jozsef-Portrait_of_Frigyes_Karinthy.

Robert Zend bio. Ronsdale Press. Available at http://ronsdalepress.com/authors/robert-zend/.

Robert Zend fonds. Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries, Toronto, Canada.

Sanders, Ivan. “Karinthy, Ferenc.” The Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 2010. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Karinthy_Ferenc

Six Degrees of Separation. 1993. DVD Culver City, Canada: MGM Home Entertainment, 2000.

Sled, Dmitri. “Partisans In The Arts: Marcel Marceau (1923—2007).” Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. 12 June 2012. http://jewishpartisans.blogspot.ca/2012/06/partisans-in-arts-marcel-marceau-1923.html.

Standelsky, Eva, and Zoltan Volgyesl. Tainted Revolution. Dir. Martin Mevius. The Netherlands: Association for the Study of Nationalities, 2006.

Stark, Tamás. “‘Malenki Robot’ – Hungarian Forced Labourers in the Soviet Union (1944–1955).” Minorities Research: A Collection of Studies by Hungarian Authors. Edited by Győző Cholnoky. Budapest: Lucidus K., 1999. 155-167. http://www.epa.hu/00400/00463/00007/pdf/155_stark.pdf

Sterne, Laurence. Tristram Shandy. Edited by Howard Anderson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980.

Szabó, László Cs. Qtd. in “Frigyes Karinthy Author’s Page.” Publishing Hungary. Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum. http://www.hunlit.hu/karinthyfrigyes,en.

Szaynok, Bożena. “Stalinization of Eastern Europe.” Translated by John Kulczycki. Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1. Edited by Richard S. Levy. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. 677—80.

Talpalatnyi föld [Treasured Earth]. Directed by Frigyes Bán. Hungary: Magyar Filmgyártó Nemzeti Vállalat, 1948.

The Toronto Mirror. Published and edited by Robert Zend. October 1961.

Troper, Harold. “Canada and the Hungarian Refugees: The Historical Context.” In The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, edited by Christopher Adam, Tibor Egervari, Leslie Laczko, and Judy Young, 176—93. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2010.

Ungváry, Krisztián. The Siege of Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II. Translated by Ladislaus Löb. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. “Hungary after the German Occupation.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. Last modified 10 June 2013. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005458.

Veidlinger, Jeffrey. “Stalin, Joseph (1879—1953).” Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1. Edited by Richard S. Levy. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005. 676—77.

Volvox: Poetry from the Unofficial Languages of Canada . . . in English Translation. Edited by J. Michael Yates. The Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia: The Sono Nis Press, 1971.

Wershler, Darren. “News That Stays News: Marshall McLuhan and Media Poetics.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing 14 no. 2 (2011). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0014.208.

White, Norman T. “The Hearsay Project.” The NorMill. 11—12 November 1985. http://www.normill.ca/Text/Hearsay.txt.

Zend, Natalie. A Biography of Robert Zend. Unpublished manuscript. 8 March 1983. Personal library of Janine Zend.

Zend, Robert. Ararat. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. Arbormundi: 16 Selected Typescapes. Vancouver: Blewointment Press, 1982.

———. Beyond Labels. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1982.

———. A Bouquet to Bip. Exile Magazine 1, no. 3 ( 1973): 93–123.

———. Dancers. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. Daymares: Selected Fictions on Dreams and Time. Edited by Brian Wyatt. Vancouver: CACANADADADA Press, 1991.

———. Eden. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. Fából vaskarikatúrák. Budapest: Magyar Világ Kiadó, 1993.

———. Film poster produced for Hamlet, directed by Lawrence Olivier (London: Two Cities Films, 1948). Press and Publicity Department of the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company, 1948.

———. Film poster produced for Talpalatnyi föld (Treasured Earth), directed by Frigyes Bán (Hungary: Magyar Filmgyártó Nemzeti Vállalat, 1948). Press and Publicity Department of the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company, 1948.

———. From Zero to One. Translated by Robert Zend and John Robert Colombo. Mission, BC: The Sono Nis Press, 1973.

———. Genesis. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. Hazám törve kettővel. Montréal: Omnibooks, 1991.

———. Heavenly Cocktail Party. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. How Do Yoo Doodle?. Unpublished manuscript. Private collection of Janine Zend. Coloration is the author’s.

———. “The Key.” Exile Magazine 2, no. 2 (1974): 57-67.

———. LineLife. Ink drawing on paper. 1983. Box 10, Robert Zend fonds, Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries. Adapted for digital medium by Camille Martin.

———. “Months of the Super-Year.” Exile Magazine 2, no. 2 (1974): 50.

———. Nicolette: A Novel Novel. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 1993.

———. Oāb. Volume 1. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1983.

———. Oāb. Volume 2. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1985.

———. Pirandello and the Number Two. Master’s thesis. University of Toronto, 1969.

———. Polinear No. 3. 1982. Ink on paper. Private collection.

———. Quadriptych in Gasquette series. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. Science Fiction. N.d. Paper collage. Private collection.

———. Toiletters. N.d. Ink on toilet paper rolls. Private collection.

———. “Type Scapes: A Mystery Story.” Exile Magazine 5 nos. 3-4 (1978): 147.

———. Versek, Képversek. Párizs: Magyar mühely, 1988.

———. Windmill. N.d. Mixed media with thumbtacks, sewing pins, string, and paper on wood. Private collection.

———. “The World’s Greatest Poet.” Exile Magazine 2, no. 2 (1974): 55-56.

———. Zendocha-land. Unpublished manuscript, 1979.

Zend, Robert, ed. Vidám úttörő nyár (Happy Summer Pioneers). Magyar Úttörők Szövetsége (Association of Hungarian Pioneers), 1955.

Zend, Robert, translator and illustrator. The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madách. Unpublished manuscript.

Zend, Robert, and Jerónimo. My friend, Jerónimo. Toronto: Omnibooks, 1981.

“Zend, Robert.” Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Edited by W. H. New. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 1234.


