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Gus Blaisdell Collected

William Peterson

Publication Year: 2012

From the moment he arrived in New Mexico in 1964, Gus Blaisdell (1935–2003) was a legendary presence. Famous in Albuquerque as a writer, teacher, publisher, editor, and especially as the proprietor of the Living Batch bookstore, Blaisdell was also a brilliant critic whose essays influenced readers throughout the country and across the Atlantic. This long-awaited collection of Blaisdell’s critical writings includes essays on literature, art, and film, along with moving tributes by some of the distinguished writers who numbered Blaisdell among their friends. Introductory essays by philosopher Stanley Cavell and literary critic David Morris join colleague Ira Jaffe’s poignant memoir to provide perspectives on the man by friends who knew him well. Glimpses of Blaisdell’s vivid personality can be had from the many photographs included, and the diligently researched chronology compiled by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey tracks the course of her father’s complicated life.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xviii

Only for the months Gus came to Cambridge and, whatever else caught his interest, participated in my seminar every week at Harvard on film and philosophy through the fall of 1984, did we spend the kind of time together that those who knew him through years in Albuquerque could count on. They will be able to testify better than I to the radiating figure Gus assumed among interlocking...

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Editor’s Preface

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pp. xix

In his “Envoi” at the end of this book, Ira Jaffe reports seeing that question scrawled on the men’s room door at an Albuquerque art-house movie theater in 1972. Ira had only just come to the University of New Mexico to start a new teaching post in film, but Gus Blaisdell was already a challenging and mysterious presence...

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Introduction: On “Slipping Across”: Reading, Friendship, Otherness

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pp. 1-12

There are worse fates for a writer than finding your book, ink still fresh from yesterday’s megastore signing event, in the remainder bin. That’s where Gus found me. As owner of an independent bookstore where he selected and very often read the books he sold, he knew that megastores order by corporate logarithm and sell in bulk, so their remainder bins are a treasure trove for books...


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Absorbing Inventories: Thomas Barrow’s Libraries Series

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pp. 15-30

One morning ten years ago Tom Barrow came to my house at 2100 Gun Club Road with his 6 × 9 camera and electronic flash. He spent about an hour photographing my study. Flashes of intense light pulsed out the door like sputtering voltage juice from some mad scientist’s lab. A few weeks later he gave me a set of large proofs. For the few remaining months I lived in that house I worked in the study surrounded by photographs atop their originals. After a few weeks...

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Afterworld: The Photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin

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pp. 31-43

I went to cover the war and the war covered me; an old story, unless of course you’ve never heard it before. I went there under the crude but serious belief that you had to be able to look at anything, serious because I acted on it and went, crude because I didn’t know, it took the war to teach it, that you were as responsible for everything you saw as you were for everything...

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Bldgs: Photographs by Lewis Baltz

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pp. 44-55

I regret that I must begin in a quandary. But since I am in it and have been in it ever since I first began trying to think and write about Lewis Baltz’s photography over two years ago, this quandary is not only the place from which I must begin but it may also be the place in which, entangled, embroiled, and exasperated once again, I am forced to conclude. Allow me to elaborate in a figure so that I may come to the various questions which will clearly...

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Space Begins Because We Look Away from Where We Are: Lewis Baltz’s Candlestick Point

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pp. 56-60

Look across, missing what the gaze travels over to get from unnoticed here to a more distant present, the one way over there, and there, and on, there. Head like a transit, look out at, look around and over to and across, finding boundaries only in the far haze: north, the southern outskirts of the city marked by a huge electrical tower; east, the shipyard crane and inhabited shoreline across....

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Buried Silk Exhumed: The Lewis Baltz Retrospective, Rule Without Exception

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pp. 64-82

My working title, originally, “What Lewis Baltz and I Do Together and Why We Have Done It for So Long,” announced a long retrospective ramble that, as it began to condense, produced a revision suggesting less equality: “What Lewis Baltz Makes Me Do.” But as concentration continued to dig toward a recursive core, the original course, already reset at least once, took new bearings and landed me here, with this odd title dug up out of the discoveries of concentrating...

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From “Obscenity in Thy Mother’s Milk”: John Gossage’s Hey Fuckface! Portfolio

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pp. 83-91

John Gossage’s photographs are always out and seemingly doing nothing. Initial responses to the photographs are often dismissive, begun in indignation: There’s nothing there! But the nothing done in Gossage is as particular with his work as the last line of Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man,” where the wintery minded figure in the poem “beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that...

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Thirteen Ways of NOT Looking at a Gossage Photograph

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pp. 92-96

John Gossage has asked me to write a few words about what his photographs are not. I have been in love with the negative since childhood. But what a photograph is not? Not identical with its subject; not a likeness of its subject; not a representation but a projection, because the original, as Cavell says, is as present as it ever was. In a photograph we see what is not present...

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Passion Misfits Us All: Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas

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pp. 97

It is around such ordinary things as a joke, a home movie and a dramatic realization of jealousy that Paris, Texas revolves. Four years before the events we are shown began, Travis Clay Henderson Jr.’s marriage exploded. Jane, his wife, fled with their son, Hunter, pausing only long enough to leave him with Travis’s brother and sisterin- law, Walt and Anne...

