[Frameworks] Stan Brakhage and the 'philosophers of light'?

John Powers jpowers95 at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 21 21:49:38 CDT 2012

Hi Richard,

I'm not sure if Brakhage actually read a lot of the "philosophers of light," but I can tell you from going through a lot of his correspondence in the Brakhage Archive in Boulder that he discusses what he's reading quite often, and I can't recall him mentioning in the correspondence that he has read them. In a letter from 1972 (sorry I don't have more information handy right now), he mentions the following books from his personal library as the most important to his artistic practice:

Ezra Pound-Guide to Kulchur, ABC of Reading, Spirit of Romance
Charles Olson-The Human Universe, Call Me Ishmael, The Mayan Letters
Gertrude Stein-Lectures in America, Geographical History of America
William Carlos Williams-In the American Grain, "Spring and All"
DH Lawrence-Studies in Classic American Literature
Louis Zukofsky-Bottom on Shakespeare
Donald Sutherland-On Romance
Hugh Kenner-The Pound Era

These are the books he mentions most frequently. Again, this is dated 1972, which is around the time he makes THE PROCESS and THE RIDDLE OF LUMEN and shortly before TEXT OF LIGHT, so it's possible he picked them up later. But there's not a lot of mention of reading them specifically.

John Powers
University of Wisconsin-Madison

 From: Richard Ashrowan <richard at ashrowan.com>
To: frameworks at jonasmekasfilms.com 
Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 6:36 PM
Subject: [Frameworks] Stan Brakhage and the 'philosophers of light'?
Does anyone know whether Stan Brakhage actually read or owned copies of written works by Robert Grosseteste, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Duns Scotus or Francis Bacon? He refers to them, some of them often, but as far as I can tell most of the references he makes to them have been traced back to Ezra Pound's Cantos, wherein they are quoted (and sometimes misattributed) heavily. It would seem probable that most of Brakhage's  knowledge of these philosophers was in fact indirect through the lens of Pound, though I wouldn't want to assume that if anyone has any evidence to the contrary. 

I wonder if anyone knows if Brakhage had any of these medieval works, or other non-Pound references to them, in his library? Availability of these works in source translation in the 1970s would most certainly have been far more difficult than today, though it certainly remains problematic. I assume Brakhage did not read Latin? I know Frampton did - translating his own passages of Grosseteste's De Luce, a hint I assume he might have ultimately got from Brakhage, though he also read Pound.

There are also many other light philosophers in this domain which I do not believe Brakhage ever mentions anywhere - Al-Hazen, Al-Kindi, St Augustine, St Basil, Roger Bacon, John Dee, Robert Fludd, Giambattista Della Porta, and latterly of course, Newton.

Any thoughts on this most welcome.


Richard Ashrowan
richard at ashrowan.com
Web: www.ashrowan.com
Blog: http://richardashrowan.tumblr.com
Alchemy: www.alchemyfilmfestival.org.uk

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