Camille Martin

Robert Zend – Part 10. International Affinities: France (Marcel Marceau)

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Part 10. International Affinities:
France (Marcel Marceau)

L’Art du Silence
and the Language of Empathy

ZEND MARCEAU X 2
          In 1955, French mime artist Marcel Marceau made his historic North American debut, beginning his tour at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and continuing with standing-room-only performances in most major cities in the United States. The tour propelled Marceau into international fame. In 1958, he made a triumphant return to the Stratford Festival, the venue that had kicked off the series of performances that not only secured his place as the most important mime artist of his time, but also established miming as an performance genre with a high degree of artistic and intellectual merit.
          In 1970, Marceau once again returned to Canada to perform at the Stratford Festival. To commemorate his visit, Zend designed a chess set to be presented by the CBC to Marceau, an avid chess player (figs. 1 and 2).
          The warm and reciprocal friendship that developed between the two men isn’t surprising. On a personal level, they had both survived Nazi-occupied countries and experienced profound losses during that period. Zend lost both of his parents to hostilities against civilians during the Soviet siege of Nazi-occupied Budapest, and his first wife, Ibi, lost both of her parents and other family members to Nazi concentration camps. Marceau lost his father, who was murdered in Auschwitz. Subsequently, he joined the French Resistance and helped many Jewish children escape to neutral countries; in fact, Marceau began miming in order to entertain the children and keep them quiet during their treacherous escape.1 And Zend was active in the resistance to Soviet rule during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Both Marceau and Zend understood well the consequences of authoritarian regimes founded on terror and hatred.
MARCEL MARCEAU PORTRAIT          They shared a keen sense of humour and apparently also a love of the spontaneous sketch: Zend calls Marceau “a friend with whom I like doodling together.”2 And since they also shared a close personal, artistic, and spiritual bond, each refers to the other as his “chosen brother.”3
          Zend was deeply affected by Marceau’s practice of l’art du silence in his creation of a mute clown, Bip, who in brief mimed narratives played out the dilemmas of an ordinary man faced with predicaments (fig. 3). Marceau ascribes Bib’s popularity to the fact that

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Bip is a funny, sad fellow, and things are always happening to him that could happen to anybody. Because he speaks with the gestures and the movement of the body, everyone knows what is happening to him, and he is popular everywhere. . . . There is no French way of laughing and no American way of crying. My subjects try to reveal the fundamental essences of humanity.4

Of his art, Marceau noted, “It’s not dance. It’s not slapstick. It is essence and restraint.5
          Zend felt an affinity for the “essences of humanity” within Marceau’s tragicomic everyman, Bip, out of his own concern with the erasure of superficial barriers between peoples to reveal their commonalities. He admired Marceau’s ability to create through Bip’s gestures alone a universal language by presenting distilled human nature in “style pantomimes.” Film and theatre critic Robert Koehler describes Marceau’s “style” pieces as “ambitious works” that might be “Bip’s fantastic dreams,” and that “often try to soar above the earthly plain.”6.
          In one such style sketch entitled “Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death,” Marceau glides seamlessly through the trajectory of a human life in about three minutes, from curled fetus to shriveled old age and death. The general idea can be seen in the following montage of film stills from a 1965 performance (available on YouTube, for anyone interested) (fig. 4):
 
MARCEAU Y TO OA STILLS MONTAGE
 
MUTAMUSMarceau’s compressed arc of human life is reminiscent of Zend’s typescape Mutamus (We Are Changing) (fig. 5), which shows five stages of human life against the backdrop of an hourglass. It also recalls Zend’s 1983 flipbook animation entitled Linelife, which I featured in Part 1. of this series, and which I repeat below for any who missed it or would like to see it again (fig. 6):
 

Fig. 6. Robert Zend, LineLife, ink drawing on paper, 1983, Box 10, Robert Zend fonds, Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries. Adapted for digital medium by Camille Martin. Copyright © Janine Zend, 1983, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission from Janine Zend.

 
          Like Marceau’s ethos of embracing all humanity by appealing to commonalities, Zend’s poetry also dissolves boundaries between self and other, as in the following aphoristic poem:

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First Person

When I talk about myself,
I talk about you, too.7

In just a few words, Zend creates an empathetic bridge linking two persons and acknowledging their common humanity.
          And in “The Universalist,” dedicated to “the Style Pantomimist Who Can Tell Years in Minutes,” Zend celebrates Marceau’s ability to render the “essences of humanity.” The poem’s premise is reminiscent of Borges: a writer dreams of capturing “the history of the world in ten volumes” but is faced with the “impossib[ility] to know everything about all the peoples in all times.” He then tries writing successively less ambitious but equally detailed pieces: “a triology about three consecutive generations,” “a play about an interesting conflict,” and “one short story about one character.” But each time he begins a new project, he soon gives up in defeat because he realizes that the enormous scope of his subject exceeds his capacity to capture all of the details of world history in “a true picture.”
          Then he tries to render “one of his moods in a short lyrical poem.” This also fails because he realizes that such a poem would always remain a “fragment,” unable to do justice even to one momentary mood in one human life, “for his mood rooted back into his childhood, into his family, into the culture which bore him, into the whole history of mankind.” At last,

QUOTATION MARKS 7

after decades of not writing at all — when he was very, very old — one evening — after careful consideration — he took a clean sheet of paper and immersed his pen in the ink, and — as if he had just finished the magnificent life-work he had started dreaming about when he was very young — he dropped a tiny, little dot of ink onto the paper, and was satisfied and happy, because he knew that the little dot contained hundreds of billions of universes in it, complete with galaxies, and within the galaxies solar systems, and within the solar systems swarming life on each of the infinite number of planets contained in them. He was a god after the creation. No longer afraid of death.8

Within the microcosm of a drop of ink swarm macrocosms that in turn, viewed through an imaginary microscope, contain infinite microcosms. In his fantastical tale, Zend acknowledges Marceau’s gift of distilling complex human emotions and predicaments into a series of gestures, which in turn suggest infinite possibilities in the macrocosm of “all the peoples in all times.”