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Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Boy: Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket

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pp. 99-123

My notebooks tell me that I have been preoccupied with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket since its sneak preview here last summer, now more than six months ago. Although I have worked through the movie as a whole, it is one of the earliest moments that recurs almost obsessively...

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Still Moving

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pp. 124-131

Baltz suggested I think about his photography as the remains of lost movies. I still can’t. Still, what follows moves from the one to the other— stillness, movement—or between the two....

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Highlighting Hitchcock’s Vertigo with Magic Marker

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pp. 132-140

Dear Slavica, Two moments in your Stories of Desire and Power: Six Tales for Men knocked me out. The first—“he controlled every detail, flat shoes, white stockings, retro white panties”—(my italics) may release more information than I care to acknowledge, other than remembering one of Groucho Marx’s numberless moments of genius when he said he waited six years...


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Frank Stella’s The Whiteness of the Whale

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pp. 143-149

Frank Stella’s The Whiteness of the Whale, 1987, is named after one of the most famous chapters (XLII) in Moby Dick. Of this chapter Yvor Winters wrote that it is “equally one of the most astonishing pieces of rhetoric and one of the most appalling specimens of metaphysical argument in all literature.” Melville himself, in a letter to Evert A. Duycknick (Saturday 3 March 1849), declared that...

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Passion’s Pine Breeze: The Paintings of Terry Conway

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pp. 150-153

Pellucid; utterly transparent while attaining astonishing depth; a surface so simple that the reader seems to memorize it upon first reading: here, in this rare moment, clarity, not obscurity, becomes profound, and thus eludes us. The meaning we would deepen recedes even as we sink toward it. By plain words are we carried away, immersed...

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On In: Outside: Guy Williams, Selected Works 1976–1982

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pp. 154-160

Color will clarify what seems obscure. A number of remarks made by Guy Williams in the interview accompanying his 1976 show at LAICA lead me to condense their various senses into that single sentence and to use it as a kind of guide throughout the course of this writing. Since practice reveals conviction in painting as surely as justification and argument ground...

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Original Face: Allan Graham’s Moon 2

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pp. 161-171

I have recently seen two black paintings by Allan Graham. They are the beginnings of work he calls simply Moon. Of the two I was overwhelmed by the second, Moon 2. The canvas is a large, irregular oval covered by palette knife in three layers of the same black pigment. The layers interpenetrate so that matte and...

Poem: "Omoide No Tsukimi"

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pp. 172-174


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A Gloss Annexed

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pp. 177-184

Scotus Hébert was subtle, a doctor of philosophy and former Rhodes scholar (specialist in theories of meaning, language, and logic), and an erstwhile professor of mathematical logic who resigned his nicely endowed chair upon reading the two-volume Pléiade edition of Paul Valéry. Valéry’s work reawakened...

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Vatic Writing: Evan S. Connell’s Notes from a Bottle . . .

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pp. 185-189

Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel stands as an apparent hiatus in Evan Connell’s formal development. But the peculiar nature of the work is only partly structural—the mosaic technique carried a step further—and the themes it develops are consistent with the rest of Connell’s...

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Tell It Like It Is: The Experimental Traditionalists

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pp. 190-191

General terms, like mastiffs, need restraint. Their tether is definition, which is always limiting and involves a principle of value, hence of prejudice and personal idiosyncrasy—one thing is preferred to another. Once the limits are set, distinctions and divisions follow as neatly as theorems in a formal system. Experimental...

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pp. 192-199

What follows is unapologetically circuitous, a clearing and testing of ground in hopes of finding a sense of place and measure. My feeling is that the result is a kind of verbal rebus—by definition, “a riddle composed of words or syllables depicted by symbols or pictures that suggest the sound of the words or...

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What Was Called “A Thought Echoed in Sight”: Yvor Winters' Centenary

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pp. 200-210

For several years I have started all my film classes at the University of New Mexico with a screening of Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetée. The movie is twenty-eight minutes long, made almost entirely of still images— except for a single sequence of a woman, after love, sleeping in bed. She opens her eyes and...

Poem: "Occasional Loquats"

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pp. 211-212

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For Robert Creeley on His 70th Birthday

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pp. 213-217

I began secretly studying Japanese in junior high school, military phrase books and character dictionaries, only a couple of years after the war. During the war the woodblock prints and ink-painting scrolls were removed from the walls and I had a fascination with both ememies, playing those roles whenever...

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A Nobler Seduction: On Plato’s Phaedrus at The Greenwood Press

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pp. 218-224

Philosophy today is stimulated by pretty girls. This remark belongs to Jean-Luc Godard. I believe the complement is also his: that all philosophy is good for today is seducing pretty girls. In the first, pretty girls cause philosophy; in the second...

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Slipping Across

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pp. 225-230

The visionary poet Ronald Johnson reading from his manuscript “The Imaginary Menagerie” reached a short passage so arresting in its lapidary compression that it deserves to be cut in stone...


