Friday, June 29, 2012

Jaime de Angulo, from the Taos Papers, ed. Gui de Angulo

Monday Morning [1924].

Anyway, here it is, all over this region of Arizona and New Mexico, a highly developed sense of art, and it is expressed in everything; in the designs of blankets, in ceremonies, in dress, there is color, there is form, there is pattern. All of the psychological stuff, I mean that mess of material that comes from all the outer world and is there cooking, par-boiling, simmering the bottom of their souls, all that stuff here seems to get projected once more into the outer world, in the shape of pattern, of form, of design, in everything, in dancing and in ritual, in weaving, in pottery. —It seems almost as if these people could not stand the existence in their souls of the psychological reflection of the outer biological world . . . something too strong, too powerful, would make you vomit, have to conjure it, to exorcise it, get it out, “fix” it in pattern, in outer form, —there it still lives, it’s not dead, it lives for anyone who can understand the heart, not with the eyes, the pattern on the blanket, or in the ritual, it lives for him, but it is not dangerous any longer.

That’s how they impress me, and I think this is true not only of the Pueblos, of the true Pueblos, but also of the Hopi (who live in pueblos also, and have all the culture of the Pueblo, but are Shoshonean by language) and also of the roaming Navajo and Apache who are Athapascan by language.

Now most of this country is the picturesque Grand Canyon type of landscape, chuck full of colour and form, where erosion has produced grotesque monstrous shapes everywhere, where instead of the multitudinous variety of trees, shrubs and hillocks, valleys with woods and streams and boulders—indeed of that nature broken into an infinity of small pieces, there are immense spaces, desert, no trees, no shrubs even, but the result of erosion in stratified rocks, in violent colours, definite lines, many parallels, many perpendiculars, other angles also, but always well defined, a merciless sunlight and sharp shadows from the luminous to utter black. Our artists try to paint it, they can’t, they are too subtle, they know their art too well, they see too many colors, too many shades—worse, they try to imitate the Indians but they don’t understand fear, they are afraid of material dangers, of snarling dogs, of a rushing train, of the flu, of their boss or their wife, but they are not afraid of the spirit that walks silently in the shimmer of the sunlight, and so they can’t paint the desert. You can’t paint the desert or even talk about it, you can only put it in a blanket design, and the Navajo know the desert better than the rest and their designs are fierce and uncompromising—that’s why Lawrence (and Mabel too) don’t like Navajo rugs. Lawrence is jealous of everything that is wild and untamed and strong. He thinks he has a copyright on it. Mabel both because she is under his influence and because she has identified herself with these Taos Indians, who are the least wild, the most bourgeois of all.

Well, to come back to my sheep, I mean: Is it perhaps that this kind of geography (high plateau, dry, sand, light, etc. etc.) is responsible for the external form, I mean rather for the aspect of the form into which these people had to exorcise, to fixate, to crystallize and externalize their inner feelings? I don’t think much of the sort of explanation that is always trying to reduce psychology to a question of climate and economics. But that factor must also be remembered.

And now I think of the California Indians. (I speak of the Achumawi especially). Have they externalized their inner feelings? They have no pottery, no blankets, no houses, nothing to put pattern into, not even dances or ceremonials. They go around naked (I paint them as they were before ’49); all they have is a piece of flint for a knife and a bow and arrows. They do not till the soil. They just collect what the soil grows: roots, bulbs, acorns, pine-nuts—and whatever is an animal, from worms to bears—they eat anything, and almost raw. Why, they are hardly differentiated from the trees and the brushes and the deer and the antelope and the rain and the snow and everything that is Nature. Where is the line of demarcation between a juniper tree and an Achumawi Indian? What’s the difference? Not much. But there is a hell of a lot of difference between a Taos Indian and the corn he has planted and raised! He already controls nature (or tries to control it)—he is no longer nature itself, like the Achumawi Indian. The Achumawi (especially he who is more or less of a “doctor,” who has “power”) is in constant relation with the living part, the “spirit” part of every tree, every rock, every cloud, every shrub, every toad, and every deer who lives around. I doubt very much whether they have any image inside of them, in their souls, I mean. So he is afraid of them and of their possible malignancy (just as he is afraid of every other Achumawi Indian, or any Indian), he is afraid of them, and tries to keep them well disposed and on good terms of intercourse, he even feels them as rather weird and dangerous and too powerful (like electricity with us); but he is not so damn scared, blue scared of them and their inside image (maybe just because he has no inside image) that he must needs exorcise them out into objective reality. The Pueblo Indian takes everything that is aweful, terrible, powerful in nature, Sun, Moon, Earth, pollen and flower, and he corrals it into a ceremony, or a pattern, now he doesn’t have to deal with it anymore at every moment of his life, like the Achumawi, now he can become a gentleman, safe and sane.

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