“I divide myself in two” (Marceau)
“and punch myself on the nose” (Zend)

MARCEAU MASK MAKER          The flip side of that universalism is Zend’s interest in Marceau’s renditions of masking and of the divided self. In one style sketch, Bip plays a mask maker who alternately tries on his masks of tragedy and comedy, performing various antics appropriate to the masks’ moods. But at a certain point he’s unable to remove the laughing mask. As Bip grows increasingly desperate to pry it off, his frantic gestures reveal the stark incongruity between the laughing mask and the tragedy of the situation (fig. 7). Finally, Bip blinds himself and is then able to peel off the offending mask. Marceau describes the sketch of the Mask Maker as showing, “through the use of his many faces, the problem of illusion and reality,” thus creating a “Pirandellian effect,”9 referring to the Italian playwright’s exploration of the human capacity for self-delusion and the construction of masks hiding a darker, unknowable reality. (This idea of the multiple masks of the self fascinated Zend and will be explored further in the section on Italian affinities, Pirandello in particular.) Marceau describes his performance in “The Mask Maker” as one of self-division:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

I must detach myself wholly from my face. At the end, when he cannot wrench the laughing mask off, the face laughs and the body cries. I divide myself in two.10

Zend had the opportunity to hear in depth Marceau’s ideas on the mask when he produced a CBC Ideas program entitled The Living Mask in 1971, featuring conversations with Marceau.
          Moreover, as an exiled immigrant, Zend himself knew intimately that “schizoid” feeling of being split by the impossibility of reconciling two different places, so his life was steeped in that feeling of dividedness. In “Spheroid Poem,” dedicated “to All Men in Marceau,” he writes of a self sometimes violently opposed to itself:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

I sometimes met
myself on the street
and punched myself on the nose —
and I was mad at myself
for I wasn’t even sorry for myself —
sometimes I stayed home
and penned poems
for myself
which every hundred years or so
I will reread
and either like them
or dislike them.

I was often dissatisfied
and rebelled against myself —
I declared war
and in one bloody battle after another
I wiped myself out —
through boring years of peace,
however,
I thought triumphantly about
my losing the war,
so I thought revengefully about
my winning the war,
so I thought triumphantly about . . .
and so on.11

The multiplicity of identities within the self are also explored in Zend’s poem “You”:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

You

If I say “you”
it’s not you I think of
but rather the one I think of

If I say “you”
It’s not me I think of
but rather the one I am thinking of

If I say “you”
I’m thinking of one of my selves
in whom another self believes12

Zend’s repetition of the phrase “thinking of” becomes like a hall of mirrors in which not only is the “you” or other person unknowable but the self that thinks of the “you” is also unknowable, and so on, in a potentially infinite regression of unknowable selves thinking unknowable thoughts.

Portraits and Bouquets:
A Collaboration of Gifts

PORTRAIT 6A 250          Following Marceau’s visit, Zend and Marceau continued their expression of friendship and mutual esteem. Marceau expressed his admiration of Zend in both words and art. He wrote that “[o]nce Robert Zend told me that I was a poet of gestures. Once I told him he was a mime with words. Robert Zend is a poet in every moment of his life.”13 Marceau also drew a fine portrait of Zend, published in the negative on the front dust jacket of his first book of poetry, From Zero to One (fig. 8). Before he became a professional mime, Marceau had first dreamed of becoming an artist. During his tours, he would often present quick sketches of himself to autograph-seekers.14 Marceau also created more studied portraits of Bip that often feature stylized suns with exaggerated starburst lines. It’s perhaps a sign of Marceau’s esteem for Zend that he draws his portrait with Bip’s characteristic suns exhibiting various emotions from joyful (high in the sky) to mournful (setting) – Marceau’s version, perhaps, of the Greek masks of tragedy and comedy. Also, it’s possible to see in Zend’s image a hint of Bip in the almost mutton-chop effect of the facial hair, a trademark feature of Marceau’s clown. The care that Marceau took with Zend’s portrait, with its delicate strokes and the meditative, slightly melancholic countenance, is evident.
BIP 1 250          After designing the chess set, Zend again paid tribute to Marceau in a thirty-one-page piece entitled A Bouquet to Bip, published in Exile Magazine in 1973 (fig. 9). The bouquet in the title likely refers to the single red flower absurdly sprouting from Bip’s crumpled opera hat. We have already seen some text from A Bouquet to Bip above. The following are some remarkable images from that sequence.
          One of the most beautiful and poignant of these, entitled “The Family Tree of the Alphabet,” is a concrete poem consisting of letters in a connect-the-dot configuration of a butterfly (fig. 10). The image renders homage both to Marceau’s sketch “Bip Hunts Butterflies” and to George Mendoza, author of the children’s book Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book.
BUTTERFLY + SWASTIKA
Zend’s butterfly shows an imaginary evolution of the modern alphabet originating from punctuation marks in the body of the butterfly and branching out into more evolved letters along its wings. The detail (fig. 11, above right) focuses on one branch of the letter “X” symbolically dead-ending in the swastika, which is topped with a cross as grave-marker.
          Below are two additional concrete poems in Zend’s Bouquet series. To the left is a “nomograph” (a word probably coined by Zend) depicting Bip using the letters of Marceau’s name and dedicated “to a Friend with Whom I Like Doodling Together” (fig. 12). And the one to the right uses the letters in “The Title” to salute Pierre Verry, the “presenter of the cards” who walked onstage prior to each of Marceau’s sketches carrying a sign indicating the title (fig. 13).
BIP + NUNCIO CONCRETE POEMS
Marceau wrote a three-page response to A Bouquet to Bip, which Zend included in the Exile Magazine publication. Two pages are reproduced below. At left is Marceau’s drawing of Bip showing his silent acceptance of Zend’s “bouquet” (fig. 14). Perhaps in response to Zend’s use of The Mask Maker in his tribute, Bip’s mouth is divided into a smile and a frown, echoing the masks of comedy and tragedy like the starburst suns mentioned above. And to the right is a Zend-like poem by Marceau (fig. 15).
BIP ACCEPTING BOUQUET + POEM
          Although their meeting was relatively brief, Zend’s friendship with Marceau was extraordinarily fruitful in their exchanges of poems and drawings. The ideas and feelings that raised Marceau’s miming to a subtle and ingenious artistic expression resonated with Zend’s own explorations of self and other and the tension between human universality and the divided self. Zend thrived on such creative interactions with other writers and artists, which produced within his own work sympathetic vibrations. Zend honours Marceau and, by extension, Bip by finding aspects of them within himself and creating work that is a spiritual collaboration and a testament to their friendship. A Bouquet to Bip is remarkable for being so openly and sincerely woven of their close and affectionate brotherhood.

