Letter from Stan Brakhage to Dennis Wheeler (7/26/1972)

Yes, I'd be honored to do an essay on Hollis; the only problem is that I've been ill this summer, unable to do much of ANYthing . . . HOW (meant as an absolute howl of frustration) am I going to manage any writing about Hollis at this time. You suggest something on the order of two-to-four-fhousand words. Impossible! . . . that is, by "mid-Sept." as you request. I am willing to make the attempt to type, off the top of my head, some thoughts perhaps appropo Frampton's work, addressing these to you in the form of this letter.
I have no idea at this moment whether these thoughts will be useful or not;
and my condition is so weakened this summer that I may not be able to judge
their usefulness at end of this latter as well as yourself; thus I'll leave it to you to determine that. Therefore!
Hollis Frampton centers his consideration (always singularly) upon concept.
It is a direction-of-endeavor that SHOULD have evolved supremely within the last hundred year's development of 'still photography'. Something we might call 'snap cinch' retarded this logical blessing — i.e. that photographic pictures have been TAKEN (as an overwhelming assumption) for the purpose of prompting memory or 'fixing' it rather than, even, as an emblematic representation of
memory process. Still photography remains, as a 'field', crutch to thought --
addendum. There are, of course, the exceptional 'stills' we call"Art"; but these do almost certainly center their occasions upon a sensuosity which we might refer-to as "overtures to" or "overtones of" concept. In short, the Art of 'still photography' sits, for the most part, in a rather normal Romantic trap. The medium itself was almost perfectly designed to approximate the split-second instances of arrived-at THOUGHT -- "Eureka!", etc.; but this designation in the hands of lazy humans was made 'way-station', an# endless series of 'waiting stations', along a line of wishful thinking. Perhaps it was the over-riding 19th century belief in "Progress" which did thus retard the assumptive values of the field of 'still photography'. The artists did, as always, escape the medium and its 'box' of limited expectation; but they did sacrifice some of 'snaps' most immediate possibilities in their abounding tonal considerations and climbs-up gray scales, etc.
in this fashion,
Hollis Frampton was never inclined, to the 'open end' of Romanticism.
His temperament must always have demanded something more like a moveable box.
He was never surely temperamentally inclined to prop himself with pictures while waiting for a train-of-thought. Concept was certainly too huge-a-consideration for Hollis Frampton to think OF it. Concent must always' have been, for him, akin to instantaneous revelation of The Conceivable, including the process of arriving-at such an instant. Mathmatics and Poetry did surely fascinate him because the assumptive life of both these 'fields' in the 20th century is that they be emblematic of concent (in the first place) and that at worst they be sign-posts directing one to the event of concept in both time and space. Action Painting was 'a natural' for his admiration because it primarily demonstrated frozen instants of momentum along a line of possibilities. The action painters did not often pretend to concept. Hollis had to exhaust the definite preten-
sions of 'still photography' for himself.
Dear Dennis Wheeler,
Stan Brakhage Box # 6
Rollinsville, Colorado
July 26, 1972
At projector sound speed, there are 2k individual 'stills' snapping past every given second of motion picture photography. The medium is, at basic, "the flics", as people say. As sciences "wave and particle" theories tend to resolve their contradictions with references #### terms such as "blocks of light", one can begin to see the very machinery of
motion pictures as a functioning as a perfect (though gross) model of the nature of illumination itself -- as Hollis once commented to me himself.
Film apparatus is designed from scratch to suggest those possibilities poet Charles Olson designates as essential appropo "process":
"And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND
DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!"
But Hollis Frampton would NOT, as I take him (am taken by his work), would (repeat!) NOT share Charles Olson's implied sensuosity of Progression.
Hollis would be taking his neccessary 'cues' more directly from Ezra Pound's Confucianism. Hollis would be more naturally concerned with some sense of 'centering'. . . as Pound translates from "The Great Digest":
"The men of old wanting to clarify and diffuse throughout the empire that light which comes from looking straight into the heart and then acting, first set up good government in their own states; wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the home, they first disciplined themselves; desiring self-discipline, they rectified their own hearts; and wanting to rectify their hearts, they sought precise verbal definitions of their inarticulate thoughts (the tones given off by the heart); wishing to attain precise verbal definitions, they set to extend their knowledge to the utmost. This completion of knowledge is rooted in sorting things into organic categories."'
It is so simple a matter as that Hollis Frampton as a child must once have discovered that 'you' CAN have "your cake and eat it too" provided that everything else in the process is equally acceptable. It is 'dichotomy' as Ideal (not Concept) which defeats ' centering...to achieve mercantile 'balance' — the cake as weighed against eating it. It is sense of 'split# (#personality' or otherwise) which effects this Ideal in Time and yeilds us Progress ... a half-assed Concept (or what I call "Idea"). Hollis Frampton is the only artist I know who might be giving us, finally, a Concept of Progress. At least, he has it in his bones to attempt to do so . . . For example, motion pictures permit Hollis Frampton to give us the action of painting both frozen and moving — principally because the experiencing of paint through motion pictured projection establishes neither painting nor paint . . . the former existing as a series of 'stills' and the latter as an interference with the light. Once one begins to write or talk about 'semblence', then Film becomes the primary designation of the medium# -- 24 veils a second, etc. The instant when baby Hollis realized he could have-his-cake-and-eat-it-too was an INSTANTER centering convergent possibilities suddenly taken shape as Thought. The cake was, after all, either 'et' or not on the plate before him. Since then Hollis obviously
had it (cake/experience: :Concept) as electrical firing (nerves) in semblances
of scene (veils of light) which could USE ## dichotomies (on-off, yes-no, cake-nocake) in the service of having it all (ALL).
Having some suggestion (informed supposition) as to what got Hollis Frampton into/thru the medium of film TO the neccessities of an art thereof, his films can surely speak for themselves . . .
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