Monday, December 31, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I couldn’t help but think of the Jacques Barzun quote that heads this blog when I read of this line of toys.
— Philo, Jesus Action Figures
Friday, December 21, 2007
A Frenchman by birth, now 100 years old and living in Texas, Barzun, like his illustrious ancestor Alexis de Toqueville, has been a canny interpreter of the American character.
— Bill Moyers, Society on Steroids, Bill Moyers Journal
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The great intellectual Jacques Barzun, whose name one automatically associates with Columbia, just 20 days ago celebrated his 100th birthday. He once said about gatherings such as this: “In any assembly, the simplest way to stop the transacting of business and split the ranks is to appeal to a principle.”
That was more than tongue-in-cheek cynicism, of course, because Barzun was eyewitness to a period in history in which ideologies had become brutally coercive. He'd seen how the a priori designs for human arrangements represented by Nazism, Fascism, and Communism had turned nations against each other in the bloodiest possible manner. Those systems, commanded by their own self-referential principles, did split the ranks of humankind. And they did stop the transacting of business.
— Christopher Cox, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Keynote Address to the Columbia Law and Business Schools Cross Border Securities Market Mergers Conference, December 19, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Three from The American Scholar
Friday, December 07, 2007
The polyphonic experiment in poetry had its origin in France: Mallarmé, Henri-Martin Barzun, Albert-Birot. It is necessary, at this point, to mention the work of Barzun, never yet studied, which we consider of great importance for its influence on the most important schools of avant-garde poetry; Italian futurism, German expressionism, Anglo-Saxon imagism, dadaism. Barzun was one of the founders of the Abbaye de Créteil. In 1907 he published La Terrestre Tragedie, a poem in 24 cantos, inspired by Victor Hugo’s Legende des Siècles. La Terrestre Tragédie is the human species, and the song that it expresses does not converge towards a unanimism à la Jules Romains, but towards a simultaneism which is a powerful orchestral chorus. He called this concept “Orphisme”. The Orphic school gave rise to a group of authors towards 1912: Fernand Divoire, Sébastien Voirol, Maurice Bataille, R. Aldington, Guillaume Apollinaire, Nicolas Beauduin, Robert de Souza, Georges Polti and others. Between 1912 and 1914 he published twelve collections of the anthology Poème et Drame , with critical essays, prose, dramas, poems in the form of “Voix, Rythmes et Chants Simultanés”. In 1913 he also published the epic Universel-Poème in the magazine La Vie.
Barzun made use of many voices simultaneously and also foresaw the use of a gramophone. He engaged in a controversy with Apollinaire and Ezra Pound, who held that the human ear could not apprehend several voices in unison. But, as Van Doesburg later foresaw, this difficulty could be overcome by an adequate training of the ear. Accustomed to listening to radio, television, and film sound-tracks, we are now better able to apprehend simultaneous messages. Towards 1923 Barzun moved to the U.S.A. where he founded a school which influenced, among others, Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and Paul Anderson. Today many authors have followed Barzun’s suggestion and produce polyphonic poetry: Bernard Heidsieck, Franz Mon, Ferdinand Kriwet, Arrigo Lora-Totino.
From About Bernard Heidsieck, Steve McCaffery, Sound Poetry: A Survey (1978):
In France today Bernard Heidsieck is the sound poet most directly influenced by the simultaneism (Orphism) of Henri-Martin Barzun. His “Poèmes-Partitions” is a poetry-action(= communication) which places it in direct contact with the reality of the world. The event is treated as in Godard’s cinema-vérité. Though a friend of Dufrêne and Chopin, he does not reject the common language, quite the opposite. His problem is one of assembly, that is, of rhythm: assembly of the magnetic tape, superimposition or alternation to voices and sounds. The construction of his texts is based on the counterpoint between a continuous diction and an interrupted diction, the noises, used as punctuation, are established by a score which does not admit of improvisation. Progression (appearance fragment by fragment of phrases which are gradually completed), a circular process (evident in the works presented “Vaduz, passepartout No. 22”), abrupt breaks, rigid structure, contrast with the linear automatism of his friends. The fragmentation of speech, the increasing rhythm of interjections, disorientations and at the same time dramatize the discourse. Heidsieck’s works can be described as radiophonic dramas.
From Jacques Barzun, “Some Notes on Créteil and French Poetry,” New Directions, v9, 1946:
If it is conceded that the changing sensibility of the poet does perpetually reshape the form and technique of poetry, and even the conception of what poetry is for, then the radical “proposition” embodied by [H. M.] Barzun in L’Orphéide appears both thoroughgoing and, by now, intelligible. We have got used to many things done upon the body of language since 1914; but at that time the principle of simultaneity in poetry necessarily seemed cataclysmic. For it brought into question again the basis of all poetic techniques since Lessing’s Laokoon. The western world had agreed that poetry was to be read the way it was written — one word after another. All discussions of “technique” dealt with “lines.” “This is a good line; that is a bad line.” A poet is known by his lines, in much the same way that a volume of poems is known by the irregular aspect of the right-hand margin. It is even believed by the innocent that Homer was a writer and that the Greek dramas originally sounded very much like the girls’ school commencements which they now adorn.
But if the scribe tradition is rejected and instead of lines and books the poet should begin with sounds and sensations, he would logically arrive at the view that his page was simply a convenient portion of space in which to organize the symbols for what he hears. Space relations would indicate time relations as well — would create a larger syntax for his use — and he might them give himself and others the feeling that he was composing a world in motion instead of merely “extending remarks” like a Congressman.
Ordered myself a copy of Dawn to Decadence on his birthday to celebrate. And it looks like Barzun may have indirectly inspired James Watson to write his classic, The Double Helix. On page 213 of Watson’s very enjoyable Avoid Boring (Other) People:
How to write up [The Double Helix] did not crystallize until a spring 1962 dinner in New York City. . . On the dais I was next to Columbia University’s literary polymath Jacques Barzun, known to me since my adolescence through his regular appearances on the CBS radio network. Stimulated by Barzun’s conversation, I used my after-dinner acceptance speech to tell the story of our discovery as a very human drama. . . .My unexpected candor elicited much laughter and was later praised for allowing the audience to feel like insiders in one of science’s big moments. . . . I saw in my future the writing of what Truman Capote would later call the “nonfiction novel.”
— Herrick, commenting in Gene Expression
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
— George J. Leonard, Commenting on Robert McHenry, Happy Birthday, Jacques Barzun
Saturday, December 01, 2007
My only direct association with Jacques Barzun occurred during the years I served with him on the governing board of the Council for Basic Education. . . .