Friday 18 January 2002

Talented practioners of a new discipline

Walt Whitman wasn’t part of the curriculum at the parochial high school I attended in Sydney a long time ago. Our attention was directed instead towards the English poets and a token Australian or two. So it was a surprise and a delight to be introduced to Whitman through the poem that closed Doc’s entry on Wednesday. What a gift, I thought, to be pointed in Whitman’s direction; I immediately recalled an essay written by John Szarkowski twenty years ago on the work of the French photographer, Eugène Atget.

Eugene Atget, Parc de Sceaux, 1925Atget died in Paris in 1927, having spent the previous thirty years assembling a comprehensive catalog of French architecture, landscape, and everyday life. In that time, he exposed perhaps ten thousand glass negatives—as Szarkowski writes in another essay, Atget “was not progressive, but worked patiently with techniques that were obsolescent when he adopted them, and very nearly anachronistic by the time of his death.” Nor was his work appreciated by his fellow countrymen. The American photographer Berenice Abbott rescued an enormous cache of his negatives from neglect and possible destruction. Through her efforts and Szarkowski’s, Atget’s reputation was secured.

Doc’s essay is titled, It’s the Writing, Geniuses. Doc’s genius lies in the way he builds his argument carefully and concludes it gracefully by pointing to Whitman’s poem. “Look!” he seems to be saying. “This will reward your attention.” I suggest that accomplished bloggers, Doc included, are practising a discipline that Szarkowski defines here:

As a way of beginning, one might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing. All of us, even the best-mannered of us, occasionally point, and it must be true that some of us point to more interesting facts, events, circumstances, and configurations than others. It is not difficult to imagine a person—a mute Virgil of the corporeal world—who might elevate the act of pointing to a creative plane, a person who would lead us through the fields and streets and indicate a sequence of phenomena and aspects that would be beautiful, humorous, morally instructive, cleverly ordered, mysterious, or astonishing, once brought to our attention, but that had been unseen before, or seen dumbly, without comprehension. This talented practitioner of the new discipline (the discipline a cross, perhaps, between theater and criticism) would perform with a special grace, sense of timing, narrative sweep, and wit, thus endowing the act not merely with intelligence, but with that quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art, so that we would be uncertain, when remembering the adventure of the tour, how much of our pleasure and sense of enlargement had come from the things pointed to and how much from a pattern created by the pointer.

I’m convinced the best blogs owe much of their power to such an art of graceful pointing. And, that though they may not look like journalism, they sure as hell feel like art.

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour