Guest Reading Shortlist 10.21.14: Jo Ann Walters

The Reading Shortlist is an occasional post with an eclectic listing of recommended sites, readings and links. A recommendation does not necessarily suggest an agreement with the contents of the post. For previous shortlists, please visit the site links page.

Today's guest for Reading Shortlist is Jo Ann Walters.

Jo Ann Walters has work in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; and the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris France among other institutions. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout the United States. She is a professor at Purchase College, SUNY in New York State.

Nataly CastaƱo helped organize this post.

"The Suit and the Photograph" by John Berger.

This is my favorite essay by John Berger, though there are so many great ones. I have used it in my Portrait/Self Portrait seminar for over 15 years. John Berger begins this essay about August Sander with two questions: "What did August Sander tell his sitters before he took their picture? And, how did he say it so they all believed him in the same way?" He answers these questions by way of three group portraits of men wearing suits. He slowly and brilliantly builds context by examining the origins and history of the suit.

Photographs discussed:

© August Sander, Young Farmers, 1914

© August Sander, Village Band, 1913

© August Sander, Four Protestant Missionaries, 1931

3-Sections by Vijay Seshadri

3-Sections by Vijay Seshadri is an amazing book of poetry and prose pieces. I have provided a link to a poem included in a review of 3-Sections. Both the poem and prose piece are referenced in the review. However, I was unable to find a link to Pacific Fishes of Canada, thus I have included a link to a review for the book as a whole and which references this essay.  So unless I am mistaken, you will have to buy the book, which is worth every penny, or visit the library. This wonderful essay and says so much about the worth of youthful experience, ill-conceived or otherwise. It is fodder for voice and vision. 

          "Imaginary Number"

          This last line from the poem "Imaginary Number" is introduction enough:

          The soul, / like the square root of minus 1, / is an impossibility that has its uses.

          "Pacific Fishes of Canada"

          This prose piece is a highly personal essay about salmon fisherman set off the northwestern
          American shores during the Cold War. It is rich in information with sensuously detailed
          descriptions of marine life and the business and politics of commercial fishing. Nevertheless
          its arch remains deeply autobiographical. It tells the story of a young Indian American man's
          romantic self gone awry as he suffers from chronic and horrible seasickness throughout
          devastating storms and his subsequent unspeakable transformation that occurs at "the great
          intersection of sea and sky… in the gloom at the edge of the world.”

The Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop

This is one of my favorite poems. When I bought 3-Sections by Vijay Seshadri, I had never heard of him. My decision to purchase it came after spending about 15 minutes reading through the book. I read the entire book and had a beautifully cerebral and often unsettling, even disturbing, visceral experience at once.  I then read a bit about him and his poetry.  I discovered that he was a great admirer of Elizabeth Bishop and he specifically speaks about In the Waiting Room in an interview. Bishop’s biographer Brett Millier described the poem as "the simultaneous realization of selfhood and the awful otherness of the inevitable world."


Artist Statement Generator
Go to site and fill in all the fields.

This artist statement generator was emailed to me accompanied by this note:

"I have a sinking feeling that the ability of this generator to approximate an enlightened artist statement that could seemingly pass for me and my work may in fact be a symptom of a problem (with me and my work). Am curious if it gets anywhere near you and your work."

Like the sender, we should all be worried!

Italo Calvino's poetic "CV" from Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985

As an antidote to the Artist Statement Generator above I offer you Italo Calvino's "CV." In a letter written to his publisher in the fall of 1969, Calvino sends this poetic curriculum vitae.


Nicholas Muellner's Amnesia Pavilions
Photographs and text by Nicholas Muellner
A-Jump Books, Ithaca, NY, 2011
220 pages; 81 color and 31 black & white illustrations
Edition of 500

I love this book by Nick Muellner. Nick was an undergraduate student of mine at Yale. He graduated with a BA in Comparative Literature and a minor in Biochemistry and Biophysics while taking photography courses as electives. I received his book in the mail one day with the most beautiful words inscribed: "For Jo Ann, whose invisible fingerprints are already everywhere in this book." Amnesia Pavilions is an autobiographical story made up of words and photography. It chronicles Nick's return to a small city in Eastern Siberia after a seventeen year hiatus in search of a close friend he had met on his earlier journey. Without warning or explanation their correspondence ends. Nick is haunted by his friend's disappearance. The book philosophically and poetically reflects on photography's historical, vernacular and personal roles as well as the enormous social and cultural transformations of provincial Russian to the present day. But it remains deeply intimate and autobiographical as he reflects on his beleaguered and futile effort to retrace his steps in search of friendship and his former self.


Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

This is one of my favorite memoirs and Orhan Pamuk is one of my favorite living authors. My Name Is Red, Museum of Innocence

I often use these chapters in my Portrait/Self-Portrait seminar: Chapter 1: "The Other Orhan," Chapter 2: "Photographs in the Dark Museum House," and Chapter 3: "Me."

"Image of Proust" by Walter Benjamin (p 201-216)

I was down for over a month with asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia and attendant breathing problems most likely contracted while photographing the flooding Mississippi River in Grafton, Illinois over the past summer. While recuperating, I was reflecting on the first time I read Proust in the early 1980s while living a quiet life in Maine. I was reclining on a outdoor lounge chair in my backyard covered in blankets and coughing terribly. I looked up asthma on the Internet and read through various symptom lists, causes and remedies. By a surprising piece of luck, I came upon an essay by Walter Benjamin via the word asthma. I knew of Proust's self-isolation, but not of his debilitating illness. Benjamin speaks of the "symbiosis between this [Proust's] particular creativity and this particular malady…This asthma became part of his art - if indeed his art did not create it. Proust's syntax rhythmically and step by step reproduces his fear of suffocating. And his ironic, philosophical, didactic reflections invariably are the deep breath with which he shakes off the weight of memories."

Tom Engelhardt

I remember having little interest or patience for politics day-to-day or the news. In high school when political conversations arose, I would state smugly that I was not into current events. Unconscious of my contradictory behavior, I wrote papers on anarchy and chose Political Science as the first of several declared and discarded majors. As I grew as a photographer I became increasingly concerned with singular imaginative perceptions: illumination as it relates to private matters. But we live in dark times and the horrors of our century are senseless, routine and hidden.

Tomdispatch.com is the best site I've found on the subject of politics and the nature of power. Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's as well as The End of Victory Culture and The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books).

I discovered the website via a Facebook post by photographer and writer Michael Serra who posted a link to Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me. I am a fan of Solnit who has authored over a dozen books including River of Shadows: Edweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. Solnit writes regularly for Tomdispatch, as does linguist, political activist and luminary Noam Chomsky. In her review of Engelhardt's recent book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World, Solnit praises Englehardt: "…his website or blog or postnewspaper wire service …have been one of the great forces on the side of clarity, democracy, openness, and really good writing. Tom himself, a legendary book editor, is also one of the country's most eloquent and tenacious political writers, electronically publishing three essays a week for all these years and writing many of them himself."

          "Eduardo Galeano, A Lost and Found History of Lives and Dreams (Some Broken)," by 
          Tom Engelhardt

          Tom Englehardt is also full of surprises. He introduces author Eduardo Galeano by way of a
          Tomgram titled, "A Lost and Found History of Lives and Dreams (Some Broken)." Galeano is
          author of Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, a history of humanity in 366 episodes; Memory 
          of Fire, Volume 3, part of a three-volume history of the Americas; Children of Days, described
          by Engelhardt as a kind of prayer book for our time. In the post he chooses 12 of his favorite
          episodes from Mirrors. Engelhardt describes Mirrors as one of the great books of this century.
          "Think of this post as a Galeano-esque mini-history of our last century of turmoil through a
          kaleidoscope of 'characters,' human and inanimate - and then get your hands on Mirrors and
          read the whole thing for yourself." In part, the episodes, remind me of portions of John Dos
          Passos' USA, such as the description of Thomas Edison in 42nd Parallel. Until this post I was
          unaware of Galeano. After reading Engelhardt's introduction, "A Lost and Found History of
          Lives and Dreams (Some Broken)," I immediately ordered all three of Galeano's books. Below
          is a small taste of Eduardo Galeano via excerpts from Tom Engelhardt.

          He pulled the trigger.          
          The gunshot did not kill him.          
          He awoke in the hospital. At the foot of the bed, his father commented:          
          "You can’t even get that right."

