(c) John Gossage

The other day I handed a copy of The Pond (Gossage) over to a friend as a little present… and it really flicked a switch for me to return and dig and explore.

I’m of a generation who has only ever had this book as a behemoth of influence; as a recognised monster, a reference from which to move out, a pivot and anchor. It is absurd that this was his ‘first’. And given Gossage’s ongoing commitment and fascination with the book form the influence and conversation has legs that have run miles.

Joy can be found in the more recent print edition that makes it very easy to lay your hands on a copy with the Badger essay in the back…

Of course the photographer Robert Adams wrote an extensive piece on the book many years ago… and old ASX has the bit reproduced for us all to easily access when we need it.

One is grateful for The Pond because we are in trouble, and because irony which focuses on the ugliness of man-made juxtapositions does not at this point, by itself, help. Americans are the audience (and the protagonists) late in a tragedy; we are not wholly ignorant of our crimes anymore, but we have not yet fully paid for them, and we carry a burden of pity for other and fear for ourselves. And though these emotions are appropriate to the events, they threaten an inappropriate exhaustion. If, as may be the case, we are not to experience the coherence of the end of Act Five in our lifetimes, our effort must be to live with the tragedy unresolved – unjustified, and not fully explained. And for this endurance we need to do something more than rehearse the crimes of the early acts.

Tragedy in its classical literary form is no longer written; authors are unable to find believable resolutions of the plot that can replace our pity and fear with a new understanding, with calm. In a world of unresolved tragedy we thus cast about, and it is the visual arts, it seems to me, that best offer a place of quiet as they remind us of a mystery in the Creation, one that implies coherence but that does not make its way plain. Much of the best work in photography is like the answer from the Whirlwind to Job – a description of natural beauty that implies a higher order.

This is not to suggest that art should only mirror beautiful subjects. Poetry from Whirlwind commands our attention because the story of Job includes, before the consolation of the poetry, an outline for disaster, and it is by that we first recognize our world. It is the incorporation of darkness into art that initially confirms to us, in our discomfort, the importance of art, and assures us that the hope of the art offers has not been cheaply won.

One of the deficiencies, oddly, with some forms of irony is that it implies an insupportably generous interpretation of the facts. If irony is incongruity unanticipated by those who create it, then the creators are innocent; if they do not know what they are doing, they cannot be responsible. It is a judgement that seems, however, especially when applied to those who now mangle the landscape, dubious. Though one grants innocence to everyone at certain stages in their lives, the sense one gets from the kind and placement of the trash around Gossage’s pond is that it wasn’t necessary to put it there, and the effect of doing so could not have been completely unanticipated; a few of the culprits may have been only willfully ignorant, but most were surely worse – those of us (I think we all do it, with varying degrees of indirection) who disfigure the landscape as a way of striking at life in general. It can be argued, justly, that society has helped people – particularly the poor – hate life, but the fact is that there is one extreme that is impermissible, not matter what the provocation, and that is a hate so unfocused that it takes in everything – the kind of wholesale detestation that is implied, for example, in the breaking of a tree for the pleasure of seeing it broken.

Gotta love a good Job reference… even Jung was fascinated with his trials…

Find the Adams essay here

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