October 19, 2011
Chemical warfare in World War I. FMLN of El Salvador. The London Underground. Kenti cloth from Ghana. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris.
These are the images that loosely define the boundaries of the project, the phenomenal worlds it hopes to capture, the events and objects it hopes to bring up. There is no necessary connection among these images; I found them on separate occasions, thinking about very different things; even in my own head they aren’t quite one. In the photo collage, though, they overlap and interfuse, literally part of the same fabric. This is the doing of Dru Konesky and Chris Uzzo: they accomplished this by taking numerous shots of the images and blending them together. I had not asked for this, and can’t take credit for its materializing. Once again, it seems that someone else’s labor has, strangely, gotten ahead of me, saying in visual acrobatics what I would have wanted to say in words. There’s even a narrative here: war on one end, but giving way to the dependability and everydayness of the London Underground, and eventually to the high style and gleaming surfaces of the Paris apartment.
World wars, London, Paris – these were the reference points most often used to anchor American literature when we tried to “internationalize” it. They are still front and center here, but to them I’d like to add the vibrant and violent colors of the FMLN, and the equally vibrant but peaceful geometric shapes of the Kenti cloth. These local efforts filter into American literature and mark its horizons, no less than large-scale events. They are the warp and woof of the world, but peripatetic rather than stationary. They remind us that the center as well as the circumference of American literature have always been variable, and always will be.