Sunday, November 8, 2009

chairing, continued

It has been a spectacularly beautiful fall day, and even New Jersey - even this part of New Jersey - has been looking like somewhere in a tourist ad (see below - the bridge over Route 1, resembling John Cotman's 1804 Aqueduct over the Chirk.) But oh, New Jersey... I offer up today's stray, abandoned chairs to the altar of all those who have appreciated the part that industrial, commercialized, mass-produced junk plays in conjunction with rivers to create the special aesthetic of this state. There's William Carlos Williams, of course (of whom Marianne Moore made the endearing comment that he wrote the kind of "plain American that cats and dogs can read") not just with the amazing Paterson, but with his short story "Life Along the Passaic River," in which the opening pans up from a Thomas Eakins like scene of a boy canoeing along the Passaic to the Manhattan Rubber Co's red brick and concrete power plant on its banks. This image, of course, does the same kind of thing in reverse (the boy in a canoe, dammit, was a hundred yards up stream).

And then there's Robert Smithson, he of the Spiral Jetty, with his essay "The Monuments of Passaic," and something I like possibly even more, in this connection, "The Crystal Land," with its emphasis on refraction and reflections and mirrorings and facets. In all his writings, published and unpublished, on NJ (see Ann Reynolds's excellent and comprehensive book, Robert Smithson: Learning from New Jersey and Elsewhere), Smithson explores the potential in the urban unfinished (imagine an incomplete New Jersey Turnpike!); in the anti-monumental sites of memory that are found within suburbia, old and new (the landscape that Peter Blake called in 1964 "God's Own Junkyard"); and the potential in all of this for disruptions to our sense of time and place - something very close to the conditions of science fiction. And yes, not for nothing, one might recollect, did that Martian invasion in the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds occur in New Jersey - which would allow us to revisit the bridge arches, not seeing them, this time, in terms of romanticism's appropriation of new technology to a quiet beauty, but in terms of vortices with a quite illegible origin and force.

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