[ back to Marjorie Perloff's homepage ]

Bill Viola

The Morphology of the Amorphous: Bill Viola's Videoscapes

--The twentieth-century artist is not necessarily someone who draws well, but someone who thinks well.

--Bill Viola, "The Porcupine and the Car"

--I don't like the label 'video artist.' I consider myself to be an artist. I happen to use video because I live in the last part of the twentieth century.

--Bill Viola, Statements for Summer 1985

Video art has now been around for over thirty years but in the world of literary and cultural studies, one would barely know it. Television as medium and television culture have, of course, been endlessly dissected: from Raymond Williams's Television, Technology and Cultural Form (1974) and Louis Althusser's study of "Ideological State Apparatuses" (1971) to Baudrillard's "Requiem for the Media" (1981), and, more recently, to such essay collections as Constance Penley and Andrew Ross's Technoculture (1991) and Gretchen Bender and Timothy Druckrey's Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology (1994), a whole library of studies has grown up that unmask TV discourses, power mechanisms and markets, ideological control, and especially, in recent years, media representations of race, gender, class, and ethnicity. Video, it seems from this flood of media critique, is that which is seen on broadcast TV--period.

Even in the art world, where video pieces are, of course, exhibited, discussed, and studied, video art has been accused of "technocratic idealism"; "an uneasy relationship," in Benjamin Buchloch's words, "with the institutions of reception and distribution of the high-art avant-garde--the museum and the gallery--and an even uneasier one with the customers of the distribution system, the private collectors." "Many of the potentially most progressive features of the medium," says Buchloch, "have by now turned out to be a trap for the artists who find themselves caught between the vigorous reaffirmation of traditional values and techniques in the worlds of high-art . . . and an attitude of increasing certainty that culture, consumption, and ideology are congruent." Only when the video maker recognizes this complicity and engages in direct political critique, as in Dan Graham's Rock my Religion or Martha Rosler's A Simple Case for Torture, does video art become useful and interesting.

This argument is itself undercut by a naive Utopianism. For surely the number of viewers who take in an agitprop video like Rosler's Simple Case for Torture or Dara Birnbaum's Damnation of Faust (both 1983) is by no means greater than those who look at videos by Nam June Paik or John Baldessari; in either case, the audience is hardly the audience that watches Wheel of Fortune or Beverly Hills Cop or even Masterpiece Theatre. Indeed, no artist today would make the undue claim that video art has the power to subvert, much less overturn, the vast circuitry of mass television. No technical tool--whether paint brush, pencil, chisel, or lithographic stone--is in itself the means to a revolutionary art. Walter Benjamin,we recall, insisted that film was inherently a more subversive form than Dada or Surrealist painting, because painting, however "provocative" its images and daring its "word salad," was "in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience." But within a decade of Benjamin's death, the films distributed for "simultaneous collective experience" had become at least as commercial and commodified as the art forms they had replaced, a prime exemplar, for that matter, of what the Frankfurt school scornfully dubbed the consciousness industry.

What tends to be ignored in all these discussions about the "revolutionary" potential (or lack thereof) of this or that new medium is that, once a given medium is in place--as was the case with photography in the mid-nineteenth century, film in the early twentieth, and today, the various digital technologies--the most interesting artists will naturally gravitate toward it, exploring its potential and displacing attention, at least for a time, from the more conventional media. Then, too, the return, say, to painting, once a medium like video is in place, will obviously produce a different kind of painting, just as post-film theatre has adapted certain filmic qualities in its staging, scenic design, and spatial relationships.

How, we might begin by asking, does video art relate to its most immediate relatives, television and film? In one of the first (and still best) considerations of the distinctive features of video, David Antin discusses the use of time in broadcast television:

For television, time has an absolute existence independent of any imagery that may or may not be transmitted over its well-defended airwaves and cables. It is television's only solid, a tangible commodity that is precisely divisible into further and further subdivisible homogeneous units, the smallest quantum of which is measured by the smallest segment that could be purchased by a potential advertiser, which is itself defined by the minimum particle required to isolate a salable product from among a variable number of equivalent alternatives. The smallest salable piece turns out to be the ten-second spot, and all television is assembled from it.

And Antin goes on to show, with great wit and finesse, how the medium is driven by the extreme segmentation of transmission time mainly through the intense development of multiple sponsorship. "What is called news on television," for example, "is a chain of successive, distinct, and structurally unrelated narrations called stories. These average from thirty seconds to two minutes in length, are usually presented in successions of three or four in a row, and are bracketed between packets of commercials from one to two minutes long" (DA 158). As minute segments proliferate, the distinction between commercials and programs breaks down, in that "every genre of program appears also as a commercial: Dramas, comedies, documentaries, science talks, lists, all show up in thirty-and sixty-second forms" (DA 159). The resulting linear succession of logically independent units of nearly equal duration is the basic syntax of television, as we all know it. And although Antin wrote his essay before the advent of cable TV, it is amazing how little difference cable has made in the time sequence as he describes it.

To turn from television to artist's videotapes is thus, as Antin notes, a strange experience. Viewers not accustomed to such videos tend to find them long and boring, even when their running time is actually shorter than that of the standard commercial. The perception of "length" has everything to do with the way "normal" TV presents its ten or thirty-second "message," so that absence of fixed "content" becomes peculiarly disconcerting, and a startling form of defamiliarization occurs. In forcing the viewer to "see" and "hear" what may be "normal" television images at a different speed and rate of transformation, avant-garde video may well constitute, as the curator David Ross has observed ,"the only meaningful critique of television's form and practice."

If time in video art is thus significantly different from TV time (and I will exemplify this in a moment), it also deviates significantly from film time. In a 1981 catalogue essay called "The Porcupine and the Car," Bill Viola explains it this way:

Looking at the technical development of both video and film, we immediately notice a profound difference: as film has evolved basically out of photography (a film is a succession of discrete photographs), video has emerged from audio technology. A video camera is closer to a microphone in operation than it is to a film camera; video images are recorded on magnetic tape in a tape recorder. Thus we find that video is closer in relationship to sound, or music [and I would interject here, to a verbal art like poetry]

than it is to the visual media of film and photography. . . .

One of the most fascinating aspects of video's technical evolution, and the one that makes it most different from film, is that the video image existed for many years before a way was developed to record it. . . . Taping or recording is not an integral part of the system. Film is not film unless it is filming (recording). Video, however, is "videoing" all the time, continually in motion, putting out 30 frames, or images, a second. . . . Video's roots in the live, not recorded, is the underlying characteristic of the medium. Somehow, in a way no one has really been able to explain time becomes more precious when dealing with video. . . . When one makes a videotape, one is interfering with an ongoing process, the scanning of the camera. . . . In film . . . the basic illusion is of movement, produced by the succession of still images flashing on the screen. In video, stillness is the basic illusion: a still image does not exist because the video signal is in constant motion scanning across the screen. (PC 62-63, my emphasis).

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the distinction Viola is trying to make is to think of film in its original definition as a motion picture, the succession of still images composed so as to produce the illusion of motion, whereas the video camera as scanner operates the other way around. As a cousin to the microphone, the video camera, as many artists have testified, becomes a kind of prosthesis, an extension of the body that exists to record what is out there. And since, given the nature of the video signal, supplying "realistic" renditions of specific events is no longer a problem, the real challenge for the video artist is to use electronic editing (available since the mid-seventies), to leave out. Whereas film is an art of composition, of framing, arrangement, structuring, so as to create a particular set of images, video is, Viola suggests, an information art. Given the current glut of books, magazines, newspapers, radio and television programs, records, videotapes, films, and so on in our culture, he points out, "the major task of today is not information production but information management" or retrieval. . . . In this light, the main problem for artists using video these days lies in deciding what not to record. Making a videotape, therefore, might not be so much the creation or building up of some thing, but more like the cutting or carving away of everything else until only a specific thing remains" (PC 60). The most interesting connections, in this regard, become those between "areas of low, or ambiguous, information, so-called 'gaps' in recognition" that involve the participation of the viewer. "The process of learning itself," as Viola puts it, "demands that initially one must be confronted with something one does not understand" (PC 67). And he cites René Magritte's well-known comment: "People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking 'what does this mean?' they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things."

