Notes to Poem:
20th Century Art in Motion

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: At the Conference "Film & Philosophy II" at Stanford Humanities Center, Professor Scott Bukatman talked on "Comics and the Critique of Chron-Photography" (January 15, 2011, 10-11 am). After showing humorous comic strips of Little Sammy Sneeze by Winsor McCay (1904), Bukatman showed some cat drawings by Steinlen. When the image of a cat shaking its paw came up, I snapped a photo of it on screen. Later, I found Steinlen Cats (Dover edition, 1980) at Stanford Art Library and scanned the drawings "It Burns!". Of particular interest is the one showing the cat waving its paw in blurring motion. It reminds me of Balla's Dog which I thought was the first to represent art in motion (1912). It took awhile to realize that Steinlen's 1898 cat drawing preceded Balla's Dog by 14 years. When Professor Dobyns asked us to write a poem of four quatrains for his February 23 Poetry Workshop, I decided to write this poem. An earlier draft named the nine innovators of the 20th century. Since Dobyns says that poets should not be too obvious, I deleted their names, replacing them with lines from their works. These Notes document their accomplishments how both art and science launched the 20th century with speed in motion.

Commentary on Poem "20th Century Art in Motion":

"It burns! It burns!" cat waves its paw after
touching a cigar. Steinlen, first to draw
blurring of limbs in art to show motion

Théophile Steinlen (1859-1923) was a Swiss-born French Art Noveau painter and printmaker. Steinlen's home in Montmartre and its environs was a favorite subject throughout his life. However Steinlen's love of cats made this a subject of his many drawings and sculptures. After seeing Steinlen's Tourneée du Chat Noir in Wikipedia, I assumed that his cat drawings were in this 1896 edition. However, this was a Steinlen poster and not a book. I found Steinlen Cats (Dover edition, 1980) in the sub-basement of Stanford Art Library (NC248.S7.A4.1980) and checked out the book for scanning. The copyright page mentions that the drawings in this volume are reproduced from two rare volumes: a 1933 collection Chats et autres bêtes and a turn-of-the-century album of picture stories with words, Des Chats. I found "cat waving its blurring paw" in a series of 13 cat drawings titled "It Burns!" However there is no date on this drawing. After finding a drawing of "Cat and Fishbowl" from Des Chats (1898) that was included in "Awful End of a Goldfish", it seems likely that "It Burns!" also came from this same book. Hence, we could date Steinlen's "Cat's paw in blurring motion" (1898) ahead of Balla's Dog (1912) and Duchamp's Nude (1912). (Images: "It Burns!", from Steinlen Cats; Les Chats, Live Auctioneers)

before Balla's Dog & Duchamp's Nude
Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) was an Italian painter who adopted the Futurism style, creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed. Balla was one of the signatory to the Futurist Manifesto (1910). To demonstrate this new style, he painted Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912). Umberto Boccioni who shocked the sculpture world with his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) was Balla's student. After seeing Balla's Dog at Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo (1987), I thought it was the first artwork to depict motion using blurring of images (dog's legs & tail, dog's leash, woman's skirt and feet). It also inspired a poem on the speed of locomotion in the 20th century with revolution in science and art. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was a French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Duchamp's first work to provoke controversy was Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). The painting depicts the mechanistic motion of a nude, with superimposed facets, similar to motion pictures. It shows elements of both the fragmentation and synthesis of he Cubists, and the movement and dynamism of the Futurists. When it was rejected by Cubist Salon des Indépendants (Paris) in 1912, Duchamp exhibited it at New York's Armory Show (1913). American show-goers, accustomed to realistic art, were scandalized by Duchamp's work. The work is widely regarded as a Modernist classic and has become one of the most famous of its time. It is on permanent exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (X.J. Kennedy's poem) (Images: Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,; Nude Descending a Staircase #2,

descending to join those at d'Avignon in free dance
Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase is joining Picasso's nudes in his Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. This 1907 painting portrays five nude female prostitutes from a brothel on Avinyó Street in Barcelona. Two are shown with African mask-like faces, and all the nudes are shown in a flat two-dimensional picture plane instead of the perspective of European painting. This work is considered to be seminal in both Cubism and early modern art. Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was an American dancer, considered by many as creator of modern dance. Rebelling against the rigid constraints of classical ballet, Duncan developed a dance technique influenced by ancient Greeks to be natural and free (1903). She opened a dancing school for children in Berlin (1905), and taught free dance with spontaneous style to elements of nature. (Images: Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon, Wikipedia; Isadora Duncan,

