Robert Rauschenberg, 1964

As I am writing on Cunningham, Cage and Rauschenberg this weekend it seems reasonable to be looking at a Rauschenberg whenever possible.  This project will end up in print eventually, but right now I am still reading, looking, thinking, turning over in my mind the overlapping and divergent aesthetics of these three artists and their legendary collaborations (the first of Bob’s “combines” was created as a set piece for a Cunningham dance in 1954)  during the early “pop art” era when John was making sound with prepared pianos and Merce was throwing yarrow sticks to determine aspects of his choreography and Bob was (as John was) wreaking havoc with the conventionally agreed-upon lines between “art” and the everyday.

Underneath thinking about their work I am thinking about my own work, which is to say teaching and writing and far too much administration.  And about relationships, and about how things hinge and unhinge, expectedly or not, and about the conundrum of trying to know when you are an asset in a situation and when you are best off getting out of the way. And what getting out of the way means, when you think you must do it but you also think it might mean you will become less relevant or worse yet forgotten because…you got out of the way.  I keep telling myself various things, such as, “I will still know everything and everyone I know now, the day after I get out of the way,” and “he still loves me even though he was perfectly fine with my getting out of the way.” So there.  When is the fullness of time?

Some facts about persimmons:  Persimmons, it turns out, are best eaten fully ripened.  With ripeness they lose their tannic quality and become, inside their skins, jelly-ish and pulpy and sweet and tangy.  They may be consumed cooked or raw, and are especially popular in Asia and Iran.  Don’t eat persimmons on an empty stomach.  When you slice a raw persimmon open, it looks like a star.

I wonder why Bob named this 1964 silkscreen Persimmon.  The central image reproduces a portion of Peter Paul Rubens’s Venus at a Mirror (c. 1615).  The goddess is considering herself.  The painter is considering the goddess.  Front, back.  Direct, indirect. Literal, reflective.  Ever the colorist, Rauschenberg plugs a big blood-red eye at the bottom of the image, looking directly at the viewer.

Duchamp posited that the viewer completes a work of art.  Today’s completion of Persimmon can be completely different from tomorrow’s.   The red eye feels to me like a warning, about the risks of getting out of the way.  But perhaps it is the eye of a creature that ate an unripe persimmon. Or the eye of a cat who just spied a preoccupied bird.  The ripe blonde goddess may be ready for consumption…but woe unto those who forget, she is a goddess.

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to encounter them for the sake of greater clarity.  I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”  -Robert Rauschenberg, as quoted by John Cage in Silence.

Persimmon is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and is on display in the Modern Wing gallery covering 1960-present.

Starved Rock and Nodding Onion


The problem with starting an entry and forgetting to finish it is, information and memory slippage sets in and without your notes (which mysteriously ended up in the trash on the day the cleaning ladies visited) you can’t make the considered entry you intended.  Oh well.  This is what I started, which I will now try to finish. It won’t be as good or detailed as it would have been if I’d managed to do this when I meant to.  Eh.

On Easter Sunday I went to the Cathedral of The Great Outdoors for a hike with my friend Susan, who is visiting from California on a teaching residency.  We drove 90 minutes southwest to Utica, IL, a town of 1,000 which sits, amongst grain elevators, on the Illinois River.  Across the Illinois is a large state park that runs for some miles along the river and inland, featuring a series of sandstone bluffs and outcroppings, small canyons and waterfalls, forested paths, tiny riverbank coves, and a lot of stairs.  Yes, stairs. It is a state park after all.  It being early spring, the forest floor was carpeted in some areas with new green growth and purple and white wildflowers. Susan dubbed the shade of pale dots of color on the tree branches “Early Green,” which we later revised to “Early Spring.”  We walked and climbed for two hours and covered close to four miles in the interior route (passing through canyons and gazing down steep, stony gullies) and the exterior river path.  Mud.  We spied a nuthatch, numerous squirrels, a hawk, and what we believe was a bald eagle in the distant sky, eagles having returned to the region to nest in the bluffs.  The park is dog-friendly, which afforded many canine encounters including Esther and Sylvia, a pair of enormous golden retrievers who loved climbing the hills about as much as we did.  Well.  Knees are knees, after all.

I recommend a post-hike immersion into local culture at The Nodding Onion in Utica.  We arrived as most of the after-church crowd was leaving and enjoyed dinner for $12.99 apiece.  Susan had the leg of lamb, I had the ham.  There were some carrots and roasted potatoes too, and as I recall salads that did not involve iceberg lettuce.  The culinary highlight of the meal was the apple crumb pie a la mode, which we split.  As we exited for the drive back to Chicago, large raindrops began to fall.  One of us said to the other, I forget who to whom, “good timing.”

On the Road: Definite and Indefinite Articles


I spend time in southern California.  Yesterday morning (on a hot April Fool’s Day when Mother Nature was tricking us poor Chicagoans into believing the winter is over) I was thinking about regionalism and clarity and the phenomena particular to California regarding identifying highway routes with “the” in front of the number.  “Take the 405 to the 10 and go east to the 110, then north to Pasadena…” someone might tell you.  Always a definite article ahead of the route number.  Having grown up in the Washington DC area (were we might say, “take 395 south to the Beltway and then go on the outer loop to Maryland and until you get to Indian Head Highway and go south toward St. Mary’s”), I find this fixation on particularizing a route number (which is by its route number is already particularized) quite amusing.   I remember an episode of NCIS a few years ago (back when I was still watching that show, I loved Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E and was so thrilled to discover David McCallum still working and still utterly charming decades later).  Someone in the supposedly Virginia-based NCIS office was talking about a car being chased “down the 395” — a roadway locally known in DC as either 395 or Shirley Highway.  I laughed heartily at the writer in Los Angeles who had never lived anywhere else and in oblivious southern Californian fashion assumed that the rest of the country referred to route numbers with that definite article up front.  If I were to confront this writer with the problem…perhaps as he swills his chardonnay on the patio while his sprinklers are spinning water across his lawn, unaware that San Franciscans are on drought restriction…I daresay the response would be, “huh?”

The “the” leads me to consider the definite versus the indefinite article. Articles are considered determiners in English grammar.   The difference between definite and indefinite is particularity.  “The” is definite and particular. “A” is indefinite, not particularized, imprecise.  “A” friend is a general idea and could be any one of many.  “The” friend is quite particular.  Special. The vaguery of “I have a dog” is different from the specificity of  “I have the dog that ferociously ate the front bumper of a police car in Chattanooga.”  Ohhhh.  THAT dog. It was a police car, but it was THE dog.

Articles, whether definite or indefinite, are in fact adjectives that relate to (dare we say determine) nouns.  Angelinos have opted to determine and declare their freeways definitely.  The rest of us are in a zero article state as regards our freeways, for “freeway” is a non-count noun and the general rule is that you do not use an article with a non-count noun.


Well, the real lesson from this foray into American English grammar is, next time you are in Los Angeles, make sure you stick with “the” in front of the freeway numbers or you will be exposed for the tourist that you are.  Really.