Image, Myth and Metaphor in Post-Industrial Landscaping: Edric Mesmer in Conversation

By | 1 November 2015

JS: What you say here reminds me of a tour I took some years ago through the New Era Cap Company’s headquarters in Buffalo at Delaware and West Huron, another former site of the old Federal Reserve Bank mentioned at the outset. Various pragmatic structures and symbolic ornaments from the original building’s frame have been preserved and incorporated into the architecture of the new facility, serving a novel transnational entity with deep roots in Western New York. And I have to say, your description of the visible and audible traces of the mixed heritage all around us seems indeed reminiscent of Todorov, for whom a people’s language and culture – its symbols and their communication – can be potent instruments of conquest and, conversely, can themselves vanish. Such thinking about the perverse power the remnants of our physically present pasts still possess leads me to your poem, ‘For Islet,’ as your book goes about setting in play suspect exhaustion with the fiction of history:

Yet when the rapt and half-ensconced lolled in tide’s possession, we went as weeks back into ritual, to self-same and in doctrine. We passed for vision. Built harbors filled in in inlets rhythm, and ducked before the ocular ways of ethereal either.

I am wondering, what does a ‘repurposing’ of poetry’s ritual deployment of the ocular ‘image’ today propose? I ask this given your treatment of landscape and industrial landscaping, the ‘outline’ and ‘parameters’ of the hollowed-out physicality an imago-complex (or complexes) comes to fill (your full use of the page and blank space would be a whole other path here). I’m reminded of a Jungian ‘other’ diminishing a core ‘I’ and its libido (rigidifying in a complex) AND the final stage of an insect during metamorphosis, just before emergence, but still cocooned, typically winged, and in what world these get the same name.

EM: For me, the image complex is something like: visuality–soundscape–landscape–post-industrialisation, still sonic in or by its saying … (that may hazard a poetics). A post-industrial landscape is not universal, even as it may imbue certain aspects of the lyric; but it is the happenstance of most of the Great Lakes region – it finds synergy here: the ruinous as Janus-faced.

I don’t want to romanticise landscape, or landscape after industrialisation, though such a stance was generative to some late 18th century poetries, when industrialisation was annexing much agricultural and untouched-til-then land and waterways. Now, a new nostalgia invades, one retrospectively favorable toward the industrial, notably in terms of labor – perhaps another cautionary tale.1 For this region, history is ultimately tied to the waterways, their industry and their ecology: ‘For then we knew lake’s life was ours’ (‘For Islet’).

Fashioned so, notions of progress and resistance and their variously invested attachments seem always to be facing and faced away:

yet and yet not a moon at noon – is the conquering between the text in sand and sand or and sea or between wind sand and sea ?...the sightless text blight-textured in the wet maw visuality (‘Dorsality’)

Our perceptions meet here. (To your mention of spacing: the margins of the poem ‘Dorsality’ felt to me that they were meeting at the center of the page as I wrote.)

As for a local aesthetic on the page: In the LRB’s take on ‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World,’ the reviewer regards the artist’s post-First World War aesthetic thus: ‘Dark hardwood and mottled native (i.e. English) stone were more often used than crystalline marble (…) For the moment, the monument was dead.’2 (The reviewer is quick to add that these moves may also have bespoken ‘a middle class’ life of 1930s London.3)

So here’s another posit for the fragmentary, the local, the non-iconic – the turn away from the emblematic or figurative in the face of another poetics.

How far I’ve seeped through the lyric by way of abstraction, who knows …

  1. See, among others: Rachel Crawford. ‘English Georgic and British Nationhood.’ ELH 65.1 (1998): 123-158. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Aug. 2015. With Tim Strangleman. ‘Smokestack Nostalgia,’ ‘Ruin Porn’ or Working-Class Obituary: The Role and Meaning of Deindustrial Representation. International Labor and Working-Class History 84 (2013): 23-37. doi:10.1017/S0147547913000239.
  2. Anne Wagner. ‘At Tate Britain.’ Review of ‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World.’ London Review of Books 27 August 2015: 33. Print
  3. Also, Wagner’s attention to Hepworth’s lyricism: ‘She cut deep into wood and marble, scooped out hollows within them, then strung their openings with an exactitude worthy of Apollo’s lyre. Is anyone surprised that music meant so much to her?’
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