firebird bursts in flame whirling
Images are from innovations in 20th century music (Stravinsky's Firebird) and poetry (Rilke). Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was a Russian composer, and widely regarded as one of the most important and influential composer of 20th century music. He achieved international fame with The Firebird (1910) performed by Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird of the same name that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor. Tamara Karsavina danced the title role. A phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird that has a 500 year life-cycle. Near the end it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites, both nest and bird burn to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet whose New Poems (1907) broke new grounds in modernist poetry. Rilke's "Panther" was a tour-de-force poem which taught me the value of in-seeing by contemplating on an object long enough until we see into its essence. Rilke's "Spanish Dancer" "bursts into flame... whirling faster and faster" much like the phoenix firebird. (Images: Stravinsky's Firebird Suite,; Rilke's "Spanish Dancer", healigan: Group 7)

flying into the new life, quanta of space-time

Wright Brothers' Flyer I

Man's first flight, Kitty Hawk, Dec. 17, 1903

Richard Bucke (1901)
Cosmic Consciousness

Max Planck
Quanta of Energy (1901)

Albert Einstein (1905)
E=mc2 & space-time
Events of 20th century's first decade inspired this line— flying refers to Flyer I of Wright Brothers that made man's first flight at Kitty Hawk (December 17, 1903). Richard Bucke (1837-1902) was a Canadian progressive psychiatrist and lifelong friend of Walt Whitman. His Cosmic Consciousness (1901) is a classic in the modern study of mystical experience. Those who experience cosmic consciousness have "an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness" as they "have passed into the new life" (p. 3). Max Planck (1858-1947) was a German physicist and founder of quantum theory, for which he received the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics. On December 14, 1900 Planck proposed that bodies that radiate energy do not emit energy constantly but in discrete quanta, E=hν, where h is Planck's constant and ν, is the frequency of light. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a German-born physicist who discovered the theory of relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. Einstein is regarded as the father of modern physics, and received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his discovery of the photoelectric effect". As a consequence of Einstein's 1905 paper on relativity and E=mc2, space and time are combined into a single continuum. Spacetime is interpreted with space as three-dimensional and time as the fourth dimension. The 13th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (1926 ) included an article by Einstein titled "Space-Time". (Images: First Flight at Kitty Hawk,; Richard Bucke,; Max Planck,; Albert Einstein,

wireless dreams in stream of consciousness
Images in this line refer to 20th century innovation in physics (wireless), psychology (dreams), and literature (stream of consciousness). Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) was an Italian inventor who won the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of wireless telegraphy. On December 12, 1901, Marconi receives the first transatlantic wireless message at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland. An English telegrapher at Poldhu, Cornwall, England tapped out the letter "S" and Marconi picks it up with a kite-supported antenna. William James (1842-1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher. His Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) supported mysticism, claiming that science tends to ignore the unseen aspects of life and the universe. James writes "In dreams and hypnosis, we see the reality of the unseen. Night dreams play like shadows on the wall." (p. 26) "In this zone [hypnagogic or twilight zone between waking and sleeping] of imaginal awareness, everything from daydream reveries to night dreams occur, and from that dimension of human awareness, hallucinations and religious visions both emanate." (p. 27). Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist who focused more on man's spiritual nature than sexual symbolisms of Freud. Jungian analysis treated dreams as links to archetypal images and alchemy. Jung quote: "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." Stream of consciousness in psychology refers to the flow of thoughts in the conscious mind, and was coined by William James and adopted in literary circles. Stream of consciousness is a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to the writer's actions. James Joyce used this style in his story of Eveline from Dubliners (1914), where the 19-year old woman muses on her life. Joyce would expand on this style in his Ulysses (1922), serialized in The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920. (Images: Marconi Wireless Telegraph,; Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections,; Drifting Through the Stream of Consciousness, by Michael Heikkinen)

Did the Sun take its children across the Milky Way
Copernican heliocentrism taught us that the Sun is the center of our solar system around which our Earth and other planets revolve around. In his On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), Copernicus dedicated his volume to Pope Paul III. He compared the "planets orbiting the Sun as children running around their mother". Now we know that our Sun is but one of the 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The Sun is 26,400 light years to the galactic center and orbits the Milky Way in 250 million years. When we experience the four seasons as the Earth revolves around the Sun, we think that we're in the same space with each revolution. However, our Sun is also moving taking all the nine planets with it around the Milky Way, so we're in a different region of space all the time. Because of so many innovations in art and science during the early decade of the 20th century, is it possible that the Sun traversed to a region of space in the Milky Way flooding our Earth with spiritual light that inspired all these discoveries and inventions? (Image: Milky Way Galaxy,

