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Friday, August 14, 2009

Vollmann Diaries 4: Progress, Always, Progress

los angeles @ nightLos Angeles @ Night 12/31/2006

Vollmann Diaries 1: Border Crossing//Desert Tower
Vollmann Diaries 2: New River//\Salton Sea
Vollmann Diaries 3: Into Mexico

Does art exist without an audience to appreciate it? It does, because provided the cultural product continues to exist, an audience could exist at a later point in time. That scenario (an audience appreciating something later in time) is growing increasingly unlikely because of the absolute, verifiable proliferation of new cultural products created by advances in technology and mechanical duplication.

So- that being the case- I would argue that in this day and age, for all forms of cultural product, the audience is actually more important then the artist him/herself. You say: Without the art, the audience doesn't exist. But really, if you think about it- isn't it the opposite? Without the audience, the artist doesn't exist, and the more cultural product being produced, the more important the role of the audience.

It's always true for cultural products (up to and including "language" and "religion") that if something is not remembered by anyone, it ceases to exist.

view from the salton sea beachview from the salton sea beach

Do you know how many civilisations have been buried beneath the sands of time? Great, epic civilisations, which have vanished from memory and thereby from history. William Vollmann does. Imperial is his attempt, in book format, to post a warning on the path ahead. Imperial is, quite explicitly, an instructional device.

I think Vollmann loves Imperial in the same way I do: Because it is here that you see all of what we are.

dead fish, salton seaDead Fish @ the Salton Sea

Yesterday, I had the occasion to sit in a from for several hours and read Imperial. I made it past page 350, which seems like a very "blog" thing to say. You'll never read THAT sentence in a local daily book review. Here's something else the newspapers will never get- it's all about the photos. People love images.

brawley, california

The photograph above is from the rodeo Sophie and I went to in 2005 in Brawley, CA. Brawley is smack in the central of Imperial. Maybe it's the spiritual capital of that place. People thought we were nuts. The fact that we both were equally excited to go- that's what you call a "soul mate" as they say.

As Vollmann moves out of his throat clearing mode, Imperial begins to move away from the border and Imperial county, and out towards Los Angeles, Riverside & San Diego. He maintains the convention of tagging each chapter with a year (or year range), making some of the chapters sound like history texts "Los Angeles: 1792-1945." Vollmann "moves the camera" from location to location and time to time with ease. After all, one thing Vollmann knows how to do in his writing is manipulate time and space over pages and pages of text.

Around page 250 I almost began to feel that Vollmann was literally building in an indictment, that Vollmann-the-narrator is showing a jury the evidence to support his proposition: That "Imperial" is all of America writ little- a microcosm. Reading yesterday, I realized that Vollmann does indeed intend to bring older civilizations to bear- he quotes from an ancient Sumerian text that analogizes a river to a "giving" woman.

I also begin to sense the swell of narrative- he continues to hint at his investigation into Chinese caves in Mexicali- a subject that I have heard discussed- though not in Mexicali. I suppose it will either be a climax, and anti-climax, or nothing at all, depending on Vollmann's artistic intent.

I identify with Vollmann's 1300+ page work. As a blogger, as a consumer, as a reader. This is what our world is like. To write long books is to say "the world is a very interesting place." To read long books says "I believe the world is an interesting place." And it is.

Vollmann Diaries is a multi-part review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann, published on July 30th, 2009 and obtained by me on August 10th, 2009. (Amazon)

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