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Now available from Penguin Books: Absentia by William Stobb. Find it in traditional book form on amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Also available for mobile devices at iTunes bookstore and google books.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Connectivity

Benjamin Staudinger, Milky Way, wikimedia commons
Later, I will be conscious of the fact that being outside at night is one of my favorite things. I will experience a kind of internal exhale when I have an opportunity to just sit out, alone, hearing cars on the highway and the Empire Builder sounding its horn about a mile west of us, beyond the Mississippi. I will love slow hours, watching the moon move, airplanes and satellites, a light breeze shifting the maple tree. This night, though, I have been called away from my basketball—I’m acting out a radio broadcast of a Minnesota Gophers game on a toy hoop taped to the living room paneling—and asked to go out to the garage and check on my father. He has been working for a long time on a complicated repair to his Oldsmobile, and it’s a cold, mid-winter night, so he has the heater on. My mother is worried about the ventilation. “If he’s blue, it’s probably too late,” she tells me. I hurry out the door and immediately feel the heat of my body sucked into the darkness. I run across to the garage and burst through the door: Dad quick-slides out from under the Cutlass on his rolling dolly and says “what the hell?” He looks me up and down. “Not even a jacket?” He’s fine. I step back out and close the door. It must be very cold—by then, I’d heard the stories about throwing a glass of water and watching it freeze in mid-air, the stories about exposure, frostbite, and hypothermia: that in the last moments before you die, you feel an incredible warmth wash over you. So I’m hurrying across the twenty yards of open space between the house and the garage, when I look up at the sky. Out of town where we live, the stars are brilliant, and I notice for the first time that there’s a contour to the array—the column of the Milky Way. A slowness starts to happen, and I feel that I could elapse out there, my eyes pinned to the revolving galaxy. A couple years later, age 10 or so, I would make a fort under the low branches of a pine along the margin where our yard slopes down to the river marsh, and I would have the experience of people searching for me, though I am right there, at the edge of the yard, and would only have to say, “here” to stop everyone panicking. On this night, though, it’s too cold. If I were to lie on my back and stare up at the sky—years later I’d do this on the Black Rock playa, where the cord of the galaxy is even more intensely, vividly visible, and I’d feel a tangible sense of connectivity between our planet’s surface and the surrounding cosmos—within minutes, I would become terrain, ice crystals forming across the surface of my starry eyes. So I turn away, go inside, and inform my mother that her husband is still alive.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Boo

Boo would drink six beers and practice tricks until punch-in time.  Invent an eternal detective armed with throwing star lashes, put her on the trail of a fugitive—he'd run ‘til the cliff dropped or the blade sliced his neck.  Or he’d just repeat something, like Marilyn, Marilyn, and I suppose go through every image ‘til there were no more—then she’d be gone, and that was another trick.  I’d be playing rummy while he vocalized—he’d start from scratch: name the fluid, name the bubbles, the permeating feeling.  Make a sound to signify mind-travel to a ceiling fan, microwave color-scraps as they originate in linoleum and travel into the ragged weeds colonizing the broken joints of what we called our office.  He hadn't even clocked in.  Just going on with words I didn’t even know, articulating concepts I'd probably never learn.  He seemed both happy and a little frightened.  Frightened by happiness maybe.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kimberly Blaeser is Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-2016

Congratulations to Kimberly Blaeser, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015–2016. And many thanks to Max Garland, who served the state's arts & literature community so well in 2013-2014. Really, the whole Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission deserves a lot of thanks--dedicated volunteers who've worked hard to keep the program alive. 

As of today, the new web home for the WI PLC is here. Check it out! You can find some of Kim's work there, and information about the state's past laureates. And, if you're someone who values this kind of arts programming, you can find ways of making a donation that will help to ensure its future in the state.

About Kimberly Blaeser
Blaeser lives in Lyons Township (midway between Burlington and Lake Geneva), Wisconsin. Her work draws on literal observation and the power of metaphor to create complex harmonies between the vibrant natural world and the resonant human imagination.