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Introduction: Radical Philosophical Reclamation & Wrecking, Project: TLP Hotel

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pp. 233-237

This work of fiction was serialized in Artspace Magazine, beginning in the Spring 1977 issue. It was originally conceived as a work comprised of seven parts, each part correlating with one of the seven numbered propositions in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus...

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Radical Philosophical Reclamation & Wrecking, Part 1

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pp. 238-244

Blank. Within his allotted n-tuple of cubes. Blank. In which he impatiently awaits her arrival. Blank. But not empty, because he projects thoughts against his blankness, and inches along like a writer working against a block. Together for a while...

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Radical Philosophical Reclamation & Wrecking, Part 2

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pp. 245-256

In what had once been the ballroom of the TLP Hotel, the Radical Philosophical Reclamation & Wrecking Crew was sponsoring a performance piece. Tomorrow the enormous space would be gutted, a floor put in and the whole cavity filled with uniform modules that would become low-cost apartments...

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Radical Philosophical Reclamation & Wrecking, Part 3

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pp. 257-267

The room was at the end of the seventh-floor hallway in the southeastern corner of the TLP Hotel. From the east window one looked down into an alley; from the south window, across the rooftops of Landsend until one’s line of sight was interrupted several blocks away by the chromium figure of a surfer, a silver board...

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Radical Philosophical Reclamation & Wrecking, Part 4

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pp. 268-282

The shows at the museum had hardly been worth the half-hour bus ride across town. Of the three galleries devoted to contemporary art one had been full of video; the second was hung with ratshielded hawsers, tarred pilings had been placed in the corners, and glistening bollards mushroomed up out of the floor. The final...


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Self, Embodied: Correspondence with Nicholas Brownrigg

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pp. 285-296

Dearest Nick, Got your letter today. It drove me upstairs to this garret room with its falling plaster, gray floorboards, empty beer cans, mss, stacks of reviewed books, and children’s names and odd telephone numbers left on the walls by former tenants. Baudelaire sits on the desk, recently new and revised by New Directions. Wittgenstein...

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On Objecthood and Art: Letter to Marcy Goodwin

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pp. 297-299

Dearest Marcy, You want me to think some hard thoughts, and clearly, just after rearriving here with over 7,000 miles under our hats on/upon the odometer of our ’66 Dodge Dart, slant six, 4-door sedan. (I will not allow it to be rendered by [Ralph...

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On Art Criticism and Gus’s Writing Method: Letter to Geoffrey Young

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pp. 300-303

Relevance is never known until after the fact; we narrow to it, like focus. Hence what is irrelevant cannot be known before the fact, and what constitutes “the fact” here is not simply a bunch of pictures. The object— grammatically substantive...

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On Writing and Its Discontents: Letters to Geoffrey Young

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pp. 304-306

Women want me. Straight men are willing to go gay for me. Cats and dogs lift hind legs when I pass. I mean, need I say mo’? Things here are massif (Fr., solid, Jacques), and I am writing a thang for the LA County [Thomas] Barrow show...

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A Vigorous Lucidity: An Autobiographical Note on Book Editing and Design

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pp. 307-311

I recently found my high school textbook of Hamlet. A number of things about that edition surprised me, the first being that it was an interlinear edition, suggesting that we could not read Shakespeare without a trot or pony. I remembered such editions from my Latin classes, where of course they were forbidden...

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Autobiographical Note: Letter to Lee F. Gerlach

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pp. 312-315

Dear Lee, Evan, who hates any kind of celebration as you know, has his birthday on the same day as Janet’s, 25 years later, August 17. Since one of his favorite novels, of which there are few, is The Wife of Martin Guerre, we years ago decided it would cause him little or no pain to celebrate Janet’s birthday “instead” of his. We have done...

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Working Through It: Letters to Ross Feld

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pp. 316-323

I write now from the upping end of an occupational hazard that you are familiar with: a writer’s depression. Dürer recommended the study of a musical instrument as therapy; Burton, more writing, seeing it through, knowing an odd thing about...

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A Postscript to “Working Through It”: Letter from Ross Feld

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pp. 324-326

Dear Gus, Your e-mail of last week? Everyone’s got an agony or ten, and I know that this is one of yours, which behind your eyes must swim in and out with some regularity. From outside your eyes, though, it’s something different. To make as you say “an erotic connection with life...

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pp. 327-338

Gus Blaisdell told me about this book in August 2003, a month before he died. We were having coffee in a Nob Hill restaurant near the University of New Mexico, where he had been teaching courses in film criticism and theory for nearly a quarter century. Approaching his sixty-eighth birthday (he was to die...

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A Chronology

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pp. 339-379

Gus’s life was like jazz. The improvisation depended greatly on the depth of the cats he was playing with and the audience of the moment. Besides being a philosopher, poet, publisher, editor, essayist, critic, and teacher, Gus Blaisdell was a collector. He collected stamps, comics, autographs, ideas, experiences, quotes, books...


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pp. 380-382

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826342423
E-ISBN-10: 0826342426
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826342409
Print-ISBN-10: 082634240X

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 59 halftones
Publication Year: 2012