Let us see how this works in a specific Viola video. In 1986, the artist released an eighty-nine-minute videotape called I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like, the title taken from the Rig Veda. It has five "chapters": "Il Corpo Scuro" (The Dark Body), "The Language of the Birds," "The Night of Sense," "Stunned by the Drum," and "The Living Flame," all of them related by a concern for the relationship of human to animal consciousness within a natural world of great extremes with respect to climate and topography. The video was two years in the making: during part of that time, Viola was artist-in-residence at the San Diego Zoo. Some of the images were gathered in places as far apart as Wind Cave National Park, and Jewell Cave National Monument in South Dakota, where Viola spent several weeks scanning the movements of a freely roaming herd of buffalo and studying cave formations, a glacial lake near Banff in the Canadian Rockies, and the Mahadevi Hindu Temple on the island of Fiji, where Viola attended a week-long firewalking ritual.

But in this parodic nature documentary (a brilliant deconstruction of documentaries like PBS's Nova as well as of TV travelogues), the exotica are never far removed from the scanning of the artist's own study in Long Beach, California--a rather ordinary room with a large desk, on which sit a fluorescent swivel lamp. We first see the artist in chapter 2, reflected in the pupil of the owl, whose watchful presence (see figure 14.1) is one of the highpoints of I Do Not Know. In chapter 3, we see Viola sitting at his desk for minutes at a time, reading and taking notes as he studies the footage of the preceding bird sequence on a tiny monitor (see figure 14.2). A coffee mug, a pencil, a rock, a little gold jewelry casket, an egg--these are situated on the desk or the neighboring table. Occasionally a cat meows and a dog barks somewhere out of sight. This quiet sequence is followed by the artist's solitary late-night dinner, a slow motion scene that begins as a kind of Dutch still life and gradually becomes a Swiftian cartoon in its huge close-ups of the artist's knife and fork dissecting an ordinary fish--a fish that in turn defamiliarizes those in the blow-ups we have seen in slow-motion in the prior chapter, the artist himself reflected in the giant pupils of their huge eyes. In the eating sequence, an ominous silence is punctuated by loud intermittent cutting, crackling, and swallowing sounds that suggest large-scale dismemberment.

In a diary entry of 1980, Viola writes: "I want to look so close at things that their intensity burns through your retina and onto the surface of your mind. The video camera is well suited to looking closely at things, elevating the commonplace to higher levels of awareness. I want each image to be the first image, to shine with the intensity of its own first-born being" (RKW 78). And he cites, as he frequently does, Rilke's lines, "When a question is posed ceremoniously, / the universe responds."

But the "closeness of things" is based on sound as much as it is on light. "We usually think of the camera," says Viola, "as an 'eye' and the microphone as an 'ear,' but all the senses exist simultanenously in our bodies, interwoven into one system that includes sensory data, neural processing, memory, imagination, and all the mental events of the moment. This all adds up to create the larger phenomenon we call experience" (RKW 151-52). In I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like, reflection plays a central role: the artist sees his reflection in the chrome of the kitchen faucet, in the eyes of fish, buffalo, and birds, in a glass of water on his desk that turns out to have a miniature tree in it--everywhere there are black pupils that give the artist his self-image even as the sounds of water and wind, intermittent barking and chirping create a disquieting counterpoint to the visual. In Viola's work, sound and image are never fully in sync.

One especially arresting sequence, about halfway through the video, follows the tracking of a snail, emerging very slowly, first one antenna and then the other, from the little gold jewelry box (it looks like a miniature version of Cleopatra's golden barge) on the polished wooden table (see figure 14.3). Again, the allusion is to still life, this time Surrealist rather than seventeenth-century, but the still life comes to life in a frightening way--all the more frightening because what happens is quite normal. As the snail moves out of the field of vision, the camera focuses on an egg we have seen sitting on the artist's table in an earlier shot of his study. Only now that perfect white egg--an elegant shape like an Arp or Brancusi sculpture, a shape that fills up two thirds of the screen and is seen against a totally plain background, has a crack in it. (figure 14.4).