a darkness shining in brightness which none could comprehend?
December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan Calendar which coincides with the Sun passing through the galactic plane of the Milky Way. Some say this is the apocalypse with the earth's annihilation by solar flares or asteroid collision. Others say it's a spiritual transformation and the beginning of a new era. Is the Sun taking Earth to a region of galactic space we've not experienced before? I'm quoting James Joyce's Ulysses 28.16-18 "a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend." Joyce may be alluding to Henry Vaughan's "The Night"— "The is in God, some say— A deep but dazzling darkness" (lines 49-50). Another source may be Dionysis the Areopagite's Mystical Theology, Chapter I: "Deity above all essence, knowledge and goodness; Guide of Christians to Divine Wisdom; direct our path to the ultimate summit of your mystical knowledge, most incomprehensible, most luminous and most exalted, where the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty." A third source may be the Syrian philosopher Damascius (480-550 AD) writing in On the First Principles: "It is because of the very transcendence of The One that such appellations as obscurity, without illumination, and darkness were given by the Pythagoreans to unity. The Egyptians, too, spoke of the First Principle as a thrice-unknown darkness. These and similar names signify that to the human intelligence the dazzling radiance of the super-essential light is so blinding that nothing can be clearly seen." (Images: Henry Vaughan's darkness, Charles Matthews)

The Archer's flow of arrows wakes him up
The Archer is the constellation of Sagittarius. At the beginning of the 20th century, the North Node (Dragon's Head) (Moon's orbit crossing the ecliptic) was in Sagittarius from January 1, 1900 to January 20, 1901 (North Node Calendar). A check on the Ephemeris for Jan. 1, 1900, shows Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus in Sagittarius. For Jan. 1, 1901, the planets Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Uranus were in Sagittarius. For Dec. 17, 1903 (first flight at Kitty Hawk), the Sun, Moon, and Uranus were in Sagittarius. For Feb. 2, 1882 (James Joyce's birth), the Sun was in Aquarius (13o 21'51). For Feb. 2, 1922 (publication of Ulysses, the Sun was in Aquarius (12o 22'31). The sentence "flow of arrows wakes him up" refers to the constellations of Aquarius & Sagittarius. These constellations are associated with the birth of the 20th century, James Joyce as well as Ulysses. Sagittarius is one of the oldest and largest constellations in the sky. It also has the distinction of being the constellation that sits at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. This means that when you look at Sagittarius, you are looking down through the entire length of the saucer shaped disk of our galaxy, and seeing literally billions and billions of stars. So many stars, that the center of the galaxy is completely hidden behind them. In western mythology, Sagittarius is a centaur (half man, half horse) holding a bow and arrow pointed at Antares, heart of the scorpion, Scorpius constellation. (Images: Johann Bode's Sagittarius Constellation,

at midnight to knock on a poet's door—
"What is it that you want?" the elder asks.
"Highest state of consciousness" he says—

According to Stanislaus Joyce's My Brother's Keeper (1958), James Joyce read the literature of Dublin's Hermetic Society and Theosophical Society that Yeats was a member, but never joined either society. A.E. (George William Russell) (1867-1935) was an Irish poet, painter, and mystic. A.E. was also a mentor to William Butler Yeats. When the 19-year old Joyce knocked on A.E.'s door at midnight (circa 1901) to ask "What is the highest state of consciousness?", the 34-year old mystic welcomed him and talked "about the spirit world until the small hours of the morning." Joyce recounts this autobiographical episode in his Ulysses (140.31-35). Later I found dozens of allusions to saints, sages, and mystics in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake much to my delight. That night with A.E. must have given Joyce a rock of spiritual grounding. [Images: James Joyce,; A.E. (George William Russell),, Ulysses,]

and they sail past riverrun to bend of bay...

Finnegans Wake

James Joyce's Horoscope

Aquarius Constellation
This sentence echoes the beginning of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939)— "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay". Joyce was born on February 2, 1882 and his horoscope shows the Sun and Venus in Aquarius with Mercury in Pisces (water signs). Thus we have water images "riverrun", "swerve of shore", "bend of bay" for the first sentence of Finnegans Wake reflecting his own birth as well as birth of this book. Joyce also weaves over 300 rivers of the world into the life of Anna Livia Plurabelle (I.8). Because Joyce talked to A.E. from midnight to dawn on the "highest state of consciousness", I revised "talk" to "sail" in denoting Buddha's Heart Sutra (200 AD) "gone gone, gone beyond, gone to the other shore— O what an awakening!" (Images: Finnegans Wake,; James Joyce's Horoscope,; Aquarius Constellation,

                                                Peter Y. Chou
                                                Mountain View, 2-23-2011

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