Saturday, May 1, 2010
On this and several other later books, levy worked extremely fast, putting together some of the collage at the print shop. For some people this may make the book look sloppy, but there's nothing sloppy about it: levy's spontaneity and deliberate avoidance of neat layouts were informed by more careful work done previously, and by a complete sureness of craft and informed trust in intuition. At this stage, anything else would have worked against the constant invention which levy worked into every page, and often not just once per page, but in multiple ways in each page.
In the late work, levy had integrated a strong sense of the necessity and interdependence of polarities on many levels. Most important perhaps is the absolute mutual dependence of destruction and creation. Throughout the book, he constantly works out new strategies to destroy or subvert or negate a text, from such simple devices as mirroring text to blotting it out. Even in the blotted passages, however, there is great variety. On the graphic level, the blotted texts range from heavy, dense, uneven lines with clear edges to lines or individual letters with many thin, spidery strands moving out from them. As you gain more familiarity with these pages, it becomes questionable whether the strands are thin drains off the image or forms of radiance. Some texts can be deciphered, and should be deciphered even though it takes some time to do so. Others work as support mechanisms: that is, they cover parts of a text as a means of creating a new one or bringing out significance in the old one that the original writer of publisher would not have understood. This emphasizes clearly legible passages, often brief phrases or mirrored or lightly typed or half erased lines that gain force by their isolation.
The images, too, abound in contradictions, paradoxes, opposition, and the kinds of flipping polarities that at times attract and repel each other. Thus a photo of a devotional sculpture occupies the same forcefield as a clip from a pornographic magazine; passages from the Karlgren or Wade-Giles Chinese dictionary form a margin for gossip; coarse, runny erasures balance against delicate etchings, images of propriety and elitism face clumsy cartoons; a south Vietnamese soldier in western uniform sits in something like lotus position at a time when monks were burning themselves alive to protest the infiltration of western commercialism in their ancient land, whose Buddhism predates the northern variety more familiar to people in the west.
On the simplest level, this is levy's recension of the Buddha's "Fire Sermon," perhaps the most eloquent statement of the ephemerality of the material world. On another level, it makes a wheel of Tantric statements of boundless energy and possibility.