The individual segments in the egg sequence are in real time but the tape is edited so that some phases of the hatching process are omitted. The slow but sure cracking of the egg is, to my mind, an image as fearful as it is astonishing. One wants--at least I want--the egg to look perfect and pristine again, one wants that irritating scar to disappear. And at first the crack is so small that closure seems possible. For a moment, in a painterly blow-up, we seem to be looking at a white-on-white abstract composition with broken texture--an Antoni Tàpies perhaps. But when the egg begins to rock, when the silence (throughout the sequence a very faint hum is heard) is broken by an almost imperceptible infant's cry, when movement (of what we don't yet know) appears inside the shell, and when the wet and yellow feathers are glimpsed inside it, we know it's all over. The bits of eggshell litter the previously clean table, the yellowish membrane behind the shell flutters, and now the crack cuts the egg in two. We hear the faint monotonous chirping of the chick and it emerges from its shell, as grotesque a creature as one can imagine (figure 4.5). The camera slowly scans its face and eye, and then its claws with their long hideous humanoid nails, wiggling and reaching up into the air, even as the shell becomes barely visible behind it. And now the camera finally cuts away, resting its eye on another white shape, this time the coffee mug--a manufactured object, whose whiteness and shiny smooth surface provides a stark contrast to the egg.

The egg-and-chicken sequence is, of course, designed to be seen and heard as part of the larger composition, but even in itself it has striking features. First, its normalcy--what is it but a chicken hatched from its egg?--in a curiously abnormal setting of a table top. Second, its perfectly obvious struggle-of-birth symbolism, rather like that in William Carlos Williams's Spring and All: "Rooted we grip down / and begin to awaken." Third, its also obvious eroticism: the dilating opening, the breaking of the membrane, the not quite visible moving organ within. And the contrast, in this connection, between the smooth exterior and the mysterious interior, a kind of heart of darkness, audible before it is visible.

But such connections are only a first step in assessing Viola's composition. In alternately speeding up the birth cycle (all steps in the cycle are not photographed) and slowing it down (shifting to real time in the case of each shot), the artist asks the viewer/listener to consider what "birth" means. No adorable chickens here as in TV advertising, no paeans to the "incredible, edible egg." And no tribute to the "beauty" of labor as in a still shot in The Family of Man or in one of those elegant TV documentaries about "birth." Who wants to be born, one wonders, more important, who wants to give birth when this is what it's like?. And yet the tape bears no signs of artistic manipulation: It really is the thing itself, as witnessed by the video camera and re-witnessed by us. The artist has not composed his picture as would a filmmaker; he has not added shadows or enhanced the resolution. His focus is less on image as such than on time-- the time it takes for the shell to crack, for the first chirp to be heard, for the egg to shake, for the membrane to burst. The whole segment lasts only five minutes, shorter than the 8.25 local news broadcast, but it seems to take an eternity, as our eyes take in what they normally--and purposely--miss. Here slow-down is as important as speed-up. For seconds, almost a minute, at a time, nothing changes so that the sudden breaking of the shell is as dramatic as sudden movement after stasis is in a Noh drama.

A videotape like Viola's I Do Not Know also foregrounds what we might call a fractal sense of reality. Viola does not literally use fractal geometry in his work, but his aesthetic makes much of the "fractals" or irregular fragments perceived in nature when we refine our ways of measuring and describing what we see. "Clouds," as Benoit Mandelbrot remarks in his Introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature, "are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line. . . . Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity. . . . .The existence of these patterns challenges us to study those forms that Euclid leaves aside as being 'formless,' to investigate the morphology of the 'amorphous.'" Thus the length of a curve--say, the length of the coastline of Britain, to take Mandelbrot's famous example, will vary according to what principle of measurement we apply to it. Far from being the total of individual segments of coast line, length varies according to the scale of units to be included: the greater the detail, which is to say, the smaller the measurable sub-bays and sub-peninsulas, the greater the difficulty in assigning anything like a "true length" to the coast line's curve (BM 25-26).

Much of Viola's reductionism, his slow, patient analysis of a buffalo's eye or the branches of a tree, have to do with this new form of "fractal" measure. Look at a standard travel poster featuring a glacial lake and the blue oval, surrounded by snowy mountains, will not seem all that remarkable. But now take the same lake and focus on an inch of rippling lake water and all sorts of things become apparent. Again, the dialectic here is with television on the one hand, film on the other. In a given film, the minute particle of lake water would function as a telling detail: it might, for example, refer us to the body drowned on this spot, and the camera would soon get on with it, relating this detail to the larger narrative structure. In commercial TV, the detail (say, water bubbles), would function as a signifier: once recognized (look, it's Glacier Lake!) it would be replaced by, say, the bottle of Evian, which represents its real value or by the Chateau Lake Louise which represents its real use as a vacation setting.. But in video, as Viola sees it, the aim is to slow down the viewer's attention and witness what has always already been there but never quite seen. In the words of Viola's favorite poet William Blake, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite."

Viola is much given to citing Blake, Rilke, and other poets and to referring to his own work as "poetic." From the early Songs of Innocence (1978), a visual counterpart to Blake's poems, to the recent Déserts (1994), based on the sound landscape of Edgar Varèse's music, Viola has expressed the desire to give his video piece "a form of visual poetry." (RKW 263). And Slowly Turning Narrative, a two-channel video installation that juxtaposes a large screen, a mirrored surface on one side, to a normal projection screen on the other, uses as voice-over a set of anaphoric lineated phrases, recited slowly and deliberately by Viola. In the course of this monologue, the opening phrase "the one who goes," undergoes dozens of permutations. as "the one who discovers / the one who does / the one who fights / the one who fears" or again, as "the one who spits / the one who pisses / the one who blinks / the one who hears / the one who touches" (RKW 228-31). Text and image are closely related.

What makes such an installation "poetic"? Is "poetic" just another epithet for "imaginative" or "moving" or "intense"? Or does Viola's video have some more meaningful relation to "poetry"? My own take on this difficult question is that the attraction poetry has had for Viola is that it provides video with a turn away from the merely visual. "Traditionally in television," he remarks, "fidelity has been to vision, to the visual image and not to reality, and rarely to the retinal image in the eyeball. . . . The human visual image is binocular, it includes overlapping areas, double images, indistinct edges, and only a very small part of the center, called the fovea, shows focus in rich detail. Of course, human software, the mind, integrates this with information from the other senses. . . . The camera only sees three faces of a cube, for example, yet our hands can tell us that the other three simultaneously exist" (RKW 221).

The poetic thus translates roughly as the other, the visionary--the missing piece in the puzzle, the fourth dimension that "normal" television can never convey. It is a surprisingly Romantic notion, as is Viola's repeated insistence that, finally, video art must use the latest technology--hardware and software--to enhance the "development and understanding of the self." "This," Viola insists, "is where the really hard work is. The level of use of the tools is a direct reflection of the level of the user. Chopsticks can either be a simple eating utensil or a deadly weapon, depending on who uses them" (RKW 71).

Such claims for video as the medium of self-discovery, its potential for transcendence and "poetic" vision, may well strike us as excessive. But perhaps Viola's drive to videate poetry and poeticize video, to transfer, for example, Blake's Songs of Innocence to the video screen, not by reproducing the poet's words, much less by talking about the poetry, but by inventing a visual and sonic analogue that can serve as intertext, is best understood as a form of pragmatism. In a piece called "Between How and Why" (1993), Viola observes:

The new technologies of image-making are by necessity bringing us back to fundamental questions, whether we want to face them or not. The development of schemes for the creation of images with computers is an investigation into the structure and fabric of the world we observe and participate in. . . Faced with the content of the direct images and sounds of life in one's daily practice as an artist, questions of form, visual appearance, and the "how" of image-making drop away. You realize that the real work for this time is not abstract, theoretical, and speculative-- it is urgent, moral, and practical" (RKW 257).

Urgent, moral, and practical: even as cultural critique continues to insist that "high" art is dead, that, at the very least, there is no domain of art distinct from commodification and popular culture, artists like Viola are rediscovering the function of art as a form of practical knowledge--in Plato's words in the Ion, techne kai episteme. At the end of the twentieth century, as Viola puts it, "the artist is not necessary someone who draws well, but someone who thinks well."

perloff@leland.stanford.edu | Back to Marjorie Perloff's Homepage | Back to the EPC Homepage


1 "The Porcupine and the Car," Image Forum (Tokyo), 2, no. 3 (January 1981): 46-55, and Summer 1985, group exhibition ctalogue ed. Julia Brown (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary art, 1985), both rpt. in Bill Viola, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1993-1994 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, in conjunction with Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, 1995), pages 59-72 and 149-152 respectively; the citations are from pp. 64 and 152. The collection is subsequently cited in the text as RKW. "The Porcupine and the Car" is subsequently cited as PC.

2 See, for example, Raymond Williams, Television, technology and Cultural Form (1974; rpt. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1992); Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation," Lenin and Philosophy, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review press, 1971); Jean Baudrillard, "Requiem for the Media," For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin (St. Louis: MO: Telos press, 1981); Peter d'Agostino (ed.), Transmission: Theory and Practice for a New Television Aesthetics (New York: Tanam Press, 1985); Tania Modelski, Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana Univ. Press, 1986); Todd Gitlin (ed.), Watching Television: A Pantheon Guide to Popular Gulture (New York: Pantheon, 1986); Andrew Ross (ed.), Universal Abandon? The Politics of Postmodernism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988); Constance Penley and Andrew Ross, Technoculture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991); Gretchen Bender and Timothy Druckrey, Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology (Seattle: Bay Press, 1994).

3 In the case of foreign works, the dates are those of translation, since this is when they began to have an influence on media studies in the U.S.

4 Benjamin H. D. Buchloch, "From Gadget Video to Agit Video: Some Notes on Four Recent Video Works," Art Journal 45 (Fall 1985): Video: The Reflexive Medium, ed. Sara Hornbacher pp. 217, 224-25.

5 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), Illuminations, Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), pp. 234-35, 247-48.

6 David Antin, "Video: The Distinctive Features of the Medium" (1975), in John G. Hanhardt (ed.), Video Culture: A Critical Investigation (Rochester, N.Y: Visual Studies Workshop Press, distributed by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., Layton Utah, 1986), p. 156. Subsequently cited as DA; the Hanhardt collection is subsequently cited as JGH. This is the best of the general collections of video culture, including early "historical" pieces by Bertold Brecht, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Walter Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" as well as important pieces by David Ross, Rosalind Krauss, and Stanley Cavell.

7 See David Ross, 'Truth or Consequences: American Television and Video Art" (1984), in JGH: 169. Ross follows Antin in suggesting that all talk of "improving" television represents a misunderstanding of the way the medium works. One might add that the frequently heard complaints of elder statesmen like Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley that newscasting has "deteriorated" since their day are irrelevant, television velocity, fuelled by the increasing competition for viewer attention, creating its own demands.

8 E. g., Robbert Flick, in conversation with me, December 1996.

9 PC 67. For Magritte's statement, see Suzy Gablick, Magritte (Boston: New York Grpahic Society, 1976), p. 11

10 The video credits list Daphne, emu, Wahuhi, horned owl, Shaman, horned owl, and Barney, barn owl, all residents of the San Diego Zoo, and Nita, elephant in the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

11 Benoit B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (New York: W. H. Freeman,1983), 1.

12 Subsequently cited as BM.

13 See William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," in William Blake, Jerusalem, Selected Poems and Prose, ed. Hazard Adams (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970), Late 14, p. 131. Cited by Viola in "The Porcupine and the Car," RKW 60. Viola doesn't quote it quite accurately: he adds a "then" before "every thing," runs the words together, and puts a dash before "infinite" rather than a comma. For other references to Blake, see RKW, 168 Complete Poems . References to Blake aphorisms occur regularly in Viola's essays and interviews: see RKW, 168, 200, 219, 240, 273, 283.

14 For example, the Persian Sufi poet of the thirteenth century, Jalladin Rumi, Saint John of the Cross, the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing, and so forth.

15 See Bill Viola, Songs of Innocence. Color, mono sound, 9:34 minutes, in Four Songs, produced on videotape in association with WNET/Thirteen television Laboratory, New York, 1976.

16 The phrase techne kai episteme refers to two kinds of knowledge: technical (hence "techne" is often translated as "technique" or "art") and conceptual.

perloff@leland.stanford.edu | Back to Marjorie Perloff's Homepage | Back to the EPC Homepage

©1998 Marjorie Perloff
©1998 Design: oo-