           Father of the Computer
          At that point he had already dreamed up a prototype for an electronic computer and had laid 
          out the theoretical foundations of today’s information systems. Later on, he led the team that 
          built the first computer to operate with integrated programs. He played interminable chess 
          games with it and asked it questions that drove it nuts. He insisted that it write him love letters. 
          The machine responded by emitting messages that were rather incoherent.

          At the trial, Turing pled guilty to being a homosexual.
          To stay out of jail, he agreed to undergo medical treatment to cure him of the affliction. The 
          bombardment of drugs left him impotent. He grew breasts. He stayed indoors, no longer went 
          to the university. He heard whispers, felt stares drilling into his back.

          "Got nothing against no Viet Cong,” he said. “Ain’t no Vietnamese ever called me nigger."…

          Why are some walls so loud and others mute?

The Holy Bible by Adam Broomberg's and Oliver Chanarin with an essay by Adir Ophir

I purchased Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's  The Holy Bible at Printed Matters' NY Art Book Fair at PS1 in 2013. I knew that it had won accolades, so my first impulse was to view it skeptically. I opened it to several pages and felt a kind of terror and awe. I called a friend: "I'm about to spend $80 on a book I've only looked at for two minutes."

The Holy Bible is one of the most rewarding book purchases I have made in a long time. It has a black cover with a gold embossed title that bears a deceptive resemblance to the King James version of the Bible. Inside many of the text pages are overlaid with photographs selected from the Archive of Modern Conflict by the authors and the philosopher Adi Ophir who writes an essay for the book. The images often depict war and genocide and refer obliquely to particular words or passages underlined in red. The Holy Bible draws parallels between the violence of the bible, photography's preoccupation with catastrophe and the violence of the modern state. The juxtapositions are disturbing, sometimes weirdly comic, often horrible and horribly beautiful.

          "Divine Violence" by Adi Ophir (essay from The Holy Bible)

          "Right from the start, almost every appearance he made was catastrophic… Catastrophe is his
          means of operation, and his central instrument of governance."

Noam Chomsky: "The End of History? The short, strange era of human civilization would appear to be drawing to a close"

I first encountered Noam Chomsky as an undergraduate in a course titled Socio-Linguistics. While researching a paper, I found a book in which the author was attempting to apply Chomsky's generative grammar methods to various literary texts. I specifically remember referencing his analysis of portions of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The following semester I enrolled in Transformational Grammar. I had yet to declare a major but I had always been fascinated by grammar and the title mesmerized. It was a required course despised and dreaded by literature majors, but this did not deter me. It was much later that I learned that Chomsky was also a serious political activist. He is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy.  He also writes a monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate. "The End of History?" is an omen and portent of a grave and calamitous future.

"Terror" by Vladimir Nabokov (begins on page 105 of the PDF through the link)

Daniel Bauer sent me this amazingly dense, heartbreaking, very short, short-story by Vladimir Nabokov. I passed it on to a friend who responded: "Holy shit!"

Vision Disorder Simulations

click on the above link or on the individual links below.

These simulations depict how our eyes see with different disorders. Our visionary expressions come from perceptions of the body.

  shows what the world might look like to a person with progressive symptoms of age-related macular degeneration
shows what the world might look like to a person with progressive symptoms of cataract
shows what the world might look like to a person with progressive symptoms of diabetic retinopathy
illustrates the three layers of the tear film and the cells that make them
shows the path of aqueous fluid, from its formation in the ciliary body through its exit from the eye
shows what the world might look like to a person with progressive symptoms of glaucoma
shows what the world might look like to a person with progressive symptoms of myopia

And finally,

"Lessness: A Story" by Samuel Beckett (1970)

I used this prose piece by Samuel Becket in a senior seminar. Most were bored and disinterested by the difficulty. I then asked the class to read "Lessness" out loud and all together many times over. Afterwards, bewildered and unnerved, we all somehow understood.

This dry and useful analysis was taken from the website above. "'Lessness' is a prose piece by Samuel Beckett in which he used random permutation to order sentences. Although 'Lessness' is linear prose, its orderly disorder calls for a reading process in which the reader works to untangle the threads of sameness and difference to discern the underlying structure, becoming aware of the usually unconscious processes of interpretation. Tightly interwoven contradictory perspectives drive the reader's attempts at reconciliation. The two halves of 'Lessness' are two of the 8.3 x 1081 possible orderings of Beckett's 60 sentences."