Next Installment — Part 11.
International Affinities: Italy
(Leopardi and Pirandello)


Camille Martin

Robert Zend – Part 8. Canadian Literary Cross-Pollination: The Three Roberts, Norman McLaren, Glenn Gould

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Part 8. Canadian Literary Cross-Pollination:
The Three Roberts, Norman McLaren,
and Glenn Gould

 
                                                            Robert Zend the Nomad
                                                            gazing in like an acrobat
                                                            at the window in the sky.
                                                                      ——Robert Sward
 
          This installment will conclude the sections on Zend’s Canadian affinities. The next ones will look at some significant international collaborations, notably with Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and French mime artist Marcel Marceau. I’ll also show some Italian connections, such as his interest in experimental playwright Luigi Pirandello and cynical poet Giacomo Leopardi. And I’ll demonstrate the influence on Zend of Belgian artist René Magritte as well as Japanese traditions such as haiku and origami.
          But first . . .

The Three Knights of a Roberthood:
Priest, Sward, Zend

          During the 1980s, Zend participated in a remarkable collaboration with two Canadian poets who were also fellow immigrants: Robert Sward, an American poet from Chicago who lived in Canada from 1969 to 1985, and Robert Priest, a British poet who moved to Canada. Picking up on their admiration for one another’s poetry and the fact of their identical first names, they began performing together in poetry reading tours, calling themselves “The Three Roberts.” They also published a series of poetry anthologies of their work in themed collections: Premiere Performance, On Love, and On Childhood (fig. 1).

THREE BOOKS 505

          Sward and Priest performed their poetry together at CBC radio, where they met Zend. Sward recalls that Zend’s cosmopolitan outlook drew them together and inspired them. He relates that the sense of humour and playfulness of their personalities and poetry allowed them to play off one another during their performances and to serve as muses to each other.1
          Each of the Roberts has a recognizable voice: Sward often writes from a personal and familial perspective steeped in his Jewish heritage; Priest’s poetry exhibits a zany sense of humour and the influence of popular British music such as the Beatles; and Zend explores the personal and fantastical with a cosmic vision. There is a warm accessibility to the work of the three that creates a coherence in their anthologies that, as Sward observed, placed them a bit outside the mainstream of Canadian poetry during that time.
          Below (figs. 2 and 3) are a photograph of the three looking rather like a jolly barbership trip, and a set of silhouettes created by Zend to commemorate their friendship.

THREE ROBERTS X 2 500

          One of Robert Sward’s poems in Premiere Performance captures the spirit of good humour, rapport, and mutual inspiration of the “Roberts . . . / Robertness . . . / Three Knights of a Roberthood.” The following is an excerpt:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

Robert Zend phones Robert
Sward. Ring, ring.
“Robert, this is Robert.”

“Is this Robert?” “This
is Robert, Robert.” “Yes,
Robert?” I say, “This

“is Robert, too.” “Ah,
excuse me, I need
to find a match,”

says Robert Zend putting
down the telephone
and rummaging for matches . . .
. . .
Zend translates serious things
into funny things
and funny things

into serious things.
He also translates himself
into other people, and

other people into himself —
and where does one of us end
and the other begin?

And where does Zend begin
and where do I zend?
I mean, end?

And what about Robert Priest?
Is he a visible man?
An invisible man?

Or the man who broke out of the letter X?
Is he a spaceman in disguise?
A blue pyramid? A golden trumpet?

A chocolate lawnmower?
An inexhaustible flower?
Or a reader who escaped

from some interstellar library?
Rock Musician in residence
at the University of the Moon?

And meanwhile Robert Zend
looks into his mirror
and sees not Zend

But Chicago-born Uncle Dog;
Half a Life’s History;
Mr. Amnesia; Mr. Movies; Left to Right;

Mr. Transmigration of the Soul;
The poet as wanderer;
A forty-nine-year-old human violin . . .

Robert Zend the Nomad
gazing in like an acrobat
at the window in the sky.2

Their first performance, at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto in January 1984, was reviewed by Sheila Wawanash of Shades Magazine, a punk rock magazine:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

[Their] poetry reading . . . was especially fine (by which I mean fun). . . . Three voices — and quite different kinds of approaches — broke up hieratic monotonies in “poetry” “readings,” while their (rough) conjugation of themes circled round and took off. Of course, it helps that they are all worthy poets and readers and much else besides; in their concluding, separate sections/performances, Priest sang some of his songs (which survived a solo acoustic rendition) and Zend showed the slides illustrating his long and abiding obsession with “action word” doodles, some of which were remarkably funny and beautiful.3

          Although their collaboration was cut short by Zend’s untimely death in 1985, while they were together they formed a vibrant part of the Canadian poetry scene. And the sympathetic vibrations among the three during their performances and in their three anthologies is testament to their creative rapport and close friendship.