The author of three acclaimed poetry collections—Absentee Indians and Other Poems, Apprenticed to Justice, and Trailing You—Blaeser has seen her work earn many and various recognitions, nationally and internationally. Reviewing the many “moments of uncanny epiphany” in her poems, critic Tom Gannon describes Blaeser as a “brilliant naturist.”  Describing Absentee Indians and Other Poems, award winning poet and activist, Joy Harjo, writes “[t]hese poems are small sure lights in the darkness—poems to lead us home.” And National Book Award winner, Sherman Alexie, calls Apprenticed to Justice “a gorgeous book.” In selecting Blaeser, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission praised her passion for the arts and her ability to reach broad audiences through poems that explore her Native culture, poems of place and community, poems of witness, family poems, poems centered in women’s experience, and poems with a sly sense of humor.

Of Anishinaabe ancestry and a native of White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, Blaeser appreciates the opportunity to live with her family in the woods and wetlands of rural Wisconsin. Blaeser works as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing, Native American Literature, and American Nature Writing. When she isn’t busy writing, teaching, transporting her daughter to sporting events, or tracking her son’s college career, Blaeser’s interests include wilderness expeditions and wildlife and nature photography. Her current creative project features “Picto-poems” and brings her poetry together with nature and wildlife photography to explore intersecting ideas about Native place, nature, preservation, and spiritual sustenance.

Blaeser’s work has reached a large audience on the regional and national level, but has also earned international recognition. Her poems have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Norwegian, Indonesian, and Anishinaabemowin. Blaeser has performed her poetry around the globe, having given readings of creative work at over two hundred different venues in a dozen different countries, including performances at the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia and in a Fire Ceremony at the Borderlands Museum Grounds in arctic Norway.

Blaeser is active in service to literature, the arts, and social justice. She currently serves on the editorial board for the American Indian Lives series of the University of Nebraska Press, and for the Native American Series of Michigan State University Press. She has served on the advisory board for the Sequoyah Research Center and Native American Press Archives, on the Poetry Fellowship Panel for the National Endowment of the Arts, and has been a member of the Native American Alumni Board for the University of Notre Dame. Most recently, Blaeser initiated the Milwaukee Native American Literary Cooperative which helped to bring 75 Native American writers to Milwaukee for the 20th Anniversary Returning the Gift Festival of Native Writers and Storytellers in 2012 and continues to sponsor events each year.



Comments on Selection as Wisconsin Poet Laureate & Plans for Project(s):

Speaking about her selection as Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate, Blaeser called it “a wonderful honor and an opportunity.” She explains, “through conferences, publications, reading events, exhibits, festivals, and the like, I have had many opportunities to meet and work with Wisconsin communities. I always find the experiences exhilarating and the poetry of our state continually astonishes me. To be selected as Wisconsin’s ambassador for poetry is truly a gift.”

Speaking about the role of poetry in public life, Blaeser says: “sometime in the history of this country, poetry got a bad rap. Those who love poetry, but especially those who read or pen poetry in private, need permission and encouragement to be the shining poetry nerds they may long to be! I am excited to suit up and become our state’s ‘muse’ for the next two years.”


As Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate, Blaeser hopes to “celebrate the state’s rich resources in poetry and put poetry to work in Wisconsin.” Blaeser has plans for a monthly radio program already in the works. There she will feature Wisconsin poets and poetry events. She would also like to bring poetry into more public spaces and events—to unusual places like the Horicon bird festival, to baseball games, flower shows, and sushi bars.  Indeed, Blaeser is brimming with ideas including one to highlight recitation using social media (think ice-bucket challenge, with a twist). On a more practical level, she would like to draw upon her past experience in editing anthologies, and work to bring the poetry of Wisconsin writers to press for Wisconsin readers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Obviously, that's not how it works

