Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Niedecker: "in blood the minerals / of the rock." Used these lines as an epigraph not long ago. With me now for years. The lines. Like Sauer. Morphology of landscape (or maybe a David Harvey transmogrified into a Berkeley geographer sprayed with Marxist buckshot against the background of Baltimore poverty. The Baltimore that comes to us now — despicably — as compromised water pushed through a filter like The Wire.

In blood the minerals of the rock = it's in the water. And there is always a fundamental and almost irretrievable beauty in cliches that goes unrecognized, willfully misread, willfully neglected. And if I could write a poetry of nothing but tired old battered cliches I would live a happy man. I mean, Heidegger was always a moron that confused rock with fossil. Water filtered through rock. That there was or could be a measure of commensurability between a people and the rocks upon which they live. For it to be something in the water that identifies a people with a place, that the minerals of a place course through the tissues of a body. And when someone says today it must be something in the water the cliche discloses both a fact and a desire: 1. the limits of the body are determined by the rocks that move through it; 2. there is a wanting for something to be in the water that rounds the square of the market-driven divagations that persistently wrench the body from the rock of its home.

So for shits and giggles I take my daughter to East Aurora the other day, a town Olson derisively refers to in Maximus as Elberthubbardsville, NY. I go there fairly often, if for nothing else, to remind myself how easily the surface charm of a shaky socialist effort (Morris' Kelmscott) can be swiped and mapped onto the cultural wing of an unswerving devotion to laissez-faire capitalism (Hubbard's Roycroft). The Hubbards (Elbert and Alice) died on the Lusitania. They didn't ride in the hold with the rabble. EH made the fortune that created the ground for his intervention in the Arts and Crafts moment not by selling soap (a sanitizing agent) but by introducing the practice of offering premiums on the sale of soap — another form of sanitization that masks rather than cleanses (viz. when a customer purchased soap from the Larkin Co. just over a century ago they received a premium, an additional commodity presented to them as "free" or "extra" but already embedded in the cost of manufacture in advance of the offer.

When Dard Hunter (his book on paper making still stands) joined the Roycrofters in 1908 the visual aesthetic of the books printed at the Hubbard's Koresh-like compound shifted considerably from faux-Kelmscott to the more vibrant visual work now associated with Roycroft and still writ large across Buffalo, viz. that broader turn away from PreRaphaelite gravitas into the excesses of the twentieth century. The apartment I sit in now, built about a century ago and astoundingly inexpensive to inhabit (a retail cashier could rule the roost as king here) features stunning Hunteresque stained glass panels that flank either side of the door into the apartment. We come up against visual traces of a theology daily, in our own homes, like the invasive ads for reduced mortgages that flank the pages of free email portals.

Great Business Men II title page
designed by Dard Hunter and printed by the Roycrofters

The Roycroft printshop, like the Abbé Paul-Migne in nineteenth century France, was a production mill in the service of theology. Fukuyama more than Friedman or anyone else tells us capitalism is a theology. History's end is always already here. Everlasting. Now and forever.

(Aside: The iconographic imprint symbol identified with Roycroft furniture, leather, copper, pottery &c was lifted wholesale from fifteenth century Italian printer Nicolas Jenson. Theft is admirable — is sharing — when it ain't masked as integrity and defended to the death by Johnny Law.

Roycroft = Royal Craft (after seventeenth c bookbinders Thomas and Samuel Roycroft). Divine right. The interminable valorization of strong unquestioned leadership. A belief in its necessity. The print shop brought out an overwhelming number of books between 1903 and 1916 — continued to after E and A sanke with the shippe. Many of the separate volumes were connected to one another through thematically driven series. Great Artists. Great Composers. Great Business Men. In the end Little Journeys and the Hubbard Scrapbooks (final salvos that carry the ineradicable trace of solipsistic boast).

In the second volume of Great Business Men Hubbard writes in the chapter devoted to Andrew Carnegie: "To relieve the average man from work would simply increase the trade in cigarettes, cocaine, bromide and strong drink [give it to me], and supply candidates for Sing Sing. To make a vast fortune and then lose the tail-board out of your hearse and dump your wealth on a lazy world merely causes the growler to circulate rapidly. And so we sympathize with Andrew Carnegie in his endeavor to live up to his dictum to die poor, and yet not to pauperize the world by his wealth. But let us not despond. The man is only seventy-two. His eyes are bright; his teeth are firm; his form is erect; his limbs are agile; and his brain is at its best. Most hopeful sign of all, he can laugh." All the way. Carnegie in Scotland playing golf at the time of the Homestead Strike in 1892. Like Condoleeza Rice browsing and buying shoes on Fifth Ave during Katrina. The privilege that guards against dumping wealth on a lazy world.

What minerals come to the blood through the water here? Man, I duck into an East Aurora coffee shop with my daughter to grab — quick like — a bottle of water for her (I had none on hand) and the server (I'd rather wait than serve) looks at me in confusion, like I was finally a star-bellied Sneetch but unfortunately a couple years too late. After taking a moment to collect his thoughts (the request for bottled water stumped him) he says, We've never carried bottled water, but you'll find cups and tap water on the counter. And I thought — wow — it's the same bankrupt theology no matter which way you slice it, star-belly or not (you always gotta move and move quick). Filtered water either way. The turn is off the mark. As it always is. I mean, it ain't about the reduction of waste, or even if it is, at bottom it's about pushing water (Charles Alexander comes to mind) through a filter that ain't these rocks. The value of the water (we always pay) is in fact measured against the distance it maintains from these rocks. And the stack of plastic cups next to the pitcher of filtered tap water's no better than a bottle. Nor is bottled water (a star) or water shot through a Brita filter (a star that fails to disclose itself as such) ever the same as boiled water (mineral of the rock minus the muck).

The issue is one of circulation in a very real sense. Cf. Grundrisse: "Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange — of the means of communication and transport — the annihilation of space by time — becomes an extraordinary necessity for it." The greater the distance (from rock, from here) = the smaller the world (illusory like) = the greater the value. Something like forms of determination are scarcely ever local. And I suspect the local was never any less than alien anyway.