Norman McLaren: Musical Geometry

          I cannot end the installment on Canadian influences and affinities without at least a mention of Zend’s admiration for the experimental films of Norman McLaren. Zend, who had worked in film in both Hungary and Canada, was fascinated by McLaren’s artistic and sometimes abstractly geometric animated films. Zend’s Linelife, a work that I featured in Part 1, most obviously shows Zend’s interest in McLaren’s avant-garde animations. As well, Zend dedicated to McLaren “The Three Sons (a fable of geometry),” involving the progeny of “Father Circle and Mother Circle.” The admiration was mutual: McLaren called Zend “a sorcerer par excellence.”
          Zend’s experimentation with geometrical animation was brief and not sustained. However, the little gem of Linelife is one piece in the overall picture that I wish to build of Robert Zend’s openness to many different influences. Indeed, this little piece of animation bears an affinity not only with Norman McLaren, but also (as I will show in a later installment) with Marcel Marceau.
          In addition, McLaren played a role as a kind of tutelary spirit in Zend’s development of his typescapes. In his creative essay “Type Scapes: A Mystery Story,” he imagines McLaren as a guiding force, encouraging him to overcome difficulties in his struggles to “tame” the typewriter. After some trial and error, Zend becomes frustrated:

QUOTATION MARKS 7

I remember taking a coffee break. While sipping coffee and smoking my cigarette, I sulked: “Why do I have to make mistake after mistake?” Then suddenly Norman McLaren’s face leapt into my mind’s eye. I saw him bending over a “mistake” on a piece of film, with a loving smile on his face. What was this? I’d never seen Norman working with film, where did this memory come from? Then I knew. Last summer, I made a radio series consisting of 5 programs in which Norman not only spoke about his life, but every night a guest speaker talked about Norman’s art. The last of these speakers was NFB executive producer Tom Daly who gave a beautiful talk about the various worlds Norman had created in each of his animated shorts. Among other things, he said that whenever Norman made a mistake, he wasn’t angry, as people usually are, but that he contemplated the mistake and tried to take advantage of it so that many times a small mistake became the source of a great innovation.4

Zend had the epiphany that like McLaren, he could use his mistake to his advantage. He experimented by superimposing characters to create an almost infinite variety of textures, each with “a different soul” (fig. 4):

TEXTURES 7

With this revelation, inspired by McLaren’s process, he went on to produce, in a feverish and concentrated period of creative energy, scores of typescapes whose hallmark is their subtle and overlapping textures with delicate shadings.

A Glenn Gould Scherzo:
Where to Put the Zend?

          An admirer of Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, Zend dedicated his poem “Symphonie Fantastique” to him; one of his doodles below (fig. 5) also pays tribute to Gould. His esteem was reciprocated: Gould called Zend “unquestionably Canada’s most musical poet.”5
          And to conclude my installment on Zend’s Canadian lineage, I’d like to quote Gould’s homage to Zend in the following humorous quandary about the resistance of Zend’s work to categorization. Zend was not quintessentially Hungarian or Canadian or any other nationality. As Gould suggests, Zend is akin to many, yet he also “stands alone.”

QUOTATION MARKS 7

If I were a gallery curator, Robert Zend would pose a problem.

          “Where do you want the stuff to hang, boss,” my assistant would ask, “in with the Mondrians, maybe?”
          “No, I don’t think so—the sense of line is similar, but there’s more sense of humour in Zend—so try wedging them between the Miros and the Klees, and better set up an exhibit of Saul Steinberg in the foyer as a teaser.”

If I were a symphony manager, the problem would be similar.

          “Out of ze question,” Maestro von Zuyderhoffer would declare. “I conduct no Zend before Bruckner, not even mit Webern to raise curtains.”
          “But, maestro, Zend takes the cosmos for a plaything, as does Bruckner, and wrings out of it an epigram, like Webern. However, I suppose we could try him on a chamber concert with early Hindemith, maybe . . .”
          “Ja, besser.”
          “. . . and then, perhaps, Kurt Weill . . .”
          “Viel besser!”
          “. . . and finish off with Satie.”
          “Nein, kein Satie. Zat vun is not knowing secondary dominants, und ze vork of Zend is full of modulation.”
          Ah, well.

But if I were a book publisher, no such problem would exist.

          Robert Zend could stand alone—his cynically witty, abrasively hedonistic, hesitantly compassionate, furtively God-seeking poems could mingle with each other, find their own program-order, and settle among themselves the question of what goes where and how much wall-space will be needed.
          Gee, what an easy life book publishers must have!6

Next Installment — Part 9.
International Affinities: Argentina (Borges)


Camille Martin

Robert Zend – Part 1. Linelife: Premiere of a Rediscovered Treasure

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Part 1. Linelife:
Premiere of a Rediscovered Treasure

          I begin my series on the life and work of Robert Zend with the presentation of a previously unpublished short visual work entitled Linelife (1983), a flip-book animation sequence of dots and lines (fig. 1) that Zend dedicated to his daughter Natalie. I was excited to find Linelife in the Zend fonds at the University of Toronto.
          Fortunately, Zend left instructions for its production. Although he had drawn the images in black ink on white paper, he preferred that the colors be reversed to white-on-black. So I digitalized the images and, according to his wishes, converted them into negatives. I thought that the digital medium would enhance the animated sequence of frames, so using film editing software I gave them a time-lapse animation to imitate the effect of flipping pages. Natalie made some excellent suggestions for the most effective presentation of the work. I hope that her father would have liked Linelife in this digital incarnation.

Fig. 1. Robert Zend, LineLife, ink drawing on paper, 1983, Box 10, Robert Zend fonds, Media Commons, University of Toronto Libraries. Adapted for digital medium by Camille Martin. Copyright © Janine Zend, 1983, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission from Janine Zend.

LINELIFE LONGER TITLE PAGE          Although the narrative of Linelife unfolds in a geometrically abstract sequence of creation and disintegration, it also suggests an anthropomorphic trajectory of a life. And in fact, there exists a longer unpublished work entitled The Tense Present (fig. 2), which consists of the sequence of images in Linelife and interpellates text and other images to explore the arc of human life from conception to death.
          In the Linelife sequence above, which does not include that programmatic narrative, the gradual creation of a complex pattern of lines and dots could also suggest human creativity at work, and the deflation and ultimate disappearance of that triumphant pattern implies that in the cosmic order of things, art as well as life is short. Yet its very abstraction points to a more universal signification: the drama of development and decline, on microcosmic as well as macrocosmic scales. As well, the mirroring of the opening and closing suggests a cyclical pattern as things arise and fall apart in a continual succession of order and entropy.
          I thought it appropriate to begin with this little gem because, although I know of no other flip-book in Zend’s oeuvre, its theme emblematizes his recurring concern with cycles of creation and destruction.