After reading a lot of sensible poems, you know the ones where people are making meaning out of little descriptions of personal experiences, my head feels full and busy looking out at the picnic table under the canopy the old lilac makes in my yard. My. It’s cloudy today but I notice the sun’s shone through the picnic table’s clear Plexiglas and is burning the grass underneath. Note to self: move the table. Move the table move the table, like kicking dirty laundry around. 
Weirdly, I think these are examples of my brain working better, and that idea makes me want to put on some awful radio or trivial music (Marc remembered that Level 42 song “Something About You,” and now we’re both singing it everywhere we go) just to dull this enervation a bit. But I don’t. I like quiet and I keep it quiet, though it’s not really quiet—the dryer’s running, and the fridge, and the furnace fan—not the air, just the fan, which makes me think of the overlook above the bluff where people go to see the whole city, the whole river valley, five miles across, with all the backwaters and factories and ball fields and a thousand houses. That’s a kind of retrospection—looking back at what we are, the flow we’re born into, and I’m trying to imagine a retro-sonic experience, where we could overhear instead of oversee all the sounds across the valley at once. Not at a high volume—I don’t want to go insane and become a super-villain—but in an intricately woven pattern, so that I could turn my head and hear every individual sound in the web.
“Obviously, that’s not how it works,” could be a title for a history of human innovation, or is that too cynical. I don’t think anyone anymore believes that our species is going to carry on forever beyond the way that all matter carries on and is transformed forever as per the law of the conservation of matter and energy. Law. Eventually, the planet’s going to be human-free (like a packaging label!), and yet sound will continue, yes it will because even crickets use sound to carry out their little schemes. Little. And so I arrive at this image from a sci-fi movie of a pretty large meteor streaking across the sky, burning as it enters the atmosphere but not burning up, no, it’s big enough that it impacts the planet with an enormous boom that, in this mental movie, is cool because it’s the only sound. I’ve got this perspective where all I can hear is the impact, and the wave of destruction follows, but it’s not so bad because the planet’s already human-free.
There goes that Winnebago that’s been for sale for five years down my block. Someone must’ve bought it, or maybe the seller gave up and is just going to drive it into the river.
Remember learning how dinosaur evolution had become more and more baroque? The weird adaptations like multiple beaks and long necks and crazy armor and spikes proliferated over millions of uninterrupted years, and there was something moralistic about how this information was delivered, something like don’t fuck around too much because look what happened when the dinosaurs tried to get fancy, but obviously the dinosaurs were just unlucky, as everything is unlucky, in that their matter was organic and interactive and not something from some other universe of totally idealized eternal shit so eventually their nice little millions-of-years-long party was interrupted. As a result of all that evolution, we got the big lizards we use for B movies and also birds, which I personally love watching in my yard (my), as they make nests out of garbage and kill each other’s babies and have sex and hatch out of eggs all slimy and barely miss my head while learning to fly with an honestly scared look on their bird faces that’s like a cartoon—this is happening now: cartoons are seeming more real than Robins—and then finally leave my pretty good yard to winter in Florida like grandparents.

Maybe this is mental illness, referential mania. “Afraid of the wallpaper in the passage, afraid of a certain picture in a book, which merely showed an idyllic landscape with rocks on a hillside and an old cart wheel hanging from the one branch of a leafless tree.” There’s no way for me or any one person to end a piece of writing like this—the whole idea of writing it is absurd. I’d been reading a lot of sensible poems, the kind where people make meaning out of little descriptions of personal experience, and my head began to feel full and busy, looking out at the picnic table under the canopy the old lilac makes in my yard.

Monday, September 1, 2014

First-year Writing Is Real: Preparing to Engage the Death of Michael Brown and the Ferguson Protests

I remember in '06 and '07, the years after Hurricane Katrina, my sections of first-year college writing were full of young people who had traveled to New Orleans to work in the re-building efforts. Because of their engaged citizenship, my classroom became a site of real public exchange about real human values--individuals' stories, topics of social justice, global warming, civil engineering, American values, jazz, cajun food. At some point it dawned on me that I'm just one teacher at one school in Wisconsin; that same conversation must've been happening in Composition classes all over the United States, and the products of those conversations--essays of all sorts, posters, PowerPoint presentations, and just... moments of insight and exchange--were probably some of the best, most earnest and hopeful public exchanges happening anywhere. They weren't published in the Times, and they weren't anthologized, and in fact I've never seen it publicly acknowledged in any way, but Composition classes were producing "real world" discourse, interactions, conversations, in ways that media outlets and public service organizations could only dream of.

