Prophetic book: what William Blake foresaw

This is how William Blake understood art at the end of his life, in 1826 or 1827.

As of the early twenty-first century, this is one of the fortresses where art is watched over by Fasolt and Fafner, the giants who once decreed that the gold of the Rhine be piled so high it would hide Brünnhilde from view. Click the link for details and investment advice.

But the architecture had been anticipated by Blake. Look up top and see:

Marine forms shaped by economic forces

In 1907:

In 2015:



“Bow of S. S. Thomas F. Cole.” Detroit Publishing Company collection, Library of Congress, Photoshopped.

Stephanie Yang, “The incredible toys of hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen.” Business Insider 5 February 2015, Online, accessed 30 June 2015.

Slack key: today’s lesson in Hawaiian tone

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, August 16, 2013, page A9:


On the island of Hawaii, where slow-moving lava flows have been affecting the real estate market continuously since 1983, a flow will sometimes divert itself around both sides of something in its path, leaving a little area untouched in the middle of the new black rock. This little island of green is called a kipuka. It usually doesn’t remain undevastated for long.

When I think of the word oasis, the image that comes to mind is of a man scrabbling at a tiny flow of muddy water in the middle of an ocean of sand. Cue the music from Lawrence of Arabia.

In this context, what does sheltered mean? I’m not sure, but I think it’s intended to co-connote in tandem with gated. The only poetic problem with that is an unstable relationship among sheltered, oasiscommunity, charming, and gated. The differing ranges of tones around the words create a disharmony. Something in the paragraph feels unresolved.  Nurse Ratched, you’re wanted on the emerald green fairway.

Below the fold is one more term to be glossed: the location of this kipuka, Ewa Beach. Ewa Beach (the first word is pronounced “evva”) is a small town on the Waianae coast of Hawaii’s urban island, Oahu. Distant from the centrality of Hawaii’s tourist economy in every way, it’s uneducated, impoverished, high-crime. It’s to distant zones like Ewa Beach that Hawaii’s Hawaiian people have been relegated.

Listen for the words, therefore. On the streets of Ewa Beach you may be able to hear the Hawaiian language spoken. All you’d have to do is venture beyond the gate.


“Literature is news that STAYS news.”


you’ll find an analytic piece by Larry Kotlikoff about a banking crisis in the little nation of Cyprus which as of March 23, 2013, threatens the financial security of the euro zone. But don’t bother to read the article — not if you’re interested in evidence that there’s a different kind of communication which has a chance of outliving the current events of March 23, 2013. That evidence isn’t in the article; it’s in the comment stream.

“Gold,” you’ll read there.

“Federal Reserve.”


And of course “Jews.”

No, certain themes don’t die. Transmuting the words of which they’re composed into myth, they live on through the vocabularies of their continuators. There, words and their writers mutually immortalize, forever.

As Mr. Pound says, in the eternal present tense of certain poems that can’t die,

What thou lov’st well remains.


Photographing the perfect

Detroit Publishing Company, “S. S. William G. Mather — stern view before launch.” Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse, Michigan, October 1905. . Click to enlarge.

Rising through the black verticals of men’s upright bodies and the sheer of the William G. Mather’s side, your eye soars upward. At the top, a climax to the shape begun by the ship’s rudder, the ship’s stern executes a curve. The curve is a parabola, the arc traced by a body rising and then falling back on itself, but this rise reaches its limit only when it has passed out of the ship’s body and reached the sky.

On that day it was a lightly clouded, all but touchable sky. Far beneath it, legs spread wide and steady, a tripod held up a camera in which waited an 8-by-10-inch glass negative. Then the lens opened wide the camera’s rosewood box, and it poured in cloud and steel and flesh and light. It molded them there into the round of the image’s great dome. Ever since, it has been launching the dome back upward. 

As of 1905, that gesture in the light might have taught Ecorse to see itself as a universe made of tangible things — the camera’s glass and wood, the ship’s bronze and steel, the men’s bodies. In an embodied universe like that, in an Ecorse under its dome of light, you don’t look at the dome, passively. Instead, you watch it be. Changing through time as it lights the ship which is about to descend the ways and begin moving outward from Ecorse, the dome has a beginning and will have an end. In the old sense of the word, meaning “complete,” it is perfect.

Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.


But to look at Ecorse today is to look not outward but downward.

The Great Lakes Engineering Works went out of business in 1960, and if any trace of it remains, it isn’t visible from orbit. To Bing Maps (early in the disapearance) and Google Maps (later), the most prominent feature of Ecorse in 2012 is the bulldozed ruin of what was once a steel mill.

This full-color image, captured from space by a process unrealizable in 1905, depicts an economy which itself has been derealized. If any people were visible in this 21st-century Ecorse, they would be seen differently by the lens because their bodies would have a different relationship to the eye. They would have to be conceptualized eyelessly, with the mind alone, because they are now subjects of a bodiless economy. In an Ecorse without a Works, their exchanges with one another are governed not by anything with a heartbeat but by capital’s Platonic idea of buying and selling per se. Ecorse in 1905 became perfect for a single instant: the fraction of a second it took a shutter to open and fill a rosewood box with light. But Ecorse in 2012 is imperfect everywhere. Its economy is now only an exemplum of the idea of money operating at a distance, far from the light that once could complete a picture by localized duplication as it reflected itself upward from flowing water to completing dome.

Have the laws of perspective in this new economy been established yet?

Perhaps they will be. If and when they are, let’s spare a moment to remember Ecorse. By then, perhaps, we’ll be seeing upward toward the domed sky of a new Ecorse. That may help light our way out of the art of the long twentieth century.

Game theory


In the middle of Loren Eiseley’s essay “How Flowers Changed the World,” the freshman comp class snapped awake for a moment when a girl hit a startling assertion and uttered a pretty little scream.

“Flowers are sex organs?” she cried.

“What did you think they are?” I Socratically responded.


And then the girl ventured: “For decoration?”


The woman’s denim pants from South Korea are purses for an invisible currency. Their decorated pockets hold nothing but an object of imaginative speculation. Playfully, they deploy optical illusion to shape an idea of the body they coyly hide.

Playfully, too, they are labeled with nonsense words and an anachronistic image from a symbol system which still retains prestige in its provincial borderlands.

Click to enlarge.

H. M. Regiment of Royal Korean Cowgirls.


The beggar is holding a sign which we can’t read at that angle.

“Beggar’s dog – Hoboken,” ca. 1910-1915
Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection

But we can be sure what it must say. Advancing on our sympathy behind the shield of his sign, the beggar is notionally selling pencils and shoelaces: things everybody needs, things with a value in any economic system. But in the trade zone behind the sign, what is transacted is only an exchange of money from one pocket to another. Except for that transfer, everything in this image is decoration. The beggar’s pencils are no more for writing with than a hedge funder’s bling watch is for telling time.

Making it playful, the beggar has alienated his tin cup from the transaction by hanging it around his dog’s neck. Accustomed to seeing pictures by the rules of narrative convention, we think of the dog as smiling. The dog is also wrapped in something gauzy. It may be something like a woman’s shawl; it may be a completely threadbare blanket. Presumably it is worn against the cold, but we are going to read it too as part of the game. Coming closer and closer to the outline of the dog’s body, it playfully beckons the decorative twists of the iron bars behind it into what might look like the final shape of a life.

That gauze, those iron helices, that dozing bald man, have become part of a pattern they can no longer outlive.