LINELIFE DIVISION
          The next installment, “Dissolving Labels and Boundaries,” will explore Zend’s thoughts regarding the potentially catastrophic results of labelling people, his relationship to nationality, and aspects of his cosmopolitanism.

If you’d like to receive notification of these installments on Robert Zend, please use the email subscription feature to the upper right. And please kindly spread the word to anyone who might be interested. Your comments and feedback are most welcome.

Next Installment: Part 2.
Dissolving Labels and Boundaries


Camille Martin

“Ward Island Ferry” (or, underwater life jackets): a short film

          In good weather, Jiri and I love to take the ferry to the Toronto Islands, not only for the pleasure of bicycling along the wide, car-free trails, but for the ferry ride itself.
          On the ceiling of the lower deck stretch long rows of orange life jackets. Walking along the length of the boat, I filmed a long shot of them, which I later inverted and overlaid with water imagery.
          At first, the the thought of such a juxtaposition creating the illusion of underwater life jackets seemed obvious or literal, but as I began putting the images together, the resulting little film felt to me like a meditation on impermanence, a theme that I also explore in some of my poetry.
          The strange thing, though, is that such meditations on the deathless rhythms of change, far from being depressing, give me a kind of — at first, I wrote “pleasure,” but it’s more like an aura of peace. Thich Nhat Hanh expresses the feeling beautifully in this epigrammatic passage:

                    We should not complain about impermanence,
                    because without impermanence, nothing is possible.


          The soundtrack is from William Duckworth’s The Time Curve Preludes performed by Neely Bruce, piano.


Camille Martin

Traveling with Pessoa: “The universe isn’t mine: it’s me.”


         My travel companion for my train trip to St. Catharines to read at the Grey Borders Series was, it turns out, allergic to travel. Looking out of train windows gave him an overwhelming feeling of ennui, though he expressed his neurasthenic tedium with poetic melancholy. He was Fernando Pessoa (or rather, one of his many heteronyms, Bernardo Soares) in the form of The Book of Disquiet, a series of short, introspective prose pieces. I had thumbed through it at Nicholas Hoare Books, and Pessoa’s sensibility in these fleeting but often brilliant meditations reminded me of Emil Cioran’s existential darkness in A Short History of Decay. Even though travel, which I love, was anathema to Pessoa’s Soares, I decided the book would be ideal train reading: something I could dip into, put down, ruminate on, and pick up again. Flashes of philosophical introspection and train travel were made for each other.
         There’s a visceral poetry to the experience of riding a train, which Blaise Cendrars understood so beautifully in his long poem “Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jehanne of France.” And my journey with The Book of Disquiet was the richer that Pessoa’s poetic prose harmonized with the rhythmic sways and bumps of the train:

                           The idea of travelling nauseates me.
                           I’ve already seen what I’ve never seen.
                           I’ve already seen what I have yet to see.
                  . . .
                           Landscapes are repetitions. On a simple train ride
                  I uselessly and restlessly waver between my inattention
                  to the landscape and my inattention to the book
                  that would amuse me if I were someone else. Life
                  makes me feel a vague nausea, and any kind of
                  movement aggravates it.
                           Only landscapes that don’t exist and books I’ll
                  never read aren’t tedious. Life, for me, is a
                  drowsiness that never reaches the brain. This
                  I keep free, so that I can be sad there.

         I also brought along my new video camera, which became an extension of my fascination with the constantly-shifting scenery from train windows. There’s something infinitely expansive about the poetic, otherworldly, and metaphorical possibilities of the view from a train window. Visually, views within and outside trains are multi-layered. The view outside is a palimpsest of successive layers moving at different speeds depending on their distance: the blur of rails and gravel, the telephone poles flowing by and their wires complexly crisscrossing against the sky, the foreground (slagheaps, warehouses, rows of trucks or crops, houses, other trains), and the horizon (greenery, water). Then there’s the window itself, which might be streaked with rain but which always reflects a ghostly veneer of the interior scene: the ceiling lights, the young woman reading a book opposite me, the frames of windows on the other side of the train.
         And there’s a difference between watching the scenery rush toward you and watching it get sucked away from you, and that difference translates into contrasting psychological states, at least for me. Since our cognitive metaphors shape our experience of time (the future approaches us and the past recedes into the distance), the head-on perspective creates the optimism of moving into the future and the other, the melancholy of watching the present frittering away from you and your ability to change it.
         I think what I love so much about train travel is its artifice, its literary qualities. And it’s the metaphorical and philosophical dimensions of travel where Pessoa and I find common ground. A passage I found myself returning to during my trip:

                  Eternal tourists of ourselves, there is no
                  landscape but what we are. We possess nothing,
                  for we don’t even possess ourselves. We have
                  nothing because we are nothing. What hand
                  will I reach out, and to what universe? The
                  universe isn’t mine: it’s me.

         Like Borges and his insistent refrain that “There is no whole self,” Pessoa set about dissolving the notion of a unitary Cartesian identity. And like the ephemeral scenery from a train, the self relentlessly renews itself and enters the present with continually shifting points of reference.
         The video below is a short film I made from scenes between Toronto and St. Catharines. As I edited the film I found that I was creating a somewhat artificial narrative of the trip: the departure, the stops along the way, the rain followed by blue skies. The film doesn’t have an arrival; it ends with a long view of puffy clouds. And the final scene reminds me of a passage in The Book of Disquiet describing Soares’ business trip:

                  The train slows down, we’re at Cais do Sodré.
                  I’ve arrived at Lisbon, but not at a conclusion.