Fast forward to Fall of 2014, and I suspect that there are hundreds of teachers who are, like me, revising their course plans for their sections of freshman English in order to try and address the recent fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the protests that have followed the event, the police response to those protests, the media coverage of the whole sequence of events, the incredibly complex historical contexts within which Brown's death is embedded, and all the big questions of what Ferguson should mean to us as a nation. Like me, I suspect that many of these teachers feel deeply conflicted about their decision to address Brown's death and Ferguson. They worry about presenting emotional, disturbing, controversial material in a way that is balanced and geared toward understanding. For most instructors, Freshman English is a course about the writing process: inquiry, analysis, critical thinking, and argumentation are often highlighted, practiced, developed, so that students leave the course with a better understanding of how to think for themselves about the claims they encounter in public discourse, and how to make their own claims ethically and effectively. Like me, I suspect that many teachers are wary of the public distrust of college and university instructors, who are often portrayed as indoctrinators, out to change the personal beliefs of students and not just help them expand their intellectual capacities. I suspect that many instructors share my fear that Brown's death and Ferguson are just too heavy to take on--most students are in their first semester of college--sometimes Freshman English is their very first class--and instructors like me often use some lighter media analysis or personal writing to open the semester on a slightly less fraught note.

At the same time, though, I expect that many instructors, like me, want their teaching to respond to our moment, and the shooting of Michael Brown has led to a blossoming of awareness across the nation--a new willingness to address America's long-standing questions of race, class, power, citizenship, the law, due process, civil rights, and responsibilities. To me, the hope of creating a public context for the open discussion of all of these issues, which are so crucial to our past, present, and future as a nation, is worth the attendant risks. I take comfort and courage in thinking about the larger community of First-year Writing classes that will make up one site of real public discourse about Ferguson in the weeks to come.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Call for Applications / Nominations: 2015-2016 Wisconsin Poet Laureate

Contact: Jason A. Smith, Wisconsin Academy communications director, or Bill Stobb, Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission chair.

Call for 2015–2016 Wisconsin Poet Laureate Opens on August 18

MADISON—The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, in partnership with the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, is seeking applications for the new 2015–2016 Wisconsin Poet Laureate.

Beginning August 18, 2014, applications are welcome from individual poets who are seeking the position. Applications may also be submitted by a person who is nominating a poet for the position of Wisconsin Poet Laureate. A complete application package must be sent to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission at wipoetlaureate@gmail.com no later than October 10, 2014. Application instructions and additional information are available at www.wisconsinacademy.org/newpl.

The Wisconsin Poet Laureate is the state’s leading poetic voice and an ambassador for poetry, encouraging the reading and writing of poetry across the state. The Poet Laureate engages a variety of Wisconsin constituencies, enriching the lives of residents by sharing and promoting poetry through conversation, readings, public appearances, workshops and digital and social media.

The Poet Laureate’s term of service is two years. The next term begins on January 1, 2015 and ends on December 31, 2016. The Poet Laureate is awarded a $2,000 stipend per year, which honors the poet’s achievements and helps to defray travel expenses not reimbursed by individual organizations where the Poet Laureate is a guest.

The current Wisconsin Poet Laureate is Max Garland.

The Poet Laureate is expected to contribute to the growth of poetry throughout the state; plan and/or attend statewide literary events and educational programs, including a special project to be supported by the Wisconsin Arts Board; visit each region of the state at least once during the two-year term; promote poetry and the Poet Laureate position via electronic social media; participate in selecting the succeeding Poet Laureate and guide the transition into the role.

The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission embraces the diversity of human experience and identity. All applications are welcome, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, cultural heritage, socio-economic background, or physical ability.

About the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission
Created by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in Executive Order 404 on July 31, 2000, and continued by Governor Jim Doyle, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission conducts the Wisconsin Poet Laureate selection process, assigns responsibilities to the selected Poet Laureate, and assists that individual in performing official duties. In May, 2011 the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters announced their stewardship of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate program to ensure its survival after Governor Scott Walker eliminated state support for the position. Members of the Commission include representatives from the Council of Wisconsin Writers, the Wisconsin Center for the Book, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, as well as several at-large members.

