Books and Quotations
By Cary Loren
Bahnmiller had an eclectic library that covered philosophy, fiction, art criticism, and poetry. Her books were often painted, collaged, and underlined, with words circled and notes written in the margins. Certain texts held key importance. In her last few years, she gave many of her favorite books and mementos away to friends.
Here are short selections that offer examples of what drew Bahnmiller’s attention, and offer a glimpse into the quality of her readings. Quotations are from pages she dog-eared and underlined—often writing “Imp.” beside a particular section or sentence, stressing its importance.
Theodore Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
Everything about art has become problematic. Its inner life. Even its right to exist.
These clichés about art casting a glow of happiness and harmony over an unhappy and divided real world are loathsome.
True art challenges its own essence, thereby heightening the sense of uncertainty that dwells in the artist.
Like theory, art cannot concretize UTOPIA, not even negatively.
Hermetic art works tend to be rebuked for being unintelligible. Actually, their unintelligibility is a confession that all art is enigmatic.
[IMPORTANT]: The enigma of works of art is the fact of their having been broken off.
The enigmatic quality of art is thrill as remembrance rather than as the actual presence of thrill.
The injustice inherent in all cheerful art, especially in the form of entertainment, is an injustice against all the stored-up and speechless suffering of the dead.
Bertolt Brecht, “A German War Primer,” Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956
The lowly must leave this earth / Without having tasted / Any good meat.
For wondering where they came from and / Where they are going / The fine evenings find them / Too exhausted.
They have not yet seen / The mountains and the great sea / When their time is already up.
If the lowly do not / Think about what’s low / They will never rise.
Bertolt Brecht, “In Times of Extreme Persecution,” Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956
Once you’ve been beaten / What will remain? / Hunger and sleet and / Driving rain.
Who’ll point the lesson? / Just as of old / Hunger and cold / Will point the lesson.
Won’t people say then / It could never have worked? / The heaviest laden / Will wish they had shirked.
What will remind them / Of all the killed? / Wounds still unhealed / Those will remind them.
Blaise Cendrars, “Travel Notes” [excerpt]
A line that fades away / Good-bye / It’s America / Above is a crown of clouds
In the coming night an absolutely flawless star / Now we’ll steer a course to the east and starting tomorrow the / Swimming pool will be set up on the upper deck / When you love it’s time to leave
Highlighted passages within The Difficulties, Charles Bernstein Issue, edited by Tom Beckett
Writing as a map for the reader to read into, to interpolate from the space of the page out onto a projected field of ‘thinking’ … So that the meaning of this text is constituted only in collaboration with the reader’s active construction of this hypertext.
The poem needs less to be viewed as a fixed end, an object d'art, and more as a transforming agent whose exemplary features are to be used by the reader in her/his researches into the nature and products of the production of meaning.
The beautiful is everywhere; perhaps more in the arrangement of your saucepans on the white walls of your kitchen than in your eighteenth-century living room or in the official museums.
–Fernand Léger, 1914
One form of this poetry of space—apart from the poetry that can be created by combinations of lines, forms, colors, objects in their natural state, as one finds them in all the arts—is the language of signs.
–Antonin Artaud, 1931-1936
Yehuda Amichai, “Gifts of Love,” Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems
You helped me to live for a couple of months / without needing religion / or a point of view. / You gave me a letter opener of silver. / Real letters aren’t opened that way; / they’re torn open, / torn, torn
As told to and edited by Simon Volkov, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich
... neuroses comes to a head when you’re at a mature age. True fear comes at a mature age. Of course fear is always with us. It’s with us from earliest childhood. But you don’t fear in childhood as you do as an adult.
If you are mocked every day, you either get used to it or you go mad.
Now I can’t abide rudeness, even in so-called great artists. Rudeness and cruelty are the qualities I hate most. Rudeness and cruelty are always connected, I feel. One example out of many is Stalin.
The deceased, as you know, have the inconvenient habit of cooling off too slowly; they’re burning hot. So they are turned into aspics by pouring memories over them—the best form of gelatin.
How we treat the memories of others is how our memory will be treated. We must remember, no matter how hard it is.
Passages of poems by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and others were often included in exhibitions as reference material, guiding the viewer toward thoughts and ideas that inspired Bahnmiller.
We peer with restless focus / at a drop of pondwater or blood / something that only can be seen / in infinite slender sections.
–Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, “March Wind”
On trees bare as calligraphy / I hang glass balls and their crumpled hats / button a black coat around the year.
–Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, “On the Winter Solstice”
The chrysanthemums’ astringent fragrance comes / Each year to disguise the clanking mechanism / Of machine within machine within machine.
–Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems XLI
I wrung my hands under my dark veil … / “Why are you pale, what makes you reckless?” / Because I have made my loved one drunk / with an astringent sadness.
I’ll never forget. He went out, reeling; / his mouth was twisted, desolate … / I ran downstairs, not touching the banisters, / and followed him as far as the gate.
And shouted, choking: “I meant it all / in fun. Don’t leave me, or I’ll die of pain.”
He smiled at me—oh so calmly, terribly— / and said: “Why don’t you get out of the rain?”
–Anna Akhmatova, “I Wrung My Hands”
Read next: Black is an Ideal: A Kaddish for Cay, inside Doom and Glory in the Cass Corridor: A Dossier on Cay Bahnmiller by Cary Loren
1. Theodore Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, RKP, 1984, collection of the author.
2. Blaise Cendrars, Complete Poems, University of California Press, 1992.
3. The Difficulties, Vol. 2, No. 1, Charles Bernstein Issue, edited by Tom Beckett, Fall 1982, Cay Bahnmiller archive, What Pipeline, Detroit.
4. Yehuda Amichai, Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems, Sheep Meadow Press, 1992, collection of Beth Aviv.
5. As told to and edited by Simon Volkov, translated by Antonina W. Bouis, Testimony: The Memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich, Limelight Editions, 1984, collection of Susanne Hilberry and Hazel Blake.