Camille Martin

Slow Remains (a short film)


Slow Remains is a short film using videos from my recent train travel to St. Catharines to read at the Grey Borders Series. The music is China Gates by John Adams, performed by Nicolas Hodges.


 

Camille Martin

Decasia: Seeds of destruction

DecasiaClick here to view Decasia on VEOH.

        Decasia is a relentless memento mori that grabs you by your repressed thoughts of death and doesn’t let go. Its visual premise is, on the surface, simple and monomaniacal: it consists entirely of un-retouched clips of old silver nitrate films—documents of ordinary life or melodramatic scenes from silent films—that have deteriorated over decades of neglect. Filmmaker Bill Morrison copied these strips of film, in whatever state of decay he found them, and spliced them together to create a powerful sixty-six minute meditation on impermanence. Experiencing this montage and its compelling soundtrack by Michael Gordon is mesmerizing, and the film continues to haunt long afterwards.
        Decasia’s original incarnation was a symphony by Michael Gordon (of Bang on a Can fame) that was accompanied by an earlier version of Morrison’s film in a live multi-media performance. Morrison later re-edited his film to mesh with the music.
        The opening scene is meditative: slow-motion whirling dervishes whose revolving movement initiates a motif suggesting cyclical change. Morrison continues this motif of circular motion with an archival film tour of a motion film processing centre, in which reels of film revolve on a machine that immerses the strips in tubs of chemicals. After this tour of the the birth and baptism of film, which establishes the metafilmic premise of Decasia, comes a sustained onslaught of images showing its inevitable decay.
        One of the first clips in that onslaught confounds filmed object and image of decay: what appears to be drifting smoke or shapeshifting clouds might also be a morphing milky wash caused by the chemical degradation of silver nitrate. Thus from the start, Morrison collapses object with decay, inviting meditation on the limits of representation: just as life is subject to decay, so is representation also subject to mutability and illegibility. The mimetic pretense of film images allows us to witness something of the objects captured. But those images express their own reality, not just that of the objects, and their decomposition is a reminder of the elusiveness of capture and posterity. They are failed time capsules that carry within them the seeds of their own demise.

Decasia 2

        One of the most compelling illustrations of Decasia‘s dance with mortality is a film of a boxer, perhaps from the 1930s, hitting a punching bag to his right. The image of the boxer has survived, but the right side of the frame has decayed into a fluctuating amorphous cloud, so that the boxer appears to be ineffectually punching a shifting column of ethereality. Even decay is not static but mutable: like life, it’s a process, not a state. And it can be combatted but not halted. Thus is a film of a boxing exercise transformed from quotidian to metaphysical.
        Decasia often gives the illusion that hundred of patterns of various types have been superimposed in rapid succession over a film’s frames. And by showing the films in slow motion, Morrison transforms what might at normal speeds be blips on the screen (and thus not available to the conscious mind) into clearly visible patterns of destruction. For example, a film of the Big Sur coast seems to have been invaded by rapidly shifting giant amoebas, as though a series of slides of the creatures had been overlaid on the film of rocky coastline. Each frame of the film, it seems, was affected by the same chemical process of aging, but in a different configuration. And in a scene in which a Japanese woman in traditional kimono walks past a window, it’s as if hundreds of transparencies of abstract impressionist paintings have been superimposed in rapid succession over the images.
        But the decay comes from the inside out, created by the agents of time and natural processes: decay and image are integrally fused. They render visible what is often forgotten or suppressed: thoughts of impermanence set aside in order get out of bed in the morning, as Morrison points out, without being paralyzed by the ultimate futility of it all.
        To a film archivist or preservationist, being subjected to scene after scene of film in various stages of decomposition might be as nightmarish as a librarian examining rare books warped by flooding. But an expert would not be surprised, as I was, by the variety of forms that decay and time can wreak on film. Blisters, amoeba, specks, amorphous congeries, abstract expressionism: time’s handiwork is endlessly creative, and the marks of impermanence left on these film clips are as impressive as they are relentless, and as beautiful as they are ominous. Decay might render the original images unreadable, but it now plays the lead role, pulsating as if it were itself a life force and not the angel of death. The decay of a film of a burning house takes the form of flames flicking across the fire. Mesmerizing black tornadoes threaten nuns and the children over which they watch walking single file into a schoolroom. Funhouse mirror distortions oddly stretch and contract an automobile of newlyweds. Grim black shadows fall over the image of a miner, unconscious or dead, being carried from a mine. Decay, like the grim reaper, has a smorgasbord of choices.
        I have read more than one review that suggests that Decasia‘s primary purpose is to convey the message that old films are being irretrievably lost to the ravages of time for want of the funds or will to restore them, and to issue a rallying cry to do something about it. That message is unavoidable in a film that is obsessed with (and composed of) the decay of its own medium. However, it seems limiting to view it mainly as propaganda. To tie down the film with such a moral imperative would be as reductive as interpreting Hamlet as a cautionary tale to warn kings not to sleep with their ears exposed. It misses the larger picture.

 

Decasia 1

 


 

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

Extreme Inefficiency of the Rube Goldberg Machine: Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s The Way Things Go

Complexities

everything’s more or less
rube goldberg

—Larry Eigner

The video above is only a short clip from a 1987 thirty-minute film of a Rube Goldberg machine that Peter Fischli and David Weiss constructed from ordinary objects such as tires, candles, fuses, tape, bottles, boards, rags, and chemicals—stuff that one might find lying around in a garage or basement workshop.

I thought it would be interesting to compare their machine with those entered in Rube Goldberg machine contests, such as the Japanese television show Pythagora Switch or the student competition at Purdue University, first held in 1947 and now in its twenty-second consecutive year (Townsend). The comparison might lead to some revelations about The Way Things Go by showing what it is not.

The element of competition, of course, creates an aura of sensationalism as the camera follows one event to the next. The souped-up hype of the Japanese announcer tries to increase suspense about whether the machine will move like clockwork until the final goal of the exercise in inefficiency is accomplished (cracking an egg into a dish, for example), or whether the machine will grind to a halt due to a broken link.