About the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters
The nonprofit Wisconsin Academy brings people together at the intersection of the sciences, arts, and letters to inspire discovery, illuminate creative work, and foster civil dialogue on important issues. We connect Wisconsin people and ideas for a better world. Wisconsin Academy programs include the James Watrous Gallery in Overture Center for the Arts, a gallery by and for Wisconsin artists; Wisconsin People & Ideas, our quarterly magazine of Wisconsin thought and culture; Academy Evenings, our statewide series of public talks; our Wisconsin Initiatives, which currently address water issues and climate change impacts in our state; and the Wisconsin Academy Fellows. For more information on our programs, or to become a member of the Wisconsin Academy, visit www.wisconsinacademy.org.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Beautiful Doom: Heizer's "City" and Scott's "Blade Runner"

There’s a striking similarity between Douglas Trumbull and Ridley Scott’s pyramidal design for the “Tyrell Corporation” headquarters in Blade Runner (1982) and the photos I’ve seen of Michael Heizer’s monumental plaza, Complex City, which has been under construction in Garden Valley, Nevada since 1972.  I’ve not seen any evidence that Trumbull & Scott would’ve been influenced by Heizer. I think the resemblance is probably nothing more than some shared archaeological interests. Still, I love the fact of the resemblance, because it really opens up a web of thinking about art and architecture’s relationship to the future. Both works explicitly and implicitly imagine futures, and both works have monumental properties: they commemorate the present for a viewer in distant time.

I want to start by outlining the web of connections, here:
  • Both City and Tyrell Corporation are obviously pyramid structures, and the structures really are similar—it’s as if Heizer’s massive sculpture had been discovered by a future civilization and somehow wired up and inhabited (although, Blade Runner's only set in 2019, so it’s not looking good for that prognostication).
  • Heizer’s original drawings for the “Anaconda Project” are almost even more similar to Tyrell Corporation. Both have


    the high shield wall that protect the inner pyramids. The drawing is compellingly dated, too (1981—just as Blade Runner was going into production), although, again, I see no evidence that Trumbull or Scott were aware of Heizer. Interestingly, Heizer never built the piece drawn here—he seems to have replaced it with “Effigy Tumuli” for his engagement with the Anaconda Mining Company.
  • Heizer’s relationship to architecture and anthropology goes way back. His father, Robert Heizer, was an anthropologist. The “perforated object” he found in a Nevada cave was the inspiration for Michael’s sculpture of the same name.
  • Heizer has specifically discussed the influence of The Burial Vault of Djoser, or Zoser, on his thinking about City. Saqqara, Egypt. 27th Century BC (!!!). “The first pyramid and the first big architecture” (Heizer).
  • In Blade Runner, the Tyrell Corporation pyramids actually become the burial vault for the genius Tyrell himself. Not only does replicant Roy Batty kill Tyrell in his luxurious suite, atop the pyramid, but there’s a strange isolation surrounding Tyrell. Though the pyramid complex he occupies is massive, there’s no evidence of anyone else ever being there—perhaps we’re meant to imply that it’s a busy industrial center, but, other than his mysterious replicant servant, Rachel, there’s never anyone else around. Since Rachel’s fled, I can almost imagine Tyrell’s body simply decaying there, undiscovered for ages.
  • Trumbull’s influences are a little harder to uncover than Heizer’s, though his work history has some interesting connections to architecture and archaeology. Before Blade Runner, Trumbull was working on a studio movie called Pyramid, which was canceled. After Blade Runner, Trumbull worked on several features for the Luxor Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.
  • Both works project primitive futures. In Blade Runner, the future is in decline, and although it’s set in Los Angeles, it’s easy to recall Heizer’s description of living in New York. “It looked like it was decaying.” “The future is old,” says Ridley Scott, himself, in the documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner
  • Heizer explicitly imagined a post-nuclear future. He positioned Complex One in such a way that it reads as a blast shield. Garden Valley is just north of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, where aboveground tests took place from 1951-1962 (and belowground tests continued until 1992). Complex One is like a massive berm, a horizontal face toward the test site.
  • Blade Runner’s future is more post-industrial than post-nuclear, it seems to me, but it’s similarly bleak.
  • Heizer’s City complex is something like a mile long. Tyrell Corp, literally, were two miniatures, 8 ft tall, lit 
    microfilaments, and were built “very quickly,” according to Trumbull. To be fair, in the interviews I’ve seen, I get the sense that Trumbull feels pressure to emphasize his efficiency and economy, because he doesn’t want his business reputation associated with the financial mess that Blade Runner became in production.
  • In his interview with Julia Brown, Heizer is very compelling in discussing the relationship of his art to the future. “There’s very little point in making modern art for the ‘contemporary’ audience. Obviously these works are pointed to the future…. In our times there’s a real question about modernity and how far it stretches…. we have returned to a primitive stage…. I work with primordial materials—they’re modern if you agree with the idea that we are not really progressing…. We’re living in a world that’s technological and primordial simultaneously…. the insecurity of society, the frailty of its systems, the dependence upon interdependence.” Heizer sees us “nearing the end of civilization” and is clearly speaking to someone, something beyond us.
I'm sure there are more connections that could be drawn, here. I'm just an enthusiast who enjoys this constellation of thinking, spanning from 27 BC through the end of humanity, as projected by Heizer—a spiraling kind of DNA of influence and imagination and human capability and mortal longing.

