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The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Charles Olson

R. Bruce Elder

Publication Year: 2011

Since the late 1950s Stan Brakhage has been in the forefront of independent filmmaking. His body of work — some seventy hours — is one of the largest of any filmmaker in the history of cinema, and one of the most diverse. Probably the most widely quoted experimental filmmaker in history, his films typify the independent cinema.

Until now, despite well-deserved acclaim, there has been no comprehensive study of Brakhage’s oeuvre. The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition fills this void. R. Bruce Elder delineates the aesthetic parallels between Brakhage’s films and a broad spectrum of American art from the 1920s through the 1960s.

This book is certain to stir the passions of those interested in artistic critique and interpretation in its broadest terms.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. iii-iv

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With Gratitude

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pp. v-viii

This book began many years ago. I was an aspiring poet who, not too long before, had just published his first chapbook, and was about to begin studies for a Ph.D. when I suddenly had a change in heart. I had done my utmost to drill my attention down on the more technical, logico-mathematical areas of philosophy, so as to keep my artistic and my intellectual lives as widely ...

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pp. ix-xi

The author and publisher wish to thank the following for permission to use copyright materials by other authors: Carcanet Press/New Directions Publishing Corporation for material from William Carlos Williams, Spring and All, "Young Sycamore," "Delia Primavera Transportata Al Morale" from The Collected Poems of William Carlos ...

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pp. 1-8

The agencies of modernity collude to reduce experience to a single mode. Among the agencies of this reduction are the narrative's linguistic effects. Syntagmatic structures (see glossary) that are essentially homologous with linguistic structures organize the narrative, and the effect of their insistent repetition is to enfold all experience within a system of language—to submit ...

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From the Givenness of Nature to the Encumbered Modern Body

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pp. 8-11

The account of nature that was generally accepted in the West before the early modern period (that is to say, roughly, 1600 CE) took as its first principle that nature was created by God. Because God created nature, all objects possessed value. This account implied that what is good, either as a means or in itself, is given in the order of the world and that humans could ...

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The Signifying Body

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pp. 12-17

Artistic theory and practice in this century display a similarly conflicted response to nature's slide into chaos and to the body. Still, we must admit that, in the first part of the century, most thinkers conceived the body in the way that Western thinkers traditionally have, that is, as the prime matter, as the yet-unformed hylic factor that makes up the material content of ...

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The Two Bodies in the Philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer: The Body Observed Externally and the Body Experienced from Within

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pp. 18-30

Between 1814 and 1818 Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) who was then, judging from the single portrait we have of him from the period, a good-looking young man (he was actually between the ages of twenty-six and forty) with full, sensuous lips, a pellucid complexion, a high forehead surrounded by delicate curls of auburn and black hair and given to expensive and ...

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The Modern Body's Unbearable Burden of Being

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pp. 30-37

Arthur Schopenhauer regarded himself as having furnished the most lucid development and trenchant critique of Kant's philosophy. The primary relationship between Schopenhauer's philosophy and Kant's is their shared conviction that there exist divisions between the phenomenal and noumenal realms and between phenomenal and noumenal aspects of the self—i.e., ...

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The Harmony of Spirit and Body

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pp. 37-41

The philosopher Hegel exhibited remarkable powers of prescience regarding this division; for he had predicted that artistic production would bifurcate into those art works that are concerned primarily with the inner world of Spirit (see glossary) and those that are concerned with the outer realm of ...

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The Primacy of the Subject Body and the Recessiveness of the Subject Body

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pp. 41-44

Western metaphysics is an onto-theology of presence. It accords value to that which comes forth, out of nothingness, into presence. Derrida has shown that the onto-theology of presence accords with the priority that Western culture grants to speech over writing and to the present over the past and the future. Schopenhauer's distinction between types of bodily ...

Chapter 1. Four for America: Williams, Pound, Stein, Brakhage

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Styles of English Metre

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pp. 45-63

The various styles of discourse and the various representational forms that rose to dominance, one after the other, during the period that spans the years between the beginning of the Age of Reason (around the start of the seventeenth century) and the middle of the nineteenth century, exhibit a consistency so thoroughgoing that we can characterize that interval as a ...

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Meaning and Personal Being: Pound and Brakhage

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pp. 64-69

Pound's wish to create a work that is true to the individual experience of the particular thing and to maintain the "amicable accentuation of difference" gave life to his notion of "absolute rhythm." As he described it, absolute rhythm "corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed."44 He spoke about the common use of ordinary language ...

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The Seachange: Or, How Pound Came "To Break the Pentameter"

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pp. 69-75

Romantic ideals held sway over poetry when Pound began writing. Vorticism (see glossary) changed that. Vorticism was a revolutionary art movement. Blast, the house organ of the Vorticist movement shrieked, "BLAST years 1837 to 1900," to demand the destruction of Victorianism so that staid, old England might enter twentieth-century life. The signatories of the first ...

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Bergson, Hulme, Pound, and Brakhage on the Body and Energy

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pp. 75-100

Among the sources of the Vorticists' ideas was the philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Bergson was the most renowned philosopher of his day and his ideas had nearly as great an impact on many important thinkers and artists of the first three decades of this century as Jean-Paul Sartre's (1905-80) thought had in the 1950s and 1960s or Jacques Lacan's (1901-81) ...

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Experience as Energy: A Pattern for Thinking

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pp. 100-146

Thought seeks inevitable limits—irreducibly stable patterns of energy— knowing that it prospers best within axiomatic perimeters that need never be patrolled or repaired. I am told that, in 1927, a Louisiana lawmaker (haunted by the ghost of Pythagoras, no doubt) introduced into the legislature of that state a bill that would have made the value of pi equal to precisely three. No actual circle ...

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First-Person Singular: Bergson, Hulme, and Brakhage on the Primacy of Individuality

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pp. 146-157

Hulme followed Bergson in expounding the idea that the experience of every individual is unique and that the greatness of strong art derives from the power of art to recover forgotten features or neglected domains of the mind's perceptual contents and to reveal thereby the uniqueness of the individual mind: "The great aim is accurate, precise and definite ...

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Between Self and World: The Image in Hulme, Williams, Brakhage

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pp. 157-212

The dispute over image and flux, fixity and change, has split the ranks of recent poets, filmmakers, literary theorists, and film critics. Brakhage has spoken for flux and change while others (some of whose work is in all other respects close to Brakhage's), have taken Hulme's side. Brakhage, especially since the early 1980s, has been an outspoken opponent of imagery, ...

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Writing = Composing Sound's Energies, Filmmaking = Composing Light's Energies: Gertrude Stein and Stan Brakhage's Conceptions of Their Media

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pp. 212-228

Brakhage's admiration for Gertrude Stein is well known, for he has frequently expounded on her importance for him. Of all the literary influences on Brakhage, Stein is likely the most difficult to penetrate; so today, nearly one hundred and fifty years after her birth, she keeps Louis Zukofsky company as the least read, least discussed, and least assimilated of the great literary ...

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Digressive Interpolation: The Persistence of Emerson's Vision in Stein's Writing and Brakhage's Filmmaking

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pp. 228-240

In his perspicacious commentary on American modernism, entitled Modernist Montage, P. Adams Sitney points out that American modernism, from its origin to the present, has had an Emersonian character. Sitney's analysis of the role that vision (and its correlative, the blank in vision that I refer to as the negative hallucination) plays in Stein's writing relates her most ...

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Out of Stein: A Theory of Meaning for Stan Brakhage's Films

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pp. 240-261

There are two cardinal points in this passage: the first, to which R Adam Sitney draws attention, a distinction between two possible relations that words/sounds can have to colours: the relation between a colour and "a word that meant it" and the relation between a colour and a "word in itself."337 One relation is that which obtains between a colour and its name; and a ...

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The Paradox of a Perlocutionary Semantics: Brakhage and Stein on Artistic Meaning

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pp. 261-295

Let us attempt to formulate a more definite and precise understanding of what Brakhage might have learned from Gertrude Stein's writings. To do so, let us consider some examples. Let us take for our first example the Stein single quoted above: ...

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The Romanticism of Brakhage's Conception of Meaning

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pp. 295-308

Brakhage's artistic beliefs valorize the image. His concept of imagination is that of the Romantics: the imagination is the faculty that gives birth to images; it is also, as Kant's philosophy intimated, a faculty responsible for shaping the world with which we are acquainted. Romantic philosophers subsequently developed Kant's analysis of the imagination's creative role in ...

Chapter 2. The Conception of the Body in Open Form Poetics and Its Influence on Stan Brakhage's Filmmaking

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D.H. Lawrence and the Poetics of Energy

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pp. 309-313

David Herbert Lawrence was many things. One thing he was not was an astute political thinker. Like many great thinkers and artists, he was anything but cosmopolitan—in fact, like many great thinkers and artists he was a provincial, and his thinking displays the best and the worst features of provincialism. He persisted in the foolishness that England was an uptight, ...

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Two Crucial Influences on Embodied Poetics: A.N. Whitehead and Maurice Merleau-Ponty

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pp. 313-325

With Whitehead we come to a central figure of our age, but one whose writing style is so dense and so fraught with neologisms that most people know his work only secondhand. This is really a pity, since getting past the challenges is really only a matter of getting over an initial period of discomfort, and when that discomfort has passed, his writing has a marvellous Victorian ...

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A.N. Whitehead's Project: Reconciling Permanence and Flux

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pp. 325-348

Whitehead used the notions of actual entities and ideal entities to reconcile the notions of permanence and whatever it is that creates our impression of change, for change (stricto sensu—change in a concrete entity), Whitehead argued, is impossible—to change, an entity would have to both remain the same (only an entity that preseves all its essential characteristics could be ...

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Olson's Energetics of Embodied Existence

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pp. 348-423

The basis of Charles Olson's manifesto "Projective Verse" (1950) was a concept of energy similar in character and role to the concept of energy in A.N. Whitehead's system. He proposed that poets not think in terms of time or rhyme or symmetry or form, but in terms of the complete field (a notion that in most respects is analogous to Whitehead's conception of the ...

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Michael McClure's Poetics: The Body Is an Organism. The Universe Is an Organism. A Poem Embodies an Aspect of the Universe's Evolving Form

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pp. 423-431

Michael McClure (1932-) has devoted his efforts, both theoretical and practical, to grounding poetics in the body. Olson's manifesto, "Projective Verse," impressed him enormously. He has summarized the importance it had for him: ...

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Allen Ginsberg: The Breath, the Voice, and the Poem

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pp. 432-442

The poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-97) has, more tenaciously than any of the poets whom Olson influenced, taken up Olson's view that speech separated from the body leads away from truth and results in what Olson calls "pejocracy." Speaking to an epistemology class at Wisconsin State University in 1971, Ginsberg announced that ...

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Action Painting as Performance

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pp. 442-452

The ideas the Open Field poets promulgated resonates through all the advanced arts of the time. The best-known exponents were not the poets themselves, but a group of painters who by day worked in studios around Tenth Street in New York and by night congregated at the Cedar Tavern. Commentary on their work adopted similar ideas. Of all their critics, Harold ...


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pp. 453-472


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pp. 473-532

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 533-544

Stan Brakhage Filmography

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pp. 545-554


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pp. 555-572

E-ISBN-13: 9780889208162
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202757

Page Count: 584
Publication Year: 2011