By contrast, The Way Things Go is not particularly suspenseful: early on in the film one can guess that this will be a documentation of a fully functioning machine. This lack of emphasis on suspense allows the viewer to concentrate on the metaphysics of causality and not on the relatively mundane thrill of nervous anticipation similiar to the car chase in an action/adventure film: will the chain of events set in motion by the car chase enable the hero to save the world and rescue the woman?

Also, Fischli and Weiss’s machine runs rather slowly in comparison to the relatively hyperactive machines in the competitions, which must hold the attention of a live audience:

The slower speed of The Way Things Go is partly a result of the larger scale of the machine, which the two men built in a warehouse. There is an expansiveness about the documented events that enables the viewer more time to meditate on the implications of such extreme inefficiency.

For me, the most compelling difference that sets Fischli and Weiss’s machine apart from the contest machines lies in its relatively nonrepresentational quality. In the case of the Purdue competition, points are awarded for the machine’s theme, for example, Jurassic Park, or this one based on the board game Clue:

(Townsend)

(Townsend)

But The Way Things Go is qualitatively very different from these examples. The causal connections are ingenious—that goes with the territory of constructing an imaginative machine of extreme inefficiency. Sometimes they are humorous, sometimes beautiful (the flaming cloth torch spiraling down a little pole like a blazing volleyball is particularly compelling aesthetically). Yet they never slide into preciosity with overt references to symbols (such as an arrow shooting a heart) or a doll-house-like miniature reality (such as a ski lift). The events in the causal chain remain fairly abstract. In the machine, things often do what they are intended to do in the real world (tires roll, catapults hurl objects, a torch sets a pile of straw ablaze), but these agents of change are less likely to remind the viewer of the experience of actual causal sequences beyond a single link in the sequence: the elements in the chain are fairly unrelated representationally.

This abstract quality of the machine allows the focus to remain on the idea of one thing causing another to do something—the “way things go.” This focus facilitates a wider field of possible associations as one wonders, What triggers catastrophes in the world? A war is started over a casual insult blown out of proportion, setting off a chain of events ending in mass slaughter. Chaos theory’s “butterfly effect” asks the question, poetically expressed in the title of a talk by Edward Lorenz, whether “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil [can] set off a tornado in Texas.”

And there are countless other small “catastrophes” in the world that go on without our being aware of their processual underpinnings. For example, the sequence of events that results in a person seeing something is incredibly complicated. In The Amazing Brain, Robert Ornstein and Richard F. Thompson present a simplified illustrated tour of the process of vision, demonstrating the complex sequence of events that must happen in order for David to recognize his mother, who has come to visit him on his marble plinth:

How Vision Works 1

In a more than twenty-page guided tour that is reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine, the authors show the step-by-step process of sight, from an image entering the pupil to the inversion of the image by the lens, the projection of the image onto the retina, and the transmission of that information via the optic nerve to the visual cortex, where a complex system of layers and columns and neurons analyzes the information. After further complex processing in the brain, David recognizes his mother and smiles:

MAMA!

MAMA!

The authors point out that their “greatly simplified tour of an incredibly complex chain of events has taken as least several thousand times longer to read than the fraction of a second in which the actual event occurred” (129). Indeed, if humans had to be conscious of every decision that their bodies made, they would soon perish. Seeing a rhino about to charge  doesn’t suddenly turn a person into a philosopher but a runner. Through evolution, adaptive changes are selected that allow many functions and processes to take place routinely and unconsciously. Similarly, Fischli and Weiss’s machine suggests the complex network of events that lie beneath the surface of what we perceive to be a single, simple event.

And the events in their film also suggest the moment at which an object being changed reaches the point of no return: the “straw that broke the camel’s back” phenomenon. Within Fishli and Weiss’s delicately precise sequence, the point at which cause becomes effect can be identified or at least imagined. For example, sparks from fireworks shoot into the air, but only one spark is needed to travel far enough set afire the pool of gasoline a few feet away. Water pouring into a jar gradually fills it up, and the added weight of the jar causes the lever upon which it rests to move down. We can imagine that only a drop is needed to make the difference between stasis and motion. I’m reminded of the field of catastrophe theory, which studies small changes in a dynamic system resulting in large consequences.

The insights and pleasures of The Way Things Go are at once aesthetic, scientific, and metaphysical. The rough ordinariness of the objects draws our attention to the mundane phenomenon of causality that we take for granted on so many levels of our lives. There is a hypnotic beauty in the slow unfolding of events. And the abstract little machines within the larger machine facilitate meditation on the very nature of causality. I’m reminded of Galileo’s early experiments on gravity, such as the Inclined Plane Ball:

Galileo - Inclined Plane Ball

I imagine that a physicist would have many more layers of understanding of The Way Things Go.

Buddhist philosophy as well as science has a history of focused meditation on the nature of cause and effect. Nagarjuna, for example, a third century precursor of late twentieth-century deconstructionist philosophy, posits that causality is an illusion, since there is no essential quality of cause or effect residing in any particular agent of change.

And that brings me to the larger theme of the film: change, ephemerality. The chain moves from one event to the next in a seemingly endless series that explores the nature of change and, by extension, mortality. In a Rube Goldberg machine, as in a dominoes chain reaction, there is no going back. And the way things go is inexorably forward (to use a conceptual metaphor of time moving ahead of us). And since the links in the chain are displaced or destroyed in their implementation, the machine can be recreated only by constructing the machine afresh. The film evokes the trajectory and cycle of life, full of inefficiencies and absurdities, and shot through with the certainty of change.

Works Cited

Eigner, Larry. “Complexities (October 9 91).” readiness / enough / depends / on. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2000. n.p.

Ornstein, Robert, and Richard F. Thompson. Illus. David Macaulay. The Amazing Brain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Townsend, Allie. “Rube Goldberg Machines Go Green at Indiana-Based Contest.” Popular Mechanics. March 31, 2009. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/research/4311263.html

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca