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Peter Gizzi's The Outernationale is magnificent. It gives me what I need from poetry -- a reminder to feel alive -- even as it addresses a bleak civic landscape. The long, excellently palindromic "Vincent, Homesick for the Land of Pictures" sent me hunting for this quote:
Exiting from positivism -- casting aside the possibility of art's going back to the moment at which sensation becomes sign -- is in practice exiting from the hope of art's inhabiting a public, fully translatable world. And that -- more than positivism or materialism per se -- had been the utopian motor of modernism from Courbet and Manet to Seurat and even van Gogh. (There is no "even" about it in fact. Van Gogh believed in the material world, and art's responsibility to retrieve the shock of it, and to translate the shock into a new and fully public language, as no one had ever believed before. He was the Prince Myshkin of positivism. That after his death he became the model of alienated individuality and the patron saint of visionaries, is I guess what simplicity gets for its pains.)
(T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea)
... But also the patron saint of coffee mugs and tote bags, which proves his success at finding a "public language" -- after all, the Autobiographical Vincent wouldn't be so popular if he had painted black and white squares, nor has Renoir's relatively tranquil life kept him from being translated to kitsch just as frequently. Still, to be confronted by an actual Van Gogh, in the flesh, always brings with it a shiver of sensation. Gizzi may never be a "public poet" for all his pains (and the reasons for that are obvious from this article; Silliman's rebuttal of it today is the last word on the subject) but he, too, remembers that a shiver of sensation is vital, it's the first thing, before mere message or artful phrasing. "The moment at which sensation becomes sign" is Gizzi's moment as much as Van Gogh's.

Originally Published: August 13th, 2007

Ange Mlinko was born in Philadelphia and earned her BA from St. John's College and MFA from Brown University. She is the author of five books of poetry: Distant Mandate (2017); Marvelous Things Overheard (2013), which was selected by both the New Yorker and the Boston Globe as a best book of...

  1. August 14, 2007
     Aaron Fagan

    It's "van Gogh" not "Van Gogh."