I love the world Blade Runner creates—it’s beautiful, gritty, sensual, elegant. The socio-economics of it seem plausible, and Tyrell Industries (“more human than human is our motto”) is fascinating. Maybe our artificial intelligence isn’t quite up to Nexus Six standards, but how has our actual technology re-shaped the meaning of mortality?  And Blade Runner’s philosophical / theological questioning of the maker and the made, the nature of life, consciousness as an engineered thing—I love seeing these interests abide in Scott’s work, and I’m hopeful that a sequel to Promtheus will inspire Scott to a signature moment in his career.

And then there’s the bleakness of the future that City imagines: it’s entwined with the explicit post-nuclear content, its remoteness, its primordial vocabulary—it reminds me of the system of warning signs and instructions that linguists and engineers have worked to design for a nuclear storage facility. How does one communicate to a possible future explorer who, millennia after all traces of our time have been obliterated, stumbles upon the remnants of our industry, still poisonous after 50,000 years?

To me, the temporality of City extends beyond the projections of all our science fiction toward an essential, elemental absence of sentience: a place and time where only forms remain. Even in the vacant, geological future, 20th century formalism will have a proponent.  Of course, there are deeper currents than the aesthetic, aren’t there? We were here. Weren’t we? Is there a little bit of desperation in the gesture? Imagine feeling that you needed to make something that would out-live humanity. Imagine feeling you needed to shout down time itself. Maybe Michael Heizer is simply the most ambitious, persistent formalist ever.

Writing about Heizer in 1974, New York Magazine’s Thomas B. Hess draws some history forward that applies both to the artist in the desert and the fictional Tyrell (who, I think, had been “born” by then through the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—the basis for Blade Runner):  “Giantism is a familiar architectural symptom, usually indicating the presence of a powerful ruler who dreams of leaving a mark on eternity (Ozymandian, Hadrian, Hitler)…. Heizer’s ambitions rival theirs…. Complex One crystallizes the arbitrary will of a mad emperor who has everything at his command—except an empire” (from page 102 of Sculpture in Reverse).

The Hitler comparison may apply to Tyrell, but it seems a little cheap, in its application to Heizer. Although it’s true that the artist’s ambitions—the scale and the impact and the cost of his work—have been criticized throughout his career, I’m not sure it’s fair to associate him with the murder of six million people.

Call me Romantic, but I can’t help but believe there’s something more than ego involved. To think of Complex City and the fictional Tyrell Corporatioon merely as monuments to the genius maker, the great ego, seems simplistic. I think of City as a voice into the future, that projects a swath of humanity—some of our ideas and forms, a primal vocabulary. I imagine that, from Heizer’s perepsective, it feels more like a calling that claims his life than it does a gesture of dominance. That’s pure speculation, though, I guess. And Tyrell? Look at the creatures he made—Roy Batty’s incredible poetic consciousness, and his tragic limitations. He gave life, really. He made them: Batty, Pris, Rachel, and, as I read the film, even the Blade Runner, Deckard himself. Their lives were beautiful and burdened.  In all of this thinking, it’s the character of Roy Batty—a replicant in a 20th century novel and movie—that gives me the most hope. We have consciousness, will, a sense of our own power and powerlessness. Batty’s final soliloquy argues for the tragic beauty of our fleeting consciousness in a way that makes poetic witness seem both essential and achingly doomed:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched c-beams glitter in the dark
near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time
like tears in rain.”


Brown, Julia, ed. Michael Heizer: Sculpture in Reverse. Los Angeles: MOCA, 1984.